The Big Idea: Annie Carl
Author Annie Carl is on a mission to bring the disabled writing community into the spotlight with her newest anthology, Soul Jar, written entirely by disabled authors. Come along in her Big Idea as she tells us how she came up with the idea for this anthology, and what led to her desire to make it happen.
I’ve been disabled my whole life. And a reader for the better part of my life. And a nerd since before I knew what that word meant.
Society likes to ignore the disabled community until a story comes along about a person “overcoming the odds” or some other such inspiration porn bullshit. Once that news cycle blurs into obscurity, it’s back to being the invisible minority again.
I was invisible over and over growing up. Occasionally my peers would pay attention, but it was usually just after another surgery. They’d come visit while I was in the hospital or at home. Then I would be out of their lives until the next surgery.
It was traumatic being the sad, pathetic disabled child, dropped as soon as I wasn’t interesting. For a long time, I did my best to ignore my disabilities. I didn’t want to be identified by them; I wanted to be appreciated for being me, not someone impacted by medical trauma. Then, in 2017 during a bookseller trade show in a panel for diversity, the panelists discussed authors and books from and about people of color, different religious backgrounds, and the LBTQIA+ community. I kept hoping the panelists would pull disabilities out of their proverbial back pocket. They never did. So I threw my hand up the moment the audience Q&A arrived. I demanded, rather timidly to be honest, if the panelists had any information about disabled representation. Surprise, surprise, they did not. It was suddenly important to me to bring the conversation back to disabilities. I even cornered one of the panelists after the event.
The lack of information and hollow promises of “more information next time” still echo in my mind. That was the moment I accepted my disabilities and became an advocate. I decided when there was a next time, I wanted to speak as a panelist, to share my story instead of just listening to others tell theirs.
Over the next four years, I presented about disability and my own journey on multiple panels with other authors and booksellers. I curated a Disability in Fiction section in my bookstore. I wrote My Tropey Life, a chapbook about disabled representation in pop culture. But I still wasn’t seeing myself in the genres I love—specifically science fiction and fantasy.
When I did come across disabled characters, they were often the villains: a tactic society has had in place for centuries of storytelling. Either that, or they were dismissed as unimportant side characters, cured, or killed. Death of a disabled characters seems to be popular plot device.
During summer of 2021, I decided I wanted to produce an anthology of science fiction and fantasy with positive disabled representation. Written by disabled authors, not able-bodied authors trying to imagine characters with differences. That was very important to me. The publishing and bookselling worlds are ridiculous gatekeepers when it comes to certain kinds of authors and the positive representation of specific people. I decided to pitch my book idea to Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press, who introduced herself to me after that 2017 panel. I remember being super nervous, even though Laura and I were good friends by that point. But she would be answering as a professional, not as my friend. Laura was about to publish Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. LeGuin, and I wasn’t sure if she wanted to do another sci-fi/fantasy anthology so soon.
But Laura, being disabled herself, was absolutely on board and excited!
The work on Soul Jar: 31 Fantastical Tales by Disabled Authors began soon after. We needed authors! We needed someone to write the foreword! We needed the disabled writing community.
Laura and I hit the jackpot in fall 2021 while at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s yearly trade show. Nicola Griffith just happened to be presenting her latest novel, Spear, to the booksellers in attendance. Laura and I thought she would be perfect to write the foreword, and Nicola said yes! We had our first story and a promise for a foreword.
Story submissions opened at the end of January 2022 and they poured in. We caught the attention of disabled authors across the nation. People like me who worked hard to come out of the invisibility shrouding the disabled community. Writers who also witnessed the disparity between the attention for other marginalized authors and the disabled writing and publishing community.
These writers were given a unique opportunity to tell magical, otherworldly, and terrifying stories about themselves and others like them. A moment like this one does not happen often for the disabled writing community. Rarely are we given any sort of chance to shine outside of the bootstrapping, inspiration porn narratives. Astronauts have to be in the best possible physical and psychological shape to get to space. Questing through magical lands usually does not involve a wheelchair, and often does involve massive sensory overload. It’s not easy, trying to exist in alternative realities with Deafness or mobility aids.
So where do we, disabled people, land in the narrative?
Right in the middle of it. Because disabled people are just that, people on quests and flying through space and having adventures, just like everyone else.