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As a follow up to my earlier post regarding the challenges facing readers and authors with limited vision I am delighted to post another interview with a writer of low vision. Blindness is a complex problem with no one cause or solution, but about which there is often poor understanding. People with restricted sight often suffer discrimination including the false assumption that they cannot enjoy books, cannot write or be creative and must live “a disabled life” but as these interviews show, that does not have to be the case.

Hello and thanks for joining us. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Hello everyone!  My name is Laurel A. Rockefeller.  I am author of the medieval science fiction series, The Peers of Beinan.

I am an amateur medieval historian and amateur scientist originally
from Lincoln, Nebraska.  In 1995 I received my bachelor of arts from
the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in writing (stage, film focus),
psychology (pre-counseling), and medieval history.

In 1985 while in the eighth grade, I was hit in the left temple by a
distracted driver, creating a truly traumatic brain injury that
shattered my skull in several places (I cannot sleep on my back
because of the way the bones in my skull healed together).

In that accident, I lost my mathematics ability along with nearly all
of my eye sight.  Across 1986, my brain was able to heal somewhat, but
it left me with permanent tunnel vision, little to no reception from
the rods (receptors for black/white/grey) in my retina, and severe
distortions, particular with low frequency (red/orange) light.

As a natural singer-songwriter, the first thing I remember noticing
different about my sight was that I could no longer read music,
forcing me to play by touch and sound.  But with complete amnesia, I
otherwise did not know I lost my sight; to know you have to remember
what it was before which I could not do.

Please tell us a little about your books and other writing. 

I am the world-building author behind the medieval science fiction series, “The Peers of Beinan.”  Peers of Beinan is really the convergence of my life-long passion for science and for history.

Planet Beinan is a rich and vibrant world with its own units of time
and distance, planetary details, bio-chemistry, ecology, cuisine,
religions, cultures, history, music, dancing, and heraldry.

For all of these science fiction elements, the books are equally
rooted in medieval history.  Not only do I have a BA in history, I’ve
been a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (the world’s
largest medieval history organization) since my freshman year in
university.  That gives the books a richness in detail that you rarely
see.

Through all of these comes rich and compelling stories.  Book one,
The Great Succession Crisis, tells the coming-of-age story of
Princess Anlei, the irreverent adolescent daughter of Queen Isabelle
and maternal granddaughter of High Priestess Wehe.  Just like many
medieval European noble and royal women, Princess Anlei knows that her
fate is largely dictated by the constraints of her feudal world, a
world not quite ready to fully embrace female leadership.  So Anlei
begins close-hearted; love is for commoners, NOT royalty!

It takes a sexist ruling by the Beinarian parliament (called The Great
Council) to force Anlei to grow as a person until she finally learns
to embrace her heritage and become the leader she was born to be.

Book two, The Ghosts of the Past, explores the consequences of
Anlei’s choices three generations later.  Ghosts is a murder-mystery
spanning four generations.

Ghosts begins with the mysterious death of Lord Healer Devon of house
Ten-Ar in a terrorist bombing in a major city located close to
Beinan’s largest argun mines.  Argun ore refines to argene (thorium
232) which powers everything on the planet thanks to Beinan’s advanced
nuclear power technology (science note:  thorium 232 is used here on
Earth in our nuclear power plants as well).

But argene is toxic; exposure to it blinds Beinarians by destroying
two of the cones in their retinas.  As you might guess, this “brown
eye syndrome” (named for its darkening effects on the iris) is rooted
in my sight loss.

As Ghosts progresses, music swells through the text, including the
song “I Shall Always Find You” which is about re-incarnation, and
“Here Lays My Father and My Lord,” which Princess Constance sings upon
finding her father slain with five crossbow quarrels.

The Peers of Beinan series is therefore this beautiful symphony of
stories and interweaving genres.  There’s even a Beinarian version of
English country dancing.

Do you have any works in progress? 

Yes!  I am working on book three, Princess Anyu Returns which focuses (finally!) on Princess Anyu, the “Anlei’s Legacy” arc narrator, and her exile on D425E25 Tertius, then return to planet Beinan. I hope to release it by Christmas, 2014.

In what forms are your books available?  I believe you have an interactive version of your books, what inspired you to try this unusual approach? 

As a low vision person, I care about accessibility.  So my books are in digital, paperback, QR Interactive paperback, and large print paperback formats.

