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Dianna: Hello, and welcome to The Spoonie Author’s Podcast: a podcast where we explore a different disabled author’s stories each week. I am your host, Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is Forest Wells. Forest Wells is an author with a passion for all things wild canine, pro football, hockey, and e-sports. Forest has authored a short story and several poems in the 2015-2017 editions of The Wolf Warriors anthologies, in addition to another short story in the March/April 2019 issue of Canite Publishing’s collection of Dragon Stories. Forest continues to work on his future stories, including a military sci-fi and a fantasy. He currently lives in his hometown of Thermal, California. Hello, Forest.
Forest: Hello, thanks for having me!
Dianna: Thanks for joining us! I am super excited to talk to you. And I’m really excited for you to talk about your book. So tell us a little about Luna, the Lone Wolf.
Forest: Um, well it’s a young adult novel. Luna was going to be an alpha when he grew up, but before he got the change, his own brother got him banished basically over a lie.
Dianna: Rough! *laughs*
Forest: Yeah! So he went from future alpha to lone wolf, never to know the company of another wolf. But even as he gets to accept his new life, other wolves, strange two legged creatures, and one mockingbird insert themselves into his life, and put him through trials where he may return to that which he was born to be, or he may turn away from it forever (assuming he survives). The real highlight of the story though is: I tell it entirely through Luna’s perspective. I stay in the wolf mindset from beginning to end. So it’s young adult animal fiction that kind of reads like a fantasy because we see the world like a wolf would.
Dianna: Yeah. I am obsessed with wolves. Um, I actually, in a bygone era of the internet, did forum roleplays as wolf characters. And I had a lot of fun doing that. And I’ve really only ever found a handful of books from the perspectives of any animals at all really. They do tend to be wolf books. Um –
Forest: Well, there’s also Warriors and Guardians of Ga’Hoole that kind of do it. Although Ga’Hoole is a little more fantasy rather than animals.
Dianna: I have not read that, I’ll have to check that out. Fantasy is my jam, and animal perspectives are – I understand why a lot of authors don’t do it, it’s a real challenge to tackle a perspective so different from your own.
Forest: Well, when a wolf sees a pick up truck, what does he see? I had to tackle things like that. Um – with Guardians of Ga’Hoole, do the books first, not the movie. The movie tried to condense too many books into one movie. It didn’t really highlight it. Start with the books.
Dianna: Okay! Wait, is that that one about the owls?
Dianna: Oooh, I did watch that movie. That was a great like, Saturday morning movie actually.
Forest: Yeah it wasn’t a bad movie, they just tried to condense too many of the books. Like Animorphs, the series is a bunch of short books, and they tried to condense like seven books into one movie. Didn’t quite work. Not a terrible movie, and the books are much better.
Dianna: I hate when there’s stuff like that, and it’s not really clear that it’s actually based on a series of books. If I had known that, I would have bought that series of books like last year. *laughs* So thank you for filling me in. And tell me, why did you end up taking this big challenge? Why did you end up being drawn to writing a whole book in the perspective of a wolf?
Forest: Well as you said, wild canines are always my passion. Wolves, foxes, coyotes, I’m just really drawn to wild canines. So when it came time to tell the tale, wolves made it easier for me to take the places that I needed to go, and also made it easier for me to get behind it, because it was something that I’m passionate about, and I could really enjoy doing the research on “okay, what are wolves really like?” And then use that research to balance the needs of the story with real wolf behavior. The wolf perspective was easy and fun for me to get into. It’s just my passion, and hey, why not?
Dianna: What is the most interesting fact you learned when researching for this book?
Forest: The concept of the “alpha male” is wrong. It’s more like – think an extended family where you have several generations in one household. The oldest male is the leader of the family. That’s more like what a real wolf pack is like. You have the parents that sire the family, and kids down the generations staying within the family. So it’s not so much a “I’m the alpha, I’m the best, I’m the strongest, I’m the wisest”, it’s “Hi, Dad! Hi, Grandpa!”
