Author Interview – Session 7
Note: As I continue to push through my final, smoothing edit, I’m concurrently working on a number of marketing and branding tasks. In order to help book reviewers, I’m making ready an interview to which they can refer. I sat for long sessions with a person named Q, and will post our discussion here in small sections as I go along.
Q: So early on in this interview you mentioned something about Asperger’s. Do you identify as an “Aspie writer,” and if so, what does that mean?
A: I’m kind of all over the place on that one. I got my Aspergers diagnosis right at the point where I was ready to finish the edit for Rumi’s Field, ramp up my online presence, increase my skill set regarding marketing, and finally take myself seriously as a writer. In fact, I would say that the diagnosis was instrumental in the matter of taking myself seriously, as it left me feeling more credentialed and self-aware.
But then I had to face the questions. Do I hide this Aspie aspect? Do I exploit it or use it? Do I combine it with my authorial pursuits? Do I keep these two realms separate? When I started my author blog, it just felt right to lump everything together, to write about all the aspects of my life. Hence my blog’s subtitle: Life, Asperger’s, and the Written Word. But I continue to question the wisdom of that.
Q: Why might it be unwise to lump it all together?
A: I don’t know that it is. I just know that I wonder. I guess I approach the question from a very utilitarian viewpoint, as I do many things. Does the Aspie label help or hurt my writing career? Does it bring me readers, or push them away? And, from the other side, does my focus on science fiction help me as I endeavor to connect with the Aspergers/Autism community? Does it bring Aspie/Autistic readers to my blog, or warn them away, or neither? Since I consider that this blog serves as the seed for a non-fiction book about my Asperger’s experience, that question has a utilitarian aspect as well.
And there’s a slight “sideshow” aspect to the phrase “Aspie writer,” it feels like. Akin to “dancing bear” or “chimpanzee on a unicycle.” It’s like, “Hey, look at that Aspie guy write novels!” As if it’s a wonder that I can do it at all, let alone do it well.
Q: Do you think it’s really like that? That people think that?
A: I don’t know. All I know is that there’s a feeling in me, an association that causes the fear to arise. I assume that this association or judgment derives from the culture in which I was raised, so I assume it’s in other people as well.
Q: But you don’t want your writing to be judged solely through the lens of “Aspie writer.” You want it judged on its own merits.
A: Yeah. Don’t give me a pass just because of the Aspie thing. Don’t accept mediocrity from me just because I am “different” or “special.” And don’t assume mediocrity about me either.
Q: It sounds like you have deep feelings about this.
A: I guess I do. But I don’t think I have it all sorted out. Maybe this is something other people can help me with. I know that I recoil from the phrase “Aspie writer.” But I am also excited by it, and want to embrace it. It’s probably all rolled up in the long history of autism, the whole cultural suite of associations and judgments and misunderstandings and abuses, the whole “difference versus disability” thing. I don’t feel disabled. I feel, in fact, like I’m super-powered. But maybe I am disabled™, and maybe I have to accept that more fully before I can go on. I do have some interest in confronting and challenging the cultural myths and stories about Aspergers/Autism. But I’m not sure I’ve fully confronted those stories inside of myself. In fact I’m sure I haven’t.
Q: Are there other “Aspie writers” out there that you’ve encountered?
A: Oh! Yeah. Just last week I read a great interview with Corinne Duyvis, who identifies as autistic and who’s latest book, On the Edge of Gone, is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel for young adults featuring an autistic protagonist. She’s great, and her books sounds marvelous (it even got a write-up in the New York Times Book Reviews). I have a lot to learn from her, I think.
Q: That must’ve been helpful, to find her.
A: It was, yes. It helps me to better embrace my own situation.
Q: So are there ways in which Asperger’s impacts on your writing?
A: I think so, yes. As I said, I think Asperger’s gives me as many superpowers as it does challenges: my intense focus, my ability to collect, remember, interpret, and weave together bits and pieces of data and analysis from all over the place into a coherent whole, my willingness to work long hours and stick to it. Things like that. When the bone in my mouth is a book project, I gnaw on it until it’s finished, even if it takes me five years, as Rumi’s Field has done. Or twenty years, if we go back to the original inspiration.
Q: And the challenges?
A: Well, while I think I have an excellent working rational understanding of human psychology, I have less or different access to human feeling, and especially in the matter of expressing those feelings in language. Given that, I should never be a romance writer. I’m great at plotting and suspense and the unraveling of mysteries. But I’m somewhat clunky – I am told – when it comes to languaging such things as love and affection and family bonding and things of that sort.
Q: Science fiction seems the perfect place for you then.
A: Ha! Well, I think that’s based on some old and incorrect assumptions about science fiction. Sure, there’s a “nerd factor” to the whole history of sci-fi, which Steve Silberman touches on in a fascinating way in NeuroTribes. Certainly there’s some truth to the notion that much of sci-fi elevates hardware and plotting and adventure over the more intimate human aspects of its characters. But there is much sci-fi that I think succeeds in the latter category as well. Unless I’m not a trustworthy judge in the matter, which could, I must admit, be the case.
Q: So how do you address this shortcoming in your stories?
A: Well, I have Sally as one of my editors. She’s a heart person in a big way, a skilled and empathic counselor, coach, and therapist. I call her “the Director.” I write the scenes, put my characters on stage, give them actions and lines and do my best to write the emotional human element in. Then she acts like the director of a play, watching the scene and tweaking the emotional truth of the performance. Often that means calling out what feels like stilted or hokey or unbelievable language on my part, and sometimes making suggestions for different ways for my actors to approach the scene.
Q: So her job is to add in the human emotional element?
A: Not so much add it in as tweak it into language that feels real to her. It’s already there, either implicit to the scene or explicit in the mouths of my characters. It’s just, sometimes… as I said… clunky.
Q: Do you always agree with her notes?
A: Not always. I think I understand the situation, and the characters, in a different, and often deeper, way than she does. I understand the needs of storytelling more consciously than she might. So while I almost always agree with her, or just trust her sense of things, once in a while I hold my ground and keep things the way they are, or even find a whole different way to approach it that includes both her notes and my own. In the end, I sometimes reserve the right to be who I am and see things as I do. Which, I guess, is reserving my right to be an Aspie writer, and to let the book be a book written by an Aspie.
Q: Are any of your characters Aspie or autistic?
A: Not explicitly. Not so far. But some of my characters have distinct similarities to me, and so do display what might be considered Aspie traits and behaviors. That’s a judgment made in hindsight, since Aspergers wasn’t on my radar when the first draft was written. I’ve considered adding in more Aspie elements, but that felt false and forced. I do think it would be interesting to write an Aspie/Autistic character more explicitly, but that’ll have to wait for a future project.