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Monday, February 13, 2012

Laura Ellen Interview

Laura Ellen is a fellow Michigan writer I've had the pleasure of meeting thanks to SCBWI.  She is a talented and fascinating individual, but she tells her story better than I do, so you can find out more below.  But I did want to say her debut novel, BLIND SPOT, sounds incredible and I can't wait to read it. I hope you'll check it out too.
I asked her to do a guest post for my diversity month because diversity in literature isn't just about race and ethnicity.  Laura and her amazing book have a unique protagonist.  But read what Laura has to say.  She's far more eloquent on the subject than me. Thank you so much, Laura!  I wish you smashing success with BLIND SPOT!

Isn't this cover just gorgeous?
My book BLIND SPOT, which debuts in October, is a YA thriller about sixteen year old Roswell Hart who is legally blind and desperate to prove she is  just like everyone else. When her special education classmate Tricia Farni is found dead six months after the night she disappeared – the night Roz fought with her. The night Roz can’t remember – Roz finds herself in a desperate race to clear her name and find a murderer. 

When I first started writing BLIND SPOT, I knew I wanted to write about a teen struggling to be ‘normal’ when the world around her is treating her like she’s not. People always say “write what you know” and boy did I know exactly how that felt. As a teen, I was diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration and even though my eyesight hadn’t changed from that morning to the second the eye doctor diagnosed me that afternoon – people immediately started treating me differently. As my eyes did get worse, so did their reactions and interactions with me. Looking back, I know I was as much a part of that problem as others were because I didn’t know how to interact and react to people and their attitudes and questions either. But still, it was extremely difficult as an adolescent to deal with and I wanted to bring that struggle for survival that I went through into a book.
In wanting to write BLIND SPOT, however, I also knew I did NOT want it to be an issue book. I did not want it to be about a girl who was dealing with a visual impairment, how she lives, how she does things differently . . .  Nor did I want her to just have a visual impairment, like a character has red hair or blue eyes, and never deal with all the baggage that comes with having a visual impairment. Too often I have seen both kinds of books, and I knew I did not want BLIND SPOT to be either.
I wanted to write a story that was first and foremost a thriller (because that’s what I love to write) in which the main character was deep in the middle of dealing with identity issues due to her impairment. I wanted that struggle to be the reason she got into whatever mess I was going to get her into. I wanted her to be so worried about proving she wasn’t ‘blind’ that she ended up being blind to everything going on around her.
As I began writing, though, I quickly realized something else too. My target audience was not the teen who knew nothing about disabilities; the teen who would read this book and see how someone different from her deals with life. No, I realized pretty darn quick that my target audience was the teen who DID know what it was like to be impaired in some way.
See, while yes, readers do enjoy reading about settings and characters that are different from their own lives, readers also like to read books that they can find themselves in. As fun as it is to read about the streets of Paris, it is even more fun to see places where you live or have traveled to before.  Similarly, as intriguing as it is to read about a girl who lives in a palace on a remote island with eighty servants and a barn full of horses, many readers crave to find that book where, like themselves, a girl lives in a two bedroom apartment with four siblings and a grandmother in a partially condemned building with no heat.  Readers need to find themselves in the books they read; it is how they legitimize who they are. Imagine if you read book after book and never found a character even remotely like you. You would start to think you are not interesting, not normal.
So rather than write a book that would teach others what it is like to have a disability, I wanted to write a book that would reach out to the girl who already knew what it’s like . The girl who could relate to Roswell. The girl who, while sitting on the edge of her seat dying to know what happens next, is also rolling her eyes or shaking her head and muttering,  “yeah. I know how that goes.”  
I really hope BLIND SPOT finds that girl.

Laura's gorgeous too, inside and out.

 Laura Ellen writes YA mysteries and thrillers. Her debut novel BLIND SPOT will be released in October, 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Although she lives now in Ann Arbor, MI with her husband, three kids and a dog, Laura was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Laura earned a MA in Children’s Literature from Eastern Michigan University and is a former Language Arts teacher and special education aide for middle and high school students. She is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency. Visit her website at www.lauraellenbooks.com.


  1. Go Laura! Thanks for sharing, Sarah.

  2. Awesome! So excited to read it, Laura! Thanks, Sarah, for such wonderful, interesting and inspiring interviews!

  3. Can't wait to read this. I'm hoping you'll reach kids in general as well as the ones who can relate to Roswell's disability. Because it's also a mystery. So excited for your debut!

  4. Thanks Kristin and Jody -- and thank you, Sarah, for having me :)

  5. Congratulations Laura, how exciting! Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview Sarah.
    When you get a second, stop by my blog and collect your 2 blog awards :)

  6. Thanks everyone. Seriously, who wouldn't want to read BLIND SPOT now? Sounds terrific, doesn't it?

    And thank you so much Jennifer! Good luck with Poison Apple Pie!

    1. Thank you so much for your supportive and encouraging words Sarah!

  7. Wonderful! What a great idea for a book. It's on my to be read list...
    Hugs, S.

  8. Thanks Shutta and Jennifer! I do want to clarify something as Natalie pointed out and I have been worrying over it ever since! When I say my 'target audience' is that girl who knows what it is like to have an impairment, I am referring to that reader authors imagine in our minds as we write. I should've been clearer or not used the words target audience, perhaps? Of course I wrote this book to appeal to all teen readers :) Just wanted to make sure I wasn't excluding anyone!

  9. Laura, this is fascinating! I love reading the behind-the-scenes inspiration for your work. Can't wait to read your book and share it with the teens in my life.