Autism, community, Encouragement

The Non-Fiction Future Additions to How To Be A Savage

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Recently, I did a couple of things. I asked Twitter if anyone would be interested in reading an inspired-by-real-life-but-definitely-not-autobiographical account on autism in blogging format or something. And then I asked whether it should be fiction or non-fiction. Like, facts about ASD and various treatments and such.

The polls indicated people would be extremely into reading a combination of both.

And I thought, “Oh, okay. That’s…err… Why did I set myself up for this??”

Then today, I stumbled on an autism blog share, and as I was reading some of these posts, I realized: There isn’t just a public interest in us sharing our life stories. There’s a need. 

It’s only been about 50 years since most children with low-functioning autism were officially diagnosed as minorly psychopathic, and generally locked up in institutions.

It’s only been 10 years since diseases like measles and rubella that were nearly eradicated have made a solid re-entry into the Western world, thanks to an epidemic of people not vaccinating their kids, based on one, non-scientific study claiming that the MMR vaccination causes autism.

It’s only been a few months since I saw a book in which the mother of an autistic teenager supported forced sterilization of her son has a 4-star rating on Amazon and Goodreads.

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And it was only today that I read an article from the New York Times reminding all of us — or informing us for the first time — that Dr. Asperger was in fact a Nazi who sanctioned the deaths in concentration camps of the very children he diagnosed. And we still put his name on the part of the spectrum he supposedly discovered.

Dear God in Heaven.

Adopting a cavalier attitude towards my privacy, I have henceforth decided thusly: When I come to compose my various Wattpad-age entries of How To Be A Savage into book format, I SHALL include factual stuff about diagnosis, treatment, the NTs-who-hate-us experiences, the dark side of our condition, all of it.

This feels daring. It feels scary. It feels like the right thing to do.

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For the longest time, we have been led to believe that anything outside of the norm is dangerous. Even when it isn’t. Even when it’s simply different.

We don’t need to be encouraged to fit into the world. The world’s pretty messed up, in case no one’s noticed. I’d so much rather stand out — and hopefully makes this crazy planet a better place.

I am so tired of being told we need to “overcome” our autism. Of hearing that we have a “disability.” Of being looked down on.

Who’s with me?

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Autism, family, flash fiction

How To Be A Savage: Part 1

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Hello, everyone! Welcome to the start of an experiment. For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting pieces of flash fiction that will begin to come together in a Wattpad series in the near future. It’s called “How To Be A Savage,” and focuses on the fictional narrator Ellie and her family. Ellie is an autistic adult with a son on the spectrum. There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll let Ellie take it away…

“Today I want to be a superhero to housewives everywhere!” I loudly declare, directing the wand of the vacuum cleaner as far under the bed as it will go.

Probably most of the dust bunnies by the furthest bedpost are laughing at me. I only reach 5’2″ in heels, and because of where the queen-sized bed sits in the room, the angles from which I can reach the darkest corners underneath it are limited. We live in an old house, with slightly odd measurements, and tight corners, and… Anyway, it creates complications with stuff like where dust can collect.

And today has not been a good day for Executive Function, so I might not be able to determine when I’m at the wrong angle for achieving maximum reach.

Hey, most housewives will consider me a superhero just for trying. I know that. I can live with it.

But I’d much rather live with the excitement on my husband’s face when I tell him how hard I tried to eliminate every speck of dust from our bedroom.

“And so she brandished her wand and directed its fearsome Sucking Spiral at the horrific gray monsters, rearing on their powerful hind legs…”

Okay, yes, sometimes I develop a fantasy narrative to my life in my head while I’m going about mundane tasks. If it helps me get through the day…

My life is extremely mundane. I barely leave the house some days. Lately, Connor’s been a little less tolerant about stuff like the housework being underdone. He won’t say much, but he’ll roll his eyes more, and sigh, and I’ll realize that I forgot to wipe down the bathroom counter like I said I was going to, or that I missed one item on the grocery list, or didn’t return the phone call he told me about last week.

I hate seeing that look on his face. I hate going to bed that night and having him snuggle up to me, anyway, even though he sounds sad when he says, “Good night, El.”

