I have come to realize that some books arrive into the world like fireworks. They shout from the skies, “Here I am!” But some books take time. They land softly, gently singing, “Here I am.” These voices may be quiet, but they still are strong and steady. Books by disabled and chronically ill authors who may be struggling with serious medical issues at the time of their book releases may fall into this second category. In an industry eager to include more diverse writers, including disabled writers, it is important to give these books space to land and to grow. For this to happen, we must create a writing community in which disabled writers can safely voice their needs, struggles, and victories without fear of judgment or shame—a community in which their books have room to grow even if they have quieter releases.
Chronically ill writers face many challenges beyond physical pain. They struggle to be believed not only by strangers, but by their own doctors, family, and friends. They may face blame for their illnesses and may fear that publishing professionals will view them as too much trouble to work with. They often are forced to tackle their most difficult times alone, either shut out by their world or too fearful to open up about the reality of their situations. They may at times feel completely silenced.
On Aug. 6, 2019, The Serendipity of Flightless Things came into the world with little celebration. It wasn’t the way I had pictured it. I wasn’t on top of the world. I was sick. Very, very sick. That summer, I began to run a fever daily. Weakness and exhaustion consumed me. I would fall asleep at random and wake up sick to my stomach. My heart raced, my blood pressure dropped, and my electrolytes zinged out of control. I lost a quarter of my blood and a fifth of my body weight. For the first time in my life, I became bedridden.
It wasn’t until three months after the release of my book that I would be diagnosed with a rare but serious adrenal disease and that life-saving treatment could be started. That day in August, though, I did not celebrate Serendipity. I sent out an obligatory tweet announcing the release, and then I went to sleep.
The people I thought loved me most were not supportive. I felt no love, no sense of pride. I believed I was a disappointment to my publisher, to my agent, to my readers, and that none of them could ever understand, because at the time I didn’t even understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was sick, but I worried that, if I opened up to anyone about what was happening, my sickness would be seen as too burdensome for the fast-paced publishing world. I felt like a failure as an author and as a person. Worst of all, I felt like my voice didn’t matter.
I know now that my voice does matter. For chronically ill writers, our voices are ones of steady strength, of vulnerability, perseverance, and agency. Our voices set us free, and, when we write, we strive to set our readers free, too, because we know what it is to be cornered into silence. We know what it is to fight for a voice. If we as an industry are to be champions of diverse books, we must give breathing room for books that land more quietly. We never know what a writer is going through at the time of a release. Stories are about what it means to be human. Let writers be human, too, and let the voices of chronically ill and disabled writers be heard—even if it takes a little longer for their books to take off.
And so this year, even if it’s a year too late, I am proud of Serendipity. For months, whenever I thought of Serendipity, all I could feel was sadness. Not only had my illness taken away my health, my freedom, and the people I thought loved me most, but it had taken away the joy of the thing I loved doing most—writing. Today though, one year after Serendipity’s release, I take that back. I take back that love. I take back my joy and my pride, and I claim my sadness, too. I am proud to say that I love this book, even if its entrance into the world was quieter than I had hoped. I know that I am strong now, and, even if I didn’t feel it, I was strong then, too. My voice deserves to be heard, and so do the voices of thousands of other chronically ill and disabled writers. Let us make space for them in our community.
Fiadhnait Moser is the author of two middle grade novels, The Serendipity of Flightless Things and The Flourishing of Floralie Laurel.