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Listen in as Carrie from Breaking Night Press interviews romance author Katie Mettner on life, the portrayal of people with disabilities in fiction, and her upcoming release, Butterflies & Hazel Eyes: A Lake Superior Romance.
00:15 Family life
04:15 Writing characters with disabilities
09:26 Accurate portrayals of people with disabilities in fiction
14:40 Common pitfalls when it comes to writing characters with disabilities
19:03 Harsh reactions from publishers
26:55 Suggestions for authors
28:31 Suggestions for publishers
29:42 Suggestions for readers
35:27 Upcoming release
"I just want my books to help people make this world a little bit better place, even if it's something as simple as [having] empathy.
Transcript (Recorded March 04, 2021)
Carrie: Hey! This is Carrie from Breaking Night Press, and today we have an interview with romance author and disability advocate Katie Mettner.
Katie, would you like to share a little of your background?
Katie: Sure! Well, if you can’t tell from my accent, I’m from northern Wisconsin--
Katie: You betcha, ya hey!
Carrie: Sorry, I had to. Please don’t cancel us, Wisconsin. Full disclosure, we’re friends, and that’s just our dynamic.
Katie: It’s okay, we’re cheeseheads here. We embrace it. It’s a thing. It’s all good.
Carrie: So, you live in northern Wisconsin…
Katie: Yes, I grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is about an hour south from where I live right now—and, fun fact, Eau Claire is famous for producing Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. His sister was my babysitter when I was a little girl, so there are my six degrees of separation right there.
Carrie: Well, check you out! You know, he’s probably telling people that his sister babysat a famous author now.
Katie: Uh, not likely, but you know, maybe in another dimension!
Carrie: In time, I’m sure. Now, in your bio, you mention living out your own happily-ever-after—which is really something, coming from a romance author. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Katie: Oh, who doesn’t want to talk about their awesome husband whom they’ve been married to for twenty-one years? My happily-ever-after has been with my husband Dwayne. We met online at Thanksgiving time, and we dated for—are you ready?
Katie: Two months.
Carrie: Two months?
Katie: That’s right. That’s right, baby. We met at Thanksgiving, got engaged on New Year’s, and we were married in April
Carrie: Wow, he locked that down!
Katie: Hey, when you find perfection, you can’t let it slip through your fingers. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. After that, though, we had three mini-mes all in a row, which was really hard when we had them, but I love that they have short age gaps now, because it’s obviously a lot easier as they get older.
Carrie: Now, you have two in college and one about to be, right? The youngest is sixteen!
Katie: Yeah… all my kids graduated a little early. My daughter is in her third year of college for choral education, and she plans to teach elementary kids once she graduates.
So, my middle mini-me is not so mini anymore. He is definitely 100% my vibe and attitude, however. He’s 18 now, works as a CNA at a rehab center here in town, and he is going to nursing school. So, that’s why he is a CNA, ‘cause, I mean, he had to get his CNA in order to go to nursing school. So, he was like, “I might as well use it!” And so he will finish nursing school next year, so I want you to just think about this for a moment: He will be 19 and have a license to give you any kind of medication or save your life.
Carrie: That’s not horrifying at all...
Katie: Not even a little bit! Actually, I’m kidding. He’s an awesome kid, and it’s really hard to get men to go into nursing, but he’s had some strong role models in the family, in nursing, and so, yeah. We’re really proud of him for all his hard work.
Katie: And then my youngest, who you mentioned is 16. He graduates from high school in May and, yes, he skipped a few grades.
Carrie: Just a few…
Katie: A few, here and there. And on the same day that he got his driver’s license, back in December, he was actually offered a full-ride academic scholarship to UW-Madison for physics. So, needless to say--
Carrie: Physics! Of course.
Katie: Yeah, I don’t know what physics does or what they are, what they… it’s something to do with math, which is not my strong suit. But yes, needless to say, he’s going to UW-Madison in the fall, and there is my not-so-humble mom brag.
Carrie: Hey, I would brag, too! That’s amazing. And somehow, while managing the kids’ various advanced tracks, you’ve written how many romance novels in the past decade?
Katie: Fifty, but only forty-two are currently published, so… eh, ya know. The rest are in line, but yes, fifty.
Carrie: Wow... fifty! Okay, now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the vast majority of those featured characters with disabilities, correct?
