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 😀

Signed, personalised books

I’m teaming up with a new bookshop, Phinney Books, on Greenwood Avenue, Seattle to bring you signed books. Why Phinney Books? Well, because it’s right next door to the pub! Which makes it massively, convivially convenient for me.

Here’s how it works.

  • Email (phone is okay: 206 297 2665) with billing info: all major credit cards accepted. They use Square, so they’ll also need the 3-digit code on the back and your billing postal code.
  • Tell them what you’d like, e.g. Hild (paperback or hardcover or audio CD) or another of my books. (See below.) Or, hey, another book by somebody else—lots of books, any books! Without book sales, bookshops don’t survive. Without bookshops, publishers have no market. If there’s no market, publishers don’t publish. Which means people like me starve and you have nothing to read. So splurge!
  • Tell them whether you want the books by me personalised (to you, or to someone else; if so, whom; and what short thing—short is easy; long might be ignored—you’d like me to add). If you give this order by phone, please spell out even the most common names.
  • Give them your mailing address and payment info.
  • Beam, sit back and relax: you’ve done your shopping!

Tom, the owner, tells me domestic shipping by media mail costs $3 for one book. He is happy to ship multiple copies, to ship internationally, and to ship express/priority, but then there will be extra charges you will have to work out with him.

Go for it. I’ll do my best to mostly sign your books before I go to the pub, which means everything will be spelled right. Mostly…


My books (all paperback unless otherwise noted):


So Lucky (in stock)
Hild (in stock)
Hild (audio CD, special order)
StayAud II (out of stock)
The Blue Place, Aud I (out of stock)
Slow River (in stock)
Ammonite (in stock)
AlwaysAud III (out of stock)

With Her Body (in stock)

And Now We Are Going to Have a Party (collector’s boxed set, in stock)

Please Note:

  1. The Hild audio CD has to be ordered. Allow some time.
  2. Assuming the audio CD comes shrink-wrapped, I’d have to open the wrap to sign, so do please be aware of that.
  3. The memoir is available in seriously limited quantities. It also is shrink-wrapped. However, all are already signed (on the back of the photo inside), so you’d get that pristine. Unless you want it personalised…

Reading October/November

This time it’s mostly adult fiction with a couple of YA novels, and two disability-related nonfiction titles. Many of these books are either just-published or scheduled for early next year. For those I recommend but that are not yet published I’ve added the month of publication to make it easier for you to preorder.

As usual I started many, many more than I finished because life is too short to waste on crap books. These are a few that I got through.

Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield (Dec 2018)

Beautifully moody gothic set in what is probably the nineteenth century, with an omniscient narration which functions as an old-fashioned storyteller’s voice. It begins with the classic dark and stormy night: at an ancient inn, regulars settle by the fire to tell stories. But they are interrupted by the arrival of badly injured man holding a dead girl. Only the girl doesn’t stay dead… Setterfield captures the scent and ancient power of an old river in a landscape steeped in legend. This is history as a haunting, a crossover from superstition to science and back. Here, nature—what we can explain and what we don’t—is the main character with other characters feeling a little less sharp. I enjoyed it, mostly. But here’s the thing: I read it a couple of months ago and I don’t really remember the ending. That is, I don’t remember the heart, the how and why of the mystery. Which to me indicates a certain privileging of atmosphere over substance. So worth reading, I think, but a bit disappointing.

Elmet, Fiona Mozley (2017)

Like the Setterfield, this is a beautifully moody book but set on my home turf: the woods of Yorkshire today. It reminded me very much of Sarah Hall’s work: fine prose, an emphasis on landscape, and a curiously old-fashioned feel. Perhaps it’s the emphasis on the land, perhaps it’s the focus on the body in that land and how the two interact. But I don’t think so. I think it’s more that there are no cellphones, and all the needs are primal: food, shelter, sex, and belonging rather than the quotidian anxieties of 21st century life. None of the characters consider their education, or health, or insurance, or pensions. There’s more than a hint  of the supernatural but, again, it feels nature-based. The young woman at the heart of the story is strong, physically and emotionally, but in the end she suffers the fate of many strong women in modern fiction: she chooses to sacrifice herself to save her loved ones. At least she takes others out with her.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon (February 2019)

The Priory of the Orange Tree is the Platonic Ideal of a fantasy novel. A rich and stirring tale of magic and queens, swords and dragons, assassins and sorcerers, it’s thronged with women: strong women and queer women, gorgeous women and powerful women, brilliant women and dangerous women. Men, too, of course. It’s a beautifully written story of good and evil, struggle and triumph, love and loss and return: complex but clear and utterly immersive. I loved this book. Go buy it.

