Thursday, September 15, 2022

THE SIGN FOR HOME by Blair Fell

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Those of you who enjoyed D.R. Todd's post yesterday will recall one of the books she recommended was THE SIGN FOR HOME, by Blair Fell. Readers, we are all over your recs, because today? I'm interviewing Blair Fell about his amazing debut novel!

Now, you need to know the novel is new, but Blair has had a long career writing - his work has appeared in places like OUT Magazine and the Huffington Post, his multi-award-nommed plays have been produced across this country and abroad, and he's written for television as well, most notably for QUEER AS FOLK.  

 

Then he wrote THE SIGN FOR HOME. And it took off In manuscript form, it won the prestigious The Doris Lippman Prize for Fiction from City College of New York. Then it was an Indies Next pick. An Indies Introduce pick. It was long-listed for the Fiction Center’s First Book Award. It was an Amazon Editor’s Best Romance pick (though it’s a lot more than a romance.) Most recently, it was recommended by Reese’s Book Club.  

I don't want to make him blush, though, so let's get on with the interview! 

 

Julia: Give us the 4-1-1 on THE SIGN FOR HOME.

Blair: The Sign For Home is a coming-of-age/buddy/love story about a young, straight DeafBlind Jehovah’s Witness, his Gay interpreter, and the adventure they go on together to find out what happened to the girl the young man had loved and lost.


Julia: You’re known for your work as a screenwriter and playwright, as well as being an essayist. Why did you choose to tell this story as a novel?

Blair: This is probably a clichĂ©, but I didn’t choose it to be a novel, it chose me. I knew nothing about writing a novel, and basically thought it was an impossible idea. Novelists are my heroes. I never had considered long form fiction before other than to tell myself I couldn’t do it. But I had this idea for a story about an interpreter and a DeafBlind guy (very different from what the novel turned out to be) and I started to write it as a play, but from the first two pages the damn thing insisted I write it as prose. I told the characters I didn’t know how, but they said, “shut up and just do what we tell you.” So I did. Spent a long ass time writing it, since I didn’t think I knew how, and, well, turns out I did know how to write a novel. Or I know how to follow direction of characters that want to be written. God, I hope that didn’t sound pretentious.

 

 

Julia: Honestly, it sounds pretty much like the way those of us who wrote novels from the start went about it. 

So you had the writing chops, but it's your background - thirty years as an ASL interpreter for the Deaf – that gives you the personal experience to tell Arlo’s story. How did you come to interpret? Has it been your “day job,” or a passionate avocation?

 

Blair: This is a true story. Everything good that’s happening in my life at this moment is due to two devastating heart breaks in my life. The first happened when I was in college. I fell in love with my straight “best friend” (in quotes because I thought he was my best friend, I don’t think he did.) He was a writer and taught me to adore fiction. But he fell for a mutual friend (a girl, who originally was into me.) She had convinced both of us to take ASL at Gallaudet, a Deaf university on a consortium with the college we attended (The Catholic University of America). I was mostly excited about getting to spend more time with my friend during the commute. But it turned out that I also loved the ASL classes and took to it pretty fast. Then as my two friends officially fell in love, my broken heart got worse, and I spent a ton of time weeping and stalking them. It got bleak. The autumn of my sophomore year I discovered Gallaudet had a “special student” program where hearing students could live and study there for a semester or year. I jumped at the chance – basically so I wouldn’t harm myself any further. So I transferred there for the Spring semester, and several other far-away colleges after that, and never went back to Catholic U. I always say Deaf people saved my life. Years later, after hunting for a lover who was a writer, I decided to become a writer myself (playwright at the time) and I needed a survival job, so screened to be an interpreter and was hired. At first it was just my day job, but over the years it’s become a job I adore. I love working with and for the Deaf and DeafBlind. It’s a wonderful, vibrant culture that has given me so much. It’s also a career that marries so perfectly with writing. I’m insanely lucky.

 

Julia: I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I think I see your next novel in that answer.

From a craft perspective, what do you find most challenging writing from the perspective of a DeafBlind protagonist? I mean, most of us try to use the five sense to enrich our character’s life on the page, but this strikes me as a huge leap.

Blair: It was really hard. The main character, Arlo Dilly, has Usher syndrome type 1. He was born with sight, but loses it as he grows up, and as the action of the book begins he has very, very little useable vision. Think a blurry pea-sized hole where he can gather very basic information with the help of assistive devices. So while writing Arlo’s character’s POV I focused on his strongest senses, touch, smell, taste. I also told his story from the second person present tense point of view (the “you” tense), in order to bring the reader into a non-traditional way of experiencing the world, and also to emphasize his emotional alienation rooted in his abusive upbringing. There is a huge world one can experience with touch, taste and smell. I spent a lot of time interviewing DeafBlind folks, including one of my dear friends who was a major help in teaching me what sorts of things they eroticized and fell in love with, as well as the things that frustrated them the most. As a hearing-sighted writer I had to be very careful how I wrote the DeafBlind characters, and so sought a lot of feedback from Deaf and DeafBlind sensitivity readers. Now, about 65% of the book is told from the gay interpreter Cyril’s POV, which is first person past tense, a much easier POV for me to write in since it’s basically me, and a necessary one, since I wanted us to also see Arlo (a fairly nice-looking young man) and the visual world that’s happening around him. I worried the second person might be a challenge for some readers, but it’s turning out readers are really responding to Arlo’s POV, and I do hope it is expressing the richness of the tactile world.

