New Voice: Laura Ellen on Blind Spot

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Laura Ellen is the first-time author of Blind Spot
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,
Oct. 23, 2012)(reading guide). From the promotional copy:

Winter stops hiding Tricia Farni on Good Friday.

When a truck plunges through the thinning ice of Alaska’s Birch River, Tricia’s body floats to the surface–dead since the night she disappeared six months earlier.

The night Roswell Hart fought with her.

The night Roz can’t remember.

Missing things is nothing new to sixteen-year-old Roz. She has macular degeneration, an eye disease that robs her central vision. She’s constantly piecing together what she sees–or thinks she sees–but this time her memory needs piecing together. How can Roz be sure of the truth if her own memory has betrayed her? Can she clear her name of a murder that she believes she didn’t commit?

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view-first, second, third (or some alternating combination) featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

This is such a good question. I actually had to rewrite Blind Spot twice, switching point of view to get it right. I used a lot of my own experiences developing my main character Roz.

Growing up with macular degeneration was hard and very emotional for me and I wanted to put that into my novel. But after I finished my novel in first person, a very insightful editor during a critique told me that Roz was too whiny and that her story was stifling the thriller part of the plot.

Laura’s writing space

I knew he was right. I’d spent so much time dumping my own emotions into the story, and, though very therapeutic, I’d lost sight of what I was writing. A thriller.

So, I rewrote the entire novel in third person.

It was freeing for me to do this. Suddenly I saw Roz as a character rather than an extension of me. I was able to take ‘me’ out of it and stick Roz into situations I’d never thought about putting her into. It helped push my plot further and make the thriller part of the plot tighter. but

In switching to third person, I’d totally lost the raw emotion that made Roz real, made her appealing, and made her, well, ‘Roz’..,

So, yep, I rewrote it again going back to first person. This time both storiesRoz’s struggle with her visual impairment and the murder mysterywere balanced. Though doing so was time-consuming, I learned sometimes you have to tell the story from many different angles before you get it right.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

When I was taking my first creative writing workshop in college, there was a girl in my class who would accuse me of writing ‘children stories’ every time a piece I’d written would be work-shopped.

I would get so angry and defensive. I was not writing for children; there were no fluffy bunnies or talking animals in what I was writing! Yes, my characters were teens, so what? Stephen King had written many stories with teen characters and no one accused him of writing for children!

It took me years to understand what she not-so-eloquently was trying to say.

My voice is teen.

That’s just what it is.

Once I embraced that, I realized that the reason my voice was ‘teen’ was because my teen years are still vivid and fresh to me. I can remember things like they were yesterday. My teen years were full of emotional ups and downs and it is that place where my author inkwell exists.

Even if their own teen memories are not so vivid, I think authors can tap into their teen voices by finding triggers that can transport them back. Music, videos, TV shows, Herbal Essence shampoo, Love’s Baby Soft perfume, Brut, Lip Smackers lip gloss, A-Smile painter pantsanything and everything that was part of your routine in high school can be a trigger. Once you find these things let them transport you back and then ask yourself:

How did you interact with your friends, your enemies, your parents?

How did you reason with yourself when you knew it was a bad idea to climb out the window to attend that party at 2 a.m.?

How did you got up the next morning after you’d had your heart broken the night before?
Ask yourself, and your teen voice will answer.

Laura’s son James Handy, age 14, and the legendary Muruga Booker. James and Muruga are jammed a bit before James recorded the music for the Blind Spot trailer at Muruga’s Sage Court Studios.

Cynsational Notes

In Blind Spot, Roz is obsessed with proving she is ‘normal’ despite her visual impairment. As a result, she loses sight of everything elseincluding clues to a classmate’s death. What’s your blind spot? Beating your arch rival at the state swim meet? Being valedictorian? Losing weight?

Share your story with Laura Ellen and you could win a signed copy and the chance to have it posted along with stories of authors you love! Find details on Laura Ellen’s website. Hurry! Contest ends Oct. 16 at midnight.