Dianna: Yeah! I actually learned that fairly recently myself, and I thought back to all of those roleplays I did, and was like “Wow, we were really…” *laughs* We were really off base! We put in all this work to make sure that our characters, our things, felt like they were being done based on this super false study.
Forest: It’s my understanding it’s a fairly recent (only in the last 15 years) understanding that has come out. So that hasn’t gotten into the general public as much, only some are in the know. It really made me rethink how to attack the pack mindset, and has even influences the pack mindset of my next project where I have alien foxes who also live in a pack. But that’s a whole other rabbit hole. *laughs*
Dianna: Uh – so why did you end up still sticking with the alpha wolf theme for your story?
Forest: Um, it got to the point where I couldn’t effectively change how – um, what’s a good way to put it – I couldn’t effectively change it without doing a complete gut job that would damage some of the things that happened. Truly, the main parent is the one that leads a pack, but it is my understanding that once that parent dies, someone else in the pack might take over. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone within the pack will become the new parent, and start siring their own kids within the pack. But the alpha concept is…(I’m gonna insult people, aren’t I?) the alpha concept is easy to understand and process, so even though what an alpha is is not what people think of, the term still fits. Even if that’s not really what it is, the alpha is the leader of the pack, we just don’t know what that exactly means in terms of the pack. If that makes any sense.
Dianna: Yeah. The term “alpha wolf” has come to mean very specific things in our culture. There’s a lot associated with the “alpha male” that is a whole toxic mess.
Forest: In this case it’s “alpha of the pack” or “leader of the pack”
Dianna: Yeah! And I think that unfortunately we’re gonna have to really untangle that – the association of “alpha male” and “alpha wolf” for people to really understand how that works in wolf packs. .
Forest: That’s gonna take more than one novel! *laughs*
Dianna: Yup! *laughs* Do you think you’ll end up writing any more books about wolves or have you moved on to other canines?
Forest: Well, there is a prequel that I’m working on for Luna. It details the adventures of Luna’s parents, what they had to do to end up in the territory that Luna’s born into, and also the danger Luna faces basically the day he’s born. Um, and then I’m also working on a fantasy story with my own take on werewolves. No sparkly vampires, I promise! So I’m not quite done with wolves yet.
Dianna: Awesome! So, your disability dysgraphia specifically affects your ability to write. Can you discuss what dysgraphia is, and how it impacts your process?
Forest: Well, the main few things dysgraphia is is: first off, short term memory problems. If you were to give me a phone number I won’t be able to recite it back to you. Now that’s not always the case, but things like that come up. In school when I told my parents that I forgot an assignment, I really did forget that I even had it. Another is getting overwhelmed easily. If too much is coming at me too often, I will shut down and have my version of a panic attack, where I just stop thinking. It comes up at work, there’s this one position that just overwhelms me and I can’t think anymore. I can’t work that position because I just can’t think. But the main way it affects my writing is: I have a hard time getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper. Typing helps but it’s not…ugh – it’s not easy for me to get my thoughts written down or typed. Sometimes I’ll just stare at a blinking cursor for hours, and nothing will come. Essays that took other people at school 3 hours to write, I was still working on the first paragraph an hour later. It’s – I have to dance around that block to get into the mindset where I can write.
Dianna: So how do you – how do you work around that and have all these amazing projects in the works. How do you make that work for you?
Forest: Well first off, there’s a reason it took me 18 years to finish Luna! *laughs* It was a slow process! The other thing is: it can take me an hour, two hours, even three hours to do other things, just to get my thoughts aligned. Even just watching a movie, playing games, or watching esports, it’s all about getting my mind settled and in a straight line. Then I’m more able to think. Sometimes, I just deny a battle. If I feel a block coming, I don’t fight it. I’ll do other things, I’ll pace around, and sometimes I’ll just hit ctrl+S and call it a day. Sometimes I won’t write for a couple weeks. Heck, I took November and December off, I didn’t write at all because I needed that time to ease my mind into it. I can’t write every day. When I try to force it, I do worse. So I’ll try to nudge it, or sometimes I’ll just leave it alone, don’t do anything, and eventually the story will say “Okay, we’ll talk, come on”.
