Due to a retinal degeneration disorder, Debby Grahl has spent her life gradually losing her sight. Luckily she has enough vision, imagination and resilience to not let the growing darkness stop her from pursuing her dreams.
“I was diagnosed at 18 months, when my parents noticed I was feeling for my toys,” says the 58-year-old Hilton Head Island resident and romance writer whose first published novel, “The Silver Crescent,” won the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewers Choice Award in 2014.
After an active childhood, Grahl lost the ability to read printed material in her early 20s. “I started making up my own stories and would entertain my friends by telling them,” she says. “They were kind enough to sit and listen to me.”
Grahl’s friends not only listened to her, they encouraged her to pursue her passion for writing. The only problem was she couldn’t see the computer screen to do research and look over her work. Then she discovered JAWS (Job Access With Speech), a computer screen-reading program that lets blind or visually impaired users hear what’s on the screen.
“It was incredible,” Grahl says of using the program, which she took lessons on for a year in order to master; luckily, she already knew how to type. “JAWS is what I use now to research and do my books.”
Anyone in publishing knows that merely writing a novel isn’t necessarily the hardest part, and when it came to bringing her book from computer to binding, Grahl had a few setbacks. After finding an interested publisher at a writers’ conference, an elated Grahl was offered a contract and started editing her manuscript. Then the publishing company unexpectedly closed. Undeterred, Grahl reached out to another editor who had seemed interested at the same conference, and received another contract. She had a preview copy of “The Silver Crescent” in her hands when she experienced a devastating bit of déjà vu: That publishing house also abruptly closed its doors.
“But they were nice enough to give me a list of other publishers to try,” Grahl says, and the third time was the charm. The Writers Coffee Shop, a small independent publisher based in Australia, published “The Silver Crescent” in January 2014, and her second novel, “Rue Toulouse,” a year later.
“Every time somebody buys my book I just can’t believe they’re actually talking about me. It’s so overwhelming, to think that the stories I make up are entertaining people,” she says. “I go into Barnes & Noble and they want me to sign my books, and I just can’t believe it.”
Grahl is now working on two novels at the same time. Though unrelated, they are both set in the South Carolina Lowcountry. One is specifically based on Hilton Head, the place she’s called home since her husband retired and they moved here four years ago. The two met when she was in her early 30s at a Civil War re-enactment event in Michigan.
“We ran into each other by a campfire, and we will have been married 26 years on Feb. 17,” she says.
It seems Grahl has always been drawn to the light amid the darkness.