A Conversation with D.B. Forster – Dale Williams

About the Authors:

Dale F. Williams, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BRS-FD is Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Florida Atlantic University. A board-certified specialist in fluency, Dr. Williams served as Chair of the Specialty Board on Fluency Disorders from 2008 to 2010. He has coordinated the Boca Raton chapter of the National Stuttering Association since 1996. His publications include three books on stuttering, including the newly released workbook Stuttering, Power over it: A liberating and inspiring self-help program (The Brainary, LLC), available at https://hearsayresources.com/

D.B. Förster is the author of the novel The Race of a Lifetime (NightWriters Publishing), available at https://dbforster.wordpress.com/. He is married to romance writer Sophie Bartow. The two of them raised four children in Lake Worth Beach, Florida, where they continue to reside with a host of overindulged pets. Keep up with D.B. on Facebook, and follow @dbforster on Twitter and Instagram.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with D.B. Förster, author of The Race of a Lifetime, a fantasy/scifi story of redemption that includes a stuttering character. What follows is a transcript of the interview. 

Dale Williams: It’s nice to finally have a chance to meet you. I’ve been a fan for a long time.

D.B. Förster: Really?

DW: No. Explain to people what your book is about.

DBF: Um, well, I guess it’s the typical story of a time-traveler who has to run a 6-minute mile to save his immortal soul. 

DW: Hmm. Anything else?

DBF: Oh yeah—he’s also the last person on earth.

DW: So this was drug-induced?

DBF: Hilarious. Now tell people about your new stuttering workbook. A guy jumps between old memories accompanied by an anthropomorphic stutter. That’s real normal.

DW: Fair point. Like the workbook—called Stuttering, Power over it: A liberating and inspiring self-help program, by the way—your story has a stuttering character. Why did you decide to give Jake a stutter?

DBF: Two reasons. I wanted there to be a stuttering person in literature who just stutters. What I mean by that is: Stuttering is not played for comic relief or to show a disabled soul or even someone unbelievable admirable in every way. He just stutters, like some people are just blond or short or whatever else. 

DW: And the other reason?

DBF: As a plot point, it helped me demonstrate the selfishness of the main character, Jake’s dad Blaise. When his child began to stutter, Blaise followed the advice of the speech-language pathologist, but it didn’t work. To Blaise, that was the end of the story. It was out of his hands. He could go back to thinking about himself.

DW: Tell me about Blaise. What’s his journey?

DBF: Basically, he starts at complete despair and searches for hope.

DW: So it’s a story of resilience. The workbook is as well, but when it comes to stuttering management, bouncing back is different. 

DBF: You don’t just move on?

DW: Ideally, it’s more like a super ball. You bounce back higher than you were before. 

DBF: Is that what your workbook character does?

DW: He goes from the shame, embarrassment, and frustration that can accompany stuttering to a feeling of acceptance.

DBF: How do you define acceptance?

DW: Living with the stutter. All of it. The ups and downs. Yes, the downs happen but life is more than its worst parts.

DBF: I suppose.

DW: You seem unconvinced.

DBF: Don’t underestimate experience history. Regrets are real. What you call the downs aren’t that easily set aside. They can significantly impact people’s lives. Adults continue to think about childhood bullies, bad breakups, lost opportunities, and so many other negative experiences. Applied to stuttering, can speakers ever really lose their fears of problem words? Or difficult situations? 

DW: Maybe some remnants will always be there, but people can adjust after a reflexive jolt of fear.

DBF: So it’s like stereotyping.

DW: Huh?

DBF: Overcoming the very human tendency to stereotype works much the same way. Since we’re talking about stuttering, let’s take that characterization. Many people think those who stutter are shy, reserved wallflowers. Every time they meet another person who stutters, that thought will cross their minds. But they can learn to move past the initial reaction and treat people like individuals.

DW: Fighting your own instincts. All part of life, I guess.

DBF: And really, just living a fulfilling life is the goal of the main character in both stories. Neither is destined to become a king or star—spoiler alert. They just want to have normal lives.

DW: But given where they begin, that is in itself a victory. 

DBF: True. Both challenge themselves to confront their demons. And both learn from their failures. In fact, without occasionally slipping backwards, they would not progress as far on their journeys. 

DW: Critical point for stuttering. You can’t improve without failures to learn from. There’s a scene in the workbook where the main character is learning to bend a soccer ball. He just keeps kicking it until he’s made the adjustments necessary to achieve his goal. And even then, he hasn’t mastered it until he can do it under the stress of an actual game.