Katie: The vast majority, yes. They feature characters with disabilities that are either physical, mental, or emotional. To make it clear, however, the disability isn’t the focus of the book; their love story is.
I do make sure that the character is portrayed in a way that is true to their disability, both in their daily lives and in their relationships. So, the character is never ‘cured’ of their disability at the end of the book, since we all know that’s nonsense and not grounded in reality. My biggest goal when writing disabled romance is to never shy away from the really hard, and usually glossed over, aspects of finding love as a person with a disability.
I pride myself on that, because if a person with a disability is reading it, they’ll expect me to touch on those topics that have to do with intimacy and, you know, basic activities of daily living that could be different than how other people do them. But if an abled person is reading it, then my goal is to give them the sense of what it’s like to live as a person with a disability and not just in the inspirational ‘oh look, you left the house today’ kind of way. Yes, we’ve heard that comment many times.
So many books that have characters with disabilities in them—they’re so inaccurate—and I just decided that when I started writing I would make them as true to life as I could. I know, it’s fiction, and I will never get it completely right, but that’s kind of always my goal to make sure that I at least touch on all of the important topics and subjects that should be addressed in these types of novels. Because, you know, when I became disabled and I was looking for books that would kind of represent and help me with what I was trying to learn as a person with a disability, the books that I could find were so inaccurate that they didn’t help me. They actually hurt me. And so I decided, you know, they always say write what you want to read and so basically that was my first goal with my first book. [It] was, “All right, I’m just going to write.”
And you know, it’s still fiction and let’s face it, you still write things that, you know, obviously you’re never going to go off on Wisconsin Point and, you know, ride an ATV up to, you know, face down a bad guy. But you can make the story fun and still make it true to what the character with the disability is--
Carrie: Right. Yeah.
Katie: —is what I’m saying. So, yeah.
Carrie: Absolutely, and like we shared on social the other day, Corinne Duyvis… uh...
<Katie also attempts to pronounce Duyvis in the background.>
Carrie: Yeah. You know what? Google her. Name is Corinne. She started the #OwnVoices hashtag. Okay? I don’t speak Dutch. I tried. I looked it up on YouTube. I looked up pronunciations, and… I failed. Okay? So, [#OwnVoices] basically describes books where the protagonist and author share a marginalized identity.
Now, do you feel comfortable sharing more about that and how your books sort of fit into that particular niche?
Katie: Absolutely. I have never made it a secret that I am also disabled. I have been a left, below-knee amputee for 10 years after living with a debilitating leg injury for 25 years before that. I broke my leg when I was 13, downhill skiing. I broke it on the bunny hill, the first time down the hill. Go me!
Carrie: Oh my gosh.
Katie: So, that’s my story. Nobody told me how to stop, so I thought it would be a good idea to just fall over, and that was not a good idea.
Carrie: Not a good idea…
Katie: I repeat, that was not a good idea. So, that’s the reason I’m a below-knee amputee. And then, I also have gastroparesis, which basically means my stomach is paralyzed and it doesn’t grind up the food or move it through the digestive system like it’s supposed to. So, last summer, I had a feeding tube placed in my intestines because I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and since I didn’t have another hundred pounds to give up, I decided it was probably time to do something. So, now, all of my nutrition comes through the formula I pump into my small intestines every night and, let me tell you, it is not super satisfying to the palate, but it does keep me alive and writing. And so, it’s a little give and take.
Carrie: Yeah, that is the important thing. Gosh. Well, thank you for sharing that. I mean, I know it feels unnatural to talk about your private life in such a public forum—especially as an author, because the spotlight is typically, you know, focused on your work—but it does tie in with what we’re discussing today.
Katie: Right, and you know, I’ve never made that a secret. I’m just really glad that you didn’t cue up inspirational music and tell me how brave I am or how ‘awesome’ it is that I managed to get dressed today and form a sentence… Okay, that was sarcastic, but we do hear that a lot. It’s often the case for people with disabilities.
Carrie: Yeah, well, thankfully, I’ve known you long enough to avoid that particular trap, but that’s a good segue to our first topic, which is the portrayal of people with disabilities in fiction. Now, first, I’ll ask, have you seen any accurate portrayals lately? Books, TV, movies, games—anything.
