Saturday, January 03, 2015

Interview with _Silent Starsong_ author T.J. Wooldridge

When I first began my sabbatical and started catching up on reading my pile of books with Deaf Characters, I mentioned Silent Starsong by  T.J. Wooldridge which had just been published a few weeks before (in July).  This was a quick and interesting read that is certainly appropriate for young adolescents.While this is a chapter book, there are some illustrations included along with the text.
Main character Kyra is supposed to follow her mother’s line of interpreting the future by listening to the stars’ songs but Kyra is deaf and her mother is broken-hearted because she doesn’t see how Kyra will be able to continue this legacy. That’s a great deal of pressure for a young adolescent.  Even the doctor’s note states that Kyra is “permanently deformed”.
Fortunately, Kyra’s father finds a book of “secret hand codes” and is able to communicate with her by signing.  Kyra’s mother doesn’t pick up on the “hand-signs” so easily and they have a difficult time communicating. But this doesn’t stop Kyra’s father from continuing to try to bring the family together. 

When they go to a market, Kyra discovers Marne, an alien servant in the Naratsset culture. While these alien servants are typically quite skilled at telepathy, Marne’s telepathy is considered weak; yet, Kyra is able to communicate with Marne just fine. Marne has never been treated so nicely and Kyra may never have felt so understood. They become quite close and supportive of one another...  But don’t let this make you think the book is all about happy relationships and adventures. There is much sadness, death, and frightening adventures in store. Marne and Kyra have to find ways to keep one another safe among the ensuing danger.
About the author:
T.J. Wooldridge is the child-friendly persona of Trisha J. Wooldridge, who reviews dining establishments in Faerie for her local paper, much to the natives' confusion, and writes grown-up horror short stories that occasionally win awards. (EPIC 2008, 2009 for anthologies Bad-Ass Faeries 2 and Bad-Ass Faeries 3.) She often gets injured while trying to ride her horse, save the planet, interview famous movie and music people, or wear heels. She swears she loves her Husband-of-Awesome for more than his health insurance (he's also pretty cute). She has co-produced the Spencer Hill Press anthologies UnCONventional and Doorways to Extra Time.  Her novels include The Kelpie and The Earl's Childe in the MacArthur Family Chronicles series and Silent Starsong in the Adventures of Kyra Starbard series.

******Check out my interview with author T. J. Wooldridge below*****

SP: What inspired you to include a deaf character that uses sign language?
TW: When I write, my characters come to me.  I got the idea of Kyra and Marne while I was working for a horse rescue and I saw a mailbox with the name of “Starbard,” and I thought, “That would make an awesome name for a science fiction character.” And with that, both Kyra and Marne appeared in my head, and I could see Marne helping Kyra and her story and challenges formed in my brain during the rest of the ride to the rescue barn.
So, I didn’t go out to specifically write a deaf character; I met a character who happened to be deaf.  And one of the things I like in books is when authors create a character, not a ________ character. So, a character who has these awesome adventures and happens to be deaf in the case of Kyra, or who happens to be black or who happens to identify as queer or a combination thereof... because, you know, people have many facets. The character comes first; they are defined by who they are, their culture, and many, many things.
For Kyra, as I got to know her culture, her family, her world, I had to learn how she would navigate.  How she would communicate. What challenges she’d have and how she would overcome them.  In this case, the culture she lived in was far more intolerant to “disabilities” than the one we currently live in; her father came from a more tolerant culture and he knew sign language because he had a grandfather who was deaf, so he taught it to his daughter as their “secret language.” He could make it a game, and since there wasn’t anyone else using sign language on their planet, it didn’t matter what branch it was or if they had to make up some of their own signs. Using their game and “secret language,” he nurtured communication however Kyra found a way to do so.
So it wasn’t so much a specific intent to have a deaf character or to use sign language, it was an exploration of “what if” for the character that came into my head.

