Merry Christmas – Have a present!

Every year I try to find a different way to destroy the Christmas tree. This year I went with short and sweet.

First, have a present!

I realised I’d left my ukulele in the picture by mistake, so then I made this one to captialise on that: my version of a musical Christmas.

If you enjoy these, you might like my YouTube channel, Blow Shit Up!

Go have a blast…

2018 in review

I’ll be mostly offline for the next two weeks, so I’ll post my roundup of 2018 today. I hope your holiday of whatever stripe is lovely, and the start of 2019 exactly as exciting as you’d like it to be.


In terms of fiction, I published one very short story, “Glimmer,” and a book, So Lucky.

So Lucky was an interesting experience. When I finished the first shareable draft last year, I honestly didn’t now what to make of it. All I knew was that I wanted it published as fast as humanly possible. (Why? I’m not entirely sure; it just felt urgent. In one way it is urgent: there is not enough #OwnVoices fiction out there with disabled main characters—see the NYT article for more on this. The huge, yawning hole where our fiction should be pulled at me like a black hole.) I pondered publishing it as a novella, perhaps for Tor—because, hey, there’s a monster! and an invisible dog!—thinking they could get it done fast, but then my Hild editor unexpectedly made an offer to publish it as a novel, and to do it super fast. Seriously. For a book no one was expecting, getting it published, and well published, in less than a year is kind of amazing.

But that speed did have some negative consequences. The main problem was not knowing how to talk about the book. That is, I didn’t know how to talk about my own novel. It wasn’t like anything I’d done before. Every other fiction I’ve ever written has been a focalised heterotopia—it norms the Other through its treatment of the protagonist–but in disability terms So Lucky does not do that. It took me a long time to figure out how to describe it. So the ARC and catalogue copy described it as autobiographical fiction about the struggle with MS, which meant reviewers and buyers approached it with certain expectations which the book doesn’t meet. When one’s personal brand and public conversation don’t match the publishers’ marketing Bad Things Happen. (I talk about this general notion in Branding: It Burns.)

But after a while the book began to speak for itself, and reviews have improved tremendously (my favourite so far came out just two days ago). It’s beginning to get some traction, making a few Best Of lists and getting into some interesting shortlists. I have no idea where it will end up. The whole thing has been an enormous experiment that, on the whole, is going well.

I wrote a few nonfiction pieces, most notably “Rewriting the Old Disability Script” for the New York Times and “Remembering Ursula K Le Guin” for the Seattle Review of Books.

In terms of blog posts I wrote this year, what I suspect will end up having the most lasting impact is the piece for booksellers based on improving your bottom line by making your store and online presence more accessible. It wasn’t the most popular, that was the post about my new wheelchair-accessible minivan, but it will have ripple effects. As “How ableism affects a book review” is already doing.

I also started an irregular series of Reading posts, wherein I talk very briefly about the books (mostly fiction) I’ve been reading. It probably isn’t a coincidence that this year I was also asked to read many books with a view to providing endorsement than usual. That is, I was asked to read about the same number as usual, but a much higher proportion turned out to be books I actually liked well enough to blurb—and I wanted to talk about them.


Considering I had a book published this year, I didn’t do much travelling. This was my choice: I told my publishers No travel except local! We went to Portland and Bellingham and Olympia and Bainbridge Island for the book but most of the stuff I did was right here in Seattle. I also did a few staged conversations with other authors, such as Maria Dahvana Headley and Katrina Carrasco. I enjoy doing these things and helping other writers; I’ll do doing more next  year. Keep a lookout for an event at Elliott Bay bookstore in March, with Sarah Schulman.

We were supposed to go to ICFA this spring but three days before we flew, a family member had a horrible accident that required Kelley’s attention 24/7 for a while. I also had to cancel a Seattle University class for their Creative Writing students. I hate to cancel things, but family comes first.

