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?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Interview With Speculative Author LJ Cohen

Photo: LJ Cohen

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

I started keeping a journal when I was quite young. I think, even then, I understood that I needed to write in order to know what I was feeling. I probably started writing poetry and short fiction by the time I was 8 or 9. For reasons that I only sorted out decades later, I was drawn to the written word far more than to any other art form.

You write (mainly) sci-fi and fantasy novels.  What do you think speculative fiction can accomplish that literary fiction can't easily replicate?

I'm not sure literary work *can't*, but speculative fiction can shine a light on current society without triggering the reader's defensiveness more easily than more realistic fiction can. Whatever the story highlights, it's not about them, but about others. It's less threatening, less confrontative. And yet, powerful. Look at the incredible power of Handmaid's Tale. Perhaps its impact is stronger because it's not quite our reality, but could be.

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

I'm really great at setting up routines and not quite so good at sticking to them. However, when I'm actively drafting a novel, I set an intention of writing 1,000 words a day for an average of 5,000 words a week. For the most part, I hit those goals and end up with a solid draft of a novel in 4-5 months. I don't really have rituals associated with my writing. I don't need a special environment or particular music versus silence. I don't write at a specific time of day. When I started writing my first novel in 2004-ish, my children were still in grade school and I had a 25 hour a week physical therapy practice. I had to learn to write whenever I could squeeze a half hour out of my other responsibilities.

You have aphantasia (the inability to "see" mental images). Do you have trouble knowing how much detail to add to a character or setting for readers?  Are there any tricks/methods you use when creating new settings?

Wow. Yes. When I was first starting to write and use a critique group, I didn't know I had aphantasia. My writing peers would tell me my dialogue was solid but that I wrote "floating heads in black boxes." It took me a long time to understand that my preference is for spare description when I'm reading and when I'm writing.

I could never understand why writers - especially of fantasy - would spend so much time on lavish, flowing descriptions of setting. My reaction was to page flip until something happened. I 'got' that we were in a forest after the first paragraph, but then the writer kept on describing. It was painful for me to read. Impossible for me to write, even if I wanted to.

I had to find a compromise that included visual description in a way that felt authentic to the reader. I would spend time looking at things in the world and practice describing them. I would ask readers if they had enough grounding in visual description. My husband is hypervisual, where I am not visual at all. I often ask him to read my drafts to make sure I include enough for the reader.

My first drafts are still very light on description and heavy on dialogue and movement. For whatever reason, I find it easier to use visual description through the eyes of my characters than in exposition.

What solidified your decision to be an independent author?  What do you like most about going indie?

I had gone the traditional route and managed to sign with a literary agent in 2008. She went out on submission with 3 of my novels but wasn't able to make a sale, despite glowing rejection letters from many of the big 6 editors. Because I had managed a solo physical therapy practice for many years, I was familiar with running a business. I was also very computer/tech savvy and comfortable with html and css. So creating my own imprint and publishing my work was a good fit.

I love the creative control and I have amazing partners in my publication journey, including my cover artist and editor.

You make beautiful ceramic pieces as a hobby.  Does the inspiration/creative process for ceramics fuel your writing?  Why or why not?

Part of my drive to do ceramics is to have an artistic outlet where I can let go of my need to be perfect. If you've ever wrestled to center 5 pounds of sloppy clay on a wheel, you'll understand that! It's also something I do at a communal studio, so I can be with other artists. That's a needed balance to the long stretches I'm alone at the keyboard with only my characters for company. It's also a truism that my best ideas come to me when my hands are in the clay and I can't  possibly stop to write them down! In a lot of ways, clay is even a better fit for me than writing as it's a very kinesthetic endeavor.

However, if you think it's hard being a writer and making a living, talk to a ceramics artist!

What are the best aspects of writing a series of novels?  What are the worst?  Do you prefer writing a novel in a series or a stand-alone novel?

The best aspects of writing a series? Getting to stay with familiar characters and watch them grow. I don't struggle to find their voices as I move into a new story. The characters are just there, waiting for me. The most difficult? Making sure I don't screw up on continuity issues.  By the time a story makes it to publication, my head is crammed with multiple versions of events. I can't always remember which version is the one that ultimately made it into the book and which was cut. Which is why keeping a series 'bible' is so critical.

I don't really prefer one over the other. Writing a stand alone allows the writer to have a greater degree of closure on a story and sometimes that's the story that wants to be written.

Short stories (you say) are the hardest for you to write.  Why is that? What form of writing do you find the most rewarding?

Yes. They are! I think, just as in the running world, there are people who are natural sprinters (short story writers) and those who are more comfortable as marathoners (novel writers).  There's something about planning the long arc of a plot that is my natural writing rhythm. I envy those writers who are good at both.

My hard drive is full of abandoned snippets of short stories. Of all of the short fiction I've written, there are about a dozen I think of as successful. I still poke at it because some stories aren't novel-length projects and the short story is a beautiful format.

The irony is that my first writing love was the ultra condensed: poetry. And I still return to it often.

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

My literary influences include the sci fi writers I loved as a child: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury and Madeline L'Engle. The books they wrote became my companions and my comfort as I grew up.

My favorite contemporary writers include Patricia McKillip (her prose is magical and lyrical), Lois McMaster Bujold (I have read and re-read the Vorkosigan books so many times!), Mary Oliver (an amazing poet. Read "Wild Geese"), and Rick Wayne (his characters are iconoclastic and he does some incredible things subverting genre tropes. And we're working on a co-writing project, so you should definitely read his work!)

How do you deal with the (inevitable) negative reviews?  Any advice for the rest of us?

Yeah. Negative reviews. They happen. It's inevitable. While the best thing is not to read reviews, it's almost impossible for me not to. I don't like to admit it, but a negative review will send me sulking. But only for a little while.

Not everyone will love your books. That's okay. I find great comfort in reading the reviews of my very favorite books - ones I consider classics or must-haves on your bookshelf - and find excoriating one and two star reviews. It's subjective. There are books, shows, and movies that people rave about and I just don't like them.

