Emma Crees, Courtney Gilfillian, and s.e. smith review SAY WHAT YOU WILL

Emma CreesEmma Crees is 32 and lives in Oxfordshire, UK. A life long wheelchair user she’s passionate about all things disability and can often be found online ranting about this. If she’s not ranting about disability she’s probably talking about books or writing. All of this and more is on her blog, A Writer In A Wheelchair, or on her twitter account @FunkyFairy22. When Emma isn’t online she can often be found knitting, sailing or volunteering.

Courtney GilfillianCourtney Gilfillian lives, writes, and works in New York City. She is constantly on the hunt for a good cocktail, the best pancakes in the city, and most of all a good book. Find her on Twitter at @whitegirlbkcvrs and at her blog about diversity in YA lit.

s.e.smiths.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California, with a journalistic focus on social issues, particularly gender, prison reform, disability rights, environmental justice, queerness, class, and the intersections thereof, with a special interest in rural subjects. International publication credits include work for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, and AlterNet, among many other news outlets and magazines. smith’s writing on representations of disability in science fiction and fantasy was recently featured in The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 7. Assisted by cats Loki and Leila, smith lives in Fort Bragg, California. You can follow s.e. on Twitter, ou personal site, Goodreads, and lots of other exciting places online.

Today, we’re hosting a discussion of Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern (titled Amy and Matthew in the UK). Our participants were Emma Crees, Courtney Gilfillian, and s.e. smith, who discussed the portrayal of both main characters’ disabilities–cerebral palsy and OCD–as well as several other disability-related issues that came up in the book.

Please note–this discussion contains spoilers.


John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern’s insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.

Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can’t walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized.

When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other’s lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.

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Christyna Hunter: Define Me … If You Dare!

Christyna HunterDespite being born with a disability, Christyna Hunter has surpassed all perilous predictions. She graduated from college where a friend introduced her to romance novels, started a freelance writing career, self-published two romance novels, and worked at a non-profit organization. Currently she works as a library associate with Loudoun County Public Libraries in Virginia, reads romance novels in her free time, and prays often to her writing muse. You can find more pieces by Christyna Hunter at Public Libraries Online.

“So, do you have MS or Parkinson’s?”

I glance over at the woman who I am helping. I straighten up from bending over a change machine, trying to coax a stubborn, bedraggled dollar bill into the feeder for the fifth time. My hands slightly tremble from frustration and my disability. There are happy, chatting children around us so I raise my voice just a bit to answer, “No. I have a mild form of cerebral palsy.”

She smiles. “Oh, and what do you contribute to the fact that you are doing so well?”

What a pleasant question. Folks often don’t ask questions of me and my disability. I am sure there are several reasons why. But I honestly don’t mind talking about it. The disability has shaped my life just the way being an only child has or being a writer.

“Well, I did have lots of physical therapy as a child.” In addition, I was taught to type on a big, fat, electronic blue typewriter—before there were computers— when I was nine years old. I was also in Special Olympics, Special Education for both second and third grades and adaptive P.E. But I don’t give all of those details. TMI for a stranger.

The woman, probably in her 60s with obviously colored hair and an angelic face, responds, “I hope you know God can save you.”

Angelic, my ass.

As I helped her complete her transaction, I just nodded and “hmmm”ed a lot as she continued to tell me that God could save me and that she would pray for me. I don’t ever recall the need throughout my life to be “saved.”

After this incident, I recalled one many years ago, probably in my early 20s, where I was explaining to a new acquaintance about my disability. She told me, point blank, “You’re not disabled. You’re not in a wheelchair.” So I had no right to use such a word as disability to talk about myself.

Another incident. Also in my 20s. I went to a non-profit organization to get career assessment guidance. The career guidance counselor’s stellar advice? Tell any prospective employers that I had a disability as soon as I talked to them because my voice “made me sound retarded.” (Note, I learned later on as I was researching a college paper about the Americans with Disabilities Act that the counselor’s advice was pretty much the wrong thing to do.)

