Many authors I know pull from events or people from their own lives for inspiration or storyline. I’ve never been that way personally. I’m an extremely private person by nature, so its very unusual for me to use any of myself in my books. That is actually my favorite thing about writing, I’m able to fully create worlds and people out of thin air. It allows you to become who-ever you want for the moment. I usually create a main character who is nothing like me because it allows me to be and do all the things I’ve always wanted to.
I’ve had a very eventful life. Those who know me well always ask why I’ve never drawn from my real life for a novel, since my life is pretty much a lifetime movie. The idea of writing anything close to home has always been completely horrifying for me. (Super private remember?)
I have a pretty unique situation where I lost my hearing at eighteen years old. (You can read more about it in my letter to the reader in Silent Song.) Deafness is one of those subjects that most people think they understand…but actually don’t. There is so much more to deafness than not being able to hear. There are levels (decibels) of sound that is so intricate that it is much more than just you can hear or not.
A few years ago I read a book that had a deaf main character. The book was amazing, but there were so many things that weren’t accurate. It wasn’t glaringly obvious unless you were deaf, but it really bothered me. I had brought up the issue to a good author friend of mine and I’ll never forget what she said to me.
“The only way to fix this problem Jaci, is to set it straight. That means you are going to have to write the story of a deaf person from their perspective. Show people not only your world, but help them understand the deaf world. Who else will?”
I instantly shut her down. There's no way I’m writing anything close my life. A few months went by and then I had to explain a few things about deafness to people that they just never knew. Like just because you speak English doesn’t mean deaf people can write in English without struggle. Almost every hearing person I talked to didn’t know that American Sign Language is NOT English. It has its own structure and rules like any other language. ASL is my second language, but it’s the main one I use at home with my husband. It’s hard for my brain to switch back and forth between ASL and English. Because of this I tend to change tenses when I write, which is very frowned upon in writing. I’m pretty sure I’ve driven every editor I’ve ever had to drink over this little fact.
After having to explain this to several people over a very short amount of time I finally came to terms with the fact that I was going to have to write a story with a deaf character.
I decided to go home and just see if I even had a story in me. I don’t outline, ever. I just start writing. I usually write the end first, then the beginning and fill in the middle. (Yeah I’m weird.) So I went home and just started writing to see if I even had a story in me…and I couldn’t stop. I wrote through he night, and all weekend long. By the time I took a break I had almost written half of the book. This is the only book I didn’t have to re-write or revise. It was trapped deep down and apparently ready to be freed. I cried more while writing this story than I have probably ever cried in my life. But it was also the most cathartic thing I‘ve ever done.
This story isn’t my own, but the feelings are completely mine. The pain, fears and passion is all mine even though the story belongs to Barrett alone.
Silent Song by Jaci Wheeler is available on Amazon today.