Mercedes Murdock Yardley is a friend of mine. We talk frequently, and commiserate about health issues neither of us can control, just deal with as best as we can. She’s an up-and-coming author with several books under her belt, and more on the way. She’s creative, and passionate, and an absolute joy to talk to.
One of the things that always gets me about her writing, especially now that I know her on a personal level, is how certain aspects of her life fuel her books. Her books are dark and delicious, with a shocking (and quite refreshing) innocence, and an undertone of deep, profound loss, all of which is reflective of the life she has lived, and the challenges she faces daily.
I asked her if she’d be willing to open up with me about her life, her son with Williams Syndrome, and how it has all impacted her writing. This conversation is the result of that. Huge thanks to Mercedes for being willing to talk about these tender topics.
NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Jacey Bedford! – Sarah Chorn
Jacey Bedford is a British author who lives behind a keyboard in Pennine Yorkshire with her songwriter husband, Brian, and a long-haired black German Shepherd dog called Eska. She’s had short stories published on both sides of the Atlantic and her first novel, Empire of Dust was just released from DAW. You can learn more about her on her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter (@jaceybedford) as well as on her Artisan page.
NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Anne Leonard! – Sarah Chorn
Anne Leonard has been writing fantasy and other fiction since she was fourteen and finally, after a career with as many detours as Odysseus, published her first novel, Moth and Spark, in February. She has a lot of letters after her name that are useful when trying to impress someone. She has worked in libraries, academia, and the legal field, and before becoming a full-time writer was a practicing attorney. She lives in Northern California with her husband, teenage son, and two black cats.
THE DANCERS OF ARUN by Elizabeth A. Lynn
by Anne Leonard
Most of the sci-fi and fantasy books that I read over and over as a teenager have long since vanished from my bookshelves. One set which has not, however, is a trilogy collectively called The Chronicles of Tornor, by Elizabeth A. Lynn. The first two books, Watchtower and The Dancers of Arun were published in 1979; the third, The Northern Girl, was published in 1980. All three of the paperbacks that I have are blurbed with a quotation from Joanna Russ, “An adventure story for humanists and feminists.”
Roberta Trahan is the bestselling author of THE DREAM STEWARDS epic fantasy series and the SciFi novella AFTERSHOCK. Her lifelong love of speculative fiction began at an early age, when a certain star-trekking television series inspired an alien-encounter essay that both shocked and horrified her third-grade teacher.
First published nationally as a teenager, Roberta went on to earn a degree in journalism and advertising at the University of Oregon and then worked in various sales, publicity, and marketing positions before eventually turning to creative writing as a career.
Roberta credits the work of classical masters like J.R.R. Tolkein, Marion Zimmer-Bradley and Mary Stewart with igniting her love of fantasy, folklore and history. But it is her own Celtic heritage that she claims as her muse. She blames a rogue alien genetic marker for her chronic addiction to caffeinated substances and her compulsion to invent imaginary worlds. She is also enamored with hummingbirds, and easily distracted by small, shiny objects.
A Pacific Northwest native, Roberta currently resides with her family in the Seattle area and is actively involved with her local writing community as an instructor and speaker.
Lisa Jensen is the author of the novels, Alias Hook, and The Witch From the Sea, proprietress of the arts and entertainment blog, Lisa Jensen Online Express, and longtime film critic and columnist for the alternative weekly, Good Times, in Santa Cruz, CA.
Alias Hook was published by Thomas Dunne Books on July 8, 2014. I had the chance to speak with Lisa about it…
NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Paul Weimer! – Sarah Chorn
Minnesota dwelling Ex-pat New Yorker Paul Weimer is a Hugo Nominated podcaster [The Skiffy and Fanty Show 2014], SF Signal Irregular, Genre reviewer/columnist & writer. When he isn’t doing all of that, he loves photography and playing and talking about roleplaying games. You can find him on Twitter, and commenting on genre blogs far and wide.
Rolling Perception plus Awareness with Characters with Special Needs
by Paul Weimer
In roleplaying games, players inhabit other characters, other people, in other worlds. Wizards in a city in a desert, fighting a battle against the incoming horde of the Sand Sultan. A sword swinging barbarian delving into an ancient maze of tunnels called the “Londn Undrgrnd”. The pilot of a starship full of rogues and freebooters, the kind of woman who has the engines hot for the inevitably necessary getaway. The gnomish clockmaker, building golems to defend his allies. The Paladin of a Goddess of Law, who fights for justice not only on the tourney field, but in the Courts as well. Characters of all sorts of ethnicities, races, species and genders.