 

Julia: That sounds like a brilliant way to shake the reader up and let them know, "You're in a very different skin than you've experienced before." 

Okay, now I want to admit to a little, say we say, reception envy. THE SIGN FOR HOME has made a huge splash, with glowing reviews all over the place, longlisted for at least one award, an editor’s pick on Amazon and recommended by Reese’s book club, which, let’s face it, is much cooler than most of us can aspire to. How does it feel to be an overnight sensation after (ahumph) years in the writing biz?

Blair: Um … it feels really great. Except I’d never describe it as either “overnight” nor “sensation.” Of course, I also suffer from the disease of “it’s never enough.” That said, I’m insanely grateful. As I pointed out novel writing was new to me, and the path to publication was idyllic once I sent it out. (It was more like I was giving up and wanted to know if I had wasted my time. So during COVID in 2020 I asked a friend, the novelist James Hanaham, if he knew someone professional I could send it to. He suggested his agent. (I had no idea how big of a deal this agent was) So I sent it. He took it and sold it. But that was also after eight years of writing the novel, and 30 years of writing in other formats … and a whole lot of misery, frustration and failure along the way. Face it, I’m old – way older than most other debut novelists, and I’m well aware of that. So I’m trying to live in gratitude and really feel how rare this is to sell a book at this point in my life and to have readers respond the way they have been. That’s the best feeling, when my readers send me messages about how the book touched them, or helped them to understand their relative who has Usher syndrome 1, or enjoyed seeing themselves represented in fiction for the first time or got them to understand more about interpreting or the DeafBlind community or made them laugh and cry. (The crying thing it seems happens a lot.) Hearing that is so humbling and far beyond my expectations. So how I feel is great, grateful and insanely lucky.

 

Julia: Good news - in the mystery writing community, we have loads of older debut novelists, as well as writers who work for decades before "suddenly" becoming acclaimed. 

Dear readers, what are your questions for Blair? 

 

Cover of THE SIGN FOR HOMEArlo Dilly is young, handsome, and eager to meet the right girl. He also happens to be DeafBlind, a Jehovah’s Witness, and under the strict guardianship of his controlling uncle. His chances of finding someone to love seem slim to none.

And yet, it happened once before: many years ago, at a boarding school for the Deaf, Arlo met the love of his life—a mysterious girl with onyx eyes and beautifully expressive hands which told him the most amazing stories. But tragedy struck, and their love was lost forever.

Or so Arlo thought.

After years trying to heal his broken heart, Arlo is assigned a college writing assignment which unlocks buried memories of his past. Soon he wonders if the hearing people he was supposed to trust have been lying to him all along, and if his lost love might be found again.

No longer willing to accept what others tell him, Arlo convinces a small band of misfit friends to set off on a journey to learn the truth. After all, who better to bring on this quest than his gay interpreter and wildly inappropriate Belgian best friend? Despite the many forces working against him, Arlo will stop at nothing to find the girl who got away and experience all of life’s joyful possibilities.

You can find out more about Blair and his writing at his website. You can also friend him on Facebook, check out his pics on Instagram, and follow him on Twitter as @BlairFell.




101 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Blair, on your debut novel . . . . “The Sign for Home” is definitely on my must-read list. Are you planning more Arlo stories or do you have something else in mind for your next book?

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    1. Hi Joan! I loved Arlo too. Diana

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    2. As a matter of fact I just handed (emailed) my second manuscript to my agent and waiting for notes. Very different novel. But I do have another WIP about ASL interpreters and a DeafBlind character. Trying to decide what’s next. Today as a matter of fact. :)

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  2. This book sounds amazing, Blair - congratulations! I'd never heard of that syndrome (and just hied off to read about it). Do you know if that's what Helen Keller had?

    I spent years studying linguistics and always found ASL fascinating, although I never learned it in depth. How great that you could learn it in part by immersion.

    Also raising my hand as an older debut author - ten years ago at age sixty! It's never too late. Question: what's that black gizmo in the hand in the picture?

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    1. Hi Edith, Perhaps someone can correct me here, I think that Helen Keller had meningitis like I did and lost both her hearing and sight, I lost my hearing. It is my understanding that Ushers Syndrome is a gradual process? When you read Blair's novel, you are in for a treat! I loved this book so much!

      And thank you! It is never too late! I always believed that age is relative. My grandmother died suddenly (asthma) at age sixty and I am a lot like her. And her granddaughter, who also was my cousin, died of Stage 4 Cancer at 53. I hope that I live to see my 100th birthday.

