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The Knight's Champion

Freak the MightyFreak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick  

“I never had a brain until Freak came along…”

12-year-old Max is used to having no friends. He’s used to the whispers about his size, about his intelligence. About his father. But when Freak moves into his neighborhood, small and smart as an encyclopedia, the two of them find they are stronger together. For together they are Freak the Mighty.

 

I can’t believe I waited till I was twenty-eight to read this book. I have kind of a thing for big softies and their genius counterparts, like Fezzik and Inigo (The Princess Bride by William Goldman), and Grunthor and Achmed (Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon). Their trust and partnerships always make for compelling reading. And Max’s background made him all the more sympathetic. I loved that Freak was never frightened of Max, even when all the adults were nervous. Freak understood him and reached out to him from the moment they met.

As for Freak’s disability, I don’t know much about Moquio Syndrome, but I loved Philbrick’s portrayal of him. We saw Freak through Max’s eyes, and to Max, he was a genius and a hero. Unlike the adults in their lives, we don’t pity Freak because Max doesn’t see anything to pity. Any time someone refers to him as “that poor boy”, Max is there to disabuse them of that notion. If Freak is a brave knight, then Max is his noble champion.

Freak also had an amazing ability to take himself out of his situation into something more exciting. I can totally relate to imagining a future outside of what is possible. It would depress the hell out of me, but I can see how it would give a kid like Freak a way to cope.

And in a way, Max has his own disabilities. The way people judge him based on his looks and family and his performance in school limits him in his day to day life. It’s only Freak who looks beyond the surface and sees Max. And in the end, it’s Freak who changes the way Max sees himself.

A-Z Bookish Survey

I saw this over on Bookworm Blues and thought it looked fun.

Author You've Read the Most Books From:

Mercedes Lackey with Tamora Pierce and Lois McMaster Bujold coming in as close seconds.

Best Sequel Ever:

The first is great. The second one is better. The third is best.

The King of Attolia

Currently Reading:

BladeMissPeregrine

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Vanilla Coke

E-Reader or Physical Book:

Both. I don't like carting around a pile of books while I travel, but when I'm at home, I still prefer paper and ink.

Fictional Character You Probably Would've Actually Dated in High School:

Herald Mage Vanyel Ashkevron from Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, though I wouldn't have had a chance because he's gay. Still we spent many wonderful hours together, so it's kind of like we were dating, right?

Magic's Price

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

I'd almost decided not to read this at all until I found it on sale and now it's probably one of my favorite retellings.

Cinder

Hidden Gem Book:

WrenCurse

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

When I got serious about writing. Totally changed the way I read. Sometimes I wish I could go back. I'd enjoy way more books that way.

Just Finished:

FreakCryo

Kinds of Books You Won't Read:

Just not interested. Goes for literary fiction as well.

The Notebook

Longest Book You've Read:

According to Goodreads.com...1,015 pages.

Kushiel's Dart

Major Book Hangover Because of:

Her books ruined me for all other books. This one in particular broke me and put me back together again.

Mirror Dance

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Nine.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

So many old friends and I have to choose just one? How about I narrow it down to two?

BlueNight

Preferred Place to Read:

Um, anywhere I happen to be. I have a comfy chair in my library but I just never end up there.

Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From a Book You've Read:

“Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart."

- The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Reading Regret:

I regret wasting time on terrible books like these. See W.

FridayWolf

Series you Started and Need to Finish (All Books in Series Are Out):

It's just shameful that I haven't finished these. I'm so sorry, Carol. I'll get right on it.

RaiKirah

Three of Your All Time Favorite Books:

Okay, I guess choosing three is better than listing the seventy-seven Goodreads says I have.

CivilTrickFlesh

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Oh dear. You caught me.

FushigiSailor

Very Excited For This Release, More So Than Others:

It's actually already out, so maybe it doesn't count, but I about peed myself when I heard there was another Vorkosigan novel coming and then I waited AGES for it.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Worst Bookish Habit:

I cannot put down a bad book. It could get better on the next page.

X-Marks the Spot: Start at the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book

World War Z

Your Latest Book Purchase:

I went to the used book sale at my library last weekend and picked up a bunch. Too many to picture here. But among my selections were childhood favorites like these that should have already been on my shelf.

WolvesCatherine

And new ones that I'm really looking forward to like these.

UgliesCity

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (Last Book That Kept You Up Way Late):

Cinder

UncategorizedKendra
Something A Little Different

   

Catching Cinders

All her life, Cindy has been told she’s worthless, kicked into the shadows so often that she believes the lie, but with her father inexplicably dead and the Prince far too interested in her story, she must decide whether to accept the way the world sees her or to prove she’s someone worth fighting for.

Catching Cinders Word Cloud 2

By Winged Chair

For years Merry has helped her father study the OtherRealms and the creatures that live there, but now Merry's attitude and razor wit has gotten her kicked out of yet another boarding school. When OtherRealm creatures show up in the last place they should be and begin stealing memories from the people of Woodshire, Merry must team up with an outlaw mage in order to return the lives that have been stolen.  She has to choose between the anger her disability instilled in her and the strength she can take from it, because a crippled mage might be just the hero this fairytale needs.

