Australian author Viskic’s Resurrection Bay (Pushkin Vertigo, Apr.) marks the debut of deaf detective Caleb Zelic.
Why make Caleb deaf?
I’m drawn to writing crime fiction because it’s a compelling way to explore human motivations. Caleb’s deafness magnifies that process. He’s far more observant than I would have made a hearing character. He doesn’t just lip-read—he interprets people’s expressions and body language. Their personalities are also revealed in the way they react to his deafness. Some are accepting, others are patronizing, aggressive, or uncomfortable.
Is there a model for Caleb?
Caleb was partly inspired by a deaf girl I went to school with when I was 10. But the seeds of his character also came from my paternal grandparents, who were Croatian immigrants. They couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Croatian, so communication was almost impossible. That difficulty, and their social isolation, had a profound impact on me and has driven a lot of my writing.
As a classical musician, how did you approach Caleb’s mind-set?
I thought I’d struggle to understand someone who lived without sound, but I soon realized that the key to Caleb’s world isn’t silence, it’s communication. Music is about communication, too. When you perform, you’re striving to connect with an audience and make them feel something. Having said that, I did have to override my natural tendency to focus on sound, so I spent a lot of time walking around with earplugs in my ears. I did my shopping, caught buses, and went to cafes. I’m a terrible lip reader, so I ended up having some very strange conversations, but it definitely helped reset my thinking.
What has been the response of the deaf community?
Caleb is Caleb, not a representative of the deaf communities, but I was nervous about getting things wrong. Thankfully, people have embraced his character, and I’ve been overwhelmed by their support. I love getting messages from readers, but it’s a special thrill when someone who’s deaf tells me that I’ve got it right.
Why did you decide to make Caleb’s wife, Kat, an indigenous Australian?
My writing reflects the world around me, and an important part of that world are my own Koori relations. Kat’s indigenous background also acts as a balance to Caleb’s deafness. Deaf and indigenous people have similarities, having traditionally been treated as second-class citizens and denied the right to their own language and culture. Kat and Caleb are at times outsiders in their own country, and they both deal with this in very different ways.