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Thank you, Sabrina

In this year’s Rita Awards ceremony, the audience watched clips of authors thanking fellow authors who had played an important role in their writing careers.

We’re all in this together.

When RWA called for submissions for this feature, I sent in an entry–to thank Sabrina Jeffries for all she’s meant to me. We were selected to participate, but our clip ended on the proverbial cutting room floor. Since I missed my chance to thank her at the RITAs, I’ll express my gratitude here today.

Sabrina and I write in completely different subgenres, so it might seem like we have little in common. But in our private lives, we share a strong bond. We’re both the mothers of autistic adults. Whenever we talk, the conversation inevitably turns to our kids. How are they doing? How are we managing? Autism is a spectrum of disorders, and parents of autistics have a spectrum of experiences. Yet we can always connect over the joys and challenges of being autism moms.

It’s inevitable that Sabrina and I write neuro-diverse characters into our books. My latest release has an autistic main character–and Natalie’s autism is a key part of the story.  It was Sabrina’s willingness to support me that led to my submission to We’re all in this together. 

Here is my entry to RWA:

I met Sabrina Jeffries through my local RWA chapter. She’s gracious to us all, but her generosity became personal for me last summer.

Sabrina and I were on the same flight to Orlando in July 2017 for RWA Nationals. As we shared a ride to the Dolphin Resort, we become engrossed in a conversation about something we have in common besides writing. We’re both autism moms.

Sabrina Jeffries and Julia Day

Sabrina Jeffries and Julia Day at RWA Conference – Orlando

For the entire drive, we caught up on each other’s children. Sabrina’s son—who is severely autistic—is thriving in his group home. My daughter, who has Asperger’s, was about to move to Connecticut for graduate school.

I mentioned to Sabrina that my next YA book would have a main character with Asperger’s. She offered to help, any way she could. We both laughed about that, since I write sweet YA contemporaries and she writes sexy adult historicals.

A month later, though, I contacted her. Would she read the manuscript and give me a cover quote? Her response was immediate. YES! And not only did she give me a lovely quote, she was willing to promote the book.

After Fade to Us released, there were some who questioned my “credentials” for writing it. I had been reluctant to talk openly about having a child on the autism spectrum, believing it’s my daughter’s story to tell. Sabrina was there for me again with these wise words to consider.

SJ: “Being an autism mom is part of your life, too. Can you feel comfortable sharing that your inspiration came from the experiences of your daughter and family? Can you publicly celebrate the success your daughter has had?

It was the perfect advice. With my daughter’s blessing, I’ve become more open on social media about being an autism mom.

Sabrina didn’t forget her offer to promote. She’s been amazing about getting the word out about the book on twitter, Facebook, and goodreads.

Her actions are exactly what RWA embodies for the community of romance authors. Sabrina has given generously to me through her words, encouragement, and support as I released a story so close to my heart. I can’t thank her enough.

 

Do you have an author who has helped your career? If so, join us in the comments and thank him or her.

Do you have a child or family member with differences? However you manage those struggles, please know that the writing community has your back. We are there for you, so find us in whatever way is comfortable for you! 

 

Julia Day  is an author of young adult fiction, including Fade to Us, a sweet YA contemporary with an autistic main character. She also writes YA magical realism as Elizabeth Langston. (Her book I WISH is free through August 9.)

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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