By Winged Chair Word Cloud 3

Skin Deep

Young Lord Léon’s carelessness maims a young girl and lands him a curse from her family, but years later, trapped as a bear, Léon comes across  a disabled enchantress in the forest who promises to free him. What he doesn’t tell her is that he recognizes her as the girl he wronged so long ago, and as he starts to fall in love with her, he realizes he must keep his secret if he wants to keep her.

Skin Deep Word Cloud

A Shroud for my Bride

Seventeen year old Kallan has been the Reaper’s personal hit-woman since she was twelve. But no more. She wants to catch criminals the right way, and after telling Reaper to take a long ride in an empty airship, she seeks a place with Namerre’s police force. But growing up in the world of murderers and vigilantes has left her with debilitating anxiety, and she has to hide her obsessions and compulsions from her new partners and friends. When a serial killer begins stalking the city streets, masking his crimes with magic, Kallan must seek help from her past, from the Reaper, a father who forced her to murder.

A Shroud For My Bride Word Cloud

WritingKendraword clouds
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

The movie adaptation of John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, is currently in filming, and it started me thinking, why is the question always “Will your book be a movie?” and not “Will this movie be a book?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3H1T3xqzZY

As a kid there was a particular type of conversation I hated. It went something like this:

Me: Well, what about Harriet the Spy?

Friend: Oh, I loved that movie.

Me: I meant the book.

Ex-friend: Same thing.

I’m not a book Nazi, declaring genocide on anyone who doesn’t agree the book is always better. Because, it isn’t. Not always. The Scarlet Pimpernel anyone? But there’s still that nagging annoyance with anyone who doesn’t know the movie was originally a book, or worse, thinks they’ve seen the movie so why bother reading the book.

Why do good books “have” to be made into movies? Well, as much as I hate it, movies are more accessible. It only takes a couple hours to watch a movie as opposed to days and weeks to read a book. Movies are visually stimulating which a lot of people find more engaging. And finally it’s easier and quicker to portray a scene in a film. A picture really is worth a thousand words (unless you really do the math in which case a movie is actually 216 million words).

But is all that better? There is something to be said for taking the time and care to peruse a good book. A movie has cinematography going for it, but a book has language and voice. It allows you to use your imagination and life experience to visualize the details of setting and characters an author gives. And it allows you to get inside someone else’s head in a way a movie never could.

Again, is that better? In the end, they’re two different media with which to tell a story. Neither “wins” over the other. But the question persists. Will the book be a movie? And I’ve never heard the vice versa.

To be fair there have been a couple instances of movies spawning a book or two. Case in point: Star Wars. Huge expansion on canon there. And there is fan-fiction which, while an entity in and of itself, can’t be ignored. Or look at Twilight which spawned a movie, which spawned fan-fiction, which spawned erotica. Oy. But still the phenomenon is very rare.

So what’s the deal? Are movies still such a novelty compared to the thousands of years of fiction that are out there? I can’t deny that, like John mentioned, there is a thrill to seeing your characters come to life. But there's a large part of me that’s resistant, that says I’m writing a book and hoping or assuming that book will one day grace the silver screen cheapens what I’m doing. I don’t know. I have no answer. What do you think? Why do we insist on making our most successful stories into movies?

WritingKendrabooks, movies
Kinect Concerns

I am a gamer. I log far too many hours playing Minecraft, The Elder Scrolls, and Halo. Gaming accessibility has never really been an issue since I’m perfectly capable of sitting on the couch, smashing buttons. But when Xbox announced the Kinect a few years ago, I had serious concerns. A couple friends I considered knowledgeable brushed them off saying it wasn’t really an issue. How can it not be an issue when all the promos look like this?

Kinect promo

If this is the future of gaming, I’m going to be relegated to the position of party-pooper. Not an entirely unfamiliar feeling and an extremely unwelcome one.

Now, the Xbox One is on its way, which includes the Kinect as part of its hardware, meaning game producers can use its capabilities whether you want to use the Kinect itself or not. Part of me sees how cool this could be: zipping through menus with my hands, voice recognition during movies, wielding a sword in an RPG. But if I have to stand up and balance while wielding said sword…Game Over.

I’ve done a little researching and found some promising information. Gaming accessibility for people who are blind is something I never really thought about until reading The Fault in Our Stars, but there are developers out there working on it. Pricing is still the biggest limitation but it’s a start. As for the Kinect, it looks like there are those who share my concerns and are working toward accessibility for all users. “Seated users can enjoy several features and games developed for Kinect for Xbox 360. Currently, the ability for Kinect to work with seated users is largely dependent on the actual game itself. Some games are more accommodating of seated users than others. Game developers do have the ability to design their games in such a way that activities that some users have trouble with can be skipped or completed in a different way.”

