Storming the Podcastle, Why Kids Make Better Protagonists

On the morning after my mother’s memorial (a tearful, giggly. heartbroken whirl of homemade Halloween  costumes and butterfly wings)  I learned that my very YA-flavored  story “In the Woods Behind My House” had found a home in Podcastle, the world’s first audio fantasy magazine and one of my favorite pro-rate markets. Listen to it here: http://podcastle.org/2016/01/06/podcastle-397-in-the-woods-behind-my-house/

Truthfully, my story of a twelve year old boy and the secret animal companion who dwells in his backyard was not a story I ever felt I had much hope of selling. It was a story very dear to my writer’s heart. But I supposed that, because it centers around a young adult protagonist, and  because it relies on a  young adult’s impressions of the world without being a story especially for young adults,  that it  must be (sin of sins) Unmarketable.

Now that I have actually sold the thing, now that the gnawing, blinding fear of being found to be Unmarketable and (gulp!) Weird has passed, I am able to remember three very obvious and important things:

  1. Every story I have ever sold has featured at least one child or young adult protagonist, and the majority were not written for young adults.
  2. This is not something I invented. Youthful protagonists abound in speculative fiction, without apology. The fields of  science fiction and fantasy have always been home to young heroes in very big and serious  worlds, and the question of readership, of who those worlds are for, has always been fluid.

and

3. That fluidity is what  I’ve always loved about speculative fiction.

So why does so much of speculative fiction center around child or young adult protagonists? It’s a question that always seems to be of particular concern to those who don’t read or write genre fiction. Why do all these adult writers feel the need to write stories about children if they’re not intended to be for children? What’s the psychology behind  that? 

It’s a question that becomes about a hundred times more pointed if your protagonist is a young adult, and its a question I’ve never been able to get past the subtext of: Children?  Why would they matter?  Why are we talking about things that matter to them? We’re all  adults. What’s up with you that you’re so obsessed with depicting children as people? Is it because you’re not really an adult?

(Note: nobody has ever once said anything even approaching this to me. I apologize to the poor phantom non-fantasy reader to whom I am attributing so much callous self-absorption.)

A family member once posited (without any offense intended) that the reason behind fantasy’s predilection for young protagonists is the same reason for its widespread popularity. Because reading fantasy requires an intentional childishness, a purposeful transporting of oneself back to the unseasoned, immature mindset of a child. In other words, people  who read fantasy are doing so because they really want to be children, so it follows that many of the protagonists in fantasy  stories are going to be children.

This theory takes a pretty dim view of humanity, though, and not just the humanity of our present Harry Potter-loving culture. Historically, most stories across civilizations have been what we’d call fantasy. The story entirely without magic is a very new thing. Even in the thoroughly  disenchanting shadow of the Protestant reformation, some of the first and most popular novels were Gothic novels, rife with supernatural occurrences and- incidentally- teenage  protagonists.

Are we really prepared to entertain the suggestion that most of storytelling throughout human history has been one giant exercise in ignoring adulthood? (some people truly believe that this is all stories are for, but such people tend not to read very much of any sort of fiction.)  No, the child warriors and martyrs and revolutionaries of speculative fiction are not inviting us to be children, at least not in an indulgent, nostalgic sense.

I think the true reason that speculative fiction stories are so often populated by children is that they simply make better, more dynamic, more decisive protagonists than adults.

I am currently in the midst of writing yet another story with a child protagonist, a girl surviving  and thriving in the dilapidated  recession ghost-town of her childhood by  adhering to a mysterious, nonsensical barter system, the magical reasoning of which she does not understand.

She is absolutely a child. She is full of the immediate childish concerns of how to get most pleasantly from one day to the next. She prioritizes like a child.  She solves her problems like a child. And I am utterly in love with her for it.  Writing this girl and her friends as they scramble busily around  an empty boardwalk town that  would put despair into the hearts of most adults has been an eye-opening crash course in the shaping  of a protagonist.

