Monday Book Review: Author Interview

The author of Lover’s Lame, last week’s book review, is here today to answer my questions! Welcome, Robert, and thanks for sharing your story with us…

 

1)      I have to assume this is fiction, though it reads a lot like a memoir. How would you classify this book? (i.e., romance? literary?)

While writing the book, I did several Internet searches looking for novels written by people with disabilities about people with disabilities.  I found very few.  I do not dare to claim that ‘Lovers Lame’ is The Disability Novel, but one objective is to reclaim fiction about people with disabilities from the non-disabled writer.  It’s about asserting our presence, claiming our place in the culture.  I’m not a big fan of categories.  The book has a good dose of romance, it’s a little literary, a little sexy, a little humorous, a little political and polemical.

Ruth: A very noble cause, for sure! We definitely do need more fiction including disability experience. There are a ton of memoirs, but each very focused on a particular person’s experience or message. I admire your desire to see more fiction written by people with disabilities about people with disabilities!

2)      How close to real life is this book? Did you base it on your own experience?

I was trained as a historian (Ph.D., Michigan), and I became aware early on that what we accept as an objective, accurate description of past reality is really filtered through the historian’s lenses.  ‘Lovers Lame’ is fiction.  Outside of a few childhood memories by the narrator, there’s nothing in the book that I ‘experienced.’  It does reflect all of my stellar qualities, as well as my biases and hang-ups.  But it’s not about me.  The novel’s a trailblazing effort to convey the disability experience in all of its manifestations to the wider, non-disabled audience.

 Ruth: Sounds a bit like my first book, actually. My main character, Elizabeth, has a lot of qualities in common with me, and several childhood memories, but none of her actual experiences are mine.

3)      What made you want to tell this story?

For 15 years, I headed EXCEL!, an employment self-help group for people with disabilities in the Washington, DC area.  So I heard all the stories about all disabilities.  The few meager triumphs and the many heart-breaking frustrations, even tragedies.  When we closed down EXCEL! in 2009, we held a dinner wake at an Italian restaurant in Virginia. After several glasses of wine, I got up and blurted out that somebody ought to write a novel about people with disabilities.  The next day, I got started on ‘Lovers Lame.’

Ruth: I’m so glad you decided to tell those stories. People do need to know about the struggles that the average non-disabled person doesn’t realize makes employment finding difficult.

4)      What’s the feeling or message that you hope people will take away from your book?

I want readers, particularly ‘temporarily able-bodied’ readers, to understand a little better what it’s like to be disabled.  But I also wanted them to identify with the book’s characters as human beings who make mistakes, fail to comprehend, find and lose a soulmate, discover their calling, in other words act perfectly ‘normal.’ I didn’t want to write about the ‘super crip’ who overcomes outrageous odds to achieve ‘the American dream,’ whatever that may be.  My goal was to write about all those lonely people who came through the door at EXCEL! looking for a job lead, a friend, a smile, some validation that their lives were worth living.

 Ruth: I think you’ve done what you set out to in creating characters who are very real. Heart-breakingly so sometimes. I agree that there is too much of the super crip cliche and people need to know that their lives are worth it, whether they are striving for super human goals or just living a normal life.

5)      Was it difficult to capture the essence of these characters? What did you do to find their voices?

I only have first-hand experience of one disability, congenital hemiplegia.  Not surprisingly like the book’s narrator, David.  I talked with a number of EXCEL! members about how they co-existed with their disability.  But I explicitly backed off from protracted descriptions of characters’ disabilities.  I used an EXCEL!-like self-help group as a mixing bowl for a variety of characters and as a springboard for the tempestuous relationship between David and Jessica, an artist who has multiple sclerosis. This is the first novel to deal with a romance between a person with a congenital disability and one with an adult onset disability.  David has come to terms with his disability, while Jessica still struggles with the progressive nature of MS.  He falls hopelessly in love, while she insists on maintaining her independence as she comes to grips with her wild and crazy pre-MS past.

Ruth: It is a very unusual pairing! I like when books do new things like that. You set quite a challenge for yourself in telling this story. You’re way ahead of the curve in doing the research with people who are having these experiences. You might not be surprised to hear that many authors writing with disabled heroes have never met or spoken to someone with that disability!

6)      What else would you like us to know about this book?

For too long, people with disabilities have largely denied their sexuality or were discouraged from practicing their sexuality.  Part of this must emanate from an unconscious social Darwinist fixation with natural selection. “We can’t let those crips procreate.  It’s against nature.”   So another reason for writing Lovers Lame was to explode this misconception.  The loving relationship between Christy and Jonathan, two individuals in wheelchairs, transcends their disabilities, societal norms, a serious accident, and pig-headed parents.  With a little help from a sympathetic personal assistant, they achieve sexual fulfillment.  They are the lucky ones, but they are fictional.  So many real-life men and women with disabilities never know true romantic love, true sexual attraction.  The odds are stacked against them.  Like the ‘Push Girls’ TV reality show, ‘Lovers Lame’ celebrates people with disabilities, sex drives and all, and hopefully will bring them one step closer to full acceptance in American society and culture.

Ruth: That’s my goal as well! I completely agree that society needs to get past the suppression of sexuality in people who have disabilities.


1 Comment

  1. L'Aussie
    Jul 12, 2012

    Hello Robert. Hello Ruth. This is a very heart warming interview. I like that Robert has written the book he’d like to read. A great reason for writing a certain book. It’s great to use the experience in EXCEL to inform the book. All power to you Robert. I hope we get to see more books like this. I have experience with Muscular Dystrophy, so I know the challenges someone with this disease experiences on a daily basis.

    Denise

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