How can he be so disappointed in me but not be mad at me? It twists me up in knots. If he just got mad and yelled and slept on the couch, I’d know what to do. I’d spend all of the next day ironing and polishing and leaving voicemails for people I’d rather never speak to again. Just to make him happy. Because then I’d know for sure how he felt, and I’d have fixed it.

I like it when I can identify the problem, and then resolve it.

Hence, I attack the defiant dust bunnies.

Neither of my sons take any notice of my exuberant housecleaning efforts when they return from school. Well, Sam wouldn’t, he’s only 4. But Luke should, he’s 15, and we’re making him do more adulting. Well, he’s autistic, and he’s just more focused on his homework and how much of his hobbies he can squeeze in before dinnertime. So was I at his age. I don’t hold it against him if he doesn’t notice me putting the vacuum back in the closet.

Should I? Should I be encouraging him to notice the little things more? Reminding him his future spouse will one day appreciate it?

Tonight, I am determined to be on top of things. I turn off my laptop at precisely 5:03, a whole 27 minutes before I expect Connor home. I instruct Luke, who still has up to an hour of gaming time since his math is complete, “Please hurry up and die in Minecraft so you can put away the dishes.” I tell Sam, who’s enjoying his nightly viewing of Nick Jr., “After your show, let’s get ready for Daddy, okay?”

Amazingly, both my boys heed my words without more prodding or cajoling or threatening.

It’s going to be a good evening.

Thank you for reading, everyone! Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

Autism, reading, self-publishing

A Discussion on “Own Voices”: Lasting Impact or a Flash in the Pan?

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So, about a year ago, I noticed a trend among #amreading folks on Twitter: Several posts included the mention of #ownvoices. It’s a movement started by an author and editor named Corinne Duyvis, whose intention was to increase the number of books being written/published by people in racial, cultural, medical minorities, and the impact these titles have on the public/the majority.

I think this is a great idea. As someone who looks like she shouldn’t belong to a minority group (being Caucasian, American-born, and physically capable), but has faced prejudice and discrimination all her life due to “the invisible disability,” encouraging firsthand accounts of conditions that may be unimaginable to most readers sounds awesome.

Here’s the catch: Too many publishers aren’t accepting manuscripts from, for example, writers on the autism spectrum or with a learning disorder. They’d still prefer to have established, NT (neurotypical) authors conduct interviews or textbook research, and come up with a story around that involving, say, a character with Asperger’s syndrome.

This is a definite problem. If you’re not autistic, how can you possibly hope to really capture all the nuances of what that life is? If you aren’t an immigrant to a certain country, will you truly understand how that experience works? If you’ve never been in combat, would it be truly effective for you to pen a first-person narration of a veteran with PTSD? The list could go on and on. The point is: Firsthand experience makes for the best fictional stories, because they are authentic.

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That’s why I support the Own Voices idea, and it makes me sad that more of it isn’t happening. And I believe this also suggests a bigger issue within our society — that all the campaigns towards “acceptance” and “tolerance” aren’t truly making an impact. Or, that the people in important-decision-making-positions — like whether or not to publish a certain book — aren’t really “tolerant” themselves.

And I don’t feel hypocrisy is too strong a word to use.

A major reason I’m not participating in “official” Autism Awareness Month is hypocrisy. The group “Autism Speaks” (that promotes such campaigns) claims to be invested in creating inclusion for ASD within “regular” society. However, what they’re really advocating is research to find a cure for autism. While some of us would take a cure if it was offered (and I’m absolutely not judging that), many of us wouldn’t, and wouldn’t want it forced upon us.

Isn’t that the point of something like Own Voices? To build bridges, rather than widen the chasms between “normal” and “atypical”? To encourage the perspectives on what’s “normal” to broaden?

It appears that the Own Voices movement may be dying before it even really gets off the ground, and this concerns me. As a writer belonging to a minority, as a parent of children in that same minority, and as a reader who has lots of difficulty finding characters and plots I can relate to.

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It concerns me as a self-published author. I am trying to make money from sales of my work, the result of enormous effort and time, and it’s one of the few options open to me at the moment.

