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Nano Update

So, I’m deep in the third week of Nanowrimo, and with 20,000+ words still to go, the creative juices are spread thin (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). I figured for today, I would share some of the diamonds that have appeared in the rough draft (get it? get it? oh my gosh, I’m so tired). The book I’m working on is called TALON Force for now and it’s about a fourteen year old hacker who is recruited into a covert government agency that protects magical creatures called phenomenals.

Enjoy.

                                                                                                                            

His mom looked up and squinted at him. “Don’t forget school starts tomorrow. Lights out by 11:30, okay?”

Nate’s stomach flipped. How could he forget? After five years of learning physics and calculus around this very table, he’d be headed to the local high school for ninth grade. But that’s what happened when your dad agreed to more hours with the Bureau and your mom was offered a position in the lab of her dreams.

“We’ve talked about it, I know,” she said. “But it bears repeating. No working outside the curriculum. If you’re bored, read the next chapter or something.”

“No reprogramming the computers,” his dad added.

Nate opened his mouth to protest but his dad waved an S tile at him. “Not even to make them more efficient,” he said.

Nate snapped his mouth closed and scowled.

“And no building killer robots,” Jessie put in with a smirk.

“That wasn’t my fault. If Vince Price hadn’t messed with my power regulator everything would have worked fine.”

“Tell that to Mr. Holland.”

“How is he?” his mother asked.

“I hear his therapy is coming along really well,” Jessie said.

                                                                                                                              

“Dr. Demarco, Mr. Demarco, your son has seen too much,” the man said.

Nate gulped. “You mean they’re real?” he said.

“What’s real?” his dad asked.

The men glared and Nate snapped his mouth shut.

His mom sighed. “We said no more hacking, Nate. You promised.”

He hung his head. Jessie had her elbows propped on the table and she was watching intently.

“So what are you going to do with him?” his mom said. “Hard labor? The gallows?”

The men eyed her sideways and one of them said, “He has two choices. The first is a maximum security facility designed to hold people like him where he will be locked away unharmed and he can never tell anyone what he’s seen.”

His mom raised an eyebrow. “Sounds cozy.”

“Mom,” Nate said. Even when things were dire she couldn’t help cracking jokes. It was embarrassing.

“Just be sure to feed him his vegetables.”

Nate really really didn’t want to go to prison. Especially one without computers or the Internet or Teen Titans. “What’s the other option?” he said.

One of the men crossed his arms and looked down at Nate who still sat at the dining room table, limp green salad pieces littering his plate and the floor under his chair.

“Join the agency that was created to protect and conceal what you saw.”

“Protect?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’d be working with them? Like up close?”

The man inclined his head.

“But that’s, I mean they’re—” He looked at his interested family and rephrased what he was about to say. “Is that safe?”

“You could always choose the other option,” one of the men said. He looked kind of hopeful. Like he really wanted to lock Nate away in a little room with no Internet. “It is safer, as you say.”

Working with monsters? Real life ones? Nate had always thought it would be cool to get a job with a game developer programming the creatures he fought in video games but this was entirely different. He’d be coming face to face with them, maybe fighting them. No, the guy had said protecting. But that girl in the video had definitely been fighting that snake lizard that looked just like the one in Slayer.

The corners of Nate’s mouth started to lift as he thought about it. He’d be a slayer in real life. Maybe he’d even get a sword.

“Well?” his mom said. “What’ll it be?”

Nate grinned up at them. “I, uh, choose the not jail thing.”

“Really?” the one man said looking disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I choose the agency.”

                                                                                                                                 

He realized he was sitting in water up to his waist, no big deal, but the hands were still clutching at him. He dug his own hands into the bottom of the bay and hung on so whatever had him couldn’t drag him any further.

The hands surfaced, long delicate fingers clinging to his jacket. They were attached to slim pale arms. A head covered in long blond hair appeared and a solid body pushed him back into the surf.

Nate found himself looking up into the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. Even Mei’s dark eyes and hair couldn’t compare to the perfect features of the girl who was lying on top of him.

Naked.

Nate flushed before he realized all the interesting parts were covered by her wet hair. Even still, he raised his hands, keeping them out to his sides where they wouldn’t touch anything by accident.

“Hi,” the girl said and smiled. Dazzlingly.

“Nate!” It was his dad who skidded to a stop beside them, pebbles showering both Nate and the girl.

Nate held up a hand. “It’s okay,” he said. At least he thought it was okay. She didn’t seem to be trying to kill him. Yet. But his encounter with the kelpie had made him wary.

“Hello,” he said.

She beamed even brighter, if that was possible, as if he’d said the nicest thing in the world.

More feet clattered on the beach behind him and he heard a gasp. He tried not to groan. Because he really needed his mom and his sister to witness his humiliation as well.

“I knew they were real,” Jessie whispered somewhere over his head. “I just knew it.”

Uh oh.

“Um,” he said to the perfect girl who now had her fingers twined in his hair. “So what are you?”

