Writing Kickass Disabled Heroines (and Heroes)

Disabled Protagonist PanelThis is a great pic of our panel, at RT Convention, on writing disabled characters. From left to right, that’s Sassy Outwater, me, Megan Hart, Damon Suede, Tessa Dare and Linnea Sinclair.

Sassy, who is a passionate activist for accessibility for the disabled put together this panel, inviting authors with books she’d read that she felt portrayed disabled characters in strong, positive ways – sexy ones, even. I tweeted about the panel (NATURALLY) and Carla Richards (@carlarichards) asked me to relay some of our high points.

Of course, this was over a month ago and it *feels* like years ago, but…

We started with introductions and each author discussed the books and characters Sassy had selected. We talked about why we “chose” those characters – sometimes they choose us – and what their various disabilities had to do with the stories themselves.

 The thing about a really good panel is I learn so much from my fellow panelists. I loved hearing about other people’s stories. I’d read – and loved, loved, loved – Megan Hart’s BROKEN, about a woman whose husband suffers an accident and becomes quadriplegic. Damon Suede talked about his characters with PTSD and another with severe injuries. Tessa Dare writes of the impact of chronic diseases in her historical romances, such as the complications of negative rH factor on pregnancies in that era. Linnea has a deaf hero and another with cybernetic prosthetic limbs, following an accident.

I always feel like the non-dramatic one in this context. In fact, I wouldn’t call my heroine in PLATINUM disabled at all, but Sassy insists that’s why she’s a great example. My heroine Althea is albino. This was my follow-up to SAPPHIRE and I was playing with the impact of color in stories. I knew I wanted the book to be about a metal sculptor and the images of white-platinum. I wanted a heroine with that coloring – and for him to be attracted to her for that reason.

As I read up on what it’s like to be albino – and this was one of the questions for the panel, how we did our research. I did mine by reading an albino girl’s blog where she journaled very frankly about her condition – and discovered many things I hadn’t known. The tremendously increased incidence of skin cancers and, very interestingly, poor eyesight. This dovetailed perfectly with my heroine because I wanted her to be a failed artist. I tied in her difficulty with fine vision to her inability to paint the delicate watercolors she felt compelled by her culture to create. In the end, through her love affair with the sculptor, she finds other ways to express herself.

So, there’s a couple of key factors here, that arose over and over in the panel. I’ll try to encapsulate them.

  1. The disability was always a key part of who the person is. It shapes their lives, their outlook, what they can and cannot do, how other people treat them. We all agreed that the syndrome of having a character with a disability that doesn’t actually give them problems is weak writing.
  2. None of us had “magic fixes” for our disabled characters. They all had the same (or worsening) disability at the end of the story as at the beginning. The stories were never about curing the person, but about how they lived with it and achieved their goals.
  3. For most of us, the person was loved in part because of who they became as a result of the disability. Their loves appreciated their inner strength, their struggles, their joy in what they were able to do, and took part in that journey. In several cases – like mine – the disability contributed to their particular attractiveness.
  4. Sometimes the plot, the internal and external conflicts, hinged around dealing with the disability. Sometimes it was a subplot. Sometimes it didn’t matter to the conflict much at all. This is key because for all of us the STORY mattered, not expounding on the disability.
  5. Everyone agreed that doing research is key. Sassy, in particular, emphasized that most people dealing with disabilities are delighted to answer honest, heartfelt questions about what their lives are like. They’d much rather give good information than see nonsense perpetuated in fiction.

For those who were there, anything I forgot to mention? Or do you all have other additions or questions?

All in all, it was a terrific panel that I’d love to see again. Big-brimmed hat’s off to Sassy for organizing. Speaking of which, she’s in the hospital right now recuperating from brain surgery to remove tumors. (Yes, related to the blindness.) She can use all the positive thoughts she can get, so send them her way!