In April we spent a few days in Columbus where I gave the Ethel Louise Armstrong Lecture at OSU on disability arts and culture. I’d never been to Columbus. I was pleasantly surprised by both the physical access and the food (OSU makes their own smoked salmon, and their own vodka!)—I would totally go back if invited. And in late September Kelley and I got to spend a whole week together, just us (bliss!), on Orcas Island. There is nothing like an entire week of zero obligations, zero social media, and zero traffic or people noise—or any noise except the lap and plash of the water…

Health & Disability

It’s been a complicated year in terms of disability stuff. My health is fine, relatively speaking, but bureaucracy has been seriously tedious.

First of all, health insurance. As self-employed people, Kelley and I pay more in health insurance premiums per month than we do on our house payment (and houses and property tax here in Seattle are expensive). I’d tell you how much a year we spend on health-related costs but I doubt you’d believe it. For that much money you’d think we’d have the Rolls Royce of health plans but, well, no. Our plan limits us to one particular health system, which means I had to lose the internist I’ve been seeing for 22 years and find a new one. Which meant intern-shopping. Wow, there are a lot of doctors out there who essentially cannot practise medicine because they’re so rushed. I saw several in a row before I finally found one I like.

As a result of the limiting health insurance, I also have no physical therapist. I tried a handful who are qualified by this plan and either their style doesn’t work for me or they don’t have the equipment I need. I’ve cobbled together my own exercise regime—including something entirely fun, which I’ll talk about below—but with the loss of PT coinciding with transitioning from crutches to a wheelchair I am a lot less able and mobile than I should be.

Speaking of mobility, another gigantic effort and frustration this year was the wheelchair accessible van. It’s a great van—it’s just that I’m still not licenced to drive it. Why? Because no one will give me lessons. Seriously. There’s not a single driving school in Seattle that will teach me in my own adapted vehicle. I had five lessons in the car used by the University of Washington’s Driving Rebabilitation programme, but then I got the van—and they won’t let me use that. And believe me, driving a gigantic super-heavy vehicle with hand controls is utterly different from tooling about in a little red 2-door Toyota (the car I had when my legs still worked—15 years ago). So I’m feeling frustrated. My tentative plan is that I’ll just go take the test (my options: in Lynwood or Tacoma, because, that’s right, driving schools won’t give you the test in a hand-control vehicle, either), fail, work on what I did wrong, take the test again. Rinse and repeat as often as necessary.

This year Alice Wong and I hosted fewer #CripLit chats, mostly because we both had books coming out and so less time and bandwith for unpaid community-building stuff. Organising a #CripLit can be surprisingly time-consuming. Also, the demise of Storify meant we had to rebuild the #CripLit archives on Wakelet where you can read all the previous chats (though Alice did that, so all kudos to her).

I also wrote a few essays about #CripLit for other outlets, including one about the abysmal rate of disability in literature for the New York Times.


This year I got my first professinal narrator gig: turning So Lucky into an audiobook for Macmillan Audio. I wrote about that here. I loved it! I now want to narrate all my books and short stories. And just for the hell of it, I narrated “Glimmer,” too—which you can listen to for free here.


Late this autumn, as part of my rather haphazard fitness regime, I took up boxing. Amazingly, I found a completely accessible gymn not too far from the house—and a boxing coach, Seth, who also uses a wheelchair.

I love to hit things. The harder and faster the better. The first martial art I studied, karate, was about straight-line strikes with hand, foot, knee, and elbow. Boxing is pretty different. I’m not learning Hoyle’s Rules but street boxing: how in a wheelchair to beat the shit out of anyone who thinks a crip is vulnerable. This is a fucking dream for me: I go to the gym, I hammer the shit out of several different heavy bags while dodging multiple opponents (Seth zooming at me and wacking me with pool noodles) on an obstacle course (orange traffic cones), then we swap tall tales of the fighting crip variety—except, y’know, they’re true—then I go drink beer and eat more than is strictly necessary, eyeing up rowdy people in the bar and thinking, Oh, yep. I could take that one out. Hit here, here, and here. Which is a place I used to live but had left by the wayside. It’s pretty cool re-engaging with old skills and picking up new ones.

