This was first published on the Spoonie Authors Network.
The first piece of writing advice that I was given was: Write what you know.
Throughout my twenty years as a writer, I’ve happily ignored that advice. I’ve written fantasy novels, horror stories, and countless short stories and poems. And throughout all of them, I wrote only what pleased me, what I felt called to write.
Quite some time ago, I turned to writing romance novels. They were tales of perfect men wanting and needing love and affection to heal in some way. I peopled my romance novels with beautiful men who had sculpted muscles and damaged psyches. They had no physical disabilities or issues. They were perfection.
I ignored the second piece of writing advice I was given: Put yourself into your work to make it resonate more.
While I love writing romances, there was not a single person within those stories that was like me. While I loved all the characters I created, none of them were reflective of who I was. After writing over fifty romances, I decided I wanted to do something else.
I began writing a novel that I simply called Boyfriends. It would be completely rooted in reality, but especially the one that I live within. It focused on a group of LGBTQ friends who were trying to find love in the modern world. I was thrilled and terrified when I started it because it would be the first time I honoured that advice about writing what I know.
Throughout the novel that became Lust and Lemonade, I included people who were gay, lesbian, transgender, and straight. It felt wonderful to be writing about these characters living their lives and trying to find love.
However, I still wasn’t being true to one part of myself and the struggle that I have been through to find love and acceptance from another man.
I have multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. I live with a disease and a disability inside of me that affect my daily life. They also affect how men in the gay community perceive me. They would presume I was weak and somehow less of a man.
I had difficulty being intimate with men when my body was so unpredictable, when I wasn’t sure what it was going to do or whether all the parts would be working at the time when it came for the big bang. Every man I met treated me like I was some sort of fragile thing that would break. They would not treat me like I was a real man who had wants and needs, in and out of the bedroom.
When I met my husband Michael, he said that most people in our community saw having a disease or disability as a sign of weakness, when it is really a sign of a person’s strength. I was so shocked by this—that someone would recognize how strong I was to simply choose to live every day.
While it was a welcome change to meet someone like Michael, I still struggled with the intimacy that I wanted so much. He was patient and wonderful with me and when I told him that I was a sexual being, his response was, “Well, of course you are. We all are. Having a disability or disease doesn’t change that.”
It was wonderful to be totally and completely accepted by another man who didn’t see me as disabled or diseased. All he saw was me and he loved me for the strength that I showed every day. I came to the realisation that I wanted to reflect that in my writing in some way. I have a blog where I write about having cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. I thought that was enough.
After finishing Life and Lemonade, the second novel in The Lemonade Series, I began to think of who would fill the pages of the third novel, Love and Lemonade. Almost all the characters would return to be in the third novel, but I had the notion that I could finally deal with the one part of myself that was not reflected in my writing: being gay and disabled.
When I started the book, I introduced Zack in chapter three. Originally, he was in a wheelchair. The thing was, I knew nothing about being in a wheelchair. I could research it, as I did for writing transgender characters, but it would be beyond my experience. Then I wondered what disability I would write about when it hit me.
I would write about my own.
I had multiple sclerosis. I lived with the disease every day. By writing about a character with multiple sclerosis, I would be able to show the trials and tribulations of having a disability in the gay community and how it’s perceived. I would finally be able to follow those two pieces of writing advice I received so long ago: write what you know and put yourself into your work.
My hope is that, through writing about a character that has Multiple Sclerosis, I will not only help Zack find himself, but also it is my hope that I will find myself within the pages of my book and that it will resonate with others.
Zack has quite a journey ahead of him, but knowing him as well as I do, I know he will be strong enough for the challenge.