Ideally, the negative reviews are because the book is garnering attention outside of its typical audience. That's good! It means it's reaching a wider readership. Chalk it up to that and keep writing!
Biography:  LJ (Lisa Janice) Cohen is a poet, novelist, blogger, ceramics artist, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. She lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. When not doing battle with her stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix (aka "other dog") or hanging out with her lab/hound mix (aka "good dog"), LJ can be found writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming. She writes SF, Fantasy, and YA novels under the name LJ Cohen.

Author Links:

Twitter: @lisajanicecohen

Friday, August 25, 2017

Horror and Harm (Neurodivergence & Disability in Scary Books)

Horror is a very problematic genre when it comes to accurate portrayals of neurodivergence and disability.  Though it tends to give neurodivergent and disabled people more spotlight time than many other genres, the representation is often terrifying.

Here are some ways horror is actually terrible:

1.  Serial Killers are a popular subgenre in horror novels and movies.  And, we all know who the killers turn out to be 85% of the time… people with Schizophrenia, Autism, PTSD, and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  You can never have a killer who is just a bad person.  No.  They have to have some type of neuordivergence which makes them “apathetic machines”, or unable to discern hallucination from reality.  Because “normal” people don’t hurt others without reason, right?

2.  Supernatural horror novels, especially those having a possession or haunting plot, run the risk of a surprise twist.  The twist?  The protagonist is actually hallucinating the whole thing!  Yes, the “twist” becomes the neurodivergence.  Because the lives of neurodivergent people are fodder for the neurotypical audience.

3.  The victim is to be pitied and rooted for extra-hard because he/they/she is Blind or Deaf.  It isn’t enough to make a creature/demon/situation nearly insurmountable; the author is using the absence of one sense to being a new terror to readers.  Because everyone is even MORE helpless if they can’t hear or see.  That’s why no one who has lost one sense ever manages to live alone or do things everyone else does.  (Sarcasm)

4.  A group of people investigate an asylum because mentally ill and/or disabled people are frightening, moreso than old buildings.  We’re vile, so vile our spirits haunt the last place we lived just to torment people who weren’t given our disadvantages.  Oh, come the fuck on!

5.  The person in the wheelchair (or with a limp) has been an agent of Satan in more than one book I’ve read.  Possibly, the author is trying to get readers to think the villain couldn’t possibly be that sweet, little cripple in the corner.  Or, perhaps, writers still buy into the stereotype of dark souls manifesting “incomplete or twisted” bodies.

6.  An amputee, person with heavy scarring, someone with severe edema, etc. used for “ick” factor.  Even though this is a tactic used more often in film, it still makes an occasional appearance in books. It isn’t enough to add extreme blood and gore, now body variation becomes endurance for the squeamish. Poor babies.

I’ve probably missed more than a few examples, but these are what spring to mind when I think about horror novels.
Oddly, I can’t think of too many examples of disability and neuordivergence done right in scary books, which is a shame.

What tropes about disability and neurodivergence in horror do you wish would never be written again?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Why I'm No Longer a "Grammar Vigilante"

I was one of "those people".  Do you know the dipstick always correcting other people's spelling and punctuation online?  That was me.  I thought (for some) I was doing them a favor, one they just didn't ask me to do.  For other people, I used it as a way to undermine their trolling.

I will still (at times) "edit for" trolls, especially when they're trying to sound intellectually superior to someone else.  Truly smart people don't flaunt their intelligence to make others feel inferior (and most people who try such a thing tend to have atrocious spelling).

However, I won't give unsolicited editing to acquaintances.  It's a crappy thing to do to someone who is just sharing random thoughts with the world.  I even considered my behavior trolling, once I looked at it closely.  A person on Facebook might not have English as a first (or even third) language.  A disabled person might not have the dexterity to type flawlessly.  Creative spelling and punctuation could be a conscious choice.  Mistakes can happen to anyone.

There is a time for editing words.  At the wrong time, it becomes annoying and hurtful.  I'm thankful I realized it years ago... I'd be insufferable on Twitter!

Have you ever corrected someone's grammar or spelling on social media? If so, why?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Interview with Poet Jeannine Hall Gailey

Photo: Jeannine Hall Gailey 

What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?
I started writing poetry at around 10 years old, at the encouragement of my teacher and my mom. I also started competing in poetry recitation contests, which were a really fun excuse to memorize great poems. I still know at least a large bit of e.e. cummings' "Anyone lives in a Pretty How Town" and Louis Simpson's "My Father in the Night Commanding No" because of contests in the 5th and 6th grades! 

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
I've always been what I call a "regular sporadic" writer - I wrote in fits, sometimes two poems at a time, sometimes four poems a month. Now I'm trying to make a more concerted effort to write twice weekly. Even if I don't love the results, it's a good practice.

You came back to poetry during a time of illness, when your previous career path wasn't sustainable.  What was your official diagnosis and how did writing affect your outlook on your diagnosis/symptoms?
Yes, I had to quit a fairly demanding job as a technical manager at Microsoft because of my health. I didn't have many of my conditions diagnosed properly until years later - but it turned out I had a primary immune deficiency, a heritable bleeding disorder, plus early signs of the neurological problems that would become more serious later on. My husband encouraged me to go back to school to get an MFA after I quit my job - and because I was in a low-residency program, I was able to participate even while I was dealing with health struggles. Half-way through the program, I had my first book accepted for publication. It definitely took taking time off to get serious about - not reading and writing so much as the part I hadn't had time for - submitting, editing, volunteering, reviewing, etc. 
My health issues have had a huge influence on my writing - and my writing is a great practice that sustains me in the middle of physical illness, injuries, etc. . 

You write fairly often about changes in the (female) body, often with fantastical elements.  Has your relationship with your body influenced this interest?  If so, in what way?

One of the recurring themes in my work is the horrifying, the grotesque, and the monstrous - probably because I've always identified myself as a real-life mutant and being female is already treated as somewhat grotesque and monstrous by our culture. Selkies, mermaids, and dragons, in particular, repeatedly appear in my work. I also explore the tropes of comics - how supervillains are often portrayed as having mutations, illnesses/deformities/things that keep them in wheelchairs. I think if I didn't feel like quite so much of a medical mystery, I might not be quite so interested in these tropes.

