Scifipulse recently caught up with Annie Carl. She is the author of Nebula Vibrations as well as the book My Tropey Life: How Pop Culture Stereotypes Make Disabled Lives Harder. Additionally, Annie owns and operates The Neverending Bookshop in Edmonds, Washington. Which specializes in science fiction, fantasy and YA books written by disabled, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and female authors. During this interview Annie chats about how to change people’s perceptions of disability and her writing influences.
SFP: What made you want to be a writer?
Annie Carl: This is such a tough question to answer. I don’t know when I started telling stories or writing them down. I remember having journals from a young age. I wrote down all kinds of things, small stories I’d make up, interactions with friends and classmates, things about my parents and sister. I’ve always been curious about people and their stories. Probably more than I should be. I’m not above snooping around a bit and asking too many questions about people’s lives. Some of my favorite books are told through letters or emails. As I got older and learned more about the creative writing process, I fell more and more in love with it. The ability to create people and worlds with just a few scenes and interactions was intoxicating. To learn more about these people and places that live somewhere in my subconscious has always been a wonder for me.
SFP: How do we change people’s perceptions of disability in fiction as shorthand for evil or corruption?
Annie Carl: This is such an easy thing to do. Disabled people are people with all the gray parts of our personalities that make up each of us. It’s also the hardest thing in the world. The disabled community has been vilified for centuries because we “don’t quite fit” with the rest of society. Some of us have “different” appearances, like myself. Some of us act in “odd or unusual” ways that can be “off putting” to able-bodied people. Notice my use of quotations. I have a tough time writing these words in relation to other people. I can’t speak or identify for anyone other than myself. Hundreds of years ago, medical science didn’t have terminology for disabilities, and often writers used them in ways that meant those diagnosis became harmful tropes and stereotypes. That has perpetuated to our current society. Because some disabilities can present as “monstrous” or “terrifying”, these – often biblical – tropes of evil and corruption have perpetuated through to the modern day horror movie, TV show, and novel. I love Stranger Things as much as the next person, but I would love for creators to find a different way of conveying that someone is evil than just appearance and mental health. Evil in and of itself is an incredibly multilayered and nuanced concept, one can’t just say “that person is evil because…” and have it be the truth.
Following the Kenny Fries Test is a great place for creatives to start! It’s my personal favorite place to start for all of my characters.
1.) Does a work have more than one disabled character?
2.) Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose other than the education and/or profit of a non-disabled character?
3.) Is the character’s disability not eradicated by curing or killing the character?
These three questions really help clarify what a disabled character is doing in any sort of narrative situation. I would say 90 percent of media these days does not pass this test. Which is incredibly disheartening. However, as someone who is actively seeking out these positive narratives and representations, I am seeing more and more stories with great disabled representation! It’s coming, which I find incredibly hopeful.
SFP: Can you please tell us a little about The Neverending Bookshop? How did this get started?
Annie Carl: I’ve been obsessed with books and reading since I was young. I was born with a rare spinal birth defect (lipomeningomyelocele) and spent a lot of time recovering from surgery between the ages of 2 and 14. My parents wouldn’t let me have a TV in my room, something I’m still retroactively grumpy about, so I read. I read all kinds of books, but my favorites were Star Wars novels and adventures that took place far away from where I was. They took me away from the pain I was in, and the bullying I encountered. Needless to say my reading habits were pretty hardcore by the time a used bookstore opened in my small hometown of Kingston, WA. Mr. B’s Bookery opened when I was 14. I went in there at least once a month and pestered the owners about hiring me as a helper. They finally did when I turned 15 and the Bookery expanded. It was the start of a beautiful career in bookselling. Fast forward to 2014. I was feeling a bit disillusioned with my bookselling job. At the same time, the Bookery went up for sale. I couldn’t afford to buy it, and I wasn’t living in Kingston anymore. But it did get the idea cogs going, and I decided to start the process of opening my own store.
The Neverending Bookshop originally opened as a used bookstore in 2015. In 2017, I started bringing in new books. When I moved in 2018 to my current location, I rebranded as a genre bookstore featuring science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, young adult, and children’s books. And finally, during the COVID shut down in 2020, I decided that I wanted to refine my brand further into a feminist, activist genre bookstore. Which means that 95 percent of my is written by disabled, LGBTQIA+, people of color, indigenous, and female authors. Especially in genres that are still largely white male dominated. I also love working with small presses to feature authors that are impactful on a different scale than the big bestsellers. Physically, marching and protesting for topics like Black Disabled Lives Matter and other groups and ideas I’m passionate about isn’t possible for me. But I can use my store as an outlet for uplifting books and authors that are in these minorities. This how I’m working as an ally. And reading these stories helps me self-educate to become a better ally in my personal and professional life.
In 2017, I attended my first Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show. It was amazing and exhausting and wonderful. During the show, I attended a panel that was about diversity in bookstores. The panelists did a great job with all of the diversity except disabilities. When I asked for resources during the Q&A portion, the panelists had nothing for me. In that moment, my personal and professional advocacy was born. It took until I was 33, but I was finally ready to start embracing my disabilities fully. I created the Disability in Fiction section at The Neverending Bookshop. Every book in this section is vetted by me and has to pass the Kenny Fries test. It’s also the year I started Mari’s story and what would become Nebula Vibrations.