Like any good dynamic protagonist, children have little time in their schedules for despair. They are natural adapters, natural solution-seekers. They lack the patience or the full-blown grownup narcissism to sit and wonder why something is happening to them. They are often over their tantrum, up off the floor,  and onto a next, more rewarding course of action before an adult is through scratching their ass, or pouring their first self-pitying glass of wine.

Because children understand that it doesn’t matter how unfair or outrageous or nonsensical a situation is. They know instinctively that the grownup world isn’t prepared to take their feelings  into consideration. Unfairness, strangeness, having to operate within a system of rules that don’t make any sense and often seem stacked against you, that’s all just part of being alive for a child.

A child doesn’t collapse into a puddle of rage and permanent inaction because the odds are against him and his world is spinning out of control. The odds are always against him. He was never in control.   He simply takes in the new rules governing his situation, assesses the courses of action that are open to him, and then chooses one. (“Will it change anything if I kick and scream like someone’s beating me? Nope. I better try something else. What if I told a lie?”

It’s that kind of active seeking, that kind of decisiveness, that causes a protagonist to be a  true mover of the action

Particularly in speculative fiction, where “the rules” of a world are often as strange and new to its central character as to the audience, child protagonists are a natural fit. You don’t want a protagonist who is going to be too bogged down by the irrationality of what is happening to them to properly drive the story. To have a protagonist take as long to adjust to his new circumstances as the average adult would be tedious in the extreme, and often is. Every seasoned reader of speculative fiction  has at one point or another found themselves in a story where a protagonist’s hard-headed refusal to accept what’s happening brings the action to a screeching halt. “I can’t be turning into a were-boar! There’s got to be some other, much less simple explanation. Were-boars do not exist. HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING TO ONE SUCH AS ME?! I have to think about this for four or five pages while I lie to my girlfriend and worry about keeping my  job at the bank.”

Simply choosing a child protagonist sidesteps a lot of the rage and stupified self-pity and CT scans and visits to the psychiatrist’s office that seem so natural in adults, but are so undesirable in most protagonists. When the child protagonist makes the discovery that she is turning into a were-boar, she can be relied upon to do something with that discovery. And it’s what a protagonist does with new information that most often makes a story.

Children understand the uselessness of inaction. Even if the actions they end up taking are not altogether well-informed, or well thought out, a child protagonist understands that only deliberate action leads to deliberate change in circumstance.  There is no way to change the rules of the world by negating them or by lamenting their unfairness. The story only really begins when you decide to accept the rules. The tale can only be spun from within, from betwixt and between. If a protagonist hopes to break free of the rules, he or she must do so from the inside.

 

 

I’m So Eligible!

Hullo! I’m told I absolutely, absolutely must write an Awards Eligibility post as a pro writer, or come awards time, I will crumble into an unlauded and completely un-noteworthy pile of ash. (And yeah, I know it’s pretty much too late for the Nebuals, but hey, the Locus and Hugos are right around the corner!) So, here it is. In the Novelette category, we have:

“Pirate Songs” in Accessing the Future, brought to us by the Future Fire. A story of space pirates, space princesses (ok, a diplomat’s daughter), offworld government corruption, and getting around on a spaceship without your wheelchair. It’s good. You’ll like it. Read it here:

 https://nbarischoff.com/2016/02/11/pirate-songs/#more-563

“Follow Me Down” in Unlikely Story’s Journal of Unlikely Academia. There are only a few midwives with the stomach and skill to bring the demigods and half-demons of old- world mythology safely and tenderly into this world. Meet them at the New York College of Theogony and Preternatural Obstetrics,  here:  

http://www.unlikely-story.com/stories/follow-me-down-by-nicolette-barischoff/

Well, that’s it. I hope you read these stories, along with all the other wicked cool stories with which they appear. These represent my best and shiniest work to date, and (more importantly) the sort of stories that are closest to my heart.

Also, apparently, this is already my last year of eligibility for the Campbell (I know, right? That’s what I get for only writing one story my first year) So, if you’d like to consider me for that, you can do so on the strength of the novelettes above, my Long Hidden story, my Podcastle story, or any of the other assorted essays, bits of writing, or weird ravings that can be found here:

My Words

      

Pirate Songs

*This novelette was originally published in the anthology Accessing the Future, from The Future Fire, June 2015*

Pirate Songs

by Nicolette Barischoff

 

The floater turned out to be one of those shiny, sky island multi-deck passenger deals that would occasionally completely lose its shit in the middle of a jump.

