Nothing Without Us is an own-voices, multi-genre collection of short stories where the protagonists identify as disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, Spoonie, and/or manage mental illness.
Co-editor Talia Johnson interviews Madona Skaff, author of Backbone, which will appear in the Nothing Without Us anthology this fall.
Tell us about yourself as an author. Do you have any published works? What sort of stories do you gravitate to as a writer.
I’ve always loved telling stories even as a child. I started out writing and publishing science fiction short stories. Over the years I became interested in mystery short stories as well.
Coming out this year is the story “The Soul Behind the Face” in the anthology “In The Key of 13”, (Mesdames of Mayhem).
My debut mystery novel, “Journey of a Thousand Steps” (Renaissance Press) is about a young woman recently disabled by MS who turns sleuth to find her missing friend.
What was it about the Nothing Without Us anthology that made you want to submit to it?
I may be unusual in that I couldn’t come up with an idea that was different from my novel so I wasn’t going to submit anything. That is until Cait approached me and said, that it might be nice to include a mystery. So, I exchanged my one-trick pony hat for a thinking cap. Sure enough I came up with a fresh idea – and the rest is history.
What inspired you to write Backbone?
I used to volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school (Kindergarten to grade 6) and one afternoon the whole school went to the gym to watch a movie. All the kids came in and sat in rows on the floor, with the youngest at the front. I watched as a grade 6 boy using a walker come and slid to the floor to join his classmates. He landed on a young girl who scolded him and he apologized meekly. My first thought was, “How can she be so mean to the poor kid?” Of course I was using a walker myself at the time and my second thought was, “He is so lucky to be treated just like everyone else.” I’ve never forgotten that image, or my thoughts.
Disabled people are often portrayed as pitiful, or having no self-agency, how, without spoilers, does your character turn this trope on its head?
Since everyone was constantly treating Ian like he needed help with even the mundane tasks, he eventually started to believe it. Until a perfectly ordinary thing happened and he realized that he’d become brainwashed. He took control of his life. Just because he can’t walk properly, there’s nothing wrong with his ability to make decisions.
Backbone plays on the stereotypes of disabled people that able folk have, how have you seen the negative stereotypes expressed in mainstream media and fiction?
They are usually secondary characters added for “colour” or because they’re interesting, quirky people. They are either shown as “despite their disability” they are a useful. Or even worse, they should be admired because they’ve overcome so much to become part of the hero/heroine’s story.
What do you feel is missing in disability fiction, and mainstream stories about disability?
I would like to see more stories that depict the person is simply a part of the plot, and their disability is just another aspect of their character, such as their hair colour. It’s also important to remember that their struggle (large or small; visible or not) is a part of them and should not to be ignored in the story.
I accept that they can’t always be the main protagonist, but once in a while would be nice.
We’re so glad to have you as part of Nothing Without Us! Where can people follow you and learn more about your writing and other work?
You can find me on Facebook.
Or check out my website MadonaSkaff.com
Editors: Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson
With stories by: Myriad Augustine, Carolyn Charron, Joanna Marsh, Elliott Dunstan, Jennifer Lee Rossman, Raymond Luczak, Nicole Zelnicker, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Jamieson Wolf, J. Ivanel Johnson, Tom Johnson, Tonya Liburd, Shannon Barnsley, Madonna Skaff, Maverick Smith, George Zancola, Diane Koerner, Laurie Stewart, Tasha Fierce, Nathan Caro Frechette, Emily Gillespie, Derek Newman-Stille