by Cora Shahid, California Hands & Voices
- Can you please share a little about you, your family and any hobbies you have?
I am in seventh grade. My favorite sport is basketball, I have played on a club team since third grade. I was born with hearing loss and wear a hearing aid on one side and cochlear implant on the other. I like to skateboard, snow ski, play with my puppies, go to the beach, produce YouTube videos (@ Harper G) and do wood-working.
My dad is a Colonel in the Marine Corps, so we have moved many times. My favorite place we have lived is California. My mom is a writer, author, and speaker. She was the co-author on the recent book we published, “Now Hear This: Harper Soars with her Magic Ears.”
I also have an older brother, named Battle, who also has hearing loss (he has bi-lateral CI’s). He likes to play football and lift weights. He is also learning to play the guitar and takes Chinese. He is really into video games.
- When did you first realize you wanted to write a book and what inspired you?
I have always loved to read and write. In fourth grade we had a writing journal in which we were given daily prompts. One of them was, “What Makes You Unique.” I wrote about how being deaf had made me unique. When my mom was unpacking my backpack at the end of the school, she found my writing journal and read through it. When she read the piece I just mentioned, she thought to herself, “THIS IS THE BOOK!” That summer we began writing the first draft.
- How long did it take you to write your book and how many drafts did you write?
It seems like forever! From start to finish, two years. We created what we thought was the final manuscript and attempted to query literary agents, hoping to get signed. But, we got impatient after about six months, and decided to self-publish. That’s when it got real. We reworked the manuscript about one hundred times. My mom’s friend from college helped us edit (she is professional writer) and we also worked with several other writer’s who belong to my mom’s writing community.
- Can you share a detail that was written in an earlier draft but did not make the final cut?
I think in one of the early drafts we talked about how I might need a second surgery for my hearing aid side. We cut that because we really didn’t think it was needed in the story. We also took out some of the “sappy” parts that seemed too corny!
- What was the process for developing the cover and the pictures throughout the book?
We researched and found an amazing illustrator, Priscila Soares. She is also hard of hearing and has a son with CI’s. She had recently illustrated a picture book about hearing loss geared toward younger kids. My mom says she had admired her art on Instagram for a long time and on a whim, reached out to her and asked if she would be interested in being a part of our project. She agreed!
Priscila watched a lot of my YouTube videos and my mom sent her lots of photos, so she could capture my essence. We didn’t want the illustrations to look like a portrait of me or a character. That part was tricky. Priscila also studied the manuscript and then we brainstormed ideas for the cover and internal art. We worked together via shared-screens and text to refine draft after draft. In the end, she totally captured the vibe we were going for.
- What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your book?
Publishing a book is A LOT of work. It takes patience (which I didn’t have much of) and also, determination. There were times I felt like just giving up because it took so long. But, I learned that anything worthwhile, takes hard work and patience.
- Do you hear from your readers? Who are they and what kinds of things do they say?
That’s one of the weirdest and also coolest parts. Readers have been sending us photos holding their copy of the book. I was even asked to be interviewed by a ten-year-old girl for a book report. She choose me as an actual character in a book she identified with and wanted to write her report about our book. I have also been interviewed for newspapers, magazines, and been a guest on some podcasts. It’s kind of strange to think I am now a professional author. Mostly the kids tell me that they love seeing a character that represents them. We also have other characters in the book who are deaf and hard of hearing. One thing is for sure: we are all unique but also share a common bond.
- What is your favorite genre to read, and why?
My favorite genre to read is dystopian because it warns us about what our world could possibly look like. I also like that normally there are lots of inventions, futuristic machines, and concepts that we consider impossible.
- Do you have any DHH authors that you look up to?
El Deafo is the only book I have that is written about a child with hearing loss. This is kind of one of the reasons we wanted to write our book. There are plenty of books for little kids, but not a lot available for this age group. Our book is rich in language and we go into a good amount of detail. We wanted kids to grow into it and also stretch their reading skills.
- How do you think being a writer has helped you as a person?
It has made me more aware of how books can impact people. Words matter. I can see this by the reaction we have gotten from so many young people who identified with this book. They felt seen and included. I think that’s a pretty cool thing about being a published author.
- Can your fans expect to see another book written by you in the near future?
Heck yes! We are in the early stages of the next book. My mom and I are coming up with different ideas of plot lines, all based around someone DHH in middle school. We also plan to get some of the other characters involved in the story. And, maybe my brother will also have a bigger part in the next one. We hope to get signed with an agent for our next one. But, if not, we will self publish again.
- What advice do you have for parents on encouraging their DHH child to follow their passions?
Like we say in the book: “Set the bar high, and you will reach, rise and soar!” My mom and dad have never made me feel like there’s anything I can’t do. Find what you love and something that can serve others, and GO FOR IT!
- Any final comments you would like to share with readers?
We would love for our book to be in every school library. Inclusion matters and this is a great way for students and staff to learn about hearing loss. I also want to encourage anyone who has a challenge they are facing to know that they are not alone. And they can overcome. When school resumes, I can’t wait to visit more schools and read our book aloud to classrooms. We were just beginning our book tour, when the Covid-19 hit and schools were closed. Hopefully I can pick up where I left off!