Tomorrow, March 20th, is the first anniversary of the publication of The Year We Fell Down. This is far and away my bestselling novel, and as chapter one opens, she's negotiating the wheelchair ramp into her college dormitory for the first time.

At the end of 2014, I found my books cropping up on quite a few Diversity in Romance lists. This was quite baffling to me. To paraphrase Tina Fey, only in romance could a well-behaved white girl from the suburbs count as diversity. But I do have two books with characters in wheelchairs.

I never set out to write a disabled character. When I conceived the idea for The Year We Fell Down, I felt like I'd been reading story after story about characters who were broken on the inside. I wanted to turn that archetype on its head by letting my character's scars show on the outside. And the idea for Corey's spinal cord injury was born.

And — by God — it was a blast to write about Corey. Because her worldview is (even literally) just a bit different than everyone else's. Right from the start I knew I was writing a character that I hadn't met before in fiction, and that was exhilarating. And easy because every trope, every familiar device? They just read a little differently on Corey. She was never dull.

I felt like I'd discovered a secret doorway that nobody else knew about.

On the flip side, I had lots of sleepless nights at the thought of carrying the flag for a group of people who struggles for recognition and equal treatment. I'm AB (able bodied, in web forum parlance) myself. And the last thing I wanted to do was to misrepresent either the struggles or the triumphs of someone else. My only defense against my fear was a lot of copious research.

Even the language is terribly fraught. Many people don't like the word "disabled," for example. Then again, one blogger I chat with on Facebook uses the word all the time to describe herself.

I haven't (yet!) received complaints that I've mishandled the details of Corey's struggle. But I do see comments from readers who were waiting for the book to end with a miracle cure. Spoiler: it doesn't.

A great writing teacher told me once that you can make a happy ending two ways. Does your character get what she wants? The answer could be an unequivocal "yes." Or, the teacher said, you could do even better with a "yes, but..." Those are the books which bring us closer to the true human condition. Because we have all found the "but" in our own stories. No happy ending is perfect. And perfect characters are boring.

That's what Corey taught me, and she hasn't let me down yet.

To read more about The Year We Fell Down, visit Sarina on her website.

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  1. I think it's a fantastic thing to explore in a novel. Sounds like you put a lot of thought into it and did your due diligence to create a character that realistically portrays the struggles and lives of real people. Fiction writers make things up, so 99% of what we write about we may not have firsthand experience with. I hate that scares some away from writing diverse characters and stories.

  2. I love "yes, but..." I always want to see a little imperfection in a story, even a lot of imperfection sometimes! It feels real when things are not tied up with bows. I can't wait to read this book. It's been in my queue for ages. Gotta move it up :)

  3. Hadn't come across this book before but a disabled character is certainly different from the usual.


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