New Website = New Blog

I am moving to a new website, and therefore my blog will be moving as well! All my old blog posts will remain here to be referenced and read, but new stuff will be found at my new website:

https://www.laurabrownauthor.com

And more specifically, the blog:

https://www.laurabrownauthor.com/blog

Anyone who has signed up for email notification will no longer receive them, but I do always post my blogs on my Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to follow me there! My newsletter may be a little dusty, but I do plan to start using it more, that will remain intact.

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Romance Books: Don’t Fetish Disabilities

Something interesting has happened as publishing looks more and more to getting diverse characters on the page. This isn’t something I noticed right away, but one that has built up over time.

I write characters with hearing loss. I write romance. I’ve seen agents and editors looking for deaf characters, yay! But then I stop and take a closer look, and the requests almost always come in this form:

Disabled Hero.

I write “disabled” because it’s not always hearing loss alone. This isn’t something limited to ears, it’s something much wider across the disability community. And I can’t help but wonder:

Is this a fetish?

I’ve had a hearing loss my entire life. I write hearing loss characters as my hero and heroine. I’m growing stronger in my own identity as I see my ears as strong and attractive.

But publishing is starting to tell me it’s only attractive in males. Not females.

Why can’t my heroine be the one with the disability? Why can’t it be a book that empowers disabled readers to feel strong, confident, and sexy?

Because that’s not the fetish.

The fetish is the male character who could be played by Nyle Dimarco. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Nyle. Not only is he extremely attractive but he’s also a strong advocate for the Deaf community.

Let me break this down further: when you give the heroine a disadvantage, that disadvantage is scrutinized to the best of feminine intent. Because females are hardest on other females, make no mistake about it. But when you give the hero a disadvantage, then it’s remarkable and sexy, and…

No. We need to embrace diverse characters through all genders. We need to accept that male or female or other, a Deaf character has a history of oppression and strife. More importantly, most are happy and healthy adults, proud of their ears.

This isn’t a story of overcoming a huge hurdle. Honestly. The biggest hurdle I faced with my own hearing loss is accepting myself as I am, of being proud of my ears. This isn’t something an outsider can do.

And let me add to this, because I grew up in the hearing world: I often felt I wasn’t worthy of finding love. I’ve been a hopeless romantic from the start, but I really wondered about dating with a hearing loss. And before you wonder why, show me my role models? As someone who grew up in the hearing world, the only other people I knew with a hearing loss were elderly. I didn’t have young role models. I didn’t get a chance to read books like SIGNS OF ATTRACTION, I didn’t have the ability to know my own worth.

(And I know there have been books with hearing loss in them for a long time. The few I’ve found often have a very negative portrayal, so I honestly tread very carefully while reading them.)

Fortunately for me, I found a great guy in high school and latched onto him. However, that means I never fully came to terms with my hearing loss on an attraction level, not until I put it into my stories.

Will male characters really make that difference for me? Especially when they’ll often be alphas completely comfortable in their own skin? No. It will be great to see, but it won’t be what I need.

If you are looking for a disability to be in one gender, but not the other, ask yourself why. And then ask yourself what you are telling the many, many people out there who have that particular disability. Are we only worthy if we happen to be male? Are we only worthy if we look like Nyle Dimarco?

Because we’ve played this game our entire lives: Are we only worthy if we can benefit from hearing aids? Are we only worthy if we can speak? Are we only worthy if we don’t need accommodation? Are we, are we, are we?

The answer is yes, we are. Now help me show that in our books and movies and television. Check yourself, ask questions to the minority group. Be the role model as well as the love interest.

Do Your Homework: on writing marginalized characters

Whenever I pick up a book that has a character with hearing loss, unless I know the author is either #ownvoices or has actual knowledge of my disability/culture, I proceed very cautiously. Why? For starters I have spent my entire life being well aware that “hearing” people do not understand hearing loss and most have preconceived notions on what it means to have a hearing loss, those notions being wrong. I have also read a few books over the years that made me want to scream with how badly hearing loss was presented.

So when a new book stumbles across my path, I am honestly not expecting it to get it right.

A new book, a romance in fact, with a deaf character was recently brought to my attention. I found it at my library so I picked it up (more on this later) and started reading.

By page seven I had thrown the book on my bed in disgust.

Without pointing to the specific book and author, because that’s not my intent here, let me share a few facts: 1) the deaf character was not identified as deaf when first speaking. 2) the deaf character lipreads almost perfectly. 3) the deaf character feels bad when others struggle to communicate with them.

None of the above are realistic. Add to that, the deaf character is sweet and innocent and perfectly content to live in their little deaf bubble without full access to communication.

