Fiction Updates: Inspired by Sigmund Freud, Flannery O’Connor, Our Flag Means Death, and More!
New, Original Fiction Inspired by My Life, Flannery O’Connor, and Sigmund Freud
(trigger warnings: ableism, sexual harassment)
“The Only Way to Travel” was published today in Corporeal Lit Mag, with audio of me reading it!
This is my most recent story and first original fiction publication since February 2017! Thank you so much to the editors for accepting it, publishing it only 3 months later, and letting me record an audio version!
Here, I return to my semi-autobiographical character, Talitha Dias. I wrote about her in “The Lost Year” (written 2011–13, published 2017). I always viewed her also as the protagonist of my story “Categories,” (written 2009, published 2017) although she isn’t named there.
My character Talitha has cerebral palsy — like I do. Through her, I try to explore my own experience of having CP, including constant, painful, muscle spasms, one of my predominant symptoms. Of course, the people and events are fictional, and CP affects each person differently.
In this blog post from March 2022, I explained:
“I describe my own disability as ‘spastic cerebral palsy’ because muscle spasms are some of my most painful, apparent, and disabling symptoms. However, when used as a noun [or] to describe another person, it’s always a slur.” Some people ask me if I’m “reclaiming” the slur “sp*stic” for myself, and I say sure. But the primary reason is that many people with CP who are around my age (32) received that exact diagnosis of “spastic” diplegia, hemiplegia, or quadriplegia in our medical records from our doctors as infants. These are all forms of cerebral palsy that affect different areas of the brain and body.
On the Origins of My Story
In April 2021, I analyzed “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor from a critical perspective on Book Riot, here on my Medium, and then in December on this blog post on my WordPress. I also mentioned The Uncanny, which I’ve written about extensively, in this story. I’ll always write about some stories and ideas in both my fiction and my criticism, like I did with “The Little Mermaid.”
All readers and writers will have different interpretations of stories, so this is not my interpretation of my own story, just some background. This story draws on my initial reactions to reading “The Uncanny” by Sigmund Freud and “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor in Ellen Scheible’s Gothic literature class at age 18 in fall 2007. I mentioned to two of my professors and mentors, Ellen Scheible and Jared Green, that I wanted to use my reactions in a story someday. They were always very encouraging!
As I said, I love Amanda Leduc’s 2020 book Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space — and not just because she quotes me in it! She also connects the scene where Stefan steals Maleficent’s wings in the 2014 Disney movie Maleficent to stealing a disabled person’s mobility device. Maleficent’s wings are her body parts, but they’re also literally her means of locomotion. Once spelled out, this seemed obvious, but hadn’t occurred to me before. As my story says, it’s obviously different from sexual assault, and from the theft of Hulga’s prosthetic leg in O’Connor’s story. My story, though, depicts a distinct, specifically ableist form of sexual harassment and violence through the attempted theft of a mobility device.
I remember obsessively watching that wings-stealing scene from Maleficent on YouTube in late 2014. It’s possible that I subconsciously made this connection to my own thoughts and experiences but wasn’t ready to acknowledge or write about it. All of this convinced me that my “Good Country People” story was an idea whose time had finally come, and I might be ready to write it.
As many disabled people, including me, have said, if you touch our mobility aids, service animals, or devices without consent, that’s dangerous and assault. They’re extensions of our bodies. For example, Dr. Amy Kavanagh’s Twitter hashtag #JustAskDontGrab reminds everyone to ask someone if they need help before trying to touch them.
Hulga is 32 years old in “Good Country People.” I’m still 32 for about another week! This story feels very personal to me, and I’m so glad “The Only Way to Travel” published when I was still 32!
On Slurs in O’Connor’s Work and Biography
I recently bought and read Brad Gooch’s excellent biography of Flannery O’Connor, Flannery: A Life, when it was an ebook deal. Most of the research in the book was later used in Flannery, the 2021 documentary in PBS’ American Masters series, which I wrote about on Book Riot and Medium last April. It discusses topics including O’Connor’s Catholicism, her beloved peacocks, her lupus (which her father also had), her education, and her racism.
Gooch’s book was published in 2009 and uses a lot of racist, anti-LGBTQIA, and ableist language. Some of this is inevitable when directly quoting O’Connor’s letters and stories from the 1950s and ’60s. However, some were poor editorial choices, even for 2009. Gooch’s book doesn’t censor the n-word or other slurs when quoting O’Connor. Neither does the documentary, but the 2021 documentary Flannery includes a trigger warning and note on historical context.
As I mentioned last year on Medium, one of O’Connor’s stories was titled “The Artificial [N-Word],” and she used the n-word in private letters too! In the biography, one of O’Connor’s contemporaries rightly censored it while reading it back in the 1950s. O’Connor thought replacing the slur “ruined” the story! If we’re not the target of a slur, we can’t use it. A white writer’s story should never hinge on it.
The biography itself also uses the h-word for an intersex character in the 1953 story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” and the r-word for a character with an intellectual disability. I think general awareness of ableist and anti-LGBTQIA terms has greatly increased since 2009, but a white writer using or quoting the n-word should have always been censored. Unlike some other slurs, everyone has always known the n-word is a dehumanizing, anti-Black slur.
Our Flag Means Death and Fan Fiction
I enjoyed Our Flag Means Death on HBO Max and posted “Full Circle,” my fan fiction of the show, on my Ao3 account in May. My fic has a “Teen” rating: references to sex and violence, but not explicit. I’m glad the show was renewed. I also blogged on OFMD on my WordPress here and here and mentioned it in my silly, humorous Book Riot article on fan fiction ship (relationship) names. Thanks to everyone who reads my work!
In one draft of “The Only Way to Travel,” I included footnotes with page numbers for all of the quotes from “Good Country People” that I used in my own story. They are taken from my copy of O’Connor’s Collected Works (referenced below).
Gooch, Brad. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
Leduc, Amanda. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Coach House Books, 2020.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Good Country People,” Collected Works. New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. (Library of America), 1988. p. 263–283.