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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Confessions of a Blind Author by Laurie Alice Eakes

MY ENEMY, MY HEART
Before I dive into the true confessions part of this post, I want to point out that I am a writer first. In my profession, that’s like “people first” language. The writer part of me is what is the most important, the books I produce, the fans I please or, sadly upon occasion, displease, would probably be little different under other life circumstances.

I am a writer who happens to be blind, not visually impaired, not visually challenged, not some other euphemism. I am blind mostly due to glaucoma that struck me in my twenties and was uncontrollable; thus, it damaged my retinas beyond repair.

I say mostly because I was born legally blind with a condition whose name I have never known what to call, only that my optic nerves didn’t develop fully, limiting my ability to receive enough light messages to send to my brain as necessary for clear sight. I could see color and things pretty close-up, but not in great detail. For example, I could see a face, sometimes even the color of the eyes if they were striking, the mouth and nose, but not blemishes on the skin or true distinguishing features. Everyone didn’t look the same, and yet they weren’t all that easy to tell apart either.

All my life, I attended public school, with some special support services for reading materials not in Braille, etc.

All my life, I wanted to be a writer.

All my life, I told myself stories in my head. It passed the time when I had to sit on the sidelines because I couldn’t play a game requiring more sight than I possessed.

All my life I have loved cats, too, but that’s going off topic.

Because I wanted to be a writer, I embraced technology as soon as it was available in a practical way. I started off researching in the library at the University of Pittsburgh, where they had a Kurzweil scanner machine I got permission to use. Then technology improved, and I acquired the software I placed on my computer, along with a scanner, so I connected to my laptop and could scan books and read right then and there. The software directs the scanner, then reads the materials back to me. I can make notes in the copy, perform searches, etc. When Google Books and Gutenberg Project came along, whole new worlds opened to me. Original materials? Oh, yes! The joy of an historical author.

For writing, I use the same software as most other authors—Microsoft Word. How do I do this? I have software that reads the screen to me. It only reads text, not pictures; however, picture identification software is improving.

Let me insert a couple notes about screen reader software. 

A: I have to type; this software is not dictation software. After all, a good typist doesn’t look at the keys anyway. 

B: Contrary to what  science fiction shows have led people to believe, the speech is not monotone. It is amazingly clear and one can adjust it for tonality and pitch. Apple has a voice that even sounds like it breathes in the patterns of a human when reading. Kind of cool and kind of creepy.

Speaking of Apple, I have an iPhone. All iPhones talk. I’m not talking about Siri. I’m talking about Voiceover. If you go into Settings, General, and accessibility, you will see this option to turn on. I can choose different voices with varying accents.

Now that the boring technical details are behind us, let me talk about the pros and cons of being an author who happens to be blind.

We’ll start with the cons so we can end on a positive note.

  • Attitudes. Often I have spoken to elementary students about life as a person who is blind. Kids are great; they will ask anything. One question I get asked is:
    What would you change if you could?

    Answer: Attitudes. People are prejudiced against persons who are blind. That is the truth, the uncomfortable fact of life. If you can’t see, you are obviously stupid (I have a master’s degree), unaware of anything (ears, nose, and the feel give a great deal of information to one’s brain), have no clue where you are (I have an excellent sense of direction), must be poor because you can’t work, have someone who takes care of you (how I wish!)… If people talk to you at all, they talk down to you. Mostly, however, at writer conferences or publisher parties, I get ignored.

    Right now I don’t have a guide dog, as mine retired and I waited until I moved to get another one, coming soon, but when I have one, people talk to the dog as though a person isn’t holding onto it. They talk about the dog, but forget that I am a person who has thoughts, opinions, dreams and ambitions, and, in this case, 22 books in print, all traditionally published, which means I got paid by the publisher and they did all the editing and formatting work. To say this hurts… Well, I’m a bit of a tough cookie, so don’t want to admit anything of the sort.
  • Professionals in the industry other than writers get some weird notions.
    I am going to be vague here, and suffice it to say that all of the above have applied to two and only two editors in the industry. For the most part, they are fantastic and I have been blessed to work with many wonderful editors who have taught me so very much. Yet the fear of running into more of the wrong kind is always around.
  • The practical.
    I can’t read name tags or recognize faces, so have to wait for others to come to me. That doesn’t happen much. I am not good at proofreading, so have to pay someone to proofread for me. Many marketing options just don’t work for me, or get expensive, as I can’t do them myself such as Pinterest. I can’t drive around looking for bookstores to carry my books. Hmm, can’t think of anything else.

 Enough of the cons.

As for the pros:
  • I am a writer.
    I have twenty-two books in print and more on the way, have won and finaled in many contests, including being a Rita finalist in 2016. 

  • Best of all, I have a loving and loyal fan base who read my books for what is the most important part of me—my ability to tell a story. 

