We Need Diverse Books

I am a supporter of diversity in books. There’s been a huge push brewing and many authors, readers, agents, etc are putting their efforts towards making this a reality. Because a “normal” person isn’t “normal.” Readers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, and abilities. There should be books to match.

As a person with a hearing loss I didn’t have many role models growing up. There was a book, called A Button In Her Ear, that I read as a child. This book appears to be no longer in print (or, at least, not available on Amazon). And it depicts an older hearing aid than I ever wore. A book like this targets a specific audience, rather than targeting a broad audience and giving a child like me a mainstream protagonist to relate to.

My mother wrote a novel (yes, this apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree) called An Elephant In Her Ear. I need to ask her to find it again. It was about a little girl who had an elephant in her ear (as the title suggests), so she went to sleep with peanuts on her pillow to lure them out. (My mom also illustrated the novel, I didn’t inherit that skill from her.)

When I first started being serious about writing I knew I wanted to include characters with a hearing loss. I’ve spent my professional life educating those around me about hearing loss. From this experience I knew there were many misconceptions. Hearing loss is one of those disabilities that everyone knows about, and feels they know what it entails, but in reality knows very little.

As a writer I wanted to spread education through fiction, an education that was not directly related to the main plot. I knew I wanted at least one character in each of my novels to have a hearing loss. It took me until this year to make a main character have a hearing loss. And I love the way this came about. Because this main character was not designed to be Deaf. The hearing loss is not the focus of the story.

And this is the way it should be for other minorities. The books on the shelf should support a rainbow of main characters. The population is not all white, straight, and able-bodied. That’s not real life. I pick up stories to read based on the concept of the novel. There is no reason why these characters can’t be different. And these characters should be different.

I hope you will join this movement. As a writer, write diversity. As a reader, buy diversity. And you can check out We Need Diverse Books and lend a few dollars to the cause. It’s 2014, this should be something we’ve already mastered. If you agree, make your voice known.




The Story of My Hearing Loss: Part 2—Surgery

Growing up I was never told much about my hearing loss. Just that I had bone and nerve damage, and that I had mild/moderate loss. I wasn’t told percentages (though I did find it written in one place that I had a 40% loss, a number that means nothing to me) and I wasn’t taught how to read an audiogram.

As a kid I knew my left ear was better than my right. If I can’t hear something, I lean forward with my left ear. If I talk on the phone I put it to my left ear. The mere action of putting a phone to my right ear is so foreign to me. Adjusting to a hearing loss is very natural for a child. This is life and we learn how to adapt. I imagine similar reactions to other disabilities for children.

I later learned that my two ears were not that different. In fact, there was an average of ten decibels between lefty and righty. To put this into perspective: a person needs greater than twenty-decibel loss to be considered having a hearing loss. Yet I always knew that my left ear was better.

When I was eight-years-old I had surgery on my right ear. My right ear had bone damage in the middle ear and was the only part of my ears doctors saw as “fixable.” I was told that after the surgery I might only have to wear one hearing aid. Young me was so excited not to wear a hearing aid, and instantly assumed it would be the left aid to go. When I learned it would be my right aid I was dumfounded. I never truly accepted this. To me, my left ear was better, would always be better. Either I was used to my world as it was, or I knew my future.

They day of my surgery I had two stuffed animals with me: Chip and Dale. I carried them into surgery (I got a piggy-back ride by one of the nice staff). I remember watching my heart rate monitor blipping up and down before falling asleep.

The surgery itself consisted of removing the two smallest bones from my body: the incus and malleus. The malleus was reshaped and put back in. The incus was put in an eye drop container with fluid in it so I could have it. Below is a picture of what a normal ear looks like. My malleus is now straight to the stapes, and my ear has confused an eager nurse (or two) looking in my ear for signs of infection.

After surgery my ear was bandaged up, and so was Chip and Dale’s for solidarity. I was nice to them and let them take their bandages off before mine.

What followed was eight weeks of keeping an eight-year-old still during the end of summer vacation. The first thing I did when I got home from the hospital? Spun around before plopping backwards onto the couch. Couldn’t do that. I also couldn’t do the balance beam at school during the physical education tests. Which, of course, I was asked if I could do. Not knowing fully what I could and couldn’t I said I could. When I got home I asked my mother and she said no. I never told her I had already done it. (Hi Mom, if you’re reading…)

I still mourn my mad skip-stick (dating myself much?) skills I had developed prior to surgery. This skill never quite came back.

The end result of the surgery for the doctors: not much change. To me? Tinnitus. I had a huge increase in tinnitus after the surgery. I mostly noticed it at night and started to think of it as loved ones that had passed checking in on me.

