Disability in the Fictional World of Gryphendale

Today, as part of a blog tour, we have a post by Lara Lee, author of fantasy novels Gryphondale,  Shadow of the GryphonThe Gryphon’s Handmaiden.

Jeanette: Welcome Lara. It’s great to have you on Jeanette O’Hagan writes. I enjoyed reading Shadow of the Gryphon and look forward to reading the sequel. Tell me, has writing always been easy for you?

Lara:

As a child, I had undiagnosed Dyslexia. It was undiagnosed because my small church school didn’t understand what was going on with me. They assumed I would grow out of it or just need to work harder since I appeared to be intelligent. It was subtle enough that I was able to compensate, but I couldn’t pass a spelling test ever. I wrote letters backward unless I wrote in cursive. I struggle to read until something clicked in my brain in third grade so that I read in chunks like a speed reader. My copy work was full of errors, and even now I can write complete paragraphs mirrored. Because of this, I never thought I could become a writer.

Jeanette: That would have discouraging, but clearly that wasn’t true as you have now authored three books.  What changed?

Lara:

I was surprised when I won a writers and illustrators competition in first grade for my illustrations and was sent to a day camp as a reward. While there, I heard an author speak about her career, and I was incredibly inspired. I didn’t master reading until third grade though, so it seemed like an unlikely career for me. Art and illustration seemed like my only choice. Still, I was always making up stories and fairy tales for people. My attempts at poetry and creative writing were covered in red ink every time I attempt to show a teacher or my father.

Once I became an adult, I decided to become a graphic designer so I could “make books.” I did this for a while, but I found that I would write during all my free time for no reason. I read my work to some people and found that they liked it. I kept a journal from the time I was in high school, and it was obvious that I was improving, but every sentence was a battle, and many words were misspelled.

My husband encouraged me by saying, “There is always spell check and computer programs to help, and you can’t type backward.” So I began to write seriously and published my work. I have been thrilled at the positive response to my work. I do write full-time now, and use various methods to correct my errors. Writing is not an easy field of work to make a significant income, but I have never been happier.

 

Jeanette: That’s wonderful and inspiring. Have any of your characters dealt with a disability? 

Lara:

It was only in my most recent book, The Gryphon’s Handmaiden, have I dealt with disability in my fictional world of Gryphendale. This is my third book in this world and the second book of the Truthseeker trilogy. I did this partly because my son ended up with a significant disability, and I wanted to encourage him. I know what some of his struggles are like because I was there once, but no one was there for me as a child. My main friends were books, and so I want other people to see what I have learned without any preachiness.

Tabatha is one of the main characters in the book, and she struggles with mutism caused by abuse and trauma. I had originally wanted to write her on the autistic spectrum, but that became too hard for the story of the book. Mutism worked well because disability often steals one’s voice and confidence. She is misunderstood and hides from the other main characters in fear of not being able to communicate with them. Yet, this character is the most powerful and used by the creator God, the blue Gryphon, to both lead and save the other characters.

Jeanette: Tabatha sounds like a strong character. I love world-building in my own world of Nardva. Tell us a bit more about your world of Grypnondale.

Lara:

Gryphondale is a medieval style faerie world in which reading and writing are rare. Tabatha’s disability isolates her, but the blue Gryphon still uses her, not despite her disability, but with it. Her mutism morphs into selective mutism by the end of the book, but only in infrequent situations. She is still disabled until the end, but that doesn’t diminish the love the other characters have for her. Her value motivates others to learn sign language to get to know her.

Jeanette: Awesome. What theme underlies your story?

Lara:

The message in all my books is hope, but in The Gryphon’s Handmaiden, the message is also about not letting disability steal that hope.

I truly believe every person has value and gives value in society no matter their disability. The struggle we go through gives us unique perspectives and skills that are impossible to grade in a classroom or quantify in a resume. Love, friendship, loyalty, and kindness can mean life and death in the right context. When we stop trying to be “normal” and make everyone else “normal” we start to see the beauty, humor, and love in our differences.

In the world of Gryphendale, disability isn’t more accepted than anywhere else, but I hope the reader can see in this make-believe world how beautiful we are, as we are.

Jeanette: One last question. Can The Gryphon’s Handmaiden be read as a stand alone novel or should The Shadow of the Gryphon be read first?

Lara:

The Gryphon’s Handmaiden is book 2 in the Truthseeker trilogy, but it is a self-contained adventure following the same characters from book 1, The Shadow of the Gryphon.

Thanks Lara.  We can definitely do with more fiction showing people with disabilities as strong heroes and heroines.  I recently wrote a story with a blind main character and an excited that its been included in the Challenge Accepted anthology (coming March/April). I’m looking forward to reading The Gryphon’s Handmaiden.

The Gryphon’s Handmaiden comes out January 29th on Amazon!  You can purchase it here. 

 

Jeanette

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