I really, really wish I could say that I have. And I know there are several authors out there who include characters with disabilities in their stories and I have not necessarily read them. But they are also not disabled themselves but have a [child with a disability] or a [spouse with a disability]. And I do have their books queued up on my Kindle to read as soon as I finish with a couple sensitivity reader beta books that I’m doing right now.
But as far as Hollywood goes, no, Hollywood really sucks at representing people with disabilities in an accurate way. Me Before You is such an abomination that it never should have seen the light of day. Take my word for it. We are not all suicidal. It’s just ridiculous that it became such a huge thing when the majority of the plot revolved around poor, pitiful Paul or… I don’t even know what his name was. I refused to have anything to do with it.
Carrie: Ah, well, how do you really feel about Me Before You?
I’ve never seen it!
Katie: You’re right, I rescind the word sucks. I replace it with incredibly revolting. How about that? It also was completely uneducated when it comes to representing people with disabilities. At least, for the most part. It was—the thing is, it’s not an uncommon situation in books, TV, movies, or games.
Games can get away with it a little bit more, because usually—I mean, I’m not a gamer. My kid is, but I’m not. But usually, most of the games that have characters with disabilities—or I don’t even know if you would call it that, necessarily—are the sci-fi games. The games that, you know, you have a broader brush to do that with.
I actually did watch a Christmas movie this winter where the main heroine was a character with a disability. She was also an actress with a disability. So, the character with a disability was played by an actress with a disability, and that is rare as all get out!
Katie: So, I was really—I was into this, I was primed to get into the meat of this new relationship, and, you know, I’m sitting there with my popcorn. Not really, because I can’t eat popcorn, but you know what I mean. And by the end of the movie, I’m sitting there and just kind of staring at the screen. And my husband was laughing at me, because he knows exactly what I’m thinking, but…
The end of the movie, we still don’t know why she was in a wheelchair, what her disability was, or we don’t know how it’s going to affect the new relationship with the guy she just met four days ago. We don’t know anything!
It was mind boggling, ‘cause they missed the ball so completely that they weren’t even in the ballpark. And they had this huge opportunity. I mean, they had a ninety-minute movie that they could have used to educate, and they didn’t have to do it in a way that scared people, and they didn’t have to do it in a way that made it super inspirational, like let’s break out the violins. But they just ignored it completely, which was the biggest problem, because she didn’t have an invisible disability. It was very clear that she used a mobility aid, but there was no mention of it whatsoever.
And while I agree with that to a point that you don’t focus on the disability, obviously, whether it’s a book or a movie or whatever it may be, you still have to acknowledge it. And that’s what they missed. They missed acknowledging it, and that—as a [person with a disability]—doesn’t give disabled representation.
Katie: They wanted her to just be like any other, you know, romance heroine, which she was to a point—but also, she can’t be.
Katie: And they didn’t own that. They didn’t own the fact that she was unique, and it was like they got the lead solo in the high school musical, they went to all the practices, but then they forgot to show up for opening night. And ultimately, I think that’s—I mean, it wasn’t a bad movie. Don’t get me wrong. If you were just watching it without any expectations. But if you went into it thinking you were going to get representation, you were going to be disappointed.
Carrie: It’s like they liked the idea of it, but they didn’t want to, you know, acknowledge--
Katie: They were afraid--
Carrie: —any of the implications.
Katie: Exactly, because they’d lose viewership, and that was a fear for them. You know. I did like that… I did enjoy seeing that we had a lead character with a disability being played by an actress with a disability--
Katie: —because that’s a start.
Carrie: It is.
Katie: You know, it’s a start. And I think that that was—it wasn’t a bad story, don’t get me wrong. It was about a romance writer who fell in love and I mean, hey, I’m all over that!
Katie: But it just… it missed so many, so many opportunities that they could have used to educate people in a setting that was very comfortable. Ultimately, that’s going to have to be something that they’ll have to work on. It’s just not being afraid to do it in a way that is worked into the story to make it…
Katie: Make sense. Yeah, make it authentic. Exactly. Just to make it make sense, because this did not make any sense. It just didn’t.
Carrie: Right, so, building on that disappointment, what do you think some of the most common pitfalls are when it comes to writing characters with disabilities?
I think the biggest pitfall, if the author is not an #ownvoices author, is not doing enough research to discover that the plot they want to write is not realistic for someone with that particular disability. For example, people see amputees out there, running around, doing all kinds of Paralympic activities that are awesome but also nowhere near a full representation of the disability.
