Laura Kaye | On Writing a Character Who Can't See
July 8, 2013
I'm very excited to be back at Fresh Fiction - I always love the opportunity to
come hang out over here! I'm also very excited to be celebrating the release
this week of my tenth novel! SOUTH OF SURRENDER is the
third book in the Hearts of the Anemoi series, which tells the stories of new
love and old conflict between the four gods the Greeks believed were responsible
for the seasons, weather, and wind. SOUTH OF SURRENDER features
Chrysander Notos, the Supreme God of Summer and the South Wind, who literally
falls into the life of a human woman named Laney Summerlyn. And it's Laney I'd
like to talk more about today.
Laney is one of my favorite heroines I've ever written, maybe because she was
also one of the most challenging. Laney has a degenerative eye disease called
retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which is an incurable condition where the person
first loses their night vision, then their peripheral vision, and then more and
more of their central vision until they're finally blind. In some people, the
disease progresses very gradually; in others, more quickly. When we meet Laney
in SOUTH OF SURRENDER,
she has gone completely blind in her left eye and has a very small degree of the
central vision of her right eye remaining. If you want to get a sense of what
someone like Laney can see, make a fist and leave a tiny hole in the center. Now
look through it. Laney's visual world is largely reduced to what you might see
if you looked through a straw, 24/7. (I did this constantly while writing, no
doubt earning some odd looks from the other Panera patrons where I often write!)
Writing a character who is not only mostly blind, but has special behaviors and
habits that help her maintain her independence, was a challenge on several
levels. The first challenge was that I was very limited in my ability to use the
sense of sight when I was writing from Laney's point of view. And what Laney
could see had to be described in a very particular way. At one point, she thinks
of it like this: "She was used to her low vision by now, but sometimes it was
so frustrating not to be able to see more than a pinpoint of the world at
a time, her brain putting the whole together like a slow computer loading the
pixels of a high-resolution image." She is also completely blind in the dark, in
bright sun, or when shifting from dimness to brightness. So she experiences and
"reads" the world and her surroundings and other people differently from a
sighted person, and I constantly had to think about what she would and wouldn't
have been able to see.
Another challenge was wanting to get things right. I was inspired to write about
this particular disease because one of my favorite former graduate students
developed it a few years after she graduated from the history program where I
used to teach, so there was an extra layer of motivation for wanting to do RP
justice. To research RP, I watched countless YouTube videos made my people with
the disease describing their lives, the progression of their disease, the
training they've undertaken and the tools they use to make their lives easier,
etc. A few videos exist that even simulate what life is like if you only have a
small circle of central vision. I also read discussions boards about the
disease, materials available from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and
interviews with blind people. I modeled Laney's job as a freelance writer after
a story on the American Foundation for the Blind's website. I can only hope
I did it the justice I tried to do.
Another challenge was having her deal with all the incredible magical and
sometimes dangerous things that happen to her in the story. I wanted her to be
strong and even kick-ass, and man I was so proud of her because she never let
her disease get her down. In fact, in one way, I made her strong not
despite her disease but because of it. Here's what I mean: Laney's
low vision gives her the ability to perceive colorful auras around the divine
characters in the book, so she actually has a new and additional way of "seeing"
them that no one else has. And her strength earns her a divine reward, too -
you'll have to read to understand this! *winks* It was very important to me that
Laney's near blindness was just one part of her character, not the trait
that most defined her.
A final challenge was that I gave Laney a hero with a fear of being touched - a
pretty good conflict when paired with a person for whom touch provides a crucial
way of experiencing the world. And man was that tension tons of fun to write!
What do you think about characters with physical impairments like Laney's? Do
you have any favorite stories with a similar character? Or feel free to ask me a
GIVEAWAY: One commenter will win a signed paperback of NORTH OF NEED, the first
book in the series!
Don't want to wait? Feel free to dive straight into SOUTH OF SURRENDER - the
reviews are coming back in agreement that it works well as a stand alone, too!
Thanks for reading!
About SOUTH OF
She's the only one who can see through his golden boy fašade to the broken
Chrysander Notos, Supreme God of the South Wind and Summer, is on a mission:
save Eurus from his death sentence and prove his troubled brother can be
redeemed. But Eurus fights back, triggering vicious storms that threaten the
mortal realm and dangerously drain Chrys.
Laney Summerlyn refuses to give up her grandfather's horse farm, despite her
deteriorating vision. More than ever, she needs the organized routine of her
life at Summerlyn Stables, until a ferocious storm brings an
impossible—and beautiful—creature crashing down from the heavens.
