I’m excited to share this heartfelt interview with TWO generous giveaways with all of you!
Kerry O’Malley Cerra is an award-winning author of middle grade books. Her first novel, Just a Drop of Water, landed on five state reading lists, won the Crystal Kite Award, a Florida Book Award, and was named to VOYA’s Top Shelf Fiction list for 2014. Her second novel, Hear Me, is out now. Stay tuned for her forthcoming book, Make a Little Wave, expected to debut sometime in 2024 with Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing. Kerry’s work has received praise from The New York Times, Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, VOYA, and the Horn Book Guide calling her stories moving, perceptive, well-developed, and woven with an expert hand. Kerry lives in South Florida with her family and two poorly behaved rescue-dogs.
Welcome back to the Mixed-Up Files, Kerry! I loved interviewing you for your debut middle-grade novel, Just A Drop of Water, and am thrilled to celebrate the launch of Hear Me with you.
What sparked the idea for Hear Me?
Thanks, Mindy. I always appreciate your support, and not only for me. You are a champion for many authors! Always! The thing about Hear Me is that I never wanted to write about hearing loss. I toyed with maybe someday writing a character who happened to have hearing loss without it being the central theme, but even that wasn’t something I was sure I wanted to tackle. So in the meantime, I wrote stories of abled characters. After talking with a friend about the need for books with accurate hearing loss representation—and still vowing I wasn’t the person to write that book—the whole first chapter came to me in detail. I’ve heard authors say some books write themselves, and I never understood that. In fact, I was a bit jealous of it. Imagine a story that writes itself! Well, this one did. I wrote the first draft in only four months. It was extremely cathartic for me—the whole thing feels somewhat like a gift, actually. I struggled for years to accept my disability, and sure, I feel like much of that time was wasted, but I also now know that I needed that time to grieve my loss.
When I wrote chapter 1 that first night, the last line (now the last line of chapter 2) set the trajectory for the story. And it shocked me. It was visceral. Completely unplanned. But I knew right then what the storyline would be. Rayne wants desperately to talk to her audiologist alone, but her mom isn’t having it. Rayne says in her head that she’ll never have the chance to ask the doctor the one question she wants answered most—can her parents force her to have the cochlear implant surgery even if she doesn’t want it? I’ll never forget the moment my fingers typed that line. It was like, holy smokes, that’s what the book is about. I was locked in.
So back to your question. The topic of writing a hearing loss story came from a conversation with a publishing-friend, but the story itself took on a life of its own. I’d love for that to happen again someday. It was quite powerful.
Your entire book is powerful, too. And so needed. Thank you for writing it! Here’s a trailer so readers can get to know Rayne.
What do you and the main character, Rayne, have in common…and how is she different from you?
Rayne and I both have parents who love us very much. My parents, however, gifted me the privilege of having a say in whether I wore hearing aids or not. I’ll always be grateful for that because I wasn’t ready to accept my loss at age sixteen. But it’s fair to note that Rayne’s hearing loss is much more sudden and much more progressive than mine was. Still, I wish her parents had taken a step back and given them all time to deal.
We’re also different in that Rayne learns to love and accept herself more quickly than I did. She actually taught me a lot as she came to life on the page. She’s strong, fierce, and utterly determined to be heard. I’m a lot like that now, but I certainly wasn’t at her age.
And yet, both Rayne and I struggled physically and mentally when we were initially diagnosed. We both tried to hide our disabilities. We both tried to overcompensate because we had something to prove. We both felt stuck in between a hearing world and a deaf one.
Mostly, I’d like to think we both preserved and came out stronger. Neither of us feels broken anymore.
I’m tearing up reading this. I have 75% hearing loss and totally relate to the broken feeling Rayne has. Thank you so much for sharing such a heartfelt story. What would you like to say to anyone who feels broken?
Do you mean broken as it pertains to hearing loss only? If so, I have to say my favorite part of the book is when Mr. Lazar tells Rayne and her parents that it’s okay to take a step back. To take time to grieve Rayne’s hearing loss. Because it is a loss. And with grief, the thing is, there is no time frame for it. So give yourself permission to deal how you need to deal. And while you’re doing that, find your people. Find the ones who support you, who don’t forget about your disability, who make small efforts to help you however you need. They are out there. I’ve found online support groups to be awesome, too. People there share daily wins, but we also use it as a place to vent. It’s a safe space where you know you’re not alone, and that you’re completely okay just as you are. Sometimes we all need that reminder—disability or not.
Yes! We all need to know that we’re not alone, and we’re okay as we are. Thanks for the reminder.
What is the universal truth in Hear Me, that makes it so relatable?
This goes well with your above question, actually. I think there are two universal truths in Hear Me, so even if someone doesn’t know what it’s like to have hearing loss, I hope they’ll still connect to Rayne’s story on some level.
First, Rayne wants to feel heard. It seems so simple, but she feels like her voice, her feelings, her wishes don’t matter. She has no say in one of the biggest decisions of her life. I’m guessing most everyone at some point has felt unheard, so I think they’ll relate to Rayne’s utter frustration.