For instance, they don’t see the multiple different sets of prosthetic legs that they have, the team of prosthetists they need to keep those prosthetics in working order, the hours spent in the prosthetist’s office for fittings, the custom liners that need to be made to protect their limbs, the times they can’t wear a prosthesis because their limb was injured any way, the fact that they take their prosthetic off at night to sleep, that they shower sitting down on a bench, and they use a wheelchair or crutches or whatever it may be when they aren’t wearing their prosthesis.
It is all those little, behind-the-scenes things that authors miss when they are writing that ends up skewing the portrayal of what someone with that particular disability actually goes through on a daily basis. Now, you do not have to go through them all, but I think the biggest pitfall is when you find out how hard it is to write a character with a disability accurately and, because it’s hard and it takes a lot of time, then you decide you’ve done enough research to know how to write it, when you actually haven’t.
I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s what I have found, where there’s a lot of authors that do a lot of research—don’t get me wrong; they really research it hard—and they still… don’t…
Carrie: There are just some things you can’t glean.
Katie: Right. If you don’t live it or you don’t know somebody or you can’t bounce things off somebody, it’s really, really hard to just get that from research.
Katie: And so, when I write, I’ll spend hours researching and, oftentimes, what I’ll do is I already know what the next book is I want to write. So, while I’m writing a manuscript, in my off time when I’m not writing—I’m watching TV or whatever I’m doing, you know, with my husband—I will be researching the next book and whatever disability that character will have, because sometimes it’s the only way. You know, you just have to kind of take it in bits and pieces.
And then, even when I start writing the story, I’m always constantly… I stop. I check. I double-check before I take a plotline down a specific avenue. Trust me. My doctors? They are totally used to me asking some random question at the end of every visit I go to, because…
Carrie: I would love to see their notes on you.
Katie: Trust me, they are so used to it. They’re just like, ‘Do you have any questions?’ And I’ll be like, ‘As a matter of fact…’ And it’s never about me, trust me. But I’ve learned. And that’s how you take advantage of, you know, those little types of situations where you’re talking to somebody and you’re like, “Hey! You might know the answer to this question.”
So, I do that, and I also…
The thing that’s really, really, really, really kind of… is…boggles my mind… is when they have the character’s disability ‘cured’ at the end of the book because the hero says they should be cured. Stop it. That’s nonsensical. It doesn’t make any sense. There are abled--
Carrie: It’s offensive.
Katie: Yeah! And there are abled people who fall in love with [people with disabilities] all the time, who support and love them without trying to ‘fix’ them. And so I think that those are some of the biggest pitfalls is not doing enough research and then making sure that their ‘disability’ or, you know, whatever it is that’s ‘wrong’ with the character is cured at the end of the book, so they can go on and live a happily-ever-after. Because apparently you can’t have a happily-ever-after if you’re disabled. And so, ultimately, that’s my biggest crux, is to make sure that when someone finishes a Katie Mettner novel, they know, ‘Hey! You know what? They’re happy. They got their happily-ever-after.’
Katie: And they still have their disability. Shocker, I know.
Carrie: Well, those are some absolutely valid points, and I know we’ve covered this on the blog, but authors aren’t the only ones perpetuating these notions. Prior to signing with us, your work was met with some pretty… let’s say 'harsh' responses from traditional publishers.
Katie: Yeah, harsh would be kind.
Carrie: I’m kind like that.
Katie: Yeah, yeah, I have lost track of how many manuscripts I’ve submitted to publishers and was either told ‘You can’t write romance that way’—that’s one of my favorite ones. ‘You can’t write romance that way.’ Uh, well, I did. Or ‘We really like the story, but could make the character less or #notdisabled?’
Katie: Uh, yeah. I always just, you know, I would just sh—I would get mad, don’t get me wrong—but I would just shake my head, because you can’t really like the story and then, at the same time, ask for the main character not to be disabled. Because that would change the entire dynamic and make the plotline nonexistent. So, you can’t actually like it but want it to be something else.
Katie: And I don’t understand the fear of characters with disabilities or [people with disabilities] in the industry, because… I guess I can’t understand it, because they either go full-on Me Before You—and that has become such a saying for me, because everybody understands what I mean when I say that. So, they either want you to go full-on Me Before You or they want to make sure that the character with a disability has two lines and then you never see them again. And so it’s very frustrating, to say the least, and aggravating every time; not just because I am a person with disabilities, but because you know that it’s most likely—I can’t say every time—but it’s most likely, when you’re getting that feedback from somebody, it’s coming from the viewpoint of someone who most likely doesn’t live with a disability.
