When sound started leaching from my world at age thirteen, I was terrified. The me that I knew and was more or less comfortable with, within typical thirteen-year-old parameters, was morphing against my will into some entirely other me, and I had no idea who that would be.
Between the lack of role models in real life and the lack of accurate and authentic representation on the screen or the page, all I felt was the loss of my old identity – I didn’t know what my new identity as a deaf person could be. Representation matters. Seeing myself in a book or a movie could have made such a huge difference, and I am writing the book that could have made that difference. Both for myself as someone who was so desperately trying to find a new normal, and as something to give to the many people around me who might have been well-meaning but who didn’t have the slightest idea how to interact with me.
SIGNS & PORTENTS is a Young Adult novel that I began several years ago, and which is still in process. I hoped to finish it during the monthlong residency at the Anderson Center in Red Wing that was supposed to occur in June of 2020, but that has been postponed by a year.
The core of this book has been with me since at least high school, but it took quite a while before that core got anywhere in particular. But the story just refused to go away. It would lay dormant for months, then I’d have a thought about the characters or the plot and I’d be pulled back in. Meanwhile I continued to learn about the nuts and bolts of creating a good YA novel.
There are many elements of my own story in SIGNS & PORTENTS, but it has taken on a life of its own. The main character, Viola, is sixteen when the book opens, and has been deaf since she was thirteen. She doesn’t know any deaf people or ASL yet. Her formerly-close relationship with her father has frayed, and her former friends have fallen away. She then meets Claire, a deaf girl her age. As Viola gets to know Claire and starts to learn ASL, the strange things that have been happening to her increase in both frequency and strangeness. What results is a witchy mix of the TRULY DEVIOUS series by Maureen Johnson and the SHADOWSHAPER series by Daniel José Older, within the general context of a deaf person finding her identity and her place in the world.