Readers of your speculative poetry reach out to you more often than literary poetry readers.  Why do you think that is?  Do you think "genre-snobs" are less of an issue in poetry than in fiction?
It is interesting that I think maybe more people who are interested in my work happen to be fans of speculative and genre work. Maybe these people are more enthusiastic readers than poets are, in general? There are probably still people who don't want their poetry "contaminated" by speculative elements - but notice that Tracy K. Smith, whose Life on Mars was maybe one of my favorite speculative books of poetry, just got named Poet Laureate of our country, so I think the barriers between "literary" and speculative have been breaking down. 

How important to you is the form/style a poem takes?  Is there a form/type of poem you'd never try?
My early training in poetry was very much in a formalist bent, which I think I've mostly reacted against. I did embrace Japanese forms like haiku and haibun, especially in the years I was studying the language, culture of folklore of Japan, because those forms seemed more freeing and interesting to me than the sonnet, sestina, villanelle, etc. I've always been interested in hybrid forms, so I do mess around with couplets, prose poems, mini-paragraphs in poetry, that sort of thing.

You served as poet laureate of Redmond, Washington.  Was the appointment a surprise?  What was the most unexpected part of the position?
No, it was actually a position I was nominated for and then had to apply, just like a job application, and interview for, so by the time it happened, it was not a surprise. Although the fact that Redmond, a city mostly known for its tech (it's the home of Microsoft, among other companies) felt it was important to have a poet laureate program at all, was really exciting to me. The most surprising part was when I got to talk about poetry to Redmond's mayor and interact with local artists - those seemed like great moments of the intersection of civics and literary arts. The most enjoyable part was speaking with teenagers at local schools and doing youth workshops for the city. Redmond's young people are amazingly, inspiringly smart and driven.

Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)
There's a big list! I think the biggest influencers have been Margaret Atwood, Louise Gluck, Haruki Murakami, Lucille Clifton, a Japanese writer named Osamu Dazai who is very well known in Japan but less well-known in America, and Kelly Link. Probably fairy tales, comics and television shows have also provided a lot of the inspiration for my work - probably from childhood experiences being sick and stuck indoors, I absorbed a lot of imagination ammunition from watching Miyazaki's movies and reading Andrew Lang's color series of Fairy Books.

What is the worst piece of advice you've ever received on writing/publishing?  Did you take the advice?  If so, what happened?
Strangely enough, I feel like I didn't get a lot of advice about publishing in either my M.A. program or my MFA program. I kind of had to stumble into the "business-side" of poetry for myself, which is why I've been a big fan of projects like the Poet's Market for new writers and have been writing a how-to book for poets about publishing and PR. I also had a group of friends, early in my writing career, who got together to talk about submissions and markets and that was a great thing for me. I really encourage writers to get together to encourage and support each other this way. The writing life is a LOT about rejection - and that can be hard to deal with in isolation. The poetry world can feel like such a secret club, and I don't like that feeling of exclusivity. Poetry should be for everyone - both reading it and writing it. 

You're writing a nonfiction book about PR just for poets.  Why is it so important for a guide to be written specifically for them?  Do you think a lot of books about marketing/branding leave poets out?
Yes, I have found in my own life that there were practically no resources out there specifically for poets on how to market their work. I mean, everyone assumed that poets didn't care, or weren't capable of marketing? I don't know. All the "how to market your book" material I found was mostly focused on fiction writers. Anyway, it was so hard scraping around and finding resources that I started posting blog posts about the topic that were very popular, and then my friend Kelli Agodon, herself a poet and one of the editors at Two Sylvias Press, encouraged me to address the lack of information with a book of my own. I worked on it for two years and I'm excited that it can provide at least a little information for people who have never thought about how to publicize a book of poetry (or knew that they would someday be required to.)

Note from Jeannine about her medical issues:  About a decade ago, I started having mysterious falls and some motor skill issues as well as numbness in my hands and feet. These were symptoms I had had for a while but hadn't thought much about, writing them off as clumsiness or stress. A neurological exam - suggested after an orthopedic surgeon determined one of my bone breaks was probably caused by neurological problems, not just "clumsiness" -  revealed neurological damage, and my MRI revealed a handful of lesions in my brain. It was unclear then what the lesions were. I had a new one show up last year. After workups for things like MS and stroke, the current thought is that a lifelong inability to process b12 - not just through my diet, but even shots - has caused permanent neurological damage. I started physical therapy especially for the proprioception and motor skill issues six years ago, when I was told I would be in a wheelchair permanently by three different neurologists. Though I still have setbacks that require a cane or even the wheelchair, I am happy to state that though my problems may continue and worsen as I age, the physical therapy had some success - enough to make walks in the park and going to readings without a cane a possibility for me again. 
I wrote a lot of poems about mermaids while I was in a wheelchair; one of them, "Mermaid on Land" is here:

Biography:  Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating WorldUnexplained FeversThe Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, coming from Moon City Press in 2016. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner.  Her web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @webbish6.

You can find links to her books on Amazon - and to purchasing signed books from her directly - here:

But she also encourages people to seek out and support small publishers by buying the books directly from them - Steel Toe Books, Two Sylvias Press, New Binary Press, Moon City Press, Mayapple Press. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Updates to Lists


I made a few updates to the Literary Links of Interest and the Inclusive Mainstream Publications lists.

On Literary Links of Interest I added:

Disabled Writers
Exceptions Journal
The Healing Muse

Thanks to Erica Verrillo who runs the fabulous blog: Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity for a couple of these.

Plus the following hashtags were added:

#DisLit and #WriteDis

On the Inclusive Mainstream Publications I added:

The online literary magazine BODY
The speculative fiction publication VOICES
Well, those are the updates.  As always, if you have more recommendations, please let me know.

In late 2017 (or early 2018), I will be adding a tab on this site just for inclusive mainstream presses.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thoughts on Kaz from Six of Crows

Last week, I posted my review on Six of Crows.  In it, I mentioned I had difficulties/thoughts with how Kaz became disabled and how he views it.