Dianna: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I also have a learning disability, mine is more related to math and numbers. Oh god, don’t talk about numbers. *overlapping voices* Um, and I have found that that was only really something that was discussed while I was still in school. Beyond the classroom, people don’t seem to think about learning disabilities as disabilities. Is this something that you’ve encountered? And how have you worked around things in your adult life to get people to understand that this is actually a disability? That accommodations do need to be made?
Forest: Well the funny thing is that I had a harder time with that in school. I was writing in high school, and some of my teachers, they saw my writing, they heard me talk, and they didn’t really believe that I had this learning disability that would get in the way. They thought I was just lazy. They didn’t believe I had this learning disability that clearly said “yes, he really did forget that assignment” “he really is shutting down just looking at how many problems he has to do for his homework”.Thankfully, I had a couple of special ed people who really went to war for me and said “Look, he really does have this, and you really do have to accommodate for that”. And then I finally started to have teachers realize “Oh wow, he really does have something that gets in the way!” and then they started to work with me. In my adult life, it gets in the way less often. But like I said there was that one position where I can’t do it. Thankfully my managers have been very understanding. When I’ve told them “It makes me shut down, I can’t think” they just go “okay, he can’t do that”. I’m not put in that position anymore, and then I do the other positions just fine.
Dianna: That’s really good. I guess just growing up I was really lucky on the educational front. Um –
Forest: It helped that I had my parents and a few teachers who went to war with the district and with the school itself to say ”Look, you gotta make these accommodations”
Dianna: Yeah. That is unfortunately a reality that far too many of us have to deal with: fighting for those accommodations.
Forest: And you know, the problem I have: You listen to me talk, would you think I had a learning disability, just listening to me talk? I don’t sound like I have an issue, but it’s there.
Dianna: Absolutely! Um – I’m assuming – so, that’s because dysgraphia is a non verbal disability.
Forest: It’s more about mental – they call it a short in the brain. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s the best explanation.
Dianna: *laughs* You’re short of the answer of what a short in your brain is!
Forest: It’s basically a short circuit that makes it hard for me to process what I’m thinking to write it down.
Dianna: Yeah! But speaking is a whole different – um –
Forest: I was part of ASB, but that was more of a self confidence thing rather than dysgraphia.
Dianna: Do you feel like that was impacted by your dysgraphia – your self confidence? Like do you think that that has been –
Forest: Not really. I’ve always been kind of a shy person. It makes self publishing really hard. Self publishing is a lot of “Look at me!!! I’m a writer!” and I’m more like “..hey? I’m a writer?” So self publishing is a lot of screaming about yourself, and I’ve never been good at that. I’m much better at just being conversational. Like I said, I was in ASB, so that helped. When I got to college I took a public speaking class and an acting class. Those two helped me to just be. Just be me and express myself. But dysgraphia I don’t think really played into that self confidence problem.If anything, my self confidence made it so people thought “You don’t sound like you have an issue”
Dianna: OOhh. So, um, I think a lot of this comes from a very specific assumption that is associated with the concept of learning disabilities. That has a lot to do with how learning disabilities are portrayed in the media. And I was wondering what your thoughts are on portrayals of learning disabilities specifically, but also just portrayal of disability as a whole in the media, and how you would like to see it change in the coming years.