Katie: And so, there’s a bit of rudeness to it, too.
Carrie: Yikes. That is just… yikes. That is my profound response.
Katie: That is your profound statement?
Carrie: Yeah, ‘cause I’m just sitting here, just like, ‘Yikes...’
Katie: And let me take a break here, because—for just a second—I want to talk about the term ableist, because the statement I said about someone who, you know, that feedback is coming from someone who likely doesn’t live with a disability…
A lot of people, they’re tossing around this term called ‘ableist’. And you will hear it many times, it will be used within the disabled community and the abled community, too, but they’re referring to someone who doesn’t have a disability. But you will never hear me use the word for one simple reason, and that is that it implies that what they are saying or doing, whatever it may be, is on purpose—and that is rarely ever the case.
So, instead of saying, ‘Oh, they’re just being an ableist,’ I try to come at from the point of saying… having an opportunity to educate them, instead. Because oftentimes they don’t know that they’re not supposed to do that.
Katie: Or say that. Or… you know what I’m saying? So, I try to use it, like I say, use it as an opportunity to educate instead of, you know, just going, ‘Oh, well, they’re being an ableist’ and walk away.
Carrie: Well, that’s probably the healthiest mindset, I mean, for you, for the world at large. I mean, you could be making a ripple there.
Katie: Right, and I mean, sure, and there is that small population of people out there who are saying or doing things on purpose, just to be a jerk, but let’s face it.
Carrie: That’s true.
Katie: That’s human nature. But I just kind of learned over time that most people just legitimately don’t know that they shouldn’t come up to me at the grocery store and tell me what an inspiration I am to be out shopping in a wheelchair, you know? And I have heard this more times than I can count, but at the same time, I don’t think they’re coming from a place of anything other than well meaning.
They’re trying to connect. They’re trying to be encouraging. They’re coming at it from their own experience of whatever their generation has dealt with, but they aren’t purposely being unkind. And I’m pretty good at picking out the people who, you know, really want to engage or the people who are just being jerks.
Katie: And, like, say the people who park in… don’t have a disabled parking sticker but they park in accessible parking places—or on the slanted lines!—just to quickly run in and grab something. And they know they shouldn’t, but they just don’t care enough about the person who might actually have to get a wheelchair out of their vehicle to go on and find a different place to park.
Carrie: Booooo those people! Just, everybody, take a moment and collectively stare in their direction so they feel it…
Katie: Okay, moving on! Now, back to the publishers and my point about the ableist mentality, and I was getting there.
Carrie: We have a tendency to meander.
Katie: Yeah, so, okay, this is where I struggle with being able to educate, when it comes to the publishers. Because if you get a rejection letter or a ‘We want the character to be less disabled,’ how do I educate them about that? I can’t, because I don’t get to email them back. I have to, you know, work through a secondary system where I have to re-upload my manuscript and then wait for them to contact me again, and blah, blah, blah. But also, I am not going to plead my case with them. If they can’t see that the book would need an entire rewrite if the character wasn’t disabled, then I don’t want them publishing my books.
Carrie: Yeah, that’s… that’s problematic, and that’s a red flag.
Katie: Exactly, and the same goes for, you know, other publications in the industry, too. I had an article that I wrote and was published, and it was written specifically about writing [characters with disabilities]. And it was my article alone, had my name as the only name on the author line, and they did some editing to it. And then they published the article after they did editing to it without running it past me. But they didn’t add their editors’ names to the byline, either, so, I guess, what really upset me wasn’t that they did it—’cause obviously everybody’s going to run things through their editors—but that they didn’t then come back to me and say, ‘Hey, would you look this over and make sure everything is, you know, how you want it to be?’
Because there were parts of it that I would have, right away, said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no!” But what also disturbed me was that someone would actually think that’s okay to actually say about a person with the same disability that I have. And it was so disparaging that I can’t repeat it, because I would…
But it would have made anyone who had been in that same situation, or had that situation happen to them, feel incredibly bad about themselves. It was just one of those things that… It upset me to the point that I was kind of frozen internally as I’m reading it, and I broke out—I was really excited to read it, of course; I was like, ‘This is going to be a great article!—and I just broke out into a cold sweat. And I kept thinking to myself, ‘Did I forget that I wrote this? What? What?!’ ‘Cause I knew I had written the article, and I just wanted to curl up into a ball knowing that people were thinking that I wrote that. And that was just...
