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Posts tagged with: diversity

Autism and writing what you know

I give a writing craft workshop called Write What Your Family Knows. The concept is partly about research, partly about a writer’s life. By mining my family’s interests or careers, I have instant access to a (mostly) inexhaustible source of expert information.

Do I want an alpha hero? Little brother is an Army retiree. Do I need a teen character to have a fun hobby? Just say “anime” to my baby girl, and I’m her captive audience for hours. These conversations are two-for-one; I get fabulous research and an opportunity to involve my family in my writing.

But here comes the tricky part. There is an ethical dilemma when using what my friends or family knows. Have they revealed something they might later regret if it appears in a book? Might readers assume that a character’s fictional belief or behavior belongs to one of my loved ones?

Which brings me to…autism.

Let’s Talk – Disabilities in Romance

I’m writing this post today from Duke Cancer Center where I will be talking to third-year medical residents as a survivor of ovarian cancer (Survivors Teaching Students is a nationwide program – https://ocrfa.org/get-involved/survivors-teaching-students/ ).  

As I watch the people move before me, I am awed at some of the conflicts, determination, and love that I see. These people (and I can proudly say that I was one of them) are heroes and heroines, battling against foes plaguing their bodies. They often have husbands, wives, and partners with them.

When we, as authors and readers, talk about increased diversity in romance, we often jump to race and sexual orientation diversity. We’ve made great strides in offering readers wonderful stories in these areas, however, I still do not see many disabled heroes and heroines in romance.

Decades ago I met a young writer at a conference who had just pitched a story idea with a blind heroine. She was told by the agent that she would not be able to sell a blind heroine to a publishing house. Do you think this is still true?

Some say that readers want fantasy when they read romance. That bringing the challenging conflicts that come with a disability to a romantic story could turn readers off. But with television shows like ABC’s Speechless, with a main character with cerebral palsy, I believe the tides have begun to turn.

 

My Highland Hero shaving my head when my hair started falling out. He shaved his too.

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I’ve thought about writing a heroine with cancer. Of course, she will live as I only write happy endings and that is what readers of romance expect. But as I toss and twist the plot in my mind, I realize that the story actually falls more into the category of realistic fiction than romance because the fight for the woman’s life becomes the focus and not the building relationship. Can such conflicts overshadow the romance, thus shunting the book out of the romance genre?

There are all types of disabilities, some much easier to deal with than others. I could easily see a dyslexic heroine or an amputee. I’d like to read a romance between a cancer warrior heroine and a doctor. The whole taboo thing about patient/doctor boundaries would be so interesting to explore. The military book I read while judging last year’s Ritas had a very strong hero dealing with the loss of his leg and phantom pain. The core story still remained about the growing relationship.

But what about someone with bipolar depression or complete paralysis from a spinal injury? Would these types of disabilities be too much for the casual reader? Or would these books open a view into the struggles that come with these conflicts, pulling readers into the richness of the characters? However, again, would the focus in these books end up being on the physical/mental conflicts rather than the romance, making these books realistic fiction with romantic elements?

What do you think? I think we’ve come a long way in areas of diversity over the last decade, but I still don’t think all people are represented in romance. Do you have examples of diverse heroes and heroines with disabilities? Do you think there is a market for such romance? What type of diverse heroes and heroines would you like to see in romantic literature?

 

And before you leave, since it is still September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month (and I’ve got my teal on!), please remind yourself of the symptoms of this sneaky, vicious disease.

 

Bloating that is persistent

Eating less and feeling fuller

Abdominal pain

Trouble with your bladder

Other symptoms may include: fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation, and menstrual irregularities.

**************************************

Hi! When I’m not writing Scottish Historical romance and driving my kids around, I’m an educator and advocate for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. When I was diagnosed six years ago, I barely knew even one symptom of this very quiet disease, which is the most deadly of the GYN cancers. If you are a warrior, survivor, or just want to chat, please feel free to contact me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com . I’m an “open book” when it comes to talking about my OC experiences. Heather

 

 

 

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