Taking a big step back in order to go forward

My BFF, Talia C. Johnson sent me a meme with this text on the evening of January 31, 2023:

January was a tough year, but we made it.

(Author unknown?)

I wish I knew who to credit for that quote, so please let me know if you do because it’s such a mood.

When I entered #PublishedAuthorLand in 2016, I was bright-eyed and full of beans! Now, not so much. Kinda jaded, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I love being an author, but that’s just it. I need to return to what I love—writing stories in my quirky little worlds with my quirky little characters.

Since entering Canadian SFF circles, I have met some really cool folks, some folks who are icky, and others who have caused harm. That was an eye-opener. Navigating the awfulness has been exhausting. (But thanks to those of you who remain awesome. You are the lights in the dark!)

Also, as a disabled and autistic author, I’d discovered my stories that star disabled protagonists are “not relatable.” Eventually, I realized I’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places. In my opinion, while markets and editors say they welcome stories from authors who are disabled, it often seems like they are checking a box of inclusion requirements instead of trying to understand the types of stories we write. Often they don’t even know the basics about how we identify ourselves. This has made me wary of submitting to those projects, especially because when I bring things up, I risk being regarded as problematic and further marginalized from those circles.

I’m more than a checkbox item. I’m a fully fleshed out person with my own lived experiences. And they are valid and can live within whatever genre I choose to write.

The lightbulb really came on for me when I began submitting short stories that were not accepted, which happens to everyone, but my disabled beta readers or sensitivity editors were like, “What?! How did that get rejected?” I just shrugged and figured it was part of the game. One story in particular kept getting the boot. Until I submitted it to a grassroots lit mag run solely by disabled, neurodivergent editors. It got accepted the same day and highly praised. Huh. I mean, I was like, “Yay!” but it made me think. Then an anthology came up, run by editors I knew from my disabled circles, so I put my foot on the gas and wrote a protagonist unashamedly reflecting my feelings as an autistic 50-something. I submitted it anonymously and sold it. Huh.

I began to wonder if I solely submit my works to editors who understand disability from their own lived experiences and who are aware of the diversity within disability, there might be less of a chance I would get the response, “I can’t relate to the character/story.” I would probably feel way better getting a non-acceptance because it would mean my story needed more work, or it just wasn’t a good fit.

I also find myself wanting to participate in or observe author communities who truly make efforts to welcome folks like me. Not just invite us because we make them look inclusive. I need these spaces to be inclusive. And that often means conferences having folks like me in their staff or as consultants and actually listening to them. Or, non-disabled staff (and disabled staff too) being humble enough to understand they will always have to learn new things even if they do make genuine efforts to be inclusive.

By “limiting” myself to writing disabled characters and finding disabled-inclusive or disabled-run spaces, am I preventing my career from growing? Who knows? I’m mean, there are a lot of readers out there who are disabled and get excited to find themselves in fiction. I am one of them! And at my age, I would rather have five readers who love my work than try to reconfigure myself into someone I’m not, just to advance my career. I won’t give in to microaggressive messages or even blatant ones that insist I sacrifice who I am as a person. I’m Cait Gordon, a disabled crone, autistic, and queer. I’m an extroverted tornado who cares about social justice, being fun, and putting cake in space. I don’t have my act together and am a work in progress. I’m not typical. If you want typical, then I’m not for you.

A huge area of true joy for me comes from communing with authors who are disabled, d/Deaf, Blind, neurodivergent, Spoonie, and/or who manage mental illness. The Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too anthologies allowed me to meet wonderful authors and their protagonists. I’m really glad I was co-editor of those projects. But they were so much work, even though they were a labour of love. And I am getting older, so my disability is tougher to manage. While I will never regret doing those projects because the world needs these stories, it’s time for me to go back to being a writer myself.

And what will I write? My happy wheelhouse is fun space opera that makes one think. Season One: Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space is coming out this year (Thanks again, Renaissance press!), and I have my episode prompts for Season Two drafted. I also want to finish Life in Another ’Cosm, my first YA book and sequel to Life in the ’Cosm. I also plan to write a Romance space opera novella that nobody asked for, which stars an older woman who is autistic and disabled and snarky as heckin’ heck.

I definitely have stuff to work on. It’s time that I step back from advocacy (just a teeny bit on that one) and the drama of author circles (a huge step back there) in order to go on an extended writing retreat.

Because at the end of the day, writing stories is my heartbeat. My books have actually saved my life more than once. And that’s not hyperbole. They are a salve for my mental health. But I can’t write them if I have brain clutter.

So, here’s to Marie Kondo-ing my brain clutter, removing what doesn’t spark joy, and going forward with writing the stories I want to write. I will be deliberate in how I spend my time and spoons. While I know I can’t avoid stressful situations altogether, I can make a better effort to put me first, in the healthiest way.

A greyscale close-up of me, standing in front of a blank background. I am a white woman with short silver hair cropped closely on the sides. I am wearing dark metallic rimmed glasses with rhinestones on the side. I’m wearing silver hook earrings with flat beads and a plaid shirt.

Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’CosmThe Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too. 

Featured header photo by Tobi on Pexels.com

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