That means I have seventeen titles/editions in the span of just under one year:

The Great Succession Crisis Revised Edition
digital, paperback, QR interactive, large print

The Great Succession Crisis Extended Edition
digital, paperback, QR interactive, large print

The Ghosts of the Past
digital, paperback, QR interactive, large print

The Great Succession Crisis Data Files
(companion book to just book one) in digital and paperback

Anlei’s Legacy:  the Complete Data Files
(companion book to all three Anlei’s Legacy arc books) in digital and paperback.

The QR Interactive editions are brand new.  They contain QR codes for
smart phones, each linked to enhanced content like glossary entries,
photos, and videos.  Smart phone users therefore can use their phones
to access information from the data files (appendices) instead of
flipping to the back of the book for the same information.  This also
means your smartphone accesses audio/video recordings of the music
contained in the books.

Digital users will find the books are hypertext linked to the same
multi-media content.  Simply tap/click on the hyperlinks to be taken
to that interactive content without losing your place in the book.

When did you start to write? What made you choose this genre? 

My “writing” began before I could read/write, actually.  I grew up in an ultra-conservative, evangelical christian home where my father ruled our family with an iron fist and everyone else pretended not to notice, not even when there were obvious physical injuries.

I coped with all that by making up songs and singing, then throwing myself into my studies once I was old enough to go to school.  With Hyde Observatory (one of the few astronomical observatories open to the public) less than a mile from my home, I caught the astronomy and science bug really early — which was unheard of for a girl growing up at the time.  This melded with my natural gift for music and language and helped me when, in 1985 I lost most of my sight in the car accident I mentioned earlier.

One important consequence of that traumatic brain injury was
destruction of my non-spatial, non-musical math skills which
eliminated the possibility of a career in physics/astronomy.  So my
focus had to re-shift to social science and the humanities which I
enjoy just as much.

As my brain gradually healed, I was able to explore English literature
in school which I really fell in love with.  As a senior in high
school, I took a course called “grammar/vocabulary” in which Dr.
Patrick Hunter-Pirtle empowered and encouraged my writing by giving me
the language tools I still use today.  His influence and lessons are
why I can use words like “vexed” (a favorite of Jane Austen) in my
dialogue.

After high school, I attended the University of Nebraska where I
majored in screen and stage writing through the university’s
integrated studies program, adding my second major of psychology and
third major of history later on.  When I was 21, I planned on pursuing
more of a stage and film career.  But that training is wonderful for a
fiction writer, even though the format on the page is different.
Script writing teaches you what is important to put on the page and
especially how to handle dialogue in a dynamic, clear, and concise
manner.

Yet for all of that, in my twenties, I remained essentially a poet;
all or nearly all of my publications from the 1990s are actually
poetry.

In 2000, I moved to first New Jersey, then Brooklyn, New York and had
a near miss on 9/11; if not for remembering I had forgotten to call my
boss regarding my pre-work plans to run some errands in Manhattan, my
train into World Trade Center station would have arrived around 8:55
that morning!

This was a time where I shifted from poetry to non-fiction thanks to a
very nice lady in charge of a New Jersey-based newsletter for history
hobbyists. In 2008, Bird Talk magazine published my work twice, none
of it paid, further increasing my journalistic pursuits.  Yahoo
Voices, for which I still write, soon picked up this freelance
journalism work.

But it would take re-discovery of a favorite childhood science fiction
television program (via Netflix) to bring the novelist out in me in
late 2010 when I started up a fan site to that television show
(www.princeyubifan.com for those interested).  Creating that massive
site stimulated my imagination.  In March, 2011 I commenced a series
of dialogues with an engineer/amateur astronomer which became the
scientific foundation for planet Beinan (which went through a dozen
different names before publication of “The Great Succession Crisis in
August, 2012).

From there, the characters took me where they wanted to go; both “The
Great Succession Crisis” and “Ghosts of the Pasts” are radically
different from what I imagined in those first few months of writing.

The genres all evolved organically.  That is to say, I did not intend
to write a medieval science fiction coming of age story.  Princess
Anlei decided that for us!  Likewise, while Ghosts had a core outline
from the onset (as all middle chapters in trilogies must), the
overwhelming majority of what is there evolved on its own — including
the genres it belongs to.

Writing “Ghosts” forced me to tap into parts of my memory that are
very dark and difficult to deal with.  Ghosts literally gave me
nightmares to write.  But as I flip through the book I am happy with
the results, even though I’m still paying a certain personal price for
doing it.

Your series is based on European medieval history and people, please tell us a little more about the research involved.