It’s been a very long time since I taught self-defence and quite a while since I last started a martial art; I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy it. I’d also forgotten just how exahausting it is to physically go full-tilt—but it’s seriously good for me. I’d also forgotten how fast my arms and back muscle up; none of my t-shirts fit anymore, which is not good for my budget. Some of that, it’s true, is winter podge, but a lot of it is not. Next year (after I’ve bought new clothes, sigh) I’ll be trying to figure out a way to afford (money, time, and energy) to box more often.


So what’s on the docket for next year? One of the things I’m most excited about is giving one of the plenary speeches at a big academic conference in Vancouver, IONA: Early Medieval Studies on the Islands of the North Atlantic transformative networks, skills, theories, and methods for the future of the field. I can’t wait!

Just before that, I’ll be one of the headliners at the Orcas Island Literary Festival. I  love Orcas, I love talking about books, and I love meeting readers—so if you’re in the region I hope you’ll consider coming. And probably a bit before that I’ll be in New York for a few days for something very important to me that I might talk about next year. (And, oh, it’s been a saga…)

I have some summer fun lined up, too, with family.

As I’ve already said, I’ll be doing more boxing. Depending on how other things go, I might also start teaching self-defence again. This time not just for women, but for marginalised groups in general. Given the increased hate out there for some groups I think we need something like this. And if a person in a wheelchair is confident of defending herself, others can be too. But this may take some time to figure out and set up, so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything for a while.

A big goal is to get my fucking driver’s licence. Info on that when I have it.

But my main focus of 2019 will be to finish Menewood, that is, the sequel to Hild. This is one of the biggest, most challenging and thrilling things I’ve ever tackled (I have to keep a spreadsheet of characters; as of yesterday, there are over 200 names). Right now it’s going well.

So 2019 will be busy. Full of interesting—in all senses of the word—people, events, and challenges. My plan, though, is to stay firmly anchored to the joy of life: to spend time out of doors, time with my sweetie, time with family and friends, new and old, as well as getting things done. Because the point of life is life, and what’s life without joy?

Great Grinning Thing

Cascadia has just published a beautiful review essay of So Lucky by Sharma Shields.

There are layers upon layers in So Lucky. It’s a deftly-drawn story, bigger than just a woman fighting a monstrous disease.

It’s also a story about divorce, friendship, disability, community, love.

It’s a story about change and survival, from disease, yes, but also from assault.

It’s a novel that deftly penetrates society’s ableism, the tacit, constant ways we communicate to those with disabilities: ‘You are not whole. You are less.’

It’s even a suspenseful detective story. This subplot doubles as a stunning metaphor for the difficult process of securing a diagnosis: Are you sure what you’re feeling is real? Maybe this is all in your head…

Shields really gets the book: she’s not only an award-winning novelist, she has MS. It makes a sharp difference (compare this review to this one). Once again I’d like to suggest to review editor that, when assigning books for review, choose appropriate critics. The farther an author is from the privileged norm, the more deeply the assigning editor needs to consider the experience, identity, and empathy of the reviewer.

One day this won’t be true, but today, here and now, a nondisabled critic most probably would not have the understanding Shields does of what I’m doing in So Lucky. They would not be able to write this:

So Lucky is a boundless, fearless animal of a novel, made more boundless and fearless by talking so frankly about the ways illness limits us and terrifies us. It’s structurally ingenious and beautifully written, thrumming with breathtaking sentences that evoke in us a sense of deep empathy.

I’ll have more to say about this in the New Year. Meanwhile, go read the review essay. It’s a lovely piece of work.

2018 blog stats

I published a little bit more this year, 75 posts vs. 68, and a couple of new pages. The average word count of each was higher. According to WordPress, about 70,000 people visited the blog, more than last year (which, to be fair, was a huge drop from previous years). I have no real idea how many people actually read each post but I suspect it’s a multiple of the WP figures: more than 2,000 people read by email, a few hundred via the WP feed, and another couple of thousand between three other platforms where the blog reposts automagically.