“Some features and games” and “Skipped or completed in a different way” doesn’t sound particularly ideal to me, but at least I won’t always be stuck in the corner. And I’m happy to see Fable: The Journey, Skyrim, and Mass Effect 3 on the list of “seated friendly” games.

I just hope Microsoft will continue to educate game producers and challenge them to create versions of their games that are just as enjoyable sitting down, or with prosthetic limbs, or limited vision. Hopefully a controller will always remain an option. It just seems a little counter-intuitive to some of us that you now have to be physically capable to play a video game.

DisabilityKendra
Ingermanson's Double Vision

Randy IngermansonWhen Dillon Richard helps build a quantum computer that can crack any and all code, he gets way more than the better-privacy-for-everyone that he counted on. Now he’s stuck between those who want to use him and those who want to kill him, and the woman who makes his heart pound and the woman who could give him a future.  

I really enjoyed this book. When I read the cover copy, I thought this would be a spy novel. Warning: It’s not. It’s more of a cross between Frank Peretti and Michael Crichton. Lucky for Mr. Ingermanson, I love both. The thriller with a Christian/romantic vibe really worked for me, and I’ll admit, I kind of have a thing for nerds (being a huge one myself) and Dillon made a seriously cute nerd. Now, I don’t have Asperger’s, so I can’t really analyze Dillon’s character for accuracy or that gut feeling I get with other books that are closer to my experience, but there were some things that bothered me and some things I thought Ingermanson did well.

Dillon referred to the people around him as “Normals” and to himself as “not-Normal”, recognizing there was something significantly different about him. I don’t know how people with Asperger’s think or feel about themselves vs society, but I do know some people with Autism and they don’t necessarily think in terms of us and them. Accuracy aside, I think this is a dangerous idea for an author to perpetrate. It encourages readers to think of Dillon as “other” which will eventually translate into real life. I felt like that could have been handled a bit better.

I liked watching Dillon try to figure out social cues, fitting them to formulas he can solve. This expression plus these words usually equals this, therefore I should respond thus. His logic and thought process were also well represented in the stripped prose. Dillon’s point of view was clearly different than the others, not just in word choice and backstory, but in the way he viewed the world, and it’s always really interesting to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

There was way too much quantum mechanics for me. I did not sign up for a lecture, and I thought the writing was a bit repetitive in places. Some things were said several times the same way and all I could think was, “Thanks for the recap but I got it the first time.” Also, some of the conversations and character interactions felt forced and unlikely. I’m aware that I’m emotionally reserved when it comes to talking with people, but I’m pretty sure very few others would have been that blunt and candid at such an emotional climax. “Pick me, Dillon.” “No, pick me.” I kept expecting him to wake up from the dream.

With that said, a book is the sum of its parts and this one came out way in the positive on my scale. I’m so sick of love triangles, but I picked it up anyway because Dillon seemed like a great character. I was impressed by the way the women treated him throughout the book. There was some recognition of Dillon’s “weirdness” at the beginning but mostly they treated him like any other character with some specific quirks and pet peeves they can work around. And I’m just glad he picked the right girl in the end. “Roses are red, the multiverse is blue.” Be still my heart.

Is Merry a Person First?

Once Upon a Time Last week, I talked about writing characters with disabilities and finding a balance between the two extremes. Because it would be easy to overplay your hand so a character is nothing except their wheelchair, or treat it with kid gloves so the disability is just another window dressing that fades into the background. Then I posed some questions for writers to really dig in and examine their characters and their motivations for writing them in the first place.

And I’m going to share a secret with you guys. Lean closer. Closer. Okay, you can’t tell anyone…I…write…characters with disabilities. Shocking, I know. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and ask myself these same questions about Merry, the heroine of my young adult fantasy, By Wingéd Chair. So let’s see if she’s a person first.

Merry is a seventeen year old student who suffered a spinal cord injury three years prior to By Wingéd Chair. She uses a manual wheelchair that her father built.

  • Is she more than her disability? A lot of Merry’s flaws come from her experience in the wheelchair. She is defensive to the point of hostility. She does not accept help gracefully, and she hides her vulnerability behind layer of snark and self-sufficiency. But there are other things that define Merry that have nothing to do with her disability. She is goal-oriented and persistent. She is courageous and funny. And her knowledge of the OtherRealms is second only to her father’s, which is what leads her to team up with Robyn Hode eventually. All of these things are affected by her disability, but they aren’t a result of it. They’d define her even if she was able-bodied.
  • Is she more than one detail deep? Since I’m writing from personal experience, I tried to give readers many things that would ground them in Merry’s situation as well as her head. And I tried to stay away from stereotypes and tropes that are damaging to the character and reader alike. I did touch on going to the bathroom but that was more a nod to the time period and setting, not the stereotype. Movement is a huge consideration for Merry, and as a result, for me as the author. For instance, how do you navigate a fight in a wheelchair? And what happens when you’re kidnapped or stranded without your primary means of locomotion? Merry is faced with these questions and many more. And I consider her fears another detail that help round her out. There are the expected ones: who does she ask for help? Will anyone ever find her attractive? But there are others buried deeper. Merry is afraid of new situations. She’s afraid of losing what little control over her life she has. There are plenty more details, if you’re interested, over in the Accessible Excerpts series.
  • Do they have heroic qualities above and beyond their ability to adapt? One of the things I love about Merry is that her strengths keep moving her forward despite the obstacles I throw at her. She doesn’t take no for an answer. Whether this entails dealing with her disability or not, Merry goes for what she wants. And she runs toward danger – well, rolls toward danger – disregarding the consequences. And she is loyal, even when presented with a temptation most in her situation would have to seriously think about.
  • Is she healed at the end of the book? Hell no. Just as in real life, Merry will have to deal with her disability for the rest of her life. She is in a much better place emotionally at the end of the book, but physically she is the same. Even in fantasy reality has its limits.