Injured while fighting Eurus, Chrys finds himself at the mercy of a mortal woman
whose compassion and acceptance he can't resist. As they surrender to the
passion flaring between them, immortal enemies close in, forcing Chrys to choose
between his brother and the only woman who's ever loved therealhim.
Buy your copy at Amazon
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About Laura Kaye:
Laura is the New York
Times and USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen books in contemporary and
paranormal romance. Growing up, Laura's large extended family believed in the
supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses
cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things
paranormal. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and
cute-but-bad dog, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.
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53 comments posted.
Re: Laura Kaye | On Writing a Character Who Can't See
I really like reading about characters with physical impairments who learn to
overcome them without giving into pity and depression. They accept the
impairment and embrace it as a part of their lives.
(Hyunjin Jeon 3:32am June 1, 2013)
They have to overcome these impairments and many people give them a rough road to travel. Embrace life and enjoy it.
(Mary Smith 5:36am June 1, 2013)
None of us are perfect, so giving a character an added
obstacle to overcome can be inspirational.
(Mary Preston 8:27am June 1, 2013)
Congratulations on your tenth book.
Stories with characters with physical impairments make the story more
believable. Less sterotypical.
Maybe there really are gods which look like Chris Hensworth And Sam
(Chris Coulson 8:27am June 1, 2013)
I like a character to have a past. It makes the book feel real.
(Bonnie Capuano 8:32am June 1, 2013)
Physical impairments are fine, as long as they don't drag the story line down. I've read books before, where the story is so depressing, that you either can't finish the book, or it's a downer all the way through. Helen Keller has been one of my heroes since I was a child. I read her Autobiography twice, and my hat goes off to her, so I'm really looking forward to reading your book. She even had more obstacles to overcome, and did so with such style and grace. Without going into detail, she opened the door for people who suffer from any type of blindness. Congratulations on your book!!
(Peggy Roberson 10:06am June 1, 2013)
Congrats on the book. It is inspiring to see people overcome obstacles. We
all have trials of some kind so why not in books!!
(Vicki Hancock 10:49am June 1, 2013)
It's a big challenge to write these characters, but they are
(Roxana Perez 10:58am June 1, 2013)
Over coming physical impairments adds to the flavor of the book and the strength of the character. I enjoy books like this!
(Betty Hamilton 11:55am June 1, 2013)
I love Michelle Willingham's historicals. Most of her stories
involve some form of disability (blind, mute,
agoraphobic,etc...) I also love Jennifer Ashley's "The
Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie." Ian has Asperger Syndrome in
a time where the world didn't understand it.
(Karin Anderson 11:57am June 1, 2013)
(Kent Cook 12:32pm June 1, 2013)
Characters with physical impairments add to the richness of a story if done right---if not, they can become a long pity party.
(Sue Farrell 1:12pm June 1, 2013)
I think that bringing a disability into your work is commendable. The research and "funny" looks helped the authenticity of Laney. Many people with disability wish to remain independent and have great will power and strength to achieve it.
My question: What motivated you to give the gift of 'sight', was it the studies done to ask whether if a sense was lost - others are heighten and the possibility of the sixth?
(Carla Carlson 1:20pm June 1, 2013)
It is wonderful to see that everyone has a chance to overcome things in their lives and find happiness. Thanks for sharing!
(Colleen Conklin 1:38pm June 1, 2013)
This is so awesome. I've read several books about lead characters with a "special need".
First that comes to mind is Jennifer Ashley's THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MacKENZIE. Then
there's Karen Ranney's latest THE LASS WORE BLACK with her near fatal crash and
disfiguration. Again Jennifer Ashley's THE SEDUCTION OF ELLIOTT MacBRIDE with PTSD.
Lastly Jackie Ivie's SHOULD THERE BE #8 of her Vampire Assassin's League with the
heroine having Type 1 Diabetes. Awesome books!
(Lenna Hendershott 2:39pm June 1, 2013)
I think we all have some wires that don't quite connect or cross somewhere inside of us. You see some disabilities and some are hidden and the holders of those wonder why they aren't like everyone else. Putting the stories of people who face and overcome obstacles is refreshing because not everything is as easy as we would like to think. Putting that information out there makes us look at ourselves and our behaviours too, sometimes you don't realize what you do until you see it in print.
(Darci Paice 2:50pm June 1, 2013)
I've read a few and it's always been a great story.
(Theresa Norris 3:01pm June 1, 2013)
I think it's great when the handicap is realistically portrayed and can be incorporated into a believable romance.
(Janie McGaugh 3:05pm June 1, 2013)
I like stories with characters that have physical/medical impairments. Their impairments doesn't limit them, the characters become stronger because of it. I love the journey that they goes through to discover the strength that is within each one of them.
