Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Steven Salmon on writing with cerebral palsy

At the Wisconsin Writer's Institute a few weeks back I had the pleasure of meeting Steven Salmon, a blog reader with Cerebral Palsy who has published three books, an impressive output not least of which because he writes using morse code.

He agreed to an interview and here are the responses:

NB: What made you decide to start writing?

SS: I became a writer to show people that a severe physically disabled person can be and are productive valuable members of society if given a chance to succeed. All of my life, I was told "you can't" by disabled advocates. When I graduated from high school with honors, the government labeled me as "unemployable." The government didn't believe that I could work and wouldn't help me go to college. For two years after I graduated from high school I stayed at home doing nothing watching TV and reading sports autobiographies. Living in isolation made me angry. Boredom ate at my heart.  My dream was to attend college. I even contemplated committing suicide. But my mother put me through school herself. I vowed to be the best college student once I enrolled in college.  My strong determination made me want to prove the government wrong. I used my anger to become a productive person: a writer and eventually an author.

NB: What's your writing process like?

SS: I use Morse code to write along with a word prediction program called CoWriter. Morse code allows me to use a mouse. I swing my head back and forth between two buddy buttons attached to a portable metal stand on my wheelchair. I spell out each word one letter at time. CoWriter predicts words that I start to spell allowing me to choose a word that I want from a number list. CoWriter automatically leaves a space to start the next word. When I enter a sentence into a word document or an email, CoWriter automatically leaves two spaces to begin a new sentence. I used to use voice recognition to write, but it didn't work for me anymore because voice recognition started using words instead of using sounds for letters that I was using. A couple of years ago, I started using Morse code to write. Morse code is more accurate than voice recognition for me. I can edit my writing now. 

NB: I was amazed to learn that you write using morse code. Does this process mean you plan your scenes ahead or do you still have room to improvise?

SS: Morse code and CoWriter are just tools giving me the ability to write fast.  When I write, I have a scene in my head.  Usually I write very detailed scenes without outlines or notes. I want a good "working" first draft.  Something that I can build on for a second draft. I want to be able to give it a friend or my literary agent who will edit it.  Then like all writers, I will rewrite the manuscript and edit it again. I write all day every day. Morse code and CoWriter allow me to write late at night. That is important I have care attendants to manage, a manuscript to rewrite for my agent, publicity to do and postings to write for my blog. I love writing at night with a baseball or a basketball game on TV.  I'm all alone writing with my black cat at my side. 

NB: Is there an advantage to thinking about every letter as you go?

SS: There is no real advantage to spelling out one letter at a time. Morse code and CoWriter are just tools allowing me to write like a paintbrush for a painter. It's up to me, the writer to make the words come to life for the reader. There is nothing like knowing that a manuscript is coming together like watching a house going up. A writer is a creator and seeing your writing come together is something to be proud about. At the end of the day the writer has satisfaction seeing the writing in their mind like a carpenter admiring a hard day of work as the sun sets. Only the writer can see it! 

NB: Who is your writing hero?

Larry Watson is my favorite author. He wrote White Crosses, Justice, Orchard and Montana 1948. He taught writing at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point when I was a student there. Larry is my mentor and helped me get my first novel going. He doesn't talk much. But I was one of the few students that he opened up to. It was a privilege to have Larry teach me. We are friends now and email each other. 

NB: Any advice for aspiring writers out there?

SS: My advice to writers is writing is hard work! Writing a day or two a week is not writing. Larry told a writing class once if you want write to get rich writing get out now. If you want to learn how to write to write stay. In my opinion a real writer needs to be passionate about their writing and believe in their writing. There are very few rewards to being a writer. You don't get paid. A writer needs people to confide to sharing the highs and the lows of writing. My college classmates are my confidants. Writers need to have confidants to lean on when nothing seems to be going right or they are pursuing a literary agent. A year ago, I was in a pursuit of an agent trying to impress her by doing several rewrites. I grew frustrated with her, but college classmates kept me focus. They gave me strength when I needed the most. But I got the agent thanks to my classmates. They are my inspiration. 

I'm living a writer's dream. But it's a lot of hard work and long hours just writing. Not many writers are willing to make that kind of sacrifice.  But if a writer wants an agent the writer has to work!  If I have a literary agent, then other writers can to by working each day.  

Not bad for "unemployable" person according to the system. 

Thanks to Steven for participating! Check out his books here.


Irene Pozoukidis said...

Thank you Steven for your inspiration & encouragement! And thanks to you too, Nathan, for posting this on your blog! Such an essential reminder to keep going! :-)

abc said...

Great interview! Thanks Nathan and Steven!

Inkling said...

