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Accessible Excerpts: A Choice

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.

Afer finding her home in shambles and her father almost dead, Merry travels with Lans, Vira-we and Whyn to the Refuge of Ammon. Whyn is making a concerted effort to understand Merry and help her through pain.

 

“You’ve never had a hug from a friend?”

I looked away. “I’ve never had a friend.”

“Maybe because you’re always making that face.”

I turned to glare at him. “What?”

“You go all cold and angry. Your eyes are saying ‘stay away from me’. You don’t do it to Lans or Vira, but almost every time you talk to me you look like that.”

I blinked. No one had ever said anything about my mask before. No one had ever realized that it was a mask, that there was a real person underneath.

“Look, you don’t have to tell me anything. I know I haven’t been all that nice to you so far, but I’m trying to do better. I thought maybe you were sad, so I tried to make you feel better, but now you look like you want to bite my head off. What did I do?”

“You didn’t do anything,” I said. I wouldn’t have responded at all, but I was worried about the fragility of our new relationship. We’d been getting along, and it looked like I would be the one to ruin it if I didn’t at least try to explain. “The face… it’s a defense.”

“Against what?”

“Against pity.”

“You don’t want pity?”

“No,” I said, wishing I was in my chair so I could run him over with it. “Would you?”

“I guess not.”

“Just because I can’t walk anymore doesn’t mean I’m useless.”

“I don’t think you’re useless.”

“Well, a lot of people do. I can’t go anywhere without someone staring, or telling their children to feel sorry for me, or something. I want to keep people from coming up and saying stupid things, like asking if I need help.”

“Wait,” he said and shook his head a little. “You’re angry because people want to help you?”

“No, that’s not-” I took a deep breath and thought about how to explain the rage. “I’m angry I need help. I shouldn’t need it. I should be able to do everything by myself, like everyone else in the world.”

He cocked his head to one side, and the corner of his mouth turned up. “You know that’s kind of silly,” he said.

My jaw dropped, and I stared at him. I’d never told anyone about the anger before, and when I finally did, he laughed at me?

He looked over and saw my face. “No, wait, hear me out. I’m saying it’s silly to be ashamed to ask for help. No one can do everything. I’m shorter than most men.” His ears turned pink. Funny, I’d never thought of that shade of red as endearing before. “I can’t always reach the books on the top shelf of the library, so I have to ask Lans to get them for me. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s who I am; I’m not ashamed of it.”

“I bet Lans has never had to ask for help in his life,” I said, crossing my arms, but I was surprised when Whyn actually laughed.

“You wouldn’t win any money with that gamble. Lans can’t read Valerian.”

I raised an eyebrow. “But he speaks it so well.”

“Speaks it yes, but he’s been too busy to learn to read and write it. He’s not ashamed of it, but if we get a missive or have to send one, he gets Vira-we or me to do it.”

“Oh.” Big strong Lans had to ask for help? It made my concerns seem a little ridiculous.

“So, let me see if I have this straight,” Whyn continued. “You don’t want to have to ask for help, and you don’t like change.”

I pursed my lips. I should have known Lans would blab to his partners.

“Basically, you hate feeling out of control. But it sounds to me like your problem-” He made a vague gesture at my legs. “Is controlling you.”

“What?”

“Well, you’re letting it get the better of you. If it’s always making you worried or angry, then it’s the one in control of the situation… hypothetically speaking. If you let it go, accept there are some things you’ll always need help with, then you can concentrate on the things you can do, the things that make you happy and feel in control.”

I let out the breath I’d been holding. Through most of the conversation I’d wanted to hit him with something, but now I took a moment to think about what he was saying. Maybe the reason I was so miserable all the time was because I was only thinking about the things I couldn’t do. His reasoning made sense and struck a chord within me.

There was still a piece of me that was resentful. I didn’t want him thinking he knew everything and could fix the problem just like that, but maybe his idea was valid.

