Accessible Magic

Welcome to Part 2 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were Petrea Mitchell as moderator, Andi C. Buchanan, and Taiyo Fujii.

How does a person with a speech impediment handle magical incantations? Dyslexic sorcery: scrambling runes a hazard? Is the autism spectrum an advantage if spellcasting requires visualizing complex shapes? Let’s mash mastery of magic and differently abled people together and see what we get.

In a lot of fantasy and science-fiction, they wave their hands and make magic or tech the “solution” to all disabilities. Let’s explore ways to use magic for accessibility and ways differently abled people could be better integrated into these stories.

Things That Are Usually Ignored

There are tons of ways accessibility could be impacted by magic or science. Here are a few:

  • potion allergy
  • inability to focus (ADHD), making magic either a challenge, or so hard that you need to veg for a day or two afterwards.
  • for intuitive magic, what about people who struggle with things that others claim are ‘intuitive’, like people with autism

Bad Tropes

There are tons of ways that people get disability in stories wrong. Tropes that are overdone and trite, and minimize the very real impact and communities that form around a shared bond.

  • Magic compensates for the disability… by erasing it. — i.e. Daredevil. The blind superhero with the superpower of… sight.
    • Note: there’s a different, and healthier vibe if the character purposely sacrifices an ability in order to get something else, like Odin and his eye. Assuming that the sacrifice doesn’t malign people who naturally have that disability.
  • No medical consent — they fix everything the way they believe your body ‘should’ work, without telling you about risks or giving you options
  • Having unhealthy work-arounds for a disability
  • The person who sacrificed themselves for the group — was dying anyway
  • The disability is fixed instantly with magic
    • Can be mitigated by showing the learning stage, the strength building, etc

Remember, when things are designed to be more accessible, they’re often more accessible for everyone, not just the group that the design was focused on. For example, curb cuts, where the sidewalk smoothly thins to meet the level of the road, make things easier for strollers (and bikes), not just wheelchair users.

Underutilized Tropes

Adding the concept of accessibility to your stories isn’t just a list of “things to avoid” and “wouldn’t it be nice”. Here are some ways you might explore different types of abilities.

  • Using magic/science as an adaptive technique, rather than a cure-all
  • Having something that isn’t a disability in this world be one in the story
    • Tone-deaf — if magic is music based
    • Color-blindness — if colors of things is important
    • Morning person — in a world that operates at night
  • Having the ability CAUSE a disability
    • In ‘My Hero Academia’, one of the characters is stronger than his bones can withstand… so he has to modify his fighting style
  • Having accessibility tools give more powers
    • Adaptive arms or an exoskeleton that makes magics possible that weren’t before – because of more digits or hands, etc.
  • For people who are more math focused, and less able to ‘visualize magic’, like so many do — More mathlike magic — working more like a computer program, with ‘if this, then that’ sort of branches

Adding people with different types of abilities and making things accessible to more people is a great way to populate your fictional world look more like the real world, and show ways we could do better.

Suggested Reading

The best way to learn about how differently abled people interact with the world is to read the books they populate. It’s also a great idea to read stories by writers with disabilities — even when that’s not the focus — because getting to know other perspectives is a great way to improve your world-building, your characterizations, plus broaden your own horizons.

“Away With The Wolves” by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine)

The Outside – by Ada Hoffmann

The Disabled People Destroy Fantasy edition of Uncanny Magazine

The Country Of The Blind – by HG Wells

Geometries of Belonging – By R.B. Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Mooncakes – by Suzanne Walker  (Author), Wendy Xu (Illustrator)

First Dates by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers (Translunar Travelers Lounge)


Do you have any thoughts on things I missed? Any pet peeves you’d like to add? Please do so!

Please let me know if you have any story suggestions.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Cultures and Their Myths

This is part 1 of my CoNZealand – WorldCon 77 notes.

The titular panel was called “Shared Common Myths” and the panel description was as follows: “How do myths and legends impact cultures around the world? Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell argued that the same stories underlie myths everywhere. Were they right, or are there fundamental differences between myths from around the world? “

The panelists were Helen Marshall (as moderator), Peadar Ó Guilín, Graci Kim, and Suyi Davies Okungbowa.

While the premise of the panel was the shared myths, the discussion instead demonstrated that the culture that births the story influences the myth far more than one would expect. While I am referencing all of these items as “myths”, many of them are sincere beliefs of their followers, and in this post, I am aiming to give them all the same level of respect.

Myths that more people should know about

In some Korean myths, in the beginning of time, Bear and Tiger both wanted to be human and prayed to Hwanung. The divine king told them to go into a cave with only mugwort leaves and garlic to eat. If they stayed in the darkness for 100 days and 100 nights, through the dark and cold and hunger, they would become human. It didn’t take long before Tiger left for food. But Bear became the first human — a beautiful woman.