On page 401, there’s a paragraph in Six of Crows which talks about how Kaz came to limp:

When he was fourteen, Kaz had put together a crew to rob the bank that had helped Hertzoon prey upon him and Jordie.  His crew got away with fifty thousand Kruge, but he’d broken his leg dropping down from the rooftop.  The bone didn’t set right, and he’d limped ever after.  So, he’d found himself a Fabrikator and had his cane made.  It became a declaration.  There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.  The cane became a part of the myth he built.  No one knew who he was.  No one knew where he came from.  He’d become Kaz Brekker, cripple and confidence man, bastard of the Barrel.

At first, my mind said this is Kaz wanting to show the world he’s a broken man on the inside by becoming physically disabled, wanting people to know everything he’s been through.  I didn’t like my initial impression of this tidbit in the novel.  Visibly disabled people aren’t visibly disabled because they have troubled souls or sinful histories. 

But, Kaz also wants the world to know he’s limped through hell and can still burn it all down if he chooses.  He sees his limp as something to illustrate his strength and tenacity.  He never uses his disability to play the victim and, if his enemies see weakness because of his limp, they are going to be in for an awful surprise.

He uses his limp also, it seems, to make him distinctive.  It is his legend, the cripple who can still kick ass.  It is a great thing, to see a disabled person strong and uncompromising. 

There were healers, though, who could have healed him without permanent damage.  Were they too expensive at the time of his injury?  Did he break his leg and see it as an opportunity to reinvent himself?  The paragraph merely says his leg never healed right, not that he did anything to alter it, for good or bad.  Maybe, like most of us, he just uses any angle he has.

I would have liked to know if Kaz turned down the chance to properly heal, or if he was too low in the gang’s ranks to warrant a Grisha (magic-user) healer, or if he thought that his broken leg wasn’t that detrimental.  It probably doesn’t matter, but part of the lore of his disability left me with an icky feeling, though Kaz is never portrayed as anything other than a strong, crafty, complex anti-hero.

Is it something he purposely chose?  Something he didn’t think about until later?  If Kaz let himself become physically disabled, does it change how I’d feel about his character?
I possibly read too much into a fictional character’s choices.

Have you read the book?  What do you think about the explanation for Kaz’s limp?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sagamihara Anniversary

One year ago, a eugenicist prick killed nineteen disabled people and critically wounded more at a care center in Sagamihara, Japan.  The ideology and identity of the murderer was given more media attention than the survivors... any of them.  The victims became a number, nothing else.

The ripples through the disabled community were widespread.  It was horrific and sad.  But, it didn't surprise us.  Ableist beliefs have lead to the deaths of our people before...

A year has gone by.  No updates about the survivors are readily available.
A year has gone by.  No details on any increase in security have manifested online.
A year has gone by.  We still don't know their names.

It almost makes it unreal, to not have names or faces.  The public isn't owed the information.  But, are the victims owed the acknowledgement?  Shouldn't they be worth more media coverage than a vile piece of scum?

A year has gone by.  And we still remember.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Image: A crow at the top part of the image dips a very large wing until it touches the bottom edge.  It is on a background of grayish-white stormy clouds.  Individual feathers splay out from the bottom half of the wing.  The title starts where the wing starts and is written is curly white letters.  There is red subtext that reads "Six dangerous outcasts.  One impossible heist."

Kaz, a well-known lieutenant for the Dregs (a street gang) is given the opportunity for the payday of a lifetime.  The catch?  He and his crew must break into the Ice Castle, a fortress with a prison no one has ever broken into (or escaped from) and bring back an important prisoner… alive.  In a world of magic, rival gangs, and shaky alliances, the greatest heist in the land may turn into the worst decision ever made.

Kaz is a bad guy doing bad things in a worse world.  He walks with a limp, using a cane as both a mobility aid and a weapon.  Kaz cannot stand to be touched, skin-to-skin. His backstory was interesting and his character’s actions felt real because of it. 

The book is really about an ensemble cast, and the author gives all characters dimension and diversity.  Outside of Kaz we have Inej, the religious spy who hates killing (I read her as Native or Latina). And Jesper, the gunslinger with a gambling problem (he isn’t white, but am unsure what he’d be considered).  Wylan, a young man with a privileged past and an uncertain future accompanies them as well as a Grisha (magic-user) prostitute, and a man raised to hunt Grisha into extinction.

This book has disability done well.  It covers mobility impairment, PTSD, and learning disability.

The settings were nice, but weren’t described into oblivion.  I knew where the characters were, enough details to imagine the places, and that’s it.

Kaz wasn’t the only one with a backstory, many other characters had one as well, breaking into the flow of the “current story”.  At first, this irritated me because I didn’t want to be pulled between the present and past.  But, the backstories kept my attention and provided richness to the characters developing in my mind as I read.  I began looking forward to the times I got another piece of the puzzle that made up each character.  There was a scene or two where I didn’t realize the time transitioned, but that was rare.

The action was plentiful.  There were explosions, gunfights, and breathless escapes.  The pacing seemed right, after adjusting to the presence of the backstories.

The magic system in this book was pretty solid.  There were different classes of magic with different Grisha able to do different things.  It wasn’t the most unique concept, but it was interesting and served its purpose well.

This book might not be for everyone.  There is violence, the presence of sex slavery (but no explicit rape).  There is also a drug in this story that makes Grisha (magic-users) almost immediately addicted and has a large role in the novel.

There is a small aspect of this book, almost easy to miss, that I don’t know how to feel about.  In this world, there are Grisha who are healers.  Kaz has a limp because of a leg that set wrong after breaking and chooses not to get it fixed. (I find nothing wrong with not choosing a cure, in fact, it’s refreshing in fiction.)  At one point, it mentions Kaz not fixing his leg because he there is no part of him that hasn’t been broken, or made stronger from the breaking.  As if it were a badge, I guess. 
(I have many thoughts on this, maybe best left for next week.)

I really liked and recommend this book.  There is a sequel (out now) I will definitely be reading.  I hope the next one is as exciting and rich as this one was.

 One small warning, this book ends on a cliffhanger.

Author Bio:  Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Out of My Mind By Sharon M. Draper

On a blue background, an orange goldfish jumps from it's bowl of water on the left of the image to the upper right.  On the bottom, there is a darker blue rectangle with the title in small, white words and the name of the author in a lighter blue across the bottom.