“Perhaps…perhaps you’re right. But you do realize that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

“Of course not. It’s a decision you’re going to have to make, probably every day for the rest of your life. I imagine it’ll be really hard, but it might be worth it.”

Could it be? By doing it my way, I spent most of the time angry and miserable. So much so I didn’t want to be called Merry anymore. Did I want to be miserable for the rest of my life? Well, the answer to that was easy. No, I didn’t.

 

I had this conversation with my husband maybe two years after my injury. His words seemed harsh at the time. I was letting my injury control me? I finally realized he was telling me I had a choice. I could choose to focus on the things that made me miserable. Or I could move on and find joy in the things I can do, the things I’m good at. It’s a thought that changed the way I look at my injury, the way I look at life.

The choice may be easy but the practical application is a lot more difficult. Like Whyn says, it’s a choice that has to be made every day. I was ready to accept the difficulty. But is Merry?

 

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: Familiar Struggles                                                      AE: A Risky Kind of Fun

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Accessible Excerpts: Familiar Struggles

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 rescuers are a day away from her home.

 

Lans came and sat on his heels beside me while I finished tying back my hair.

“Merry,” he said, his eyes serious. “I have to ask you a question you’re not going to like.”

I wrinkled my nose. “That’s not a very nice way to say good morning.”

“No, but it’s necessary. Merry, is everything all right at home?”

I raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, does your father…does he hurt you?”

My jaw dropped, and I snapped it shut as soon as I realized I must look like the catfish Papa brought home on summer days. I started to answer, but Lans went on.

“Because if he does, you don’t have to go back to him. You could come to the Refuge, and the abbot would protect you.”

I shook my head. “That’s not- Why would you think that?”

He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, and I was struck with the thought that I’d never seen him uncomfortable before. He was uncomfortable now. “We were worried you didn’t want to go home. You’ve cried yourself to sleep every night you’ve been with us.”

Heat flooded my cheeks and my teeth clenched. Damn. I hadn’t been expecting that. What was wrong with him? Why would he even bring something like that up? I gathered my anger around me like armor.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” I said.

Lans shrugged. “Maybe it’s not, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t bringing you back to someone who might have hurt you.”

My shoulders relaxed, and I let the defensiveness slip from my face. “Papa would never hurt me,” I said. “We’re all each other has. I’ve missed him this past year.”

Lans finally smiled. “Sounds like I was dead wrong then. I’m all right with that. So you’re looking forward to returning home?”

“Of course. I worry about him when I’m gone. He’s a bit of a genius, and sometimes he gets so carried away he forgets to take care of himself.”

“You said he studies the Vachryn. Is he a mage then?”

“Mage, engineer. He even dabbles in invention. He built my chair.”

“Really?”

“After my accident, the doctors said I would never be able to leave my bed again. Papa didn’t think that was acceptable so he came up with ways to help me move around by myself. He put wheels on Mama’s favorite chair and took all the rugs out of the house. He built ramps over short flights of stairs and a magical box that carries me up to the second floor. He was my only reason to keep living, and he made living possible.”

“Obviously he loves you very much. So why do you cry?”

My eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look away, seeing through every wall and barrier I tried to put up. I’d hoped I had distracted him, but he wasn’t going to let this go. And I’d thought Whyn was insufferable.

I crossed my arms over my chest and looked away. “I don’t like change,” I said. “I don’t like not knowing what the day is going to bring, how I’m going to get around.”

“What’s changed?”

“Look around. Does this look like Benevere? Or like a baronet’s manor? Those are the only two places I’ve ever been. I know how life works there. Not here. This,” I gestured to the trees and the wilderness surrounding us. “This is scary.”

It was really only one of the reasons I cried myself to sleep every night, but I didn’t have to tell him everything.

“So you like to know what’s coming,” Lans said. “That’s easy enough to understand, and it’s easy enough to work with. Here’s what’s going to happen over the next two days. Today we’ll ride. If we’re attacked again, we’ll protect you. If you need help, we’ll provide it, no questions asked. Tomorrow, we’ll reach your home, and you’ll be back where you feel comfortable. How’s that sound?”

