Monday, March 26, 2012

Interview with Flying to the Light author Elyse Salpeter


Flying to the Light by Elyse Salpeter
Publisher: Cool Well Press, Inc. (November 10, 2011)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
[Paperback & Kindle Edition available]

Description
How far can you run, until you just can’t run anymore?
Seventeen year old Michael Anderson and his deaf kid brother, Danny, find themselves in mortal danger after their parents are kidnapped by ruthless biophysicist, Samuel Herrington. Michael discovers Danny has a powerful gift-he knows what happens after a person dies-and now others want to know, too. The brothers must outwit and outrun Herrington, the FBI, and even fellow Americans in a harrowing cross-country chase, because whoever gets to Danny first will have the power to control the fate of every person on earth.
 
Elyse Salpeter’s Flying to the Light is told through the perspective of older brother Michael who until a few days before the story begins is an average high school student with parents who work as scientists and a little brother Danny who just happens to be deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. The entire family is fairly fluent in ASL and the characters attempt to gain Danny’s attention through visual clues. Salpeter explains that Danny’s deafness wasn’t intended as a disability. “It is simply a part of who he is, but I do make him special…” In fact, Danny is so special that older brother Michael’s world is completely changed in this science fiction thriller.
Danny has special powers. I won’t give this away but readers discover the impact of these powers through the eyes of Michael who is confused and unsure whom to trust especially because he learns that his parents and little brother aren’t exactly the family members he always though they were. He seeks assistance from friends of the family, and even his teachers but again and again discovers the magnitude of situation.
I am a sucker for supernatural elements and I really, really, really want to tell you about some other aspects of the book but you’re going to have to read this for yourself.
Check out my interview with author Elyse Salpeter whom I learned on her website that she had published a short story in a Vampire magazine. If you’re interested in vampire stories, she co-edited one and was a contributing author to Nights of Blood 2. I will point out that this wasn’t a tease. Flying to the Light does not include any vampires…. Or does it?!? Bwa ha ha ha ha ;)
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SP: What influenced your decision to have Danny be a deaf character who uses sign language?
ES: When I was first thinking about writing FLYING TO THE LIGHT, I was staring at a group of birds and imagining this unique idea about them. It was so quiet and peaceful as I watched them and this vision of a little boy came into my head. I wanted to make him special, to have this great ability. When I decided for him to be deaf, it wasn’t because I wanted him to be perceived as having a disability, but simply be a part of who he was. His family and the people around him don’t treat him any differently, they just have to learn how to communicate with him effectively to find out all the wonderful things he knows. I also don’t see a lot of deaf characters in mainstream fiction and I thought it would be a unique and interesting concept for people to read about.
I love the idea of children being able to communicate and while I think lip-reading is a great skill, I always liked the idea of a parent being able to communicate with their children at a very young age. Kids want so badly to express themselves and to be understood, so knowing and using sign language was something I wanted the parents to have used with my character from the very beginning. I explore Danny talking a little bit and lip-reading in the novel, but I concentrate on sign language mostly.

SP: What is your experience with American Sign Language and Deaf people? (did you consult anyone or any websites to learn about deaf people/deaf characters?)
ES: I took ASL classes for two years at Stony Brook University. My professor, who was deaf and didn’t speak, was wonderful and taught us so much. I remember one evening walking to an evening study group and we were all moving through the Student Union building and in one of the side rooms music was BLASTING. It was incredibly loud and my professor started dancing to the beat and I stared at him, confused as to how he could hear the music. He saw my expression and immediately grabbed my hand and pulled me to the floor, pressing my hands against it. The floor was literally pounding and vibrating from the bass of the speakers and we just sat that way for quite a while “listening and bopping to the music” as people walked all around us.  That’s where I got one of the ideas in the book for Michael and Danny to get away, by making a television super loud.
I tried to be true to the character. I remembered things my teacher taught us, I watched videos to learn, read about products and talked to a lot of different folks in the community on Twitter. I’m sure I might have made some mistakes or taken some liberties in the book, but I tried very hard to be as accurate and true to Danny as I could. I’m hoping that if I do finish a sequel, I’ll be even more true to the character.
There are times I utilized my own personal story as reference as well. I have lost about 40% hearing in my left ear. We’re not sure why, but it’s slowly getting worse. I find I have to strain to hear people at times, face them so I can read their lips and see if I can catch all the conversation. It’s a struggle in my own home, especially when my family is calling me from another room, while the television is on, and I’m running water to do the dishes! I have to stop everything, walk up to them and speak to them (geez, you think they’d come to me!). And, if I’m having a hard time falling asleep, I’ll turn to my right side. If I’m on my left side, I can hear everything, but if I turn over and cover my good ear, the house is suddenly very quiet and I fall right to sleep. Not great when I need to hear the kids, though. I used a baby monitor for years after I really needed to, just to make sure I could hear one of my children whose room was on the far side of the house. I also have to be really careful in my office. If I put the phone to my good ear to hear, I have no idea I’m actually speaking much more loudly than I need to. One of my co-workers literally pounds on the wall to let me know I’m probably shouting!