But also, Rayne wants to feel like she’s okay just as she is. This goes along with your question about brokenness above, but it might not necessarily be such a big dramatic feeling for everyone. Still, I think we all have some insecurities that keep us from feeling whole. Maybe someone doesn’t feel smart enough, or pretty enough, or popular enough, or liked at all. Maybe they struggle with mental health, or with sports, or making friends. No matter how big or small, it can lead to one feeling broken—or not enough—in some way. So they’ll identify with Rayne on that. Overcoming that feeling is her biggest arc in the story, and all that angst and worry is right there on the page.
I put a lot of time into getting that emotion on the page authentically so that all readers could connect and feel for Rayne—knowing full well they might feel it within their own lives, too.
What surprised you while writing and revising Hear Me?
I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but the ending took me by complete surprise. I was 100% sure how the book would wrap up as soon as I wrote chapter 1, but something happened along the way that changed it entirely. I’m so glad for that and how it came to be because I think the ending is powerful. Sorry to be so vague. 🙂
Everyone can read your amazing book to find out what surprised you. 😊
I love how you use *** for missed words. At first, I found myself reading those parts slower, but then realized most of the methods I use to fill in words I miss hearing help fill in the blanks in your book. It might not be exactly what was said, but I’m pretty sure I catch the gist of it. It truly gives people a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who is hard of hearing or deaf. What tips do you use while trying to hear people that can help readers fill in those blanks? Can teachers modify this into a writing exercise with their students?
On the page, readers will have an overall sense of the conversation, so that alone will help them figure out the general idea of what’s being said—even if they don’t know the actual words that are missing. This is true even as the conversations change in single scenes, but that’s not the case for me, at all, in real life. It’s incredibly frustrating when people switch topics. I have to work even harder to figure out what’s being talked about all over again. As you well know, this makes group settings uncomfortable and exhausting. But I don’t think the reader will have nearly as much trouble while reading this.
Mindy, I think your activity suggestion is fantastic! I’d love for teachers to have students take a page from the book and try to fill in the missing words. It would be so interesting to compare the assignments. Brilliant!
Ooh, I love this, Kerry. I hope some teachers will share the results!
Do you have suggestions for people who meet someone who is hard of hearing or deaf? What can they do to communicate with them better?
I want to note that I can’t speak for everyone when it comes to these answers. There is no one way to handle deafness. No right or wrong way to handle hearing loss. Some people are way more comfortable with their situation than others. But here are some general good practices to follow that I think will work for many. Always start by getting the attention of the person you want to speak to—so they’re aware and can pay attention. Don’t yell. Goodness, this is so offensive. For many of us, volume isn’t the issue. It’s clarity. Just because someone is hard of hearing or deaf doesn’t mean they’re dumb. They just need a little extra help. Face the person you’re talking to so they can read your lips. If you’re in a loud environment, know that this is exponentially more difficult, so be patient. Try not to forget about the person’s disability. It’s not one that is seen, yet it can be uncomfortable for some of us to have to constantly remind others of our need. These things really make me feel included and can sometimes be the difference for me continuing to socialize or go home, so I hope they are good tips for others with hearing loss or deafness, too.
Those are fantastic tips! They help me a lot, too.
What are you working on now?
I have another book, Make a Little Wave, coming out in 2024. It’s about a girl who’s trying to change shark fishing laws in Florida. And because the world still needs many more stories with disability representation, that character wears cochlear implants. Right now, I’m doing edits for that and a revision of a nonfiction picture book. I can’t talk about that one yet, but I hope to have good news on it very soon.
Also, I work as a high school media specialist. These days, that role feels extra charged politically, so it keeps me very busy.
Thanks so much for having me here, Mindy. I’m glad you loved Rayne’s story!
You’re welcome, Kerry. Thanks so much for joining us again. And wahoooo! I’m happy dancing about your upcoming MG. It sounds amazing! I hope you get an offer on your nonfiction picture book soon.
Kerry generously has TWO giveaways. Enter one or both of them on the Rafflecopters below. Winners will be shouted out on this post and e-mailed on October 14.
One lucky winner will receive a copy of Hear Me.
The winner is…
A year after her hearing loss diagnosis, twelve-year-old Rayne’s doing her best to live a “normal” life and act like nothing’s changed. But her hearing keeps failing her. Even with hearing aids, she has trouble following conversations and hanging out with her friends the way she used to. Her grades are slipping, surfing is a bust, and she can’t understand the lyrics to her favorite singer’s new songs. Rayne’s parents are pushing for her to get cochlear implants, which could restore her hearing—though she would hear sounds differently.
Rayne isn’t convinced the surgery for CIs is worth the risk and challenges. In fact, she’s terrified of it. She begs her parents to consider other options, but they’re not budging.
With the surgery looming, Rayne sets off on a search for alternatives. Along the way, she discovers that “normal” can have many meanings—and that even though her ears may be broken, she is not.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Enter below to win a critique of up to 10 pages of your novel…(or one PB).
The winner is:
Jaymie Patricia Heilman
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thanks for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files! Good luck with the awesome giveaways. 🙂