SP: What research did you do to make your character believable?
TW: At the time I was writing Silent Starsong, one of my old college friends had a sister that was getting her degree in teaching music to the deaf, so I would frequently pick her brain about communication and music and her experiences teaching.
I also broke out all my old Girl Scouts books on ASL and did a lot of online research and watching videos of deaf children communicating and operations used to help the hearing impaired. I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on.
As for telepathy, I grew up watching television shows like Unsolved Mysteries, Sightings, and all the early paranormal stories.  I always had an interest in the supernatural as it leaked into reality—who believed what and why. How people thought it worked. Military experiments on ESP, telepathy, telekinesis and more.  It was actually something my dad and I shared an interest in; so we’d take books out from the library or buy them from old book stores and share them, leaving notes or bookmarks for each other.
Another puzzle piece in the believability was a fair amount of research about stars, astronomy, and NASA articles about the sounds stars make, all of which I found fascinating.
Besides that, I’m a stickler for research on culture, engineering, science, and more. I do a lot of research, write, edit, do more research, ask people who know more than I do, and edit even more.

SP: Kyra’s relationships are complicated by her mother’s profession (and the family traveling) as well as her deafness. Could you talk a bit about the role of Marne without giving away any spoilers?
TW: Marne appeared in my head at the same time as Kyra; they were partners and friends from the moment I knew them both.
To an onlooker, it looks like Marne—the small pink alien—is a communication assistant/servant. After all, the pastel colored beings of his race are slaves, sold off their planet to keep their genetic line clean of any weakness. 
From the moment Kyra touches Marne, connects with him telepathically, she understands his pain and fear. He’s locked in a cage, for sale, a thing because he is “not good enough,” and she feels the wrongness of that to her core, so she convinces her father to bring him home. She’s the first person to ever show Marne affection, to defend him, and that moves him profoundly. They awaken a friendship in each other that neither expected to feel from another person—and that both fiercely protect with everything they have.

SP: What do you hope that readers will take away or learn from Silent Starsong?
TW: That’s a tough question; I hate to have expectations of what someone will take away or learn, specifically.  I’ve grown up with stories that were “there for me” for many reasons that the author probably never suspected.  When I get feedback from people about my writing, I’m always learning myself and surprised what people do get.  Who am I to say if that is right or wrong?  If that’s what the reader needed from the story, let it be there.
I guess, for anything I write, be it Silent Starsong or anything, I hope it’s exactly what the reader needs when they pick up the book. A comfort, a challenge, an adventure, an escape, a family, a friend, a mirror, a confidence boost, a lesson they felt they needed, or just a good, fun read.  I hope it’s to each reader what the books I read were to me—everything and anything.

SP: What advice do you have for young readers?
TW: Keep writing. Give yourself permission to write for fun, for yourself, and just for friends.  Have fun with writing, and writing will have fun with you.  Realize that not everything you write is meant to be shared.  It’s okay to write stories about your favorite characters if you need to—don’t try to sell or plagiarize, but have fun with them.  I have a huge handwritten collection where I’ve gone on adventures with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with Aslan from the Narnia books, with my own versions Meg and Charles Wallace from Madeleine L’Engle’s Time series.  When you’re young, it’s okay to try and write like your favorite authors, to take chances and discover your voice.  And it’s okay to do that when you’re older, too. Always have fun, and never stop creating and playing in your worlds.

SP: Anything you'd like to add... such as maybe a bit about a sequel?
TW: I do have edits back on the sequel, Touching the Pulse, which takes place pretty much exactly where Silent Starsong leaves off.  We’re hoping it will come out December 2015.  Kyra and Marne are learning even more dimensions and facets of friendship and their abilities.  And they’re still in some serious danger that they have to escape. 

One of my proudest moments with the sequel, though, is having written a lot more space-ship engineering and science with Kyra—and my husband, who is an engineer, found no errors in my science and plausibility for what she is able to do!

For more information about the author’s book, check out her official website.