Today I’m really excited to kick off a new blog post series on Disability in Fiction. Over the next six or seven Mondays I’ll be hosting a series of guest posts from #ownvoices authors, bloggers, and disability advocates. It’s going to be awesome! I’m also hosting a read-along of Defying Doomsday, an anthology of apocalyptic short stories featuring disabled protagonists. Just for kicks, I’m giving away an e-book of Defying Doomsday, so make sure to scroll down to enter. This read-along will actually be a re-read for me, as I read this antho this past fall and loved it. So join me every Thursday to talk books!
Because what we read informs how we see the world, and how well we can empathize with someone whose lived experience is different from our own. And goodness knows we could do with more empathy in the world today.
Here’s what I mean: when I stop to think about disabled characters in the books I read (which are mostly YA Fantasy / Spec Fic, go figure), I notice that there aren’t actually that many. And they also usually fall into one of a handful of tropes.
- Disabled Person as Motivation / Inspiration – You know what I’m talking about. This is the Tiny Tim of YA Fantasy, that kid we need to save, because they’re small and scrappy and keep on trying but they’re not going to make it without us. So we can be heroic and save them. And that, my friends, is the definition of heroism, or so we are led to believe. I saw it in Angelfall by Susan Ee, which I enjoyed overall, but Paige was rarely more than a plot device in either this or the second book. Perhaps that changed in the third book, but these two books definitely use Paige as the driving force behind Penryn’s actions while Paige remains perpetually in need of help. Gah!
Disabled Person as a Saint – because clearly a person must be perfect if they’ve learned to live with whatever their disability may be. Well, no. They’re human. They have good days and bad, and they get drunk or cuss or get in fights just like the next person. We see these “people” in fantasy as momentary blips on the journey of our heroes, saintlike crippled children (OMG it’s Tiny Tim again!), that “special” child in gothic stories who either saves the day or dies (or both), and on and on.
- The Disabled Villain – which is pretty much the polar opposite of the last trope. But the idea is that they’re as “ugly” on the outside as they are on the inside–Darth Vader, Captain Hook, and so many others. They’re easy to hate, and their disability makes them even more loathsome–whether it’s the eerie sound of Vader’s breathing, or the sickening scratch of the iron point of that hook along a wooden railing, their disability is intimately tied to our sense of their evilness.
There are probably at least a dozen more awful (and common) tropes that disabled characters fall into that I haven’t listed and am not aware of–but that list right there makes me angry. I’ve spent enough of my life (all of my life?) dealing with people’s stereotypes and assumptions about who or what I must be, because of any number of character traits about me, and it sucks. I may be able-bodied, but I can easily empathize with the frustration and hurt of rarely seeing positive images of oneself reflected in the wider world.
As Holly Kench wrote in this blog post, “We need diverse books. We need disabled characters. We need meaningful storylines for these characters to show that, like everyone else, they/we are just human. They/we are not a symbol for uselessness, monstrosity, or inspiration. They/we are people with full lives and a multitude of experiences.”
So there you have it. Join me Thursday to kick off the read-along of Defying Doomsday, and stop back again on Monday for the first guest post in this awesome series! Here’s the expected schedule, which I’ll update with links (and final titles) as posts go live.
I’m totally excited about this–are you? And is there something more you’d like to see?
Disability in Fiction Blog Post Series
- Kick-Off Post (that’s this one!)
- Top Ten SFF / YA Reads with Disabled Characters – Tsana Dolichva
- Reading While Disabled via The Disability Visibility Project – Part 1 – Alice Wong
- Reading While Disabled via the DVP – Part 2 – Alice Wong
- Why Representation in YA Matters – Elsa Henry
- Art as Activism – Anarcha Quinn
- Ableism in Fiction – Erin Hawley
- Reflections and Wrap-up
Be a love and help me share the word about this too! 😉