Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Deaf character?

This morning, I woke up from my dream with one thought: 'That would make a good story!'

This kinda thing is NOT unusual. I dreamed the details of November's Child (right along with the title! LOL) and also dreamed a few short stories I've written, as well as a couple of children's books (one of which I am trying to fix. AGAIN!).

But as I thought on that story some more, grappling with the areas of it that didn't make sense, a thought struck: How could a woman's child be kidnapped right when her back is turned?

Then it hit me: She's deaf. Deaf, like me!

Yes, I realize this kinda thing CAN happen to a hearing person. They turn their backs while at a public place and their child is taken away. But this happened in the woman's HOME. In her kitchen, in fact... She could've heard the footsteps, right? Nevertheless, I knew right away the woman in that dream was deaf. She didn't use sign language but deaf people CAN lipread! It was just something I KNEW was a part of this character.

I have NEVER written a story with a deaf character before. Of course, I have deaf friends who have encouraged me to do so, but the "right" story for a deaf character just never came along yet. Now I think I REALLY have the story. The perfect story for a deaf character.

My excuse for not having any stories with deaf characters is simple: The stories develop all on their own, and there's usually not a single person in there who is deaf. (Heh, yeah, what a cop-out. LOL) And even though I COULD have consciously decided a character would be deaf, I just didn't fit that into the story.

Have to wonder, though, how that would work to have a story with a deaf character. Even one where the character doesn't play too big of a role. I once read a YA novel in which the character loses her hearing. I could relate because I was just like that character: A teen girl who lost her hearing. But I didn't like the story and didn't finish the book. The reason why I didn't like it is because the deaf character was portrayed poorly. It was like she was a ditz, or something! Not very smart and there was this HUGE novelty attached to being deaf and all things involved in the life of a deaf person (hearing aids, TTYs, etc.). I realize that only explored how SOME deaf people are not very intelligent, not very capable of perfect speech and how something like a hearing aid and a TTY would have a sense of "newness" which a teenager would make a big deal about. But it was still a big turn-off.

All the same, I didn't want any of MY stories with a deaf character to fall short in portraying a deaf person realistically. I know, i know; I AM a deaf person, so who better to write from the POV of a deaf person, right?? Even a deaf mom.... But there was always that hesitation. What if I just got it wrong? What if ONE THING I have my character do incites a furious response from the deaf community? What if people don't LIKE this character?? What if the whole "character who is deaf" is lauded in the media as my attempt to write a book that will FINALLY be noticed? Or even if the media decides this book will be "different" because my character is deaf..... and it's handled all differently in the reviews? What if it's not taken as a form of entertainment but more of an example of what life for the deaf is like? "Oh, look. There is a DEAF woman in this story. Let's see how they live!"

These are the main reasons why I never wrote a story with a deaf character in it. You would think that I, a DEAF writer, would write stories with deaf characters in them because it would be easier. Right? Well...so far, I've managed okay with stories involving hearing characters (although I HAVE had to ask people things like "what does this sound like?," "what kind of sound does that make?" and "would someone be able to hear a person scream from that far?"). Perhaps I'm wrong in thinking that will result if I write a story with a deaf character. Or even a novel with a deaf main character. I would like to think that I am. I would like to think that if I DO write such a novel, the book will be able to survive on its own merits, and not for the fact that the main character is deaf.

I suppose we'll have to wait and see what WILL happen when such a book that I write does come out....

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