She ducked her head with a shy smile and he felt her weight shift. He saw a tail emerge behind her head. A fish tail.

Oh god, he’d found a mermaid.

“Are you a sailor?” she said.

“What?” He tried to wriggle out from under her, but apparently five feet of fish and woman weighed a lot.

“You look like a sailor,” she said and bit her lip coyly. “Will you be my sailor?”

“Nate?” his dad said again.

“Uh,” Nate said. “Give me a second. I’m not really sure what’s happening.”

“She’s a mermaid, gnat,” Jessie said with a “duh” she didn’t say but he could hear anyway. “They’re always seducing sailors to drag down into their underwater kingdom.”

The mermaid smiled again and nodded. “Wanna come?” she said.

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A Writer’s Truth

Last night I met with the local writing group at our library and as usual we shared our responses to a writing prompt. One of the things I find amazing about writers is how we can look at the same picture and all see something different. Our work reflects our senses of humor, our backgrounds, our writing styles. Each experience molds and shapes us as writers and only becomes obvious once our words are laid out on the page.

So I thought I would share a couple pieces that came from the same inspiration. The picture was our prompt. The first response is mine, and the second, my sister, Arielle’s.

Mirror Reflection

Alex shuffled her feet, heedless of the dew that soaked through her shoes as she made her way across the garden. Her throat burned as she fetched up against the side of the old wishing well, but she fought the tears with everything she’d gained from years of quiet perseverance.

Her fingers gripped the crumbling stone and she leaned over the still water as though she would leap into the depths. Her pale face stared up at her. She dropped a rock into the water, shattering her reflection the way Rob had shattered her that morning.

When the water smoothed, Alex gasped and jerked back. There were two reflections below her now.

She looked up at the figure beside her, only just stifling a scream. Her own face stared back at her, her own eyes slanted in satisfaction, and her own lips quirked in an unpleasant smile.

“What-?” Alex started. “Who are you?”

The other Alex cocked her head. “I am you,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “The only you.”

She shoved Alex with a vicious grin and Alex stumbled back…over the low stone wall. And down, into the cold and damp.

Above her the other Alex laughed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

I have been many things, and I have been none of them. I’ve been you. When you smile, I smile. When you frown, I frown. When you talk to me, my lips move with yours. I see you, but you don’t see me. You look at me and see yourself. I am you, but only when you’re with me. When you leave, I cannot follow. I am left to wait for your return. Then silently I will show you yourself again. You will hate me for it. You will use me to make yourself better, but I will always tell you you’re not good enough. And you will never know I didn’t want to. It’s only what I was made for.

 

We both managed to turn out something fairly creepy (and to be fair, we are related, with similar backgrounds and influences), but there were other responses in our group that were amusing, nostalgic or passionate without the darker shading. I liked how some of us saw the girl looking in a mirror, and others saw her looking at her reflection in water. Some saw her as a tomboy, others thought she seemed fragile or abused.

At first, it may seem like there is only one truth here. There is a little girl, well dressed, looking down at her reflection. And this may be the one truth. But there are many stories.

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On and On

When shadows creep and fall

Walk on, walk on

Against the wind and tide

Trudge on, trudge on

If you’re ever weak and lonely

Limp on, limp on

When darkness hides the light

Crawl on, crawl on

And the glow of hope is dim

Hold on, hold onCrutch

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Inspiration in Sneakers

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a response to a writing prompt, and since I’ve got a new one in my portfolio, I figured I’d share it with y’all. I met with my local writer’s group this week and we all wrote on the same subject: a picture of a man’s feet in seriously beat up sneakers. Honestly, I had a hard time with it. Didn’t find it as inspiring as I felt like I should have. But I pressed on and came out with something I actually kind of like. Not really sure where I was going with it, but the character seems really interesting.

I’m going to kill the next person who offers me a free meal. Just cause I like to breathe through my toes don’t give you the right to think I live in a cardboard box behind the dumpster on Sixth Street. If I could afford those fancy loafers imprisoning your tootsies, I’d rip the toes off those too. I’ve got to have room to wiggle, got to feel the breeze airing out the spaces between my piggies. Got to evict the fungus before I start charging it rent.

Like I’ve said before, I can be resentful of the challenges prompts present, but I usually get something out of them. I learn something. I like to think that stretching my brain around problems like this on a regular basis will serve me well the next time I’m staring at my screen suffering from writer’s block. If I can find words to write about old beat up shoes, a story that’s been haunting me for years shouldn’t be a problem, right?

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At First Sight

In the spirit of the holiday I have a special post for y’all. This is a short story I wrote back in September as a response to a prompt that said “write something that takes place in a public restroom”. I’m not sure how a romance fell out but it did. I think it could use a couple more drafts but the foundation is there. I hope y’all enjoy, and happy valentine’s day.

 

The door of the restroom swung open. A young woman limped in, her flats shuffling across the tiles and her crutch clicking with each uneven step. She stopped and leaned against the cool wall, looked down at the bridesmaid’s dress she wore, and burst into tears.