The fascinating part is the foods it describes were so unexpected.

Another myth put forward was told in Laurie Anderson song ‘The Beginning of Memory’, based on Aristophanes’s ‘The Birds’. The Earth was originally covered in water, so birds would circle it endlessly. When Bird’s father died, there was no where to bury him, so, instead, she buried him in the back of her head — and that was the beginning of memory. The notion and contemplation of memory is fascinating.

For the Irish, their mythology talks about the interaction between two worlds in touching planes. In the ‘Voyage of Bran’, on a rough sea, Manannán mac Lir rode by on his chariot. Bran called out, “how do you wheel on the sea?” and Mac Lir replied, “it’s fields here for me.” In another Irish tale, a ship flies by and its anchor gets caught in a tree. A man swims down through the air to free the anchor and starts to drown. A farmer, seeing all this, cuts the anchor free. The man swims back up, the shipmates wave, and the ship sets sail once more. The ways the two worlds overlap, but differ in geography is fascinating.

In a West African creation myth, there is a God of Sky and a God of Water. Another god offers to create land. So, they give him a chain and a snail shell filled with dirt. The god climbs down the chain from the sky, and pours the dirt out of the shell, creating land and mountains and more. He’d brought other artifacts with him, and filled the land with humans, animals, and vegetation.

The Differences Between The Myth World and the Real World

The intersection of different or parallel worlds is always fascinating.

For the Irish, they claim to have beat the spirits that came before, the Tuatha De Dannann, and agreed to split the land with the losers. But not east to west, not north to south. The Irish took the top of the ground and granted their spirits the underground. And it is because of this trickery that the Irish spirits can be so antagonistic, and always trying to get the better of the rules. Spirits in other places may be kinder, or not, depending on the culture that birthed them.

In myths, there is often an underworld — beneath or beside our world. In some mythologies, the underworld/spirit world isn’t really another place, it’s a revolving door. In some Korean traditions, when you die you are wrapped in 7 layers of shrouds and, in the spirit realm, you are on trial for 49 days. And every 7 days, your descendents can perform rituals to help. Eventually, your spirit will be reincarnated.

Life and birth are different in spirit worlds. The ways gods are said to birth themselves or each other are not the mortal way.

The Basis Of Myth

A culture’s myths are based on one (or more) of three things:

  • what a people wants to be true
  • what a people believes is true
  • what a people fears is true

The further back in a culture’s history you find a created myth, the more likely that the myth is a way to make sense of the world around them, and a sense of self. As more cultures with their own believes intersect, you see more external values and morals being filtered into the stories. Many later myths that have been collected have been filtered through Christian/Muslim/Confucianistic/etc beliefs.

There was mention of the story of a mythological firefly creature that conveyed what people needed to do to be safe from malaria — that was created after the mosquito was introduced (inadvertently) by the colonizers.

Absorption versus Changed Myths

Myths have always changed and evolved, that is the nature of oral traditions. Plus, there are some myths are changed by outside influences, and some myths from outside cultures absorbed and rewritten with native influences.

In Korea, every family had its own spirits, and then Confucianism made them into family ancestors. Things are interpreted by where you live and your culture.

In Christian church art, they often made the paintings and the images of the stories they were trying to teach filled with flora and fauna very local to the area, so that the people could see themselves in the story.

The Power of Modern Myths

By creating and rewriting myths, you can create a sense of community. You can bring the culture you were born into and make it more accessible, or more relevent to current issues and concerns.

Disasters and war and trade have always influences myths and changed both their nuances and their focus. They give us a way to cope with the truth.

Today? The pandemic is likely going to spawn tales and myths for generations.


What are your favorite myths? Have you ever created one or your own or rewritten one? I know I love to.

CoNZealand, The Future of Conventions, and The Hugos

This blogpost has some context, some not-so-humble-bragging, and a response to current events in the literary community. You have been warned.

WorldCon, the annual celebration of science-fiction and fantasy works, where all full members select and vote on the best works of the year, was supposed to be in New Zealand this year.

This, being 2020, CoNZealand was held virtually.

Thanks to many of their staffers helping out with Virtual Balticon, I wanted to return the favor. I offered to do a few moderation shifts on Discord and up to 4 hours a week of other work.

And then the training staff reached out — most of whom I had worked with at Balticon.

I ended up having over 34 hours of check-ins and training sessions, not counting showing up early, not counting staying late to debug issues.

I created a virtual tour because I knew from the past that the different technologies are confusing and intimidating at first. I, and another staffer, ran these twice a day, until the last day of the con.

