The Writing Community

To all the friends I’ve made in this crazy journey, and to the rest I have yet to meet.

Writing is a community. These are the people who have your back, will hold your hand and cheer. They’re your sounding board. They understand the business and can offer sage advice.

The community comes in many forms, from a mutual respect from writer to writer, or industry individual to industry individual. To people you interact with on Twitter, in contests, or Facebook groups. Heck, you might even meet some in your real life. To critique partners and betas, the people who read your work, provide feedback, and nine times out of ten, are your friends.

When your book comes out, these people will be first in line. When you receive a rejection and need a shoulder, they’ll be there. Writing should be a competition, especially with all the contests out there. It’s not.

It’s a community.

Sure, we may feel that little pang of jealousy when someone achieves greatness. But we’ll still cheer and smile, then lick our wounds with someone else who understands. Our desire is not to dampen the day of the lucky individual. It’s more of a “why can’t I have that?”

The process is long, and we’re in it for the long haul, looking for careers. There will be ups and downs, good days and bad days. That’s why it’s so important to have these people at your side. Even if it’s just to have someone who understand that yes, characters do speak to you, and no, you are not crazy. Well…

Trend carefully within the community, you want these people on your side. Writing is hard. It’s emotionally exhilarating and draining. But for those of us who persevere, we do so because it’s inside of us. There is a need to write, to create, just as there is a need to breathe air. And the community gets it.

The Representation of Hearing Aids

I’m in the process of getting new hearing aids. My current aids are about nine years old, which is pretty OMG ancient as far as hearing aids go. Seeing as I’m comfortable with my hearing loss, I wanted to get some colors and have been hemming and hawing over what to choose.

Originally I chose black, nice and sleek. But black against black hair…it would be hidden. I don’t want to hide my hearing aids. Quite the opposite. I want them visible so people understand why I don’t always respond (or respond appropriately) to spoken words.

I went to the website to check out the colors. As I clicked around I noticed something: all the human models were a good twenty years older than me and considered senior citizens. Every. Single. One.*

(For the record, they were white, affluent looking, so ageism is clearly not the only problem here.)

Now, I understand most people with hearing loss are older and suffer from late onset loss. I get that, truly I do. But I’ve worn hearing aids since I was six years old, I’m getting close to three decades with the devices. And considering most last about five years on average (hence my current ancient ones), I’ve had quite a few in my time, and will continue to have quite a few.

So let’s throw me into the equation: I’m looking up hearing aids, checking out the cool colors they finally, finally, have, and struggling to find my color of choice since they don’t have purple (side note: we need purple!). And then I check out the models, the people that are supposed to represent me: fail.

What about me back when I was six? Because this has always been my problem: my supposed role models were elders. Not younger people with hearing loss. In fact, the representation of hearing loss is so vastly focused on the elderly, us youngins get very little notice. And by the time I am old enough to fit the demographic I still won’t be part of the demographic due to my lifelong hearing loss and use of hearing aids.

Back to the representation on a popular hearing aid manufacturers site. I would fully expect many of the pictures to be of older models. This is the main demographic and where the money is coming from. I get it, make it look sexy for the person who would much rather say “what” and blame others for not talking loud enough. But what’s the harm in having a picture or two of someone younger? Be it a kid or a young adult? What’s the harm in showing a bright blue hearing aid on someone young, smiling, proud to wear aids?

Because it’s not out there. I’ll gladly take a picture of my blue hearing aid once I get it, but I’m not a model. We need to change how we view hearing loss in general and take the stigma out of it. So another little girl like me is able to be proud of her hearing aids. So another young adult dealing with loss doesn’t feel alienated and older than s/he should be.

Bottom line: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HEARING LOSS. Sure, it poses some communication issues, but it can be worked around. The more positive information that is out there, the more we can help comfort those stepping into our world.

It’s not about a microscopic aid for an older person who doesn’t want to admit to hearing loss. It’s about needing all different kinds of aids and being comfortable with them. My blue hearing aid heading my way? That is the largest and most powerful option, because that is what my ear needs. My other ear could wear those tiny hearing aids. I don’t want it. I’m comfortable with bigger sizes. Size isn’t an issue, getting the sound I need is.

