I know authors often are asked, “Why do you write what you do” or where do you get your ideas?”. I’ve always written, almost as far back as I can remember. But I was probably in my twenties or thirties, when I finally knew the types of stories I wanted to tell. Until then, I’d journaled, written articles, poetry, and little short stories about things I’d done, sounds I’d hear, places I’d been.
I’ve grown to hate the kind of books I call how-I-live-life-as-a-blind person. I read plenty of them growing up and as a young woman, particularly those relating to guide dogs. But 35 years ago, I read a book in which a blind woman proclaimed that she always cooks anything in her oven at 350, because she can’t adjust the oven dial. And she said that if she makes a PB&J sandwich, she gets peanut butter all over her kitchen. I nearly threw up. I was horrified that sighted people would read such nonsense and think that blind people can’t take care of themselves or can’t cook without making a total mess. I’m a good cook and baker. My oven dial is marked with raised dots, something friends and family have helped with over the years. I don’t care for PBJ sandwiches, but unless I’m making bread, I don’t tend to get ingredients all over my kitchen, and I know how to clean up after myself! And the sighted people I’ve known who make bread from scratch without a bread machine always make messes too. So, I stopped reading such books and looked around for fiction. And there wasn’t anything to speak of.
We know that even though the ADA, Americans With Disabilities Act, is over 30 years old now, still many people think of us as lesser. Among blind people, over 70 percent are unemployed, due to things like lack of training, tools and primarily due to the attitudes of employers. Blindness is one of the most feared things, next to cancer in the dread people have. People don’t realize that with the right tools and training, we can do damn near any job at all. Well, except fly a plane.
I realized, as I looked around at representations of disability in the mainstream media, that we are rarely shown as normal people doing normal things. We’re shown as inspirational, superhuman, helpless and so many other negative connotations. Often we’re shown as only being able to survive when some miracle happens and we regain our sight. I began to wonder what we could do if we used fiction, books, movies or TV to show that disability is normal, that we are just people doing the normal things people do. We live. We go to school and work. We fall in love. We have friends. We love movies. In short, we do or want to do the everyday sort of things all people do. We are just like our neighbors, coworkers, fellow students, politicians, media and anyone else.
My books will always have blind characters as main characters, doing the things people do. The books won’t be about how they live as blind people. In Haven, you’ll know Elizabeth is blind because she reads braille, uses a screen reader, has a guide dog and many other details. I’ve tried to work such details in without making a big deal of them, showing them as normal. The story isn’t about her blindness, other than in dealing with what has happened to her. The story is a romance. It’s about falling in love, healing from grief, and fighting for your rights. Blindness isn’t even secondary. Other than the custody issue, blindness isn’t important at all. And that’s how I’ll always write my stories!