So, all in all, I think Merry is a person first. Her disability plays a large role in her growth as a character because that was the story I wanted to write. But she is so much more than the sum of her physical abilities and by the end of the book she’s confident in who she is.

Person First: Just Happen to Be Disabled

"Just Happen to be Disabled"

Disabilities in SF/FI see requests all the time for books about characters with disabilities where the disability is not the main conflict, characters that “just happen to be disabled”. The thing is, I understand where this is coming from. I talked about it last week. People with disabilities are first and foremost just people. Our struggles are not the most important – and certainly not the only – things about us. But we still want them acknowledged. We want to be “normal” and normal requires representation, doesn’t it? No one will recognize us as normal without first recognizing us. But to be completely honest with ourselves, disability tends to be pervasive. I mean, it’s exceptionally hard to define, but I believe a major part of disability is it changes your life. As okay as I am, as much as I’ve accepted my limitations, the truth is, I would live differently if I could walk better. No chair, no crutches. Those are obvious, but there are others, too. No constant low-level anxiety about how I’m going to get out of this folding chair. No putting my back to a wall so I don’t have to worry about being jostled from behind. No blog about disabilities in fiction, and no writing fairytale heroes in wheelchairs. Life would be different.

Then what’s the difference? Why do we read about certain characters and cringe at their portrayal? What does it mean that they “just happen to be disabled?” If it means that a character should be a person first, then I agree. But if they’re saying they want to see a character that’s in a wheelchair and the chair doesn’t play any part in the main conflict or the character’s arc, then I feel like that’s unrealistic.

A disability is going to affect the way a character thinks, feels, and reacts. The same way their race or socioeconomic class would. We’re taught to take these things into account about the characters we create so why would one who’s disabled be any different. It may not be the main conflict (and honestly, I’m struggling to figure out exactly what that means), but it’s going to affect it. Just as much as it will affect the character’s arc. No matter how hard you try to write the book so it’s “not a big deal”, if you’ve done it right and the disability feels real, then it’s still going to feel like a big deal because it’s always there.

So in the end, it’s a balancing act. How do you recognize the life changes and still write a character who is a person first and disabled second? Especially when that second begins to feel like a pretty big first.

The questions I’m starting to ask myself while I write are:

  • Are they more than their disability? Disabled characters are going to have quirks and flaws and strengths unrelated to their disability, just like every other character in the book.
  • Are they more than one detail deep? No character should be limited to one characteristic, just as no disability is defined as one trope or stereotype. An author loses a lot of points by repeating the same detail over and over again as if that makes the disability more real. We got it, she needs help going to bathroom. You’ve beat that dead horse to death.
  • Do they have heroic qualities above and beyond their ability to adapt? Yeah, sure being adaptable is a good thing, but when left with no other options, most people will bend before they break. I want to see the heroic qualities of Aragorn or Luke Skywalker in a character with a disability.
  • And my least favorite, are they healed at the end of the book? This is just plain insulting and unrealistic and damaging to all people with disabilities everywhere. By healing a character of their disability, an author is saying, “There’s something wrong with you that needs fixing.”

These are my questions. What are yours? I’m realizing that everyone is going to read my books differently. I cannot please everyone, but I can’t enrage everyone either. All I can do is write my characters with as much reality as possible. They will have strengths, and flaws, and they will have disabilities.

Person First                                                     Person First: Is Merry A Person First?

Person First

Me and my booksOne of the hard things about always talking about disabilities is that it begins to feel like that’s the only thing that’s important about me or that it’s the only thing I care about. Sometimes I worry it’s the only thing in me that anyone would find interesting. I feel like you guys get a very skewed picture of me, like the reflection in a circus mirror, all bulbous and distorted with my nose way bigger than my face. Looking at that Kendra you’d think, “Boy, that nose is really important. She must spend a lot of time taking care of it.” But really my disability – and my interest in disabilities – is only a part of the whole.

In PT school we were taught “person first” language. It’s the concept that anyone, no matter their ability or functionality, is a person way before all the other labels are applied. In practice it means that I’m a woman with a disability. Not a disabled woman. Tricky, right? Even I’ve had trouble weeding out the language that reduces me to a statistic.

But here’s where I struggle. I’m this awkward mix of idealistic and pragmatic. I want to believe I’m a person first and everything else is just a high-priced add on I can compartmentalize, but I recognize that my injury has changed me. Invaded me. The little box that says “Disability” has leaked into the box that says “Wife” and the one that says “Sister.” The one that says “Daughter.” That one hurts.

Yet even with the smudged lines, the disability doesn’t overwhelm the other pieces of me. It is not the most important thing about my life or my experience.

I want there to be a formula, something I can plug bits of my life into that will tell me, “Yes, you’re doing it right.” But person first is not clear cut. It’s not a matter of just changing the way you think about yourself. It’s messy. It’s life. Funny how that works. And still after years of hard work and growth, I struggle to remember I’m more than my disability.

I’m a gamer. I’m a sailor. I’m a deacon and a quilter. I like fantasy and fairytales. I love to eat and hate to cook. I write among hundreds of books and it’s awesome. All of which I can do and be with or without a disability.

Person First: Just Happen to Be Disabled

What's Your Normal?

Dad's quiltWhat is normal? Is it the median or the average? Do we take the sum of all existence and divide by the number of lives to come up with our expectations? It’s one of the ultimate ironies that we celebrate superheroes with one hand and strive for normalcy with the other. This is a Blog Hop. So, hoppers: What do you think? What are the ups and downs of normal? What’s normal anyway? Do you wish for it or abhor it?

With every expression of a gene, every formative experience creating a different person, normal becomes a meaningless word. Each individual has their own boundaries and parameters. That’s why I hate questions like “When are you getting better?” Or “How long do you have to use the crutch?” I’m not getting better. I will always need the crutch (and sometimes a wheelchair). This is my normal. And my normal isn’t any less than yours. It’s just different.

It goes the other way, too. Michael Phelps is probably the ideal of human physicality but I don’t expect everyone I meet on the street to swim like he does. That’s his normal. Not mine. And not yours either. Unless, of course, you’re sitting pretty on 22 Olympic gold medals, in which case I’ll shut up.

I think we ache for the status quo so much because we want to fit in, to be accepted for who we are. So much so that we’re willing to Monochrome Blockchange who we are. We’re pack animals. We have a herd mentality; we form family groups – however you want to look at it. There’s strength in numbers but also obscurity. I quilt. I work with colors and patterns. If you put too many pieces of the same color next to each other, you lose the point of patchwork. The pieces all fit together, but the pattern disappears. It’s only by contrasting and complementing the different fabrics that you see the whole.

Lonestar QuiltSo I’m going to stick with my normal and I hope y’all stick with yours. Maybe together we’ll make a nice wall hanging.

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We Can Make Him Faster, Stronger, Better

So Josh sent me this article the other day (I've noticed all my cool news stuff seems to come from him) and I thought I'd share. Go ahead and click, I'll be here when you get back. http://gizmodo.com/i-wore-a-bionic-leg-and-i-never-wanted-to-take-it-off-726536822

Isn't that cool? It's a bionic leg. First thing I said when I saw it is that I want one. Unfortunately it's not really designed for my level of function. I don't think I can provide even 20% of the power to go up stairs and curbs and stuff. And I'm not sure I have the control in my feet and ankles to really use it properly. But I was intrigued by the way it reads your intentions to give you support (so your knee doesn't give out unexpectedly) and flexibility (so you can continue to walk and live even while your strength is impaired).

Back in rehab I had these knee-foot-orthotics called a UTX that kept my knee braced while my weight was on it and bent at the knee when I was ready to swing my leg forward. The idea was amazing, especially at the time, and after a lot of practice, the execution was pretty good. Those also "read" your intention from ankle movement. The Bionic Leg seems like the next step up, providing not only bracing but leveled assistance. I can't wait to see these used in therapy.

Progress Report: The Writing Process

Remember progress reports? Mine always said: “Kendra excels at spelling but could really use some work on her times tables.” Unfortunately, this is as true now as it was when I was twelve. And just like those recurrent times tables, sometimes the writing feels like I’m running the same track over and over again, wearing down the soles of my shoes. But apparently, readers/followers/anyone-else-who’s-listening like to hear about The Process. So I’m going to indulge myself and y’all a bit and give you an update on my writing process. I’ve been working on my young adult fantasy novel, By Wingéd Chair, in its various stages for about three years now. It was the fourth book I wrote, it’s the second book in the Valeria series, and it’s the third book I’ve tried to sell.  It’s been written, revised, pitched, rejected, revised, pitched, rejected, and revised some more. My last rejection was particularly positive, telling me I’m finally starting the story in the right place, my character is well-balanced and interesting, and I’ve locked down my voice. So now I just need to find the right agent and the right editor for this project. Unfortunately, that’s a big “just”.

So this week, I will be polishing my synopsis and query letter. I already have a growing list of agents to try for my next wave of submissions. And if I exhaust those prospects, I have a list of small press publishers I think would be a good fit for my book.