I blinked. “That sounds…uh…fine.”

He patted my hand and left just as Vira-we came back into camp.

Was it really that easy? No, but it certainly made it easier to think of things that way. I had an escort. I had help if I needed it. And I’d be home tomorrow.

 

I believe I’ve mentioned I’m a worrier. I could be out on a nice date with my husband, and instead of thinking about the food or the company, I’m worrying about how I’ll stand up or how I’ll navigate the crowded room to get to the bathroom. New places and experiences are stressful until I’ve worked through every possible difficulty or outcome in my head. Having someone there who knows how I operate and who knows exactly how to offer the help I’m so loath to accept makes the anxiety more manageable. Josh (and select friends and family) provide this function for me. Lans provides it for Merry.

Merry has a hard time putting it into words since this is the first time she’s had to admit it to anyone, but she isn’t just afraid of change. She’s afraid of the unknown, she’s afraid of losing her hard won control. Merry’s reasons are unique, but who hasn’t been afraid of these things at one point or another. At every turn I’m surprised by just how familiar her struggles are despite her differences.

 

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 Gentleman’s View                                                            AE: A Choice

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Accessible Excerpts: A Gentleman’s View

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.

Whyn takes a moment to assess Merry and her place with him and his partners.

 

A stab of impatience shot through Whyn. He glared at the dark shape of the chair which was causing him so much misery. The thing was such a strange shape. The seat itself and the cushion looked like an arm chair that wouldn’t be out of place in his mother’s parlor or beside the fire in his father’s study. But instead of legs, there was a pair of large wheels attached to an axle and a smaller pair of wheels in the front to keep the chair balanced. Merry’s feet would rest on a plate that stretched between the front wheels.

He heard blankets stirring and looked over to see Merry had finally woken up. After everyone else had already started the day. Patience, he told himself. It was only just now dawn, and she couldn’t possibly be used to the hours he and his partners kept.

She pushed herself up to a sitting position and rearranged her legs so she could be comfortable. He studied her movements. It wasn’t just that she couldn’t walk. Even sitting on the ground looked hard, since she couldn’t use her legs for balance, and she had to move them with her hands to get situated.

When she had propped herself up, she ran her fingers through her hair and uttered a cry of dismay. She pulled out the ribbon that held it and fumbled her brush out of her belongings. A smile tugged at Whyn’s lips. The curls tumbled around her face in complete disarray. His sisters had looked much the same after waking up in the morning. Toryn had never let anyone see her before she had fixed her hair.

The sudden memory caught him off guard, and he grimaced at the pain it caused.

Of course, that was when Merry turned around and realized he’d been watching her. She gasped in indignation and whirled away from him again.

He swallowed hard and had to look away. Her dark hair was shiny from her furious brushing, and the early morning sun picked out streaks of auburn in it. If she was just a little shorter, he could have been looking at Gisa and not Merry.

When he gathered his courage to face her again, she had tied her loose curls back in a braid and was pulling her chair closer. His brow furrowed and he wondered what she was doing as she grabbed the seat in one hand and the armrest with the other. With a tremendous heave, she pulled her torso up and across the seat, but he could see it was going to be hard to complete the maneuver.

“May I help you, Miss Janson?” The thought hadn’t even formed before the words left his mouth.

“No,” she said, gasping for breath. “I can do it myself.” She glared at him over her shoulder.

Humph, he thought. I was just trying to be nice. He scowled as he watched her. He didn’t think it was possible, but after a lot of work, she did manage to pull herself all the way up until she could plop back into the seat. She was sweaty and panting, but when she looked at him, he saw her nose go higher in the air as if saying ‘see, I told you I could do it’. He tipped his hat to her, giving her a sour grin, and left to find Vira-we and Lans.