      Diana

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    2. Diana is correct! An interesting thing about HK is she had sight and hearing until 18 months — this was key to her being able to acquire language later. A baby needs one or the other at birth to learn a language later. Most of the DeafBlind I work with were born Deaf and then lost their sight later. Having that period of sight and early visual language allowed them to learn a language. If a baby is born with neither then it is nearly impossible to learn a language. (If anyone knows differently please let me know. Also it doesn’t mean individuals without a language can’t communicate at all, but it’s unlikely they’d be able to learn to sign complex ideas or communicate in another language.

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    3. Oh, also, yeah the age thing is BS. I mostly say that because when they asked me to do the audiobook, the head of audiobooks asked my age and pointed out it was older than the average for debut authors. But if you go deeper … there are plenty of debuts by older authors. This is a great thing about writing books, the agents/editors care WAY more what the final product is than who is writing it. Unlike the TV/Movie world. As for that photo. I have no idea why that’s in the piece. It appears to be one of those lame attempts at inventing a hand device that can “read” sign language. Why I say lame is ASL is as much on the face as the hand, and everyone signs differently. Other than rudimentary things, I think it’s going to be a huge challenge to invent something like this without A) including the face and its grammar, and B) standardizing how signers produce signs … which ain’t happening anytime soon. BTW WHY is that photo in the blog post? Haha

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    4. That's on me! I always try to add some visual interest to posts, and thought, hmm, Blair is talking about adaptive devices... let me grab a few pics of those.

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    5. Hi Blair, what on earth did the head of audiobook mean by age??? Actually, I love it when the author does the voice for the book because I use "book on tape" for auditory training. I got my cochlear implants and I try to maximize the benefits by following Heather Whitestone's example of reading a book and listening to the book on tape for auditory training. I used to see my voice teacher (in the deaf community, I think it's called SLP??) for many years then she had to retire early for personal reasons. I find it benefical to listen to books on tape and read the books. My reason for preferring the author's voice is so that if I ever meet them in person, I can recognize their voices at book events. Good thing you know Sign Language so we can communicate in Sign.

      Diana

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    6. Indeed it is!

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  3. Welcome Blair, and what a story! Are you finding the reactions to your book vary between the hearing and deaf communities?

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    1. Hi Lucy, I LOVE your question! I want to know the answer too. Diana

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    2. I’ve gotten wonderful comments by both hearing, Deaf and DeafBlind readers. They do vary in how they react. One of my sensitivity readers Angela Palmer was DeafBlind and read the entire ms on her iPhone with a refreshable braille display. Her reaction was very much about identifying with the text, and commented that it felt like a true story to her. (This made me very happy) Hearing people lean into how much they learn on top of enjoying the story — most commenting about how they knew nothing about the various communities represented. Another DeafBlind friend commented about how much she learned about what interpreters go through — that made me happy because I do want to show the various POVs of the entities involved. I definitely LOVE hearing from all my readers. They have been insanely enthusiastic and supportive. So if you do read it please reach out!

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    3. Knowing there is such a thing as refreshable Braille on an electronic device makes me super grateful to technology.

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    4. My husband listens to his zoom meetings through his hearing aids which are paired with his iPhone. Lots of technology there making adaptive modifications for different voices and sound levels. He has normal hearing in one ear and has total nerve loss with the other ear. He has a hearing aid the picks up sound from the deaf side. We don’t have to walk on the side with his good ear any longer.
      Susan Nelson-Holmdahl

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    5. Susan Nelson-HolmdahlSeptember 15, 2022 at 12:56 PM

      Congratulations on this book Blair! Difficult topics to write and portraying the points views accurately must have been very challenging. I wish you much success!

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    6. Susan, thank you for sharing your story. And I hope that you love the book as much as I did!

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    7. Regarding Blair's comment about what interpreters go through, I was reminded of my University days. I recall several interpreters mentioned the "carpal tunnel syndrome", which is similar to what happens to people who work with computers. All I recall is it has something to do with ? injury ? to the hands or wrists?

      Diana

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  4. Congratulations Blair. I’m off to have a look at your book. And buy it of course!

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    1. Ann: You are in for a treat! Diana

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    2. Yay! Thank you! Please let me know what you think! I’m blairfell on IG and Twitter and FB!

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  5. Welcome Blair and congratulations! I have heard about your book and it is already on my TBR list. The cover is fantastic and I am going to assume that Arlo has a dog. How does he communicate with his furry best friend? I cannot remember reading anything told from second person POV. I am thoroughly intrigued!

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    1. Judy, the dog was one of my favorite characters in the book. Diana

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    2. Judy, thanks for having it on your TBR! He uses sign and gestures to communicate with Snap, his dog. The dog was based on a dog of a good DeafBlind friend of mine Jeremy Best’s dog, Riley. Jeremy and his fiancĂ© Divya were a huge help in my research — though the characters are not based on them at all. (It ended up just being a coincidence that in between interviewing both of them (Jeremy is a European American and Divya is from India) they started dating. Their own story is incredible! One warning about the book’s description. They leaned into the romance of the book, and indeed a love story influences everything in the book, but it’s more of a coming-of-age and friendship story. We’re going to rework the copy for the paperback. One of the biggest comments I’ve gotten from readers is after reading the copy and seeing the cover (which I love … but not fully the tone) the book wasn’t what they thought, but they ended up loving it. I hope that doesn’t bum anyone’s trip.