Forest: I think we need more – at the risk of sounding too arrogant or conceited here – I think we need more people like us, where you listen to us, you look at us, and you don’t think we have any kind of issue that gets in the way. But then they’re trying to work at Starbucks for the first time, then there’s too much going on and they have their version of a panic attack – which is not the screaming yelling throwing, it’s complete mental shutdown, no thoughts are happening, the mind has just run away and hid. I feel like with a lot of disabilities, it’s always the extremes. You know, the autistic person who can barely get a thought together and has a hard time speaking, or a person who is missing an entire leg. They like to go to the extremes. They don’t show the minimal disability, the little problems people have that are still very much a problem that they have to fight with. Especially if it gets in the way of what they do. I’m a writer with dysgraphia. Those two things don’t go together. *laughs* So I’d like to see more of (for lack of a better term) the highly functional. People who if you didn’t know them personally, you wouldn’t know they have a disability.
Dianna: Yeah. And I do think there are quite a few characters that are coded that way, and I think that’s a really big problem because when it is outright stated that a character has a disability, it’s usually because they can’t speak or something really extreme like that. I definitely agree with that.
Forest: Or you know, it’s not quite a disability but you have a CSI tech who faints at the sight of blood, even if it’s just on a petri dish. It’s something like that. So he’s only in ballistics, or he’s only in trace, he doesn’t work with blood.
Forest: He could tell you what gun a bullet fired from just looking at the bullet. But show him a slide of blood, and he’s out cold.
Dianna: Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff like that because it’s very easily dramatic. Writers can really lean into that for the drama of the story, instead of actually doing the hard work to build drama that makes sense.
Forest: And you can tone it down. Maybe they have a hard time processing the blood for some reason, not so much it makes them uncomfortable, but for whatever reason they have a hard time working with blood. No one can quite understand it, but it gets in the way. It’s not this debilitating thing where he sees blood at a crime scene and he’s just useless. But he can’t process the blood sample because it just doesn’t work for him. Just like at my job. I can’t do that one job, but I can do other jobs very well.
Dianna: That makes a lot of sense. Are there any stories that you would say do have a really good disability rep of the kind we’re talking about?
Forest: Unfortunately, none that I can think of. I’m sure there’s one out there that maybe I can’t remember, but yay dysgraphia if that’s the case. Not that I can think of, no. Not to say they aren’t out there, I just don’t know them.
Dianna: Then I will lead us into the final question, which is: tell us more about these exciting projects you’re working on, and where readers can find out about them, and keep up with what you’re doing.
Forest: Well the main way to keep up to date is my Twitter and Facebook. I’ll post major updates on my Facebook. Twitter is a little more bit by bit, because Facebook is not so kind to writers these days. So follow me on Twitter, that’s the main way you’ll get small updates. “I just figured out how the controls on my starfighter work” “I finally filled that plot hole” kind of thing. The next projects: I mentioned the prequel novella, the working title is Blood of an Alpha. It’s also going to include two other stories that were tales mentioned in Luna, but we never saw them in detail. Now we’ll get to see them in detail. I don’t want to give any spoilers. Those alien foxes I mentioned are the main aliens we see in my military sci fi series. Book one is tentatively titled Flags of War. And this is nothing like Luna, that was a young adult novel, coming of age story. This is a military sci fi all about the horrors and burdens of war, and the brave men and women who charge into them. That project centers around a three fighter crew.
Dianna: You cut out there for a minute, I’ll need you to repeat that.
Forest: It’s nothing like Luna, which was a coming of age story. This is a military sci fi. It’s all about the horrors and burdens of war, and the brave men and women who charge headlong into them.It has those alien foxes in it, and centers on a three man fighter crew working on the front lines of the conflict. There’s also a werewolf fantasy, but that’s very new, there’s a lot to with that one. The scifi might be out early ‘21, but I don’t know about the other one yet.
Dianna: Awesome. Very exciting, I definitely look forward to reading those stories. And I want to say thank you for joining us, it was a real pleasure to talk to you, I always appreciate people who come on and are completely honest. I have really been enjoying talking with all the spoonie authors, so thank you for being one of the people who make this possible.
Forest: I’m happy to be here! Thanks for having me!
Dianna: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Spoonie Authors Podcast. The Spoonie Authors Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network: a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoonie Authors Network. To learn more or become a contributor visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog.com And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast make sure to leave a five star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.