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.