Friday, October 13, 2017

The Freebie Writer

Not every disabled and/or neurodivergent writer is on a program like SSI/SSD (or your country’s equivalent).  But, for those who are, writing can be a dangerous game… well, publishing can be.

Writers are told never to write for free, never set our books at “zero”, and never let anyone take advantage of our skills.  Writing is an art, yes, but also an act that takes a fair bit of work.  Setting aside how small projects like literary magazines often can’t pay, we’re all supposed to go out and remind people that ours is a profession and should be treated as such.

If you’re on a government assistance program however, the amount of money you can make is limited (at points, extremely) and the release date of a book might inspire more fear than feeling of success.  Those of us on “welfare or benefits” know how little it can take for the government to look at your income and say:  “Well, you don’t need us anymore… or your medical insurance”.  For the majority of us, no medical insurance means death.

So, those who still long to be published writers seek out ways to get their writing into the hands of readers in ways that won’t mess up their (literally life-saving) insurance.  They self-publish and offer books for free (or ninety-nine cents).  They embrace literary journals that don’t pay.  They take writing assignments more for the byline than the check.

People not receiving SSI/SSD would consider this horrible.  Why, if we can make money, would we ever decide not to?  Don’t we want to be independent?

Writers rarely make the type of money that would cover the expenses of multiple medications, hospital stays, power wheelchairs, weekly counseling, and a number of other (quite expensive) necessities.  Many of us would need hundreds of thousands per year to cover our costs.  And writers like J. K. Rowling are the exception of what a writer can earn, not the rule.  If we could support ourselves (and be rid of bigots who turn our lives into a cost-benefit analysis) we would. Maybe a few of us will even get to that point.

We will write however we can, for as long as we can, and do whatever possible to get our words out there.  But, we must also be safe and secure in the knowledge that we will have insulin tomorrow, or the ability to go to our dentist appointment next month.  No one else is asked to choose between their passion and their lives, and it shouldn’t start now.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cancer Treatment Hiatus

Dear everyone,

After much consideration, I've come to a decision today to share my secret.  I'm still uncertain about it because I don't want to hurt or scare anyone.  I don't want people angry I didn't say anything sooner.  This is not a joke, or a lie, or plea for attention.  But, I feel selfish for revealing it all.

I have cancer.  I was diagnosed in late June with Uterine Cancer, grade one.  A mass was found on my cervix in April.  A surgeon has said I'm definitely at stage two and (possibly) stage three because a couple of nodes in my pelvis also show signs of the disease.  Outside of the nodes and residual cancer from where the tumor was, no other cancer exists.  I started external radiation therapy on Wednesday.  I'm not a candidate for a hysterectomy.  I refuse to ask about my odds, but seem curable.

I'm telling everyone this so people understand when I'm not posting on my blog, responding on social media, or have to say "no" to gatherings or opportunities.  Treatment is five days a week in a town about 45 minutes from my apartment... it leaves me drained and hurting due to chronic pain.  I'm not used to going out so often.

Please be patient with me as I go through this.  It's been a rough year.

For more information:
I have some automatic posts going up this month on my blogs, but then they'll go silent while I heal.  I will still be active on Twitter.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Desperation Gives a Pass

We know there are few resources for disabled and/or neurodivergent writers.  We want it to be different, but it isn’t.  There are, however, a ton of resources for writers in general, some we can use… many we can’t.

Disabled and neuordivergent writers are often excluded from the world of “general” writers.  If it isn’t a workshop being up ten flights of stairs, it’s a literary magazine editor admitting they dislike working with neuordivergent writers (yes, it has happened).

Because there are so few places open to us, because there is so much out there for writers most of us cannot access, we often make excuses for the very people who don’t think about, or care about, our inclusion.  We hope they’ll do better and defend them when they repeatedly fail to make their spaces welcoming.  We hope, if we keep reminding them that we’re here, they will decide to fix everything.

A prime example of this is AWP (one of the largest organizations for writers).  Every year at their conference, things are not accessible.  Every year, people with disabilities are treated like crap by some of the volunteers when they need help.  Every year, there are stairs where there shouldn’t be.  They have gotten a fair amount of criticism for what they haven’t fixed.