Is playing a character without legs, or with a mental disability, so different than these? Sometimes, when you roll perception plus awareness, you’re rolling for a character who has special needs. The one-eyed archer. The wheelchaired mutant with psychokinetic powers. The police officer, former army veteran, with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The dark elf cleric, an exile to the surface world, who is severely weakened by sunlight.
NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds first appeared on my site Bookworm Blues a few years ago. I thought it was a very powerful piece and I wanted to give it more exposure. I asked Anon if I could use it again on SF Signal. Anon was nice enough to say yes, they just wanted to edit it a bit first. Here is the new, updated, and still intensely powerful piece. – Sarah Chorn
‘Anon’ hails from a far and distant land, but has found a cozy spot in the English-speaking SFF community. ‘Anon’ enjoys everything dark and weird in every medium possible. Occasional reviewer and a writer of SFF fiction, ‘Anon’ currently dips toes in the world of editing and personal branding and marketing.
Depression in a Place Where Depression Is Not a Thing
I’m probably the poster child for the argument of fiction as an escape, which I find a bit funny since you’ve no idea who I am. What drew me to fiction – epic fantasy and sword & sorcery in particular – was the effortless ability to dissolve into the mindscape of someone else. Not be present in my life, which during my formative years brought nothing worthwhile – only verbal abuse, negligence and expectations that I conform with ideas of normalcy.
Being a teenager was awkward for me. It really wasn’t any fun and I hated just about every minute of it. I was a pretty pukey teen, though. Maybe it was more entertaining for other people, but I felt like an outsider. I had almost no friends. I had a hard time relating to anyone or feeling like I fit in. That’s probably why I have so actively avoided reading any young adult books. I want to avoid anything that makes me remember my horrible, hormone filled, confused years.
However, every year I challenge myself to read another area of the speculative fiction genre that I typically avoid, and this year I picked young adult books. This year I’ve read about ten young adult books, which is about ten more young adult books than I’ve read any other year. I am not an expert in all things young adult, and if I’m being honest with you, I should have had someone who reads more young adult than I do write this post, but I didn’t.
My foray into young adult speculative fiction has left me far more surprised than I ever expected to be. These books aren’t only (or always) filled with angsty love triangles, and teenagers who fall in soulmate love almost instantly. Most of the time, these books feel a lot more mature than I expected. These books are filled with young people dealing with very adult problems and situations. However, what has truly surprised me was just how much disability I’ve seen in young adult books.
January seems to be the month for lists, but life keeps happening the way it does and it’s pushed my list back to February. I apologize for that. I am learning that it is very hard to make a list like this because, as far as I know, there really isn’t one out there. I’m discovering, as I make this list, that it is both very hard to narrow down which books I should put on it, and also very hard to hunt through the annals of the internet to find all the books I possibly can that can fit on this list. Case and point, I’ve literally been working on this list for nearly a week and I am honestly ashamed by how short it is. There are so many more books out there, but I don’t have all the time in the world to find them and list them properly.
The process of making this list is a lot more philosophical than I first thought it would be. I’m running into a lot of questions. For example, would John Clever and his obvious antisocial behavior patterns be considered disabled? Differently abled, certainly, but would that make I Am Not A Serial Killer fit on this list? I can pretty much ask that question about any of Dan Wells books. The Scar by Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko was talked about in the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on my website a few years ago which you can read about here. Does that book fit in this post, or is it too vague? In The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, the more Arlen gets marked up, the less he can function in society. Does that make those books fit on this list?
You see the problems I run into? Perhaps I just overthink things.
I’m hoping this can be a joint project. I’ll start the list out with what I have here, and then you, my fine readers, can leave comments with all the myriads of books I’ve missed. I will, occasionally, update this list with your books added to it. Let’s work together to make this list long, and incredible.
The Miriam Black books by Chuck Wendig have made me look at disabilities in a completely different way. Whether or not you think Miriam Black is disabled, or just inconvenienced by her ability to see how people die, Wendig does a great job at showing how Miriam is basically incapable of functioning normally in society. Her additional ability has so overwhelmed her, that it has made her a complete loner, absolutely isolated, and incredibly caustically awkward. She can’t hold a job, or stay in one place. She has no home, no friends, no sense of security or stability. All of the things that we enjoy so much in our lives are absolutely absent from hers, and those absences have shaped her in very brutal ways that have left incredibly profound scars.
