A few years ago, someone asked me if I would ever write a novel with a character who had MS. I told him no.
My reasons for this at the time seemed simple. I already wrote a blog about living with multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. That seemed like enough for me. My thought at the time being that reading should be an escape, a pleasure, and a joy. I thought my writing was an escape from who I was and what I carried within me. No one would want to read a story or a novel with a character who had multiple sclerosis.
Flash forward to a few years later in 2018. I was on a panel at the Canadian Conference for Speculative Fiction called Spooning with Spoonies. Its topic concerned how the disabled are portrayed in fiction and how people who weren’t disabled often got it all wrong.
Something clicked within me during that panel. It occurred to me that writing a blog wasn’t enough; I had to write more deeply about my multiple sclerosis. I had to break the stigma that was held against disabled writing and disabled characters. I had to fight through the stigma I had placed against myself and the fact that I never saw anyone like me within the pages of a book.
I find it very telling that I’ve had three works this year that revolve around multiple sclerosis. The first of those works is my memoir, Little Yellow Magnet, followed by my novel Love and Lemonade, and The Descent, a story in the Nothing Without Us anthology.
It took almost two years to write Little Yellow Magnet, and it was the most difficult thing I have ever written, but also the most rewarding. I had meant to write a little book on positivity, but that didn’t work. I needed to write about my entire journey with MS, to talk about everything I had been through. My hope is that it helps someone else, gives them knowledge, and teaches them something about choosing joy.
During the writing of Little Yellow Magnet, I realized that I had not been at home in my body, despite everything I had done to make my life better. Before writing the memoir, I sparkled for everyone else. After writing Little Yellow Magnet, I sparkled for myself once more.
After finishing my memoir, I got to work on Love and Lemonade. It’s the third novel in my Lemonade Series. With this novel, I wanted to take a look at all the different kinds of love that there are in the LGBTQ and straight communities. I wanted a novel that revolved around love. When I began writing it, I knew that I would include a gay character who also lived with a disability. At first, I was going to write about a character who used a wheelchair; however, something that was said in the Spooning with Spoonies panel occurred to me. I should use my own voice. It would be more powerful if I wrote in my own voice and about a disability I understood.
Writing about Zack and the trials he went through dating in the gay community were my trials. His anger at the lack of acceptance was my anger. His frustration with his multiple sclerosis was my frustration. There’s a lovely flipside to that. His courageous spirit is my spirit. His thirst for life and the need to live it to its fullest, despite his limitations, was my thirst. Though Zack, I wrote about a lot of the frustrations and joys that I felt when I tried dating, and then when I met the man who would become my husband. It was wonderfully freeing to be completely myself on the page, but have it hidden behind the smokescreen of fiction, so unlike when I wrote Little Yellow Magnet, when it was just me and my life on the page. It was really cathartic, and I loved the path that Zack’s storyline took. I was proud of him and all he’d done and in turn, proud of myself.
In September of 2018, a call out for submissions went out for the Nothing Without Us anthology. It was to be a multi-genre anthology of stories that featured people living with disabilities, but the twist was that we would be the protagonists. We wouldn’t be the sidekicks, the best friends, the comic relief in the story. We would stand front and centre. The only thing was that I had to write in my own voice.
I knew right away that I wanted to write some kind of fantasy story that would feature a wizard. The original idea I had for the story was that he would be climbing a mountain, going high into the sky, to symbolize the flat mountains that I had had to climb in my own life. I took the idea of writing in my own voice to name my character. I called him Jefferson. I figured that would make him easier to write and identify with. Jefferson had other ideas.
It wasn’t a full-on magical story; instead, it was a quiet story where Jefferson and I had to tackle my worst nightmare: stairs. I hate stairs—they are something I’m afraid of. I can go up fine as long as it has a railing, but I can’t do down. It just figures that the mountain that Jefferson decided to tackle was a long and winding staircase that went downwards to visit an oracle who would hopefully be able to cure his multiple sclerosis. The story has gotten great response and was even cited on the Prix Aurora Award winning website, Speculating Canada, in an article about going against disability tropes. The feedback went beyond my expectations.
In all three of these works, I wrote using my own voice. I wrote from within, reaching deep down into me and pulling out all the words I had been afraid to write, the words that I told myself that no one would want to read. These three works contain the words that I had told myself were unneeded. I pulled all those words from the darkest parts of me, the place where I had hidden them away, and showed them to the light.
If anything, they are my best works, the ones that mean the most to me. In each of them, I was completely and totally myself and my voice was at its loudest. In the end, writing from within was what makes Little Yellow Magnet, Love and Lemonade and my short story The Descent sparkle so brightly. In the end, I shine because I used my voice.
Sparkle on everyone!
Editor’s note: Sparkle on, Jamieson!
Jamieson Wolf is an award-winning, number one bestselling author of over sixty books and writer of Two Steps at a Time, a blog about having multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. In 2019, he released his gripping memoir, Little Yellow Magnet, followed by Love and Lemonade (the third book in the Lemonade Series), and his short story, The Descent appears in the Nothing Without Us anthology.
He is an accomplished artist who works in mixed media, charcoal, pastels, and oil paints. He is also something of an amateur photographer, a poet, a perfume designer, and a graphic designer.