Melody, a brilliant eleven-year-old with severe Cerebral Palsy, receives an assisted communication device.  With the ability to voice her thoughts for the first time, she tries out for the school quiz team.  But not everyone is glad Melody can participate.
I loved Melody!  She’s funny, smart, and complex.  She longs for all the things “normal” kids have without falling into total pity and despair.  She loves her family intensely.

Melody is surrounded by people who want her to succeed.  Her parents are fierce in their love for her, advocating for her.  Her neighbor babysits for her and her baby sister, and is one of her first major allies.  A new aide at school helps open up her world.
But, for everyone who is good for Melody, there are people who dislike her.  There are teachers throughout her life who make things harder on her.  Students in her integrated classes make fun of her. 

The first eleven (or so) chapters of the book are like short stories of Melody’s life.  One is about the goldfish she lost.  Another is about her mom’s pregnancy and the fear her baby sister would be disabled, too.  The chapters follow the order of Melody’s life, so the reader is able to perceive her growing up.

The settings are okay.  They aren’t overly descriptive, they just have enough detail for a reader to visualize them.

Even though this book is for “kids”, I had no trouble relating to it.  The author doesn’t over-explain or gloss over the more difficult aspects of Melody’s life. 
In one scene, Melody’s quiz team goes out to eat at a restaurant.  The handicapped-accessible entrance doesn’t work, so Melody has to be maneuvered up the steps outside by her mother.  Once inside, her teammates make conversation with each other, without involving her.  Melody dreads eating in front of her peers because she needs assistance and doesn’t want them to see.  It is an uncomfortable scene, but an honest one.

 A couple of minor plot points felt like they didn’t really lend much to the story, but that’s all I can really say in regards to negatives.

I got teary-eyed twice reading this book, the first time being when Melody was finally able to tell her parents she loved them using her device.  I also smiled and became angry at different parts. What happens to Melody before the national quiz competition wasn’t shocking, but was infuriating nonetheless. 

This is definitely a worthwhile read.
Author Biography:  Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire. She's also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent for Tears of a Tiger and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho and November Blues. 

Her other books include Romiette and Julio, Darkness Before Dawn, and Double Dutch. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for twenty-five years. She's a popular conference speaker, addressing educational and literary groups both nationally and internationally.

There are books where (I wish) I could spoil the entire plot because I want to tell you so badly what scenes caused me to love (or hate) a novel. 

I’ve also thought about live-tweeting a book.  Maybe someday.

A quick note:  After today, this blog will be on hiatus until June or July.  I have a lot of things going on in my life right now, and I don’t have anyone I trust to take the reins while I’m gone.  I will still be on Twitter and checking my email.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Diverse Writers/Diverse Worlds Grants, Updated Markets

The Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds grants are open to speculative fiction writers.  Applications close July 31st.

The $500 Diverse Writers grant is intended to support new and emerging writers from underrepresented and underprivileged groups, such as writers of color, women, queer writers, disabled writers, working-class writers, etc. — those whose marginalized identities may present additional obstacles in the writing / publishing process.

The $500 Diverse Worlds grant is intended for work that best presents a diverse world, regardless of the writer’s background.

Writers can apply for both grants, if they want/fit the criteria.
The Inclusive Mainstream Publications tab has been updated with every resource we have available.  The literary/periodical section now has thirty-two entries.  The most recent ones are:  Teen Vogue, Magma Poetry Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Polychrome Ink,  Cosmonauts Avenue,  The Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed READER.

We'd love to add more places!  Please let us know if you can recommend any others.
Reminder:  We are open for submissions of guest posts and book reviews.  Pay is $3 via Paypal.

Books reviewed must have a disabled/neurodivergent main character and/or a disabled/neurodivergent author.

Guest posts must be about writing/books and disability/neurodivergence.  A post about writing through brain fog, for instance, counts.  A post about training guide dogs doesn't... unless you can tie it back to writing, somehow.

We are also looking for writers/editors to interview.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Do You Read/View #OwnVoices Books Differently?

Do you purposely search for Own Voices books?  Do you approach books with disabled/neurodivergent protagonists differently if you know they're written by a neurotypical/nondisabled author?

As a reader:  

I used to only care about the story.  Almost every author I was introduced to in school was able-bodied and neurotypical and, if a writer wasn't, it wasn't discussed.  I went through most of my childhood with a scant handful of famous disabled/neurodivergent in my head; I just thought there were too few of us doing great things.  I didn't think that a great person's disability wouldn't be talked about.

Reading books with disabled protagonists was (and often still is) unsatisfactory.  A disabled person is used as the obstacle in a nondisabled person's life.  A neurodivergent person is a villain.  We can't be regular people.  Well, we can, we just have to be miserable.  Or hateful.

A book by an Own Voices author is an invitation to explore a story without trepidation.    And, while a novel by someone who is disabled/neurodivergent writer isn't a guaranteed enjoyable experience, I don't have to worry as much about ableism or botched portrayals.

As a reviewer:

I review books by both disabled and nondisabled writers.  My review process is the same regardless of the writer, though I ponder motive a bit when a nondisabled/neurotypical author writes disabled/neurodivergent narratives:  Did the main characters come to the author on crutches, or is it a gimmick?  

It is important to me to review Own Voices books and I try to give them priority.  Publishing (and related industries) tend to "innocently" neglect books by minorities and I refuse to add to that problem.  But, I can't turn my back on nondisabled authors who write disabled characters; I'd lose out on some great reads if I did.  

As a writer:

Reading Own Voices books and connecting with disabled/neurodivergent writers is nourishing.  One of the best things for anyone's art is being around those who "get it" without a mile of footnotes.  Picking up a novel and knowing there's a landscape inside that doesn't erase you, or twist lives like yours into something lesser, is a thing of beauty and comfort.

I like knowing there are other disabled/neurodivergent writers succeeding.  And holding the proof of it in my hands.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Links of Interest Page Has Been Updated

We have added three new publications to the Links of Interest page.  We are starting to run into roadblocks regarding sites that have been abandoned.

Next week, we'll hopefully have a larger update for the Inclusive Mainstream Publications page.  That is, if brain fog or chronic pain doesn't keep us from it.
Final note:  Found this listed on the Writers and Poets with Disabilities Facebook group and thought it might benefit some of you to have it listed here.

