While that is not the definition of empathy in the dictionary, I like it better. It's easy to understand that empathy is putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Anyone who is familiar with my work knows that the reason I write is to tell a story. It's not to write a perfectly pretty book that will appeal to the masses of contemporary romance readers, win every award on the market, or become a bestseller. It's to tell the story of a real person who needs to see their story told. Sometimes I've heard their story. Sometimes I haven't, but I know, somewhere out there, someone is reading that book at a time in their life when they needed it. They yearned to see themselves represented in a genre that often overlooks the truth of what it means to live and love as a person with disabilities in this country. They yearn to have their pain and disappointments validated as feelings they deserve to acknowledge.
You can be sure that the emotions in any book of mine will be honest, real, uncomfortable, and hopefully, in the end, offer a little bit of understanding into someone else's life. That is the very definition of empathy, my friends. I understand that it can be hard to read some of those passages and find echoes of yourself in that character. I feel that 100% to the very bottom of my soul. I live it every single day, but I won't stop being honest about the emotions because it makes someone uncomfortable. We all need to be uncomfortable sometimes if we want to find a new way forward. We all have a story to tell and when I set out to tell one, I set out to tell it accurately and truthfully. I know I fail in doing that quite often. I am human and that will happen, but when I do, it is never because I didn't try. I hope in the end, the reader will pardon my mistake and know that I come from a place of honesty and empathy with them.
That is why I also hold myself to the same standards when I'm participating in interviews, articles, or podcasts. I always try to remember that my friends in the disabled community are counting on me to represent them in a real, honest, and fair way. That is my honor and responsibility, and one that I don't take lightly. I not only hold myself to those standards, but I hold the interviewers to them as well. My job as a writer with disabilities writing characters with disabilities is not simply to entertain for a few hours. My job as a writer with disabilities writing characters with disabilities is to educate and lay bare the often misunderstood and misconstrued lives of people with disabilities. Sometimes, holding others to that standard can cause friction, but if I've stayed true to the people I represent, and helped someone else understand the disabled community a little bit better, then it is worth it. I refuse to let those who are uncomfortable with someone else's truth censor it to make it their own truth. That is the very definition of ableism. I write #Ownvoices stories so others in my community can hear their own voice in a way they may not be able to any other way. I will always strive for excellence in my writing and for my platform, but I will never let empathy be the sacrifice for it.
Katie Mettner writes small-town romantic tales, filled with epic love stories and happily-ever-afters.
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