Posted on 10/10/2018 at 08:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Laurie Alice Eakes likes to say that the minute she found out what an author was, she wanted to become one.
And the route she took to fulfilling that goal, in many ways, is extremely typical.
Eakes majored in English in college and read constantly throughout her life, but professors convinced her that writing wasn’t a “real job” and that it wasn’t worth it.
So Eakes pursued a number of other “real jobs.” All those years, though, characters, storylines, and the urge to write kept dancing around her head.
She scratched the itch. Joined writers groups. Found mentors. Entered contests.
It kept growing stronger, even as life prevented her from managing to finish a novel.
The cure for that ill was a graduate program at Seton Hill. During her time there, she found an agent, and shortly after graduation, she sold her first book.
She was also laid off from her corporate job, but at that point, who cared? Not Eakes.
This all sounds rather typical of today’s successful authors, right? (Minus landing a trad-pub contract.)
Well, it is. The only major difference in Eakes’s story, from other writers’, is that she was born with a visual impairment and lost her usable sight when she was in her twenties.
It doesn’t define her, though of course it has affected her and colored her experiences, for better and for worse.
Read on to learn more about how Eakes became the author of twenty-eight novels and a contributor to the Boundless Love anthology, in the latest installment of our National Disability Awareness Month interview series.
SADYE: Beyond, of course, being blind, what motivated you to write characters with disabilities?
ALICE: Since I was a legally blind child in public school before this was the norm, I have been a speaker advocating education and independent living for persons with disabilities since I was about eight years old.
In the questions I’m asked, I have learned that people think having a disability means one becomes helpless, a burden on friends, family, and society.
Historical research has shown me that this is a long-standing belief, yet men and women have found a way to shine through the darkness of misconception.
When the Snow Flies was inspired by a paragraph I read about a blind “man-midwife” in the nineteenth century.
Visions of Freedom was inspired by an article I read by the founder of the Howe School for the Blind in the 1840s.
Through historical tales and, probably soon, something contemporary, I want to bring hope and encouragement to an aging population that one can still have a rich and fulfilling life, even career, with a disability such as blindness.
SADYE: In many interviews, the subject of blindness doesn’t come up. Are interviewers unaware, are they uneasy about mentioning it, or do you/they want to keep it a minor detail, not the focus?
ALICE: Sadly, society has some odd notions about blind people and their abilities — or lack thereof.
The first agent who offered to represent me told me on the phone how vivid my descriptions were. I laughed and said that was something I worked at because my visual impairment made writing them difficult at times.
Her demeanor changed. She got off the phone, and I never heard from her again.
So I didn’t tell the second agent who offered to represent me. We did, however, meet at a conference.
She was freaked out about it, though she had been reading my work and talking to me on the phone for a year.
After that, she stopped sending out my work. Except she told me she was.
I happened to meet an editor at a conference who said nothing of mine had ever come across her desk.
I did stop writing for a long time after that experience. When I came back to it, I hid my blindness as much as possible.
That’s easy online. In person at conferences, though, it isn’t, and editors have been known to refuse to work with a blind author with the excuse a blind person can’t make it through the publishing process.
Sadly, shockingly few of us write fiction, and even fewer are traditionally published.
When I say “few,” I mean probably less than a dozen. I have a number of other examples of industry professionals and others unable to accept that a blind woman can be just as effective an author as a sighted person.
Fortunately, readers don’t seem to mind.
SADYE: What has been your most rewarding moment as a writer?
ALICE: Rewarding moments are so abundant, I’m not sure I can pick out the most rewarding one.
Therefore, I will simply say that receiving letters from readers saying how much my books mean to them just makes my day.
This is why I write — to make others happy. Learning that my novels have done this for someone is true success.
SADYE: What has been the biggest challenge?
ALICE: Keeping going in the business is a tremendous challenge.
Your favorite book to date gets a one-star review that sounds as though the writer has some personal agenda to tear you down, and you’re devastated, forgetting the fifty five-star reviews that came before.
You’re sure you have a fantastic series concept, and no one wants to buy it.
Publishing has changed drastically in the thirteen years since I sold my first book.
Social media has taken over, and I took a long time figuring out how to make it work for me.
At least once a week, I think I should simply get a more sane job.
And something always pulls me back — a character who won’t let me go until I write her story, an incident too good not to populate with characters and fictionalize, an editor who says she loves working with me.
SADYE: What would you most want writers without disabilities to keep in mind as they write about characters with them?
LAURIE: Do research. Don’t simply read a couple books about the disability.
Talk to people with the disability. Talk to more than one person with the disability, for we all have different experiences.
A blind person who uses a white cane has a different perspective than one who uses a guide dog, for example. (And if you choose to write about a service dog, please learn about them.) ...
People who have had their disability since birth are going to have a different life perspective than people who have been disabled later in life.
And even those are affected by personality, support systems, and area of origin.
And please, do not have your blind character feeling people’s faces. That’s just creepy.
I know one blind person who does this, and only then after she has known the person for a while.
I have never heard of a blind person feeling someone’s face the minute they meet. Where this got started, I have no idea.
Same goes for counting steps. I go so many places even in one day I would have to have a file on my iPhone to tell me how many steps it is from here to there.
What if I’ve never been there before? And one’s steps change with shoes. ...
Not all deaf persons know sign language, and not all sign language is created equally.
People with disabilities are rarely all sunny nor bitter about their situation.
The bottom line — we are human with the same sorts of human emotions as anyone else.
We are not superpersons; we’re simply mortals.
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Categories: Author Interview