Teresa Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. T is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and has a short story, “Naked the Night Sings,” in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF. Another story, “Love, Crystal and Stone” appears in The Neverland’s Library Fantasy Anthology.
Her novella, The Broken Road, is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her most recent work is a novelette written with author Alex Bledsoe entitled Hisses and Wings.
Teresa lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
Authors and reviewers alike tend to throw the word “strong” around as if inner fortitude is something that we’re born with. “Strong female characters” was the phrase de rigueur for a while there. Everyone tried to create their version of a “strong female character” based on their own definition of strength. Often, the quiet, resilient strength formed in the face of adversity was eschewed in favor of kick-ass heroines.
This post isn’t about kick-ass heroines. It’s more about the quiet, resilient kind of inner strength one acquires from having a disability. I’m not sure if what does not kill us makes us stronger, but I do know that having a handicap has made me more creative in how I function in the world. I’ve found my strength by facing obstacles and challenges, sometimes losing, then redirecting my efforts to better assure a more lasting solution.
In my novella, The Broken Road, I have a character named Travys, who is a seventeen-year-old prince. On a superficial level, Travys would seem to have it all until the reader looks more closely and realizes that Travys’ kingdom is a matriarchy where he must marry a consort in order to rule. Of course, this isn’t a terrible thing, except that Travys is gay, and his choice of a life-partner and his mother’s choice of a life-partner to carry on the royal line are in stark contrast to one another. His mother determines that Travys will marry his twin brother’s girlfriend, and things sort of slide downhill for Travys from there.
When I constructed the synopsis for The Broken Road, I knew three things about Travys: he was prince in a matriarchy; he was gay and very much in love with Gabriel; and that he was mute in a world where the pitch and range of one’s voice determines the strength of one’s magic. It is the third thing that brings us to Travys’ disability and gives me the opportunity to show you the inner strength of most disabled people.
Travys taught himself to channel his magic through ambient sounds, and while he is not the most powerful of the Chanteuse, he maintains his self-respect and is determined to find ways around his disability. His biggest desire is for respect. He wants to be valued for his intelligence, his ability to solve problems, to remain mindful when the other Chanteuse desire nothing more than to forget the decaying world around them. He wants to be valued for what he can do, not be seen as a liability for what he cannot do.
He doesn’t bemoan his disability; instead, he finds ways to work around it. It is this very ingeniousness that enables him, not only to survive, but to thrive in a very hostile environment. Travys evinces one of the most valuable skills inherent to disabled people: the ability to adapt himself to circumstances beyond his control.
Travys wasn’t born with a noble personality. His life-experiences are what shaped and molded his character. His whole existence has been one delicate adjustment after another, so rather than being intimidated by another obstacle, he merely finds a way around it or through it. Because of constantly overcoming one challenge after another, Travys is able to appreciate the social-economic difficulties he witnesses among the lowborn, the people who the Chanteuse are supposed to protect. In short, his disability has given him the empathy he needs in order to help others. Even without a voice, Travys is determined to speak for those less fortunate than himself.
This brings me back to “strength,” a highly imprecise word that is dependent on the individual for meaning. There is so much more to kicking ass than swinging a sword or making snarky comebacks, nor does one have to be disabled in order to develop integrity. Yet when someone mentions strength to me, disabled people are often who I think of first, because I know so many people, like myself, who spend so much of their days overcoming obstacles. On the surface, we don’t look very intimidating, but deep within our souls, we have the hearts of warriors, and that is the kind of strength I want to show you through characters such as Travys.