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Op-Ed: Princess in a wheelchair — Interview with author Jewel Kats Special

By Ernest Dempsey     Aug 27, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - Author Jewel Kats talks about her traumatic childhood accident that left her with lifetime physical limitations, yet only added to the spirit of the children's author who now brings hope to other people’s lives affected by trauma or injuries.
“Life isn’t over when you have disabilities. You can live to the fullest, and enjoy being a Princess in every shape and form!” This is the message with which award-wining Canadian author Jewel Kats will participate in the up-and-coming book signing event at the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. Author of Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair, Kats penned a syndicated teen advice column for Scripps Howard News Service (USA) and TorStar Syndication Service (Canada). Living with permanent physical injuries from an accident in childhood, the 34-year-old “Diva on a wheelchair” is a living example of the resilient spirit of life that not only lives positively on its own but through her uplifting stories for children with physical limitations makes a difference in other lives at a time when they need it the most. I am honored to have a brief Q&A session with Jewel Kats for Digital Journal today.
Ernest: Jewel, I first thank you for taking time for this Q&A. I’ll start with a somewhat painful question. Please tell us briefly about your childhood accident?
Jewel: My life-altering car accident occurred on a cold January night. I was nine-years-old. My mom and sister, Meghan, had left a school book fair. Nothing at the fair had squandered my interest. Mom thought she’d take us to a local mall to get a better selection. We never quite made it there.
On an icy road outside the mall, a car smashed into my passenger side door. Glass from the windows shattered everywhere. Mom’s gut reaction was to turn around, and ask how her kids were. Meghan had glass all over her face, and hair. I felt nothing, and said I was “fine.” Mom looked out her window, and the car that had hit us was gone. She asked some teenage girls walking by to call my dad. As this happened, the other car had returned. Until this day, we don’t know if it was the same driver.
When the time came to get out of the car, I couldn’t move. Ambulance workers had to cut the car door, and drag me out. My right leg ballooned under the weight of swelling. I was rushed to a local general hospital.
Ernest: What was the impact of this accident on your life, immediately and afterwards?
Jewel: I wasn’t upset that I’d gotten badly injured. Rather, I was ticked that a nurse had to cut my pants—they were pale blue and my absolute favorite—because the swelling was just so bad.
After some x-rays, I was transferred to The Hospital for Sick Children in quick succession. I was operated on immediately, and spent weeks as an in-patient in a children’s ward. I returned home in a body cast that stretched from my chest to my ankle. I basically lost a year of my life to recovery. I used everything from a bed pan to stretcher to walker to crutches.
Eventually, I did return to my public school environment. My parents instilled confidence in me, and I believe this is why I wasn’t picked on or bullied by my peers.
Ernest: While coping with the impact of your trauma and loss, what were some of the primary sources of hope and happiness?
Jewel: The staff was amazing at The Hospital for Sick Children. We had these neat menus to pick yummy foods from. There were so many activities for even bedridden kids like me. Costume-clad characters would visit our rooms! (This is why I went back and volunteered in The Bear Theatre as a healthy adult.) My family was also enormously supportive. Mom and Meghan visited every single day, and sometimes Mom would even sleep over at the Hospital! I also coped via Archie Comics. I couldn’t get enough of Betty and Veronica. I spent hours reading colorful digests, and completing word search puzzles.
Ernest: When did you start writing?
Jewel: I started writing late in life. I was struck by the bug in 1999. The first thing I ever worked on was a touring musical about youth homelessness. I helped co-write the forum theater production, and eventually wound up on the front page of The Toronto Star’s entertainment section. I initially responded to an advertisement seeking high-risk youth to create a play about their experiences. I had to audition—even sing!—and was ultimately selected. That production changed my life.
Ernest: Was it on your mind when publishing your first book for kids that empowering stories for children with physical limitations are largely needed in most cultures?
Jewel: The first book I ever wrote was Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair. It took five years, and several dozens of drafts to get the story right. I’d read every version of “Cinderella” on the market—be it with modern or multicultural twists—but I could never relate as a person with a disability. Hence, I decided it was about time to create a “Cinderella” character with physical differences. However, this book wasn’t picked up immediately. In fact, I received 100 rejection letters!
I decided to take a break, and penned Reena’s Bollywood Dream: A Story About Sexual Abuse. This book was picked up by Loving Healing Press within 48 hours, and was in production for one year before it came out into print.
Loving Healing Press went onto publish Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair. Now, it’s one of my most well-received books! It even scooped up a silver medal this year from the Mom’s Choice Awards. I never gave up on my dream, and always knew it would one day come to fruit. I would visualize and visualize my dreams for hours on end.
Ernest: Please share with our readers any positive or encouraging feedback from parents of disabled children who read your books and found it useful.
Jewel: I’ve penned seven books thus far. I’ve received a ton of feedback from two of these works. Funny enough, both of these projects are very close to my heart.
DitzAbled Princess: A Comical Diary Inspired by Real Life is basically a hybrid of a comic strip collection and graphic novel. The entire “cast” of characters is real. In fact, they are my family members! The starring character is, Jewel. She’s the quirky, cartoon version of me. This comic strip diary pokes fun at my life, and experiences as a woman with a disability. Women with disabilities have especially reached out to me after reading this work. They often say, at long last, an author has recorded that you can be a Diva with a disability! Moreover, life can be a riot even if a disability is involved.
Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair has touched many parents who’ve told me that their daughters finally regard themselves as the princesses they always were. This is incredibly humbling to hear.
Ernest: So Jewel, later this month at the World’s Biggest Bookstore event in Toronto, who would you love to see there?
Jewel: On Aug. 31st, 2013, I will be at World’s Biggest Bookstore from 1 to 3 p.m. in downtown Toronto. I will be signing the following titles: Teddy Bear Princess, DitzAbled Princess, and Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair. I hope to connect with female readers of all ages. I want to inspire them through my personal story—that is, life goes on after disability. You can be anyone you want to be. You just reach for the stars differently.
Ernest: What are you some of your current writing or creative projects?
Jewel: I’m currently working on Snow White’s Seven Patches: A Vitiligo Fairy Tale. The book is illustrated by Dan Goodfellow. It’s slated to come out in the late fall of 2013. In this adaptation, “Snow White” has seven Vitiligo skin patches in the shapes of the world’s seven continents. It’s basically a picture book about beauty and love. This is the first ever fairy tale in history about Vitiligo.
Ernest: Thank you very much Kats for participating in this interview and telling us about your empowering work for people with special needs. I hope to keep up with your work in the coming weeks.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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