Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell folks a little bit about yourself?
Amanda Leduc: Absolutely! I am A Canadian writer currently based in Hamilton Ontario. I’ve been an avid reader of spec fic for most of my life, and have a BFA in Creative Writing and Philosophy from the University of Victoria and a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the university of St. Andrews. I’m disabled, and have cerebral palsy. And I work for the Festival of Literary Diversity in Brampton, ON.
Spec Can: I am really interested in your use of fairy tales in your fiction. I think they are so powerful and convey so much. What got you interested in incorporating fairy tales into your work?
Amanda: I’ve always been a huge fairy tale fan—I’ve always loved them. But it took a long time for me to be comfortable with using them in my own work—partly because I felt like I needed to write realist fiction in order to be taken seriously in the literary landscape.
My first novel is not about fairy tales, but uses fabulist elements under the guise of spiritual discussion—again because o felt like that was the only way to “seriously” sneak magical elements into “lit”, whatever that means.
But after MIRACLES (my 2013 novel with ECW), I really found myself drawn to stories that were strange and had all kinds of strange things happen in them.
Spec Can: I love that idea of sneaking in the magical elements.
Amanda: I was working on a short story collection in 2015 and just let myself go into the strangeness of that world—it was very liberating. And then in 2018 I was working on The Centaur’s Wife and was away at a writing retreat, and walking through a forest, and I started ruminating on the connections between fairy tales in particular and disability.
Understanding that I could then write my OWN fairy tales was very liberating. The omniscient narrative style of many fairy tales—plus the understanding that anything goes with magic!—really made me feel like I had license to write about whatever I wanted.
Spec Can: I love that image of the freeing power of writing your own fairy tales. What was freeing about writing your own tales?
Amanda: Just that anything could happen in them—anything at all! I could make a mountain talk. I could make an octopus into a character. I could make a woman give birth to centaur triplets without worrying (too much) about the scientific impossibilities of it.
Spec Can: Can you tell me a little bit about the need to write realist fiction as part of the literary landscape?
Amanda: I don’t think there’s as much of a stigma now, if at all—and in fact I think that spec fic is very much having a moment. But when I was in school, back in 2003-2006, there was definitely a kind of snobbery around fantasy and spec fic in particular vs. so-called “literary” fiction.
And I internalized so much of that! I remember writing a story that became the basis for THE MIRACLES OF ORDINARY MEN in 2005–it REALLY went over well with my class.
So even back then, people were receptive to my weird stories—but *I* was also being a snob.
*I* was afraid of putting them out in the world, of not being seen as a “literary” writer.
Spec Can: It’s fascinating how much we absorb and internalize some of that literary snobbery even when we, ourselves, enjoy reading spec fic and imagining fantastic possibilities. What helped you to start to recognize the potential of the speculative and fantastical?
Amanda: Oh, writers like Karen Russell and Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Carmen Maria Machado, etc. Karen Russell in particular was like…a knight in shining armour!
I also really loved how non-fiction writers like Maggie Nelson and Sarah Manguso were doing speculative things, if you will, with non-fiction—blowing the form wide open, re-imagining what it could be.
But the seeds were there in my younger years. In a 2003 workshop class with the writer John Gould, he once told our class, “You can do ANYTHING YOU WANT in a short story, so long as you do it well.” It took me a long time to really embrace that.
But also—I just loved, and continue to love, reading literature of the fantastic. It gives me a very particular kind of reading joy…and writing it does the same for me. So eventually I was like…why not give in to joy? WHY NOT?
Spec Can: In Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, you examine the role of disability in fairy tales and the ways that we disabled people are often either erased from the fantastic entirely or portrayed as villains, but while doing so, you also examine the subversive power of fairy tales and I really noticed that subversive power in the fairy tales you wove into The Centaur’s Wife. What gives fairy tales that subversive power?
Amanda: I think part of it is that when it’s a fairy tale, we allow anything to happen. We allow for magic, we allow for a world to change. And for me, that gets my subconscious going and asking: why do we allow the world to change in fiction, but don’t stretch our imaginations to meet that change in real life?
Spec Can: Well said! I love that.
Amanda: In the TCW fairy tales, I was particularly interested in how we use fairy tales in two ways: to inspire possibility (the tales that Tasha’s parents tell her), but then also as cautionary tales (the tales Heather’s father tells to her).
