Local writer’s new book spotlighted at Author Talk | News

Amelia Loken’s passion for storytelling is layered and diverse. The central Arkansas author, featured Tuesday night at the Faulkner County Library’s Author Talk series, writes stories that intersect fantasy, science fiction and romance and draws on her personal experience, the stories that inspired her as she grew up and the world and communities around her .

Her talk Tuesday night to an audience of teenage and adult patrons centered on her recently released the book “Unravel,” reflected the layers that make up her stories. In an hour-long discussion, Loken talked about her book, the writing process, embroidery, American Sign Language and Deaf culture.

“Unravel,” Loken said, encompasses all these areas. The book, published by Sword and Silk Book, a small publishing company that specializes in celebrating women, is about a deaf princess who doubles as a witch and goes on a journey of growth in kingdoms opposed to magic. The story, which includes elements of romance, action, adventure and fantasy, is vast and detailed, much like the journey it took to publication earlier this year.

Loken planted the seed that sprouted “Unravel” long before she started writing it in 2015. The passion for writing she has today was buoyed by an early love for reading and her “sanctuary,” the library.

“The library was a place for us to stretch out [and] read lots of good books, ”Loken said in her talk. “[It was a place] to be able to enjoy going on adventures. ”

Despite moving a lot as a child, Loken said libraries, which were her mom’s career and would later become her sister’s, remained a constant in her life.

Her writing journey started in a dark place, Loken said. She started writing after she experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her fifth son and started writing stories like the ones she liked to read in the Young Adult sections of bookstores and libraries.

At the same time her journey as a writer began, Loken started another journey into American Sign Language. Taking a class in her community, Loken began to learn more sign language and about the Deaf community and culture.

“Writing and sign language were bridges for me to get out of this dark place I [was in]”Loken said.

Eventually, Loken became a sign language interpreter after graduating from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2016. Her education in college would later help shape “Unravel,” which she started writing in 2015.

After spending several months writing her book, Loken took 10 pages of an early draft of her story to a literary conference where she sat with a literary agent. The agent, Loken said, told her she had done “almost everything wrong.”

“This is not a historical fiction you’ve written,” Loken said the agent told her. “This is a fantasy with no magic.”

At the urging of the agent, Loken began to create a source of magic that matched the fantasy world her early drafts created. Looking to create an original take on magic, Loken said she chose to create a system of magic that centered on women.

“I had seen a lot of magic in a lot of books that I had to do with [the idea that] ‘might is right,’ ”Loken said. “I wanted something a little more subtle, secretive and ordinary.”

The system she came up with focused on three tenants – medicinal and kitchen herb craft, charm craft and her favorite, embroidery, a type of magic she called “skeincraft.”

“Fabric and thread are around you all the time,” Loken said, adding that the subtleties of embroidery made for a new and interesting take on magic.

Just as important as magic, “Unravel’s” use of sign language, which Loken calls “hand language” in the book, is a major plot point. Using the knowledge she learned in completing her interpreting degree, Loken made her main character, Marguerite, deaf, and at least at the beginning of the book, unaware that hand language was something other people knew.

That experience Marguerite has at the beginning of the book, in which she relies on lip-reading and magical hearing aids given to her by a fellow witch, is much like the real-life history of how the Deaf community and sign language was treated for much of the last 140 years.

Oralism, a method of teaching deaf people to communicate through lip-reading and speech, Loken said, was the norm for much of that time since a conference in Milan, Italy, in 1880. Making oralism the norm, and even outright banning sign language in deaf schools across America and the world, did incredible damage to Deaf communities worldwide, Loken said.

Loken said incorporating sign language and making her main character deaf in “Unravel” allowed her to further explore the knowledge she gained at UALR.

“As I brought in the sign language and deaf component in my book, I was able to explore [that knowledge] a little bit, ”Loken said, adding that Sign language, the Deaf experience and culture“ is part of the very fabric of the story. ”

That knowledge proved even more helpful to her later when Loken learned she was hard-of-hearing. She found out as she neared finishing her interpreting degree, and despite being able to work a few years as a professional interpreter, Loken eventually had to make the difficult decision to stop interpreting professionally.

“Ethically, when I retook my licensing exam and couldn’t do the quality of work I wanted [and] needed to do for my consumer, I knew I needed to step down, ”Loken said.

In addition to some volunteer interpreting she provides for free occasionally, Loken, who has to lip-read frequently as she does not have hearing aids, now works for the state of Arkansas with individuals who have disabilities. In 2020, she faced a difficult decision when she decided to go back to school for her master’s degree and considered stopping writing. “Unravel,” which had been declined by many agents and publishing companies, had not yet received its big break. A day before she started classes, however, Loken got an email from Sword and Silk, who offered to publish her book.

Two years and a pandemic later, Loken’s book is now available to readers. Loken said readers have told her “Unravel” immersed them in Loken’s fantasy world.

“After struggling for so long to get this book to a place where it could be in a reader’s hands, [getting readers’ positive feedback] feels amazing to me, ”Loken said. “That’s a goal. I wasn’t sure I would ever reach a few years ago.”

Part of immersing readers in the world of “Unravel” means they get to experience Marguerite’s first-person account of the story, including her perspective as a deaf person.

“If books are written well and you’re in the right headspace for it and the story connects with you, it’s a virtual reality experience,” Loken said.

That virtual reality experience Loken hopes “Unravel” creates might let readers learn something about the Deaf community, culture and experience too.

“If someone can read and immerse themselves in my character Marguerite and experience [her story]”Maybe that’s something they’ll remember moving forward when they meet someone that doesn’t communicate in a way that’s natural to them,” Loken said.

The journey of completing “Unravel” and the success she feels after her years of work has inspired Loken to write more. Referencing some of the books she’s working on, Loken likened the experienced to a thrill ride.

“I feel like I’m making a rollercoaster ride with words,” Loken said. “I can’t wait until it’s built and people can go on the ride.”


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