Thanks for a great article. Thanks too for illustrating the value of Morse. For years, I've been trying to interest an app developer in a Morse-based method. The swiping could be replaced by visual recognition of head or other body movement.

Swipe to Type

Here’s an alternate text input technique for the iPhone and similar devices. You not only don’t have to look at the screen, with a little practice you can enter text in the dark even while bouncing around in a car, bus or subway. Since the only requirements for text input are basic hand coordination and a sense of touch, it makes the iPhone much more usable for the visually impaired and those with limited hand-eye coordination.

* It uses a well-established open source standard—International Morse Code. But instead of short and long key presses, dots are input by short swipes and dashes by long swipes.

* Speed of input doesn't matter. Unlike regular Morse, which assumes a pause in sending to be a break between letters, user input can be as slow or fast as the users wants without error. Letters are distinguished by alternating swiping right and left. A user-set delay inputs the last character, i.e. one not followed by a swipe in a different direction. Users can also set the ratio between long and short swipes.

* Swipe mode changes when the user rotates the screen.

* Because Morse is already optimized for fast input in many languages, text can be entered very fast.

Morse input would also take advantage of a touch screen’s flexibility to add features:

* Lowercase letters are made by swiping left-to-right then right-to-left.

* Uppercase letters are made by swiping down-to-up and then up-to-down.

* Other gestures can be used. Common punctuation uses diagonal swipes, i.e. upper-left to lower-right for a space, lower-left to upper-right for a period or a period plus space. Diagonal swipes with two or three fingers could have other meanings.

* Circling CCW might delete the previous character for each circle. Circling CW might enter a Return. Alternately, a short shake of the iPhone deletes the previous letter, while a longer shake deletes the previous word.

* Because text input is always a swipe that doesn't need for anything to be displayed for it to work, the entire screen is free for other uses, either display or touching without swiping. It can be used to display the text being entered, to have buttons for commands, or to show a chart for those just learning Morse. This makes maximum use of scarce screen space.

* Certain easy-to-make touches could be used to make common commands easy to do. Touching the keyboard with another finger, perhaps the thumb in the lower-left corner for right-handed people, might signify something. For instance, it might bring up a scrolling list of long, user-set text strings (i.e. a phone number or address) from which the user could select. Inside applications, it could be used for something important. Inside an email program, for instance, it could send the just-entered email. Inside a writing program, it could be used to start a new paragraph.

* In learner mode, the screen would display the Morse alphabet and text input would be on a scrolling line. Letters or words could be spoken as typed to speed up learning and accuracy.

For those willing to learn Morse, which is far easier than most people think (especially for sending), it offers a fast, virtually error-free text interface for the iPhone, one that has tactile feedback built into the design. Most important of all, it’s a text input technique that doesn’t require users to constantly look at the screen. Since the target is the entire screen, it’s impossible to miss and the touch of the screen provides the tactile feedback lacking in the on-screen keyboard.

Feel free to pass the idea along to anyone who might want to implement it.

—Mike Perry, KE7NV/4, Auburn, AL

Jaimie Teekell said...

Awesome interview.
Thank you, Steven and Nathan!

Taryn Tyler said...

Wonderful interview. I especially liked the advice about not writing for money as your sole modivation.

Maya Prasad said...

Excellent. Love your dedication, Steven. You rock! And congrats on signing with an agent!

stacy said...

This is a nice kick in the butt--and I mean that in the best possible way. Thank you, Steven and Nathan!

Chris Bailey said...

Congratulations on the results of your hard work, Steven! Thanks for bringing us the interview, Nathan.

Kentish Janner said...

The people who called you 'unemployable' need an almighty slap, Steven. How DARE they write you or anyone else like you off like that! So, so glad you didn't listen to them and proved them all wrong and then some. I know it's a massive cliche to say 'you're an inspiration,' but you really are.

And thank you, Nathan, for posting this and giving everyone the chance to 'meet' Steven.

J.L. Murphey said...

Totally inspirational piece today.I've been a published author for thirty years now. Two years ago I had a stroke and fighting my way back.

rjjohnson7 said...

As the OT that had the privelige of setting Steve up with his amazing computer system I have to applaud him on his incredible ability to memorize the codes for every keyboard key and mouse movement. He did this in about 2 weeks of being introduced to the concept. He has pure grit and determination like no one I've ever worked with. He sure has proved the nay-sayers wrong! You Go Author!

SC Author said...

Wow, this is amazing. Awesome job!

David J Delaney said...

What an amazing story. No matter what the limitations are people can take out of life whatever they want... really inspiring

P.S. Joshi said...

That was both amazing and inspiring.I also have a great deal of respect for a mother who is that determined to help her son get a college education.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Wonderful! Thanks for this amazing interview with an amazing writer!

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