(Kai Wong 3:37pm June 1, 2013)
I think characters with disabilities written into a story is a plus, since not many authors do this. There are many people with physical handicaps that would favor knowing there are books being written which make them feel included. I have not found many books that include this, and it's a great idea!
(Linda Luinstra 3:54pm June 1, 2013)
Thanks for all the great comments everyone! I'm enjoying reading them.
And I appreciate the book recommendations!
Carla--to your question about Laney's extra sight--in Greek mythology there
are a lot of stories of people being rewarded this way. And those who are
blind often have other abilities. Was a fun discovery about the mythology!
I'm at Philly ComicCon this weekend but will check back in! :)
(Laura Kaye 4:31pm June 1, 2013)
LOVE YOUR BOOKS THEY ARE MARVELOUS. I THINK CHARACTERS THAT
HAVE DISABILITIES ARE WONDERFUL BECAUSE THEY CAN TELL THEIR
OWN STORIES ABOUT THEMSELVES AND HOW THEY LIVE WITH IT. ITS
WONDERFUL TO HEAR STORIES LIKE THAT..
(Shelly Caggiano 4:42pm June 1, 2013)
Thank you Shelly! xo!
(Laura Kaye 5:07pm June 1, 2013)
Laura: I'm going to pick up SOUTH OF SURRENDER. Writing a hero/heroine with a disability is not easy, but it's interesting. My 4th book, TO LOVE YOU MORE, featured a blind hero who has to deal with the challenge of facing life as he'd known it. I actually tried to go one day with my mask on to get a sense of how it would be. Fortunately, I didn't have to go the whole, but it was the most uncomfortable experience. However, it did help me to see how a visually impaired individual deals with his/her challenges . As an individual who has had to cornea transplants, I'm always conscious of vision and my sight. I'm definitely looking forward to reading.
(Wayne Jordan 5:29pm June 1, 2013)
Thank you Wayne!
(Laura Kaye 5:38pm June 1, 2013)
I love reading about characters with
impairments. My fav so far of the
ones I've read is Never Seduce A
Scot by Maya Banks. The heroine in
this book was hearing impaired.
(Timitra Cozier-Bobb EHL- 1196 6:23pm June 1, 2013)
Very cool, Laura--I've always enjoyed books where one of the
leads has what would be considered a disability. It really
gives the character a chance to shine, and reveals so much
about his/her personality. Teresa Medeiros's Yours Until the
Dawn features a blind hero, for instance :)
(Fedora Chen 6:29pm June 1, 2013)
I enjoy reading stories with characters that aren't perfect, it's more realistic that
way. I loved Lynn Kurland's This Is All I Ask, who's hero was blind.
(Barbara Elness 7:30pm June 1, 2013)
Wow, Congrats on your 10th Novel:SOUTH OF SURRENDER. Yes, I
like reading about characters with disabilities and flaws
and how they rise above their problems in life. My husband
was in a bad car crash and lost sight in one eye and he
wears sunglasses all the time around people and outside. I
really believe that would be a fantastic book for my husband
and I to both read. Thanks for the great contest. Cecilia
(Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez 8:05pm June 1, 2013)
The subject of disabilities is very timely with so many returning from the current war. The scenes in real life of such soldiers being welcomed so warmly is heartwarming.
(Gladys Paradowski 8:31pm June 1, 2013)
Catherine Anderson writes some of the best characters with disabilities. My favorite book of her's is Annie's Song. This book has stayed with me for years!!
(Martha Lawson 9:07pm June 1, 2013)
I read some books by Catherine Asaro. Her characters have some disabilities... It's interesting!
(May Pau 9:40pm June 1, 2013)
i love charectors that have some disabilities i have a
autistic daughter and know that i can only hope that someday
she will find someone who will love her and appriciate as
much as we do
(Denise Smith 10:06pm June 1, 2013)
I'm really enjoying all your insights into characters with
disabilities and book recs! Thanks everyone!
(Laura Kaye 11:24pm June 1, 2013)
I've known people with RP, they had wonderful Guide Dogs even when not fully blind. They find it hard to see at night and the dog takes over then.
Yes, it's good to include all the community in the cast and major characters are made far more interesting by being less than perfect and adapting to their circumstances, be that a physical challenge or any other.
(Clare O'Beara 8:13am June 2, 2013)
I think characters with imparements can be interesting.
(Sandy Giden 10:29am June 2, 2013)
I find characters with challenges like Laneys to be inspiring
- even tho the characters are fictional I know there are real
people living with the impairment and remind myself how lucky
(Diane Sallans 3:19pm June 2, 2013)
I enjoy very much reading about characters with challenges to face-- it makes it all the sweeter when they finally reach their much deserved happily ever after. How intriguing these characters sound, one who craves touch and the other wearies of it. Tension, indeed!
