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In honor of today’s reveal, Crown of Worlds author Lydia Rivers has agreed to answer some questions about disability and Bellot. These reader-submitted inquiries have been lightly edited for clarity, spelling, and grammar.
Why are you so excited about your main character?
I think the main reason is because there are relatively few disabled people wearing hero pants in science fiction and fantasy…and it’s nearly unheard of for a visual novel’s MC to be disabled. While there is a growing movement to accurately include us, it’s awfully apparent when a story prominently features a disabled without first having lived with that same disability, or without obtaining sufficient guidance from disableds with firsthand experience. At best, a creator’s lack of firsthand experience robs a disabled character of the nuance needed to truly represent us; and at worst, the character becomes completely juxtaposed to our reality while perpetuating plenty of harmful stigmas along the way. Most writers have the best of intentions when including us, and those intentions are very much appreciated. But… good intentions don’t always influence the outcome.
Are you willing to tell us about your disability?
Sure, I’ll try to make it as brief as possible. Among other things, I have chronic migraine with persistent aura. Due to the complete myriad of my neurological symptoms (which include a frequently interrupted sense of balance), I partner with a service dog whenever possible and use a wheelchair outside of the home.
You only need a wheelchair outside?
Yes. I am what’s known as partially ambulatory. It means I can walk, I just can’t walk well. I could end up on one of those hateful memes that say “IT’S A MIRACLE” if I stand up to reach something on a high shelf in the grocery store. Like Bellot, I need the wheelchair (or a pony ride) so I don’t chip any more teeth, re-injure my shoulder, or get a concussion.
So the wheelchair has been a blessing for you, instead of something to hate.
Absolutely. I mean, there are many newly disabled people in various stages of dealing with things…I was there once, and I sympathize. But there is also a significant portion of us who adore our equipment because it allows us to keep pace with our friends, co-workers, and families—so long as the environment is accessible to us, anyway, like with ramps and things. So it’s pretty cringe-worthy when we see those dark and moody stock photos of empty chairs dating from the 1940s.
Does Bellot share your disabled experience?
[Laugh] I made Bellot so much better than me! I went through about five years of severe depression directly resulting from internalized ableism—basically prejudice against myself and unfair judgments of my own self worth—before I realized that my life isn’t actually over and there is still a whole world of things I can apply myself to. Bellot skipped all of that. Unlike me, he or she just rolled with it and was much more flexible about what they considered reasons to live, basically. Bellot’s support system had a lot to do with that. It turns out people refusing to believe your symptoms on one hand, and treating you like a pitiable or parasitic invalid on the other, is bad for mental health. Bellot never went through that.
How does Bellot’s disability affect the story?
The short answer? It doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things. Bellot needs to eat, sleep, get from Point A to Point B, solve problems, develop friendships, and survive crises just like any other main character. The only difference is in the details. Where some characters might stride, sometimes Bellot will roll. Where some characters might leap up, sometimes Bellot will haul themselves up. Their internal dialogue will address some of their disability-related challenges, and they will have more tools at their disposal than otherwise if they were able-bodied. With that said, while some people might be surprised by how badass Bellot is, he or she isn’t a Mary Sue trope, either. They won’t be able to psych themselves up, Dragon Ball Z-style, into overcoming a barrier that is just impassible without some kind of tool, medicine, or help.
What does Bellot do now that he [or she] is medically retired from the Navy?
When Bellot isn’t being recruited to save the world(s), he or she spends a lot of time caring for daily life and friends. Things take longer with Bellot’s symptoms. For example, a meal with a 30 minute prep time for an able-bodied person can take 60 minutes for Bellot without assistance. Bellot also volunteers at the local library, and is part of the marina’s support network for the elderly. While the unpredictable nature of Bellot’s symptoms make them incapable of earning a regular paycheck, they try their very best to be available for driving senior citizens to medical checkups and other socially valuable services that many working citizens don’t have time for. It works out well; volunteers don’t normally get fired when they have to “call in sick.”
I’m disabled, and I’m really excited to read this story.
Thank you for your support! Showing people how easy it is to include a percentage of disabled characters that accurately reflects the population important to me. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, one in five Americans has some kind of disability. We are the largest minority in the United States, and we should be remembered while people are trying to counter biases against gender, race, and sexual orientation.
What can I do in order to represent disabled people in my writing?
Oh man, I can write an essay about that! Basically, disability shouldn’t be treated as casually as a fashion accessory to make a character unique. If you’re using it because, otherwise, your character would be a little dull and uninteresting, you’re doing it wrong! Things get problematic really fast when disability is used as a crutch for incomplete development like that.
Writers should also learn what our lives are actually like without making any assumptions or qualitative judgments. That knowledge can be obtained from the feedback of “beta readers” with firsthand experience of the specific disability an author means to include. By firsthand experience, I mean that the enlisted beta readers have the same condition, themselves. Not their moms, uncles, nor children. They, themselves, must have it. This helps authors to learn when they can take liberties with a disability, and when to stick with reality…Instead of, say, including a disability in the beginning of a story, then using it as a disposable tool to build sympathy with the audience. Writers who do this often quickly introduce some cheap plot mechanism to completely erase a character’s disability, forgetting it ever happened…except for when their teary-eyed character must dramatically assert how they do know what another person is feeling. They do! Please don’t be that writer.
Are you getting paid for Crown of Worlds? I also have a disability and I can’t seem to find anyone who will pay for my writing.
This is an unfortunate and common experience for a lot of creative artists and writers in general…even moreso with disableds. People seem to want to pay us with “exposure,” and even if they do offer a wage, it’s often a substandard one. Then, they become incensed when we refuse to take their “charity” while demanding equal pay for equal work.
I, personally, will be paid royalties for Crown of Worlds once the costs of production are recouped after its release. PMA’s owner is taking on all of the financial risk in order to provide me the chance to build a new career, and so that you all have the chance to read something neat. It was impossible for me to find writing work because I can’t guarantee that I’ll make hard deadlines. PMA is unique, because here I can direct things at my own pace. That will hopefully give me the flexibility to build an audience and receive a steady paycheck from compounded royalties in the future. It’s quite a long game…so please support Crown of Worlds, everyone!