Did the author do any research? Heck, the deaf character is signing while speaking, a nearly impossible task as the two languages have different grammar structures. The author even referenced some sign, and as far as I can tell, completely invented the motion.

This is all before chapter two.

And here’s the part that absolutely kills me: this book is readily available at a library. It’s published by a Big Five publisher. This book, with its wholly inaccurate portrayal is given a prime spot to be shared. Because in publishing no one stops and questions authors on their diverse material. Because in publishing some authors don’t take the time to do their homework and care about accurate portrayal.

Because this book helps continue the misassumption the world at large has about hearing loss.

A book like this makes my life harder. It continues to allow people to think I can understand them, or should understand them. It doesn’t give me respect for being a strong person. It doesn’t acknowledge my needs and educate.

It fails.

This book lays next to me as I type and I’m going to try and read more, maybe the deaf character’s POV will change my mind? (First paragraph is a screaming no) Maybe somewhere along the way it will redeem itself.

This has got to stop! Not just with hearing loss, with all marginalized groups. Authors everywhere enjoy writing about people different from them. Great! But don’t think that someone else is going to catch you if you mess up. This is on you. This is your job.

This book I have borrowed? It should be a comedic romance. Yet my blood is boiling and my stomach churning. There is nothing fun or romantic about this.

And here’s another interesting element: at no point on the cover or the blurb does it mention hearing loss. Now, I have my own stories where the hearing loss is a secondary factor and not needed there, but where’s the representation? Where’s the respect?

Nowhere.

My apologies to this author. I’m sure you’re a lovely person and a skilled writer. But if you, or someone who has written outside their lane like this, reads this, please, take a moment to think. Why did you write about my world? What was your goal? Because unless it was to piss us off, you failed.

I’ll say it again: You FAILED, because this isn’t a little, “Oh, how silly, they think we can all lipread like people hear, that’s funny.” This is something that lays insult on top of insult.

It hurts. And it helps make sure that others will hurt us as well.

What You Can Learn From The Laurel vs Yanny Debate

For full discloser: I haven’t listened to the sound bite. I honestly don’t have to. Every day I hear things incorrectly, or differently, than other people. Every day I struggle to put the pieces together and guess at missing words or overall concept.

Hearing people listen to this amazed at how people hear things differently. Welcome to my world.

Seriously, this isn’t a fun game, this is reality. Even people with “perfect” hearing will hear things differently from time to time. Now add in a hearing loss. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine thinking someone’s name is Laurel and then find out it’s Yanny and feel like a complete idiot?

Because I’ve been there. Heck, I live there! Hearing loss is not a straight line, most of us lose higher frequency sounds first. I’ve mentioned this a few times but I’ll mention it again: my right ear can’t hear the “h” sound. It’s a complete gap of sound. Sometimes my brain is able to fill in the gap to identify the word, other times it can’t.

My hearing loss is also mostly genetic, it goes up and down, which means I’ll hear certain sounds clearer than others, leaving room for more misunderstanding.

Listen to the sound bite and have fun with it. But also take a moment to consider what it teaches. Hearing isn’t black and white, it’s filled with shades of gray and ranges of color. Not all of us have full access to all those ranges. Laurel vs Yanny might be a fun afternoon for you. It might lead to fights among family and friends.

It’s my life.

(One more point on the whole issue, from a person named Laura: The L and the R are the last two sounds acquired, and therefore the hardest (thanks Mom and Dad!). I’ve often said my name on the phone and the person responds, “Okay, Barb, how can I help you?” Now, granted, sometimes my tongue doesn’t work like I need it to, but I haven’t for the life of me figured out how I manage to make my name sound like Barb!)

The Art of Lipreading

True story from yours truly: I began learning ASL at the age of eighteen. When a family member found out their response was, “shouldn’t she learn how to lipread?”

In actuality I had been lipreading for years. My hearing loss was undiagnosed until I was five. When I started speaking wrong (“pasghetti” for spaghetti, “alligator” for escalator), my mother would say to me: “no, look at my lips.” That’s how I learned to speak. That’s how I avoided needing speech therapy.

So I must lipread fluently, right? Wrong. Lip movements themselves only account for about 20% of sound, the rest comes in tongue and throat placement. Watching lips is an excellent tool for me to help identify sounds, because as my ears are scrambling to make sense, the lip movements will eliminate options. But without sound? Yeah, I’m not getting it.

That’s why there’s the joke that “olive oil” can be mistaken for “I love you.” Heck, let me use a current example of my favorite show, Once Upon A Time. When they filmed the climax of season one they were out in the streets, so they had fans watching. Two characters called out to each other, but the viewers knew them to be under a curse, so even though the script called for them use the characters’ real names, they used fake names with similar beats, and then dubbed over with the correct sounds.