So they are tales that at once hearken to possibility but also strive to keep the world as it is to help everyone stay “safe”, such as it is.
Spec Can: As a fellow disabled person and fairy tale enthusiast, it meant so much to see your writing about disability and fairy tales and then to see a disabled protagonist in The Centaur’s Wife. So often, we, as disabled people, are often encouraged to write disability in a way that is laden with tropes or to ONLY tell autobiographic stories. What inspired you to bring disability into the fantastic and to write a complex disabled character who didn’t fit into easy tropes or categories?
Amanda: Well—to start with, Heather was not disabled when I began writing the book. I only realized that she was disabled about 2-3 years into writing it. The novel came out of a short story written in 2014, and I started writing it as a novel in earnest in 2016. And I also started working for the FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity) in 2016, and really started to explore my own identity as a disabled writer during that period. So the centaurs, which initially were meant to be a metaphor for desire, morphed into a metaphor for disability in the early stages of writing the book. And then in and around early 2018 I realized that Heather was also disabled—that she HAD to be for the story to do what it needed to do.
Which is—it’s a story about grief, and also still about desire, and about how the way that we survive trauma and grief is through community. But how do you do that when community is broken—when it keeps people out? How do you learn to adapt in the face of world-altering sadness? This is something that disabled people are VERY familiar with.
I do feel like I needed to come into my own as a disabled woman in order to full write this story the way that it was meant to be.
Syrus Marcus Ware quoted Octavia Butler in a panel I was in with him last year—I don’t remember the quote exactly but the idea is that it’s actually disabled people who fully understand what it means to create a world that is radically different—and that spec and sci-fi in particular are genres that have a responsibility to make this happen through words and narrative.
So as I came into the fullness of writing TCW I think I was also reckoning with the radical responsibility of writing dystopian fiction from a disabled perspective as well. It is too easy to assume that disabled people are left behind when the world collapses. We need to imagine different futures.
Spec Can: I feel like we are at a critical moment in the potential to develop a disabled fantastica (a delving into the possibilities of writing speculative fiction from our perspectives as disabled people) and possibly shifting the way that disability is represented. What are some things that you think we can do to develop a disabled fantastica? What are some things that you feel are important to the genre?
Amanda: Well, for starters I think it’s important to include disabled characters in all elements of storytelling. Both narratives where disability is at the centre, but also narratives where disability just IS.
I also think it’s important to include wide-ranging representation. I have no problems at all with disabled villains if I can also be given insight into their motivations and understand WHY they do what they do.
Heather for example—she’s not a villain, but she’s also not perfect! She is not Tiny Tim! Her disability HAS made her bitter and makes her put up walls that hamper her happiness. But this/these are tools she’s using to survive.
I think it’s important that we showcase a huge range of disability representation so that audiences understand that disabled people, just like their non-disabled counterparts, should be allowed to have messy lives and make questionable decisions.
Just as they should also be allowed to triumph. So many narratives don’t let disabled people do either.
Spec Can: I absolutely adore Heather in The Centaur’s Wife because she isn’t the Tiny Tim ‘Good Cripple’ figure. She is complex, often engaging in problematic behaviour, and isn’t particularly nice. I think this makes her such a wonderful character. She is fundamentally human and not a trope.
Amanda: Yes! I love her so much. She’s so prickly, but I think that she’s also very loyal.
And HURT. And ANGRY.
Spec Can: I think it’s so important that we showcase characters like her who are complex. They aren’t a villain just because they are disabled and they aren’t a hero because they are disabled either. They are morally complex as so many of us are.
Amanda: Yes! Exactly.
Spec Can: Did you find any resistance to writing about disability in this way? So many people in our community have tried to create manuscripts with complex disabled characters only to be told by publishers that the character didn’t reflect their image of disability or that the character’s narrative wasn’t about disability enough.
Amanda: I was lucky to not encounter resistance…but then also lucky, har har, in that I had signed for the book before it was written. So PRH gave me the go-ahead for a book and then I snuck disability in while I was writing it, heh heh.
My editor was REALLY lovely and absolutely adored the disability angle, especially the way that Heather’s relationship with her father is so fraught.
Spec Can: I think that was the most devastating and also incredibly significant part of The Centaur’s Wife – when you reveal that her father brought her up onto the mountain to try to ‘cure’ her of her disability. So often, the cure is represented in fiction about disability as the goal of every disabled person and the ‘solution’ to their disability and I thought it was so powerful that you presented a character who was devastated not by not getting a cure, but instead by her father’s insinuation that she NEEDS a cure.