History has always been a part of my life.  The men in my family are
major American Civil War and WWII enthusiasts (if that is the right
word), so I was always around history, especially American history.
When I was a child, the loosely bio-pic series “Black Sheep Squadron”
aired on NBC.  While I enjoyed the show, my heart was drawn towards
Arthurian legends and other medieval stories — like Robin Hood and
Joan of Arc — then Shakespeare and medieval music.

That all grew with time over the years.  In 1990, I joined the Society
for Creative Anachronism where I initially pursued my love of medieval
music.  Majoring in mostly medieval history (European, Asian, Jewish)
added to the medieval history environment and knowledge that saturates
the SCA.

I do have to credit the SCA for teaching me a lot of the history and
medieval culture that infuses these books.  The SCA also encourages
academic study.

So by the time I was ready to begin work on The Peers of Beinan, I
already amassed a rich and tangible knowledge of medieval life.

From there it became simply researching specific details unfamiliar to
me — like fencing terminology or the parts of a crossbow.

Probably the most difficult, yet also most fun for me, was researching
the science for “Ghosts of the Past.”  I spent several days
researching chemistry and bio-chemistry using different sites on the
elements for a single paragraph where Elendir takes readings with his
computer on the ruins of the healing center where his father worked
and died.  Likewise, when I introduced Lord Engineer Kian, I had to
spend a fair amount of time learning how nuclear power works so I
could describe the star craft he designed.

What are the challenges you face as a visually limited author and how do
you overcome them?

Nothing will overcome the double/triple vision I experience,
especially when dealing with black/white text.  But there are some
things I do to try to adapt.

Probably the first and most basic one is learning not to push my
sight.  I don’t read many books because it hurts too badly inside my
eyes to try.  Instead I rely on audio books or, more commonly, watch
television and film adaptations of whatever I’m interested in.

So I watch the BBC productions of, for example, Dr. David Starkey’s
books (Starkey is one of the foremost Tudor historians in the world —
and British, of course!) instead of trying to read them.

I also have a device that looks like a smart phone which is a special
kind of camera magnifier.  That device lets me change text/backgrounds
to one of about six combinations.  It’s not perfect and I cannot use
it for hours on end.  But it can be very helpful.

I also use such tricks as a simple highlighter pen, a colored
transparency filter which I overlay something I need to read, and
using large print resources.  On the computer, I zoom my text larger.
Constant shifts by google, facebook, etc. keep over-riding it, but I
do try to set my computer settings to display text in blue.

In MS word, I cannot set my text to display blue yet be black to
everyone else.  So I have to just zoom as big as I can — and stop
working when my body tells me to.

Finally, I also help myself by hydrating my eyes with artificial tears
and by taking omega 3 supplements when I am unable to eat fish in a
given week. Believe it or not, these make a difference — not just on
my sight but for everyone.  So if you feel pain in your eyes, start
there!

What are your thoughts on the choice of e-readers and apps, or lack thereof, which cater for readers with limited sight? If you own an e-reader which do you use and why? 

At this time, I don’t even try to use an e-reader.  I won’t consider one until I have complete control over text and background color in addition to size.  The current readers are black/white centric which is the worst combination for my sight.  Add in the price of these devices, and they just don’t make sense for me.

What can other authors do to provide their books in a blind-friendly
format? 

Glad you asked this one:  first and foremost, authors need to offer their books in large print.  The number of titles in large print is tiny fraction of the total. People assume that every low vision person can just use the text size option in e-readers and therefore they don’t need to accommodate sight loss directly.  That is completely wrong. 

As, as a point of principle, I won’t patronize an author who doesn’t offer paperback and large print paperback.  If you are not willing to offer your book in a format compatible with the adaptive strategies mentioned before, then I see no reason to patronize you!

Audio books is another area where we need to see improvements.  That
said, I do not offer my books in audio format yet — mostly over
technical issues.  I do not know how to produce such a book — but if
someone reading this has experience with audio book production, she or
he is absolutely welcome to contact me and teach me how to make this
happen.

When reading for pleasure what format of books do you use?
(Braille/audio/etc.) 

I rarely read for pleasure, I’m sorry to say.  It is so taxing for me to read what I have to read for work that I just don’t have the strength physically to read for fun that much.  Usually if I want to read for fun, I download an audio book from my library for the blind.

I think the last book I read completely for fun was “The Pluto Files”
by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of Hayden Planetarium at the American
Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.  I also listened to the BBC
radio version of “The Lord of the Rings.”  That’s not exactly an
“audio book” but it is a brilliant rendering of the books.  I just
wish I had access to more from the BBC; the best adaptions usually
come from them.

Do you think the choice of books for low vision readers is limited? Has the choice increased in recent years especially with the rise of e-readers and audio books? 