And yet so many people think that lipreading is a thing. It’s a guessing game. I will admit some people are very, very skilled at it, and some people with hearing loss get by with lipreading. But to state that someone should just learn how to lipread, is to be completely ignorant on the topic.

This doesn’t even get into facial hair, mumblers, fake vampire teeth, etc. I put a character in SIGNS OF ATTRACTION that was a teacher with a very big mustache. This was taken from my own life. I had a macroeconomics class in college with a foreign teacher and big bushy mustache. This was before I had any assistive accommodations. I couldn’t understand his voice, and I couldn’t see his lips to help me. I passed that class by grace of my textbook alone.

Still don’t believe me? Take a look at this video. How well do you understand these speakers once the sound cuts off?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1jLkYyODsc

Writing During Mental Health Recovery

I posted at the beginning of this year about dealing with depression, and I haven’t made a ton of posts since then. Not because I’m struggling. As a matter of fact, I’m feeling better and think I’ve finally found the right medication for me. At least for my depression, there’s a bit of anxiety trying to run free.

The problem is that during my darkest moments I did nearly nothing. As you can imagine, many of my responsibilities have piled up around me, writing being one of many. So with my newfound energy there’s laundry to tackle, a desk to organize, cleaning to do (oh, so much cleaning), exercise to work back in, a family to love, and when I tackle one or two items on that never ending list, I’m done. Spent. Time to relax and recharge.

I am writing, though, don’t get me wrong. I’ve picked up a beloved novel that’s been collecting dust in first draft form. It’s needed work and the direction has finally clicked. My usual writing method I lovingly refer to as “word vomit” where I spit word after word on the page, usually completing multiple chapters a day. My current pace is one chapter, maybe two. And unlike any time in the past, I’m leaving a lot of loose areas and notes. This draft is one of the weakest I’ve done, because I know it’s going to need a lot of work in the next round.

And that’s okay. I love the characters, so I can read and re-read them many times and enjoy messing with their lives. Yes, this will take a little longer. In the meantime the laundry will get under control, the house cleaner, and the family loved. I’m taking things one step at a time. There isn’t a magic pill to take, though I wish there was.

And that’s another area I’ve realized. Better or not, I spent over a year depressed and barely moving. That’s a year of bad habits to break. A year to recover from. It doesn’t happen overnight. I have to force myself into action. I have to look deep inside and decide where I need rest and where I need to move. I have to push.

So if you are where I am, you are doing just fine. It will take time. Find a way to get back to yourself, step by step. It will come. As long as you continue taking those steps.

New Release: REALITY WEDDING by Laura Heffernan

Lights? Camera? Action! In this irresistible final installment of the Reality Star Series, one woman’s dream wedding may be about to turn into a reality nightmare…
Synopsis
SAY ‘I DO’—OR ELSE
When Jen Reid escaped a reality TV cruise with her relationship intact—if not her hair—she swore she was done with the cameras for good. Sure, she and Justin met, had their first kiss, and got engaged with tape rolling, but manufactured drama and ruthless producers have shaken them up more times than she can count. With Jen’s reality-themed bakery just getting started and her brand-new lawyer fiancé in a pile of debt, they’re a long way from glitz and glamour, and that’s fine by Jen. Until the Network calls and tells her that unless she says “I do” to a wedding special, Justin will be out of a job.
Now Jen has two weeks to plan an all-expenses-paid “dream wedding”—and dodge the tricks and traps of a showrunner happy to mess up her future in the name of ratings. Luckily for Jen, she’s got plenty of experience with cake and popcorn. But when real-life drama and reality TV twists collide, the cliffhangers may just follow her right down the aisle . . .
Praise for Reality Wedding:
“The third book in Heffernan’s Reality Star series is such a fun and entertaining read, as Justin and Jen – and all the drama that seems to follow them everywhere – are back. Will they get married is the big question here, and will reality TV have any part. Heffernan will keep readers guessing, as the story has some twists to it. With lots of drama, a bit of humor and a sweet romance, this series is as addicting as reality TV. Fans of Sophie Kinsella might want to give this series a try.”- RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars 
Available now from all major retailers. Order today!