Until I had my second child, I was working in daycare and teaching dance. But in both of those positions, I faced severe stigma from co-workers and administrators who really would’ve preferred an NT individual in my place. Most of the parents I worked with were totally fine with me teaching their children — and so were many of the children. But conformity is a big deal in industry, and it spoke louder than the soapbox of “inclusion.”

While I voluntarily took an extended maternity leave, and still hope to return to teaching at some point, in the meantime, I’ve found a fair amount of success in self-publishing.

For years, I sent queries and pitches to agents, who loved 90% of the submission, but…and there was always a but. There was always something “missing” — that part where something my character or plot did only made sense to me. And the reason for that was because my characters always did things the way I would, to protect themselves from emotional reactions or social situations they didn’t understand. It turns out “most people” don’t behave like that. Well, it’s “normal” for me.

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Anyway, I’m presently choosing not to write a contemporary or bio-based Own Voices story. (I did try recently, and the feels were 110% too much.) Though I am including autistic characters in my YA fantasy series. And while I’ve had much positive response to my books so far (and of course am dying with gratitude for that), I’ve also had some mixed reactions, from a few folks who “just didn’t get it” when it came to my style.

Now, I know some of this will simply be personal taste, which varies. However, when you consider that I, as an autist, am certainly from Planet XYZ, and most people who read fantasy novels are from Planet A or Planet B, this makes me twitch a little.

It goes back to my original issue about people accepting autistic authors. Will readers pick up my book(s) just because I’m autistic, and they want to be perceived as “inclusive”? Or will they look into my work because they like fantasy and think my series sounds good? And do I want them to order my book(s) for just the latter reason, or the first as well?

I’ll admit, I’m more than forthcoming about my being on the spectrum. I do want readers to critique my work based on its literary merits; but I also don’t want them to dismiss it offhand, saying, “Oh, if the author’s autistic, it’s probably not very good.” I also want NT readers to understand that, although I process the world differently than they do, that doesn’t automatically mean they won’t comprehend or appreciate my fiction.

Overall, I think that Own Voices, unfortunately, still has a long way uphill to go. I’d hate to see it burn out before it really lights a flame.

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Autism, community

The Time To Stay Silent Has Passed

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Okay, it may make me physically sick to have to write this post, but I do have to.

Yesterday it came to my attention that there’s a non-fiction book, being peddled as an “autism mom memoir” entitled “To Siri With Love,” by a barely human person called Judith Newman. She has an autistic son, and relates throughout the entire book how she sees him as inferior, not a whole being, and actually blatantly says she believes so strongly he shouldn’t have children of his own that she plans to have him forcibly sterilized when he’s 18.

Bucket, anyone, bucket? Yeah, I should’ve offered to hand them out before you started reading.

So, after getting this initial shock to the system, I went on Goodreads, and found that plenty of people (most of them autistic or with ASD relatives) are up in arms (thank God) about this farce of a publication, and are actively boycotting it.

Sadly — horribly — unimaginably — there are also plenty of 4-star reviews, and this book is on the bestseller lists in some countries.

That’s right — in this supposed “advanced” era of “humanity,” we actually live in a world where people support the view that someone with a neurological condition that makes him or her “different” or “limited” does not deserve control over their own lives, reproductive rights, and major personal decisions.

Second round of passing out buckets going on now…

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…And I’ll hand out ear plugs before I begin my absolutely justified rant.

I AM AUTISTIC AND I HAVE PRODUCED TWO BEAUTIFUL, AMAZING, NEURODIVERGENT CHILDREN WHO ARE GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER. WITHOUT PEOPLE LIKE US, THERE WOULDN’T BE SOME OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE SCIENTIFIC, TECHNOLOGICAL AND LITERARY ADVANCES OF THE 20TH CENTURY. WE ARE EXACTLY HOW GOD DESIGNED US TO BE, AND IT IS HIS CHOICE, NOT THAT OF MERE MORTALS, WHAT OR WHO IS WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS AND BEING CONSIDERED WHOLE.

WHEN PEOPLE THINK THAT REDUCING AN ENTIRE POPULATION TO PREVENT A SOCIAL OR CULTURAL CONCERN IS A GOOD IDEA, THEY ARE BECOMING MURDERERS. IT IS CALLED GENOCIDE, AND EUGENICS, AND IT IS COMPLETELY WRONG AND SHOULD BE ILLEGAL IN EVERY SINGLE CIVILIZED NATION ON THE GLOBE. 