Oh absolutely.  Most low vision and blind folks use large print and audio editions.  I estimate that fewer than 25% of all books are available in either of these.  No clue about the actual numbers, but that is my perception, especially after interviewing authors for my own blog.

What would you suggest publishing companies (such as Amazon and Smashwords) do to increase their choice and marketing of such books/devices?

First, Amazon needs to list the large print options with the regular editions.  Type in any of my book titles and you WON’T see there is a large print version available on Amazon, even though my books ARE in large print.  Instead, you have to type in “large print” in your search inquiry on Amazon; mine are not even listed on my author page! The only way to get to them, believe it or not, is to use the direct link on my website!

This is obscene!  It is as if Amazon does not want to sell large print
books, especially by indie authors.  So if you are an indie author
with a large print version, BE SURE to link to your book on your home
page.

On the digital level they need to offer the ability for everyone to
choose their reading color scheme.  The more display options for
people, the better.  And quite honestly, there needs to be the option
of button, not touch, navigation.  I find touch anything really hard
to deal with — another reason I do not have a smart phone!

What other advice can you offer to readers and authors with restricted
vision? 

Number one:  listen to your body when it comes to how you feel.  If something feels wrong, even just fatigue, DON’T PUSH IT!  If you are not healthy, any remaining sight you have diminishes.  That really goes for everyone.  Your visual system is very complex and sometimes fragile, so be mindful and be a good steward to yourself.

Second, use the accessibility features built into windows.  There are
more than you think there are — but don’t be limited to them either.
The most effective adaptive strategies I have are also the cheapest!

Third, I think we need to raise these issues with providers like
Amazon, google, etc. more.  If I tell windows to display web text in
Georgia font size 16 in blue and websites over-ride that and display
Ariel 10 in black, then I’m hurting myself trying to use that content.
The problem is these companies don’t think about accessibility with
their designs. Our smart phone, touch screen world is rather hostile to
vision loss — even though every single person who lives past a
certain age WILL lose eyesight one way or another!

We have to work together, everyone, to put our foot down and demand
fairness here.

There is a certain economics to this:  if we as consumers don’t insist
on accessibility, then why should providers offer it?  We as a society
can do a lot more about it than I as an individual can alone.

It starts with being mindful.

If you are a low vision author or reader, realize that your challenges
are shared by many, even though the specifics of what you see
and why (if at all) are completely individual.  Usually adaptive
strategies are shared across many people.

Finally, I think we can encourage more accessible content by
patronizing those authors and providers who make accessibility a
priority.  If blind/low vision authors sell more books through
accessible options, you know others will follow in hopes of increasing
their sales too.  So whether you are sighted, low vision, or blind,
you can make a difference here by your choices in books and devices.

Where to find Laurel’s books find links to the songs, the unique heraldry and other features and the rich history of the characters, plus author interviews etc.

http://www.peersofbeinan.com

E-books  

Kindle

The Great Succession Crisis http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008YKSKYQ

The Great Succession Crisis Extended http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B9IBFCY

Ghosts of the past. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BVBHNDO

For the data files please visit the book site.

Smashwords

The Great Succession Crisis https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/211181?ref=ALB123

The Great Succession Crisis Extended https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/311557?ref=ALB123

Ghosts of the Past https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/296320?ref=ALB123

The data files https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/224017?ref=ALB123

Princess Anlei’s Legacy Data Files https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/300546?ref=ALB123

Paperbacks

The Great Succession Crisis Extended Edition https://www.createspace.com/4156679

The Great Succession Crisis Revised QR Edition https://www.createspace.com/4363043

The Great Succession Crisis Extended QR Edition https://www.createspace.com/4367566

The Great Succession Crisis Large Print https://www.createspace.com/3971580

The Great Succession Crisis Extended Large Print https://www.createspace.com/4163300

Ghosts of the Past https://www.createspace.com/4211143

Ghosts of the Past QR Edition http://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Past-Interactive-Peers-Beinan/dp/1491085363

Ghosts of the Past Large Print http://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Large-Edition-Beinan-Volume/dp/1482797372

There is currently a $5 off voucher for the QR interactive version of Ghosts of the Past – voucher code VKUBKEP9

https://www.createspace.com/4375671 Ghosts of the Past QR interactive.

Please do check the website for details of all the links as this is just a selection http://www.peersofbeinan.com/Where.html

Great Succession Crisis digital extended webGhosts of the Past cover web (1)Princess Anyu Returns Cover web

http://voices.yahoo.com/ten-myths-blindness-sight-loss-11939996.html?cat=70

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