Josephine Myles and JL Merrow are here today to celebrate the release of the latest in their Mad About the Brit Boys series of mini-anthologies, Truly, Madly, Boys, a selection of m/m contemporary romance short stories, and are discussing how to include characters with a disability--and why it matters that authors do this.
by JL Merrow and Josephine Myles
Jamie: I think there’s a great deal of misconception around about disabled people, and a lot of it centres around people perceiving them as “other”, as defined by their disability rather than as rounded, ordinary people with the same feelings and desires as the rest of us. I read an excellent guest post by writer Steven Spohn on Chuck Wendig’s blog the other day (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/02/steven-spohn-i-am-not-your-plot-device/) in which he, a wheelchair user, mentions how complete strangers have more than once walked up to him and asked if his dick works. Jo, have you ever used this as an opening conversational gambit? ;)
Jo: Well, only once and I’ve ended up living with him :P
No, seriously, I think many of us have this combination of fascination and awkwardness when it comes to interacting with anyone disabled. I notice it when I’m out and about with my daughter, Daisy, who has Down’s Syndrome. Some people just stare, which is rude but I kind of understand why they do it. I tell myself it’s because they’re amazed at how pretty, intelligent and capable Daisy is. Most of the time people are keen to start a conversation about her, and sometimes that revolves around things I’d rather not talk about (you just don’t want the focus to always be on what makes her different), but once people get over the initial few questions they can see she’s just like any other preteen girl. You know, starting to get moody and obsessed with clothes and make-up…
So what drew you to write a disabled character, Jamie?
Jamie: I think part of it, inevitably, is that fascination you mentioned--but it’s the same fascination I feel for anyone whose life experience is different from mine. I talk in the introduction to Epiphany about how I love to put myself into the shoes of someone who’s different from me: in that case, it’s someone from another country, with a different level of education and a very different job, but I don’t see it as all that different from imagining what it would be like to be a disabled person.
And I’m very passionate about diversity in fiction. Too many people grow up reading stories that don’t include characters that are like them. It’s very easy to default to characters who are like ourselves, but where’s the fun in taking the easy route? ;)
I do think, though, that if we write about people different from ourselves we have a responsibility to do all we can to get it right. For example, whenever I’ve written about wheelchair users or people with a chronic illness I’ve asked a friend in that situation to give the piece a read-through. But how do you feel about it, Jo, as the mother of a daughter with Downs syndrome? Is all representation good, or have you seen some characters you’ve wished had never been written (naming no names!)?
Jo: There are definitely cases of horribly saintly disabled characters in fiction, but on the whole I’m happy to see representation of any kind. I was particularly tickled by your character in Pressure Head, Darren, who was a former dwarf porn star. Too often people with restricted growth are considered disabled and presented as asexual, so it was nice to see someone with an unapologetically rampant sex drive. But I suppose there is a tricky line to walk sometimes when writing erotic fiction featuring characters with disabilities. After all, you don’t want to be accused of fetishising a disability, but at the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the able-bodied aren’t the only ones with libidos. And physical disability doesn’t automatically mean physically unattractive, after all.
Have you ever worried about how your disabled characters will be received by readers?
Jamie: I’m always concerned about the reaction from the community I’m trying to portray. It can be very easy to get it wrong, particularly if there is only one character in the story who is disabled, and even more particularly if they’re not the main character. This, in fact, was a concern voiced by Stephen Spohn in the blog I mentioned earlier: he was speaking of the film Me Before You, which features a problematic portrayal of a quadriplegic, and how the defence that it’s not really “his” story, it’s the story of the female MC, is not really a defence at all.
And fetishisation can be a real danger, and one that it’s possible to fall into just by trying too hard (and by being uninformed). One way I’ve dealt with this in stories is, as with my standalone short Permanently Legless, by having the romantic interest be someone who’s known the MC both before and after they became disabled.
Readers, what do you think about the myth that disabled people don’t have sex?
Truly, Madly, Boys
A Mad About the Brit Boys anthology
JL Merrow and Josephine Myles
Release Date ~ 10th June 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Love—the most intense connection.
The challenge of finding love in the world today can take many forms, but at its heart love is the same: it’s all about forging a connection with another person. Experience romance at its most relatable in these four contemporary stories of male-male love with a British flavour from award-winning authors Josephine Myles and JL Merrow.
In these stories you’ll find out how to communicate without words, be teased by a memory that’s just out of reach, flash back to young love and emerging sexuality, and discover how opposites can attract when you meet a stranger in a strange land.
These stories have all been previously published, but are now available exclusively in this anthology.
Individual story blurbs:
Epiphany by JL Merrow
When security guard Vinnie spots a young British guy, Gray, looking lost on a New York street, he thinks he’s never seen anyone so beautiful. The feeling’s mutual: concert pianist Gray loves everything about the huge muscle man who’s offering to walk him back to his hotel. When they stop off at Vinnie’s apartment, sparks fly—but when they finally get back to Gray’s hotel, things seem to fall apart. Is one afternoon all they’ll ever have?
Halfway up the Stairs by Josephine Myles
When Charlie wakes up alone after arguing with his boyfriend the night before, it seems like nothing will resolve the situation. Josh wants them to move, but Charlie is too attached to the house. It’s not just all the work he’s put into it, though, it’s all the memories. One memory in particular, of standing hidden halfway up the stairs, watching and wanting…
Sense Memory by JL Merrow
Blinded by a drunk driver, Colin is haunted by a sense memory—the smell of wood chippings. When he meets up with Alban, who he's been chatting with online, he finally finds out why.
Without Words by Josephine Myles
Is that gorgeous redheaded hunk on the building site really checking him out? Nick thinks it’s worth the risk of getting his head kicked in to find out. Only trouble is, Nick tends to end up spoiling things with his nervous babbling. This time he’s going to have to keep his mouth shut. It’s either that or he’ll have to find some other way to occupy it…
Available on Kindle Unlimited
Other titles in the series:
Meet the Authors
JL Merrow is a very English writer of (mainly) m/m fiction who finds writing the only way to stay sane, except of course when a plot is driving her crazy. Having grown up on an island, she can’t remember a time before she could swim and prefers to remain close to water at all times. Luckily, the weather in her native land being as it generally is, this is not difficult.
I’m that rare beast; an English person who refuses to drink tea. I’m a writer of (mainly) m/m or f/f romance, mostly contemporary or paranormal, but with a fickle muse that occasionally ambushes me in dark alleyways and drags me off, cackling, to write historical or science fiction.
Some might call all this pillar-to-posting tragic evidence of a short attention span; I couldn’t possibly….er, what were we talking about, again?
I enjoy reading, martial arts, and surprising people who judge a book by its cover.
She is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.
English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. Jo blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.
Jo publishes regularly with Samhain. She has also been known to edit anthologies and self-publish on occasion.