And, having a little fun with it while I’m at it. I’ve always joked I need hearing aids with red flashing lights, because no one expects a young female to have a hearing loss. One day, that will change, but my history will not.

Take a look at my bio picture. That’s me. I may have taken off my glasses for the shoot, but both hearing aids are in my ears. And if I liked my hair up that day, I would have shown them off for all to see.

*Note: I went back after I wrote this and did a more thorough exploration of the pictures on the site. There is a kids section, with one child with a hearing aid. There is also a model younger than the two I mention, but still representing an older demographic. The only picture of any sort of color was a link to someplace else. The fact that I had to search for other kinds of representation is a red flag, the diversity should be front and center for all to see.

The Hardest Part of Writing Hearing Loss

My first characters with a hearing loss were Deaf. Since I write romance, I needed to see how they fit into the romantic dynamic created by the story. These characters were easy to write in the sense that their ears didn’t change their sex appeal in a romance, at least not to me.

Hard of hearing characters, on the other hand, those who wore hearing aids, did. It was a very personal and eye opening experience when I struggled with the attractiveness of a character who wore hearing aids. Everything was fine until I got to a scene where the hearing aids were removed (bed time). And all my own insecurities came rushing to the surface. Suddenly my calm, cool guy hesitated.

And I sat back, stared at the screen, and realized 100% of what was happening was related to my own internal demons.

To be fair, I’ve been with my husband since I was fifteen. Back then I definitely was not comfortable with my hearing loss. I’ve changed a lot through the years, but I’ve never had to change my image of my own sexual prowess. The perks of being in a committed relationship, they love you in spite of your flaws.

But hearing loss isn’t a flaw. It’s an is. I’m learning along with my characters, finding ways to normalize hearing aids and make it a non-issue. I will say, the second character I wrote with hearing aids was a much better experience. Then again, this love interest wasn’t hearing.

I’m still baffled that I view myself in this manner. I know at fifteen I assumed my ears were a detractor. I’d been teased about it for years, all my peers knew I had a hearing loss, of course I would view myself in this manner. It never bothered my husband. Not when I hated my hearing loss, not when I embraced it as my identity. He’s interested in the person inside.

When I create a character with a hearing loss, I need to decide where they are in their comfortability. Do they like their ears? Are they embarrassed? The answer is in their life experiences. If no one ever picked on me for my ears, I wouldn’t either. But they did and it affected me.

When I create a character I need to decide all this. I work backwards, figure out where the character is now and then discover the why.

In some ways, I know too much about the little nuances about hearing loss. I know hearing aids get uncomfortable by the end of the day, leaving the ear wax a wet, gooey mess. I know this bothers me but it may not bother someone else. I know hearing aid batteries die at the worse possible moments. I know hearing aids don’t correct hearing, just amplify the sound. What a person remains able to hear depends on their hearing loss and a whole mess of other factors I couldn’t even begin to understand. I know most people with a hearing loss have altered speech, but I don’t. And I’m sure there isn’t a clear line that decides who’s voice is affected and not.

I know all these little details and I have to make each one match my character. I’ll over think some, and assume the same as me for others. One day, perhaps, I’ll view hearing aids as an attractive thing.

Not today.

7x7x7 Challenge!

There’s been a challenge floating around Twitter to post lines from your WIP (Work In Process), seven lines, on page seven, seven lines down. I was first challenged by Vanessa Rodriguez (@Married2ARod). Like a good writer friend, I opened up my WIP, found page seven, seven lines down… Nope, not interesting enough. I hid in a corner and let the opportunity pass. Then BK Rivers (@WriterRivers) tagged me and I checked another ms and decided it still wasn’t good enough.

I thought I had escaped the challenge, until Kate Michael (@_KateMichael) tagged me once again. Third times the lucky charm, I guess, because here I am! Most writers have been tagged, so I’m not tagging anyone myself. Unless you haven’t had a chance to play, if which case: Tag! You’re next!

Here’s seven lines from page seven of my latest novel, a NA contemporary romance. If you’ve been paying attention to how I do things, both my main characters are Deaf. I’m only about 17k into the novel, and as a pantster that means the plot is still forming and evolving. It also means this is very, very, VERY first draft and has not been cleaned up. Tentatively titled WAKE ME:

I smiled as a tear trickled down my cheek.