 

This is the first time we’ve had the chance to see Merry from another character’s point of view. I really like first person. I like the fact that the reader sits in Merry’s head, hearing her thoughts, seeing what she’s feeling, but I also wanted to compare how she sees herself with how her companions see her.

So Whyn takes a minute to watch her, study her movements, and I’m hoping that we get a better sense of him through his observations. His impatience comes from his own hurt, not revulsion or prejudice, and even in the midst of his pain, he is still a gentleman.

Unfortunately, the only thing Merry hates worse than having to ask for help, is having it offered when she really doesn’t need it. Maybe something she needs to work on.

 

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: Blinders                                                                             AE: Familiar Struggles

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Accessible Excerpts: Blinders

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.

This passage comes directly after last week’s excerpt. Merry is still getting used to traveling with Lans, Vira-we, and Whyn.

 

I tried to ignore Whyn and wheeled myself closer to Vira-we’s pile of blankets. From there I could lean down and tumble off the chair and onto the ground. Down was easy. Getting back up, however, was going to be the problem.

I suppressed a grimace when I realized I’d have to sleep in my damp clothes. Ick.

Before I rolled over, I caught Whyn’s pained expression out of the corner of my eye. I turned my back on him and curled up as small as I could. What was with him, anyway? When I tried to talk to him, he was downright mean, and he kept giving me these funny looks, like the mere sight of me gave him indigestion. I couldn’t help it if I made people uncomfortable, but I wished they would keep their awkwardness to themselves. It wasn’t my job to always smooth things over.

His contempt was excruciating. Whyn was the mage. His good opinion meant so much to me, even though I’d just met him. I’d spent most of my life learning every spell anyone could teach me. But if Whyn was so disgusted by me, what would the mages at the University think?

What did it matter? I hated him. I hated them all.

I waited until the others had settled for the night and Vira-we’s breathing was slow and steady behind me, before I let the tears trickle down my face. It was easy to sob without noise. I’d had a lot of practice, after all.

 

Ooo, lots of goodies in this passage. Something I’ve noticed about Merry this early in the story is how self-absorbed she is in her misery. She’s frustrated and she’s bitter, and right now, it’s easier for her to continue on that way, so she does. Whyn has his own issues and reasons for those “funny looks”, but to Merry, they are clearly about her. She and Whyn clash so spectacularly and misunderstand so much about each other. Neither of them is blameless, but they’re each going to have to move past their own problems in order to see the rest of the world.

Pain can give us blinders so all we see is our own suffering. It can also give us an insight into the suffering of others. I know that when I’m hurting I tend to only see myself, and I have to make a conscious effort to move away from that self-absorption and see that my pain is not only not the most important thing going on, it’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to the pain of those around me. I hope that in the future I can remember that.

 

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: Some Essentials                                                          AE: A Gentleman’s View

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Accessible Excerpts: Some Essentials

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.

There are two scenes here. The first takes place after Merry has decided to travel with her rescuers and the second is that same day just a few hours down the road.

 

With surprising gentleness, Lans slipped his hands under my legs and behind my back and lifted me into the air. I stifled a gasp. I’d been lifted by many men: the servants at my father’s house, the servants at the school. They had all grunted and hoisted me like a sack of flour. None had lifted me with the ease of immense strength, nor to the height of a tree branch. Lans’s arms closed around me, and I felt like a knight as he sat atop his warhorse. Safe, untouchable.

 

I looked around at the clearing with trepidation. I don’t know why I expected a hotel. These didn’t seem like the kind of people who would bother with a hotel. But I’d never spent the night outdoors. It hadn’t even occurred to me that we might.

I could do this. Everyone else in the world did, why couldn’t I?

The three of them set about making camp with an ease that made me realize they’d been together a long time. Lans erected a canvas tarp so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain, while Vira-we laid out their bedrolls, and Whyn built the fire

After dinner, I decided I’d put some things off for long enough, and no matter how embarrassing it was, I needed to take care of them. I inched my chair a little closer to the other woman in our party.