This one would have been alright–various backup systems humming away, fifty or sixty first-colony licensed pilots determined to discover just what went wrong–had it not jumped straight into something else. Probably a garbage scow; there were a lot of garbage scows this far out. Now, the ship just drifted, listing and rolling like a fat, pretty corpse.

The Dustpan’s crew all had their faces flat against the port windows, eyeing it like a bunch of dogs with tongues out. That was the only reason Rumer had let them go salvage. You pass up a big, beautiful floater like that, you never get your men to do anything useful ever again.

We don’t got the time or space to pull her apart, he’d told them. No scrapping. Get yourselves something small and shiny and get back.

For the most part, they’d listened, filling up their suit-packs with the sorts of little things you always find on a floating hotel like that; alcohol in expensive-looking bottles, VR games with an obscene number of attachments, the palm and wrist PCs that were only considered valuable out here where nobody could afford them. Bottles and needles from a well-stocked sick bay, cards, cash, the turtles out of an elaborate terrarium… Kell, the mutinous asshole, had tried to haul back two of those sultry-voiced concierge kiosks, and a broken servitor droid.

Rumer wasn’t sure which of them had brought back the girl.

She looked to be about fifteen, but to Rumer Pilgrim, anybody not born and raised out of New Pelican looked young.

She didn’t have to be conscious to tell you she was far from home, either Earth or first colonies… German, Canadian, American, some single-nation settlement; she was that same kind of glass-house pretty. Well fed, with pale, untouched, swany skin, and a long, long waterfall of hair that somebody brushed out for her every morning, and a pale pink mouth that looked like it was used to pouting. When her eyes did flicker open for a split-second at a time, he could see they were a pale and brittle green.

The crew crowded around that narrow infirmary bunk for a full day and a half. Diallo, a skinny kid from the pan-Africas with half a field medic’s education and a permanent shit-eating grin, actually left the pilot’s chair to bandage her head wound. And Kell, his lecherous one-eyed bulldog of a first mate, seemed to think he was going to wake her by flicking her nipples.

“Haven’t even seen one like her in a while,” he said, rubbing his scrap glass eye, a sort of endearing nervous tick once you got to know him. “Kind of forgot they made ‘em like this.”

“With two eyes and two whole titties?” said Diallo. “Not every woman’s like your New Pelican dock-workers, Kell. Back up, man, an’ stop gettin’ in the light. This one’s never seen anything ugly as you.”

Kell grinned. “I’m sure she’ll just love that child-fucker smile you got.”

Rumer ignored their dick-swinging. “Who brought her?” he asked.

Diallo shrugged. “She was the only thing alive on that boat, Captain, her and that mess o’ turtles.”

Rumer frowned. “Bad time to have a hitchhiker, you forget that already? What’re you thinking we’re gonna do with her when we have to make our drop?”

“Don’t ask me,” said Kell, “you ask me, we shouldn’t have the stuff in the first place.”

“Right. But I didn’t ask you, and we do have the stuff, and we’re going to have to make a drop before much else happens.”

“You mean before the shit’s no damn good to anybody, or before big Papa Kang figures out who took it and sends a team after us? Because I can guarantee you that second thing’s already happened.”

“I’m thinking, Captain,” said Diallo, making the sort of diplomatic silencing gesture that made Rumer like him, “she is very far from home. She might help. With carrying, with distribution. In exchange for passage, you know.”

Rumer cocked his head. Nodded.

“It’s useful to have someone who looks like her, where we are going, what we are doing. People trust someone who looks like that. Nice pretty white face. They’ll take it from her. No need to tell her where it comes from.”

“So she plays little White Mother for us, we put her down wherever she wants, she goes on home having gratefully agreed to tell nobody, and everybody’s happy and still alive, is that it?”

Diallo grinned wide and white. “She won’t even have a ship’s name to tell her mother.”