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    3. Well, the cover is what gets them to pick up the book - it's what's inside that sells it. With it's bright and optimistic feel (and the suggestion of fall at a campus, which is always a fresh start) I wouldn't assume Arlo was ever going to get the girl... but that there were life-changing adventures afoot.

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    4. Hi Julia! I loved the cover. It's funny because I never thought it was a Romance. It looked like a happy book to me. Yes, you are right on target about the optimistic feel when looking at the cover. For me, I laughed so much while reading the book. Yes, there were some sad scenes. I think I laughed so much because Arlo touched my heart, for lack of a better word.

      Diana

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    5. This is really good to hear about the cover. Some readers said it looked like a rom-com which it’s not. Also the blurb doesn’t help. But I don’t want to mislead and suggest it’s a drama either. Let’s just say it’s been called “life affirming.”

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    6. I could easily see this as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Diana

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  6. Congratulations, Blair. Your debut book sounds terrific and your own story is not too shabby either! I'm off to get The Sign for Home. What is the sign for home in ASL?

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    1. Hi Amanda! I found a You Tube video of the sign for "Home" unless you wanted to know the sign for the Title of Blair's book?

      Here is the link:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEdYmudPgEM

      Diana

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    2. Diana’s video suggestion is great. The etymology of the sign is based on the signs for food and bed. As signs evolve they often become shorter and tighter, as happened with the sign for home.

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    3. Thank you both. It is so interesting to learn of the component parts of the sign for home: food + bed. The video is helpful, and I should have thought of searching YouTube myself - duh!

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  7. Congratulations, Blair! The novel sounds amazing! And since I didn't get a chance to comment yesterday, thanks very much to Diana for your post too.

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    1. Hi Gillian! It's never too late to comment on my guest post. Smile. This morning I was checking my guest post to see if there were more comments and I was going to respond if there were more comments. Thank you for your kind words. When you read Blair's novel, you are in for a treat. I loved the book so much that I plan to give copies as Christmas gifts. In Iceland they have a Christmas tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve.

      Diana

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    2. Diana’s post is awesome! And super informative! So much great history I didn’t know! Looking forward to her book too! (Finish it!)

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    3. Hi Blair, thank you! My novel is a crossover between cozy mystery and historical fiction. It may be a stand alone novel or the first novel in a mystery series...

      Diana

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    4. Perfect! How far are you along? First draft finished?

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    5. Blair, maybe 1/8 th of a first draft. I managed to write 2,000 words! Diana

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  8. Congratulations, Blair! What a fascinating story.

    I've never written in second-person present. It seems daunting. What were the main challenges for you using this POV?

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    1. The second person came after I was deep into the book and gave up. I felt it was just too hard and I couldn’t figure out how to express Arlo’s unusual world view. I was working on it during my late-in-life MFA at City College. During a non-fiction class the teacher offered an exercise for our non fiction pieces and I happened on the second person and it was the biggest eureka moment I had. I was able to return to the book and finish it. (Note: the class was my least favorite during my studies — but was taught by a one-time adjunct that has not returned. The other non fiction classes I took there were phenomenal. But my point is, even some shitty experiences can teach me something.)

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    2. Liz, I loved your question! Diana

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    3. Blair, thank you for sharing your experience in non fiction class. I recall Jacqueline Winspear saying that she takes non fiction writing class for cross training. When athletes cross train, they improve as athletes. I think that is true for writers too. If I write fiction, then I think it helps to cross train when I write in non fiction stream, for lack of a better word. I have started keeping a daily journal this summer since that big incident in May. I fell down very hard in May and luckily I did not hit my head. When I fell down, I thought it was my last day on earth! As my cousin said, I have been in a super reflective mood. I have been writing every day in my journal AND doing writing exercises from Author Academy AND writing my novel in progress.

      Diana

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    4. Sorry about the fall … but yay about you being reflective and writing! Everything I learned about writing I did by writing in my journal and finding my voice. Also all my fiction is rooted in my own memoir — sure it’s all made up, but the foundations of the main characters are rooted in myself. It’s easier to write that way. Haha. I’m such a cheater. Is that cheating? Maybe I’m just lazy or like to talk about myself. Who cares. I’m slapping on words on the page. Woot! P.S. Diana, I love how we’ve completely hijacked this blog today!

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  9. Wow! I devoured the last this conversation! Julia, what a fascinating list of questions, and Blair, wow, your answers are so honest and heartfelt. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how our disappointments can turn into being the best things that ever happened? I wonder how your experiences make you see the world in a different way now… Did they? So delighted and honored that you are here today!

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    1. Hi Hank! I love your comments here. I was just thinking of how we make "lemonade out of lemons".