Resistance and Hope, ed Alice Wong (2018)

17 essays from an incredibly diverse set of contributors which can be summed up as crip wisdom for the people: all people. Editor Alice Wong (my partner and co-host for #CripLit) began to put this anthology together right after the 2016 election when it became clear the US was in for a tough few years, especially for those of us who are marginalised, or doubly marginalised, or triply—or more. The powerful and power-hungry always come for the most vulnerable first, and disabled people have always been the most vulnerable. But we have learned many coping strategies over the millennia. Here are some of them.

(Don’t) Call me Crazy, ed  Kelly Jensen (2018)

Subject of a recent Twitter chat (read the archive of that chat here). A marvellous nonfiction anthology of short pieces for YA readers about mental health with contributions from disability activists, writers, and those who are well-known in other walks of life: an actress, an Olympic medallist, and so on. Some of these pieces are hard to read, some are not. But all are worth reading, and all are clear and useful. Recommended for every teenager and young adult.

The Migration, Helen Marshall (March 2019)

This first novel (Marshall has published two award-winning collections of short fiction) has a lot in common with both the Setterfield and the Mozley, but in the end it’s more satisfying: clearer, cleaner, and much more hopeful. It follows two Canadian sisters who, after the younger is diagnosed with JI2—a strange new syndrome that appears to be a juvenile hormone-related immune disorder—move with their mother back to her roots in Oxford, UK. They move in with the mother’s sister who is a medievalist researching historical plagues like the Black Death and the plague of Justinian. As JI2 spreads and young people start to die, a series of unusual weather events reminds the aunt of events that preceded the Black Death. Rumours begin to circulate that those who die of JI2 don’t really die—but they are either cremated or spirited away for research so no one knows for sure. And then the younger sister dies, and the older sister, just diagnosed, has to make some excruciating choices.

It’s difficult to capture this novel in a single paragraph. It has echoes of Quatermass and the Pit, of the cosy catastrophes of John Wyndham, and the its-in-the-genes sweeping human change of Naomi Alderman’s The Power. It uses one of the oldest SF/F tropes there is, metamorphosis, to create a clear-eyed, clean-limbed parable of change which itself becomes a blazing emblem of the transcendent power of hope. If you worry about climate change and worry about young people today, read this book.

The Devil Aspect, Craig Russell (2019)

A historical psycho (psychology, psychotherapy, psychokiller) novel with Jack the Ripper overtones set in 1930s Czechoslovakia, complete with the threat of fascism and a louring ancient castle and torch-and-pitchfork-ready peasantry. Let me save you the trouble of reading it: the ending is exactly what you suspect it will be. About a third of the way through, I was so sure I knew the answer that I skipped to the end to check and, oh yep, no surprises here. Some fine books become even more delicious when you  know the trajectory, but lesser books lose what little interest they had. This is one of them.

Elevation, Stephen King (2018)

This is a slight piece of work from King with a heavy-handed straight-male-saviour-of-queer-gals theme tacked onto a mystery of a man who gets lighter and lighter. Worth a read from the library, but not worth buying.

Holy Ghost, John Sandford (2018)

A Virgil Flowers novel that does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the eleventh in the series, and this time Virgil is in a tiny town that has come up with an ingenious way of reinvigorating itself. Naturally, several people die. Equally naturally, Virgil solves the crimes in good-natured, easy-going style. So if you like the series, buy it. If you’re not familiar with these books yet, get it from the library and see what you think.

My Lovely Wife, Samantha Dowling (2019)

Another in the Gone Girl school of fiction: twisty psychological couples fiction. But like so very many other books of this type it only works if women are the victims. If you’re not yet tired of women being killed for entertainment then, hey, get it from the library. But I’d hate to see too many people encouraging more production of this stuff by putting money in the pockets of its author.

Deadfall, Stephen Wallenfels (2018)

This is a young adult American male echo of something like Elmet: all about the outdoors, and testing physical endurance and emotional family endurance. It clips right along, and although, yes, again, women are in fact sexually harmed in its production, that harm is not centre stage and mostly off the page, and men are harmed, too, this time on the page, in gendered though not sexually predatory ways. The moral of the story could be that rigid gender roles are evil, and it ends well, so worth a read.

War of the Wolf, Bernard Cornwell (2018)

I loved the first few novels about Uhtred of Bebbanburg, set in the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Even when he began to write them a bit fast, relying on the research done by others (in later books I recognised at least two incompletely digested lumps of source material), they still had an appealing vigour. But by this one, the eleventh in the series, that energy is flagging. It’s a very competent book, and if you’ve already invested in the first ten, worth reading. But if I’d encountered this one first I most probably would not have sought out the others.

After the Fire, Will Hill (2018)

Another YA, this time told from the viewpoint of a girl in alternating timelines. An armed US sect headed by a male guru who exploits women (as they do, in real life and in fiction). Well-researched and relatively realistic, with a well-earned ending. Would I recommend it? If you don’t have claustrophobia, yes. But if a tightly-wound weirdo compound and a tightly-wound federal/medical compound might make you feel, well, tightly wound, this isn’t for you.