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Steamboat Magazine

Ski. Ride. Read.

03/12/2024 01:10PM ● By Jennie Lay
(Photo: Author Sara Nović with her book “True Biz” which was published in 2022. Courtesy Sara Nović.)

Three outstanding books to carry you through winter’s off-piste hours.


One Book Steamboat takes a novel approach to talking about inclusion.
A conversation with Sara Nović, author of True Biz

This year’s One Book Steamboat community read steps into a story about deafness and emerges with a larger manifesto about community, belonging and the intricacies of effective communication. In True Biz, Alex Award-winning author Sara Nović immerses readers in the diverse lived experiences of students at River Valley School for the Deaf. Together, kids share eye-rolling parent conflict, crushes, insecurities, and the drudgery of homework. What’s common is their teen angst; what stands apart are their individual stories amplified by complexities with Deaf culture.

Each character in True Biz is living out some manifestation of that cultural tension. They experience stratified struggles that bond and divide, adding family drama and a thread of thriller to the story. Ultimately the novel enlightens non-deaf readers with interesting perspective about language, the nuances of dialect, and the multi-faceted points of pride and prejudice within the Deaf community.

We talked with Nović about her personal backstory and inspiration for True Biz, including some of the more creative and inclusive ways she used to convey her story. 

Jennie Lay: Will you share your background and personal journey related to your hearing, learning ASL and immersing in the Deaf community? 
Sara Nović: I started losing my hearing in middle school. At that time, I didn’t know another deaf person or anything about sign language, so I believed, as I had learned from nondisabled people around me, that there was something wrong with me, and tried to hide it as best I could for a long time. As a teenager I finally started meeting other deaf people and learned ASL, which was lifesaving both from a social perspective and an educational one; I would not have survived college or graduate school without ASL and interpreters. People often think being a writer is about one’s command over written language, and of course that’s true to an extent, but pragmatically and emotionally I would have neither the skills nor the confidence to be a writer without ASL, too.

JL: Between your book, your blog and your social, you pour a lot of helpful insight about Deaf life and culture to the world. Do you consider yourself an activist? 
SN: I would, though it’s not necessarily something I set out or planned to do. For disabled people, so much of our daily lives is trying to prove to nondisabled people that we are their equals, and that we “deserve” accommodations to be in the room with them. It’s frustrating and gross, and it takes up a lot of time, but I think for me, I felt that if I already had to spend so much of my life advocating for the basics for myself, why not do it for all of us?
I want people, particularly parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing kids, and educators to have access to all the information and resources they need about language deprivation before making choices for their kids. 100% of language deprivation cases of deaf kids are preventable through the use of a signed language like ASL, and everyone should know that before risking a child’s brain development over what boils down to the aesthetics of normalcy.

JL: Your book has been an eye-opening introduction to Deaf culture for hearing readers – details that would be remedial for deaf readers. What were the different kinds of responses you got from Deaf versus hearing readers?
SN: This was one of the biggest challenges I encountered in writing True Biz—I knew I was addressing two different audiences with very different knowledge levels about the subject. At first, I resisted “teaching” too much in the book, because I just wanted to write a story like everybody else. But as time went on, it was clear that hearing readers wouldn’t be able to truly connect with the characters’ stories without understanding the context of our history and language, so I started adding in those nonfiction sections of (fake) Wikipedia, February’s lesson plans, and the sign language lessons. 
While those are more geared toward hearing readers, the response from the Deaf community has been really lovely, and has been more about rooting for certain characters and seeing themselves on the page. It’s happening more and more today, but it’s still rare for us to be represented in the media at all, and most of the time deaf characters dreamed up by hearing writers are just performing hearing ideas about deafness. So, I think hearing people learn from this book, and deaf people identify with it.

JL: I know there is audio and digital for your book, but I keep telling people they need the physical book for this story. It is visually beautiful with the ASL illustrations and a creative use of indentation and space to translate spoken and visual languages on the page. Is this formatting you invented, or was there already a standard?
SN: This was the other biggest challenge! I wrestled with a lot of bad experiments while designing the system for signed dialogue that ended up in this book. Often if people want to write ASL down, they’ll use a method of transliteration called “ASL gloss,” but I knew this would look like “broken English” to the hearing reader, whereas what I wanted to do was show that for deaf people, ASL isn’t broken; it’s actually much clearer than English. I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes ASL special. One of my favorite things about it is how we can use space around and in us to embody different characters in a story, so that’s what I tried to copy while creating the written dialogue system—everyone speaks from their own place on the page. 
I knew, too, that this wasn’t enough to fully convey the three-dimensionality of ASL, so commissioning deaf artist Brittany Castle to illustrate was an important part of showing another facet of the language. It was fun to work with Brittany, too, because we could collaborate without barriers, and whenever I sent her lists of signs, like the one of ASL slang, she knew right away what was needed. I still don’t think we can totally do ASL justice in 2-D, but I hope I made some inroads. 

JL: Throughout this book you convey how signing and speaking are two completely different languages. Does this mean you’re working in a constant state of translation? Did you imagine your story in ASL and translate to English, or vice versa? 
SN: Most of the time I was thinking about the English sentences, but for the dialogue, I often thought in ASL, and then wrote (and rewrote) different translations to see which worked best. 
For the audiobook, I went into a sound booth and signed the dialogue—this is the sound you hear underlaid beneath the narration in the signed dialogue portions—so during that process I was reading the English book and translating back to ASL, which was both a fun experience and a commentary on the infinite possibilities of translation.