Stormé DeLarverie writing residency for under-represented writers (writers of color, both American and international, including Native peoples, as well as, disabled people, and those who identify as LGBTQ+).

An honorarium of $500 will accompany the residency.

The application fee is $15.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sagamihara: Fear and Anger

The second the news hit, the media put the butcher in the same category as his victims.
He's sick.  He's mentally ill.  We should pity him, really.  He's just like them.

No.  He isn't.  Don't twist it so that he's "a victim himself".  To describe a horrible person's actions as mental illness harms the disabled/neurodivergent community.  We needed the focus on the true victims.  Things like ableism are due to ignorance, hatred... but not mental illness.  This attitude makes it easier for future violence against disabled/neurodivergent people because it paints us into "the volatile other".
Then, there are the people on the perpetrator's side, people who see disabled people as having a partial life (as though having no life is more merciful-- better than having limits).  People who see disabled people as leeches who give nothing to the world.
The people who think disabled/neurodivergent people don't deserve something as vital as breath scare me.  People who don't see the humanity in others should scare everyone.
All these months later, and I still haven't found one update on the survivors.  I haven't heard if any new security measures were added to care centers.  No one outside of the disabled community spoke up after the attack beyond the usual words of "terrible", "tragic", "poor people", or similar.

Maybe things changed that I didn't hear about because I'm in America.  Maybe people are more protected now.  I can hope that's the case-- hope and remember what happened.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Our Mentors

Are you a disabled/neurodivergent writer who mentors?  Are those you mentor disabled/neurodivergent?  How did you find each other?

Most writers find their mentors at college or, failing that, at conferences/workshops. So many disabled/neurodivergent writers never had the opportunity to go to college (or were forced to drop out).  Few conferences are affordable or accessible.  The ways for us to find mentors are limited.

The Internet is often the only way disabled/neurodivergent writers can find one another.  But, even with social media, connections are mainly tenuous or peripheral.  We congratulate one another, share the occasional submission opportunity, commiserate about ableism in the industry, and then go back to the grind alone.

A lot of writers, especially disabled/neurodivergent writers, are self-taught.  Some of us write in secret, not having a single person in our lives to encourage us.  We're used to not having someone to guide us.  But a lot of us wish things were different.
Few of us believe we're capable (or accomplished enough) to become mentors.  There is always an invisible mark we feel we must meet before we reach out, a place in our careers that grants us the ability to lend our knowledge.  It's a falsehood, but a persistent one.

Then, there are disabled/neurodivergent writers who would love to mentor but can't and feel horrible because of it.  I wish they wouldn't.  As an artist, your creations should come before assisting someone else with theirs.  If you can barely sling words, don't worry about everyone else's.  
I wonder how many of us have mentors-- or want them. 
Do you want a mentor?  If so, does it matter if they're disabled/neurodivergent?  
Are mentors overrated in this technological age?

Let me know your thoughts!

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Real" Disabled Writers

I saw a conversation on social media about disabled artists needing more resources.  I nodded along as I read, having seen this play out a hundred times in various forms.
About halfway through the conversation, I paused.  Someone said something to the effect of, "Writers with Bipolar and Depression aren't real  disabled writers because the nondisabled populace is accepting and supportive of them and people expect writers to be depressed."

So, some people being (somewhat) more supportive in certain circumstances and in certain ways negates a disabled and/or neurodivergent writer's needs?  Negates their disability and/or neurodivergence entirely?  Makes their creative output not part of the disability community?  What utter bullshit!

The sentiment that Condition X, Diagnosis Y, or Disability Z is not as deserving because it's supposedly not as stigmatized smacks of Oppression Olympics.  People with mental illnesses and/or neurodivergences are often not believed, not taken seriously, and so on.  Wishing for a bigger spotlight on disabled/neurodivergent writers is a good thing, wanting to steal another person's candle because you consider them not as worthy is shitty.

Why the hell are we spending time bitching about the faint light our neighbors may be getting and not banding together to procure larger portions for us all?  Focus your energy and frustration on creating something better, not destroying someone else.  We are all in this together.  This is our community, enrich it!
One last note:  There is NO hierarchy of disability/neurodivergence.  People who acquire their disability/neurodivergence are not "better" than those who were born with theirs.  Physical disabilities aren't more chic than cognitive ones.  Quit that.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Writing Rules (are Often Alternate Facts)

I get tired of endless "writing rules" lists given out by every halfway decent writer and craft blog.  Most rules aren't rules, have never been rules, and will never be rules.  They are merely tips, helpful to some writers but potentially harmful to others.

Below are some of the more common "rules every writer should follow" and why they aren't always beneficial.

1.    Write every day.

Many disabled/neurodivergent writers can't write every day for various reasons.  Telling a disabled writer with migraines the week he can barely function should be spent writing is damaging.  It tells him (and the rest of us) we're not dedicated, that it's a moral failing and we'll never reach our goals because we are too lazy. It might cause us to hate ourselves or push ourselves until the point of injury.

2.  Nothing beats a pen and paper.  Get away from the screen.

And what about writers who can't write longhand?  Some of us can't hold a pen, much less compose a novel with one.  Every rule that states there is only one way to do something is almost always wrong and excludes a bunch of people.

3.  Keep a journal.

Journaling can be a healthy outlet and a primer for future words.  But it can also take the little bit of time someone with chronic illness has to devote to their current project away from them.  A person might only have two days a week (or less) where they feel good enough to write. The focus should be on where the writer needs it most.

4.  Never take more than X amount of time for Y project.

Why?  Why does a task have an expiration date (if not trying to meet an editor's deadline)?  Even the people who give this kind of rule can't agree with one another on time limits.  How long is writing the first draft of a novel supposed to take-- three month, a year?
A lot of writers use these as a yardstick to measure their success.  If it takes them longer... they feel like a failure.

5.  Seek advice on your work... and act on it. (Said at points with no caveats.)

Another set of eyes on a writer's work is helpful.  Telling people to trust that someone else automatically knows the work better than they do is not helpful.  Some people have confidence and/or social issues that make a blanket statement about near absolute trust almost dangerous.

I could go on with these.
Many writers admit there are few (to zero) rules of writing that can't be broken.

