Author interview with April Brown
December 15, 2014 2 Comments
With the holidays fast approaching, my last interview of the year is with a good friend of mine, April Brown. She is someone who I take inspiration from, as she has been going blind over the course of the last few years. Not once have I ever heard her complain, instead, she pushes herself forward, and accomplishing her dream of publishing books.
I’ve lived in several states, and recognize many issues that may be locally, versus nationally, as well as what it’s like to be transplanted from one region to another.
I write in a variety of genres, much as I read and live in a variety of circles.
Crosswinds: Past, Present, and Future Combine is a look at a young woman, who has lived a life in motion, and doesn’t know how to find the family and roots she so desperately needs and wants.
Trails Through the Fault Lines is a more scientific look at society, through both physical and social change. It is a coming of age novel in a world that shifts as dramatically as the continental plates beneath their feet.
Coffee, Tea, and Gluten Free: The Cookbook is a look at re-learning to cook for people who for whatever reason have to change their cooking style, or relearn to cook basic foods. It includes preparation times, pre-preparation times, shopping lists, food allergies, and low vision cooking techniques.
Coffee, Tea, and Gluten Free: The Novel will cover the social aspects of learning to live gluten free, and how it ostracizes families, co-workers, and travelers.
- With all the risks and uncertainty around publishing, what was it that drew you to a career in writing?
Writing is my way of connecting with people across the boundaries of disability without travel, time, or money concerns.
- You have a very unique aspect when it comes to writing, as you are legally blind. How does that affect your writing process?
Blindness has affected my ability to write, edit, and publish. Especially my cover art!
I no longer work on my website as much as I would like. Updates are time consuming, and exhausting. If I have the web page in large enough font to see and read, the elements won’t fit in the screen. I have to shrink it until, even on a 36 inch screen, the words look like dots, so I have to copy and paste my information without knowing how it really looks on the screen.
And, my Newsletter program is even worse. One friend said most people type their entire post in the Mailchimp box. Um. Yeah. My thumb nail is larger than the tiny box I have to paste my newsletter in, and hope my formatting remains.
I make due with large font. Arial Rounded MT bold, size, well, 18 or 20 now. With my Libre Office program set up to 200%. I need to enlarge it again. Much larger though, and full words will not fit on the screen.
I used to follow literary agent’s rules and write with double spaced lines. That meant there might only be two or three lines of text on the screen. Now, I use single line space, and can follow almost all sentences all the way through on the screen.
Editing can be a real challenge. Especially as I move from having everything on paper to being on the screen. If I am looking for a fact, I can no longer just scroll to the page and down with my finger to find it. I must use a screen reader program to open another document, and have it read to the correct place to find whatever information I need. For example, before, I could look up Alex’s ringtone within seconds, by grabbing the paper background tab, and my finger knew where on the page his name and stats were. Now, the online version takes ten to fifteen minutes to verify that I used the same ringtone in both scenes it appears.
As for the publishing part, I’ll have to find out as I go, how accessible the publishing sites will be. I know I can review my stats. I’ll find out more at the end of next month when Trails 2 will be published.
My decreasing vision means I have to change everything. And fully rely on my OCD to keep me organized, as finding by sight and mouse isn’t possible anymore.
- Do you have any special programs to help you write?
About two years ago, I started trying to learn screen readers for Windows computers. At the time, I couldn’t see the screen most of the time. My eye was too blurry. I had no luck figuring them out. And my Windows computer just couldn’t handle accessibility features, even large font, without crashing.
So, a year ago, we bought Macs and I spent a few months trying to learn VoiceOver. At the time, there were no step by step guides. And Apple’s Accessibility Group didn’t really know how to help, as they didn’t experienced users on either the phone line, nor in the stores. And of course, due to my hearing loss, the few podcasts that were step by step were not accessible, since they were created by people who speak in the tone range I could not hear. As are most telephone representatives.
Finally, I am receiving the tech training I need! I am learning VoiceOver on the Iphone and Ipad. By January, I’ll be able to start on VoiceOver for the Mac. Websites I haven’t been able to read will suddenly be accessible again. Well, hopefully. If the sites don’t block VoiceOver, or are picture heavy. Pictures are not readable by VoiceOver. Nor, are most of the pictures covered in words that commonly make the rounds of social media.