She should never have introduced them. Kara sniffled and reached into her purse to grab some more tissues. The wads in her fist which she’d been using all night were too soggy with tears and snot to do her any good now. Her fingers found some loose change, a tube of chapstick, and four pens, but no Kleenex.

Dammit. Her nose was leaking like that stupid kitchen faucet she still hadn’t fixed. She ducked down to make sure the stalls were empty and limped across to the counter. She winced when she saw her blotchy face reflected in the mirror. That shade of red definitely clashed with the coral of her dress. She turned from the horrifying visage and propped her crutch against the counter so she could snatch up a few paper towels.

Really, this was her fault. She shouldn’t have introduced them, she thought again. Or at least she should have refused the dubious honor of standing next to them as they tied the knot. Then she wouldn’t have had to come at all and wouldn’t have had to watch her best friend marry the only guy who had ever looked past Kara’s crutch to see her.

Kara froze as the door to the reception hall swung open, letting in a burst of sound from the party. Oh God, if it was Emily, she’d just go ahead and die on the spot, public restroom or not.

But it wasn’t Emily. Her gaze met startled gray eyes in a distinctly masculine face.

Kara squeaked and darted into the back stall, but her drooping foot caught the edge of a tile and she stumbled. Ready to start crying again, this time with frustration, she slammed the door shut and collapsed onto the toilet.

“Oh crap, I’m sorry.” His voice came over the stall door.

“What are you doing in the women’s restroom?” she said. Her voice sounded too high, and she concentrated on bringing it back into a register discernible to humans.

“I didn’t notice the sign,” he said.

“It’s a chick in a dress. How could you not see it?”

“I just didn’t.” He paused. “Are you okay?”

She blew out her breath. “I’m fine. Go away.”

“Your face is all red.”

“Gee thanks.”

He didn’t apologize but there was an awkward silence where it kind of felt like he wanted to. “I have a confession,” he finally said. “I didn’t come in here by accident.”

“You didn’t,” Kara said, her voice flat.

“No.”

There was another pause. This one went on a bit longer. “Are you still there?” he said.

“I’m trying to decide if you’re some creepy pervert.”

He laughed. She liked the sound of it ringing off the walls of the restroom. “Not a creepy pervert,” he said. “I swear.” She imagined him holding up his hand as if swearing on a Bible. “I’m Paul. Emily’s brother.”

That’s right. She’d met him last night at the dress rehearsal, but she’d been so worried about not being bitter and not ruining Emily’s wedding that all she remembered of him was a brief impression of light eyes and dark hair. But wait, if he was her brother…

Kara groaned. “Emily sent you in here, didn’t she?”

“Yeah.” He sounded kind of resentful and weary at the same time. Guess he didn’t like being sent to comfort the third wheel any more than she liked being recognized as the third wheel.

“Well, you can tell her I’m fine. I’m not angry, or upset, or-or anything, all right?”

She heard him shift and it sounded like he was leaning against the counter. “I don’t think she expected you to be in here crying,” he said.

“Why else would she send you?”

“Maybe because she thought you could help me.” His voice was quiet.

Kara closed her eyes and pounded her forehead with her fist. Not everything’s about you, stupid. Well, maybe if she helped him with whatever problem he had, he would go away and leave her alone. “Why do you need my help?” she said.

“I don’t.” His response was too quick and too loud. “I’m fine. Emily’s just overprotective, and she thought since we both have disabilities… you know, instant connection.”

Kara sighed. “Why does everyone think that crippled people are automatically attracted to other crippled people?”

“I don’t know. It’s insulting really.”

“It is.” Kara narrowed her eyes and thought back. She didn’t have a great memory of him from the night before, but she knew she would have noticed if he’d been in a wheelchair or had crutches like hers. “Wait,” she said. “I don’t remember you having a disability.”

“You’re assuming you can see it.”

“So, you mean like vertigo?”

“I mean like PTSD.”

“Oh. Were you in the military?”

“Nothing so heroic,” he said. “I was a hostage in that bank robbery last year.”

“The one on 6th street? Geez, I remember that.”

“Yeah, nothing like being in combat or anything, but it kind of messed me up.”

She was getting better at reading his voice. He sounded embarrassed with something deeper underneath. Shame? “Paul, they kept those hostages locked up in that safe for three nights. And a couple people were shot, weren’t they.”

She heard him swallow. “Yeah.”

“I’m not trying to remind you or anything, I’m just saying, that would mess anyone up.”

“Yeah, well, I’m better now I’ve got Warden. He keeps me sane. I’m usually too worried about him sticking his nose up women’s skirts to be worried about myself.”

“Who is Warden and why hasn’t he been arrested?” she asked.

“He’s my service dog. And most of the girls forgive him once he looks up at them with those big brown eyes.”

“You have a service dog? Why didn’t you bring him?”

He paused. “I did.”

She leaned over and looked under the stalls and saw Paul’s feet in his dress shoes. Right next to him were four paws and the tip of a wagging tail.

“Sorry, I didn’t see him.”

