Heather Gudenkauf’s Not a Sound kicks off with Amelia Winn, a deaf former ER nurse, and her service dog Stitch stumbling across the corpse of Gwen Locke in the woods. The police warn Amelia to stay out of the investigation, but she can’t help but try to find out what happened to Gwen, who had once been a good friend to Amelia. Here, Gudenkauf shares how her own hearing impairment shaped the heroine of her latest novel.
When I was four, I wistfully watched my five older siblings pack up their book bags and run out the back door each morning to rush off to school. I could not wait to follow in their footsteps and walk the four blocks to our neighborhood elementary school. I wanted to be able to decipher the strange markings found in the books they brought home from the library, wanted to be able to transfer these hieroglyphics onto crisp, white paper. I knew, even at that young age, how powerful this could be.
Finally, my first day of school day came. Freshly sharpened pencils, crayons, wide-lined paper, a lunch box free of dents and dings, safety scissors, and paste all tucked carefully into my book bag along with the brightly woven rug to be pulled from my cubby each day and unfurled for nap time. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that school wasn’t quite what I envisioned, what I hoped it would be.
I was one of “those” kids. The one who was always three or four steps behind the rest of the class. The one who continually asked my neighbor what we were supposed to be doing. The one who would look up from my worksheet to find everyone else lined up for gym class and halfway down the hall. I came home from school exhausted, disheartened. School was hard work and I was no closer to figuring out what was written in the beautifully illustrated books that I loved to look through. No closer to understanding the loops and curlicues I painstakingly copied from the books onto scraps of paper.
Then one day a mobile audiology testing van pulled up in front to the school. The audiologist instructed me to raise my hand each time I heard a beep and then placed the headphones over my ears. I heard only half the beeps. I was quickly diagnosed with a profound unilateral hearing loss—which simply means I am completely deaf in my left ear. After this revelation, everything started to make a lot more sense.
With my kind of hearing loss, I can hear but when placed in situations where there is a lot of background noise like busy classrooms, restaurants, and other crowded areas, I struggle. I equate it with being able to hear every third or fourth word, which can, and still does at times, result in plenty of missed information, misunderstanding, and miscommunication.
Eventually, I was fitted for hearing aids and, with some accommodations provided by my teachers, suddenly the world of reading and writing flew open wide for me. My parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, and friends never viewed my hearing loss as a deficit. It was just part of who I am, part of what made me into the person I’ve become.
Over the years, as a teacher, I’ve been lucky enough to meet children, each unique and special in their own way. Not surprisingly, I found that no matter their differences, people have a lot more in common than not. Ultimately, we are all searching for the same thing: our place in the world. I knew that in my most recent novel, Not a Sound, I wanted to feature a heroine who is smart, strong, and fiercely independent, who happens to be deaf. Amelia Winn, with her loyal sidekick, a service dog named Stitch, uses everything that makes her special and unique to protect those whom she loves and ultimately to help her regain her place in the world.
Heather Gudenkauf is an Edgar Award nominated, New York Times, and USA Today bestselling author. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband and children. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and running.