If you need any further proof that this point of view is utterly evil: The Nazis ran programs in the concentration camps to forcibly sterilize those with physical and mental disabilities.

Okay. *clears throat and dries eyes* Time to get our warrior outfits on.

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Don’t stay silent. Stand up for your autistic family, friends, and online contacts. Even if you don’t know anyone on the spectrum, stand up for the justice of letting us live our lives.

For those of you on Twitter, the hashtag is #BoycottToSiri. Otherwise, talk up this subject on Facebook, Goodreads, WordPress and Blogspot. Don’t let people think this title is acceptable to purchase. Write the publisher and holler. Write to Congress and yell.

I have also joined the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic, which encourages autistic writers to share their voices — whether their work features ASD or not, and whatever genre, style, or age group we write for — and you can spread the word that way, too.

The autistic community — MY community — needs your support. We ARE your classmates, neighbors, cousins, co-workers, online contacts.

We can’t combat fear and hate all by ourselves. We don’t want to feel alone anymore.

We DESERVE better.

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Autism, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Tantalizing Tidbits

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This is a new way of saying I have more sharing to do about my plans for the upcoming year. (By the way, if anyone can tell me just WHERE 2017 WENT IN SUCH A HURRY, it would be appreciated.)

So, remember when I said that there are going to be 4 volumes in the “canon” series for Order of the Twelve Tribes, followed by a “field guide” of sorts, and then a companion novel, i.e. most likely a prequel, and then I may attempt to write something else (or run away to New Zealand)? Well, here’s what happened with that:

I had originally decided to make a draft of Volume 3 my NaNo project. Then I scrapped that idea and wanted to try writing a contemporary for NaNo. Then I found out that I am not set up to write a straightforward contemporary, and proceeded to die a little bit. And two things kind of smashed together…

At approximately 5 a.m. one day in early November, I had an idea for a spinoff story (from the Twelve Tribes world), that had nothing to do with anything else I’d already developed. But it was too good to pass up. So I started developing it further — and as I was telling White Fang about it, he decided he wanted to join in.

So, we’ve put together a character/plot arc for a brand new, standalone sequel (that I anticipate starting on after the holidays). My goal is to release it sometime next summer.

This new character will be introduced in the “canon,” so I’ve given you a ton of stuff to look forward to!

Now the goal for the prequel is: It will become part of the field guide. I hope to answer all of your questions that any of you had that would’ve been addressed in a prequel (help a writer out, fill the comments with them!), as well as have fun with a few little notions that crossed my mind while planning out the canon.

Still more to do the happy dance of anticipation about!

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The other part of the smash was this: In about a 24-hour period, I went from nearly scrapping my entire NaNo project (yes, 35K words at that point), to figuring out how to 98% rewrite it.

This, obviously, will take time to explore and expand and make, well, not rough draft-y. But I love my new concept, and am excited to work on it.

Most likely I’ll get it ready for release after I finish writing/planning for publication the Twelve Tribes series (as I already have enough on my plate regarding the completion of my magnum opus).

The working title is “How To Be A Savage,” and it’s about… (drum roll, please) …

Autistic superheroes.

Yes, actual people on the spectrum who are also superheroes. They won’t be your standard fare along the lines of Superman, Batman, the Green Arrow, or Wonder Woman, either. They won’t wear those ridiculous spandex suits. They won’t be so foolish as to think no one will ever not recognize them if they wear a mask that only covers their eyes. They’ll have trouble creating and executing highly-sophisticated weapons or tech. Their chosen missions and reasons for fighting those battles may not make sense to anyone but them.

I am enthused.

Are you enthused?!

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Anyway… So, those are my writing plans as they stand at present.

Finish Volumes 3 and 4. (Okay, start and finish, in this case.)

Complete the field guide, along with its prequel-ish (and some sequel-ish) excerpts.

Work up White Fang’s character arc/plot arc more fully.

WRITE ABOUT AUTISTIC SUPERHEROES.