      Diana

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    2. Thanks, Hank! What a fantastic community of writers here! I’m definitely humbled to be asked. I love writers (as I explained in my blog … sometimes too much!) and frankly always feel a little like I’m still just a fanboy looking on. All my experiences, especially the hard ones, completely shape me for good and bad. Cyrils inciting heartbreak with his ex lover is loosely based on my own. Interestingly (and this is a scoop for this blog) while I was working on this novel I also started another in case this one got rejected. (I don’t do well with rejection so knew I wanted something else I love to be working on when I started submitting the first) Thinking one or the other or both would be rejected, I basically used the same inciting biographical incident for main characters in both. Ooops. Oh well. It’s my story so fuck it. Also the second one is WAY MORE about that piece of my biography and it’s such a different book, so other than people who read this blog hopefully no one will notice. But yes, all my wounds, to quote a favorite poem, “leave brilliant traces” that affect everything. My main job is to turn shit into gold.

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    3. My first boyfriend was wonderful. I was 12 but looked older. He was 14. He thought I was beautiful, He was everything that I wanted in a boyfriend. And I watched romantic movies from the 1940s. I was on a roll at that time - I was embarking on a modeling career, getting straight As in school and having a wonderful Summer romance. I never saw him again (we went to different schools in different cities). I only have good memories of him and I think we could be friends if we met again.

      Surprise! Every time I liked a boy, I got rejected. Even in college and work, I got rejected every time I liked a man. I am laughing now because the rejection has become background noise to me. Now that I'm in my 50s, all of a sudden, my luck is changing in the men department. I would like a fellow and he likes me back. Yay!

      Someone said that Rejection is part of life! I have known heartbreak. And the joy of falling in love.

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    4. That’s so interesting about your romantic past. The thing is we never know what’s happening in other people’s minds … especially when we’re young. I had a an outlandishly appalling sense of self and what people thought about me. I always assumed the worst. Looking back I had no idea how I was being perceived. Also, like you, in my “older years” I’ve experience more overt positive reactions — but looking at the old photos I’m starting to realize I just had no idea when people liked me or didn’t. (For the most part — sometimes people were extremely overt in their disdain! Haha) But I also remember thinking how one hot dude completely hated me for years until we were in a club and he kissed me. BTW I f’ing love smart and fun romantic novels and movies… anyone got some suggestions?

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    5. Cannot recall the titles. I remember the actors like Douglas Fairbanks, Gregory Peck, Carole Lombard, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, and the romantic adult couples in Shirley Temple mvies. Keep in mind that the movies were before captions. I would watch how the women flirted with the men. I looked at their body language. Perhaps you can try watching them with NO sounds?

      After the advent of captions, I loved movies like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and THE HOLIDAY with Jude Law and Jack Black (from Shallow Hal). The Kate Winslet character is definitely me! Ha ha . I loved ENCHANTED APRIL with Michael Kitchen as the partially blinded war veteran. And I'm a big fan of Hallmark Romance movies. They recently ventured into interracial couples and gay couples.

      Diana

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  10. Oh Blair - I have told you and every other reader I know how much I loved this book. Every one of them that took me up on the recommendation to read it has also loved it. I really can't wait for what you share with us next.

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    1. Susan! Thank you so much! You and I went to high school together, so this means a lot to me. Frankly, HS was an awful experience being a closeted gay kid. Not as bad as Middle School, but pretty shitty. Having high school folks connect with me and see what’s inside is extremely powerful. You literally have no idea how powerful.

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    2. High school was awful for many people. I went to a public school where 90 percent of the students were from below poverty level families and they always had after school jobs to shelp their families. Believe it or not, they had good manners. They knew how to get along in the world, way better than my classmates from that hellish school who acted like feral children. For me, it was paradise compared to what I went through at that "school". That school was my idea of "hell on earth". If anyone wants some idea of what I am talking about, please read the passage about what Arlo Dilly had to endure from the Deaf Devils.

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    3. Ugh, Diana. Sorry to hear that. Me too … some of Arlo’s experience I experienced in middle school. Kids can be sublime or act like Lord of the Flies. (Although it turns out, in real life, that school kids in a similar circumstance — i.e. stranded alone on an island — actually behaved way better. Google it. ) What I hate to think about are the bullied kids that take their own life, and don’t know that if they just hold on tight, they can have an exquisite life. Most of the bullies in schools end up miserable. Though not all. Some, like my partner who had bullied one kid in school, make amends later in life and can turn out cool. But I am not so naive to think everyone gets their comeuppance because they don’t always. However, I do like to write worlds where they do.

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    4. Blair, I totally get what you mean. Now I know that the bullies often had miserable lives. Sometimes that is just how they are wired and NOW I know that it really has nothing to do with me. And many of these bullies were prenatally addicted to drugs because they were fed with cocaine and other drugs while they were still in the womb.

      The only person I know of who committed suicide had EVERYTHING going for him. He was born into a big family. His mother was an only child. His parents had four children. I think he was the middle child? He was married to a beautiful film producer who was expecting their first child. The saddest part is that he killed himself before the child was born and the baby never got the chance to meet their father.

      Despite my being bullied, there was always something in my life that kept me going. Somehow I knew that the bullying was temporary and that I would have friends who appreciated me for who I am. Once in a while, someone tries to bully me and I set very clear boundaries. One of my former boyfriends, who looks like the Prime Minister David Cameron, taught me a lot about setting healthy boundaries. I observed how he set healthy boundaries and I remind myself that I can do that.

