Cait Gordon’s first book, Life in the ‘Cosm, was meant as a way to survive chronic illness, but ended up a surprise hit. She’s about to release a second edition, and a prequel, with Renaissance Press!
With co-editor Talia C. Johnson and Nathan Fréchette from Renaissance, she recently built a Kickstarter for Nothing Without Us – a multi-genre, own-voices anthology with main characters who are disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, Spoonie, and/or manage mental illness – and the Kickstarter not only met, but surpassed their goal.
Cait was kind enough to answer a few questions for the blog:
PersephoneKnits: I’m going to let people explore the links on your blog about disabled own-voices, but one of the things you mention is coming to terms with your own ingrained ableism. This is something I still struggle with mightily. I fight using the word disabled to describe myself, despite being disabled. For me, it’s a matter of shame from years of being taught you are only as valuable as what you do. How has your writing journey helped you do this self-work?
Cait Gordon: When I wrote Life in the ’Cosm, I was totally pantsing it. I really didn’t expect it to be a book other people would read; I was just having fun and trying to distract myself from my debilitating chronic pain. I never expected to write Noola as a character—she just popped up in chapter three! She was this glittery rainbow extrovert who loved life and people. Then I decided to make her roller boots a mobility device. So, now I had this disabled character who resembled me in a lot of ways. Writing her with such a fierce soul and lust for life inspired me to remind myself that disability isn’t the end, but as Noola says, “Maybe it’ll be okay. Maybe I’ll figure things out.” And that’s what happened to me. I figured things out.
PK: That description of Noola makes me excited to read the book! Releasing a second version feels unusual to me. Most of us write and publish and move on. What were you looking to accomplish, and what was the risk/benefit in doing so?
CG: I didn’t change anything in the plot for the second release of Life in the ‘Cosm. It’s just that in the time since it was published, I not only became a disability advocate, but also a sensitivity editor for ableist terms used without nuance. This past year I’ve been working as a co-editor on the Nothing Without Us anthology, and I felt a strong desire to go through my first book again. I wanted to put into practice what I was preaching. When I told my publisher that I wished I could remove ableist terms from ‘Cosm, they supported me on it, so I took the opportunity they presented. Before it was originally published, I didn’t have an awareness of how common ableist words were in our everyday speech. My current goal is for my work to represent where I’m at now.
PK: I love this. I love the openness and mindfulness of it. And, the integrity. It’s so much better than an afterword screed, à la Ray Bradbury, where instead of examining and owning growth, he doubles down. He’s my problematic fave, and I’ve been trying to come to terms with his views versus my love of his work. As I discussed over on Patreon, white people conveniently overlook the harm done by things we love to those we love, instead of doing the harder work. I like the idea of using our own creativity to combat these past (and current) issues. What are your views on problematic faves and combating their voices with our own?
CG: This is a great question. The next book I’ll be working on is the sequel to Life in the ’Cosm, which I nickname my ’Cosm Breakfast Club. I was a teenager in the ’80s during that era of John Hughes’ films. There were so many things I loved at the time about those films, but when I view them with a 2019 lens, I go, “Oh…eek.” So, I thought I’d have an alien teen crew in Life in Another ’Cosm: Jinny from the Blog, and make the novel a homage to the ’80s films I loved—BUT IN SPACE!
My goal is to keep the tropes I’m fond of while dumping those that are problematic. My characters are diverse in gender and sexual orientation (because that’s my lived experience with my circle of friends), and I still want to have that cross section of the jocks, beauty queen, intense artist, musician, and writer in this book.
I feel we don’t have to feel bad for the books or films we once enjoyed because they are a part of our journey and the shaping of our character. And as the years pass and we learn new things, we adjust our thinking and views. (We are allowed to change and grow at any point in our lives!) What we can do as writers is identify what works and what is no longer appropriate, and craft new stories that keep what we love and toss out what’s problematic. There’s so much power in creativity to project positive messages through the tool of our imagination!