The real result of the surgery for me: a weakened ear that had two more instances causing significant loss to my hearing. And more tinnitus. In case you are wondering, I’m not a tinnitus fan.

As for the incus? I still have it. The liquid ran out many years ago. I actually brought it back to the doctor that was a student during the surgery, and he was surprised I still had it. I’ve since printed out a picture of the middle ear and glued it on where it’s supposed to be. A conversation piece for my living room.

I have no plans to ever have surgery again on my ears. The reason has nothing to do with this experience. In many ways I’m happy I had this surgery. It has taught me a lot about hearing and hearing loss and given me a unique perspective. The reason I won’t have surgery is because I don’t want to be fixed. Plain and simple. My hearing loss is my identity. Inconvenient at times? Sure. But it has also given me so much: friends, education, job, culture. Sometimes life is better walking down the path less traveled.

A year after this surgery I lost a good chunk of my hearing in my right ear. More on that another day.

Missed Part 1? Click here.

So You Think You Can Write Semi-Finalist!

There are many opportunities for writers, including contests to enter. I personally love entering contests. Each contest I’ve entered I’ve learned something, either from following the twitter feeds discussing the contest, following the contest organizers, or in meeting other writers and building connections.

A few weeks back I entered Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest. This is a contest I had heard about last year and was so excited to give it a try when I had a manuscript ready. This year I almost didn’t enter. I hemmed and hawed and then finally sucked it up and tossed my hat in the ring, what did I have to lose from trying? The only thing that can be lost is not trying.

Last Monday I got a call on my cell phone from a strange number. With my hearing loss I couldn’t quite hear the voice message that was left, but I thought I made out: So You Think You Can Write. The rest was blocked out by my heart hammering louder than any other sounds. I listened to the message two more times, still couldn’t make it out, but was pretty sure it was the contest. Once I calmed down I called the number back and was able to confirm I was in the top 25 moving on to the semi-finals round!

I’ve entered a decent amount of contests, this is the first time I’ve moved forward. Anything can happen from here but I’m taking it as a sign that my story is heading in the right direction. Above all, I’m thrilled. Thrilled for the opportunity, thrilled to see my writing, my story, being enjoyed.

The top 25 were chosen based on our entire first chapters, which was uploaded to the site. Here’s my entry: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts-sytycw-2014/perfect-together/ Take a look and let me know what you think!

And now I’m going to go back to reading the other first chapters of the semi-finalists. I’m honored to be up there with this group and am truly going to be thrilled for the 10 who advance to the next level.

Meet My Character!

I was tagged by the lovely Maria Ann Green in the Writerly Meme. The concept is simple: I answer a few questions about the main character from my latest novel. This novel is only a few chapters long so far, and my first attempt at a New Adult (NA) novel.

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Carli, she’s fictional.

2. When and where is the story set?
The story is contemporary, set in Boston at my alma mater: Boston University, though the University hasn’t been named as of yet, and I’m not sure it will be.

3. What should we know about him/her?
Carli has a hearing loss, and identifies as hearing impaired. She’s a math education major in her senior year. She also has constant headaches that she feels are normal.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Carli meets up with a Deaf grad student, Reed, who brings her into the Deaf world. She starts learning ASL and grows more comfortable with her hearing loss. The ultimate conflict comes in when Carli learns her hearing loss is related to her headaches, from a trauma she doesn’t remember.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?
When Carli’s hearing loss and headaches increase she has to learn how to function with less sound, and intense pain.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
I stink at titles, but am toying with the idea of Silence (essentially, anticipate never seeing this title again). I only have five chapters written, so you almost know more than I do at this point!

7. When can we expect the book to be published? As I mentioned above, I only have five chapters written, so it will take some time before this is ready. My muse is adamant on this one, and I’m excited about my first female main character with a hearing loss. So one day, it will be ready. Stay tuned!

Next I tag Bekah, Jen, and Emily!

Busy Writing Bee

I’ve been writing a lot this year. Sure, there have been dry valleys, but when my muse catches an idea she’s full steam ahead! Curious how much I had written I did a little research. Since January I’ve written 213,000 words.

What does this mean? An average novel is between 60,000 and 100,000 words. My average is between 70,000 and 80,000, though some of my first drafts are longer or shorter. This narrows down to three and a quarter novels. Three are Adult Contemporary Romances, one (the quarter) is a New Adult Contemporary Romance.

Granted, these are all first drafts that need a heavy amount of editing. Still I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. Each story has a little piece of me in them, and I love the characters and the plots.

Next step is for my muse to stop coming up with new ideas and let me finish editing. She’s on board, right after I finish writing the New Adult novel…