Thursday, September 29, 2016

Interview: Writer Jennifer Lee Rossman

Photo:  Jennifer Lee Rossman.

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

I don't remember ever not telling stories, though the first written story I can reliably date (because the main characters were usually the same age as me) was when I was eleven. I suspect I was drawn to writing because it was something I could do. I didn't have many friends, and my disability made sports and most hobbies difficult, but put me in front of a word document and I'm unstoppable.

You seem to be drawn to sci-fi and fantasy. What about those genres speaks to you?

The real world is awful - there are mean people, and buildings without elevators, and no such thing as time travel or unicorns! I think sci-fi and fantasy are kind of an escape for me. The world can feel like it isn't made for people like me, and that gets really depressing, but then there's Doctor Who and Firefly and Harry Potter, and everything is a little bit more okay. And with all those automatic doors and voice activated things, I'm pretty sure the Starship Enterprise is totally handicapped accessible.

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

Not really. I just write as much as I can whenever I get the chance.

How do you think your disability affects your writing?

I have muscular dystrophy, which means my muscles are gradually getting weaker. Though I seem to have reached a plateau and haven't gotten much worse in recent years, it's reached a point where traditional typing is very difficult. I use an on-screen keyboard instead, which means I have to click on each letter I want to type. Add to that my attention deficit disorder that turns procrastination into an artform, and I'm surprised I get anything done some days.

Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be 

I don't read as much as I'd like to, but I recently discovered Jasper Fforde. His stories are amazingly bizarre, and I wish I could write like that.

Circuits & Slippers, an anthology of retold fairy-tales with a science fiction slant, comes out today with your first-ever published story in it. Congratulations! What is your story about?

Thank you! We're all very excited.

It's hard to describe my story, Scrapefoot, without spoiling it, so I'll just describe it as "Goldilocks and the three mysterious shadowy figures who put her through weird tests in a cottage she can't leave."

Do you see yourself and/or your writing differently now that your work has been published?

Absolutely! The first time I opened an acceptance email, my life suddenly meant something. I might never be able to have a "real" job, and I'll probably always need the government to feed and house me, and there are always going to be people who think I'm stupid and talk to my mother instead of me, but now I know I have something to offer the world. I matter, my silly little stories matter, and I've never felt anything like that before.

Have you experienced ableism in the publishing industry/literary community?

Not really. I'm always afraid of what I call the "pity factor" - people being nice to me just because they feel sorry for me - so I don't go out of my way to mention my disability in my submissions.
I have had bad experiences trying to go to writing workshops, with people whispering about food allergies as soon as I came in (because I must be sick and too stupid to ask about the ingredients before I eat a cookie?), and everyone going out of their way to be super nice and include me even though I told them repeatedly that I didn't want them to. It's why I prefer all of my social interaction to be online.

What are you currently working on? How is it going?

I'm writing a novel about a woman in a wheelchair trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. I love The Walking Dead and Z Nation and anything zombie, but whenever I talk about what I would do in an apocalypse, I find myself saying, "If I could walk..." But I can't. Someone like me would have a really hard time in a world like that, no matter how mentally prepared she is. I don't know exactly where the story is going at this point, but I'm enjoying it. My main character is quirky and has quite the sense of humor.

What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

She didn't mean it as writing advice, but my mother once said about The Walking Dead: "I'll accept that there are zombies, but since when can they walk up stairs!?" Ever since, I've been very conscious of where to draw the line with believability, and not to change the rules of the story just to suit the plot. Readers will accept spaceships, they'll accept that my main character can breathe fire, but maybe I should rethink the time travel that suddenly shows up in chapter twenty.

Biography:  Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek who lives in a world of her own creation (other people call it "Oneonta, New York"), where she crochets, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run people over with her wheelchair.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sagamihara: Month Two

Two months have past since you've left us.  Your names and personalities are still in shadow.  The world is spinning onward with other news, other deaths, it is the way of things.  Sand blown from the hourglass by a gale.

I wonder about those left behind, the survivors of the night.  Has another person died from wounds sustained without media giving attention?  Would the toll be updated?  Are those on the road to recovery healing well?  Are they still living where they were?  Are they afraid of the place they thought of as home?  Does anyone care if they can't sleep at night?  Did they receive new blankets, or do they sleep on bloodstains, unable to be fully removed?

I say the name of the place on the map where you lived, my white tongue clunking against the syllables in ways they're not meant to be pronounced.  It is the only way I can mention you and be understood.
It is one of the few things we're allowed to remember.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: Spellwright by Blake Charlton

Image:  Book cover.  A man with flowing black hair and wizard robes holds a ball of light in one hand and a book in the other.  He is standing on a dais.  A stone, hawk like creature is perched above his head. 

Nicodemus is a wizard-in-training, dreaming of the day he can wear the robes of a full mage.  In this world, magic is literally made of text—letters, words, paragraphs—that form what you need them to be.  But Nicodemus may never get the wizard robes he so covets because every spell he touches becomes corrupted.  Oh, and he fits the prophesy of someone who could save the whole of magic… or destroy it and everything else.

Nicodemus is a good protagonist with complex emotions.  He wants so badly to become a true wizard and often hates his disability, even to the point of wanting a cure (which he doesn’t find in this book) but not to the point dooming other people.  He is loyal and courageous, hopeful and frustrated.   Some readers will find his moments of self-pity irritating.  Nicodemus is around twenty-five.

The secondary characters are interesting.  Nicodemus’ mentor is Master Shannon, a blind (sort of) teacher who was exiled for political leanings from his old city.  Nicodemus meets druids (one has a limp) who have their own agenda given by a goddess.  A former student of Shannon’s is the head of security for visiting diplomats.  The villain is unabashedly evil.

The other disabled spellwrights, only two of which the book goes into any detail with, were realistic but not satisfying to me.  Dev, who appears to have ADD, only gets a few snippets of scenes throughout the entire book.  And John, who gets a fair bit more time… well… let’s just say it isn’t what it looks like.
I wish the author would have went into more detail with the other disabled wizards-in-training.

The setting is cool.  The university, where a good portion of the story takes place, is described well.  The secondary locales are detailed, too.  Even though this takes place at a magic school, Nicodemus is more like a teacher’s assistant (he sometimes teaches basic classes to younger students).

The magic system is unique and the history pretty robust, even drawing on Christian mythology for part of it.  But, because there is a lot to explain and describe, the book gets bogged down in details, which considerably slows the pacing in spots.  There are long dialogue sections trying to educate the reader on how something works or what happened in the past.  Though there is plenty of action, as well.

Some elements of the story aren’t revealed until later.  For instance, the book mentions the prophesy near the beginning, but the reader won’t know what the prophesy STATES until page eighty.  A race of beings said to have been in Nicodemus’ city in the past aren’t even described or explained until hundreds of pages into the story.

The story does use the word “retarded” more than once.  Nicodemus calls himself that, or gets called that, on a few occasions and another disabled spellwright, whom they call “Simple John” is also referred to as such. I’m sure I found a few more ableist slurs in there, but I wince every time I see that word.
Since the book is about disabled characters, and the author himself has dyslexia, it’s up to each reader to determine whether or not that’s a deal breaker for reading this book.
Other Notes:

This book has no sex, though mentions Nicodemus had a girlfriend in the past.
There is swearing, though most of it is creative.
There is violence and people do get murdered, but it is mostly fantasy violence.
There is zero rape.
This is book one of a trilogy, but there isn’t a cliffhanger.

I definitely recommend this book. 

Find him on the web: 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Writers, Always Read What You're Getting Into!

I began a series of tweets yesterday to talk about copyrights and publishing.  As I started going through the terms of one particular essay contest, I realized just how difficult explaining everything in tweets might be.  So, here we are...

Most writers who write in the short-form genres (poetry, short stories, flash nonfiction) don't think much about rights.  The vast majority of them are never going to be showering in cash.  But rights-grabbing happens... a lot!  And you don't even have to sign a contract.
A popular magazine is having an essay contest.  It's been annually occurring for the better part of a decade and has a fairly normal set of rules.  Until, that is, you get further down the page.

It starts:   "In addition, by entering, Entrant grants to Sponsor and its affiliates..."
First, the following applies to anyone entering the contest, not just the winners.  So, just by submitting your essay, you agree to grant the magazine whatever comes next.  And, how many "affiliates" does this magazine have?  Two?  Two hundred?  How many people now have access to utilize what they're asking?

"...nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, and republish at any time in the future and otherwise use Entrant’s submitted essay..."
Nonexclusive is fairly harmless.  You're free to publish your piece elsewhere.
And they're free to publish your essay, too!  Without compensating you at all... ever.

They also have the right to edit your essay in any way they want.  If your story was about the love you had for your pet goldfish, they can change it to say you ate said goldfish.  On the plus side though, your name is still on it!  So your neighbors (if said magazine publishes your piece a year from now) will know what a nasty elephant-eater you are!  I know I said goldfish, but, welcome to the world of editing!
***I know the above example is basically libel.  But they can change the whole tone of the piece and add tremendous amounts of typos legally.  They can wreck your reputation as a professional.  Plus, most of us don't have the cash to sue a huge company that can just print a microscopic "correction/retraction" months later.***

Oh, that "anytime in the future" part can mean a year from now.  Or two, decades, that is.  It's a surprise!
Don't forget that "and otherwise use" part, either.  Who knows what uses they could think up?  Could your essay become an article?  An expert quote on those who suffer from polar-bear-snuggling addiction?  An inspirational calendar sold in their online store for $19.99?  You don't know.  You might not even have the right to know.

"...along with Entrant’s name, likeness, statements, biographical information, and any other information provided by Entrant, in any and all media for possible editorial, promotional, or advertising purposes, without further permission, notice, or compensation (except where prohibited by law)."
They can use your name to advertise.  They can use your picture in an editorial (it doesn't say the editorial has to be on the topic of the essays).  They don't have to even tell you what they're up to because you submitted.  Legally, as I said, they're not allowed to commit libel, but... they have plenty of other things they can do.
Will they do anything unethical with those essays?  Probably not, to be honest.  But it's not a guarantee they won't use them somehow.  Without paying the writers, though they can afford it.  Without even letting them know.

Is it still worth it to enter said contest?  The decision is up to each writer.
Always read everything.  Ask about what you don't understand.
You can give away a lot in these modern times, with just one click.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Disabled/Neurodivergent Literary Links (Part 2)

Please see the Links of Interest tab for a full list of disabled/neurodivergent literary links.

Last week, I blogged about publications related to, or seeking work from, disabled and/or neurodivergent writers.  Most publications in that post have been around a while.  And, while each is important and amazing, it can seem like the Disability Literary Community (sometimes referred to as DisLit or CripLit Community) isn't progressing.

Well, new things are happening!  Want proof?  Here are more resources new (the last year or two at most) to the disability literature scene.

1.  Monstering Magazine is a literary magazine for disabled/neurodivergent writers who identify as female or nonbinary.  They are also actively seeking multi-marginalized disabled women/nonbinary people to join their staff.

2.  Tiny Tim Literary Review will have their first quarterly issue out by year's end.
From their Submittable:  The goal is to normalize chronically ill/disability narratives in addition to humanizing medical professionals through their stories. We'll be taking in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction work primarily.

3.  The Deaf Poets Society is an online literary and art journal for disabled and neurodivergent writers.  The website has audio guidelines and text descriptions for all images.  It has gotten some serious press coverage.
In 2015, the AWP Conference & Bookfair came under fire for their less-than-stellar accommodations for disabled writers.  As a response, a group decided to form the AWP Disability Caucus to "allow for disabled individuals to network and discuss common challenges related to identity, writing, and teaching while professionally leading a literary life".  Because of the caucus and other individuals, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs is improving their accessibility.

The Disability Literature Consortium also began in response to how things were (and also, still can be) at the AWP Conference.  The site has DisLit news and resources for disabled/neurodivergent writers (some I don't have on here).
Poets and Writers with Disabilities is a Facebook group for disabled/neurodivergent poets and writers.  It is currently able to be explored by people who aren't members of the group so nonmembers can get a feel for who everyone is and how it works.  While being able to check it out without membership is beneficial, certain people may not feel comfortable discussing their disabilities and health in a space so open...

On Twitter, #CripLit is an excellent hashtag for all things disability literature/writing.  There is also a monthly #CripLit Chat.
Well, that concludes part two!  Did I miss anything (old or new) that's amazing and not-to-be-missed?  Let me know!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Disabled and/or Neurodivergent Literary Links

Please see the Links of Interest tab for a full list of disabled/neurodivergent literary links.

Disabled/neurodivergent culture is alive and thriving, especially in the realm of literature.  To prove it, here are awesome literary magazines focused on disability/neurodivergence or are adjacent to them in some way.  And a literary contest about disability.

1.  Pentimento Magazine A literary magazine for the disability community which includes caretakers, friends, family, medical personnel, and the disabled people themselves.  *Pentimento is "temporarily in suspension".  Thank you Michael Northen for the update.*

2.  Kaleidoscope Magazine From the website:  "The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability. We accept the work of writers with and without disabilities; however the work of a writer without a disability must focus on some aspect of disability."

3.  Doll Hospital Journal Print literary journal of mental health.  Interested in how mental health and the ideas around it intersect with race, class, sexuality, etc.

4.  Breath & Shadow holds the distinction of being the first online literary publication dedicated to disabled people.  All (or most) of their staff is disabled, too.

5. Wordgathering is a journal of  literary work and disability. (As of 12/1/16, this link now goes to their website instead of their Facebook.)

6.  Bellevue Literary Review From their website:  "We are devoted to publishing writing that brings together the perspectives of patients, caregivers, family members, students, healthcare professionals, and the general public, allowing for deeper understanding of others’ experiences."

7.  Hospital Drive Literature and art on healing, health, and illness.

8.  Barking Sycamores is a publication for neurodivergent writing.  It has an annual print edition and publishes a variety of work, including hybrid pieces.

9.  PEN 2 PAPER: A Disability-Focused Creative Writing Competition All entries must have a disabled character or have a disabled theme.  They accept poetry, fiction, drama, comics, and nonfiction.  No entry fee.

Edited 9/13/2016:

10.  Amygdala Literary Magazine From the website:  "Amygdala's goal is to build a sense of community by creating a platform for people to bring mental health issues into dialogue. We seek to achieve this through original works including: creative non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and art. We are looking for work that elucidates the wide range of issues and emotions mental health disorders evoke."

Next week, I'll be talking about interesting changes popping into existence around disabled/neurodivergent writing, including two new literary publications.