*Go ahead. Ask me anything in the comments except my age.*
~ Laurie Alice Eakes
“Eakes has a charming way of making her novels come to life without being over the top,” writes Romantic times of  bestselling, award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes. Since she lay in bed as a child telling herself stories, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with more than two dozen books in print and several award wins and nominations to her credit, including winning the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency and being chosen as a 2016 RITA® finalist in the inspirational category.

She has recently relocated to a cold climate because she is weird enough to like snow and icy lake water. When she isn’t basking in the glory of being cold, she likes to read, visit museums, and take long walks, preferably with her husband, though the cats make her feel guilty every time she leaves the house.

Her latest release is My Enemy, My Heart, Book 1 in The Ashford Chronicles. Raised on a merchantman, Deirdre finds her heart and loyalties in a tug-o-war as an American stranded in England during the War of 1812. If she frees her father’s crew, the only family she has ever known, from an English prison, she betrays the Englishman she loves.

You can read more about Eakes and her books, as well as contact her, through her Web Site:

Follower her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@LaurieAEakes

13 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Laurie, thank you for guesting with us at RTG today. I'm wondering if you ever or how often you railed at the injustice of being blind. I ask because my son has retinitis pigmentosis and, while not totally blind, has very limited vision. He seems unable/unwilling to move forward with his life.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for your honesty about the challenges blind people face, particularly blind writers. As an author who is blind in one eye and at risk for losing sight in the other, your straight talk about people's attitudes and tips on technology are welcome guidance.

After reading the blurb for My Enemy, My Heart, I can't wait to read book!

Maeve Greyson said...

My Enemy, My Heart sounds like a must read to me! I'm heading over to Amazon now.

Your post taught me a valuable lesson. I'm usually a shy wallflower and fear walking up to strangers at conferences because I'm afraid I'll bother them. Now I know that maybe they're just waiting for someone to strike up a conversation. Thank you :)

Paty Jager said...

Laurie,

We had an older woman, who was a distant relative of my husband, stay with us several summers. She had grown up with sight but was blind when she stayed with us. I learned a lot about people with blindness when she was with us. And I have book with a blind hero. I used my time with the relative to grasp the feelings of the person with out sight and the ways they overcome that using other senses. Thank you for an insightful post.

Your books sound fascinating. I'm glad there are ways in which you can do your research and "see" what you write. There is nothing worse than being a storyteller and having no way to pass the stories on.

Good luck with your writing!

Laurie Alice Eakes said...

Thank you for reading the post.

Judith:
Sometimes, yes, I throw a pity party over being blind, mostly at how I get treated, that people think I'm stupid or incapable, or just ignore me. But I never was one to sit still and whine for long. My parents helped with this. The simply refused to help me. They paid for college, but then I was on my own, and they made that clear.

Human nature tends to wanting to protect persons with disabilities. Believe me, I do it to my own husband, who is brilliant and capable (he's an attorney with the degerative condition called LCA, which robs sight over many years).Your son may just not know what his choices are, esp. if he hasn't been exposed to successful blind people. He may have the same prejudices or attitudes in his head as the general population has.

Example: Today we went to join a gym and the guy just assumed we would always be there together because we didn't have anything else to do. Sigh.

Michelle Somers said...

Hi Laurie
Thank you so much for sharing your life and experiences so honestly and openly.
As writers, we come in all packages, all shapes and sizes, but the one thing we have in common is our love for the written word. I'm so glad you're doing just that - enjoying your love of writing.
Well done on 22 books! That number seems so far away for me, with my second coming out in a few days :)
I look forward to hearing more from you.
Michelle xxx

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Hi Laurie,

I also love cats, live in a colder place (Alaska), and write historicals, so we have a lot in common! What do you like most about writing historical novels?

Barbara Strickland said...

Hi, I just think your attitude is the kind we should all have. You are entertaining, practical and most of all a do-er. Fantastic

Linda Lovely said...

Interesting and inspiring post. Thanks for blogging. 22 novels--and more to come-- is more than impressive for any writer.

Diana McCollum said...

Your blog post is so interesting! You are an amazing writer, and with 22 published books, that's nothing to sneeze at!

I had to go check my I-phone right away after reading this post. Yep! I have the voice over option! Never new it. And I had no idea all the programs available to help the seeing challenged folks work on the computer.

I'd say you have tons of gumption. To overcome what some would dwell on and never move forward. You have strived to be and do what you want in life and that is commendable.

I haven't tried your books, but I am going to order "My enemy, My Heart" right now.

Laurie Alice Eakes said...

Michelle, congratulations on your books. Getting one published is a huge accomplishment. Two is amazing. Keep up the good work.

Laurie Alice Eakes said...

Lynn, Alaska may be too cold for me, but I hear it is lovely.

What do I like most about historicals? I think the what if scenarios. It's not whether what happens in our books DID take place that matters; it's whether the events COULD occur that is the fun part. I always say that historical fiction is a type of speculative fiction.

Diana McCollum said...

I tried to buy your book "My Enemy, My Heart" on Nook but it isn't available. I did buy "The Mountain Midwife", I'm loving it!