“Vira-we,” I whispered. “Could you help- I mean, I have to go- I mean, I know there’s no water closet, but…” My face burned as I stuttered to a stop.

I didn’t have to say any more. Vira-we smiled and stood up. “Of course. We’ll be back in a minute, boys.”

She helped me push my chair through the underbrush until we were out of sight of the camp. It wasn’t at all what I was used to, but Vira-we and I seemed to manage all right.

 

I’ve included the first excerpt because I feel I should explain something. Eventually Merry is carried by all three of her companions. However, I want to point out that this only works because all three are warriors. They have the strength to pull this off. Even Whyn, the scholar, has spent the last two years running around the woods doing his share of the manual labor. Just wanted to say that I recognize carrying around over a hundred pounds of dead weight is a little implausible for most people. You’ll notice even Lans, Vira, and Whyn can only carry Merry short distances. Not really an important point, I know, but one that comes from personal experience.

As for the second excerpt… I’m a worrier. I obsess over little things sometimes. And I’ll admit that every time we’re in the mountains I’ve worried about the bathroom situation. I don’t believe every author who writes about characters with disabilities needs to tell us exactly how they go to the bathroom (seriously, it’s not that complicated, use your imagination), but I did want to show that I had given thought to the fact that victorian-ish era + wilderness + wheelchair = headscratch. Details aren’t required but I’m thinking Merry and Vira found a log that would work nicely. Also I think this shows some growth for Merry who has a very hard time asking for help even with essentials.

 

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: Emotional Baggage                                                                         AE: Blinders

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Accessible Excerpts: Emotional Baggage

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 a run-in with some monsters, Merry has accepted help from Lans, Vira-we and Whyn. But she and Whyn have already gotten off on the wrong foot.

“Here, mushka, I’ll lift you.”

I looked up at Lans. He was holding out his arms. “Lift me where?”

“Onto a horse. The chair has to stay here.”

I felt my stomach crawl into a knot, and I swallowed. “What? No, I need it.”

“No wagon,” Whyn reminded me from the other side of his horse.

Panic crept up my numb legs and settled below my heart. I lost control over my face, and my icy protection fell away. I shook my head. “Then I’m not coming.”

“I don’t believe this,” Whyn said.

“You can’t take my chair away.” The words were torn out of me. “I can’t move without it. I can’t even crawl.”

I’d never admitted to anyone how I felt without the bulky contrivance my father had invented for me, and I realized how close the tears were to the surface. If I didn’t calm down and get the mask in place, I’d never be able to cover up the confession I’d just made. I took a shuddering breath.

“Here, lass.” Lans handed me a clean handkerchief. He didn’t tell me not to cry, or to calm down. He didn’t utter false reassurances. He just solved the most immediate problem. I used the square of linen to dab at my damp eyes and nose. Maybe it would look like I was wiping away the rain.

“We can bring it,” Vira-we said.

I looked at the quiet tribeswoman and hoped the gratitude leaking out from under the cold defensiveness wasn’t apparent in my expression.

“Nara can drag it behind her. We Adhahi do it with our tents, and she’s trained for it.”

“We’ll go slower,” Whyn said.

“We’d already be going slower,” Lans reminded him. “Will Nara be able to carry both of you and the chair?”

Vira-we was already pulling rope from her packs. “At the pace we’ll be going? Of course. And Ax has all he can handle with you and that greatsword, so don’t even volunteer.”

I noticed how they didn’t suggest putting me with Whyn.

Vira-we started tying ropes to the strange straps on her saddle, and Lans held out his arms again. He didn’t ask if I needed help; he was just there waiting to provide what I needed. For a moment, I didn’t know how to handle that. I hated having to ask for help, and I hated when people offered it to me when I didn’t need it. But to have my needs anticipated, without drawing attention to my handicap… somehow that was better. I let a smile peek through before I covered it with my usual hostility.