But, a frighteningly large amount of disabled/neurodivergent writers make excuses for them, berate other disabled/neurodivergent writers for taking AWP to task, and cheer the organization whenever one little thing out of a thousand is addressed.  I hope The AWP Conference continues to improve upon their commitment to ALL writers but, after this long, I’m not holding my breath.

Just because a group, organization, conference, or residence caters to a lot of people, doesn’t mean the lack of accessibility should automatically be brushed aside as the organizers being “too busy”.  Something that is established with a lot of people behind it has even less excuse, I think, because there is enough money and time to include EVERYONE in their plan.  Well, everyone who can afford to attend an event, which is a different post.

Even things like online classes and workshops can have barriers, though it is probably more accidental than intentional.  I, myself, am still not sure how to make a website completely friendly for all my disabled/neurodivergent people and hope (if one of you comes across a problem) you’d let me know how I may best rectify the issue.

What do you folks think?  Do some disabled/neurodivergent writers give too many passes and make too many excuses for the larger literary community, or am I wrong?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Interview With Romance Writer Dahlia Donovan

Photo:  Dahlia Donovan

What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?

I’m not sure what really influenced me to start writing. Reading was always part of my life since I was taught to read at the age of three. The first story I ever wrote was about bears—I was eight. The first romance I wrote was much, much later in life. It was inspired by a crazy dream.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

Not a routine, per se. I need white noise, so I usually have both music and the TV on at varying volumes. I’ll often start writing by hand, and I have to have a certain kind of pen and paper, or I can’t write.

In your book, The Misguided Confession, the protagonist (Elaine Gibbs) is autistic.  How did you come to the decision that she was/should be? Are any of the other characters in your books neurodivergent and/or disabled?

Elaine actually appears first in the Blackbird series, a paranormal romance series that I indie published.  I knew from the moment I included her that she’d be autistic. I’ll fully admit to putting quite a bit of myself into her.  I tend to be a ‘pantser,’ I fly by the seat of my pants when I write, so characters tend to evolve organically and not so much as a product of plot or outline.
After the Scrum featured a character with anxiety and PTSD. My current series, The Sin Bin will feature a pair of autistic twins, a disabled military veteran, and a man who suffers from PTSD.  Almost all of my stories have featured at least one neurodivergent or disabled character.

You write (mostly) gay male romance.  What compels you to pen stories of men loving men?

So, being a pantser comes into play here as well, I just enjoy writing love stories. Sometimes those stories are about two men who fall in love and sometimes they aren’t.

Did you struggle with writing from a male character's perspective when you first started out?  Do you have any tips on writing different genders?

I don’t really remember struggling to write from a male POV. People are people, after all. Mannerisms and reactions are slightly different, but I’ve always been a people watcher. I think this is where being autistic comes in handy. I’ve spent so much of my life observing people to avoid ‘standing out’ that I’ve learnt quite a bit about how men and women behave.

Rugby appears fairly often in your stories.  What draws you to it as a story aspect?

Is it shallow of me to admit that the men are often very attractive? That’s part of it. I think what draws me to it more is the idea of rugby players who have retired. All of the rugby stars in my stories have left the game whether voluntarily or forced. What intrigues me is exploring how someone who has excelled to the point of being a sports star responds to losing that aspect of their life.

The Caretaker (published July 2017) features a May-December romance. Were there challenges in writing a love story with characters from different generations?  If so, what were they? 

Not really, at least not for me. Almost all of my romances have featured an age gap of at least a few years if not more. I think the only challenge is making sure to acknowledge there is the potential for issues either between the couple or amongst their extended family and friends.

Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)

My favourite author of all time is Jane Austen. I love her sense of humour and how she approached the absurdities of humanity. She didn’t shy away from showing people at their worst but managed to make it tragically funny.

What were some mistakes you made in writing/publishing when you first started? What has been your biggest validation as a writer to date?

