Today I’ve invited a dear friend and brilliant author to tackle an issue I see discussed rarely, if at all. She’s one of those people who has never let life get the best of her and I’m more impressed with her every time we talk.
She’s an inspiration to me and I know she’ll inspire you. Meet Eli Hinze!
What are some things you would like the audience to know about you before we get started?
I’d like to establish real quick for the readers out there why you’ve asked me to write an article on disability in fantasy.
First off, I’m a long-time writer, working on a novella and my fourth novel right now, The Stolen Sun and The Immortal, respectively. Having been raised on a healthy diet of fantasy growing up, it’s my favorite genre to write and read.
As for disability, I have a variety of health conditions that make life pretty painful/difficult for me. (If you’re curious, they’re Ehlers-Danlos type 3, dysautonomia, and so forth. We’d be here a while if I tried to list them all!) Over the years I’ve gotten a black belt, published books, graduated university with a degree in international security, and just recently moved back to the States from China.
Because I’ve done all of these different things, I’m quite familiar with people’s judgments, misconceptions, or honest confusions regarding disability. And I’m honored to be here on your blog to share some of them!
Let’s start with the basics: what are the different types of disability?
I’d start by putting disabilities into two categories: visible disability and invisible disability. Visible disabilities are the ones that are readily noticed, such as missing a limb, MS, and so on. Invisible disabilities are those that aren’t as readily seen, because the condition leaves us looking typical on the outside—all while screwing up whatever it may on the inside.
My condition of Ehlers-Danlos, for example, means that my DNA builds all of my connective tissue wrong. For lack of a better term, it’s defective. This causes dislocations, tears, makes me more prone to organ rupture, and so forth. But from the outside, I look fine!
There are many different types of disabilities within these categories, but the above is what I’d most like to highlight.
What are some common misconceptions about disability?
Ugh, where do I start? The misconceptions are endless, but I’ll try to tackle the main ones here.
A big misconception is that people with physical disabilities are treated well—or at least better than those with mental conditions such as mood disorders or learning difficulties. This is flat out untrue, and drives a wedge between the disabled community. People tell us that we’re faking it, we’re not actually hurting, that it’s all a cry for attention, and so on. I’ve even had people push me when I’m using a cane, and not by accident either.
Lastly, there’s this belief that disabilities are too hard to write about, that it’d be improbable to have a disabled character who’d be able to ‘cut it’ in whatever society you’re writing. I’m sorry, but this line of thinking is just defeatist. We have talking animals and magic weapons, but we can’t have ramps or medicinal potions be part of the norm too?
What are the biggest or most common blunders in portraying disability that you’ve seen in Fantasy?
Stop curing us, damn it.
I don’t think people cure their characters out of malice, but rather because they want to make that character ‘normal’, make their lives ‘easier’. I think it’s well-intentioned. But for your readers out there, we see that, and we know it’ll never be our reality. We see that people think we were incorrectly made. Instead, we want to see a world of dragons and elves and cryptids that makes room for us, too. If all those other things can exist in a fantasy realm, why can’t we? Ultimately, people read and write to feel understood and inspired. We just want to be included too.
Another blunder—more so a trope—I see a lot of is the Magic Disabled Person. The blind wizard who’s blindness allows him to ‘see more’ than the normies. The person whose disability came along with powers or a curse. My hope is that I’ll one day see disabled people written as common, unextraordinary folk, the same as any market vendor or scribe. Because if the only disabled person you have is one who’s Magical and Special—and you don’t have a single other disabled person out there, when 1/10th of the population has some sort of disability… you’re divorced from reality, at that point.
Are there any books you’ve read that handle disability well? What are they and what did you like about them?
There’s only one book that comes to mind, and that’s Tower of Dawn. While the author does partly cure the disabled character, she writes his disability well. For me, my health was totally fine until I reached age 20, and then things began to quickly spiral downhill. The character is in a similar position, where he became disabled as opposed to being born with it. A lot of the emotions and experiences he went through, I identified with. It was the first time I’d seen a character go through what I’d experienced myself. She writes him as still being the same capable, smart, and driven person he always was, just this time with a differently abled body. Even when he’s cured, it’s not totally, and he makes peace with his limited mobility.
Aside from that, I sadly can’t think of any other examples.
What is your advice to someone who wants to write about a disability they don’t have?
Do your research. Do your research. Do you think you should do your research? Because, yes, you should definitely DO YOUR RESEARCH.
By ‘research’, I don’t necessarily mean learning the technical ins and outs of the disability. That’s important too, but I’d also encourage you to talk to the actual people who live with it. Even if it’s a rare condition, the internet makes it easy nowadays to connect with and learn from others. Above all you want to be respectful, but a good way to go about it is to simply read a forum or support page for people with the condition.
Again, an example from my life. My primary condition (EDS) is relatively rare. I was the only patient my doctors had ever seen with it—hence why it took my 6 years to get a correct diagnosis—I’ve never met anyone else who’s had it, and most people have never heard of it in their lives. But online? I can connect with other EDSers in an instant from all over the globe. We share tips on how to manage our symptoms on blogs, Facebook pages, Pinterest boards, everywhere you can think of. If there’s a condition you want to write about, I encourage you to get to know the very real people living with it.
Do you have any upcoming projects and where can we find you online?
I have my fourth novel in the works, a standalone book currently titled The Immortal, which is about an anxiety-riddled teenager who’s enlisted by an immortal seeking a way to die. I’m on the second round of edits, and anticipate it’ll be another year or two before I’m ready to start querying it.
I’m also drafting a novella, The Stolen Sun, which is a Mesopotamian fantasy about a young boy and his ailing mother who are enlisted by the sun goddess to put her back in the sky.
I can be found on my blog, Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram. I post excerpts from time-to-time, and detail some of my writing journey as well!
Thank you for joining us today and for being so open! We’ll all be watching for your upcoming work and we can’t wait!