 

As I go through this series, I’ve noticed it’s harder and harder to separate scenes that deal with Merry’s disability and scenes that deal with the emotional baggage that comes with her disability. To me, they’re the same. You can’t have one without the other so they’re kind of a package deal. There are plenty of places like this one where I’m not trying to get across how Merry walks (or doesn’t walk) or the specific physical problems and limitations that she encounters. I’m trying to give you a glimpse inside her thoughts, showing how her limitations have affected and even warped her thinking.

Here, Merry is confronted with the possibility of losing her chair, and the thought terrifies her. So much so that she looses control of her carefully cultivated mask. I think her reaction is perfectly natural at this point. The chair is her anchor and her freedom all in one. It’s loss would be devastating. Hmm, perhaps this is something to explore a little more later. This is also the first glimpse we have of people who can help her without making her feel inferior. I’ll just go ahead and come out with it. Lans is one of my favorite characters.

 

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: Common Experiences                                                       AE: Some Essentials

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Accessible Excerpts: Common Experiences

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 is on her way home after events in Benevere have forced her departure.

 

The train platform cleared as people ran from the weather. It was just rain. Did they think they were going to melt? I looked around our stop. The town was no more than a way-point on the train line. A few houses and a hotel were clustered around the tiny station. As if mimicking the buildings, a couple young men waiting for the train had sought shelter under the eaves of the ticket office.

One of them looked at me. He had a mop of bright gold hair and an infectious smile. I found my own lips curving upward in response. He was kind of cute. He said something to his friend before he stepped toward us. My breath caught, and I forced myself not to reach up and make sure my bonnet was straight. My heart pounded as he drew nearer…

And then stepped around me to talk to Cecily.

If my legs worked, I would have kicked myself. Why would he be looking at you, stupid? Even if I hadn’t been forced to live my life in a chair, he still would have picked her over me. She looked like a porcelain doll, one that had never been played with, with her straight blond hair and clear skin and big, limpid brown eyes. Like a cow’s.

Sitting next to her, no one would think to look at me with my messy brown hair, muddy green eyes and skin that was prone to spots.

Finally the boy’s friend dragged him away so they could dash through the torrent to board the train. I glared at him as he went by, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“He was cute,” Cecily said. “And charming, wasn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said, lifting my chin. “I don’t pay attention to boys.”

“You will one day.” She gave me a condescending smile. “You’ll meet a boy who’s cute and charming and doesn’t care about your legs.”

My fingers clenched on the wheels of my chair. My mask would protect me. It would hide me from the good intentions of stupid people.

“Oh, do you really think so?” I said, hoping she would catch the mocking in my tone.

But Cecily was about as bright as the cow I’d compared her to. “Of course I do. There’s someone out there for everyone.”

So much for mockery. “That’s complete muck,” I said.

 

First off, who hasn’t had this happen to them? Anyone? I feel like humanity is bound by common experiences and this is one of them. You’re standing there and someone waves at you. You look around thinking, he can’t be looking at me, can he? But he is. Oh my gosh, he really is. And then you realize his friend is right behind you and now you look like a dork.

Merry’s experience has a few other implications. He couldn’t possibly be interested in her not only because she’s not as pretty as Cecily, but who would want to make eyes at a pair of wheels. And this scene proves that she’ll never receive that kind of attention from the opposite sex. Which is okay because she totally doesn’t want that kind of drama in her life. Right?

Poor Merry. I spend the rest of the book showing her she’s wrong.

 

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: Personal Space                                                                            AE: Emotional Baggage

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Accessible Excerpts: Personal Space

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.

This excerpt comes immediately after Masks from last week. Madam Francine has just threatened to kick Merry out of school and now Merry is on her way to the museum.

 

My wheels sank into the thick grass as I pushed myself toward the street, and I struggled to keep my drawing supplies balanced on my lap. It felt like I was wading through the underbrush of a jungle, but I pressed on like a fearless explorer. I liked the image of being a fearless explorer, even if my jungle was just a manicured lawn.

Heels clicked on the cobblestones, and I looked up to see Cecily, one of my classmates, coming back up the street.