JL: In an attempt to promote action beyond the education (and entertainment!) embedded in your story, what kinds of accommodations should hearing people make right now to make things easier for Deaf people in our communities? 
SN: There’s a saying in the disabled community that goes, “accessibility isn’t an extra step—it’s a step you missed.” I think nondisabled people shouldering some of the work of advocating for accessibility, and taking a moment to think, “how can we make this accessible?” when they start to plan an event, rather than, “how can I retroactively heap on some clunky accommodations after someone has begged me or complained?” would be a great starting place. And of course, listening to deaf people, and valuing our lived experiences over those who try to speak for us. Often educators, doctors, parents of, or interpreters are held up as the voices who speak for the deaf community, and while we work together and appreciate many of those folks, we can speak for ourselves.

JL: Parenting is complicated, whether your child is deaf or not. After all, teen angst is teen angst. What kind of feedback have you gotten from parents, both hearing and deaf.
SN: I’ve gotten a lot of thoughtful notes from hearing parents of deaf kids who said that the book helped them better understand their child’s world. I’ve gotten some comments from hearing parents who said they refuse to read the book because they fear it will hurt them too much (which I’d encourage them to interrogate!) And a lot of hearing parents and readers who are just identifying with the characters on a very human level—all the parents in this book are trying their best, even though their best falls short sometimes, and I think everyone can identify with that. 
I’ve also heard from some people who are in the trenches with their own family members as February is caring for her elderly mom and were grateful to find camaraderie or commiseration there. I don’t think aging and elder care shows up much in fiction either since it’s unglamorous and painful work, so I’m glad those people have seen themselves in the book, too.

JL: Your book has been a huge award-winning bestseller. I suspect that means you’ve touched a lot of virgin territory in the hearing population. What is your hope for readers of True Biz? 
SN: My hope is that this book helps them recognize the humanity of deaf and disabled people. That they will see us as equals. That they will learn to listen to us. That they will think about the value of human diversity beyond their own hierarchies and judgements of what makes life worthwhile.

JL: I saw your IG post that you just finished writing your next project. Will you tell us about it? 
SN: This one’s nonfiction, a combination of memoir and researched history that explores what it means to be different from our parents. It’s written as a letter to my two sons: one a hearing CODA and my biological son, and one hard-of-hearing and adopted from Thailand, who spent his first four years in an orphanage with limited language access. It’s with my editor right now, so we’ll see how much of this draft holds!

Learn about Steamboat’s community read and Sara Novic’s free livestream event with Bud Werner Library on Wednesday, March 13 at


Novel & Nonfiction
Two new narratives unravel realities in the West, bringing honest insight to the landscape and humans who inhabit America “beyond the hundredth meridian.”

Playing with (Wild)Fire
by Laura Pritchett

Multi-faceted and multi-award-winning Colorado author Laura Pritchett has written novels, nonfiction books, anthologies, newspaper columns and even a play. And so, it is not surprising that her next act is an eclectic and wholly engrossing compilation that she calls “experimental literature.” Told through prose, poetry, maps, graffiti, a glossary, lists, an obituary, a snarky grant application and an astrological reading (to mention just a few of her storytelling devices), Playing with (Wild)Fire is an intricately woven genius of plot and characters coexisting on a familiar Rocky Mountain landscape as a megafire burns through the nature and nerves of a rural community. 

The selfish inattention of a tourist’s campfire sparks the mountain’s long, agonizing blaze, but the tension that burns in the human heart of this novel is rooted in climate anxiety and neighborly perceptions. Layered among Pritchett’s insightful interactions are episodes of kindness and intolerance, grief and celebration, connection and loneliness, hope and despair, each helping accomplish precisely what a professor in the novel instructs her students to do: “tell the story truer than true.” 

This gripping tale is revealed artfully and playfully, and the honesty in Pritchett’s characters is both revelatory and highly relatable – particularly for anyone who resides on a mountain in the West. 

Laura Pritchett is a featured author at Steamboat Springs’ Literary Sojourn festival of authors on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Learn more at


True West: Myth and Mending on the Far Side of America by Betsy Gaines Quammen

Montana-based historian and author Betsy Gaines Quammen gives readers solid reasons to move past the Wild West tropes and peer deeper into a breadth of identities spawned by intense 21st century migration onto the rural spine of the Rockies. Quammen’s thoughtful and provocative new nonfiction book, True West, plunges into America’s excruciating divide with a distinctly Western focus on everything. She goes out in the mountains, grasslands and public lands to partake in uneasy conversations across the fence. Her observations are keen and open-hearted, and her sense of humor doesn’t waver.

Quammen is undeterred by discomfort, whether she’s circling someone’s conspiracy-fueled extremism or brutal truths about the structural integrity of resort community fairy tales. She doesn’t shy away from wolves, water, science, government-managed lands, guns, conspiracy theories or alt-right extremists. For locals in the Yampa Valley who continue to publicly consider the Yellowstone Club model is a great idea for Stagecoach, I recommend going straight to Chapter 7, “Donkeys to Jackasses,” for some history and lived perspective. 

In the end, Quammen demonstrates how we must hash out a truth together and mend misconceptions, so fanatics don’t rule the conversation: “I talked with a conservative man in a very rural corner of the West who told me that if he had never met me, he’d have been scared of me. Fear comes from the unknown. It’s time to get to know our neighbors,” she writes. “Politicians who ask Americans to hate one another based on our politics do not have our best interests at heart.”

Betsy Gaines Quammen visits Steamboat Springs for a talk about True West on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at Bud Werner Library.