“He’s big and slobbery and wears a bright red vest. How could you miss him?”

She heard the smile in his voice and couldn’t help smiling in return. “I just did. Besides you startled me.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. So why are you in here instead of out there eating cake?”

Her smile disappeared at the reminder. “I’m being pathetic,” she said, going for a light-hearted tone. “I didn’t want to ruin Emily’s wedding by bursting into tears during their first dance.”

“You don’t approve of the groom?”

“Oh no. I know he’s a really great guy. That’s the problem.”

“So you’re in love with him,” Paul said.

“No.” The stall door made the perfect barrier to hide behind, so she found it easier to say, “I just thought he might be the kind of person who could love me. And those are hard to find.”

“Well, now it just sounds like you’re fishing for compliments.”

Kara knew he was trying to lighten her mood, but she’d had a rough couple days and just wanted a moment of self-indulgence. “Oh, that’s what it sounds like to you? Well, that’s the reality I live with. Every guy I meet I have to wonder if he’s going to be one of the ones who only sees my disability. Half of them have a hero complex and the other half get that glazed look right before they run away because I’d be too much work.”

“At least you can leave your house without having some kind of breakdown. Every day I wonder if I’ll actually be able to step out the door. At every store I have an argument with myself about whether there are enough exits or too many people inside.”

“But no one knows what’s going on in your head,” Kara said. “You can smile and nod at people and they won’t be able to tell you have problems. I get judged before I even open my mouth. Everyone can see my weakness as I step out of a car or stand up from a chair.”

“And that’s a bad thing? Do you know how long it took me to realize that I actually had a serious condition? This is something treatable, but only if you recognize that it’s there. Once I finally acknowledged that I needed help, I had to convince the rest of the world there really was something wrong with me and it wasn’t all in my head. You don’t have to convince anyone.”

Suddenly, Kara was laughing, the tension and the anger spilling out until she felt loose and free. “Are we arguing about who’s disability is more disabling?” she said.

His chuckle was warm. “I guess so. Is it weird that I kind of feel better?”

“Not really. I feel better, too. Maybe Emily knew what she was doing.”

He was quiet while she fished in the toilet paper dispenser for something to wipe her nose. The plastic rattled.

“Drat,” she said.

“What?”

“It’s empty, and I’m out of tissues.”

A package sailed over the stall door, and she reached up to grab it just to keep it from hitting her in the face.  It was one of those pocket size packets of Kleenex.

“Really?” she said, her breath huffing out on a laugh.

“Brother of the bride, you know. I have another confession,” he said. “Emily might have asked me to talk to you, but that’s not why I came in here. I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to ask you to dance all night.”

“So you followed me into the bathroom?”

“I didn’t want to lose my chance. I guess I got a little carried away when I realized you were alone and no one would overhear my awkward attempt to ask you out to dinner tomorrow.”

“First it was just a dance, now you want a date too?”

“I wanted a dance cause you’re pretty. I want a date because you’re interesting and I’m really enjoying our conversation.”

“Hmm. Are you sure you’re not one of those guys that only sees the disability.”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to tell since I haven’t actually seen you in a while. Why don’t you come out and you can judge?”

“My face might still be splotchy.”

“Warden doesn’t mind, do you? He says he doesn’t.”

Kara suppressed a giggle and levered herself to her feet. She took a moment to smooth her dress and make sure her mascara hadn’t run before she opened the stall door and stepped outside. Paul leaned against the counter, his lips curving up in a smile, a German shepherd grinning at his feet.

“Well?” she said. She turned like a model on a runway, hanging onto the stalls for support. Where had she left her crutch?

He shook his head. “No disabilities. I just see a beautiful woman.” He cocked his head. “Is there hope for me?”

Kara pretended to consider. “What do you think, Warden?”

The dog’s tail thumped against the tiles.

“I agree.” She spotted her crutch propped on the counter opposite Paul, and she limped to grab it. Something cold and wet touched the back of her knee, and she felt the back of her skirt lift. She jumped, slipped, and caught herself against the counter with her hand in the sink.

“Warden! Sorry, sorry.” Paul was yanking the shepherd’s harness.

Kara laughed. “I suppose you did warn me.”

“What did you agree with?” he asked the dog and then looked up at Kara. “Do I get a dance and a date?”

Kara opened her mouth just as the door opened and an older woman wearing a burnt orange sweater and a lime green skirt swarmed into the restroom.

Paul started guiltily when her eyes widened and she stopped short.

“Paul Jay Sherman. What do you think you’re doing in the ladies room?”

“Aunt Phyllis. I was just-”

“You were just leaving, is what. Stop bothering this young woman and get marching.” She pointed to the door, and Kara had to cover her smile.

Warden stepped in front of Paul and leaned against his legs. Paul seemed to soak in the dog’s strength and stood up straighter. “Not until I’ve heard her answer.” He turned to her and held out his hand. “So, what will it be Kara?”

His eyes stayed locked on hers. They didn’t stray toward her crutch or her legs.

She placed her hand in his. “A dance then,” she said.