Write when you can, as true as you can.  Learn new things when you get the chance.  Read in whatever format works (braille, audio, large print, etc.).  The rest will come.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Someone Wrote It, Already!

"There are no original stories/concepts left," someone says.
"But they haven't been told/covered by you," another replies.
We know this exchange between writers.  One person states the first line, often as a lament, while the other leans on their crutches in determination (or cheer) and recites the second.

Once the battle is won within the self, the writer begins the work for themselves (and their readers).  Then, the waiting public can start the doubts all over again.

Minority authors (and women) often face the Already Been Done (ABD) criticism from many types of people interacting with their work, regardless of how unique the concept is or how beautiful the prose.  A book about a disabled artist?  It's been written.  Coming out as homosexual in the Bible Belt of America?  Got it covered!  Yet another cancer story?  We have enough.

If one well-known piece of literature exists pertaining to a struggle or life of a minority person, people consider it Already Been Done and discard it as such.  A lot of the same people dismissive of these stories will generally applaud another coming-of-age story about a (cishet, white, neurotypical, etc.) guy.  Why is one "unimaginative and derivative" but the other is "paramount literature"?

It stops people from telling the stories they want to tell, from books and essays getting to the readers who need to know they aren't alone or that they're valuable enough to write about.  It also gives everyone less variety to choose from.
If you receive feedback that your work has been written before:

1. Consider the titles the person lists in comparison.  Are they recent?  Do they have your slant, or just your topic?  How is their writing style?  Analyze.
This will (mostly) put your fears to rest.

2.  Consider the source.  Do they have varied tastes?  Are they outright dismissive of you and/or your work (maybe a bit cruel)?  How many times have you been told this, just once by this person or by five different people?  What is their background?

Always find multiple people to give you opinions, never let one person deflate the passion you possess.  If nearly everyone you trust tells you that your story is too much like another, examine it then.  Maybe you just aren't taking the right slant or you're distancing yourself from the hard parts.

Remember:  There are no truly original ideas anymore, but there are original "voices".  Use yours.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sagamihara: Time

Time dilutes the potency of grief, of shock.
Memory and mind erase the impact of time, dragging us backward.
We never know what will send us to the place history rubs upon us.

Distance dulls the initial feeling, blunted.
Those not ours, not close, feel more abstract than essential.
How can we hold onto strangers, then?  Those so far?

We understood the sadness, it brought our fears home.
Are the ones who claim us able to fight if we can't?
Will it bring our family more grief than relief to lose us?

How will our nations (and community) respond?
Are we so forgettable?
We pause as the world changes each day.  And we fight when we can.

We remember you as we'd want to be remembered, as humans deserve to be.
Even past time and separated by distance and beyond our fears because you are never forgettable.  You were ours, too.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Submit DisLit Facebook Event (April 8th and 9th)

Submit #DisLit is an event where disabled and neurodivergent writers take time to get their work into the inboxes of literary magazines, presses, etc.  Participants can share information on publications to submit to and cheer each other on.  It is a public event.

"Participation is simple: submit the work of your choice to the outlets of your choice during this weekend, and disclose (in whatever way feels most comfortable / authentic for you) your disability / illness in your cover letter. Submit as many or as few pieces as you choose, and to as many or as few outlets as you'd like."

It takes place on April 8th and 9th and was started by Cade Leebron.

There are many ways to find potential places to submit your work.  I hope you are getting work into the world, with or without participating in this event.

Miscellaneous notes not about Submit DisLit:

1.  We Need Diverse Books Internship Grant is open for this year.  Applicants must have a paid internship with one of the partners listed on the page, though can apply for the grant while applying for those specific internships.  Any literary agent internship must have a focus in children's books, as that's the organisation's arena.  There are five grants available for $2,500 each.
The website lists other funding opportunities, but not the dates.  So, check it on occasion.

2.  The Submerging Writer Fellowship offers one writer $500 to go towards AWP 18 conference expenses, a limited chapbook run, a launch party at the conference, and more.  This is open to most writers, not just minority writers (though you must have a statement on why you're a submerging writer).  The deadline is August 31st.
I realize The AWP Conference (and organisation) is problematic for disabled and neurodivergent writers.  Some go, regardless.  I'm just listing a chance for those who may want to try for it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Autism Goes to School by Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell

A note:  The following review comes from a neurotypical person without children of any kind.  Those on the autism spectrum or who have children with autism may feel differently about this book than I did.
Synopsis:  Ben, a business man, has his life changed by receiving surprise custody of his son, Kyle.  Kyle is in Kindergarten and has autism.  Father and son don’t understand each other but, with the help of Kyle’s pretty teacher, they just might make it work as a family.
First, I can’t review this without saying something about the title:  Autism Goes to School.  The child’s name is Kyle, not autism.  All kinds of children go to school every day.  Is there Abused Goes to School?  Cerebral Palsy Visits the Dentist?  I understand it tells readers there is a little boy with autism in this book… but, ick.

Ben, the father, is a complicated man.  He will shift moods drastically, often within one scene.  He is also excessively virtuous, dealing with Kyle’s mother’s demands on him ever since he knew of Kyle’s existence.

Kyle’s neurodivergence, I thought, was explored thoroughly while giving him space (at times) to be a little boy.  Ben has difficulty with Kyle’s differences and messes up a lot.  In fact, I would consider Ben an ableist when Kyle first comes to live with him.

For instance, he thinks: “What if there was a special school just for morons or kids who had things like autism?”
And:  “Could she tell already that he was the kind of father who would create a kid with autism?”

I almost quit reading more than once in the beginning.

The teacher is cold towards Ben at first, thinking he’s a hands-off father.  She, of course, realizes later how wrong she is and just how much Ben wants to do right by Kyle.
Another note here:  The teacher was said to have a “Master’s Degree in autism”.  I knew you could have a focus in certain areas, but I didn’t know they handed those specific degrees out.

Scene transitions are somewhat confusing, not leaving any indication of a switch within sections.  One paragraph you’re on one day, the next another.  There are a few grammatical errors, but nothing major.