DBF: Good for his soccer skills, but how does that apply to stuttering?

DW: Let’s take treatment as an example. Any therapy involves a new way of talking. But you can’t make the necessary changes in real life if you never attempt them outside the treatment room. 

DBF: It would seem to me that you have to do more than just get beyond the treatment room. You have to take the risks in feared situations.

DW: The idea of getting outside your comfort zone is common to both stories then.

DBF: I bet there are a lot of ways that the life’s lessons learned by Blaise reflect stuttering acceptance.

DW: Accepting what you are would be an obvious one.

DBF: And becoming more of what you were meant to be. I open the second half of my book with the David Bowie quote, “ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” 

DW: Not a bad quote, but we develop strengths throughout life too. We aren’t just whatever form we’re born into. Those teased as children can grow up to be the boss. The kid afraid to speak can accept his stuttering and say what he has to say.

DBF: OK, that works. How about the idea of facing your demons?

DW: I think we’ve covered that. It’s clearly applicable to stuttering. You have to admit that the fears and negative emotions are there in order to manage them.

DBF: What about supporting yourself, and then others?

DW: Ever hear of the National Stuttering Association? The British Stammering Association? Friends? Speak Easy?

DBF: Transforming from a state of desperation to finding hope?

DW: I would argue that happens when you stop surrendering to stuttering.

DBF: I’ll buy that. What about spending twelve decades learning supernatural lessons from your own memories?

DW: OK, so maybe the stories are not similar in all respects. 

DBF: I suppose that’s good. It would make them the same book, after all.

DW: What’s next for you?

DBF: I’m going to try a humor novel.

DW: I’m in discussions about additional workbooks, suitable for different ages.

DBF: I thought we were talking about me.

DW: Fine. Will the humor novel include a stuttering character? 

DBF: Yes. This time a woman. 

DW: Any other works in progress?

DBF: I have an idea for a story in which stuttering is a superpower.

DW: Then let’s end this interview so you can get back to work.

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Comments

A Conversation with D.B. Forster – Dale Williams — 8 Comments

  1. Hello Dale and DBF

    I enjoyed this conversation very much, thank you. Every sentence here is a gem.

    You mention taking actions, such as:
    “we develop strengths throughout life too. We aren’t just whatever form we’re born into.”
    “He goes from the shame, embarrassment, and frustration that can accompany stuttering to a feeling of acceptance”

    These are very helpful.

    What skills and knowledge would you want to impart to a child (or youth) who stutters and to their parents in order to have the foundation for taking these actions? I guess I am looking back (many years) to my childhood and most of my adulthood, feeling alone and completely helpless against the demon of my stutter. So, what do you tell the parents, and the children, to make them believe that things are not hopeless, that the demon is only strong because we allow it to be strong?

    Please say Hi to each other from me :-).

    Thank you

    • It’s a conversation I have with parents a lot. Frequently, I see a difference in the foundation or basis (i.e., Deep down, I know I’m just as smart and capable as anyone else) and the barrier of the moment (e.g., I was mocked or I couldn’t say what I wanted to and now I feel awful about myself). To be honest, most parents do a good job laying the foundation, but can still question themselves when the next barrier arises. Although it is certainly true that everyday setbacks can be difficult for kids who stutter, quite often the foundation reestablishes itself (I almost said the foundation rises to the top, but that would have destroyed my metaphor) and the default level of self-esteem returns.

      Having said all that, however, I want to be careful not to oversimplify this distinction. Enough setbacks can certainly result in lasting feelings of loneliness and helplessness and even, despite what I said above, loss of self-esteem. SLPs should be skilled enough at basic counseling techniques and guiding clients outside their comfort zones to deal with these feelings. Maybe it’s all connected & this sort of guidance helps them to see their own foundations. Just speaking for myself, I know that sometimes I feel bad about circumstances while still knowing that I’ll get over them.

      Interesting that you use the word demon. Stuttering in the workbook is sometimes described in demonic terms. And in DB’s book, the villain is often referred to as such.

      Thanks for posting your question here, Hanan. Up to this point, I had only received emails about this essay. No idea why.

      • D.B., Dale is a good dude. He has a wicked and sharp sense of humor, and can be helpful to writers. Speak to him.

        Thanks for the book, by the way. The interview here has helped me underatdn the book better, and I appreciate that.