      May be off the topic here. I read Matt Haig who often talked about his mental health struggles.

      Diana

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  11. Blair, what can I say that those before me haven't already said? I can't wait to get my hands on this book--and I'll make sure our local libraries get it in if they haven't already! Congratulations!

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    1. good idea to ask the libraries to have copies of this brilliant novel! Diana

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    2. Thank you! Lots of libraries do have it, but I’d love for all of them to carry a copy of course. :)

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  12. Wow! Congratulations. The book sounds fantastic, especially born of your own fascinating story.
    Can't wait to read it.
    I know that reading the second person POV will be challenging for me. And I get that that's the idea. I'm reminded of a minister I knew who challenged people to think in different ways and of a parishioner who said to him, "Thank you for making me squirm."

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    1. JCHull: Love your story about a minister you knew. Diana

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    2. Give it a shot. It may be a little odd at first, but most people get comfortable with it pretty quick. Remember only about 40 percent of the book is written from this POV, but most people end up really enjoying it … or at least the ones who send me emails and messages haha

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  13. Congratulations, Blair on your "overnight" success. If they only knew, eh? I'm looking forward to reading this book, for a lot of reasons. It sounds wonderful, and hopeful.

    One thing that struck me at last weekend's Bouchercon was how well, in the last five years or so, Sisters in Crime has promoted the diversity of crime fiction (in particular), which was well represented in both the readers/authors attending and the kinds of books nominated for awards. In light of this new-ish sensibility, do you think The Sign for Home would have been as successful, say 5-10 years ago? Seems to me your bossy characters knew it was time for them to be set loose!

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    1. Timing is everything. A lot of people said the book is meeting a similar moment as CODA and The Sound of Metal. There was also an Oscar nominated short called Feeling Through last year with a DeafBlind actor. So I don’t know what would have happened ten years ago. My book has a ton of different representation … because that’s the world in which I live. I’m a queer Armenian-Jewish-Swiss-French-English-et al man living in Jackson Heights, Queens —one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the world. I think I agree with you. Maybe that’s why my characters were so insistent. Although, being disenfranchised, I was writing about a lot of these sorts of characters in my plays back in the early nineties (although they were also witches and or ghosts). People loved it, but people in American TV would say it was too impossible to produce. So yeah. I lucked out. That’s for damn sure. I hope I stay open to what my characters want. I think if I do that I can’t go wrong — even if something doesn’t sell. There’s nothing worse than working on a bad fit. The scary thing is I ALWAYS hit a wall. How to know if it’s a wall that needs to be punched through, or a signal to surrender and move on? Somebody help me here. Is there a way to know? (Can you tell I’m trying to decide about my next project?)

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    2. Blair, I think we have all hit a wall from time to time. To quote my brilliant friend from Norway, "Is there a solution?" She always asks if there is something that we can do about the problem. I have learned over the years that we can only decide HOW we react to situations. For example, I had to deal with certain people who are adamant on treating me as this "poor helpless disabled person". I decided that the best thing for me to do is to IGNORE these people. I work very hard to be independent. I often remind myself of what I CAN do and what I cannot do. It just dawned on me that I CANNOT multitask! For example, when I drive my car, if the passenger wants to talk, I have to pull over to the curb and stop the car. I CANNOT drive and talk at the same time!

      Diana

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    3. I should wear a button that reads ASK ME ABOUT WALLS. My rule of thumb? If the story in your head is something you simply can. Not. Shake - it's going to be compelling to other people as well. (And it never hurts to run it past your agent - but like anyone else, all they can go on is what people have loved in the past, not what they'll want in the future.)

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    4. Oh boy! This good stuff to hear! Thanks to both of you!

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    5. Blair, I was going to ask you if you were Scottish because Blair is a Scottish name. One of my ancestors was a French Huguenot who came to New Amsterdam the year before it became New York! My great grandfather was born in Scotland.

      Diana

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  14. Karen in Ohio: Great question! I went to my first Malice Domestic in 2016 and they were great about accommodating me. I asked for Oral Interpreters and they were great! That was way before the pandemic and I was wearing my cochlear implants all the time.

    How did you like the Bouchercon last weekend? I wish I could have gone but I had another committment that weekend.

    Diana

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    1. It was hands down the best conference I've ever attended. The Minnesota crew were amazing, so efficient, so welcoming, and they made what I know for a fact is a darned difficult job look easy and smooth. The panels were very good, some downright fabulous, and the guests of honor were all delightful. The hotel was great, too, and there's a light rail that travels between the airport and downtown that cost a mere $2.50 at peak times. As low as $1 for disabled riders. The diversity of the participants was amazing, too, from gender, race, abilities, and sexual orientation.

      The only big problem is the same as everywhere these days: Covid-19. Which I may have brought home to my poor husband, because I only got the positive result this morning. Rats.