“It might work,” said Rumer. “If we don’t run into any transit police or any Peacekeeping Officers she feels like chatting to.”

“Why would she talk to any Blueberries?” asked Diallo. “Why leave the ship at all? We are just some nice men of varying degrees of handsomeness taking her to port.”

Kell laughed at that, his loud bulldog bark. “I’ll agree with that! Why leave the ship at all? Hell, I’ll teach her to have fun sittin’ in one spot.”

“You’ll wait ‘til she’s awake, you ugly fuck,” said Rumer. “If she don’t immediately bite your balls off and run screaming from your very presence.”

Kell laughed again, louder and longer. Rumer turned to Diallo.

“She’ll get her ride, but she’ll have to work. You think you can get her to work?”

Diallo paused. The girl’s green eyes flickered open. And she sat up.

Or rather, she tried to sit up, squirming strangely for several minutes before going limp, and saying, in a slightly strained voice: “Could one of you please help me up?”

Nobody moved for a second. Diallo took her by the arm, and when that proved insufficient, grabbed her by the armpits, and propped her against the corner. Her feet were bare, and her legs dangled off the edge of the bunk, limp and pale. “Thank you,” she said.

Diallo answered with a nod.

The girl looked around her, not exactly frightened. Not exactly. But looking a little like she’d been thrown into an icy gray lake, and was just now bringing her head up out of the water to discover which of them had done it to her. “Who… What… happened? Where is this?”

Rumer thought it best to let her have it all at once. “I am the more-or-less captain, Rumer Pilgrim, and you are currently a passenger aboard my ship, this streamlined and classically engineered cargo vessel you see before you.”

“Why…?”

“Well, young lady, because your own is presently floating through deep space like a chunk of particularly metal-rich frozen shit. Now, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t really care to. But you’ve got to know that we’ve gone pretty well out of our way to pick you up. Now, I didn’t mind doing it, and you’re welcome. We’ll drop you off soon as we’re able, anyplace you want to be, so long as it’s not a place where people are likely to get up in our business. But before that happens… what?”

The girl was shaking her head, green eyes dry. “The ship, I was just… how did…?” She blinked, touched her head bandage, and suddenly settled on a question. “Your name’s Rumer Pilgrim?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your real name?”

Rumer frowned. “Never had another.”

There was the smallest flick of a smile on that pink mouth. “So your name is actually ‘Pilgrim, Pilgrim’.”

“No.” Rumer Pilgrim looked at her with narrower eyes than he intended. “No, and I can’t say I know what you’re playing at.”

The girl’s smile widened the littlest bit. “Nothing. Never mind.”

“Young lady, if you’d rather not ride with us…”

“No, no. It’s fine. Thank you… Thank you.”

Rumer nodded.

She let out a somewhat shuddering breath of air. She looked around. “Sorry… can I have my chair, please? Where did you put my chair?”

Rumer blinked. Blinked again. “What chair?”

Continue reading

“Where Did You Go?”

Well, folks. It’s been three months since I last wrote here. The last very long while has not been conducive to writing, either blog posts or  anything else.

July through September was a cheerful storm of cons (trying my hand as a panelist at Readercon, waiting with bated breath and Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster for history-making Hugos results at Worldcon) enthusiastic public nudity (as a participating model at New York Body-Painting Day) and very rainy music festivals (if you’ve never heard of Faerieworlds, I encourage you to discover it for yourself, a madcap, soul-stirring mixture of Burning Man and a particularly feisty Ren Faire.)

A lot of wonderful things happened, only some of which were writing related. Accessing the Future made its debut, and I got the opportunity to discuss my story “Pirate Songs” with a classroom full of undergrads, who were sharp, savvy, and enthusiastic in their deconstruction of my work. My novelette “Follow Me Down” finally emerged with Unlikely Story’s latest issue, the  Journal of Unlikely Academia  (it’s absolutely splendid. Read it for free here:  http://www.unlikely-story.com/journal-of-unlikely-academia-issue-12-october-2015/) Unlikely Story officially became a SFWA qualifying market, and I, in the wake of their achievement, officially became a full active member.