Finally, I was doing group work in college and one day the group members started talking about life goals, desires, wishes, etc. I shared that at a young age I really wanted to be a dancer. It took many years and some hard knocks, but I accepted that I would never be a dancer. The CP disturbs my balance and muscle control thereby interrupting any graceful pirouette or a quick two-step. When a girl in the group who happened to be in a wheelchair shared her life dreams, she was sure to look directly at me when she said, “And I can do anything I want to. Nothing stops me!”

What, is this a competition?

After college graduation, I decided I was going to write a romance novel. A friend of mine got me hooked on reading the genre and she later commented that I should write one. Sure! Why not? Piece of cake…


My heroine had a spinal cord injury and so I spent years doing research, asking questions, fine tuning her background. I also researched the genre and writing itself. In the process, an early draft was sent to an editor who had a very interesting response.

I’m truly sorry to disagree. But no one mocks people in wheelchairs. My sister contracted polio at the age of 5. She went from a wheelchair to crutches to leg braces. No one mocked her, especially her classmates.

Great. That is a lovely story and it’s great to know bullying and harassment was not a factor in this person’s life. But that does not cover every person’s life. It was a factor in my character’s life—and mine—so to downplay it, to define it by someone else’s life, is wrong. In 2005 I published The Butterfly’s Dance, bullying teens and all!

After almost 40 years and many more stories like the ones above, I have learned that I have to make my own definition. I live in this body; I know when I have good days and bad days. A task can be easy for me one day and difficult the next. I have learned there are just some things I have to ask help with to do. And my dreams have morphed into others. I have been to college, had a couple of jobs, been a supervisor, written dozens of freelance articles and a couple of self-published novels. I have to accumulate all the data from these varying experiences and use them to define myself. Otherwise, others will do it for me.

All you writers out there, keep this in mind. Disability can be defined by a quick search on Google. There can be a number of websites that give definitions and examples of a myriad of disabilities and medical issues. And after finding all that data, mostly forget it. Because creating a character with a disability begins with the person. Define your character first. I dare ya!

J.B. Redmond: What You See … And What You Don’t See

JB RedmondJB Redmond lives on a farm in western Kentucky, happily inhabiting his man-cave. The cave is filled with Harry Potter memorabilia, along with posters, models, and even costumes from Highlander (all movies, all show years), Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Twilight.  A full-sized suit of armour stands next to his water cooler, and it absolutely will freak you out if you walk through the cave late at night. His movie collection is at 600 and counting, never mind the endless audiobooks on his iPod. He spends most of his time writing, listening to music, watching movies and series he enjoys, listening to books, dreaming up new story ideas, chasing dogs and cats out of the cave, drinking coffee, and listening to the parrot whistle Andy Griffith. Being a published author was his lifelong dream, fulfilled in 2009. He looks forward to more successes in his bright future.

My name is JB Redmond.

Look for me in my man-cave, way out in the countryside of Kentucky.

I’m 29 years old. I was born about 60 days before I was due, and the fourth day I was alive, I suffered a massive stroke. No one knew if I would walk or talk, or be able to do anything for myself at all. I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and then with autistic features, and when I was four years old, I could only say seven words. I was scheduled to start school in a self-contained special education classroom designed for children who would likely be fully dependent for the rest of their lives.

Then, a lot of things changed. I learned to talk. I learned to talk so much that my mom threatened to sue the hospital that told her I would be non-verbal, so they would have to take out my vocal cords before her ears fell off. I didn’t talk very plainly, and still don’t, due to dysarthria–­but I would hold my own in an Olympic chattering event.

