I’ve never considered myself a “disabled writer”. The obvious jokes about a disabled writer being a writer with his computer unplugged aside, it’s always seemed an especially ridiculous concept. I don’t define myself or the scope of my work so limitingly, and I find it more than a little odd that others (especially artists/writers with “disabilities”) should feel the need to do so…
But that’s not what I really want to discuss today. Instead I want to talk about expectation — more particularly, the special case of expectation regarding disability in fiction.
I don’t always feature characters with disabilities in my novels. Looking back, I’d say that, roughly, sixty percent of the novels I’ve written haven’t had a disabled character in them (although this depends on how broadly one defines one’s terms!) When I do, however, their disabilities are only a small part of who they are — not because I have a political point to hammer home, but simply because that’s just the way it is. I treat them the way I would any other character. Why on earth wouldn’t I?
All of which leads me to a story concerning a literary agent I submitted to many moons ago — a reputable agent with some highly notable clients (no, I’m too discrete to name her.)
I’d written an especially awful horror novel called Transfuse. It was a ridiculous story, so I’ll spare you the details, but one thing it did have going for it was an especially bitter and twisted protagonist — a bitter and twisted protagonist who just happened to have a severe disability. I was tired of all the smiley, PC representations that were becoming popular and I wanted to write someone who was just… not nice. Someone, also, very removed from me and my experience. Circumstances that had absolutely nothing to do with his disability had led him to his vengeful state of mind, and I made no special dispensations.
The novel was rejected, of course. I expected that. But what left me utterly flabbergasted was one comment from the agent it question. She strongly objected to my disabled protagonist being so bitter and twisted because, well, disabled people tend to be well adjusted individuals who live fulfilling lives et cetera, et cetera! And she knew that I had a disability and that I was, if my earlier correspondence with her was anything to go on, actually very well-adjusted myself.
None of which had any relevance when it came to the creation of my character. He was not a politically correct “type”, he was a character whose personality had been shaped by a back-story that involved both of his parents being murdered. Wheelchair or no wheelchair, he was going to be bitter.
These are obstacles all writers, disabled or not, face in one form or another. Ignorance from those who really should know better. It isn’t the norm, but it is more common than might be expected.
File it away and move on. Then blog about it years later. My advice.