“And dinner?”

She smiled. “And dinner.”

They walked out of the women’s restroom, letting Aunt Phyllis seek out a stall in peace.

The restroom door swung open. A young woman limped in, the clicking of her crutch muffled by the fabric of her wedding dress. She stopped by the mirror and took a moment to check her makeup. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a plastic package of Kleenex propped up by the sink. She smiled as she reached for it.

“Kara?” A girl poked her head around the door. “Paul says hurry. Emily’s about to start her toast, and he says he can’t live through it without moral support.”

Kara curled her fingers around the tissues. “I’m coming,” she said.

“Okay. Oh geez! Warden, no.”

Kara laughed and left the restroom.

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Nano Wrap Up

Today is the last day of Nanowrimo so I thought I’d give you guys a rundown on how it went.

I was pretty solid with my word-count for the first couple weeks and I even managed to get ahead before Thanksgiving (after four years I know full well that family plus turkey does not equal much writing time). But despite that head-start I somehow hit the second week slump in my fourth week. I managed to reach 50,000 words on Monday but it was an uphill slog. And since my personal goal was to write 75,000 words this month, I didn’t quite make it. At least I learned something. I have a very hard time working on two projects at once. Whaddaya know? I’m human after all.

One of my favorite parts of Nanowrimo is the community. My writing partners and I get together once a week at the library and have our own write-ins. Hard at work above are my sister and Rebecca Green Gasper, who was kind enough to answer some questions for us last week along with Susan Oloier. Becca’s been one of my critique/writing partners for a couple years now. If you haven’t checked her out yet, you should take a look.

So, I’m coming out of this side of November with half of a new novel and about 8,000 words of a devotional (that was supposed to be 25,000, I told you the dual projects thing didn’t work, right?). Not bad all things considering, and I’m really looking forward to finishing up The Robber Bridegroom. So far it’s been a blast to write. The devotional has been more of a battle but just as rewarding. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me this next year.

 

Here’s a sneak peek at The Robber Bridegroom:

“The building was large and imposing. Until now it had always meant fear and danger to me. Along with the rest of the Reaper’s crew, I had avoided it for the last ten years. I swallowed and mounted the steps. One, two, three, four, five steps separated my past from my future. Such a small distance for such a huge leap of faith.

I couldn’t keep myself from turning one last time to glance behind me. Across the street, Clarence and Aalan stood watching. Clarence’s lips were twisted in a contemptuous sneer but Aalan’s eyes were wide with horror and disbelief. Like the Reaper, he didn’t believe I would do it. He didn’t think I had it in me to throw away my whole life, everything I’d ever known, all the family I had, just for an ideal.

This was the end. If I took this step, I’d be hunted. I’d go from being the Reaper’s employee to being his next target. No forgiveness, no leniency, no second thoughts. I’d made my decision a long time ago but this was the moment it would become real.

I lifted my chin and stepped into the police station.”

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Accessible Excerpts: Full Circle

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

Merry and her companions encounter a creature who has the ability to make them relive their worst memories.

 

An invisible hand reached out and grabbed hold of my mind, dragging me deep into the darkest corners of my own thoughts.

My horse was leaping, a move I could feel was faulty even as she left the ground. She stumbled as she landed, and my foot came loose from my stirrup, my weight shifting and the edge of the gully rising to meet me as I fell.

A darkness I remembered all too well, the black behind my eyelids as I refused to wake, refused to face what I already feared might be true.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid she will never leave this bed again. You may as well get used to it now. It will make it easier in the years to come as she realizes she will never live her life as a normal person would.”

“Papa?”

“I’m here, Merry-child.” His voice was broken, and I opened my eyes to see why. His face hovered over mine, his eyes red-rimmed with pain and exhaustion.

“Papa, I can’t feel my legs.” I tried to sit up but my balance was all funny, and Papa put his hand against my shoulder to keep me from trying anything more. I fought growing panic and threw the blanket back so I could see my legs and feet. They were there, everything was where it was supposed to be, but I couldn’t feel anything below my waist.

“Papa, what’s wrong? I can’t move.” I tried. I tried harder than I’d ever tried anything in my life. The desire was there, I was doing exactly as I had the day before. The signal was leaving my mind but it was blocked. I told my toes to wiggle. They didn’t. I told my knee to bend. It remained limp against the bed linens.

“Papa!”

“I’m sorry, Merry. I’m sorry.” There were tears coursing down his cheeks. I couldn’t look at him; I could only turn my face to the wall and scream. The bed sagged as he sat beside me and gathered me into his arms. His chest heaved with his sobs, but I couldn’t tell under my own shrieks of pain.

I could feel two sharp personalities present in the back of my mind looking on in horror as I relived the moment I’d realized I would never walk again. I don’t know how I recognized Zev and Whyn. There were others there too, though less distinct.