The great mistake I made when I started was underestimating the importance of a good editor and a good book cover. I was very lucky to find a brilliant editor to work with rather quickly, though.

Biggest validation? I’m honestly not sure. Seeing my book in print was pretty epic. Or, perhaps having another author tell me that I was their favourite writer, which was a special moment for me.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on The Lion Tamer. It’s the sixth book in The Sin Bin series. I’m about a third of the way into the novel and enjoying it immensely.
Biography:  Dahlia Donovan wrote her first romance series after a crazy dream about shifters and damsels in distress.  She prefers irreverent humour and unconventional characters.  An autistic and occasional hermit, her life wouldn’t be complete without her husband and her massive collection of books and video games.

Buy The Caretaker physically here.
Buy The Caretaker digitally here.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Surprise, No Disability!

Scenario:  A character you like is disabled and, as the book progresses, you love that character more and more.  Maybe he/they/she has your disability, maybe a condition or disease not often covered well in literature.  Either way, you’re digging it.  You tense as the climax nears.  The showdown starts and the character has a revelation:  He/they/she was never disabled in the first damn place.


There are books using “fake disability” as a plot twist, and there will probably be more once one or two make it big.  Disabled people rarely see ourselves in literature, so a portrayal we relate to that turns out to be a “mistake”, “shock”, or “drama” is very disappointing.  Plus, it makes our truths seem more tenuous.  Wheelchairs, diseases, canes… they’re all for able-bodied people’s entertainment.

And, these “plots” are definitely for the able-bodied, not us.  Our disabilities are used to tug at the heartstrings of those who have no clue what it is like to be us, who pity us and keep their distance, who donate to a charity and pat themselves on the back.  They want to see the cripple struggle for a “normal” existence and then be “cured”.  It gives able-bodied people a good story, a narrative they agree with:  Disabled people should do everything to live as close to being able-bodied as possible (even if it could kill them)… and then be cured. 

Disabled people don’t get much to choose from in the realm of media when we desire representation.  Many of us are leery when we see a new book with a disabled protagonist or a neurodivergent character in a sitcom. 

Able-bodied/neurotypical people don’t understand it because, to them, any representation is something we should be grateful for.  Any effort should be praised!   They believe these things because they have plenty of representation for themselves and, since it is rare to see a cripple in a movie, they definitely remember it.  They think, because they can name three or four examples of gimps in cinema or books, that there are a lot.  In their social circles, the only disabled people they see or remember are frail grandparents in nursing homes so surely, the amount of people in media reflects the amount of disabled people they’ve met!

Meanwhile, disabled people are stuck with problematic portrayals, sifting through and hoping to find a gem of a character among the drivel.  A book where the plot twist is that the king is really the court jester, or the president is an alien from a war-loving, though inept, sub-race from a parallel universe where our hero saves the day… crutches and all.

Have you ever read a book where disability was used as a shock or twist?  How did you feel about it?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

Image:  A stylized, explosive ball of flame takes up most of the background, descending upon tall buildings that seem to circle the area.  The title of the book and the author's name are in thin, black script across most of the ball of flame.  Small helicopters near the upper corners patrol a smoggy sky.  In the foreground at the bottom of the image, two people stand: A woman with bright pink hair, purple dress, with her hands on her hips, and the other, a bald reptilian man in a black tank top. 

Parole is a crumbling city that is constantly burning and closed off from the rest of the world.  Its inhabitants have powers both great and terrible, but everyone fears two things:  Parole someday tumbling into the fire underground, and Eye in the Sky, the government surveillance.

Evelyn and her wives Rose and Danae are part of the resistance, a movement to keep citizens safe and Parole standing. When Evelyn bumps into Regan (a reptilian man with amnesia), things are set in motion that will test the city and its heroes, if it doesn’t kill them first.
Let me get this out of the way:  Amnesia and dystopia/totalitarian regimes are tropes I’ve read a lot.  So much, in fact, I groaned inwardly when I found out this book had them.  Not again, I thought to myself.  But, this book is more than I first gave it credit for.

