There have been some really good posts on the front page of WordPress that got me considering my motivations for writing. I write Blades of Truth, my current Fiction Friday Harry Potter fan fiction serial for fun because I really enjoy Harry’s world and will use any excuse to visit it. However it and my more serious work in progress (and by serious I mean hopefully one day have its own cover art and be in bookstores and libraries with my name on it) share a commonality. In both works the main character is disabled. The lack of disabled people in all forms of the media has been a soapbox for me for a long time. Whether we realize it or not we look to people similar to ourselves in our own culture to tell us how that culture expects us to behave. For many many years when disabled kids and young people look to their culture to find examples of themselves there weren’t any or at the very least very few.
The message that conveyed to me growing up was go way, disappear, you have no voice, no value, no story worth telling. That’s a really hard thing, to realize that society views you that way for no other reason than an accident of birth or circumstance that you cannot control. I learned that lesson well before I was 12 years old. When I was in high school I read a story a three-page story for my sophomore English class that my teacher, upon returning to me, that I should expand into a book. It wasn’t anywhere close to what she thought of as her preferred type of leisure reading but if it were published she would buy it in a heartbeat she told me.
Originally the female lead wasn’t in a wheelchair at all. I had considered making her disabled but decided against it because I was afraid that by putting the lead character in a chair I would hurt the manuscript’s chances of being picked up by a publisher. This decision nagged at me for years until I asked someone else’s opinion and they said that if I didn’t like the way current media undervalued and ignored the disabled I should force them to take notice and write characters who were. It might mean that the story got twice as many rejections as it would otherwise but when it finally found a publisher those people would want to tell the same story I did and I wouldn’t feel like a sellout to myself.
Today I saw this and this on the WordPress Discover page (apparently Freshly Pressed got a makeover). I realized that in hesitating to make the main character disabled I had been fundamentally altering my story in an effort to make it more palatable to those who would eventually pass judgment on it. I had originally made her able bodied to avoid questions like “is this a book about disability”. No it’s an action adventure urban fantasy romance similar to several books Mercedes Lackey has written. Yes her disability will affect how the action plays out and certain things will happen to her that probably wouldn’t happen if she were not disabled but it is not now and never was meant to be a book “about” disability.
My intention for this book is to prove that everyone can have adventure in their lives. Then it is possible for someone in a wheelchair since birth to do more than sit on the sidelines. She can be the kick ass heroine just as often as her able-bodied next-door neighbor. To the publishers who I will one day get rejections from because you are too afraid that the story won’t be long received because of her, that’s fine. Not everyone can be brave all the time. You’ll kick yourself later though for not taking the risk because it really is an awesome story.