This wasn’t anything like the memories I’d relived with Zev before. I’d never given him anything so personal or painful, and they had never been this vivid. I struggled to regain control, like I did with Zev

With a gasp I was back in my chair, feeling like I’d been thrown there, the frigid air flooding my lungs and making me cough. Zev crouched, quivering beside me, holding his head. Someone was crying, and I turned to find Lans holding a distraught Vira-we to his chest. I looked for Whyn and found him still sitting opposite me. His hands shook and his eyes were glassy, but he met my gaze.

Zev collected himself and stood, raising defiant eyes to glare at the creature who had accosted us. “You have gone too far, Elder. In attempting to prove how wrong I am, you broke a sacred trust. You had no right to take those memories from these people. You fed on their experiences without permission and for that you are no better than the Vachryn.”

“These humans do not deserve the respect we grant our own kind.”

“They are thinking, rational beings like us. Some are evil yes, but some are noble and worthy. These,” Zev said gesturing to Whyn and I. “These are mages. Like the ones we used to partner with. How dare you say they are not worthy?”

“These are the least worthy of all,” the elder said, his voice raised. “They aren’t born with the magic inside like the enchanters of old, so they steal it with cunning tricks. The enchanters would never have let their Realm fall like this. They would have weeded out pain and suffering from the human race long ago.”

Saints, the arrogance in his voice was almost tangible. I wanted to grab it and shove it down his throat. “You idiot,” I said.

“Excuse me?” His incredulous tone boomed with an intensity that willed me to back down, but I stood my ground.

“We shouldn’t inflict pain on others, and I’m sorry there are those who do so willingly. But if we avoid challenges and difficult situations just because we might experience pain how will we ever grow? Suffering tempers us. You feed on memories, experiences, life. Life is nonexistent without challenge, without pain. What you seek is only the shadow of life.”

The misty figure leaned down to look at me closer. “And would you say you are tempered by your suffering? Are you made stronger by your horrible experiences?”

“Yes,” I said and swallowed. I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet and it was wrenching to do so here with so many listening, but the truth of it swelled up through me. “I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t gone through everything that I have. I am grateful I’ve had a chance to grow and appreciate the things that have made me stronger. I pity you in your safe, comfortable existence, always running, never standing to fight and grow.”

“You pity me?” he asked, his voice rising with disbelief.

“Yes, I do,” I said. “The next time you want to dig in my memories you will ask first. Is that clear?”

 

I had a really hard time writing this scene. The first couple weeks after my injury are very blurry due to pain, drugs, and a dizzying procession of doctors and therapy. So I don’t actually have any memory of a specific moment that I became aware that I couldn’t walk anymore. Which made it excessively difficult to portray how Merry felt in her own moment of realization. I think she ended up with something like an entire year’s worth of my emotions crammed into about five minutes of story.

I wanted to bring Merry full circle with this scene. This is the moment where we see that not only has she accepted herself and her limitations, but she sees how strong she is. She can finally acknowledge how her experiences have shaped her to be who she is.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Easier Said Than Done                                                Not All that Different

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Accessible Excerpts: Easier Said Than Done

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

After working with the Disciples of Ammon to fight the Vachryn, Merry feels more confident about herself and her abilities, but her work places her back in the situations which caused her so much trouble before, and she can feel her old mindset waiting to trip her again.

 

I smiled and accepted the thanks along with the others, but inside I was shaking. Too many people crowded me, their curious and sometimes pitying looks sending barbs into my heart. There was nothing nasty or rude behind their expressions, but it felt like I was right back at Madam Francine’s, with the girls giggling about me behind my back.

I’d thought I was done with that part of my life. The Disciples didn’t look at me with those all too familiar expressions. I’d thought I wouldn’t mind them anymore. But here I was, with the old mask creeping back across my face to hide the feelings that welled up inside.

Nothing had changed. I’d just been avoiding the realities of my life for the last couple months.

I wheeled myself out of the crowded house and into the crisp night air. I stopped at the edge of the light spilling from the windows and tilted my head back so I could see the sky.

A step behind me made me turn, and I saw Whyn coming toward me from the house.

“You left the party,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said, avoiding his eyes.

“No, you’re not. I saw the way you looked back there. What’s wrong? I thought things were better.”

“It’s nothing, okay? I just don’t like people.”

“You like us just fine,” he said, not letting it go. “You like most of the Disciples.”

I looked away. “They don’t act like I’m some kind of abomination.”

Whyn nodded. “We treat you the same as everyone else. They treat you like you’re different.”

“It’s not their fault,” I said, realizing I believed that. “They’re not used to seeing someone like me.”

“If you understand, then why were you so upset?”

“I can’t help it. I understand, but I still don’t like it. I don’t like who I am when I’m around other people.”

“Who are you?”

“Someone who’s always angry. I want to be mad at everyone else in the world because they can’t possibly know what I’m going through. I hate them for not understanding. I hate them for being able to do the things I can’t, but in the end I hate myself more.” Tears pricked my eyes, and I blinked hard, trying to get rid of them.

“Marion.” There was a catch in his voice that made my heart jump. He crouched in front of me so he could take my hands and look straight in my eyes. “You shouldn’t hate yourself.”