And while By Wingéd Chair is out on submission I’ll be working on the fourth book in the series, A Shroud For My Bride (Skin Deep is broken and is going on a back burner until I have time to fix it). I also have a couple short stories that go along with both books in the works. Those will go out on submission as soon as they’re polished.

It’s funny how rejections lead to a flurry of activity. The next couple weeks are going to be pretty busy with revisions, submissions, and heavy edits. Not really my favorite part of the writing process, but every step moves me forward.

Worthy of Rejection

Last week, I received another rejection letter, only this one was different from the others. This was the infamous praise-rejection. It read something like this: “Dear Kendra, I really enjoyed your MS. I especially liked your character and world-building. But this publishing house hasn’t had much success with this type of MS in the past, so we’re going to have to pass.” I’ve collected a lot of these over the years, but I was really happy when I read this one. You see, there is a hierarchy of rejection letters, and an author has to climb through the ranks as they advance in their craft. First is the form rejection every writer becomes familiar with, the one that says: “Thank you for your submission. We do not feel it is right for us at this time.” Apparently, at this point, you don’t even warrant an original composition. If you get this one, consider it a badge of honor – you are a writer worthy of rejection – but don’t dwell on it. Keep writing, keep revising, and keep submitting.

Then there is the critique rejection which sounds a little like this: “Hey, I like your premise, but why don’t you try this, this, and this.” Wow, you’re moving up in the world. Don’t take this lightly. It means someone liked your work enough to sit down and write about how to make it better. Congratulations, now you have to decide whether you agree with their critique or not. If you do, go to town on those revisions, wait six months, and then send it again. Be sure to mention you took their advice to heart. There’s nothing wrong with a little pandering.

And that brings us to the praise rejection. Not only have they taken the time to write you a lengthy letter, but they also have a lot to say about it – mostly good things with some critique thrown in. But in the end they just can’t use it. A bit of a bummer but how can you stay upset with all those ringing endorsements just above the “but?”

So I’m feeling pretty good about this one. It means an expert thinks I’m close, and he’s given me a couple things to work on in the meantime.

What do y’all think? Am I missing any other kinds of rejection letters? What do you do when you get them?

Under the Coffee Table

So, I've always said I started writing when I was fourteen because that's when I started Blue Fire, my mammoth 160,000 word epic/young adult/sword and sorcery fantasy novel/catastrophe. But while going through some boxes after a recent move, I discovered proof that I was an official storyteller long before that. DSC_3335

 

Yes, that is my first novel. The Mice in the Toy Factory. Dear God, I wish I was kidding. I wrote this in Singapore when I was ten and some nice librarian helped me put it together and provided lovely plastic binding. Look, it's even got a copyright. So you can't steal this masterpiece.

DSC_3336It has some of the classic blunders of a first novel, like starting the story in the wrong place, an overly developed sense of melodrama, bad self-drawn artwork, and excessive lamination. But it also has some redeeming qualities. Even in fifth grade I had a good grasp on complex sentences and story structure. My opinion of what readers should consider funny was a little off, but hey, I was ten.

DSC_3337

DSC_3341

 

Yeah, it should be a coffee table book. It's the right size, the right amount of shiny. Well, maybe an under the coffee table book. Way under.

WritingKendra
A Table All Our Own

Sir Thomas Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin

Usually, I do my own brief synopsis of the book I’m about to review, but I really don’t think I can introduce it better than Liam Perrin did himself. So, here’s a piece of the preface from Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights.

“Know that there were three kinds of tables there. The first was the Round Table. King Arthur was companion and lord of this one. The second table was called the Table of Errant Companions, those who went seeking adventure and waited to become companions of the Round Table. Those of the third table were those who never left court and did not go on quests or in search of adventures either because of illness or because they had not enough courage. These knights were called the less valued knights.”

Liam Perrin wrote a guest post over at Bookworm Blues for Sarah’s Special Needs in Strange Worlds series and the premise of his book intrigued me. Knights of lesser value? I am so there. I’ll admit I was hoping Perrin would concentrate more on the illness or the less courageous aspect of these knights. But in the book the less valued knights are placed at their table due to lack of skill or connections, not because of disability or cowardice. So already, I was a little disappointed.

Also, for how fast a read this was, it started slower than a 100 year old Galapagos tortoise. For instance, I’m a completionist, yet I had a hard time getting through the preface, the forward, and the introduction. If you need a preface, a forward, and an introduction before you even get to the first chapter, you’re starting your story in the wrong place. And that’s forgetting that once I got through all three thinly disguised prologues, I still wasn’t interested in the story until page 50. I especially wasn’t a fan of the four pages of backstory about the rock that fell from the bridge Thomas passed on his way to Camelot.

However, everything after page 50 was gold. After page 50, the brief forays into third person omniscient to explain an inanimate object’s feelings actually worked and were a hilarious addition to the story. The Sword of Remarkable Stench was my favorite character in the book, I loved Perrin's portrayal of Arthur, and the less valued knights might not have been what I was expecting but they were an extraordinarily fun bunch of misfits to get to know.