And then, on October 7th, my world stood still. Utterly still.

My mother, my beautiful Mama, Laura Ellen Diamond, was hit and killed by a cement truck while running a routine errand on her scooter a few blocks from her home. They told me that she didn’t suffer, that she was gone within minutes, that she was gone long before any paramedics arrived. I’m only now just beginning to appreciate that these things were told me in order to comfort me, rather than to make me scream.

I’m still climbing out of the hole that is my grief. Even on the days when I can breathe, when I can feel God, when I can feel my mother all around me and know that I will see her again, I find it almost impossible to be productive.

It’s not that I cannot imagine writing anything–I have half-conjured and discarded several stories in my head–but nothing quite matters . Nothing feels like the sort of story I ought to be writing after such a big crack has been made in my heart. Two months ago, I worried I didn’t have a story that felt big enough for a first novel. Now I worry I don’t tell stories big enough for this life.

This a trap, I know. I know the writer who thinks this way is the writer who never writes again. I know that there really is no such thing as a “big” story, that the only way for humans to get at “big” things is to write about small ones, in our own very small way.

But my mother, my radiant, talented sculptor, painter, activist, poet, Burner mother, deserves bigness. She was the first person to look at her strange chatterbox of a daughter, with her penchant for casual and elaborate lies, and say to her: “You are a writer.”

When I began to be published, my mother went on scarily passionate campaign to ensure that everyone I knew possessed copies of my work. I was introduced proudly to any chance acquaintance as her daughter, the published author.

My mother never did get the chance to read the stories I had published. In between the work of getting her own Bachelor’s degree (something she accomplished shortly before she died) and being an active member of the Occupy movement, she had little time for space pirates. I think somehow it was enough to her that I had been published, a confirmation of something she’d known would happen all along. It didn’t much matter that the stories I’d had published weren’t the stories she’d read. She had read countless others that were, to her, just as good. She had seen from the beginning just how it would be.

Today, I’m going to write Something. It won’t be the story my mother deserves (I’ll still have to dig for that one, maybe for the rest of my life). It may not even be a story about anything that matters, but it will be a story.

Unlikely Academia, or Why We All Want to Go to Hogwarts

In a very splendid piece of writerly news, my novelette Follow Me Down will appear in Unlikely Story’s upcoming Journal of Unlikely Academia, a collection of stories devoted exclusively to strange and fantastical institutions of learning.

Yes, that means every wonderful thing you think it does: complicated lessons in magic, syllabaries of untranslatable runes and long-forgotten languages, tomes of alchemal wisdom, hidden passages to hidden libraries, sacred objects of divination…

As my third pro-rate sale, this qualifies me for full active membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (be sure to visit my snazzy new updated SFWA profile in the coming weeks!) and I truly do not think I could have conjured a better hat trick! Seriously, for a proud Ravenclaw, and long-time scholar at Jordan College, what could be finer?

(The answer is nothing could be finer. Check out Unlikely Story this August and discover how the experts navigate supernatural pregnancy at the New York College of Theogony and Preternatural Obstetrics!)     

So, this has me thinking. What is it that appeals to us about these magical schools? What exactly causes us to want to gallivant around Lyra’s Oxford with only our daemons as company? What’s so thrilling about finally having puzzled out, by long and scientifically rigorous processes, what Hogwarts house we empirically belong to? (before Pottermore, children, we did it the old-fashioned way, by the blood-tainted sweat of our fevered brows!).

The secret, powerful bastion of knowledge seems to be an ever-renewable story concept. There are always new school stories in speculative fiction, strange places to learn strange things. There were, of course, a rash of fantastical school stories trailing in the wake of Harry Potter, some of them entertainingly derivative, some beautiful, some painfully sloppy. But long before readers rushed to the post-Hogwarts succor of  Rick Riordan’s  The Lightning Thief,  or Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, there were books like Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea , and even Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game to school us in things unusual.

Part of the reason the schoolroom remains such a wet well for telling speculative stories has to do with the nature of speculative fiction itself. Speculative Fiction is all about rules. It’s about acclimating the reader to a special set  of laws that govern the universe of the story.  Who becomes a ghost and why? How much blood to make a spell work? Which carefully selected fourteen year-olds will pilot our giant battle-robots?

