Meet My #WriteMentor Mentee Part 1 : Dana Faletti

My favorite thing about being a writer is giving back to the writing community. When I had a chance to join #WriteMentor, I jumped head first. After scouring queries and manuscripts, I narrowed my selection down to three mentees, who I will be featuring in the coming weeks.

Up first is Dana Faletti. HEAR ME was the first manuscript I requested and fell in love with. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to help Dana bring Margaret and Gray to life. Bathed in deaf culture, bullying, and what it means to truly be heard, HEAR ME will take readers through a spectrum of emotions, and I hope, encourage them to see-and hear-the world a bit differently.

Here's Dana -

Please tell us how you started writing:

I've been writing since I was a young child. I remember when I was really little, I wrote a story that was about four kids who are playing a board game and somehow get sucked into a magic world. I'm sure I had just read The Narnia books and "copied." I can see the sheets of beige paper with green lines and my terrible handwriting. Later, writing became my survival skill in the form of poetry. I wrote my way through the drama of high school and college.

What does your writing process look like? Location? Laptop/pen paper? Preferred drink? Music?

Anywhere, really, but it's good to get out of my house so I'm not distracted by everything I could get done. Or by food.

On my laptop. I HATE writing manually, and my handwriting looks like a toddler chicken's.

What inspired your #WriteMentor manuscript?

There was an incident at my daughter's middle school involving a student whose locker was right next to hers. He made several threatening comments about shooting up the school and ultimately claimed to have brought a knife to the school, which got him expelled. Not only was I concerned for my daughter, but I wondered about this child. I discovered that he came from a troubled past. This got me thinking about the 'before' lives of kids who commit crimes, like school shootings, and also about the people who love them. Like, what happens to the girlfriend? What if a young girl falls in love with a troubled boy, and her infatuation with him blinds her to his dangerous side? What happens to her after the tragedy?

Of course, HEAR ME went in a totally different direction once I started writing the characters, who turned out to be deaf. I never planned for them to be deaf, but when I started writing them, they emerged this way, and now deafness and Deaf culture are sort of backdrop themes of the story.

Why did you enter #WriteMentor?

I met KC on twitter and that's how I found out about the contest. I was working on revisions, and I thought, why not? I knew my MS needed help. I had written it really quickly, and I felt that the story was good, but it needed fine tuning and direction.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the mentee list?

It was the last day of school, and I was sitting on the back porch watching six snarky melodramatic teen girls swim (float on rafts so as not to get their hair wet) in the pool. When I glanced at my phone, I noticed that I had 60 twitter notifications, and thought, "What the what?"

I was in total shock! And then I couldn't wait to get started, even though this season of my life is hectic with summer break and moving to a new house. I determined right away to make my work a priority.

Now that we’re deep into revisions, what advice would you give writers who are interested in entering writing contests such as #WriteMentor, #PitchWars, or #AMM?

Do. Not. Hesitate. It is the best thing you can do to make your book better.

What would wild success look like to you? What are your hopes and dreams for your book?

I would like to see HEAR ME at Target! Seriously, it would be amazing to have HEAR ME published with St. Martin's or Random House. Although it's YA, I'm not sure if I see it as a book fair book, because there are some PG-13 themes/scenes/language. I'm not sure I want to cut those, but then again, I'm getting used to change, so I never say never.

Tell us about your manuscript:

HEAR ME is the story of two deaf teens, Margaret Star and Gray Trax. They each carry their share of baggage into high school days that are already wrought with bullying and social media catastrophes.

Margaret feels like the puzzle piece who was dropped into the wrong box. She wears hearing aids, so she's too hearing to fit with her all Deaf parents and twin brother, and her aids whistle at school, announcing her difference to the rest of the world.

Gray struggles with his memories of being homeless and abused as a young boy with no language or ability to defend himself. When he or anyone he cares for feels threatened, his inner monster escapes its cage, and he's known to react violently as a response to his past.

Both Margaret and Gray have deep desires to be valued and heard for who they are, not for their relative deafness or their reputations. Through finding each other, they finally experience that acceptance and feeling of mattering to someone. But when Shane Murray, all-star quarterback, and douchebag of the century, targets Margaret as a way to get to Gray, he rattles Gray's monster's cage a little too hard.

Can Margaret push past the crushing blows to her self-esteem and have the courage to make herself heard? Can Gray walk beside her without blowing his top and doing something that will get him thrown out of yet another school and separated from the one person who has accepted him for who he is?

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your project?

This book has been a whirlwind in so many ways. I wrote most of it while I was sick in bed with the flu and then with diverticulitis. It's always amazing to me to watch a story start out as one thing then turn into something completely new and different. I've loved that with HEAR ME.

Deaf culture features heavily in your story. Tell us about your background in the Deaf community and why this story is important to you.

I was a teacher/interpreter/counselor in Deaf education for several years before I had kids. I always loved working in the Deaf community and sign language. I've really enjoyed jumping back into that world through this book.

I think Deaf culture is something most people know nothing about. Most hearing people view deafness as a deficit, something to be fixed or aided. But there's a whole group of Deaf people out there who don't see it that way. They view their Deafness as their identity as part of a group they belong to – a group that is ultra-important to them. They love their language and the way they use it to tell stories and understand the world. ASL is a really beautiful language. One of my teacher friends signed at my wedding because two of my former students were invited. Watching her sign the songs at the service was breathtaking.

I loved how my students' family lives and pasts factored into how they viewed themselves and "how deaf" they were. I worked with students from hearing families who had attended oral schools, read lips and were just learning sign language. Some of my students came from Deaf families, and ASL was their first language. These kids were direct and straight-up to the point of being offensive to some. Never to me though. I appreciated this directness. Deaf people tend to say it like it is, like it looks. There's no time for sugarcoating when you're signing, and that kind of honesty is refreshing.

There are so many interesting nuances when it comes to Deafness. I tried to include some of them in HEAR ME. Like the fact that Deaf people use storytelling as a way of understanding and explaining life. When they're late, they have to tell you every step of what happened to make them late. Also, I found it interesting to think about how Deaf people react to stimuli and why their point of view of the world is just different from hearing. It's a different center. Everything is based on visual cues from the time they are born. This would definitely affect the way a child behaves at a public school where most things are auditory – a teacher clapping her hands to transition from activity to activity, bells ringing, loudspeaker announcements. I wanted to show this with Margaret especially because she's poised between two worlds. I wish all teachers had a little knowledge of this kind of stuff. I think it would really help them in working with kids who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Most of all though, I've found through working with the Deaf community and with all people, that it's important to see past the deafness and into the person. That's what my characters want most. What makes a person tick is usually unrelated to the thing that others think might define them.

Dana Faletti is the author of The Whisper Trilogy, a young adult paranormal romance and Beautiful Secret, a sweeping drama of family secrets and forbidden love.  Beautiful Secret was released by Pandamoon Publishing in October of 2016 and has since won The Lyra Award as well as honorable mention at both The San Francisco and Paris Book Festivals.  Dana blogs about whatever inspires her at www.danafaletti.blogspot.com, writes poetry as a survival skill and loves to connect with other writers both online and in person. When she’s not writing, Dana can be found reading on her kindle, cooking something delicious, or daydreaming about her upcoming travel destinations. She lives in in a suburb of Pittsburgh with her husband, three young daughters, and two snarky Shichons called Dolce and Vita.  Find out more about Dana and her books at at www.danafaletti.com.