Also, I fell in love with the idea of a group of knights who were there, not to be flashy or go on quests, but to help Camelot run smoothly. They were there to serve and protect and support. Exactly what a knight should do first and foremost, I think. And I loved the connection Thomas made about Christ being a kind of lesser valued knight, since he taught love and service.

So in the end, I liked it. Perrin made me laugh a lot and that’s a big point in my book. It wasn’t about what I thought it would be about. There were no disabled characters or themes about weakness or injury or heroism. But it was about ordinary people becoming heroes because the day needs saving. And that’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? Unlikely heroes come from everywhere. I’ll definitely be reading this to my kids someday, though I might skip the three prologues.

Detour

Today we're taking a small detour over to Bookworm Blues where I'm a guest author. I loved Sarah's Special Needs in Strange Worlds series last year and was really excited to see it revisited. She hosted some great new voices this year and some old favorites. Take a stroll back through the month because the whole series is really worth it. And be sure to come back here next week when I'll be reviewing Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin, another guest in Sarah's series.

A Different Kind of Hero

DisabilityKendra
Joy for the Heart that Hurts

I was kind of at a loss for what to post about today. So I thought I'd introduce you guys to another project I'm working on. This is still in its very early stages, but it's something I feel very strongly about. Joy for the Heart that Hurts will be a devotional for those struggling with pain and hardship, but my plan is to write and present it to the world as a blog. Every week day for a year there will be a post about finding joy in a world full of pain and suffering. Maybe one day it will also be published as a book. Who knows. For now, this is the first post/entry in that journey.  

Broken World

It’s a little cliché to blame it all on Adam and Eve (not just Eve, people, Adam was standing right there), but the truth is, we live in a broken world. There’s no escaping the fact that we live alongside violence, ignorance, carelessness and misunderstanding. We are now separated from God in his holiness. The fall not only gave us toil and hardship and death, it also broke our relationship with God. He’s over there and we’re over here and ne’er the twain shall meet. No matter how much he loves us, no matter how much he grieves for the separation, he can’t just bridge the gap. His holiness and his perfection will not tolerate us in his presence. As a result we get to fight through pain and suffering. No one is immune. The completely idyllic, happy life, untouched by any sort of ugliness does not exist.

But when God found our screwed up fore-father and mother in the garden, hiding because they were naked, he didn’t say “Well, that was a bust. Guess I’ll just sit back and watch the world go to crap.” He solved the problem of our separation. He gave us a mediator. Someone to speak to him on our behalf. Someone who died for our sins and made us clean so we can stand before our heavenly father again without shame. If you don’t know Jesus Christ already, here’s your chance to snag an introduction. Jesus, meet my friend, a sinner but trying so hard to overcome their nature. Friend, meet Jesus, your Lord and Savior.

I’m saved. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins and made me white as snow. But I’m still in pain. My heart hurts. Why? Because I am a new creation still living in a broken world. And until Christ returns, that’s the way it is. But we’re not just lumbering along, surviving until we get to a better place. God has a plan for our time here on Earth. And we need to push past the pain, the hurt, the anger, the bitterness and the suffering, in order to see joy, and love, and hope, and his glory reflected in the lives around us. Again, God didn’t say “Good luck”, and stroll off to play a round of cloud golf. He’s given us tools. He’s given us the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of our friends and teachers, and scripture.

So don’t be afraid to hope, my friend. You’re well equipped. And you’re not fighting alone.

Imperfect Specimens

Flying wheelchair manWhen I think of space, I think of Ender’s Game where Ender’s greatest strength was that he could see all the possibilities of zero gravity. He looked at space and realized there is no “up”. Recently, I’ve been following Commander Chris Hadfield’s journey, and I’ve been looking at space, wondering if there is no disability. This is way oversimplified and the answer is yes, there is still disability, but like everything else in space, it’s different. Legs are for walking. Or running, jumping, climbing. Locomotion. But the thing is, legs evolved on a world with gravity. So when you get into orbit, legs, while not exactly useless, are certainly not going to be fulfilling their original job description. Hence the reason Lois McMaster Bujold introduced the concept of “quaddies”, genetically constructed humans with four arms, who were designed specifically to live and work in zero gravity. Because an extra pair of arms seems a lot more useful in space than legs.

Now, Bujold writes science fiction, so I couldn’t trade my legs in for another set of arms even if I wanted to, but it does make me think

Floating legs

of zero gravity as an equalizer for paraplegics. It won’t matter if our legs don’t work because we wouldn’t need them all that much anyway. The only problem I can see is floating legs. I don’t have the muscles that keep my legs straight and together, so when I swim, they float every which way. Kind of amusing to watch, kind of annoying to swim with. And I imagine the same problem of weightless, uncontrolled limbs would crop up in zero gravity. I can just see myself typing away at some console and finding my foot brushing my ear. Though that’s easily fixed with a stick and some duct tape.

This is all a moot point because only the healthiest go to space right now, but we’re looking at a future where space travel will be as common as flights between continents are here on Earth. One day, people with disabilities could be astronauts.