“But I do,” I said. “I shouldn’t feel that way. I know better, but I can’t help it.”

The light behind me illuminated his face. There was no pity there, only sympathy and understanding. “I think I know what you mean,” he said. “There really isn’t any kind of shouldn’t or should when it comes to feelings. They are what they are. But sometimes we can steer them in another direction. When we first met you, I concentrated on one thing, and that was finding and destroying the Vachryn. I was so single-minded I shut out everything else, including my friends and everything I’d ever enjoyed doing.

“I didn’t even realize what I was doing until Lans told me they were going to leave me at the Refuge the next time they went out hunting. My whole life had revolved around this one thing and suddenly it was taken from me. Without it I had nothing, and I realized I didn’t like what I’d become. You said I was holding onto my grief to avoid living. Called me a coward.”

I gasped. “I said no such thing.”

He smiled. “No, but that’s what I heard because that’s what I was.” He pulled something out of his pocket and looked at it for a long time. When he passed it to me, I saw it was a child’s jumping jack. The paint was worn thin and the wood was smooth, as if it was handled every day.

“That’s Gisa’s,” he said. “I gave it to her the day she died. I used to hold it when I got upset or overwhelmed. When the memories were too much, feeling it under my fingers would help calm me down. After you told me to let the wounds heal and leave grief behind, I used it to remind myself to be patient. Now every time I hold it I remember the life I’m supposed to be living and the person I want to be. It’s helped me get there. You helped me, Marion.”

I couldn’t look away from his earnest eyes, and my breath caught in my chest. His hand pressed the toy into my palm.

“Maybe it can help you now,” he said. “Any time you start feeling like you’re that person you don’t like, hold it and take a deep breath. Concentrate on it rather than the irrational reactions and when you have yourself under control, remember who you want to be.”

I didn’t know what to say. His confession and his gift had left me breathless with emotion. I didn’t want to consider the way my heart pounded against my ribs, or the way the light caught the white streaks in his eyes.

He squeezed my hand and stood. I watched as he walked back into the house, leaving me sitting in the dark holding a child’s toy.

 

I’ve had a really hard time explaining what I was feeling the first year or two after my injury, but Merry’s confession comes pretty close. It’s frightening and depressing to hate the complete stranger who opens the door for you just because he can’t possibly know what you’re going through. Maybe part of it was that I felt so isolated. I was facing something none of my friends or my family had ever had to deal with and in a strange, twisted way I felt entitled to my pain and anger. Look, I have a right to be pissy, so just back off and let me wallow. But since then, I’ve realized I’m not the only one who’s ever hated themselves for something they can’t control, whether it’s frightening emotions, mental illness, or just the shitty situations life sometimes deals out.

I don’t have any pithy advice for the people who feel like this. I don’t know what it was that helped me crawl out of the mire. It probably wasn’t any one thing but several. I do know that at some point I realized if I hated who I was, there was absolutely no reason I should keep being that person. Easier said than done, right? But it’s the first step. Knowing you have a choice. And knowing you’re not alone.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: Worst Case Scenario

 

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Accessible Excerpts: Worst Case Scenario

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

Merry and her companions are still on their way to the Refuge when they are attacked by bandits.

 

I’d seen the three of them in action before and figured the fight would be short. Five bandits wouldn’t even come close to a couple Vachryn, but it soon became clear these men were well trained. Maybe they were mercenaries or deserters from the royal army. Whatever they were, they worked as a team as they surrounded Lans, Vira and Whyn, attacking them on all sides.

I whipped around, wondering how I could help, and grabbed the one thing that came to hand. When the bandit in front of me came into range, I swung as hard as I could. The hot frying pan clanged against the man’s head, and our dinner went flying through the air, only half cooked. My victim screamed and stumbled against me, tipping my chair over so that I was flung to the ground.

My heart was already beating fast, but now it slammed against my ribs, as if trying to leap from my chest. Boots stomped around me, missing my fingers, and blades clashed above my head. I tried to crawl out of the way of the fighting, using my arms to pull myself along the ground. My skirt clung to the dead-weight of my legs, catching against leaves and bushes and slowing me down.

Another man stumbled into my victim, and they both fell across my overturned chair. There was a heart-rending crash, and they rolled away from the wreckage they’d caused.

I gaped at the pile of broken wood and upholstery while a wheel spun in the air at a crazy angle.

“Whyn,” Lans called, pressed hard against a tree by the bandit leader. “Get Marion! Get her away!”

Whyn grabbed his attacker’s arm as it came around to slash him and sent a bolt of energy into the other man’s body. The bandit fell down screaming, and Whyn’s eyes snapped up, searching for me. His gaze found what was left of my chair and he went white.

I cried out and he finally saw me lying in an awkward pile on the leaf mold. He dashed over and hoisted me up, hugging me to his chest, before he strode off into the trees.

As the sounds of fighting faded away, I turned my face into his shoulder and convinced myself I wasn’t going to cry. It was just a chair. It was a tool. My father was not manifest in the wonderful contraption he’d made just for me.