SP: Would you discuss a bit of your process. How do you begin writing? What research did you do?
ES: Writing to me must come first from an idea. I’m always amazed at writers who MUST write a sequel for a book because it’s in their contract. That kind of pressure to find a compelling enough idea and produce something seems overwhelming. For me, it’s like a muse appears… suddenly an idea pops into my head and I’m inspired and just have to get the idea out. With FLYING TO THE LIGHT, I started thinking about birds and maybe they really aren’t what all of us think they are. And then I thought, who could be the hero for this who knows all about these birds? That’s how Danny came into my head. I wanted to make him wonderful and special and just like any other six year old, but to have this powerful knowledge that makes him stand out from everyone else.

SP: What do you hope that readers will learn or take away from the book?
ES: I wanted this book to also be more than just about Danny and his abilities. I wanted it also to be about his older brother, Michael. This seemingly na├»ve seventeen-year -old boy had a charmed life and suddenly the world was ripped out from under his feet. His parents had been kidnapped, an evil biophysicist was after his brother and he finds out there have been major secrets hidden from him. Through all of this, he had to find reserves in his inner character and I really think readers will enjoy how he matured over a week’s period.
I also wanted to explore the relationship between the two brothers. I believe it’s realistic and the fact that Michael would do anything for his little brother was something I wanted to explore in the book.  

SP: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?
ES: I want young people to realize that within each of us is a special ability. Not everything can be seen on the surface and we must trust in ourselves in all that we do. I really believe when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it and you should never give up on a dream, even if it takes years to accomplish. You must trust in yourself, always.
SP: Do you have any plans for a follow-up?
ES: I actually have written two chapters of a sequel to FLYING TO THE LIGHT. It takes place when Danny is now thirteen years old. It’s in the beginning stages right now, so I’m not even sure if THAT will change, but so far so good. (no pressure, folks!)

SP: Anything you'd like to add?
ES: I have this wonderful little ferret named Whiskers, who is deaf. We didn’t know the first few days we had her, but one morning my twins, who were seven years old at the time, were screaming at each other, right next to the cage. Our little ferret slept through the entire thing. When she woke up, we tried a lot of different things, crumpled paper, turned on the vacuum, squeaked toys and soon realized she couldn’t hear at all. Now we knew why she was so nippy, why she didn’t respond to us, why she was startled at times when we would walk up behind her.
We started our research immediately on how to communicate with her, reading a bunch of sites on how to train deaf ferrets. We began to use some very basic signs for her. If we wanted her to use the litter box, we’d get down to her level and point at it. Then put her in the litter box. She’d come out and we’d repeat it. If she nipped, we held her away from us, her watching us and would put up our finger and shake our head no, with a firm face. We did this over and over and in a few days, she learned that a stern face with a pointed up finger meant don’t nip and if we pointed to the litter box, she’d go in! We try to be respectful of her and not sneak up behind her… in fact, we’ll stomp on the floor a bit, or clap our hands if she’s walking around, just so she knows we’re coming up behind her so she won’t get startled.  
She’s just the greatest little pet and to let us know how much she loves us, she licks our faces, necks, you name it! Just like a puppy! She chases us around the house, steals our socks and gloves and is just the greatest little thing ever.

For more information about the author, check out her website.
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