Author of Guiding Emily: A Tale of Love, Loss and Courage

When Phoenix author Barbara Hinske first toured the Foundation for Blind Children she felt “an electric shock”. Immediately, she knew she wanted to contribute her talents for the benefit of FBC and thus the children, families and adults FBC serves. Over a year later, Hinske’s contribution, Guiding Emily: A Tale of Love, Loss and Courage, is now available on Amazon, Bookshare and in Braille from FBC’s library. A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to FBC.

How did you find yourself writing a book to benefit the Foundation for Blind Children?

BH: I can trace the beginnings of Guiding Emily back to February of 2019. When I sat next to Steve Pawlowski, the Foundation for Blind Children’s Communications and Development Director, at a fundraising dinner for the Desert Foothills Library. I was a guest at the library gala because I was donating naming rights for a character in an upcoming book. I’ve written the Rosemont series and The Christmas Club which was made into a 2019 Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. So, Steve and I chatted away like crazy the whole dinner and ended up arranging to take a tour of the Foundation for Blind Children. The goodness and commitment in that building to every single child just overwhelmed me. When we came to the Braille library, there’s a big oversized check on the wall for $1 million. I felt this electric current and I said, “You know what? I want a check on that wall from me for $2 million.” I’m not rich but I thought, well, I don’t need to be rich. I’m a novelist and a book can raise that kind of money. So I decided then and there, I’m going to write a book to benefit FBC.

How important was research about vision loss when writing Guiding Emily?

BH: I wanted this to be realistic. That was made possible with lots of research and help from the clinicians and staff at FBC. Emily falls off a horse and detaches her retinas. I didn’t want this to become a real medical or technical read simply because I find those kind of tedious. Guiding Emily is really not so much a book about how you lose your eyesight but how you regain your life after vision loss. I have had a number of reviewers who are visually impaired. I’m so gratified that everyone has said, “You nailed it. This is the experience. This is what we felt. Thank you for telling our story.”

Did anything surprise you when researching?

BH: I was not aware that losing your eyesight is such an isolating experience. I’ve learned some of the blind etiquette and I’m so ashamed of my previous actions. When I was practicing law, I had a blind coworker in another department. He and I didn’t work together but I would see him in the hallway. Instead of greeting him, I would step aside. I didn’t want to be in his way. Well, of course he knew I was there. He could hear me. What I should have said was, “Hello, it’s Barb from the legal department.” I didn’t know to do that. My silence wasn’t meant to be unkind, but it was.

Where did the inspiration for Garth, Emily’s guide dog, come from?

BH: Garth is one of my favorite characters to have written. I love him. He’s based upon a real life guide dog named Gnocchi. I met Gnocchi at FBC. His handler is Julie Rock, one of your senior counselors and Julie is a force to be reckoned with, for sure. As I was writing Garth, the voice of an actor, Cameron Mathison, came to mind. He was Edward in my Hallmark movie. So personable and he’s got kind of a little twang in his voice, very distinctive. His voice was in my mind as I was writing.

What’s next for Emily?

BH: I asked all the guide dog handlers I met, “If you were at the bus stop with your dog and there was somebody that your dog thinks you might be interested in or might be a good match for you, would your dog move you over to that person? Would your dog play matchmaker?” Every single handler said, “Absolutely. One hundred percent.” So I think Mr. Garth is going to have a little bit of sub plot as matchmaker.

Were there any “blooper” titles before settling on “Guiding Emily”?

BH: Normally coming up with titles for a book is my least favorite thing. I just sweat bullets over it. You have to do research and it can be tricky but everything for this book from the title to the cover design for Guiding Emily flowed. I think the cover is my best yet and that just fell into my lap. I feel like all of this was meant to be.

What do you hope readers takeaway from Guiding Emily?

BH: I hope they take away knowledge. I really wanted to raise awareness of two particular things. I don’t normally do this in my books, but I wanted to raise awareness of the isolation faced by the blind and visually impaired. I also wanted to raise awareness of the problems faced by legitimate service dogs. I want people to feel inspired, uplifted and encouraged. My particular hope is that the community of people with visual impairments is pleased with the portrayal of this protagonist and doesn’t feel that they’ve been patronized. Emily is a person who deals with life’s challenges, that we all have, with courage and fortitude. She just happens to be blind. That’s how I’ve phrased it in my own mind.