12 minute read
By the time I reached my 30's, my writing had started to change once again.
I found myself gravitating away from Christian Fiction, away from Mainstream Fiction, and toward FanFiction.
I wasn't a stranger to it. (I'd been writing Full House FanFiction before I even knew what the genre was when I was eleven.) Over the years, I bounced through different fandoms and wrote stories in most.
I'm often drawn to FanFiction because it is such a struggle for me to create fully formed, authentic characters from scratch. It's much more doable to utilize the framework and established background already there and give that even more depth than often exists on screen.
THE HARDEST PART:
As true as that is, there is also a deeper truth.
Days after I finished Stowaway, I asked a friend from church if they wanted to read it. They had been one of my closest friends for the past five years, despite leaving church three years prior. They said they could not read my novel because two of my characters were gay.
Friends, it was like being slapped in the face.
First, because this friend had been supportive of my writing for years, always asked about my novels and if they could read them - definitely over the last four years, with these same characters. So, when I asked if they wanted to read this one, I wasn't expecting this response at all.
Secondly, because I was only just coming around to the fact that I found women pretty. I was years away from coming out as asexual. (But that did not change the fact that at 14, my first celebrity crush was Dominique Moceanu...not Jonathan Taylor Thomas...)
Needless to say, my friend's rejection of my writing and their reason for it, felt deeply personal. If they could not even read my writing, could they still love me as a person? Would they want to be my friend? How could I ever feel safe with them again?
I felt destroyed. I sat at my computer and sobbed for over a half an hour. (And I am not a crier.) Eventually, I got myself together and was able to move forward, but my writing changed in a major way.
I retreated. I stuck to writing characters that already existed, because that felt safer than writing my own.
(If you click on the links to stories in this post, you'll see that in fandoms, I write under a separate handle, but rest-assured, it is still me. Also, if you click on the links to stories provided, mind the warnings given in each piece. Your mental health and safety are more important than a story.)
In the spring of 2010, I discovered Criminal Minds and marathoned all the shows. By 2011, I was watching episodes live. So, it was no wonder, then, that my NaNo novel that year was a Criminal Minds FanFiction called Brave New Life. To my mind, the characters had all gone through so much earlier in life, I wanted to imagine an alternate universe where, perhaps, their paths crossed in high school.
While all of them had significant trauma, there were a couple who presented with more notable chronic illnesses / disability:
It's a fairly well-known fact (at least within the fandom) that Spencer Reid has various characteristics that read as autistic-presenting. Though, I haven't read the story in some years, I believe I kept those aspects consistent, as I tried to remain true to their characters as much as possible.
Ashley Seaver was brand new in season 6 (which had just begun when I wrote this story) so I took some liberties with her character, developing her background and her past. My version of high school Ashley had an eating disorder.
I'd been a fan of Glee since the pilot episode in 2009. But it took me until 2012 to even start writing FanFiction. By November, I was ready to explore further and developed another alternate universe set during season 3 of the show. There were already disabled characters (Artie) and newly-disabled characters (Quinn) who were featured in the background, but in We Are Who We Were, I chose to put the spotlight on two others.
Santana was definitely my favorite character on Glee, and she inspired me to start writing for the fandom. So it makes sense that she was the character I most wanted to center. In this AU, Santana loses her mom, and deals with a heart-wrenching grief (on top of previous trauma.)
Blaine was a fan-favorite and I wanted my story to be read. So I cast Blaine as the co-lead, who recently lost his older brother. Blaine deals with a different kind of grief (and a different kind of trauma - previously inflicted by his brother.)
2013's Tear Down All The Walls was yet another Glee AU, which featured a massive tour bus crash, carrying half the Glee club. Most are injured, some severely (like Jake) who comes away with head trauma.
Strangely, it was Rachel's arc and her depth that I really wound up loving. She is also among the injured (exactly how escapes me) and it's due to her hospitalization that another secret she is carrying comes to light. (Suffice it to say, trauma is involved.) It's been a few years, and I still really love her characterization.
|[Image: a photo of me one night in 2011. I'm 30, and slowly starting to find myself and three years away from starting a blog that would change everything.]|
In 2014, I returned to finish We Are Who We Were from 2012.
2014 is also the year that I created Tonia Says and started blogging and getting to know other actually disabled people for the first time. Creating the blog led to a massive shift in my writing during in the coming / current years.
By the fall of 2015, I'd begun having panic attacks at the thought of going home. I did not know what they were or how to explain them. They weren't what I imagined panic attacks looking like, but the reaction was borne of panic. At that point, uninformed and with no counterpoint to clarify how unsafe home was for me, I pushed through and made holiday visits.
I ignored my body and the signals it was giving me.
BACK TO FICTION:
At the same time I'd experienced my first panic attack, I returned to writing fiction and began a still-unfinished story called Don't Look Down, which is about two friends who take care of one's aunt and uncles kids and foster kids. All the kids have trauma (as being removed from one's home is traumatic.) Notably, this is the very first time I attempted to write an adult character, whose CP mirrored my own. (TWs include sexual abuse, grief, food insecurity, and more...)
If you recognize Emma from We Belong, and are wondering: "Wait... Is it the same Emma?" Yes, it is! Though I had a few times where I attempted to write a character with CP, (Rebekah and later Josh) I think Emma is who I consider my first, where I was invested in her and her CP, and did not feel the need to hide her disability or have her parents steep her in shame.
This was a huge milestone and no-doubt had a ton to do with my slowly finding my people in the disability community. Emma was a helper. She was capable, not just a prop. I really enjoyed writing her. (Very likely why I brought her back in 2016 to be a mentor to Lexie and Jesse, when I wrote the majority of their story.)
So, here's some obscure facts for you: I first had the idea for this story back in 2014, chatting with a friend, Vilissa Thompson about a children's book she hoped to write about disability. Her thoughts got mine going. I imagined writing a children's book called I Belong. It involved a child with CP eventually meeting an adult with CP, but the idea never grew beyond that until a year and a half later when the idea suddenly took off with the idea of twins who had CP.
Though I wrote about 90% of We Belong in mid-2016 (before even starting the Disuphere series) I wasn't able to finish the story at that time - with my connection to the disabled community being very new.
But rediscovering the story in early 2020, I suddenly knew exactly how I wanted to finish it. So I wrote the last four chapters almost four years after the fact. But Lexie and Jesse (and Emma, as stated above) were all created back in 2016.
In many ways, Lexie is a young version of me. Her CP mirrors my own and so do her responses to many of the things explored in We Belong. Actually, she has quite a few similarities to Francesca, who you'll meet later.
Jesse's CP (and selective mutism) were modeled after my sister's. I really loved being able to depict two different types of CP in the same story. (Potentially three, if you count Emma's.) And to be able to explore (sometimes) co-existing anxiety disorders, as well.
So my early - mid 30s were a bit of a whirlwind, and a hodgepodge, writing wise. I was struggling to find myself and my own voice. And by midway through 2016, I was beginning to.