Please Say Hi

File Jun 02, 9 52 00 AMAnother pic from the RT Convention. This was an amazingly lovely and delicious dinner organized (and chauffeured) by Alexandra Haughton. Also attending were lovely friends Carolyn Crane, Tamsen Parker and Megan Mulry. Love my writer friends! Spending time talking with them is one of my favorite things about conventions.

But so is meeting readers.

Which I’m not sure readers understand. This morning I saw a Facebook post from a reader who’s become a friend. She attended RT for the first time this year and commented that she came back with far fewer pics of her with authors than she’d thought – mainly because she hesitated to ask to take photos with them. She and I had lunch at the convention and she’d asked then what the etiquette was for approaching authors, asking for autographs, photos, etc. Apparently there was a newbie session where people outlined “The Rules” for this. It made me think of a time that a gal pinged me online and said we’d ridden in an elevator together and she’d been excited, but didn’t introduce herself because she wasn’t sure if she should.

Both of these things kind of hurt my heart.

Naturally I don’t – and can’t – speak for all authors, but the primary reason I go to reader conventions is to MEET READERS. I *want* readers to say hi, to ask for my signature, to have their picture taken with me. It’s flattering as all hell that anyone would want to. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m in a public space, I’m available to be approached. Maybe don’t stalk me to my room, because everyone knows that’s creepy which is why no reasonable person would do it, but otherwise PLEASE SAY HI.

Which brings me to another kind of weird thing that happened to me at RT. Several times, in fact. I should preface this with saying that I’m not good at faces. I don’t know why, but that’s always been the case. I’m the person at the table who has no idea what our waitress looks like. I remember names reasonably well and can associate them with Twitter handles and even bits of personal history, but I am terrible at recognizing people. Which means I sometimes introduce myself to people multiple times.

I’m sorry. I really am.

Still, I’d rather re-introduce myself than have no idea who a person is. So, I often use the gambit of saying, “Hi, I’m Jeffe Kennedy,” offering my hand to shake, which usually prompts people to either a) introduce themselves in turn, or b) tell me that we’ve met before. Both responses are equally good and, when I inevitably apologize for the latter, it’s almost always just fine by them.

But this year I seemed to have crossed some threshold where I got a different response, always from other writers. I bet it happened three or four times, maybe more. I introduced myself and they said, “Oh, I know.”

It was really disconcerting.

In one case, the other gal actually rolled her eyes. In all of them, it wasn’t said in a happy, excited-to-meet-you way.

On the one hand, this bothered me because in every case, I never found out who the other person was, at least not immediately. On the other… I dunno. It kind of hurt my feelings. I mean, the implication of was that of course everyone knows who I am, right? Which is so not true. It’s lovely to be recognized, but far from everyone does. Besides, assuming everyone knows who I am would be unforgivably egotistical, wouldn’t it?

This bothered me enough that, when I got home, I emailed an author friend who’s WAY more famous than I am to ask if this had ever happened to her. And she said it had, many times. It hurt her feelings, too.

I’m still not sure of the take-home message here. I mostly wanted to put this out there. Being recognized for achievements can be a weird thing because I think most of us still feel like the same person inside. I’m the gal who works from home, Tweets too much, hangs out with cats more than people, and interfaces with a keyboard all day. And who never knows which one is our waitress. I don’t feel like a particularly special person. At a conference, I want to meet other writers. I want to meet readers, bloggers, reviewers, industry folks. That’s why I go – to talk to people.

So… this might have been a little ranty. Am I wrong here? What should I say when this happens?

All The Things! #RT15 Bound

UnderContractYesterday I revealed the cover for UNDER CONTRACT, the third book in my FALLING UNDER series. I’m really loving this one – particularly because this is exactly how I picture my Los Angeles heroine, Celestina Sala. I had the idea/fantasy of this book a long time ago, but when it came to writing it, the execution was not easy. Early reader reports are that I got the power balance and compliance questions just right. Such a relief!