“Oh, Merry,” she said. “Here, let me help you.” Her voice was too soft, too sweet, like an overripe apple. Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed the back of my chair and started pushing me down the long cobblestoned street. I bit my tongue before I could snap at her. I wanted to tell her I could push my chair by myself, that’s why it had wheels after all, but I didn’t want to give Madam Francine any more reasons to get rid of me. I needed that recommendation. So I ground my teeth and accepted the humiliation.

 

It’s amazing how people can be so desperate to seem helpful that they ignore things like common courtesy. This scene actually came from personal experience. I use my wheelchair at the airport, and the flight crews are usually really helpful and accommodating, giving me as much time as I need and being patient with all the weird quirks that come with using both crutches and a wheelchair. But they always offer to push me to the plane. I understand why they do, jetways can be really steep, but I’m a healthy 27 year old in a sleek manual chair, and I travel with my own 6’6” mobility assistant. I’m good, thanks.

One trip, one of the flight crew approached as we were getting ready to board. They were running late and he was obviously in a hurry to get me on the plane and settled, but he decided the best way to do this would be to grab the back of my chair – without asking, without even saying “hey, we need to get you on the plane” – and start pushing me.

This is a huge violation of personal space and just plain courtesy. When I’m using the chair, if you touch it, it’s like you’re touching me. That man figuratively put his hands all over me without asking and then took away my freedom of movement. It’s making me clench my teeth just thinking about it. Don’t do this. Ever. All right, if the person is careening down a hill into a pit of lava and stopping to ask for permission is going to result in their fiery death, then yeah sure, grab them. But a delayed flight does not equal fiery lava death. If they look like they could use some help up a hill or through a door, go ahead and offer it. They could have been waiting for a big brawny guy to come along and do just that. But don’t be insulted if they refuse. Being able to do something for oneself is really important, no matter how hard it is. If they’re the ones that ask you for help, even better. They’re in a much better place than I am.

As for the flight crew guy, both Josh and I tried to get him to take his hands off me, at first politely, and then not so politely. He insisted that it was company policy to push wheelchairs down the jetway. BS. I’ve flown a lot, on a lot of different airways, and I’ve never heard that before. But in this case, all I could do was grit my teeth and bear it.

Argh. Ok, I’m putting the soap box away now.

 

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: Masks                                                                                        AE: Common Experiences

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Accessible Excerpts: Masks

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.

This is the first scene of the novel where we are introduced to the main character, Miss Merry Janson.

 

Madam Francine turned to me. She was too well-bred to tap her foot, but she did put her hands on her hips. “Merry,” she said. “I think it’s time we reevaluated your place at our school.”

I crossed my arms and cocked an eyebrow at her, wondering if I was about to be sent home in disgrace. Again.

“Has my performance been unsatisfactory?” I asked. We both knew she couldn’t find anything wrong with my consistent top marks, but I wanted her to say it out loud.

“No,” she said, her eyes sliding away from mine. “Your class work is exemplary, as usual. But your…situation is unique. I’m not sure what your father was thinking when he sent you here. What is it you hope to accomplish by studying with us?”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Madam Francine liked to answer her own questions.

She continued as if I weren’t there. “Most of our girls leave here with the training to become exceptional wives and mothers. Or, if they haven’t received a proposal, they become governesses for influential families. However, I don’t see you fitting into either of those roles. You are obviously not suited for marriage, and no respectable family would hire you to teach their children.”

My face burned, and I snapped my mouth shut before I blurted out my dream. Why was I surprised? Most people thought I was useless, and I had trained myself not to let them get to me. I set my face in the cold, hostile mask I’d perfected just for stupid, cowards like Madame Francine.

“My father is paying for my education,” I said. “Not for your opinion.”

I yanked on the wheels of my chair and pushed myself out of the park, not looking to see if she followed. Saints help me, I only had to deal with Madam Francine for another month. Then I could ask her for my recommendation, and I’d be on my way to the University.