Amanda: I actually wish this was talked about more in interviews. You’re the first publication to really ask about it! (Not surprising, I guess.)
Spec Can: For me, I always find it so problematic to see cure narratives and again see the way that abled people believe that we are incomplete until cured. Can you talk a little bit about your feelings about the cure narrative?
Amanda: Yes, the cure narrative is so complicated! I think the issue in many ways comes back, again, to limited disability rep in the world. Look—most people who see “A Marriage Story” don’t leave it saying, “I am NEVER GETTING MARRIED because that looks awful!” because we have been exposed to millions of different kinds of marriage representation on our screens and in our books.
People understand that there are so many ways to have a marriage because we SEE so many ways to have a marriage.
But we only see a few dominant narratives about disability, and these all too often fall into the villain/Tiny Tom tropes. So people who don’t have experience of disability see the same narrative about quadriplegics through movies like My Left Foot and Me Before You and think that’s it, that’s all there is to the disability experience—why WOULDN’T anyone want a cure. But if we saw more widely varied representation—and understood that there are ways to support disabled lives that mean they don’t necessarily NEED to be cured in order to gain the things they want—love, acceptance, freedoms, autonomy etc—then the understanding shifts.
I also want to leave space for the realty that some disabled people DO want cures. I think it’s so complex. Do I want to be cured of my CP? No. Do I want a cure for my chronic pain? Yes, absolutely.
In order to showcase this complexity, the stories we tell must also necessarily be complex.
Heather as a character both accepts her body and also rails against its limitations.
Spec Can: I think that’s why she speaks to me as a disabled reader.
Amanda: I don’t think it’s realistic (ironically) to have characters who DON’T hold both of these things at the same time.
Spec Can: When I have been recommending The Centaur’s Wife to people, I’ve been calling it Mythopocalyptic because you blend the mythical so beautifully with the apocalyptic. There have been so many different apocalyptic narratives in recent years, but I think you take a really interesting route with the narrative by weaving the mythical and magical through the apocalypse. Can you talk a bit about why you decided to tell an apocalyptic narrative and also why you decided to go with a mythical reclaiming of the world?
Amanda: Well, the apocalyptic narrative came first, and it was only after I’d written Disfigured that I understood where the fairy tales fit in the narrative.
But also, the element of storytelling was very much a part of the story from the beginning—i just had to figure out why.
It’s a novel about survival, and the way that we survive is by telling ourselves stories.
Spec Can: I think it’s so significant that your book came out in the middle of a pandemic because so many of us have been surviving by telling ourselves stories or reading the stories of others.
And of course, you know I am excited to ask about the centaurs. What inspired you to use these amazing creatures in your narrative?
Amanda: Well the centaurs were initially a metaphor for desire. I was interested in writing about forbidden love—what it looks like when you love someone you can’t have.
And that does continue through the book, with Heather and Estajfan, but when I wrote the centaurs’ origin story and saw what happened to them at birth, the disability metaphor was immediately apparent.
I also knew fairly early in that they weren’t “traditional” centaurs as we know from Greco-Roman myth. They needed their own origin story, partly because I didn’t want to be beholden to the established myths in place.
Spec Can: To wrap up our interview, is there anything else you would like to mention or any new projects you can tell us a bit about?
Amanda: I want to just mention that The Centaur’s Wife is available in all accessible formats.
I am working (very slowly, much slower than I’d like) on a few new projects: a novel about a pair of sentient hyenas, a book of collected fairy tales, and a memoir/exploration of grief and friendship using the cosmos as a guide. Small potatoes.
Spec Can: That is fantastic. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview and for your incredible and brilliant insights. I hope we get a chance to do another interview soon!!
Amanda: Oh thank YOU, Derek! I’m excited to see the interview up and this was so lovely. Thank you so much for this space.
Amanda Leduc is a writer and disability rights advocate. She is the author of THE CENTAUR’S WIFE (Random House Canada, 2021), DISFIGURED: ON FAIRY TALES, DISABILITY, AND MAKING SPACE (Coach House Books, 2020), and THE MIRACLES OF ORDINARY MEN (ECW Press, 2013). Her essays and stories have appeared across Canada, the US, and the UK, and she has spoken across North America on accessibility, inclusion, and disability in storytelling. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she serves as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.