Me: What makes you think I need a guy?

Devon: Because I’m a hunk?

I laughed. Sure, Dev had muscles, no clue where they came from. But drool worthy. But bffs were strictly forbidden in the hunk zone.

Me: I’m fine.

Devon: Bullshit. Staying up all night is the only way to see you sometimes. Come here. I can pick you up.

And that’s it! Once again, tag yourself if you haven’t had a chance to play. Now I’m going back to my corner to hide.

Writing About Disability: An Insider’s Confession

As a writer with a disability, I have a confession to make. Whenever I see a book has a character with a hearing loss, my first reaction is not “Yay! Diversity!” It should be, but life has taught me to be cautious.

My first reaction involves the urge to step back and walk away. My first reaction doesn’t know if the author did his/her research. My first reaction doesn’t want to be right.

Having had a hearing loss all my life, I know one fact very, very well: people think they know hearing loss. They don’t. Hearing loss is one of those topics that everyone knows about. It’s common knowledge. But this “common knowledge” rarely involves the truth of not hearing.

Case in point: I started learning ASL when I was in college. My mother mentioned this to a family member. The response? “Shouldn’t she learn to lipread?”

1) I wasn’t taking ASL for my own benefit, not at first. 2) I’ve been lipreading my entire life; it’s not an exact science. In fact, the lips only show 20% of the words, the rest is inferred. 3) If I managed to communicate well, why did I need lipreading?

Nothing against the masses, just the simple fact of what a common notion does when put into action. I’m sure those with other disabilities will say the same. The public knows about the variety of disabilities one can have. But unless we’re actively involved, we don’t know shit.

Back to writing. Sadly, most books I have picked up with a character who has a hearing loss lead me to banging my head with my Kindle. True fact. There aren’t many, but after you read a few that are so far off the mark it isn’t even funny, you grow leery. I oftentimes try and research if the author has any personal experience prior to picking up the book.

This doesn’t mean an author can’t do research and do it right. One can. It’s been done. However, it takes the right type of author, the right type of research, to make it happen. I read a more recent novel with a Deaf main character (capital D to denote someone culturally Deaf, not just a person with a hearing loss). I bit my lip, shut down my apprehension, and read.

On the whole, this author did her research. So points for her. And she had the character in a career that many wouldn’t think to put a Deaf person in, so double points. BUT, and this is capitalized because it is huge, there were many instances in the novel that were so far off from reality I ended up banging my head with my Kindle. One small example: the continued use of first names in ASL, as in “Hi Laura, how are you?” Nope. ASL only uses sign names for those not present, or when teaching a baby their own name.

At the end of the day, research is great, but you can’t know everything. In my own research in areas I don’t have personal knowledge on, I seek out personal experiences. Since I look at the world differently due to my ears, I try and find the little nuances that make the research ring true. I won’t get it all right, and that’s okay. I don’t expect someone to get it all right with hearing loss. Even if I’m banging my head with my Kindle, if the author shows respect and understanding, that’s half the battle. And that warms my heart.

But when someone gets it wrong, the damage is huge. Even in fiction, people read novels and acquire knowledge they previously didn’t have. So if a novel depicts false information, then that false information spreads. To be fair, I feel the same way about social workers receiving a bad rap in novels, since I worked as one for a decade.

I will probably always need a moment before checking out a novel with a character who has a hearing loss. The fear of it being done wrong is huge. I do hope, with the push for diversity in books, more and more people will do their research, will put respect first in their art.

In some ways, I want to leave the disabled characters to those of us with personal knowledge. This may be selfish of me, as I write about characters with a hearing loss and I’m damn proud of my work. But like many minority groups, we want our own voices heard. Not yours, not your interpretation of what our world should be like. The truth. From us.

You might be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but can you put those shoes on as they do? Can you walk and interact and have your outsider status be invisible? Can you say with 100% conviction that this is right? Think about this the next time you write about someone different than yourself.

I know I do. My goal is to make those other disabilities appear as truthful and fleshed out as my hearing loss characters. The bar is set high, since hearing loss is my life, my degree, my work. I know I won’t be 100%. But I aim for damn close

Do you?

This post also appears in support of the #WriteInclusively movement. Click here for more information.