 

These few paragraphs are supposed to accomplish a lot right off the bat. I’m establishing Merry’s disability and how the people around her react to it. I’m also introducing Merry as a character and letting you see how she handles the reactions. Which is not particularly well here at the beginning.

Merry’s struggles are deeply personal for me (as if you couldn’t guess that already) but this is one I was really anxious to get on paper from the start. After my injury, the only way I knew to deal with people, to cope with the constant sympathy and encouragement (encouragement can be strangely discouraging), was to put up a mask. An expression or a personality I could wear that would hide what I was really feeling from the world. My mask was a smile and an eternal optimism I didn’t necessarily feel all the time. Merry’s is cold hostility. In some ways I think hers is a lot more honest than mine was.

 

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?

Post it Proudly                                                                                           AE: Personal Space

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Clumsy Clichés

It was a dark and stormy night.

“There she blows!”

Captain Amab clicked his spy glass shut and spun on the tip of his wooden leg.

“After that whale, you scurvy sea dogs. That’s the beast that ate me leg.”

The sailors shuffled their feet while the first mate and the bosun looked at each other.

“Is he always like this?” the bosun asked.

“Oh, this is just the calm before the storm,” the first mate said.

“Captain,” the bosun said. “We haven’t seen shore in months.”

“Avast that talk. You’ll not rob me of my revenge.”

The first mate and the bosun exchanged another look that said, “we’re all in the same boat”. Or maybe it was “sink or swim”. They nodded to each other.

They grabbed Captain Amab by the arms and chucked him over the pin rail.

His peg leg disappeared with an unassuming bloop.

“Not so hard after all,” the bosun said. “Turns out he was just a drop in the bucket.”

 

That was written during a writer’s group meeting where we talked about clichés. The general consensus was that they’re bad and no self-respecting writer would ever stoop to using them. However, I disagree. I think there’s a time and a place where clichés can be used effectively. For example, spotlighting the ridiculous, as seen above. Disclaimer: I’m a sailor and I’d have thrown him overboard too. What is a scurvy sea dog anyway?

The thing is, clichés are cliché for a reason, usually because there’s some truth in them. I’m not giving you free rein to go out and use all the same tired phrases and cheesy situations you can think of. I know it’s really easy to fall into the cliché trap when creating your characters. Half the work is already done for you when readers can easily imagine the crusty sailor with a peg leg, or the PI with a smart mouth and a drinking problem, or the romance heroine with a sordid past. But readers can also easily get bored with such tropes. Maybe stop and think about what you want to get across to your readers and figure out how you can use clichés without making them cringe and throw your book at the wall.

I write fairy-tales and what’s more cliché than happily ever after? One of the reasons I love fairy-tales is because they’re so familiar. Everyone knows that Cinderella loses her shoe at a ball. I use the familiar to bring out and highlight the differences in my characters and my stories. My Cinderella doesn’t lose a glass slipper, she loses an ankle-foot orthotic. Still just as unique to her (I mean, Prince Charming still has to be able to pinpoint her, right?), but not nearly as uncomfortable as glass footwear. Or what about a character that twists clichéd metaphors or uses them wrong. A guy says, “I beat that dead fish to death”. Tells you something about the character, doesn’t it?

I also write about disabilities. Just like everything else there are clichés associated with the handicapped, and like I said, they’re clichés because they’re at least a little bit true. My characters have the expected feelings of anger, bitterness, and uselessness because I had to go through those myself. But I try to write beyond them as well. There are deeper reasons behind the emotions that are far more interesting to read about than just “she’s angry because she can’t walk”. We’re capable of feeling so much; can you really justify assigning just one emotion to a character? My Maid Marion is angry, yes, but it’s a mask to hide her self-loathing and protect her from pity. She hates the people around her for not understanding her and then hates herself for hating them. So I’ve explained the cliché and moved past it, creating a deeper character we can understand and relate to.

So before you ax everything that sounds even remotely familiar, consider how clichés could actually help your writing.

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