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Monday, February 27, 2012

Challenge Translates Into Opportunity for Robert

Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle.  His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised.  His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice.  His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns.  "It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken."  Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs.  Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at www.enablingwords.com

Could you tell us about the latest mystery, Blind Traveler’s Blues?

Blind Traveler’s Blues is the second in my Blind Traveler mystery series. It is a stand-alone murder-mystery tale that continues the story of my protagonist, Douglas Abledan, a blind computer technologist.

Your Blind Traveler books are mysteries that also serve to inspire people with handicaps. I’ll just come right out and ask. How on earth do you get the murders, setting, and clues across when your protagonist lacks sight?

 In each one of my stories my protagonist uses one of his remaining senses (or a combination of them in later tales) to piece together the clues that lead him to solving the crime. For instance, in my first book, Blind Traveler Down a Dark River, Douglas was able to solve the crime by using his sense of hearing, while in Blind Traveler’s Blues he relied on his sense of smell. In my stories I want my character to be seen as close to what others consider “normal” as possible. His remaining senses are no different than anyone else’s, but he does have to pay closer attention to them then you or I might. Obviously he has a disability, but I want my readers to see (no pun intended) that Douglas goes about his life pretty much like everyone else does.

You have other physical challenges resulting from an accident. Why did you choose to make your protagonist blind?

 The impetus for my books came from an article I wrote a while back about a prototype device that used GPS and virtual sound technologies to allow its blind inventor to navigate through his world.  At the time I thought it was a pretty cool device that had a lot of potential in the real world. So, I took it, threw it into the future so the technology was solid and made it useable by the able-bodied and disabled communities.

One of your books is set in 2021. That’s in the future, but not really far enough to move into science fiction. Why 2021?

 Both current books are set in that year. I wanted to set the stories into the future, but not too far, so that I could play with some technologies and events that I’ve been noticing and writing about in my nineteen-year writing career. Each new story will include newer technological advances so there is a bit of sci-fi intermingled with the mysteries.

You also have a standalone and a non-fiction book that seeks to inspire. Did you see your mystery series as an extension of inspirational writing?

 Throughout my career I’ve written about issues of disability, first in nonfiction articles on a wide range of topics, then a non-fiction book about martial arts and disabilities (I helped my sensei develop a form of Kempo usable for people who, like me, sit in a wheelchair), and now in a “fiction” framework. I don’t know if I’d call my work “inspirational.” That’s not really a label I think I should give myself. If my readers feel inspired by my work, then that’s great.

How have your own challenges affected your writing? And did you seek to be a writer before your 1988 accident?

 My life has always been something of a challenge. As you may or may not know, I was born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida, which can effect everything from cognitive function to motor skills. While I was lucky that my condition was relatively mild, I never took things as simple as walking for granted either. In fact, when I was a child I had to ‘re-learn’ that simple skill several times. And, as I grew up my balance was never great. Furthermore, the condition left my spine structurally weak. That weakness played its hand after my car accident in July of 1988. Over the course of several years, and despite several surgeries and periods of rehabilitative therapy, I lost the use of my legs. That, by the way, had always been my greatest and only fear. My point is, my condition had the effect of making me very aware of the world around me, and the challenges people face in their lives. While I never wrote seriously about people with disabilities, or anything else for that matter, before my accident, I was always concerned about the needs of society’s disenfranchised. After my accident I took the time to learn how to write, first as a journalist and then a novelist, and I always intended to focus my efforts on that population.

What’s next for you?

 I’m currently writing short stories focused on my novel’s protagonist, to get more people acquainted with him. I’m also conducting research for my third Blind Traveler mystery novel. I’m thinking about setting it in Antarctica and focusing it around the research being done on carbon sequestration, but those ideas are not yet set in stone.

Thank you Robert! Don't for get to let Robert know what you think about his series idea in the comments section, and visit his website to hear more about the Blind Travelor and other stories!


  1. Very impressive and inspiring interview, Jackie. And Robert's books sound intriguing - I must pick up one (or both). The protagonist reminds me a bit of Auggie on Covert Affairs, and who doesn't love Auggie? Thanks for introducing us to writers we might not otherwise know about!

  2. Jackie, thank you for the kind words. I'd love to hear from you once you've read the book(s). I watch Covert Affairs and even tried to get in touch with the actor who plays Auggie.

  3. Did you try his agent? You can call SAG and find out who to contact. Sue Ann Jaffarian was able to get a celebrity endorsement for one of her series books. That would be something!

  4. Thanks, Jackie, for this interview. I really enjoyed, and great meeting you Robert. Just downloaded A Blind Travelers Blues, though I must confess, I'm way behind on my reading, but your protagonist sounds so intriguing, I couldn't resit. Much success, Robert! (PS I love Auggie!)

    1. resist -- where's my editor when I need her! (smile)

  5. Robert, you're an inspiration. This blog reminded me I have been meaning to tell several folks I know in the tech industry about your Blind Travelers novels. All the best for your third book!

  6. Thank you SO much to everyone who commented about my blog article. I wish I had contact information for all of you individually so that I could individually address all your comments and questions. Never fear...Another Blind Traveler story is in the works. In the meantime you can contact me at rbennett@enablingwords.com.