• Amy Q. Barker

Why is Rue blind?

Updated: Jul 22

First let me say that I am not visually impaired or blind and I don't have a personal relationship with anyone who is. I certainly don't want to imply that I know what it's like to be blind or to speak on behalf of people who are blind. Rue is fiction and came completely out of my head and my own imagining of what it would be like to be blind. Therefore, you may ask, why would I make Rue blind?

The short answer is this: I don't know. Often my characters come to me fully fledged and I'm simply trying to keep up with their actions by typing them as fast as I can. When I first started writing, I was completely fascinated by this! Where does inspiration come from? I began to pay attention to every new song I heard on the radio, every piece of art I saw, every new recipe, business, blueprint, movie, play, book I came across. Where did it come from? How did the inventor, the creator, the author think of it? Were they just as confounded by it as I was by my writing?

Yes, of course, what I write comes out of my head and there is always a kernel of something I have experienced or witnessed or heard about that has inspired it, but from there it tends to go off on its own mysterious trajectory. Btw, if you're interested in a captivating story of creativity, inspiration, and innovation, check out this Independent Lens.

I used to think about writing nearly every moment of every day and when I sat down at the keyboard, I had everything lined up in my head and would simply type, type, type. However, just like a muscle, I have trained my brain and my fingers to wait. Now I don't allow myself to think about the writing until the moment I sit down at my computer. I don't prepare anything in advance. This shift has helped me significantly with my work-life balance. However, I realize this probably sounds crazy to many writers, who plan and design intricate outlines and notes before beginning.

When I do begin, I write whatever comes into my head. It flows fairly naturally through my fingertips and onto the page. Not that I don't have to pause for half an hour once in a while to think of a word - yeah, that happens. However, the best way I can describe the strange otherness of writing: it's as if I am a vessel waiting to embody the voices of my characters and the only thing I can do is be present.

The idea for Rue came to me on one of my many trips to San Francisco. I have stayed at the Scarlet Huntington and spent many nights sipping drinks in the Big 4 lounge, so that aspect of the story materialized rather quickly and succinctly. However, in all of my earlier versions of Rue, she was sighted. In fact, I spent an entire year writing my first manuscript with Rue as a sighted lounge singer. Then as I finished, I wrote this in my diary: "Lately, every day I’ve been having this thought: I must turn Rue into something different. The same plot, but Rue is blind. It’s been driving me crazy and I can’t seem to get it out of my head, so I think I’ll try."

From that point forward, I re-wrote the entire manuscript from scratch, carefully removing all references to visual descriptors, including any time Rue "watched" or "saw" or "noticed" or "beheld" or did anything in any way based on vision. Imagine writing an entire story where you can't explain how people are looking at the main character or how the main character sees the world, looks into people's eyes, regards the colors around her, reads a smile or a wink or a frown. I found it challenging and enlightening. After all, I was only writing it, I wasn't living it. It made me appreciate what it must be like to be blind. What fortitude and ingenuity!

I spent months researching on-line tools, videos, and resources for people who are blind. Finally, after interviewing a visually impaired colleague at work, I tweaked many logistical aspects of my story. Ultimately I wanted to make sure I showed the balance: Rue is strong and independent as she navigates the world in her own way.

So, you ask, why is Rue blind? I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell me! Prior to writing Rue, I knew nothing about being blind. Despite my earlier ignorance, I hope you will be happy with the results of my enlightenment and will fall in love with Rue as I have. She is resilient and resourceful and beautiful and organized and kind and caring and smart. And yes, she happens to be blind.



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© 2020 by Amy Q. Barker