Thursday, November 5, 2015

Interview and Giveaway with Beth Vrabel, Author of A Blind Guide to Stinkville

I’d like to welcome Beth Vrabel to Shelf Full of Books today. Beth is the author of A Blind Guide to Stinkville which was the focus of my review on Oct. 29. Click here to read that review. Today Beth has come to tell us more about her book and her experience with visual impairment.

Welcome Beth! I’m so excited to have you visit with us on Shelf Full of Books.

Please tell us a little bit about your book.
A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE tells the story of 12-year-old Alice, who moves from Seattle, the only city she’s ever known, to a speck-sized town in South Carolina. Life in Sinkville stinks—and not just because of the putrid smoke coming from the town’s paper mill. In her hometown, everyone already knew that Alice has albinism and the blindness that often goes with it. But here in Stinkville, being blind is news. For the first time in her life, it makes her feel different—disabled, even. And Mom is too depressed to get out of bed, Alice’s brother is too bitter to help, and Dad too busy at his new job. Alice realizes she has to advocate for herself. So with her fat, farting dog Tooter and her white cane at her side, that’s just what Alice does. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, others seem to truly see her for the first time.

Why do you think your readers are going to enjoy your book?
I loved creating the characters in A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE, and I hope that joy comes through on the pages. For me, this story is so much more than the tale of a blind girl. In fact, I shuddered a little stringing the words together in that way. This is a story of a lonely girl who finds incredible bravery. And she happens to be blind.

I understand your daughter has albinism. Did you base Alice’s character on your daughter? How does Alice’s condition differ from your daughter’s?
I’m so glad you asked this because it’s certainly something I want to make clear. My daughter was born with a very mild form of ocular albinism, which means her eyes have a low level of pigmentation. Like anyone with albinism, she is visually impaired, but my daughter is very mildly so. In fact, most people who meet her don’t know she sees differently than them until she explains it.

Alice, on the other hand, has a severe form of albinism in both her eyes and her skin. She’s the opposite side of the spectrum than my daughter. And in so many other ways, Alice is totally different, especially personality-wise. My daughter was born with the determination and empathy that Alice fights to earn.

In the US you have more Schools for the Blind than we do in Canada. Teachers for children with visual impairment like me work with students in their home schools on an itinerant basis instead of parents sending their children to Schools for the Blind. Did you look into a School for the Blind for your daughter?
Because my daughter’s acuity falls in the low vision rather than blind range, we never did look into schools for the blind for her. That being said, she does benefit from the expertise of a vision itinerant, who visits her school monthly to provide input on how to best accommodate her condition. I was thrilled to hear your background in this, Kathryn! What an incredible service! We don’t always know what’s going to help our daughter, not being visually impaired ourselves. It makes a huge difference to know there are experts who can point out what we can do to even the playing field as much as possible.

What does your daughter think about you writing a book about a girl with her eye condition as the main character?
As I mentioned earlier, the eye condition is not the quite same, but my daughter is excited and hopeful that Alice’s story will make more people aware of albinism. Too often characters with albinism are portrayed as creepy, cruel or mystical. People have implied that my daughter must have exceptional hearing or intuition. Nope. She’s just a girl who happens to have to get a little closer to see and pack a lot of sunscreen.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE centers on the idea that everyone faces challenges. Some people, like Alice, are born with them. Others encounter them. But everyone must face them. To share this idea, I created a town full of characters, with challenges ranging from ageism to racism, depression to dyslexia. My challenge was bringing these storylines together fluidly and fully. I’m pretty proud of the result.  

Will there be a sequel to A Blind Guide to Stinkville?
Thank you so much for asking that! I wish you could see the giant grin on my face just thinking of A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL, which releases next October. While Alice is in the story, it centers on a character introduced toward the end of STINKVILLE. Ryder, who lost an eye due to retinoblastoma, attends a school for the blind in STINKVILLE. In A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL, he moves in with his stuck-in-the-‘70s grandpa so he can go to eighth-grade in a “normal” school. Ryder’s sure he’ll be accepted so long as he can be first to make all the one-eyed jokes. Instead, he causes his bio teacher to faint, infuriates the town hero, falls for the tough girl next door, and is attacked by a cat named the General all on his first day. Ryder quickly discovers there is no such thing as normal. And the only thing worse than explaining a joke is being the punch line.

A Blind Guide to Stinkville
By Beth Vrabel
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Published: October 13, 2015

Amazon Synopsis:

Before Stinkville, Alice didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville.

For the first time in her life, Alice feels different—like she’s at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around. In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering—she can’t even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.

This is a stirring small-town story that explores many different issues—albinism, blindness, depression, dyslexia, growing old, and more—with a light touch and lots of heart. Beth Vrabel’s characters are complicated and messy, but they come together in a story about the strength of community and friendship.

Book Links

About the Author:

Beth Vrabel grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. She won a short-story contest in fourth grade and promptly decided writing was what she was going to do with her life. Although her other plans--becoming a Yellowstone National Park ranger, and a professional roller skater--didn't come to fruition, she stuck with the writing. Beth's backround is journalism and was editor of two regional magazines and a lifestyle columnist. Beth now writes full time.
Her books include PACK OF DORKS and A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE (releasing October by Sky Pony Press). Look for CAMP DORK in March 2016!
Author Links
Website  *  Twitter  *  Goodreads  *  Blog  *  Facebook

An audio copy of A Blind Guide to Stinkville  will be given to one lucky winner who leaves a comment or question for Beth. The winner will be drawn randomly from all commenters. Contest ends Nov. 14, 2015.


  1. I just read Pack of Dorks and LOVE Beth's writing, so I can't wait to read this one. I work with adults with disabilities and always love learning about disabilities - especially when they are represented in fiction for the larger population to gain awareness. I went to the American Printing House for the Blind (for fun!), and that was my first hands-on experience with Braille, seeing eye dogs, canes, and more, so I really want to read Beth's book!

    - Allison

    1. I found her book to be a pretty accurate portrayal of a person with Albinism. Be sure to read her interview on my Nov. 5th post. There's a giveaway too.