Excerpt:

“Justin, I can’t hear you. Where are you?”
“Airport…on.”
I fought the urge to chuck my useless phone across the room. “What? Justin, I can’t understand anything you’re saying. We’ve got a terrible connection.”
The phone went dead. I called him back immediately, but nothing happened. The several voicemails he’d left shed no additional light on anything: a lot of static, a couple of broken airline announcements in the background, crowd noise, and one that sounded like a butt dial from the men’s room. Awesome. My concern grew with each uninformative message. All the texts were variations of “Please call me ASAP.”
Heart pounding, I dialed Sarah’s number. The call went straight to voicemail. She should be on a plane, not at the bakery, but I dialed the landline, anyway. The phone at Sweet Reality rang and rang until the line started buzzing. Since the shop should be open, getting no answer made me even more nervous.
I was still standing in the kitchen, staring out over the pool, when Rachel entered wearing her swimsuit. “You okay? One of the producers said they heard yelling.”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“Well, that clears things right up.” She tilted her head at me, eyes full of concern. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Justin called, but the reception was all wonky, and it sounded like there was some issue with his sister. I tried to call Sarah, too, but her phone’s off. I hope she’s okay.”
“Hold on a sec. He said there’s a problem with Sarah?”
“Yeah.”
“When are they supposed to be flying in?” Rachel pulled out her phone and started tapping. “Do you have the flight number?”
“He was supposed to fly out of Florida a few hours ago. When he called, I thought his flight landed early, but he was apologizing and sounding stressed. It doesn’t sound like they were on the plane. Should I go to the airport, just in case?”
Rachel kept tapping, a grim look on her face. Then she held her phone out to me. “No, Jen, I don’t think you should.”
I snatched her phone out of her hand. Then all the wind rushed out of me. She’d pulled up a news site. HURRICANE CARA STRANDS THOUSANDS. Below the headline, a picture showed a Florida airport, absolutely packed with people.
He said Cara, not Sarah.
“I’m sorry, Jen,” Rachel said, “but I don’t think Justin’s flying in tonight. According to this site, he might not be able to get a flight for days.”
“What about Atlanta? Can he drive to Atlanta? My family’s flying through there.”
She tapped a few more times, biting her lip. I found the answer on my phone right when a low murmur told me Rachel saw it, too.
All flights canceled. My entire family stranded.

My heart sank. Just when things finally started to go right, when I started to think the whole wedding might not be a complete disaster, my groom wasn’t even coming.


My Review:

Reality Wedding is a fun and enjoyable book for fans of romance and comedy alike. As the third book in a series it can be read as a stand alone, but with so many references to other characters and past events it is best to read at least one of the other books for maximum enjoyment. I loved reading of Jen and Justin’s reality wedding. What struck me the most was how the author showed how connected this couple was throughout whatever the network threw at them. They truly were a team and their love shone through. I laughed out loud often, having to explain to curious people around me what had me so tickled. I highly recommend this book and would love to see more of these characters.

 


Be Sure to Check Out the First Two Books in the Reality Star series!

AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR
Millennial Jen auditioned for a reality show hoping to win the $250,000 cash prize.  With puzzles, games, and more, this show is right up her alley. But when she meets co-contestant Justin, she finds herself questioning what really matters. Can she trust that his feelings for her are real? Or is it all a showmance put on for the viewers?


SWEET REALITY 

After her brief brush with fame, Jen’s ready to start a new life: New location, new roommate, new boyfriend, new business. But when a killer competitor threatens to put her new bakery out of business before the grand opening, Jen steps back into the spotlight to snag a show-stopping recipe. Can she save her bakery without destroying her relationship? 
Praise for the Reality Star series:
America’s Next Reality Star is one sweet, sexy brain-candy read! You won’t be sorry you indulged.” —Leah Marie Brown, USA Today bestselling Author 
“Smart, witty, and really freaking good, America’s Next Reality Star is a fun read that has you cheering from the first paragraph through the last page. Laura Heffernan spins an entertaining tale, expertly mixing the main character’s real life events with the reality show’s challenges. With enough drama to not only satisfy fans of reality TV shows, but readers who thrive on a good story with humor and romance, this book is a perfect read.” —Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal bestselling author
“Reality TV fans, this is your book! Laura Heffernan captures all the drama and over-the-top craziness in this fun and flirty romance.” —Amy E. Reichert, author of Love, Luck, and Lemon Pie
“If you like sweet contemporary romances with a reality show theme, then you are going to enjoy Heffernan’s Reality Star series. Her second book, Sweet Reality, takes place about 16 months after the first and features the same great couple, Justin and Jen. These two are likeable and relatable characters and there is more romance in this one than there was in the first. There is also an interesting cast of secondary characters. Heffernan does a wonderful job with character development and painting vivid scenes. There are also some cute and funny moments that makes this book a worthwhile and entertaining read. If reality shows are your guilty pleasure, give Heffernan’s Sweet Reality a try.”- RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars




About the Author:

Laura is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys board games, travel, board games, baking, and board games. She lives in the northeast, where she spends far too much time tweeting about reality TV and Canadian chocolate.

Connect with Laura: