December 2016 Book Club Pick
December's pick is the sci-fi thriller On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis! Read our interview with the author below, and stay tuned for suggested readings, videos, and more. Participate in the club by using #ThriveBooks on Twitter!
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
It's 2035, and a comet is scheduled to hit Earth. There's limited space on a colonizing ship fleeing the planet, with one stipulation - you must contribute a practical skill to get on board. Corinne is autistic, and worries she won't be able to earn a spot with her mother and sister. This sci-fi, edge-of-your-seat book asks the question - how do we value human life, especially those with disabilities? Pick up a copy on Kindle, Audible, or hardcover, and join in the conversation using #ThriveBooks on Twitter!
Interview with Corinne
Erin Hawley (Thrive Manager): Can you tell us about yourself, and how you became a writer?
Corinne (author): I’m Dutch, pink-haired, cat-loving, and really, really good at procrastinating. My favorite thing to procrastinate on is writing—I write sci-fi and fantasy novels of all stripes, and often include disabled characters in main or supporting roles. I also co-founded and edit Disability in Kidlit, which is a website dedicated to reviewing and discussing the portrayal of disability in middle grade and young adult novels.
As for how I became a writer? Online fandom is fully responsible.
As a teenager, I spent years writing fanfiction in a vibrant, enthusiastic community. As I grew up and these communities slowly drifted away, I ended up gravitating toward different communities—this time, composed of people aspiring to write on a professional level. “Cool!” I thought. “Why not?”
I dabbled in short stories, then wrote my first novel, and then my second novel a month later, and by that time, I was hooked. I did intense research on both writing as a craft and writing as a business, learning about literary agents, how publishers worked, how to write a query letter, and more. It felt like ages before I finally managed to sign on with my first literary agent, but in retrospect, it wasn’t so bad at all: I finished my first two novels in 2008, revised that second novel in 2009, started querying it in 2010, got some nibbles, revised it after receiving feedback, then signed with my first agent in January 2011. Later in 2011, I wrote the novel that would become my debut novel Otherbound; in 2012, it sold to a publisher and I signed with my second agent.
Both my first novel Otherbound and my second novel On the Edge of Gone received rave reviews; a third novel, Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All is on the way, as well as multiple translations of On the Edge of Gone in other territories. Everything developed at such a normal, steady pace that it doesn’t even feel strange anymore...until I stop to think about it. I mean, I couldn’t even finish high school as a result of autism, ADD, and depression—and now, I’m an internationally published author. It’s completely wild in the best possible way.
Erin: What inspired you to write On the Edge of Gone?
Corinne: On the Edge of Gone resulted less from a single flash of inspiration, and more from piecing together various elements I’d been thinking about for a while: an autistic protagonist, disability in an apocalyptic setting, a destroyed Amsterdam. When it all clicked into place, it felt incredibly obvious and straightforward to write the story that On the Edge of Gone ended up becoming. I was writing the rough draft within a month from getting the initial idea.
Sometimes, novels take forever to come together. Sometimes, they just click. This was one of those times.
Erin: Do you think science fiction lends itself to stories about disability? If so, why?
Corinne: I think every setting lends itself to stories about disability, because disabled people have always existed. Whether it’s a fantasy setting, historical, or realistic: we’re here!
Sci-fi does, of course, present unique opportunities that other genres may not. In our current society, disability is often seen as a defect that should—and will—eventually be eradicated through the use of advancing medical science. Writing sci-fi with disabled people sends a powerful message: we’re still here. We’re just as much of a part of the future of humanity as anyone else.
Positive fictional futures could show themselves as being accessible and friendly to disabled people; modeling such a society shows a possible future to aspire to.
Negative fictional futures, conversely, can show the dangers of pushing common negative ideas about disability. In addition, any sci-fi setting has the opportunity to show disabled people adapting, evolving, and experimenting with new or improvised technology as assistive devices. And that, I think, is seriously cool. Whichever way you slice it, sci-fi is rich with possibilities.
Erin: Thrive is an online community for young women with disabilities. What would you want our readers to take away from your book?
Corinne: At the core of it, you don’t write a book to send a message. You write a book because the story and characters resonate with you. At the same time, though, it’s impossible to write a book about a topic so complicated and dear to one’s heart without your personal opinions and politics bleeding into how you approach that topic.
In On the Edge of Gone, that’s even more the case than with my other work so far. Although I didn’t write it to send a message, a lot of the novel critiques the pressure that disabled people face to make themselves productive and useful.
The problem isn’t that being productive and useful is bad. In fact, many disabled people aren’t even given the chance to prove themselves, and that’s something that needs to be rectified in society. The problem, instead, is that disabled people face the implicit or explicit threat that if we’re not productive and useful, we’re useless—that we’re an inconvenient drain on society and that our lives are subsequently worth less.
I vehemently disagree with that notion.
And what better way to examine it than in an apocalyptic setting where only few can survive, and we must determine who?
Erin: What advice would you have for any young adults with disabilities looking to get published or start writing?
Corinne: If we’re talking the business of publishing: it can be an incredibly difficult process. Thankfully, though, the actual steps in the process are straightforward, which can be helpful to those of us who need a clear step-by-step guide. There are lots of websites that outline the steps in detail: pay particular attention to literary agents and their blogs and Twitter accounts, as well as forums like QueryTracker and Absolute Write, which are filled with useful, reliable information.
The good thing about writing as a career when you’re disabled is that it’s largely on your terms. No spoons that day? Congratulations—you can hang out on the couch all day without having to call in sick. You can write in your own time, and set up your own schedule, in whichever way works for you, whenever you feel up for it. If you have contracts with tight deadlines, this can be more difficult, yes—but in my experience, publishers are understanding of personal problems getting in the way of handing in a book on time. Communication is key.
Another benefit is that you won’t need to worry about navigating a physical workplace that may be hostile to disability, whether in terms of your coworkers or the terrain, since you can write from whatever location works best for you.
The bad thing about writing as a career when you’re disabled is that it doesn’t make very much money, and as disabled people are an already impoverished segment of the population, that’s a big downside. In addition, the times you do make money are irregular and unpredictable. Publishers also often expect authors to promote their own work to a significant degree—including traveling, holding signings, visiting schools, doing interviews, and more. I want to point out this is never obligated; if you’re not capable of any of these things for whatever reason, publishers will typically understand. That said, it’s impossible to deny that disabled people are excluded from some common author experiences and opportunities, and may receive less marketing backing as a result.
Finally, publishing can be very chaotic. It’s filled with moments of intense pressure and needing to rush hit a deadline; after that, you can go months without hearing a thing. It’s stressful and uncertain. This can be difficult to deal with for some disabled people. Self-publishing can lift some of the stresses associated with traditional publishing, as you’re not beholden to anyone’s deadlines or expectations but your own. On the other hand, you don’t get any advance payment, and you’re responsible for every step of the process that publishers normally handle, including promotion, distribution, design, and more. It’s not for everyone.
All of that is about the business of publishing. If you want to write professionally, it’s good to be aware of the pitfalls and upsides beforehand, so that you’re less likely to run into surprises.
If you’re talking the creative side of publishing, here’s what I’d tell you:
Write what you want to write. If you want to write a disabled character, for example, screw anyone telling you it’s not marketable. You need to write what you’re passionate about—it’s the best way to stay motivated enough to help you through the long slog of drafting, editing, and potential publication.
Write in the way that is right for you. Ignore the people who say you must write every day, or you must write a certain number of words a week, or you must edit a certain way or draft another way. I sometimes don’t draft anything new for months at a time. I sometimes don’t touch any project at all for weeks. Then, I’ll suddenly write everything all at once in a flurry of words. Lots of authors work that way. Let yourself experiment and determine what works best for you and your circumstances. If the book gets done, who cares how it got done? At the end of the day, congratulations: you’re a writer.
Your priorities are up to you. Some people prioritize their health at all costs. Some prioritize their writing at all costs. Some go back and forth, depending on the situation. Sometimes you need to give up some health points to finish the last stretch of a project, and sometimes you need to put a book in a drawer so you can step back and look after your body and mind. Do what is right for you.
Find a support group. Whether it’s in the form of a group or friendly individuals, it’s essential to have people to join you on this path. They can provide feedback, encouragement, advice, and motivation. Don’t hesitate to join writing forums and strike up conversation.
Finally: we need more disabled voices in literature. Good luck. I’m rooting for you.
Erin: Are you working on anything new?
Corinne: Always! My next book is coming out in April. It’s a prose novel called Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All, set in the Marvel Comics universe. I also have various other projects I’m working on, from short stories to more YA novels, but I’m not yet ready to announce those. Keep an eye on my website or Twitter if you’re interested—or subscribe to my brand-new newsletter to stay updated.
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