Interview: Teri Brown
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Current Song: Medicine Man by The Hush Sound
Some people may not understand or be fully aware of the differences between hearing impairments. There are those who are deaf since birth, those who are hard of hearing, late deafened people, oral deaf... Serena, the lead character in the upcoming novel Read My Lips, is an oral deaf teenager who is able to speak and has some level of hearing, but prefers to communicate by reading lips rather than using sign language. (Read my full-length book review.)
Teri Brown wrote the novel in tribute to near and dear family members with hearing impairments.
What prompted you to write Read My Lips?
The fact that Read My Lips exists is due to my mother in law, Judy Brown. After her granddaughter was diagnosed as profoundly deaf, Judy became an advocate for deaf children everywhere. We spent hours discussing her work and I was overjoyed as she was when Oregon passed the Newborn Hearing screening law she worked so hard for. She was a force! She would show up at legislative meetings carrying a plate of cookies and then blow them away with her knowledge. She was also on the board for the Oregon Chapter of The Alexander Graham Bell Association. The seeds for Read My Lips were sown during that time. Unfortunately, she passed away before the book was bought. I dedicated the book to her.
Did you think about the fact that a reader's sense of hearing will not interfere with his or her ability to read your book?
No, because my sense of hearing didn't stop me from writing it! Seriously, I wanted read My Lips to be a larger story that happened to star a deaf girl. I wanted it to be fun. I don't feel qualified to write a deaf issues book, so I kept it light on purpose. I did a lot of research and jotted down a lot of the discussions I had with my mother in law before I wrote it, and also asked my deaf niece, who I used to be very close to, a lot of questions. I also knew that Serena was her own person and her own character. Her experience is no doubt vastly different from other deaf teens, but I think that is part of the human condition... all of our experiences are different, no matter what our challenges or strengths.
What's a big misconception about the hearing impaired?
I'm not sure this would count as a misconception, but one problem my mother in law used to talk a lot about is that deafness is one of the only physical disabilities that's invisible. With a person who is sight challenged, you know it right off. A deaf child looks no different in a classroom than a hearing child, which can sometimes cause teachers and other adults to overlook or forget that this is a child who needs consideration during discussions, etc.
Another thing I included in the book is the bit about how Serena used to take out her hearing aids so she could wear her hair clipped back. Because the need to be part of the crowd is so strong she was denying her own deafness. She wasn't ashamed of being deaf, she just didn't want to be different...which is a totally normal human reaction in high school.
I also tried to completely sidestep the controversy in the deaf culture about oral versus sign. Serena is so adept at lip reading that her parents stopped signing with her when she was very young. I took author liberties here because Serena's lip reading percentage is off the charts. I wanted the book to honor all deaf people regardless of their method of communication and I give a nod to the difficulties oral deaf teens face in the mainstream world during a conversation she has with her father.
What is the difference between tattling and speaking up?
This is a huge question and something Serena struggles with throughout the book! I tried to tell my own kids that tattling is when you are telling something that wouldn't hurt anyone if a parents or adults weren't in the know. If your secret could actually hurt someone then it is best to tell. Of course, then you are putting a lot of the responsibility of the situation onto a child or teen who may not have all the facts. Like I said, that's a tough call!
The story begins when Serena moves to a new town. What's been your best moving experiences?
I moved a lot when I was a kid and when we finally ended up staying in the same place for my teen years, I was pretty happy. Moving is hard on kids, especially teens because friends mean so much at that age. I loved living in the same community for so long even though I didn't completely fit in… I was an alternative, hippie type living in a farm community!
Do you share Serena's love of hoodies or her skateboarding talent?
Love hoodies. Am afraid to skateboard. I love to watch it, though.
Read My Lips has the perfect title and the perfect cover. Did they come naturally?
The title was always Read My Lips and I have no idea when or how I thought of it! My editor was over the moon about the cover and when I saw it, I knew it was perfect. It's very eye catching and even looks like Serena during her "prep" phase... I did kind of want the model to sport an eyebrow ring though...
Can you read lips or sign?
I can't read lips or sign! I do know a little sign language because we were teaching our foster daughter to sign and watched a lot of signing shows, so I do know the signs for milk and potty!
You say you're a teen at heart. You're also the parent of teens. What's your favorite family activity or tradition?
Oh geez, we have a ton! I homeschooled the kids until they were in high school, so we spent a great deal of time together. Every year, in October, we do this totally cheesy thing called going to farms. We head out to the country and stop at a half a dozen farms to buy produce and fall decorations. Then we come home and decorate while making a big autumn inspired meal. Silly, but fun. We also love to go to concerts and my kids like classic rock as much as they do new stuff, so we get quite a mix of shows in. Not sure if I will ever grow up completely, which is why writing young adult comes so naturally to me, I guess.
What are your top ten favorite books?
Another tough one! I tried to think of those books that compelled me to read them over and over. You know the kind that make you want to start them all over again when you are finished? Here's my list:
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Beach Music by Pat Conroy
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
The Outsiders by SE Hinton
Uglies by Scott Westerfield
So Big by Edna Ferber
Visit the author's official website.
Read my review of Read My Lips.