You know, in the end, it was straightened out, and they changed their policy about how they edit their articles and such, but it was just another example of the industry not understanding how to accurately represent people with disabilities. And you know, I was glad that I was, in a way, you know, even in my frozen fear, was able to, you know, get through my side to them and say, you know, ‘This is why you can’t do this,’ and then, it changed that policy. So...
Carrie: Well, I’m glad you spoke up. And, in that vein, if you had a suggestion for authors and publishers alike—at least one actionable step they could take today to make better, more informed decisions in these areas—what would it be?
Katie: You know, sometimes I think a lot of what occurs is simply ignorance to what the disabled community lives with, but a lot of that could be changed with simple people-first ideas. And I say people-first ideas because before you can think about people-first language, which is something people probably hear about, you have to think about people first. So, we are people first and our disability factors into who we are but it isn’t who we are.
I think, for authors, my biggest suggestion would be, to answer your question, if you don’t know anything about a disability, i.e. don’t know someone you can ask questions of, you’ve never met anyone with the disability, you don’t know how to use people-first language, etc., then sometimes it’s better to just back away from the idea. If you don’t think you can do it well, then sometimes it’s better to just go, ‘Okay, I’m going to back away from that idea.’
If you’re going to write a character with disabilities, definitely, you need to find yourself some sensitivity readers or a reader with the same disability who can go through your draft before you edit it—and I say before, because you will be making changes, I can promise you. I still do it. You will be making changes. And I do a lot of sensitivity reading, and, like I said, it comes down… They’ll tell me all the research they did, and I can still, you know, help them improve the story just with simple people-first language.
For publishers, this is my biggest suggestion...
Katie: STOP ASKING ABLED PEOPLE TO WRITE [CHARACTERS WITH DISABILITIES]. I’m going to say that again, because it’s that important. Stop asking abled people to write [characters with disabilities]! There are so many of us #ownvoices authors who are submitting stories and constantly being turned down, while the publishers are publishing manuscripts that are an abomination to the disabled community. I’m not saying all abled authors can’t write a good book with a character with disabilities in it. So far, I haven’t found one—at least not from the big publishing houses.
For God’s sake, this is my second piece of advice: Hire some sensitivity readers and listen to the reviewers when they say you’ve missed the boat again. Stop it, get some help.
Carrie: Thank you, Michael Jordan!
I’m sorry, that sounded insensitive. For those who don’t know, Katie ended by quoting a PSA-turned-meme—which she knows I can’t resist.
<Michael Jordan clip plays>
Sabotage! Ahem. Anyway, yes, all of those things. What about something we—as readers—can do to help with the effort?
Katie: I think one of the most important things abled readers can do when they’re reading books with characters with disabilities is to remember that not every book is going to be factual. It’s going to depend on who wrote the book and who published the book. Also, try to remember you can’t ‘cure’ a disability with love. I know, but that’s not how any of this works.
Carrie: You mean True Love’s Kiss isn’t real?!
Katie: No. I mean, not in the respect that my leg will grow back, okay?
Katie: The second thing I think readers can do to help the effort is to use people-first language. If you don’t know what people-first language is, I have a disability resource page on my website www.katiemettner.com—there’s my plug—where I go into more detail about it. I think it’s also on the BNP website?
Katie: Okay, and it’s also printed in the back of Butterflies and Hazel Eyes, which is my first book that I’m releasing with Breaking Night Press. So, it introduces you to the concept of people-first language and what we, as the disabled community, use for preferred terms. Then you can use that language when writing reviews or discussing books on social media and in book clubs. And I’m sure people are thinking why does it matter? And so, I’ll answer that.
I once got a review on a book where the reviewer said the character was ‘deformed’, and the character in question has burn scars from an accident. So, all I could think was, how would you like to have scars or a disability and then come along and read something like that in a book review? No one does. So, it’s just staying cognizant when you’re writing or speaking that you aren’t using terms that you wouldn’t want someone else to use about you.
Katie: And I think that’s just a pretty simple idea that, you know, be kind.