As I learn VoiceOver, I’ll learn which writing and editing programs are most accessible with it. I use Libre Office because it is easy to use for Low Vision users. Let’s hope it remains so!
Sometimes, program or system updates break a program’s accessibility. It might be months before it is useable again. And rolling back isn’t always easy.
Learning to write and edit by ear is interesting. Especially since I didn’t have useable hearing for over a decade. Imagine writing a social media post, and then having to hit three or four key combinations to have it read back to you to verify if there are any misspelled words. Then, another series of key combos to back track to the word, and delete the offending letters. And hope you don’t have to delete the whole post because you added an extra letter in the second word of a 200 word post! Oh, and that handy feature that popups up potential correct spellings for you? That’s an advanced set of key combos, once you have back tracked to the word you want.
With a screen reader, unintended consequences are common. I might think I clicked to open the weather app. After all, that was the last one it spoke. Instead it may delete the email message I just spent an hour writing and spell checking, because that is where it thought I was working!
I listen to other people’s screen readers, and I have no idea how they comprehend a word. Screen readers can speak at about three times a normal conversation speed. I have my version of VoiceOver set at normal conversation speed, or a little slower.
Learning it is interesting. I will say, I wish I could correct the pronunciation of some words and names. I don’t want to forget how to spell, or pronounce correctly. If I hear a name, or word, mispronounced enough times, I won’t know it is the same name, or word, if I hear a person pronounce it correctly.
- Have you ever thought about giving up? If you did, what changed your mind?
Definitely! I guess the first was years ago, when a over confident barely graduated from high school kid told me I had no right to destroy a forest if I wanted to read a font larger (and clearer) that Courier 8 point font. Um. Can anyone over ten read that? And many, many, many times over the years since then, when life leaves me no time to read, research, write, or edit.
Every time I say I will quit writing and am done, After a few days, I’m right back at it, telling a story to and for someone. There is no true escape from writing if you are a writer. A vacation? Sure! Stopping? Not till I have no memory left.
- What things influence your writing? Have you ever written them into a story?
I think everything I see, hear, and do influences my writing. All of my characters have survived some major trauma. In many ways, when writing, I try to put some bit of myself in each character. In Trails Through the Fault Lines- Amber is the science geek I hid. She gets to explore earthquakes, and the social science effects, much as I wish I could have. Alex is the kind, understanding person, who take a person as they are, and not truly try to change them, even as the world unfolds around him. Livia is the sightly wilder, more outgoing, socially “normal” person who has no fear of doing what she thinks is right. And some times, doesn’t understand others. Like Corbo, I have never fit in, and that is all I ever wanted to do. Be normal and accepted by society around me. Like Dr. Rebecca, I’m quiet, and occasionally forget the important parts of life, like people, relationships, and pets, preferring data and accuracy over other things.
- Let’s talk about your books. What were the inspiration behind them?
My inspiration was to hopefully make science more accessible to everyone. So many people are afraid they can’t learn science. And yet, their bodies perform science miracles everyday without thinking about it. Somehow, I ended up with both physical and social science in this novel series, though social science was unintended.
- How much research went into your novels?
A lifetime. In all retrospect, events from a field trip in my early teens, nigh thirty years ago, was probably my first bit of research for this novel group. While writing, I verified facts I used, and kept up to date with current science news. Interestingly, I often found corroborating news stories for some fact or other, within days of writing it. Even today, I’m keeping up with news stories that agree with, or even disagree with my novel’s findings. The documentary that clearly talks about the Rio Grande Rift doing exactly what it does in the novel, came out after the novel was first finished. It was on submission for too long.
- Is there a genre that you would like to write? Something you would find a challenge?
I’d like to be successful at writing greeting cards. It is a challenge, although I was pretty good at it a quarter of a century ago.
- What are you hoping your readers will take away from this story?
I want my readers to believe that they can do many things, regardless of their health. From the character with Fibro afraid to be seen cooking on her low pain day, to Livia fighting to stay with the group with a broken ankle, to Alex realizing that re-injuring his arm too soon could lead to permanent disability, to Corbo realizing society isn’t quite his biggest stumbling block to the future he wants. They all keep fighting for what they want and need within the constraints of life at the moment. They accept differences in others, and do their best to treat others as equals.
Social Media Links
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