The plot could be better, everything I thought would happen in the novel occurred. There were absolutely no surprises.  A couple things were foreshadowed so heavily, I felt hit in the head with them.  Some minor characters, like Ben’s sister, had awkward lines and were just thrown in to move story.

The subplot of Ben’s romance with the teacher felt awkward and went from slow burn to inferno right near the end of the book.  It never felt totally genuine and the awkward pacing didn’t help, though a couple of scenes were sort of cute.

Sometimes, tension was killed off quickly or introduced fast.  A meeting at the school about shutting down the classroom Kyle was in brought much anxiety for the teacher and Ben, but it gave Ben a heavy-handed scene to stand up for the class and show how he has changed.  It felt forced.

Every thread left near the end was hastily tied together.   The young family needed a different place to live and got it by a foreshadowed solution.  A minor character’s parents disapproving of a career choice just had to come to his place of employment a few times to change their minds.  It was like the author felt like she needed to end the story, but didn’t know how to do so gracefully.  But that could be because the novel is fairly short (and ended at around 70% on my Kindle).

It may be a decent read for parents who have kids on the autism spectrum (especially those who are having difficulty coping or have recently-diagnosed children) or those who want their “Autism 101” with a little plot.  Otherwise, I feel this wouldn’t appeal to many of you. 

But, if you still want to check it out, it’s free on Amazon. 
Author Bio:  Author Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell has worked as a teacher, counselor and consultant for thirty years. Her Master's and Doctorate degrees focused on autism. She has delivered workshops and seminars to thousands of participants including at national conferences. Her passion is helping young people who have autism to become as independent as possible.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Biographies and My Decision to Disclose

Back in June, I wrote a post on the difficulties of disclosing disability status as a writer.  It's something I think about a lot, especially since I started this blog.

I went for years without mentioning my disability in my cover letter.  While I put it on my social media profiles, I knew most editors wouldn't check the links in my biography.  I didn't worry about it affecting anyone's decision on my work.

My old biography:  Jennifer Ruth Jackson can't draw or act so she writes poems and short stories.  Her work has been published in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Kaleidoscope Magazine, and more.  When she's not writing, you can catch her playing video games or making jewelry.  She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their houseplant, Hubey.

It felt safer to me that way.  No one could claim I was using my Cerebral Palsy (and other disabilities/conditions) to sway an editor's opinion and editors were less likely to discriminate.  But, it didn't make me feel I was representing my true self.  I am not my disability, but it shapes me and makes me who I am.

I really enjoy seeing disabled/neurodivergent writers in print.  There is a tiny thrill each time I come across a piece by "one of us".  It reminds me that I am not alone, that I am not a magic cripple who is the last of her kind.  In a world where nondisabled/neurotypical writers claim most of the spots in literary magazines and presses, it is vital to see one another succeed.  It's also good for nondisabled/neurotypical readers.

So, to that end, I wrote a new biography.  It does not outright say I'm disabled, but it does.

My new biography:  Jennifer Ruth Jackson is an award-winning poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Kaleidoscope Magazine, and more.  She runs a blog for disabled and/or neurodivergent writers called The Handy, Uncapped Pen from an apartment she shares with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @jenruthjackson

The mention of this blog (while possibly shameless publicity) will lead most editors to the correct conclusion... that I'm disabled.  I wanted to broach the subject without framing it in a way that would elicit pity or conflicting emotions.

Maybe, if I'm not afraid to proclaim my disability status, it will encourage others to begin writing or take a chance on the publishing industry.  Even if it doesn't, it still feels like I'm putting a truer version of myself out into the world.  And that alone is worth it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Support as a Disabled Writer (Anonymous Guest Post)

What follows is from Anonymous #742.  Details have been changed to protect the writer.

I started this thought yesterday on Twitter.  What follows is a sort of illustration, generously sent to me for this blog.  The author doesn't mind if you take this for fiction, as long as you take it seriously.

At The Handy, Uncapped Pen... you (and your work) are valued.  If I ever make you feel differently. please let me know why.  I want this to be a resource and a community.  Conversation should be part of this.

As always, feel free to contact us.


My father doesn't "get" my work.  He's supportive, I guess, but doesn't want to read it. He says I'll be famous someday.  If I do work he thinks will get me there.  Nah.  I can't. Won't.  I don't write that way.

My older sisters are aloof-to-passively-hostile about my career choice.  One is better than the other, a cold momma bear, she encourages rarely but in lavish fashion.  The sister between us nearly never has a kind word.  Picks each success apart.

Fitting in places isn't something I do.  Attempts are made and recede quick.  I've never found a group to share triumphs with, torn between relief and wishing.  Support from family, few friends, wasn't much beyond congratulatory back-pats on acceptances.

One person in my life goes beyond.  Is always there for me as artist and human.  Luck smiles.  It is luck.  People don't even get that, at times, the one who believes in them with unshaken faith.


I told my family I'm ace.  Finally.  It's taken forever to identify.  I held off.  I'm married, no one has to know besides my spouse. I told them, still.  They laughed it off, mocked me.  Asexuals don't exist for them.  Doesn't help my case that I'm married, have and talk about sex.  Ace people can't be married.  They're all celibate.  It hurt.

Makes me question everything, again.  My brain screams they're right.  I don't "act" asexual.  I have sex.  I enjoy romantic love.  It took me years to figure out why certain things don't affect me.  Why I don't "act/feel normal" when it's normal to me.   Ten minutes erased years.  I won't label myself as ace to people.  Won't take that, again.


Wheelchair-users can't go everywhere, always.  The AWP Conference is one of the largest gatherings for writers.  Can't go.  Money is one issue.  Lack of accessibility is the kick.  It says people like me are unwelcome.  People like me aren't worth notice.  Are we writers?  No one cares but us.  The world has enough writers.  

There isn't a true organization for disabled writers right now.  Not in the way there is for LGBT writers, Asian writers.  Groups for Native American writers and all the rest, usually can't/won't accommodate disabled people of their minority.  
The disability community often isn't great for including people with intersectional identities.  I'm white, but I notice how we can be.  Look at what happened with #DisabilityTooWhite.  It became all about us white people.

The disabled writing community can most easily include intersectional writers with disabilities.  We'd be set for it.  All we'd have left is to not be assholes.  We can manage.

We'd rock our own space.