The characters are diverse, caring, hopeful, badass, and realistic.  Evelyn and her family are so sweet together and you can tell the three women love one another and their son.  Regan longs for the feeling of love and acceptance he sometimes finds, just out of reach in his lost memories.  Zilch is a nonbinary (stitched together) person looking for their heart.  Even secondary characters are given adequate detail and personalities.  Everyone can (and does) fight for what they love and believe.  Parole is populated with people of a variety of skin tones, sexual orientations, disabilities, neuordivergences, superpowers, and places on the gender spectrum.  Villains are sometimes harder to pin down than one would think.

Parole is a vivid setting.  The details are plentiful but don’t bog down the story in any way.  The buildings inside Parole are adequately described, but the city itself is the real star with cracks in the sidewalk, constant smoke in the air, the white noise of helicopters always patrolling.  I could see it clearly in my mind.

The stakes felt high and the pacing was good.  Though it seemed like there might be a little too much “down time” for the characters at points, even that is essential because of the novel’s tone.

One of the things I liked most about this novel is the hope in it.  The characters face horrors every day (no one in Parole comes away without anxiety, PTSD, or depression) but everyone still loves and dreams.  Our heroes strive to make a better city than the one they fell asleep in.  There is emphasis on chosen family and acceptance, just as you are.

A few things to be aware of:  This book features a drug that is addicting and sometimes fatal, though no detailed descriptions of someone taking it.  There are descriptions of characters burning and an instance of torture.   And, the book ends with things unresolved (there is a sequel out right now).

I definitely recommend this book.

Friday, September 8, 2017

What Would an Organization of "Us" Entail?

My thoughts on what disabled and/or neurodivergent writers would benefit most from in an organization.  This is all subject to change.  Feel free to add what you think is necessary.


1.  The best place to start is online.  Many of us can't travel or cover the expenses of starting an organization... online can help with that.  Anything done at a physical location will need significant financial backing.  Even if online is the only place this exists, it could still be significantly beneficial.  Unless it's a nonprofit, I don't see it branching out to "the real world" much.

2.  We need intersectional disabled/neurodivergent poets and writers in some of the top positions.  They know more about true inclusion and can find pitfalls or gaps that someone white, cishet, Christian... can't.

3.  It would need to be accessible in as many ways as possible.

4.  Membership wouldn't be a requirement for all things.

The organization would offer:

1.  An online conference, free of charge.   Possibly, one offline that's low-cost.  Most-to-all presenters would be disabled and/or neurodivergent writers.  There would be no stairs to get onstage.

2.  Workshops and classes, online (at first).  These would be for small groups, as to not overwhelm anyone.

3.  Small prize "gifteds".  Writers would apply, much like a grant, but receive something they need for their work like new reference books, software, etc.  No cash given.  Many of us can't apply for grants without jeopardizing medical care or grocery money...

4.  A mentor program (may be online only).

5.  A newsletter serving to promote member events, new writing, etc.

6.  Working with certain literary magazines, virtual fellowships could be created similar to the Kathy Fish Fellowship.  Other types of fellowships could follow.

7.  Contests.

What the organization wouldn't do:

1.  Create a retreat/residency.  I'd love one, but think a separate organization would be best for this.

2.  Be present at the AWP conference.  We have a great disability caucus there, already.  Members can go anywhere they want, of course.  We just wouldn't be there in an official capacity.

3.  Offer full-on grants.

4.  Charge membership fees.  There might be unavoidable charges for some workshops or whatever, but these would be kept minimal.  Finances are a barrier we don't need to impose on each other.

5.  Have a new press associated with it.  A press is a full-time commitment.  Unless the organization becomes so successful it has "departments', it isn't going to start one.  If an existing press wants to partner... that's different.

I'm certain there are things I'm forgetting in all of this.  The organization's goal is simple:  Connect disabled and/or neurodivergent writers together and provide resources to further craft and careers.  

Everything would only work if a significant group of us banded together and made it so.  I don't have nearly enough funds or know-how to begin this alone, hence the tiny blog.

What would you add in all this?  Do you think an online organization would be helpful enough?