In the US, about 74.6 million people have some type of physical disability, so it’s insane to think that there isn’t an entire section devoted to awesome protagonists with unique obstacles to overcome. An article recently released by the Guardian points out the gap in diverse character development in the Hunger Games, in which the children who are poor, malnourished, or otherwise handicapped in some way are ‘are used as cannon fodder, while the few from rich districts have a chance to either reduce their odds or train for a shot at glory’. Transversely,, imagine if in the same YA series how inspiring it would be to the 27 million disabled women in the US if Katniss Everdeen was born with Cerebral Palsy.
We are seeing some improvements in the entertainment industry, and the wild success of Netflix Original Daredevil will hopefully greatly improve the commonality of disabled main characters in movies, TV shows, and books in the future.
Diversity in fiction has become a topic we simply cannot avoid when discussing the future of publishing, and we could not be happier about the awesome movements such as #weneeddiversebooks, that we’ve seen by readers, bloggers, and librarians. We are extremely excited to see more and more variety in our novel submissions over the last year, and in ways that go beyond race and sexuality diversity. One of our recent such releases in Of Pens & Swords by Rena Rocford, a young adult contemporary story of a one-handed girl with a dream to fence in the Olympics, and a giant crush on her friend. If only the classmate she tutors wasn’t blackmailing her and her fencing career.
I took a few minutes to chat with Rocford and learn more about her inspiration for OP&S:
Why did you choose to have her disabled? Why is it important to write characters with disabilities?
When I had the idea for Of Pens and Swords, I kept encountering people who were missing body parts. I met a dancer who was missing a foot from just below the knee. I danced with him and didn’t notice his leg was prosthetic until afterwards when he was adjusting his fake foot. That was a real eye opener for me. It’s important to write characters with disabilities because we have lots of books about people with normal bodies, but not as many stories involving people who have different bodies. When we write stories that don’t include these differences, it’s harder for a person to identify with characters and sometimes this causes barriers to the escape that comes with reading a good book. It seems like everyone deserves to have the same level of escapism as the next person, even if the next person happens to be missing a hand.
If Cyra could speak to readers, what would she say to them about her disability and her passions?
“People always say you need to believe in yourself—and that’s totally true, you need confidence, even when you don’t feel it—but sometimes, even more important than this nebulous belief is straight up stubborn determination. There are always other people out there. There are people who will tell you that the other people out there are more able, more talented, more beautiful, more whatever it is today that people are looking for, and they are ready to tell you you’re not good enough. With me, it was often the elephant in the room. People didn’t want to say they didn’t think I could go the distance because of the shortness of my right arm. But at the end of the day, you have to get up more times than the other person. You have to work harder. You have to put in more. They say battles aren’t won on the battlefield, they’re won in the practice rooms. You never know how much you can do until you’ve done it. Including, but not limited to staying up all night the night before a paper is due.” —Cyra
Your other novel, Acne, Asthma, and Other Signs You Might Be Half-Dragon, is also about a sort of misfit female character with acne and self-confidence issues. Is there a reason you lean more towards these characters? A message you are trying to send?
I love this question because, YES, there is definitely a message I’m trying to send. When I was a kid, there were never any books about kids like me. There were books about boys who were smart. There were books about boys who were great athletes. There were books about skinny girls or girls who wore dresses and fall in love, but none of those were me. It was a constant struggle, and I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me because I wanted to go on a quest with Bilbo Baggins but no girls were invited along. So now, I write stories that I feel like I could have seen myself in when I was that age.
Wow, thank you Rena! In case any of your were wondering, I took the liberty of checking how feasible Cyra’s dream is. I found a list of not 1, not 2, but 11 disabled athletes who were Olympic Competitors! We would love to know what kind of characters you are looking for in fiction, use the hashtag #CQreads on Twitter or Instagram to tag us in answers, or comment down below.
Want to know about more CQ diverse books? Meet these protagonists!
- Josphine DeLune, a 12-yr-old POC who may or may not be a voodoo witch with terrible cooking skills.
- Psychic Mira Tejador, who meets Anthony, an austistic boy who becomes the key to solving a murder
- Madeline, whose epileptic seizures transport her across parallel worlds in an uban fantasy adventure.