SFP: What are you working on at the moment?
Annie Carl: I have a few projects going right now! I’m getting ready to turn in a science fiction and fantasy anthology to Forest Avenue Press. This project has been in the works since summer 2021, when I pitched it to my friend Laura Stanfill, the owner and publisher at Forest Ave. It features sci-fi and fantasy with positive disabled themes written by disabled authors. It’s due out September 2023. I edited the stories and wrote the introduction. Bestselling author Nicola Griffith is writing the foreword, which is so, so exciting to me! She is such a badass, and I truly look up to her for so many reasons.
I’ve got a short story coming out in an anthology published by Microcosm Publishing that’s science fiction featuring books and bikes. My main character doesn’t know how to ride a bike because of growing up with disabilities. But she has to learn as cars are no longer available in her part of the world for ecological reasons.
I also just started a cozy romance with a disabled main character. This is in the very first, rough draft form, but I’m having a great time getting into the coziness of fall through words.
SFP: What do you think hasn’t been done in disabled literature that could be done?
Annie Carl: I think, both as a bookseller and writer, the answer here is easy and not. More can always be done. Isn’t that always the way of advancement and progress? I think a lot hasn’t been done with disabilities in fiction and media because our stories are slow in being allowed in, as it were. The disabled narrative isn’t something that’s valued by our society. We have to be big and loud and demand more stories with us as the central characters. We have to demand better representation. We have to demand different narratives as the umbrella of “disability” shrouds so many different intersectional people with their own stories to share. Disabilities belong in the future of humanity, despite what CRISPR scientists say. Despite what medical technology is trying to tell us. I’d love to see more science fiction with actual disabled characters, not just military characters with old war wounds. Tired disabled tropes perpetuate constantly in science fiction as well as horror. I want to read how someone who’s deaf, hard of hearing, blind, operates a space freighter. I want to read about someone with severe anxiety who copes with space walks. I want so many stories that haven’t been either created or published/produced yet because of the ablest gatekeeping of our society.
I think these stories, once they start pouring out, will be as varied as the authors writing them. And that’s when we’ll start seeing things we haven’t seen before in genre fiction and media.
SFP: Do you think a disabled actor could ever play Superman or the Doctor from Doctor Who?
Annie Carl: Hmmmm… This is a tough question for me personally because I’m kind of over the cishet white male superhero tropes. I’m also not into comic books, though I have greatly enjoyed the Marvel movies and TV shows. Would I love to see an actual blind actor play Daredevil? You bet your ass I would! But let’s also not forget that Alaqua Cox was cast in Hawkeye and has her own Marvel show, Echo, forthcoming. A disabled woman of color is going to have a leading role that people are excited about! This is stupendous! Let’s also not forget that The Eternals featured Makkari, a deaf superhero, played by Lauren Ridloff, a deaf actress. It was also, if one looked closely, a movie about mental health, agency over one’s own body and power, and abortion. These are all themes that are incredibly important in the disabled community.
From what I’ve seen, traditional comic book tropes from decades past do not lend themselves well to disabilities. However, we don’t live in the past. And we have control over our future. If we want to see a disabled actor play a superhero like Superman (ugh) or Batman (eesh), we have to create those characters ourselves. We need writers and directors and actors that are disabled creating these characters. I’m much more interested in the future that Makkari and Maya Lopez bring us than the past of Superman or Captain America. Even Daredevil, I suppose.
Doctor Who is different and I absolutely believe a disabled actor could play our beloved Time Lord. Without question. Let’s see it BBC!
7.) What authors are you inspired by?
So many! Everyone from Nnedi Okorafor to Garth Nix to Talia Hibbert to Nicola Griffith to Nisi Shawl to Neon Yang to Alix Harrow to I don’t even know! I honestly couldn’t pick one. I’m usually inspired by whoever I happen to be reading at the moment. Right now I’m reading Storm of Locusts, book two in the Sixth World duology by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s so raw and an unusual glimpse at an indigenous future apocalypse. Her storytelling is off the charts good!
8.) And finally, what other books by disabled authors would you recommend?
Let’s see, I absolutely adore Talia Hibbert‘s romance is wonderful representation for chronic illness and neurodivergence. Everything by Nnedi Okorafor if readers are looking for unusual science fiction and fantasy. Elly Blue‘s different science fiction and bikes anthologies published by Microcosm Press. Jean Meltzer‘s romances that also features strong Jewish themes along with chronic illness. Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong (and her new biography, The Year of the Tiger) and Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer (who was one of the first children to survive being born with spina bifida) is wonderful non-fiction that isn’t inspiration porn. Nicola Griffith for literally everything she’s written. Nisi Shawl‘s short stories are so, so amazing. Helen Hoang‘s romance is spot on for neurodivergence and autism. I’m including romance because disabled people are people who get to be in relationships and have sex, and this is so often downplayed in books and media. Marieke Nijkamp‘s young adult novels are so spectacular and creepy, readers everywhere should definitely check them out!! I could go one, but I’m sure you have a word count you’re trying to keep to.
Scifipulse would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks and warmest best wishes to Annie Carl for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.
Annie’s website: Home | The Neverending Bookshop
Her Twitter: @AnnieCarl9
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