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    2. Karen, I am so sorry about the Covid. So happy that you had a wonderful time at the conference despite the covid. I really regret missing this conference because I would have loved to see Alexander McCall Smith again. I was blessed to have met him 25 years ago at a book event in California. In fact, I read his new novel THE SWEET REMNANTS OF SUMMER this weekend when I went on my weekend trip for an event.

      Diana

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  15. Oh my goodness but this book sounds fantastic. Thank you, so much, Julia, for bringing it and its wonderful author to our attention. Now off to track down the book!

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    1. Meg, you are in for a treat! Diana

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    2. Thanks! Please let me know what you think. It’s also available on audiobook if you’re Hearing. If blind, the National Library for the Blind will have it in a braille format. I’m on all social media as Blair Fell or Blairfell … so reach out.

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  16. I'm so excited for this book! I'm on the hold list at the library!

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    1. Hi Elizabeth! You are in for a treat! I loved this book so much! Diana

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    2. Fantastic! Let me know what you think after you’re done!

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  17. BLAIR: I loved THE SIGN FOR HOME so much that although I was blessed to get an advanced (digital) copy from your publisher via NetGalley, I bought a copy in my local independent bookstor

    Please do not take offense. I mean this as a compliment. My reading of your novel went very smoothly despite the dual point of views. I cannot tell you how many times I have TRIED to read other novels, even Booker listed novels, with dual narrators and dual timelines. Some novels had three narrators or more. Some novels had three or more timelines. I got LOST! I felt really stupid that I could not follow these books because everyone else raved how wonderful these books were, And I thought I need to get a PhD before I can read these books.

    Your writing was perfect for me. I could easily imagine the characters. That blowhard bishop who hectored Father Brown from the British mystery TV programme Father Brown as the Brother Elder? He was also the husband of the lady pharmacist in Doc Martin. I could see an older Amanda Root, the British actress, as Molly. I could see a young Ingrid Bergman as Hanne. I could see the deaf celebrity Nyle Di Marco as Arlo, though I'm not sure if he is an actor?

    Another thing is that THE SIGN FOR HOME resonated with me because I have known real people like the characters. And your novel showed me, as a reader, the reality (to me) of the Deaf world (or as the deaf community prefers to call it "deaf culture").

    After I finished the advanced copy of your novel, I started following you on Instagram. I rarely use Facebook and the FB messenger is too confusing for me. Thanks to Ellie's alerting me to Julia's query on Twitter, I have recently started using Twitter again. I appreciate Julia's contact information so I could contact her directly.

    Regarding your comment about age, I was reminded of a Deaf friend from Norway. I was a "special student" at Gallaudet too for my research at the Archives below the library on campus. This friend looks like the Crown Princess of Norway. I remember that my friend was a student at Gallaudet and she was about to graduate and go back to Norway. She said something about needing to "lose weight". I told her that this obsession with weight is a dumb American thing. I told her that perhaps it is a good time to go back to Norway. I lived in England and travelled to Scandinavia. I noticed that "age" is really meaningless over there. So is the weight stuff. For example, Judi Dench has a brilliant career as an actress in England. I highly doubt that Judi Dench or Maggie Smith would continue to have careers as actresses if they lived in America.

    Sorry about going off the topic here. I always thought of novelists as being older as in my grandfather's age group. I am always SURPRISED by how young the novelists are. I was looking at all 7 of the Jungle Red Writers and I think of them as "young". I think it is because of medical advances. Gloria Steinmen is 80 ? years old and she still looks great! 70 years ago when my cousin was born, my grandmother became a grandmother at age 42 and people thought my grandmother was her mother because she looked so young. My cousin will be 70 years old this month and she has a thriving career as a singer with her bluegrass music band. And she looks wonderful.

    Back to your novel, Blair, I loved your premise! Trying to think of a question that I have not asked before.

    All I can think of is that you write as if you write as if you know HOW it feels to be a Deaf person. Your writing is a reflection of what I remember from the Deaf world that I lived in for a brief time in my life.

    One question: How did you come up with the names for your characters? I loved the names!

    Diana

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    1. Loved what you just wrote! As to your question, I pick names and start writing, as the characters form the names either stick or go by the wayside. Arlo’s original name was Devin Delaney .. just because I needed a name. Didn’t feel right once Arlo was formed. I also looked through some James Joyce for name ideas … I think that’s where I found Dilly and Clinch. Cyril’s name was from an original idea I had about Cyrano DeBergerac (which has nothing to do with the novel I wrote) but it stuck. Hanne and her son Wout are names of one of my best friends in Belgium’s children. (I’m actually not sure where the apostrophe goes in that????) Anyway, that’s some of the names.

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    2. The names were perfect! Is Arlo a Scandinavian name? I never liked the name Devin for some reason. Delaney could work. There is an organization in San Francisco that helps people who just got out of prison, I think it is either Delaney or Delancey Streer.

      Diana

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    3. Not sure if Arlo is Scandinavian. I just liked the name and it captures Arlo for me.

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  18. Absolutely fascinating... Thanks for sharing your personal as well as your writer's journey. The two are so intertwined.

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  19. Hi Blair! I had to order the book before I could even comment! What a fascinating story--I should say "stories", both yours and A Sign For Home. I am curious about your decision to narrate the audio book yourself. Had you done voice work before?

