Posted on October 3, 2018 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Tracee Lydia Garner’s advocacy for people with disabilities comes in both words and actions.

Diagnosed at age two with muscular dystrophy, Garner has used a wheelchair for most of her life.

But that hasn’t stopped her from balancing a full-time job in health and human services — in which capacity she gives speeches and presentations promoting equality for disabled people — with writing novels and sharing publishing guides.

It certainly has, however, influenced her to become the change she wants to see in literature.

Garner rarely found characters with disabilities in mainstream fiction, and when she did, the depictions weren’t especially positive.

How, she wondered, were readers who may not have met a disabled person ever going to change their limited perceptions of them?

So she took Beverly Cleary’s and Toni Morrison’s advice: Having not seen the book she wanted on the shelves, she wrote it. Several times.  

And she also reached out to us, letting us know about the anthology she and four other authors were compiling to promote positive portrayals of disabled people, in honor of October being National Disability Awareness Month.

Today you’ll meet Garner; throughout the rest of the month, you’ll meet the other writers of Boundless Love, available for preorder now.

SADYE: How and when did you get started writing?

TRACEE: My writing actually started out of a bout of depression.

I was flunking in college, and I remember in math class (you know math for liberal arts is a oxymoron), I did not pass, and I thought, “If this doesn't go well, I should pursue other things.” 

So, one night on a bad math day, I was actually crying as I searched the internet (and likely listening to sad love songs, LOL), and I happened upon this contest — a first-time writers contest hosted by a publishing house. 

I remember feeling something come over me, and I honestly felt God tell me to do this, now, and because it was ordained, I felt like I could really win this.

And I'm not prone to winning any real contest, but something about it just spoke to me. I really felt like I would win. 

It was divine intervention — and I entered, and I really did win. So that single act changed my life forever. 

SADYE: What has been the most rewarding, most surprising, and most challenging parts of being a writer?

TRACEE: Both rewarding and surprising aspects for me are, as I look back over my body of work, wondering how in the world did I come up with so many words and not only so many words but ones that build in a logical order, make sense, and tell a story? 

I still marvel at my nine books and think “wow,” and I'm so grateful to have this creative outlet. 

The challenging parts come from disability and how my body is disproportionate to my brain. 

E.g., my brain is/has already arrived at just about every destination, and it sort of turns around, if you will, looks back at my body, and says, "Well? Come on, let's go. Hurry up."

There is a kind of constant letdown that at times bogs me down — especially, I'm finding as I age, that I want to go and do everything I possibly can to promote my hard work, and there are limitations, all physical, to my ability to travel. 

I feel like I could sell so many more books if I could just get on a plane, if the airlines would make it easier for folks to sit in their wheelchairs rather than be transferred to an aisle chair and transferred again to a plane seat. ...

There are so many travel barriers despite all of our advancement, for people with disabilities, and I just don't think it has to be this way. 

SADYE: Which of your romantic male leads would you most want to wind up with, and why?

TRACEE: You love who ever is on your mind the most — e.g., who you are writing right then — but I am working on a story where the female is a wheelchair user, like myself, and she meets up again with this man who went on to be a wonderful carpenter. 

Since I thought I should marry Jesus, because he was a carpenter’s son and because he could both build me a ramp and save my soul, the carpenter hero is the most accessible one, pun intended. 

I'm a logistician and so while I'm sure I'll love him, he has to be pretty handy too. ... If he has a lot of money, he could hire all the carpenters he needs — that would work too. 

The world is inaccessible, and together we'd build ramps everywhere!  

SADYE: What is one thing you want other writers to know about characters with disabilities?

TRACEE: That we too desire love and can be loving. I think that many people with disabilities experience a kind of hands-off approach. 

When you're sitting down and you essentially have metal all around, I see people go in for the hug, and there's this hesitation. 

I think we have to see people first and not whatever their assistive technology is that prohibits more intimacy and interaction. 

I also think we automatically lump people into categories. Yes, this happens among classes and races, but disability is its own, separate category. 

When you have a physical issue, you are often thought to have a intellectual disability and vice versa.

This further perpetuates the need to classify groups and further segregate many of us from social groups, but also excludes classes based on erroneous, often antiquated thinking. 

SADYE: In what other ways, beyond inspiring many of your characters, has having a disability influenced your writing?

TRACEE: Especially in stories featuring lead characters with disabilities, I have to realize this is first and foremost entertainment. 

I catch myself being overtly educational because I just want people to get it, not only for the sake of entertaining but to learn something you might not have known, to offer perspective, deeper thought. 

And perhaps then, when you do meet someone with a disability, you'll remember stories like the ones we've written and be more open to approaching people that are NOT like you. 

Thus, overall, I've had to contain bouts of overwriting and find a balance and a way to weave in components I want to drive home more naturally and more subtly and really distance myself from my personal bias, experience and tell the story that gets off of my deeply personal perspective. 

I also think that having a disability enhances my descriptions. ... 

Readers have always mentioned something about the way in which I described an aspect, telling me that they could really visualize what I was saying. 

I think that stems from disability because I require a caregiver to assist me with basic tasks every single day, and so every day is a verbal explanation of how best to assist me in getting the things I need, done. 

I often give my caregivers step-by-step instructions on doing something for me, and I think that technicality comes through in the writing as a good thing to really paint the scene. 

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Learn more about Tracee Lydia Garner on her website, where her books can also be purchased; like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter

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Categories: Author Interview

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