Disability in Fiction: A Blog Post Series Kick-off and Giveaway!

Posted by on Jan 2, 2017 in Stop and Think | 15 comments

Disability in Fiction: A Blog Post Series Kick-off and Giveaway!

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!

But why?

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!
  • Case in point… I searched “saint” on my image website of choice and came up with an image of Frida Kahlo. I can’t even. She was amazing. She was not a saint.

    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

  1. Kick-Off Post (that’s this one!)
  2. Top Ten SFF / YA Reads with Disabled Characters – Tsana Dolichva
  3. Reading While Disabled via The Disability Visibility Project – Part 1 – Alice Wong
  4. Reading While Disabled via the DVP – Part 2 – Alice Wong
  5. Why Representation in YA Matters  – Elsa Henry
  6. Art as Activism – Anarcha Quinn
  7. Ableism in Fiction – Erin Hawley
  8. Reflections and Wrap-up

Be a love and help me share the word about this too! 😉

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • victoria s andrews

    This is a great and lofty task that you set for yourself! I totally understand as I was in a horrible accident at 15 and have a very bad scar and limp that makes people look at me. I am still the same person scar and all. I just look different.

    • Thank you so much for sharing–that must have been a very difficult thing to go through at such an age (at any age, I suppose, but the teen years seem tough enough as they are). And ha! Yes, it’s quite the task. I’m hoping to do four different series of blog posts this year, focusing on different topics related to diversity and building empathy. I’m not much of an activist, but I am a writer, and I thought I could at least do this. 🙂

  • Marlene Rempel

    I think that stories about people with disabilities is a good thing

    • Me too! 🙂 And really, I think sometimes stories are that much more engaging and fascinating when it includes a perspective that is a little bit different from one’s own. Surviving the apocalypse is a pretty great story concept. Factor in the additional challenges and learned resilience of a character with disabilities, and you have a heckuva story.

  • Nicholas Anthony

    _Disabling Characters_ by Patricia Dunn provides a nice overview of disability representations in children’s and young adult literature, and I’m excited to see the discussions unfold here.

    I have a particular interest in how learning disabilities are represented in literature–when we discuss representations in literature, who is being represented, and which students feel part of the group being represented?

    My personal interest aside, I eagerly look forward to this series–and _Defying Doomsday_ is in my Amazon cart once I have an opportunity to order and read it. Keep up your awesome work, Intisar!

    • Ooh, I will have to look up Dunn’s book–it sounds like just what I’m looking for.

      Learning disabilities are definitely underrepresented in literatures–I it seems even more so than physical disabilities (at least when we talk about positive representations).

      And yay! So glad you’ve got Defying Doomsday in your cart. You won’t regret it! And since they’re shorts, it’s easy to read a story here and there, fitting it into your life. It’s rather addictive…

  • W.R. Gingell

    Love this idea! I’ve been getting vague little inklings at the back of my mind for a disabled character in a superhero setting type book, so this just reminds me to make it happen when I can 🙂

    • That’s fantastic, Wendee! One of the guest posts (Elsa’s) will specifically talk to the importance of representation in literature, and provide some tips and resources on writing disabled characters. I’m looking forward to it, as I’m hoping to be getting back to Rae’s story then too. 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • ShaLee Enabnit

    I am just an aspiring author. My aim is to write for young adults across genres. Lately I have been writing a series that focuses on people who can be heroes even with the disabilities that they have. However, even though its inspirational I still have danger, courage and facings fears with their life on the line. So it never crossed my mind that stories with disabled main characters were not often written.

    • Hi ShaLee – sounds likes you’re writing some fantastic stories there. While there are certainly a lot of stories with disabled characters, positively and authentically portrayed main characters that don’t fall into a standard trope are still hard to come by. So glad you’re doing the work you are, and I hope you’ll be able to check out the the rest of the series. I’m very much looking forward to the discussions!

  • Emory

    Ooh, this looks like an amazing anthology. It’s so important to have this kind of representation – growing up, all I ever saw was “person has a disability, but is able to overcome it to do whatever they want anyway” which, yes, it’s important to show that you can do things, but it would have been more useful for me to see “person CAN’T do what they wanted, but leverages that to find something related/equally fulfilling”.

    • I love this anthology so much! I’m definitely excited about the read-along, and hope you might be able to join us.

      That insight is so important–there are certainly real and fictitious stories of person-with-X-disability-does-what-they-want-to-anyway, but learning to leverage your own abilities and work with your own challenges to find what fulfills you, and being okay with it being different from where you started, is so important to. And I suspect it’s probably an ableist / inspirational approach to talking about disabilities that gives more airtime to the first story rather than the second.

  • Yes! I loved the first book in the series and read the next two as well, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. I loved how she handled his dealing with what had happened, especially because, at least at first, he considered it the end of all he’d made of himself. It wasn’t, he just had to find his way there again. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • KatiGardner

    This looks great! I can’t wait to read the posts. Great work here. I know that I fight the tropes in my own work despite being disabled myself. The internalized ableism is something I have to watch for in all of my work. I don’t write fantasy, but lately I’ve loved the idea of an epic fantasy with characters that have different disabilities.

    • Thanks so much–I am so excited for this series! And yes, tropes–and stereotypes generally–are so insidious. As I work to write stories that are true to my own experience, I find myself writing tropes / stereotypes without realizing it, then having to go back and critically assess what I’m doing, and why, and how messed up things can be sometimes. As for fantasies with differently abled individuals… do check out Tsana’s guest post (tomorrow!) – she may have some great reads for you. (If not epic fantasy, than certainly speculative fiction generally!) And thank you, so much, for stopping by.

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