The publisher of Ink Calls to Ink has folders of stock photos for their authors to use in creating promotional materials. They have a pretty amazing selection to work from and they’ve done a great job curating it. But in creating character intro posters to seed the launch event on Facebook, something dawned on me. I write some atypical characters.
This was particularly apparent with two characters: Juliet and Franklin, the Steadfast Soldier.
While I was able to eventually find an image that worked for Juliet, it was not without compromise. It’s not difficult to find stock images of teenaged girls. But Juliet is not your typical teenager. She’s been living on the streets of London by the time the novel starts, a frequent Heroin user continually trying, and failing, to poison herself. She keeps herself covered up as much as possible, and while still pretty, she’s not the kind of teen girl you typically see gracing the covers of urban fantasy novels.
But I found something that could work. Perfect? No. But no one gets perfection in this messed up world anyway, so we take what we can and move on.
The real challenge was the Steadfast Soldier.
Also homeless, he has a certain earnest, rugged charm. There’s no shortage of stock photos of attractive men in varying degrees of ruggedness and undress. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find any that were missing a leg. I’m not saying that there are no stock photos in the universe showing a one-legged veteran. I would almost guarantee that something like that has to exist somewhere. But it’s not sexy. It doesn’t sell books. So it’s not the image that would automatically be curated for book promotions.
The sad truth is that the disabled are severely under-represented in speculative fiction.
And honestly, I’m not entirely sure why that is.
Why, in genres where werewolf clans battle ancient vampire lords, where humankind can fly to the far reaches of the galaxy to encounter alien civilizations, where boy wizards and dragon-riding girls can challenge ancient evils, why is it so difficult to imagine a hero with a disability. Genre fiction already requires leaps of imagination to make pig boys into kings. Why is level heroism reserved for the classically able-bodied?
I guess I’ve never really understood that. In fact, in one of my first novels, Greetings from Buena Rosa, the main character spent the half of the book on forearm crutches. And he was strong, capable, and heroic the entire time. It didn’t define him but it was still an integral part of where his life was at that point, something he was still struggling with. It didn’t occur to me that a disabled Mexican detective was an anomaly in urban fantasy. Then again, he had a trigger-happy panda sidekick, so everyone had their own stuff to deal with.
The very first incarnation, the short story “Ink Calls to Ink” I knew that there were two conflicts: Goldilocks vs. the Bears and a third party vs. the situation of Goldilocks and the Bears. I honestly have no idea why I chose the Steadfast Tin Soldier to be that third party. I knew that the Fictional Personae were homeless and that there is an epidemic of homeless vets. (As of 2013 there were approximately 9,000 homeless ex-service personnel in Great Britain, making them about 1/10 of the overall homeless population.) And living in a city, I am no stranger to seeing injured vets on the street. I figured soldier Fictional Personae would be a good point of view character to explore the pointlessness of violence for the sake of violence and cycles of retribution.
Having grown up on the Hans Christian Anderson stories, the Steadfast Soldier just sort of sprung up as an immediate front runner.
And now, having lived with him in my head through that story, all the way through the novel and beyond, I’ve grown quite attached to Franklin. (Anderson didn’t give him a name, so he had to give one to himself.) Because he’s an amazing character, defined by his strength and resolution, his steadfastness, if you will. Not by his perceived limitations. And yes, I treat the fact that he only has one leg as a limitation because it has some very real consequences and challenges. But all good characters have limitations that challenge them. Overcoming challenges is what makes them heroes.
And if you think he’s going to let his limited mobility stop him from challenging a group of racist punks trying to assault another Fictional Personae, then you’re in for one hell of a surprise.