Carrie: Yeah, I think some readers tend to forget people all over the world are turning to their words for insight about this book or this product or anything. It’s not just a thought bubble that’s sent out into the ether. You know? It’s seen, and it is seen for years.
Katie: You nailed it. You can hate a book, but you should still be respectful toward the real people reading the review.
I get a lot of reviews where the reviewer will say the disability was overplayed. For example: I have a Christmas book where the main character is a brittle asthmatic—I’m talking hospital-bad asthmatic where, you know, if he gets a really bad attack, he’s going to a hospital. He accepts it, he jokes about it, he pokes fun at himself about it, but when he has an asthma attack, everything comes to a halt while he treats it. Obviously. Meaning, everything has to be put to the side while he does a nebulizer treatment or gets treatment in the ER. Whatever it is. But this is definitely not an overdramatization of a disability. This is a real thing and real people die from this all the time. I actually had a doctor who spent as much time in the hospital for her asthma as she did at the hospital treating patients.
Carrie: Oh, wow.
Katie: Yeah, so my point is—and I’m getting there, I promise—is this: I will never, have never, will never overplay a disability for a book plot. If you read one of my books, you can be assured that the information about the disability that is within the book is a very real situation that someone with that disability has dealt with at some point in their life. Full stop. That’s all I’m going to say. If you do not know someone who has the condition, I understand that. But then absorb the information because you never know when you might come across someone at the mall in the middle of a major asthma attack who needs help. And you remember Shep and you think, ‘I know what I need to do! This is what I need to do!’
And that is my goal. I just want my books to help people make this world a little bit better place, even if it’s something as simple as empathy.
And to be clear, I respect the heck out of a bad review as much as I do a good one, I do, but I struggle when the language used is derogatory towards others who might also come by the book page. So, I guess, it comes down to the lesson that we learned when we were kids—that words hurt, so pick them carefully.
Carrie: Yeah, exactly. And for everyone listening and trying to take notes, don’t worry. Katie has made us a lovely little table for our website. You can find it at www.breakingnightpress.com/resources. We’ll be updating the page as we receive more helpful tips—and not just from #ownvoices authors but from readers who are a part of specific communities and cultures. If you’re out there and want to help educate us, don’t hesitate to reach out. You know we are all about the learning here.
Katie: Absolutely! I have to say that Breaking Night Press’ whole reason for existing is to elevate niche writers like myself who have great stories to tell but we can’t get the big publishers to see the forest for the trees. Throughout the whole process for every book that I’m working on with BNP, it has always been about staying true to who I am as a writer.
And, to try and explain that a little bit, it’s not about making these books fit a trope or a genre. It’s to make the book the best book it can be, while staying true to what I write. And everyone that works with BNP—from editing to design—they grasp the importance of using people-first language, making sure that we’re bringing a book to the people that is honest, fair, beautiful, and tells the story of two characters who, you know, they might have a lot more to overcome than another couple, but they still find their way to their happily-ever-after. And that is ultimately what we want in romance, right?
Carrie: Yes! I mean, we try, and we certainly appreciate your kind words, as well as taking the time to be with us here today. So, before we go, do you want to tell everyone about your upcoming release in April?
Katie: Well, YEAH! I mean… Uh, yes. Butterflies and Hazel Eyes is book one in the Butterfly Junction series, and it is set on the beautiful shores of Lady Superior near the Apostle Islands. Butterflies and Hazel Eyes is a romantic suspense, and it features two characters with disabilities: Charity Puck, who is a little person, and Gulliver Winsome, who has limb length discrepancies.
Charity is a white hat hacker and arrives at Gulliver’s business, which is called Butterfly Junction, to try and figure out who is hacking into their servers to steal his formula for an eco-friendly pesticide that Gulliver is working on. He’s trying to find a way to save the butterflies and bees from extinction and protect our waterways. And things happen, things get dangerous, people fall in love… and [behind] the whole thing is a backdrop of beautiful Lake Superior and northern Wisconsin shores.
Carrie: Wow. Well, I, for one, can’t wait. I mean, I’ve read it, I loved it, and I want to see the lake in person now!
Katie: I promise you, visiting any Great Lake is worth the trip, but visiting Lady Superior can be dangerous, because she just might convince you to stay...
Carrie: Thanks for being with us, Katie! I had a great time today.
Katie: Thanks for having me! I can’t wait to release Butterfly and Hazel Eyes for everyone to read.