Most popular
  1. New car: an accessible minivan
  2. Fiction that passes the Fries Test*
  3. How ableism affects a book review
  4. So Lucky
  5. Books about women women don’t win big awards: some data*
  6. Hild*
  7. The Fries Test for disabled characters in fiction*
  8. Huge news: multiple sclerosis is a metabolic disorder*
  9. Booksellers, this one weird trick could increase your bottom line by 25%
  10. Lame is go gay*

I was surprised by the van post taking the top spot. But then I remembered Hacker News picked it up, and BoingBoing, and it made sense. For the first time, more than half of the top ten were perennials (*). With two exceptions, the most popular posts are connected, in one way or other, to disability. The exceptions are posts about literary prize data and Hild

  1. US
  2. UK
  3. Canada
  4. Australia
  5. Germany
  6. France
  7. Sweden
  8. India
  9. Netherlands
  10. New Zealand

The top ten looks very much like last year, except the Netherlands and New Zealand replaced Ireland and Spain.

My visitors came from all over the world: 151 countries. When I looked at the nifty map WP analytics offers, I see that the gaps clump regionally. So for example most of the missing are countries are in Central and Western Africa, three from the Middle East (Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan), and a handful of remote (to me) islands or island nations: Svalbard and Greenland; Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands; and Cuba. The exception? Mongolia.


How do the visitors get here? Like last year, organic search tops Twitter which tops Facebook. But this time, Hacker News and Wikipedia showed up in the top 5. And trailing way, way down the list now, my old Blogger site. I’m still going to leave it up, though, because a lot of stuff here still links to it.


I’m glad that one of the popular spots went to Hild because I suspect you’ll be seeing more Hild-related posts next year. I may be talking less about disability because much of my time right now, and hopefully next year, is being spent in the seventh century. I’m having the best time building Anglo-Saxon settlements, infrastructure, and relationships in my head and on the page–which means at some point I’ll want to talk about it.

In terms of travel and major events I’m expecting a couple of things. So I might talk about those, too. As always, we’ll see. The only thing I know for sure is that plans always change…

So Lucky and the 2019 Tournament of Books

The Tournament of Books is a crazy and brilliant way to revel in books and, more particularly, the thrill of talking about books and rooting for books and cheering yourself hoarse for  your champions. And So Lucky is on the 2019 shortlist.

Each weekday in March, two of the books on the shortlist below will be read and considered by one of our judges, also listed below. One book from the match will be chosen to advance, with the judge explaining in detail how they came to their decision. Then the judge’s decision is evaluated first by our official commentators, then by you, the commentariat, wherein you politely and respectfully resist going bananas. And the next day we do it all over again, as March gallops on, until one book wins our award, the Rooster, and we all settle down for a long nap.

The madness begins in March. Plenty of time to go read all those faaaabulous books and buy your facepaint!

One corner of Seattle

We bought this house 14 years ago for its peace. We’re right on the edge of a ravine that runs down to Carkeek Park and Puget Sound. When we first moved in, all you could hear was birds and the wind in the trees. Lately, though, with the city’s change in zoning to permit more density, there are times when the only sound is construction: bulldozers flattening single family homes, chainsaws as they take out trees, concrete mixers as they pour foundations for three megahouses where once there was a single-story rambler. Hammering, sawing, the whine and thump of compressors and nail guns. But then there are those blissful days when all the construction falls silent and, once again, all you can hear is birds. Well, that and distant traffic (it is a city). But mainly birds.

This morning, after a later-than-usual breakfast over the usual miserable political crap in the news, I was recycling the newspaper on our back deck—and was struck by the loveliness of the day. The world was wet and grey, and most of the flowers on the deck are now just half-naked sticks in baskets, but it smelled fresh and full of life. And there were birds flitting everywhere: robins, tits, Stellar’s Jay, crows, a flicker, juncos, a hummingbird, and a couple of warblers. Right outside my back door. I forgot all the political crap and just breathed, and listened, and smiled. So just in case you, too, had a miserable start to the day, here’s what real life sounded like today at 9:30 a.m. in one corner of Seattle.