(Chelsea Brooks 5:33pm June 2, 2013)
I think that books with imperfect characters are wonderful. One of my favorite books of all time is Catherine Anderson's Phantom Waltz where the heroine is wheelchair bound and the hero is an active outdoorsman/rancher. They have many obstacles to overcome and each one makes just made me love the characters more.
In the same series her book Blue Skies has a heroine that has an eye disease that is also good.
Good luck and happy writing!
(Tracie Travis 5:40pm June 2, 2013)
I've been reading Catherine Anderson novels since I found out about her, many years ago; her characters often have disabilities, mental or physical. She writes her stories so well, I usually am crying at some point!
(Diane Sadler 5:46pm June 2, 2013)
These books sound great! I read the Black Dagger Brotherhood series and several of those characters have issues/disabilities. I like that about the characters.
(Sally Hannoush 5:57pm June 2, 2013)
a greater challenge to overcome makes the character more likeable
(Debbi Shaw 7:42pm June 2, 2013)
I have always been fascinated when someone looses a sense
something else heightens to compensate for it. I loved what
you have done with that for her.
(Kelly Fox 7:56pm June 2, 2013)
Your comments are really making me feel jazzed, you guys! I
hope you enjoy South of Surrender if you give it a try! :)
@Sally - that is my FAVORITE! series! :)
(Laura Kaye 8:55pm June 2, 2013)
I can't imagine losing my sight. Since I love to read this would take a great joy out of my life. Not being able to see the world and all the beautiful things and colors would probable paralyze me. I really admire people who overcome disabilities. Thanks for the great book on courage and perseverance.
(Kathleen Yohanna 9:49pm June 2, 2013)
I am such a visually stimulated person, that the thought of
losing my sight is very scary. I love reading stories about
people who manage to live their lives to the fullest in spite
of the disability road bumps that are put in their path. I
really want to read this book!
(Dana Reeder 11:52pm June 2, 2013)
Thanks for your awesome comments, Kathleen and Dana!
(Laura Kaye 9:46pm June 3, 2013)
I don't have a degenerative eye disease like RP but I'm visually impaired and have had a cornea transplant in one eye but kind of like Laney's character I can't see anything but blobs of bright colour in one eye - I always joke with my friends saying "ah this one is just here for decoration :D) - and I have deteriorating sight in the other, I haven't read South of Surrender yet but that is one thing I didn't know about Laney and from reading your description of her I kinda feel a bit more connected to the character with her challenges in every day life and mobility :) From books I've read/listened to not many have had characters with eye or sight problems but I always love it when an author takes that on because you can see that they put themselves in that characters shoes and it shows in the writing like you said about putting your fist over your eye while writing trying to get a feel of what its like :)Thank you, I can already tell the characters POV in this book will be great from your post and I can honestly say I can't wait to read this book especially with the amount of effort and research you've put into Laney's background :)
Thanks for the great post and giveaway :)
(Amiee Ryan 4:08pm June 11, 2013)
Aw, Amiee your comment means a ton to me! Thank you so much! I
hope you love Laney and the book! xo!
(Laura Kaye 5:02pm June 11, 2013)
Well done, I have known a couple of people with RP and their wonderful Guide Dogs.
Never hurts to reach out to people with a different way of experiencing the world.
(Clare O'Beara 12:56pm July 8, 2013)
Annie's Song is the first book I read that had a character with a disability, she was deaf. One of the best books I've ever read. Catherine Anderson does great characters with disabilities. I look forward to reading your books, they sound really great. Thanks for the chance.
(Martha Lawson 9:42pm July 8, 2013)
I like reading about characters who aren't "perfect". Stories like that are
more realistic. Everyone deserves happiness and love. Stories with
characters overcoming physical obstacles can be heartwarming and
(Linda Brennan 11:30am July 9, 2013)
Thanks so much for this post Laura. I feel strongly about books about people with
disabilities/chronic diseases. I have Type I Diabetes and wear an insulin pump. There
is lots of misinformation out there about Diabetes that you see on TV, movies and in
books. It just sets me off that the writers didn't research before they wrote. I once
worked with Jackie Ivie on one of her Vampire Assassin's League books as she made her
heroine a Diabetic. I give high praise to an author who does the research and writes
a book that someone with that syndrome would be proud of. Thank you. The biggest book
I can think of that really grabbed me is Jennifer Ashley's THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN
MacKENZIE that dealt with something so tragic and found love and acceptance through
it. Good luck with your releases!
(Lenna Hendershott 3:11pm July 9, 2013)
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