And, as I mentioned last week, I was on a couple panels myself.

This “new normal” might be temporary, but we’re not going back to the old ways of doing things. I’ve talked with staffers of various conventions about the tech, about the challenges, and I have a few predictions.

While hosting a fully in-person and virtual convention simultaneously may be beyond the staffing and budget reach of most conventions, I expect there to be some overlap.

Depending on the size convention, I expect at least one room set up for virtual panelists. I expect a chat app that people are on, maybe even upvoting questions during live panels. I expect, at first, the in-person attendance to be light, although the parties may be epic. I expect mask fashion to be the newest huge-geek-trend. I expect lots of hand sanitization and handwashing. And? If we’re lucky? More people paying attention to their health and less con-crud — i.e. the standard cold-or-worse many con-goers get when they’re attending in-person conventions.

But for now? For last week? It was all virtual.

I’d intended to teach beforehand and then attend panels, but when the zoom host schedule came out, so filled with holes, I couldn’t not step up. I trained 14 zoom hosts during the first 3 days of the con and did my best to support them as they went out into the field. Between supporting them, monitoring discord, and my own zoom room hosting, I was basically on duty 10 hours a day from Tuesday through Saturday.

That being said, I did make it to two events. I made it to a workshop I’d signed up for before the zoom host schedule even dropped, and I managed to watch the first two hours of the Hugo awards.

There’s been a LOT said about the Hugos and its Toastmaster, who’d been tasked with providing Hugo context to a lot of newcomers.

He also gave us a great, heaping scoop of the fandom that had been and whose shoulders we stand upon. Of the old guard.

I mourn the stories that were never shared because their writer wasn’t given the support, the market, the time away from paying bills or caring for family. The ones shut out because the market said they “just didn’t connect” with a story that was simply outside of their experiences.

I listened to our toastmaster’s stories and watched his hat changes. I watched as the internet boiled in rage that he couldn’t take 5 minutes to google a name pronunciation. I know where that rage comes from. But me? I think of the dad in Pleasantville, whose complacency with a world made for him is rocked when other people’s happiness starts to matter. These didn’t use to be the rules, but now the world has progressed beyond him.

And I watched the winners. In all their diversity, in all their talent, in all their JOY.

Winners so far out from the old guard, that they’ve probably got whiplash.

Now I like the idea of the sf community having its own awards. I like the idea of them being more accessible, not just pay-to-play.

But right now? The Hugo’s are still a big deal and, if we stop looking at who’s handing out these awards and look at what the community if voting for, if we look at who’s winning these awards? The sf community already has a foot into the future. And we don’t look like we’re turning back any time soon.

CoNZealand – The Virtual WorldCon

This week has been a bit frantic.

Every summer, the science-fiction and fantasy community gathers, anywhere in the world. This year? The site was supposed to be New Zealand — going where no WorldCon has gone before.

While the slogan still works, I didn’t get to go see Hobbiton, or fly for a day and a half. Instead, I get to meet and visit with all those fans online.

As the WorldCon staff helped out that Virtual Balticon I worked on Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to pay them back for their help.

I got in a bit over my head.

I’ve been helping train the panelists with zoom, I created a Virtual Tour demo that I’ve been running daily during the convention, and since the day the convention started (at least in my timezone), I’ve trained up over 10 new zoom hosts to help with staffing.

And of course, keeping an eye on the Discord and helping where I can. There were a lot of issues logging in, so helping people get started was a Herculean task that the staff deserves a whole bag of cookies for helping everyone they could through that rather messy process.

Not to mention, before I got on staff, I’d signed up to be a panelist. For the first day of the convention, I was on two panels: What To Expect When You’re Ready To Query and How To Establish a Social Media Presence.

Only one thing — in honor of the convention hosts, everything’s in New Zealand time!

So, that first panel with 3 other lovely panelists was at 9pm EDT, with a rather frazzled Morgan moderating, and I think it went quite well. My next panel? Was at 23:00 NZT — or 7am! I don’t get up that early for WORK.

So, I went to bed shortly after midnight, and eventually wound down enough to sleep, then rolled out of bed when my alarm went off.

Only to find that all of my other panelists had had to withdraw. So? It ended up being a 30-minute monologue before I opened to questions. This was a panel I had proposed, and I think we all know I can talk for a while. Thus, I opened up my outline from my A Starter’s Guide To Establishing a Social Media Presence (For Fiction Writers). While I know I’m far from an expert, I can definitely get you started. And? It seemed to be very well received, with some great questions.

Then, I went back to bed.

Today’s been busy, but fewer fires.


How’s your week been going? How’s your writing going?