Life works in mysterious ways. When Riley, the deaf weasel familiar, was “born,” I knew almost nothing about familiars. The vast majority of urban fantasies I’ve read dealt with large animals such as werewolves or werecats, which was partly why I decided on a much smaller animal (it’s my contrary nature).
I've since learned that the weasel has a bad reputation, but what surprised me the most was the basic notion of the weasel as the power animal of silent observation.
“Sly and stealthy, with keen observation skills.”
“Weasel medicine can teach you to find out secrets through the power of silent observation.”
“Most weasel people are loners, graceful, solitary, and silent.”
I was stunned when I came across these descriptions. Silent and quiet, that’s quintessential Riley. Now don’t get me wrong, Riley is perfectly capable of talking, but he’s not oral; he doesn’t use his voice, because he cannot hear himself (a personal choice; a lot of deaf people use their voices).
As a deaf person, Riley “listens” with his eyes. For one, sign language is a visual language: Riley would read meanings carried by the hands, the facial expression, and the body’s posture at the same moment. For another, Riley has to pick up on very subtle facial and body movements when dealing with non-signing people or when he’s speech reading. Out of necessity, he’s a keen observer.
Even the loner aspect matched what I had in mind for him. I’m trying very carefully not to generalize too much, but that’s difficult when talking about a large group of people with their own culture. Riley isn’t a loner by nature, but he spends most of his days with people who don’t know sign language. Within the hearing world he’s largely isolated (especially since he’s not oral).
Like many other deaf people, he’s very social with those who know sign language, when all communication barriers are removed (note: not all deaf people know sign language), but in-person get-togethers are sometimes hard to come by (it all depends on your community).
To combat loneliness and liven-up his solitary lifestyle, Riley uses electronic communication to stay in touch with and make friends. In other words, he does a lot of e-mailing and instant messaging and texting (note: English is his second language; American Sign Language is his native language).
I did not make Riley deaf after I chose the weasel form for him, nor did I pick the weasel because Riley was deaf. He was a deaf weasel familiar from the first moment he appeared to me (like many of my characters he showed up on my doorstep fully formed/mostly developed).
Life works in mysterious ways.
I will post a lot more about Riley as I'm getting to know him better. He's by far the most interesting and most challenging character I've ever worked with. Like many hearing people, I take my speech and the noises around me for granted. I have a few notions about life as a deaf person, but no real clue what it’s actually like. Riley is a wonderful ambassador, giving us a chance to discover life through his eyes and from his point of view.