School is a natural setting for learning new rules. In an almost literal sense, a writer can sit her reader down and say “Listen up! Pay attention! There’ll be a test on this!” School settings are an ideal place to dump exposition, install important plot devices, and world-build. The fantastical school is, in a lot of ways, specially formatted for a wide-eyed protagonist to uncover  and explore it.

But it’s not just the story opportunities they offer writers that make school stories appealing. Such stories always seem to find an effusive audience, no matter how many times writers write them.

I suspect that a larger part of the draw for readers-we bookish, we nerdy, we asthmatic few- is the bright, shimmering meritocracy that is school itself.  School is a place for learning the laws of the universe, but it’s also a place for learning new skills, for testing previously untested powers (magical or otherwise). It’s a place where, if you are clever enough and quick enough and skilled enough, and hard-working enough, the world will unfold like a paper fortune-teller and reveal to you its secrets.

The true nerd ever suspects that there is some radiant untold truth she has yet to set eyes on waiting just behind the curtain. In a small way, she really believes in great, powerful books she hasn’t read, and great powerful tables of elements with which she is not familiar, and great, powerful maps of places she has never heard of. Because the world is always full of strange new things to know.

A Blog Post, and a Not Particularly Exclusive Special Offer

Hello, Reader! Here’s a blog post I wrote for the Future Fire upon the release of Accessing the Future, all about the sticky issue (for me) of disability in fiction, and why it matters.  Enjoy.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Access the Future

by Nicolette Barischoff

As a writer living with Cerebral Palsy, I’ve always been wary… no, squeamish, when it comes to writing about disability. Why? Who exactly knows. There’s the old standby paranoia of not wanting to be told what I “ought” to be writing, not wanting to be used as some able-bodied person’s Teaching Moment or inspiration blow-up doll. There’s my stubbornly held belief that a writer who can only write with honesty and empathy about their own experiences (or characters whose experiences are similar to their own) is not a particularly good or useful writer.

But I suspect that most of my aversion to disability-themed fiction stems from the fact that a good portion of it is just not very much fun.

So many bad stories that feature disability (sometimes written by the well-meaning able-bodied, but just as often perpetrated by writers with disabilities intent on fictionalizing a particular kind of experience they think might be dramatically interesting) treat disability as a source of social isolation, misunderstanding, and physical limitation. Very often, their goal as stories is to show that the disabled person’s reality comes with a particular set of hardships–usually brought upon them by an ignorant, inaccessible, or prejudicial society–that is separate from the set of hardships experienced by most human beings. As one narrative about disability, this has value. As the only narrative about disability, it is tedious, divisive, unrealistic, and unhelpful.

What so appealed to me about Accessing the Future was not only how much fun it promised to be (The Future, as we know, is chock full of giant robot battles, generation ships, designer creatures, fancy holographic limbs, and hot sex in zero gravity) but how naturally and effortlessly its premise promotes an alternative narrative about disability.

By merely depicting futures that include people with disabilities, futures in which disabilities have not “gone away” or “got better,” Accessing the Future takes disability out of its Otherized position as a special group with special problems for able-bodied people to feel things about, and puts it back where it belongs, squarely within the spectrum of Humanity.

As long as there have been humans, there have been humans of varying ability, aptitude, and strength. And guess what? They have all found uniquely human ways of surviving and thriving.

The relative concept of “disability,” just like the relative concept of “poverty,” has always existed, of course, and always will exist, even as, especially as, the human landscape of ability is radically altered.

But by suggesting to us what that disability might look like in the future (what technologies might be at its disposal, what spaces it might share) ATF reminds us that Disabled People are not an anomaly, engaged in their own separate, alien struggle, but simply another example of humans doing what humans have always done when they have found their environment to be inhospitable: Adapting.

Humans at all levels of ability have always adapted, facing down incredible physical inequity with a combination of clever tools, innovative solutions, and sheer bullheadedness. Once we understand that, humans with disabilities become simply humans, neither special objects of inspiration nor of pity, but participators in the collective human struggle: bucking the system, searching for meaning, spitting in Natural Selection’s eye, and just generally being an irrepressible pain in the ass.