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    1. I started my life wanting to be an actor, and then THANKFULLY quit after I got a couple of good jobs (minor parts on TV and some quality regional theater) … wasn’t for me. But when I was producing/writing for a public TV show in Cali, to save money, they had me do the voice work, so yeah I had a little experience. They asked me to do the audiobook because there is some unusual dialogue in the book involving some ASL-inspired dialogue. Doing an audiobook is a trip and DAMN HARD WORK. I was terrified and really regretted writing Flemish and Caribbean characters which I would have to voice. (Not that I ever planned for the book to even sell much less become an audiobook.) I also thought they’d rehearse me first … but guess what … they didn’t. BUT it ended up turning out really well according to audible (4.9 stars out of five) and the library journal which gave the audiobook a starred review. I credit the producer Karen who knitted all my gaffes together really well. I swear I never got through one sentence without stopping myself or her stopping me. It’s actually a really incredible process and now that I know people like it I’d do it again. But right after I did it I thought I had made the worst mistake of my life. Haha. Go figure. Now I think I’m king of audiobooks! (Kidding)

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    2. Now I'm going to have to check out the audio version, too. I know what a hard job narration is--I would never in a million years read my own books (British books, Texas accent, lol) so admire your pluck taking this on!

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    3. You know something, one of the newer projects I’m playing around with is a detective novel. I feel a little embarrassed saying this given the nature of this blog. What are your favorites in the form? I mean stuff that’s also a little bit funny and voice-y?

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    4. Blair, I look forward to your detective novel. Contemporary ? I do not know about favorite audiobooks, though I have heard many people loved the audiobooks of Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgie series. Perhaps there is a best seller list of audiobooks that will give some idea of favorite mystery novels on audiobooks?

      As a big fan of mystery novels, my all time favorite is Maisie Dobbs. I have a long list of mystery novels that I love.

      Diana

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  20. Blair, I am absolutely loving the snark in some of your comments! Please tell me it is also in the book. I've read some pretty good fiction with blind main characters but deaf and blind will be a first. I am really looking forward to reading The Sign For Home. On a totally unrelated note my sister stayed at Gallaudet University one summer ages ago. She was taking advantage of some program for college students with disabilities that provided a summer job in D.C. with room and board. Needless to say I was envious.

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    1. So cool about your sister! Did she like the experience? As far as my “snark” … when friends read the book they say the Cyril (first person) narration sounds just like me, so yeah, that’s pretty much part of the book. My second ms is NOT written in the first or second person and now I’m in a panic that it’s gonna suck. The first person feels really natural to me since I started as a playwright and TV writer. If you haven’t read above, I just turned in that second ms on Monday to my agent and awaiting comments. TBH he already read a first draft and liked it, but I just spent the last five months trying to shorten it, and am hoping I didn’t fuck it up. I bet writers on here can understand my current state of discomfort waiting to hear. I love my second ms, but you never know. I hope he digs it still and can sell it. But I’ll live if he can’t. I hope.

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    2. Blair, Totally missed the "snark". Perhaps it has something to do with my experiences in the Deaf world? I thought Cyril the interpreter was a wonderful person. Very perceptive. And a kind person.

      Pat D, I hope that your sister had a good experience at Gallaudet. I was living in DC and a work friend invited me to Easter service with her and her friends. We went out to brunch and she had a friend who looked at me as if she thought I was going to hit her. I apologized if I scared her. I learned from her that she was a hearing student for a short time at Gallaudet and she told me that the deaf students were horrid to her. I really felt bad for her. She is a lovely person and I told her that it is THEIR LOSS because they never got to know what a wonderful person she is. I am VERY HAPPY that Blair had better experiences at Gallaudet.

      Diana

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  21. Blair I love your honest and somewhat snarky or sarcastic comments. You are a great human, we need more people like you!

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  22. This is an honest question, are there any rules for commenting on this blog? The guest author is great and very nice. Here’s my problem, one commenter took some of his joy. They commented as a reply before the guest author had a chance. I find someone taking over the blog, when it isn’t their place incredibly distracting and rude. It isn’t kind to tolerate such actions, the person isn’t stupid just appears ti be unaware. Maybe someone should nicely clue her in on the proper etiquette.

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    1. The only rule we have, I suppose, is to try to be kind. For example, when another long-standing member of the community is super enthusiastic about one of her favorite books or author. We certainly also encourage all our guests to add a name to their comments as well, so we can relate as people, rather than nameless and faceless aggregations of words.

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    2. I don’t notice any rudeness here. Everyone has been great! I adore the enthusiasm!

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  23. Congratulations! This sounds like a very powerful book. Looking forward to reading it.

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    1. Keep me posted with your thoughts at Insta, Twitter or FB!

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    2. Kait, I hope that you love the book as much as I do! I loved the book. Diana

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  24. Just subscribed to Blair's newsletter! On another note, today is AGATHA CHRISTIE's birthday!!!

    Diana

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  25. What a wonderful blog post and what a wonderful story premise. I'm very happy for Blair

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