The kinkier the sex, the higher the price tag…

Ryan Black has admired Celestina Sala from afar for years, her lush body and sensual nature calling to the dominant in him. For just as many years, Celestina was off-limits—married, proud and self-sufficient. But all that has changed, and now Celestina is in debt and in need…and available. Ryan proposes a contract: he’ll pay off her debt if she gives herself to him in bed, yielding control in exchange for the pain and pleasure he’ll bring them both. 

There are words for women who take money for sex, and none of them are nice ones. Celestina never thought she’d have to sink this low, but giving up control sounds more enticing than ever before. And suddenly it’s not about having to give in to Ryan. It’s about wanting to. 

But when Ryan’s dark past comes to light, they may both be in over their heads. The terms of his contract say her body is his…but her heart may be another story.

One thing is for sure—now that Ryan has Celestina, he can never let her go.

This week I’m prepping to leave for the RT Booklovers Convention and, speaking of delicate execution of consent issues, one of the many, many (oh, so many!) things I’ll be doing there is giving a craft workshop on Walking the Line of Consent. I’ve given that workshop online before, but it should be very interesting to do in person.

You can see all of my appearances here. Not on that list is the Giant Book Fair on Saturday, May 16. It runs from 11 to 2 and is open to the public! So, even if you’re not going to the convention, you can still come by the fair! There will be TONS of authors signing both your keeper books and ones for sale. There will be maps, so you can find specific authors easily – including me! If you’re in the Dallas area, come on by and visit. I’ll have prezzies to give away. 🙂

See you in Dallas, I hope!

The Power of Heels!

shiny shoesI don’t think I ever showed you all the shoes I bought while I was in Florida with Megan Mulry. She took me consignment shopping in Boynton Beach and I found these totally awesome shoes. This is the correct terminology because they do harken back to the 80s. And they absolutely match the dress I plan to wear to the RT Awards Ceremony. Just wait – this is going to be an amazing outfit.

If I do say so.

While I don’t deduct this sort of thing, I consider purchases like this part of my marketing. As an author, my image is part of my brand – particularly for me, with the hats and whatnot – and fancy heels fit right into that. I like high heels. Pretty much always have, as does my mother. She even taught me to walk in them, which I’ve discovered not that many mothers do. (How can this be??) It works out for me because this brand image is very organic to who I am, which I believe is how brands should be. Otherwise they’re too difficult to sustain.

At any rate, that’s how it’s evolved for me – I love high heels, I wear them, people associate me with high heels, I buy and wear more of them. I would call it a vicious cycle, but it’s a joyful one. Why don’t we have a term for a positive feedback loop like this?


(Actually, the one small drawback is the shock and consternation when I *don’t* wear heels. Recently I screwed up my knee. Not the one I had surgery on twenty years ago – the GOOD knee! Jackson the Ornery Cat escaped out the back and was headed over the secret garden wall. This is bad because we can’t let him run or the coyotes will get him and he LOVES the game of having people chase him. We can easily burn an hour trying to recapture him. Great fun for Jackson, aggravating as hell for the humans who WORK. So, I chase him, he does a switchback. I manage to grab his tail, misstep and fall with all my weight onto one knee. On a freaking rock. Peoples – it hurt so bad! It’s finally healing up, but it will be two weeks tomorrow. Can’t run. No treadmill desk. No high heels. Last Saturday at my LERA meeting, people kept looking *down* at me in shock and consternation, suddenly discovering I’m actually a rather short 5’4″, instead of my usual graceful 5’8″. *sigh*)

So, anyway, I always figured it’s a me-thing, wearing high heels. They make me feel sexy and powerful. (And tall.) Well, guess what?

Turns out, it’s a REAL THING.

One of David’s patients brought him this article to give to me. (Which, if you think about it, is terribly amusing right there – that my husband’s patients know me for my high heels!) The upshot is that these researchers in France (OF COURSE) conducted a study of how high heels affected the behavior of other people. They found that the higher the heel, the more likely a woman was to receive what she requested. Power, people!

Turns out my mom knew what she was doing. 🙂