In writing “Pirate Songs,” I wanted to speak to our adaptability as a species, and our ability to adjust when our own particular worldview has been shattered. Thus, I divested my protagonist Margo of her wheelchair before I put her aboard a shipful of outlaws who would have no idea what to do with her. I trusted she would grit her teeth and hold her own. And she did.

In Margo, I sought to create a protagonist that behaved like a protagonist. Another important thing this anthology has done for the de-Otherization of disability is allowed people with disabilities to be at the center of their own stories. In generating such a dynamic space for characters with disabilities to play, ATF practically demands protagonists that are a fully-realized and active driver of the story they’re in.

Disability in fiction is so often objectified, there to be reacted to, or to be acted upon. Even when a disabled character is purportedly the Main Character of a story that is about her, it is often other people in the story who do the majority of the growing and the changing and the driving that defines a protagonist. She remains emotionally (and oftentimes physically) static, while those around her become inspired, learn to be more inclusive, have their expectations challenged, change the rules of their favorite sport, etc, etc.

In part, people with disabilities are kept from occupying the role of true Protagonist because there are so many bad stories designating them as a special group with special problems. The perceived otherness of what are assumed to be their concerns makes it difficult for a less-than-imaginative writer to imagine those concerns growing or changing or being shattered as the story progresses.

But the ability to imagine someone growing, changing, learning, is nothing more or less than the ability to imagine them as a fully complete and complex human being. The ability to envision another person as the full-fledged hero of their own story, with their own hard lessons to learn, their own disappointments and victories and tragic flaws, is nothing more or less than empathy. One reason it becomes so important to give disabled children a protagonist they might see themselves in, is quite simply that Protagonist is the opposite of Other.

…….

Are you a writer currently at work on a character with a disability? Wondering if you’re doing all right? Let me start by saying I believe in you. You are a clever, resourceful, empathetic human (most likely) and if you do your job as a writer and really try to understand the humans you write as complicated (if imaginary) individuals, you’ll do just fine.

However, Writer, if you’d like to run your work by a real, honest-to-goodness Person With a Disability, you have this one’s open offer. Hit me up on the twitter-thing! Tell me a little about yourself or your project. If I like the cut of your jib, I’ll be at your disposal to answer any PWD -related question you could possibly want to ask. Lay ’em on me! I’m here to fill in your knowledge gaps, or just to provide those little bits of texture or realism you might be seeking.

I’ve had writers ask me questions straight-up. I’ve had writers send me completed work for feedback. I’ve met writers who wanted a combination of the two. It’s all good research!

If you think I could help with your story, send me a private message  @NBarischoff.

Accessing the Future: The Pirates Have Landed

Accessing the Future is here! The battle robots, holograms, generation ships,  genetically modified creatures, not to mention some tough-talking space pirates, are all on Amazon, just waiting for  your eyeballs! (you can also find it on Powell’s Books, B&N, and, I suspect, just about any other large, online book-seller).

Get yours  today! Help us boost our Amazon  ratings! All the coolest shapeshifters and giant robot warriors are doing it.  The more copies we sell today (July 1st)  the higher our Amazon rating will be, and the more likely the anthology will be recommended to Amazon shoppers in other searches! Kindle or hard-copy, pick your method of absorption. Let’s boost this bitch!

http://www.amazon.com/Accessing-Future-Disability-Themed-Anthology-Speculative-ebook/dp/B010IU2IQU/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1435788534&sr=8-1&keywords=accessing+the+future

This is an important anthology for a whole mess of reasons (some of which will be discussed in a more in-depth  post on a different  space) but one reason is that it’s fun. One of the best ways to destigmatize and “normalize” disability is to create honest, messy, multi-faceted  disabled characters who are a valuable part of stories that are fun to read.

Prepare to have fun, while reading this anthology. Prepare also to receive varied and interesting windows into several types of adapted existence. The future’s a cool and funky place.

Feel free to post your own mini-review in the comments!