 

First off, I’d like to point out I wrote this scene about six years ago when I first envisioned the story that would eventually become By Wingéd Chair – way before Tangled came out.

This idea came from a couple different places. From the very beginning I wanted to see what it would be like to get a character in a wheelchair through a fight scene. She’s been in a couple conflicts so far but nothing as physical as this, and as you can see, she doesn’t make it out unscathed.

Also, with character driven fiction we like to ask the question “what’s the worst thing that could happen to this character?” For Merry, that would be losing control of her own movement, having to rely on others for even the basest necessities. She’s been doing pretty well with the anger thing, so let’s see how she reacts to this new challenge. It’s evil, I know, but a character can’t truly prevail unless there’s something to prevail over.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: A Risky Kind of Fun                                                     AE: Easier Said Than Done

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Accessible Excerpts: A Risky Kind of Fun

This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series.

On their way to the Refuge of Ammon, Merry and her companions stop to help out some villagers.

 

“Why are there wheels on your chair?”

I jerked in surprise. It was the bold little girl from before, standing beside me and frowning at my chair. “Excuse me?”

“Your chair has wheels on it. It looks funny.”

My spine stiffened and my face went blank. What an impertinent child. My first reaction was to say something sharp that would tell the girl I wasn’t interested in answering rude questions. Then I saw Whyn watching me, waiting for my response.

I took a couple deep breaths and tried to look at it from her perspective. My chair really was strange. And most invalids were confined to their homes, so she wouldn’t be able to guess what was wrong with me. Her question wasn’t rude; it was the result of someone who wanted to know the answer and wasn’t afraid to ask. Huh, kind of like me.

“It’s because my legs don’t work like yours do,” I said. “This helps me get around.”

“Oh,” she said. “Is it fun?”

“What?” Was it fun to be bound forever to a chair? My tone of surprised incredulity would have scared off a lesser child. But not her.

“Is it fun?” She pointed at my wheels. “I bet they go fast. Like the rich people’s carriages. We had a goat cart once and we got it to go really fast down hills.”

“I-I don’t know. I’ve never really thought of it as fun before.”

Whyn had a really strange look on his face. If he laughed, I was going to punch him.

“Well, come on, you should try it.” She dragged at one of my arms until I followed her. At the end of the village, the road sloped down a gentle hill, and the girl stopped at the top.

“We sled down this one in the winter. It’s not as good as Deadman’s Hill, but that’s half a day’s walk.”

I was thinking this was plenty steep enough, and we didn’t have to try anything called “Deadman”.

I cleared my throat. “What if it’s too fast?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“You steer with the wheels, right?” she said, grasping the mechanics of my chair. “You can just grab them to slow down.” She climbed up on my lap, apparently coming along for the ride.

“But once I’m down there how will I get back up the hill?”

“Easy, I’ll push you.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Are you always this good at solving problems?”

She grinned over her shoulder. “Da says I’m either a blessing or a menace. He hasn’t decided which.”

I stared down the hill, slightly daunted by my precocious passenger. I could just imagine Whyn standing behind me with raised eyebrows. I couldn’t back down now, not with him watching. I had the fleeting hope if something went wrong, he knew a spell that would keep me from plummeting to my death. An image flashed across my mind: this stretch of road, except now it was called “Deadgirl’s Lane”.

I took what was surely my last breath and pushed myself over the crest of the hill. We picked up speed, and the wind of our passing blew my hair out behind me like a war banner. My wheels clattered, and the chair shuddered as it shot down the packed dirt of the road. My passenger flung her arms out to the sides and shrieked with laughter. I closed my eyes and hung on for dear life, longing to grab the wheels to slow down but not daring to. My gloves protected my hands, but even they wouldn’t be able to withstand this kind of friction.

We hit the bottom of the slope and rolled to a stop.

“You can open your eyes now.”

I did and was a little surprised to find myself still among the living.

“See, wasn’t that fun?”

I had to wait until I no longer felt like I was going to have a heart attack before I could answer. But then a grin plucked at my lips, and I found myself saying, “Actually, yes.” And, in a sort of death-defying way, it was. She hopped off and started pushing me back up the hill.

We were greeted by a chorus of voices. “Was it fast, Sara?”

“Faster than sledding, but bumpier,” she answered.

“All life and limbs still attached?” Whyn asked.

“Yes…”

“Why do you sound so wary?”

“Because I think I want to go again.”

 

I like to find the joy and the fun in life’s little setbacks. Every now and then there are some advantages to disability and wheelchairs are one of them. It is a risky kind of fun – I’ve learned through personal experience there’s a reason for the seatbelts on wheelchairs – but what’s the point in having wheels if you can’t fly down a few hills?

This is a big step for Merry in her emotional journey. Just being able to stand back from her pain and see how she might look to others is a huge difference. And being able to see something other than anger and bitterness in her situation shows how far she’s come.

 

As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

AE: A Choice                                                                          AE: Worst Case Scenario

 

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