A few weeks ago I interviewed my disabled brother about reading SF/F and what the genre means to him. This week I decided to balance it out by interviewing author Teresa Frohock, who has not only contributed her amazing book, Miserere, to the genre, but also is hearing impaired.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Earlier this year I successfully finished, for the second (and hopefully last) time, a battle with cancer. I was diagnosed in October of 2010, and I got my full body scan and official “all clear” from my doctor in April of 2013. I made it out alive, and that’s a lot more than a lot of people can say. Oddly enough, cancer didn’t just change me, or teach me more about myself and my capabilities, but it taught me a lot about writing speculative fiction. Specifically how disabilities are handled in speculative fiction. Despite the fact that books are often told about fictional people, authors draw upon real life situations to create their characters, worlds, and cultures. There are interesting parallels between how we handle our own hardships, and how authors allow their characters to handle their hardships and the character growth and development that results from their hardships and struggles – the personal and interpersonal battles they fought and won (or didn’t win).
I’ve mentioned a few times that my big brother is the reason I got into genre. He is also the entire reason I write this column.
My brother Rob is disabled in numerous ways. Reading, for him, has always been a way to relate to the world, feel like he’s less alone, and help me understand his perspective. Rob is a hell of a guy, but due to severe seizures a few years ago, he can’t read anymore, which breaks my heart. He was the one who collected books and showed me what a wealth of information and experiences are in books. Books have helped me understand him more than I ever imagined I could.
I had a conversation on the phone with Rob to talk to him about what the genre means to him, and why he thinks that disabilities are important in speculative fiction. It was really enlightening to talk openly about disabilities in the genre with the person who got me into the genre in the first place. It was also really neat to see how disabilities are represented in the genre from a disabled person’s point of view.
Thanks to Rob for taking the time to do this interview. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
In the last installment of Special Needs in Strange Worlds, I talked about Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, and how powerfully, and realistically, she covers a myriad of disabilities in her debut book. This week I am pleased to bring you an interview with the author.
Jacqueline Koyanagi was born in Ohio to a Japanese-Southern-American family, eventually moved to Georgia, and earned a degree in anthropology with a minor in religion. Her stories feature queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles, because she grew tired of not seeing enough of herself and the people she loves reflected in genre fiction. She now resides in Colorado where she weaves all manner of things, including stories, chainmaille jewelry, and a life with her loved ones and dog.
Q: First things first. Tell readers a little about yourself. What do you typically do when you aren’t writing?
There is much about Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension that has attracted the attention of a lot of people. It’s a science fiction book featuring a woman of color with an impoverished background, some homosexual relationships and — most importantly for this column — disabilities. Before I continue, I should mention that I have an interview in progress with the author that I am incredibly excited about, so stay tuned to Special Needs in Strange Worlds for more on that sometime in the near future.
Even if you haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, you’ve probably heard the name Tyrion Lannister thrown around a bit. Tyrion is, dare I say it, one of the most memorable, compelling characters in current epic fantasy. In fact, he is so compelling that I’ve had to make a stipulation on my Special Needs in Strange Worlds guest posts: Please do not talk about Tyrion Lannister. He is a fantastic character, but if I let everyone talk about him, that’s the only person anyone will ever talk about. (Full disclosure: I have also had to make that rule about Miles Vorkosigan, but I haven’t read those books yet so I’m not really qualified to talk about him.)
Speculative Fiction is a genre that has a tendency to overcompensate for disabilities. Some common examples are the blind person who is also a seer. There’s the guy with an injured leg that just happens to have superhuman strength or an abnormal level of loyalty; and the character everyone thinks is insane but actually sees the truth of all things. These are just a few of the common tropes dealing with disability that I run across frequently in my books. While I understand the need for authors to have an “in” regarding some of these abilities, or give their readers a reason for them to exist, it often makes me wonder if these disabilities even matter in the grander scope, as they are so overshadowed by the character’s incredible, implausible abilities.
Welcome to Special Needs in Strange Worlds, a column focusing on celebrating disabilities in SFF. This column will focus on book reviews, author interviews, and guest posts to highlight the beauty and importance of our flaws.
I have a huge soft spot in my heart for hurricane victims.
About six weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I flew down to Mississippi where I spent the next six months living in a town that was about 98% demolished and roughly ten miles east of where the eye had passed. Before that experience, hurricanes were sad, and the people who lost everything to them were tragic, but it was abstract. I’d care for a few minutes before my own life made me forget about it. I never realized just how tragic and how horrible it all was until I toured a completely leveled city with people who had spent their entire lives there.
My experience with Hurricane Katrina changed my life forever. I wasn’t much of a humanitarian before I spent my time in Mississippi, but now I have a bleeding heart. I watched strangers help each other fix roofs, protect each other, feed each other, donate clothes and medical supplies, help clean up demolished property, help each other deal with loss and so much more. I saw how much one person could change a community and I saw how important the effort of one individual was in the face of such calamity. Now I can’t seem to stop myself from participating in humanitarian efforts, especially ones focusing on hurricane relief.