Learning from Darkness: Robert P. Bennett

Researching a Protagonist with Disabilities
My new nephew, Seth Morris, is only five months old and I’m learning quite a bit from him already. For example, I already knew that we live in a very visual world, but what I didn’t realize was that it is through vision that we first interact with the world. My nephew can’t speak yet, of course. In fact he can’t do much of anything except lay there and be cute. But he is learning, every day in fact. He is learning to notice the things and people around him. He is learning to pay attention and to focus his attention, and I am learning to do this more as I watch his progress.
Seven years ago, when I decided to create a blind protagonist for my mystery novels, I didn’t really know much about the world blind people live in. I’d been writing articles about disability issues for many years prior but most of those seemed to be focused more on mobility impairments than anything else.  However, since I’ve always worked by the adage ‘write what you can find out about’ I decided to learn about blindness.
I wrote an article about a device that used GPS and virtual reality to help blind people navigate their world, and I incorporated the technology into my stories. Back in 1983, when I was in social work school, I met a blind man who was able to tell how far stores and things were from his home just from the number of steps he took to get there. I met another who, through describing his own experiences, taught me about the prejudices and obstacles blind people face in our visual society.
I made lots of calls and sent out many emails trying to solicit help in my quest for knowledge. I took a course in sign language, even though it is a visual communication technique, just so I could learn about how different people communicate.
That led me to researching the history behind the creation of the Braille language, which I then incorporated into my fiction work. I learned about different ways to compete in sports too.
For instance, I learned that Judo was the perfect martial art for a blind person because the combatants are virtually always touching, which eliminates the need to hunt for your opponent. I spoke to the sports director of a rehab facility and learned about Beep baseball, which is like regular baseball but adds sound to the ball and pylons with sound emitters to the bases. My protagonist now participates in both of these sports.
My protagonist needed to be able to take care of his daily needs, so I had to learn how he could do that. One of the more interesting things I discovered was about the treatment of money. Blind or sighted we all need to learn to use money. In many countries paper bills of varying denominations are in different sizes while U.S currency is all uniformly sized. So, blind people have to learn how to fold there bills in order to recognize each by touch.
That may change. In 2009 the Treasury Department was sued by The American Council for the Blind resulting in an order to begin printing currency which blind people can recognize by touch alone.
Writers need to learn a lot in order to create believable characters. They need to know how their characters move and think. They need to know how the character will interact with the world that is created for them. That all requires research and the willingness to learn and adapt one’s worldview. By watching my nephew I have become even more aware of what I need to do in order to make my own protagonist grow as a ‘real’ person.
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Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle.  His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised.  His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice.  His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns.  “It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken.”  Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs.  Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at http://www.enablingwords.com/

My Path to Writerhood: Robert P. Bennett

I’ve never believed in the concept of fiction. In my opinion a writer and his work are made of the sum of his or her life experiences. In that vein, my journey to writerhood has been a journey of meeting people and experiences head-on. Everything I am, everything I have ever been, comes from and goes into my writing.
Amazon Photo
When I was younger I wanted to be a lawyer. I’d always heard the cries of society’s disenfranchised and thought the best place to address those challenges was in a legal forum. I’ve also had my own challenges in life, as we all have. These obstacles have both informed and influenced the direction and decisions of my life.
I was born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida, a problem where the neural tube, the embryonic structure from which the brain and spinal cord form, fails to close leaving the spinal cord partially exposed. People with this condition face the possibility of suffering from several developmental difficulties including limited mobility and cognitive deficits.
Prior to 1988 my condition was not very serious. I had what some might call an awkward gait, but not much else. That all changed though when, in July of that year, I was the victim of a car crash. Since then I’ve lost the use of my legs and have a few other problems all in some way related to the original Spina Bifida (without which the accident might not have been so bad).
All of this, plus my slightly unconventional, liberal philosophies sent me on two career paths. First, after college, I tried to get into law school. So-so grades and lousy LSAT scores stopped me cold. So, still wishing to help the disenfranchised, I attended graduate school and attained a Master’s Degree in Social Work.
I took that and worked for two years in a group home for mentally challenged men. Then the car accident changed my path. With plenty of time on my hands recovering from the accident, I decided to pursue my lifelong desire to write. Here again I wanted my work to help those who needed help. So, for roughly the past twenty years I’ve been writing about disability issues, everything from sports to politics. I’ve written articles for both local and national publications.
One of those articles, about a real-world GPS/virtual reality device that allows blind people to navigate their world, helped launch my career as a novelist. My Blind Traveler mystery series (Blind Traveler Down a Dark River and Blind Traveler’s Blues) stars Douglas Abledan, a blind computer technologist who uses this kind of device, and his remaining senses, to uncover and solve murders.
Every writer has a reason they do what they do. Every writer has a story to tell, one that is personal to just them. Being born with a disability, and learning how to deal with both it and the ramifications of an accident, are my reasons and my focus as a writer. Through my own experiences I try to help people. In my fiction I’ve created a protagonist who finds tools to deal with his disability, in his case it is blindness. I try to show my readers the trials and obstacles that a blind man faces daily. But, I also attempt to demonstrate how full life can be no matter the challenges one faces.
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Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle.  His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised.  His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice.  His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns.  “It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken.”  Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs.  Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at http://www.enablingwords.com/