In What Happened in Granite Creek, one of my characters — Jamie Briggs — is a quadruple amputee who lost his arms and legs while serving in Iraq. The novel is based on the short story “Support Our Troops,” which I wrote without having done much research beyond looking for some images online (so I could describe Jamie’s character accurately), mainly because the focus of the short story was on Koty, who is also one of the main characters in the novel.
But when I was writing the novel, I knew I’d need to do more research into amputees. In early 2010, I discovered there was only one surviving quad amputee (at the time) from these wars – that’s how extensive an injury it is (there are now two, I think, and maybe another in the UK). The first guy’s name is Brendan Marracco.
I went back and forth for a LONG time about whether I should reach out to him, but I decided against it because, deep down, I’m pretty shy and I hate bugging people (it’s one of the main reasons I couldn’t be a journalist…I was a stringer for a newspaper, and I hated calling people for interviews or comments). I also didn’t want him to feel I was exploiting his situation.
So I stuck with articles, videos, and images I could find online. As a result, I was somewhat vague with some of the technicalities in Jamie’s day-to-day life — on purpose, since I didn’t have the research to back it up. When I quizzed my beta readers on this, none said they were bothered by it. I gave just enough detail to let them fill in the blanks. Phew, I thought. I’m all set.
Not so fast, said the universe.
I revised and revised and handed in my manuscript to my copy editor on Friday, July 29. On Saturday, I was puttering around my apartment when I received an email. Subject line said “support our troops,” and my first reaction was, “Oh, crap. Either it’s someone who loves the short story or someone who hates it.” (Readers tend to only email us writers if they have a strong reaction.) Anyhow, I was feeling all vulnerable since I’d just sent off my baby — remember, the novel is based on the short story “Support Our Troops” — so I was worried that it was going to be someone who hated the story for whatever reason and that would send me into the wobbly world of self-doubt.
I opened up the email. It was a nice note from a woman. The “from” line said, “emma devotee.” And I was like, Interesting last name. I wonder if it’s French or something? Anyhow, Emma said she enjoyed the short story and appreciated the fact I had a disabled character in it. However, she felt some of my details weren’t quite accurate. She was married to a double-leg amputee, and she said that she would be happy to answer any questions if I had them.
Like I said: this was a gift from the universe. So I wrote right back to Emma with an enthusiastic “yes” and told her I’d turned “Support Our Troops” into a full blown novel and the manuscript was sitting with my editor, but I could still make changes, and would she be willing to review scenes from the manuscript in which Jamie, the quad amputee, appeared? She responded in the affirmative, so I packaged up everything and emailed it to her.
The next day, I got an email from another woman — Ruth — and the subject line said, “interview on Support Our Troops?” and I was like, “Okay, this is weird.” (And let me back up a moment – I’d also noticed since I had just checked my sales numbers for the first time that weekend that I’d sold a fairly large number of “Support Our Troops” in comparison to my other shorts…and I’d kinda wondered why since I hadn’t done any sort of promotion.)
So Ruth’s email says that she had been talking to a friend who had recommended my short story and the friend had also mentioned I was turning said story into a full blown book. Ruth asked me if she could interview me for her blog because it’s her mission for books to feature more disabled characters in them, so she likes to give props to writers who do this.
She sent me a link to a recent interview she’d done on her blog, and when I went over to look at it, I noticed the items in the site’s navigation, including a link on “Devoteeism.” Duh – it wasn’t a last name. A devotee is a term used to describe a person who is sexually attracted to disabled people. The disabilities can run the gamut from spinal cord injuries (SCI) to amputations to leg braces to blindness…the list goes on and on. What one devotee is attracted to might be different from what another devotee is attracted to…just like it is with folks who are non-devs (e.g. some people like BBW, some people like blondes, some people like men with hair on their chests while others do not).
You can read more about devotees here on Ruth’s website (I’m linking to my interview, but you’ll see the link on devoteeism to the left) and on Paradevo.net (EDITOR’S NOTE: I originally had a link to Wikipedia, but several of the folks commenting below said the info on Wiki isn’t the most accurate and pointed to this site instead). Just Google it, and you’ll find a ton of information. It seems like a fairly decent-sized sub culture, and some folks who find themselves attracted to disabled people don’t even realize there’s a name for what they have…many describe having felt this way since childhood and many describe having felt ashamed, like they were sick or perverted or something.
THIS is why I write…to learn new stuff like this and to create stories that get people talking and thinking and feeling and debating. We’re all such imperfect little beings fighting the same battles, but we let stuff – often stuff we have no control over – create the chasm between our tender little souls and the rest of the world.
I ended up talking to Emma via phone – she was FABULOUS and so open and helpful (and luckily, I didn’t have to change too much in the novel). Ruth and I have corresponded as well, and I enjoyed reading one of her novels, (W)hole, which is about a seventeen-year-old woman grappling with the fact she’s attracted to guys in wheelchairs…and how her life changes when she starts dating a college guy who is in a wheelchair.
This was an awesome stroke of luck that made me feel even more confident when putting out the book.
As readers, have you ever put down a book because you didn’t find something plausible? Do you remember what the subject was? Share in the comments.
Oh, and if you decide to retweet this post, be sure to use my dedicated hash tag for all things related to What Happened in Granite Creek: #whigc (Thanks for spreading the word.)