I have never able to walk, my muscles are weak, I have rods in my back, I have wounds on my feet that won’t heal, I have seizures, and I’m legally blind. I’m telling you this because if you meet me, these are the first things you’ll see. You won’t be able to help it, and I won’t get mad at you for that. I’ll roll up to you in an electric chair, extend a hand that won’t hold itself quite straight, and say hello with slightly slurred speech. I might be looking a little to your left, too, because my eyes don’t always cooperate. We’ll be polite to each other. If you can’t speak a few phrases in Klingon, have never tried to cast one of the spells in the Harry Potter books, and haven’t wondered at least once what it would be like to be a vampire or a dragon, then we might not have much in common. If, however, you can point to the desert world of Arrakis on a map of the universe, confidently sketch a photon torpedo (dorsal view), or prove fluency in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men, we might be headed to lunch. If you spell Neil Gaiman’s name correctly, and you can do a dramatic reenactment of any chapter in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I’ll even buy. “I’m a hard nut to crack, and I take it standing up,” or at least sitting straight and rolling fast.

What you won’t be able to see when you first meet me is this: I’m a published author. I read all the time­–though in my case, the proper term would be “listen” since I read by audiobook–­and I write all the time, too. I dictate, using an old-fashioned cassette recorder, and my mother types up my finished drafts.

Obviously, I most enjoy science fiction and fantasy, but I’ve never found too many disabled characters in the books I enjoy, unless they’re villains or buffoons. In fantasy, disability tends to equate with evil or sainthood, and that gets seriously old, very quickly. In science fiction, disability usually gets cured by technology, genetic manipulation, robotic implants or exoskeletons, or advanced surgical techniques and medicines. Disability never seems to be okay, or allowed to exist in futuristic worlds, unless they’re dystopian. Recently, I was thrilled to see the movie Battleship, in which the character Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (an Army veteran and double amputee), played by Gregory Gadson, has a realistic disability. The solution is equally real-life, his prosthetic legs, and his struggles felt both very real and very personal to me. Best of all, he wasn’t a character to be pitied, and he didn’t see himself as weak or ineffectual. Neither do I. And I hope to see more characters like this in both books and film, played by people who face the challenges in real life (don’t get me started on using able-bodied actors to play people with disabilities).

As for me and my writing, I began telling stories just as soon as I learned to talk (please reference the bit about my mother’s ears falling off). My body couldn’t play, so I focused on creating worlds and universes and characters and stories, and that was how I coped with not being able to do things like other people my age could do. I remember telling stories to my family and friends on long trips, and I particularly loved entertaining much older relatives like my great uncle. They seemed to listen better, and to enjoy the stories even more. When I got older, I began using a cassette recorder to dictate, and that’s how I wrote my portions of Oathbreaker: Assassin’s Apprentice and Oathbreaker, Prince Among Killers (Bloomsbury, 2009).

Co-authoring these books with my mother Susan Vaught was one of the greatest achievements of my life. Having novels published built my confidence, and I’m working on several more fantasy tales–­this time solo! I still use cassette dictation, because voice recognition software can’t yet handle my dysarthria. Also, I can’t edit the text myself, due to my visual and motor problems. Dictating works better, but it’s getting harder and harder to find traditional cassette recorders and microphones. I may have to learn digital dictation soon (Boo! Hiss!). We could do a whole topic on BETTER ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY PLEASE, and while I’m at it, why can’t all stories automatically get audio versions? Because I’m totally sick of getting into a series, then having the last few books be print only.

The most wonderful thing about words and writing and stories is, there are no limits. I don’t plan to limit myself in any way with what I write, or how high I reach in my goals.

My name is JB Redmond.

Look for me in the hinterlands of Kentucky–­or on the shelves of your local bookstores, all over this country, and all over this world, and out of it, too.

Cover for OATHBREAKERAn assassin legally kidnaps a terrified boy.

A ruling lord orders an atrocity so devastating it changes the course of history.

So begins this epic tale of love, trust, and betrayal, in which two boys must put aside their childhood understanding of their treacherous world and accept their own incredible power to make a difference.

“A complex and original fantasy…” – Kirkus Reviews

“Excellent piece of high fantasy… None of the characters are cardboard cutouts of fantasy archetypes; they are richly drawn, compelling, and unique…” – VOYA

“This novel is best suited to voracious fantasy readers eager to devour another story of an unlikely hero caught up in an epic adventure.” – School Library Journal