#CripLit: Fabulous New YA and MG Fiction, Sunday 12/09, 1pm Pacific

Image description: Rectangular graphic with a white background and black text that reads “#CripLit TwitterChat New YA and MG Fiction, December 9, 2018, 1 pm Pacific/ 2 pm Mountain/ 3 pm Central/ 4 pm Eastern, Guest hosts @mariekeyn and @brigityoung. Details: or” On the left is an illustration of a girl reading lying down, and on the right a pile of books. Both illustrations in colour.

#CripLit Twitter Chat
Disability & Fabulous New YA and MG Fiction
Sunday, December 9, 2018
1 pm Pacific/ 4 pm Eastern

You are invited to the fifteenth #CripLit chat co-hosted by novelist Nicola Griffith, and Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project®. We are delighted to have Marieke Nijkamp and Brigit Young join us in a conversation about writing, disability, and new Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction. Marieke is the editor of the YA short story anthology, Unbroken, and Brigit is the author of Worth a Thousand Words, a new Middle Grade novel. We look forward to learning more about these great books—just in time for holiday shopping season!

Please note: This chat begins 3 hours earlier than our usual start time to take into account of the time difference between Europe and North America. Set your alarms and/or reminders; you don’t want to miss it!

Also note: these questions are for everyone. Our hope is that we can all self-promote a little and perhaps give eager readers ideas for gift-giving—or to ask their library to order or independent bookstore to stock. We want to hear about all the marvellous #CripLit out there!

Additional Links
How to Participate

Follow @DisVisibility @nicolaz @mariekeyn and @brigityoung on Twitter for updates.

When it’s time, search #CripLit on Twitter for the series of live tweets under the ‘Latest’ tab for the full conversation.

If you might be overwhelmed by the volume of tweets and only want to see the chat’s questions so you can respond to them, check @DisVisibility’s account. Each question will tweeted 5 minutes apart.

Another way to participate in the chat is to use this app that allows you to pause the chat if the Tweets are coming at you too fast:

Here’s an article about how to participate in a Twitter chat:

Check out this captioned #ASL explanation of how to participate in a chat by @behearddc

Introductory Tweets and Questions for 12/09 Chat

Welcome to the #CripLit chat on Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction. This chat is co-hosted by @nicolaz & @disvisibility. We also have guest hosts @mariekeyn and @brigityoung joining us today. Please remember to use the #CripLit hashtag when you tweet.

If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripLit”

Q1 Roll call! Please introduce yourself and your work. Tell us a little about your journey to writing or editing fiction with disabled characters for young adults and children, and share any links to your work. #CripLit

Q2 Tell us what draws you to writing or editing fiction for young adults and children: What are its joys? Why is it so important? #CripLit

Q3 Do you think you have a substantial number of adult readers, too? Does that make a difference to what and how you write or edit? #CripLit

Q4 What are some writing challenges you have faced creating or editing disabled characters in YA/KidLit? What kind of disabled characters are missing from YA/Kidlit? CripLit

Q5 What are some great disabled characters or storylines in YA/KidLit? What are some problematic ones? #CripLit

The winter holidays are a great time to give books as gifts, or to borrow them from the library. We want you to self-promote a little here, as well as promote others. #CripLit

So if you’ve written a great book or short story—or more than one—we want to hear about them! Please include buy links or other useful information. #CripLit

Q6 Tell us about the best piece of fiction with disabled characters you’ve ever written or edited—published or not. Why would we love it? How can we read or listen to it? #CripLit

Q7 Who are some disabled writers and editors currently killing it in YA/KidLit? Which of their books should we know about and support? #CripLit

Q8 How far have we come in writing and publishing disabled stories for YA/Kidlit? What do you want to see in the future? #CripLit

Thank you for joining our #CripLit chat. Please continue the conversation! Many thanks to guest hosts @mariekeyn and @brigityoung!

A recap of this chat will be up tomorrow. Check the #CripLit hashtag. Feel free to contact @DisVisibility and @nicolaz with any ideas/feedback 😀