And one of the things I find interesting is that the human body is not made for zero gravity, so even the most perfect specimens of humanity are at a disadvantage in space. They have to learn new movement patterns and develop different reflexes to cope and adapt to their new environment. Just like someone facing a disability for the first time. Maybe space programs should already be drawing from those of us with disabilities because we’re used to adapting to new circumstances and new ability.

I realize I’ve only explored a very narrow view of disability, namely lower body weakness, because that is what I’m most familiar with and what I’ve spent the most time speculating on. But there are hundreds of different disabilities out there that could also benefit from space travel, or be even more hindered by it. Let’s face it, quadriplegia is going to suck no matter what planet you’re on. Unless you find one where you can plug your brain into some kind of virtual reality. And I could see things like OCD or depression getting worse by being trapped in a box for six months.

Either way, I thought the concept was interesting and I’d love to explore more aspects of it. And now I think I’m going to have to write about a space cowboy with paraplegia because that is just too awesome to pass up.

Hard Beauty

Out of My mindOut of My Mind by Sharon M Draper Eleven year old Melody has never spoken a word. She has never been able to walk or dress or feed herself. But Melody has something to say and with the help of some loyal friends she’s finally going to say it.

 

This book was beautiful. And so so hard. Thanks go to my mom and my little sister for the recommendation. I really admire an author that can keep me that close to laughter or tears for page after page. Maybe if I keep reading books like this some of that perfection will rub off on me and infuse my own words.

I started this with the impression that it was going to be a happy story. I’ll warn you, it’s not. But it is real. I try not to spoil endings in my reviews, but I want to say that bad things happen. Humans can be awful. And sometimes we have to make our own sort of happy ending through all the crap. Sharon Draper recognizes this and doesn’t try to dip it in honey.

I did feel like the story started off slow. It took about ninety pages to establish Melody’s “ordinary world” before things started changing and she could start growing. Still, I was caught by Melody’s voice from her first words. She was brilliant and funny and courageous, and I even found myself wanting to be her at times. Every witty observation, every sharp retort made me appreciate the irony: I loved the voice of a character who couldn’t actually talk.

The same irony was woven through most of Melody’s struggles. She wants to be normal. She doesn’t want to be one of the “special ed” kids. But she also doesn’t want to be the star. She wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to look stupid. She wants the other kids to like her. What “normal” eleven year old hasn’t wished for all of these things? Melody had no idea just how relatable she really was.

My favorite aspect of this book was Melody’s role as an observer and how that changed through the story. She was the ultimate anthropologist, seeing and cataloging the people around her until she finally found the means to affect the world she had been studying. We watched her reach out to change the way people saw her, watched her learn there were some things she’d probably never be able to change. And in the end we watched her decide which was more important.

A Writer's Truth

Last night I met with the local writing group at our library and as usual we shared our responses to a writing prompt. One of the things I find amazing about writers is how we can look at the same picture and all see something different. Our work reflects our senses of humor, our backgrounds, our writing styles. Each experience molds and shapes us as writers and only becomes obvious once our words are laid out on the page. So I thought I would share a couple pieces that came from the same inspiration. The picture was our prompt. The first response is mine, and the second, my sister, Arielle’s.

Mirror Reflection

Alex shuffled her feet, heedless of the dew that soaked through her shoes as she made her way across the garden. Her throat burned as she fetched up against the side of the old wishing well, but she fought the tears with everything she’d gained from years of quiet perseverance.

Her fingers gripped the crumbling stone and she leaned over the still water as though she would leap into the depths. Her pale face stared up at her. She dropped a rock into the water, shattering her reflection the way Rob had shattered her that morning.

When the water smoothed, Alex gasped and jerked back. There were two reflections below her now.

She looked up at the figure beside her, only just stifling a scream. Her own face stared back at her, her own eyes slanted in satisfaction, and her own lips quirked in an unpleasant smile.

“What-?” Alex started. “Who are you?”

The other Alex cocked her head. “I am you,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “The only you.”

She shoved Alex with a vicious grin and Alex stumbled back…over the low stone wall. And down, into the cold and damp.

Above her the other Alex laughed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

I have been many things, and I have been none of them. I’ve been you. When you smile, I smile. When you frown, I frown. When you talk to me, my lips move with yours. I see you, but you don’t see me. You look at me and see yourself. I am you, but only when you’re with me. When you leave, I cannot follow. I am left to wait for your return. Then silently I will show you yourself again. You will hate me for it. You will use me to make yourself better, but I will always tell you you’re not good enough. And you will never know I didn’t want to. It’s only what I was made for.

 

We both managed to turn out something fairly creepy (and to be fair, we are related, with similar backgrounds and influences), but there were other responses in our group that were amusing, nostalgic or passionate without the darker shading. I liked how some of us saw the girl looking in a mirror, and others saw her looking at her reflection in water. Some saw her as a tomboy, others thought she seemed fragile or abused.

At first, it may seem like there is only one truth here. There is a little girl, well dressed, looking down at her reflection. And this may be the one truth. But there are many stories.