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I am also not planning on committing to anything else under the sun in 2018. I mean, that I wasn’t already expecting to do, like clean my house and feed my children and cat.

My Goodreads challenge for next year will probably be a very easy 25. I won’t be starting a newsletter or a Wattpad account.

My blog will stay pretty much as is — reviews, discussions, announcements, lots of cat pictures.

Hopefully, my fame will continue to spread and people will flock to my art like — ha, ha, I have to — moths to a flame.

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There are also local opportunities most likely opening up for me in the new year. I’ve been invited to speak at different readers’ and writers’ groups in town, through my local library, and this is exciting, too.

How can you help this little moth’s grand ambitions? Well, you can spread the word about my publications, my blog, my Twitter and Goodreads existence.

I now have 3 books available for purchase, Masters and Beginners, Rulers and Mages, and Dreamings and Muses, my short story collection. All can be found on Barnes & Noble.com, at:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/masters-and-beginners-daley-downing/1126998956?ean=9781538033111

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dreamings-and-muses-daley-downing/1127168779?ean=9781538036631

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rulers-and-mages-daley-downing/1127527926?ean=9781538056752

It’s coming up to the holidays, so take advantage of those coupons and free shipping offers!

AND…I will be giving away a free e-copy of Rulers and Mages! Just mention in the comments if you’d like to enter, and I will ask my trusted Hat of Randomness to select the lucky winner!

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Autism, movies

Movie Review: The Accountant

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So, about a week and a half ago, we watched The Accountant. 

It was my husband’s choice for viewing; I wasn’t that excited about it.

“Another movie with Ben Affleck killing people and blowing things up? Eh.”

Within 10 minutes, I’d drastically changed my mind.

Ben Affleck portrays a character with Asperger’s syndrome, who’s a successful accountant, and a trained assassin. Yes, you read that right.

I was utterly numb by the time the credits started. Affleck’s depiction was amazing. He constantly struggles with making eye contact with the other characters, shaking hands, understanding jokes or rhetorical comments. This is probably his only role where he doesn’t get the girl. The scene where he forced himself to deal with bright lights and intense noise through repeated exposure therapy actually made me look away and cover my ears.

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Now, I don’t have Asperger’s (White Fang and I are PDD — the differences are another post), but I’m pretty close in a lot of ways, so to say that I related and HAD ALL THE FEELS is, erm, well, worthy of being in all caps.

A while ago, I mentioned that I wondered, where were the superheroes that autistic kids could connect with? Meaning, is it possible to have superhero potential without possessing all the money, all the tech, all the bling, and refusing to wear those ridiculous spandex suits because of fabric sensitivity?

Well, I think The Accountant comes pretty damn close to being an autistic superhero.

His natural tendencies towards moving quietly and not engaging in small talk are seen as benefits (easy to sneak up on the bad guy, and not give him time to get away while making a snarky quip).

His creative problem solving skills and attention to detail and ability to self-discipline mean that he managed not to get caught by the FBI for a long time. His unusual mentality and sense of morality helped good people, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of some truly nasty business.

He lives very frugally himself, and donates huge sums of money to autism research.

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Without giving too much away (because I want you all to go and rent this movie NOW), there’s a minor character, a doctor who treats “neurodivergent” children with a completely open mind. This guy is my new favorite person for advocacy. Yes, he’s a fictional construct, but, damn it, we need people like him to spring into being and change the real world.

This doctor believes that autism isn’t “less,” isn’t “bad” or “wrong.” He believes autism is simply a different way of living, one that the rest of humanity hasn’t figured out how to translate.

(Get out the tissues for the autistic moth.)

Towards the end of the film, he tells a couple struggling to accept their son’s diagnosis, “Maybe he doesn’t understand yet how to tell us everything he’s capable of. Or, maybe we haven’t learned how to listen.”

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(Pardon me a moment.)

Okay, conclusions.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Ben Affleck, but he has my everlasting respect for his execution of this role. Portrayals like this give me hope that not just the tolerance, but that the acceptance, we so desperately need, will one day be within our grasp.

I don’t just recommend this movie — seriously, watch it tonight. (Note: It is rated R, so not a family thing.) There are many concepts addressed here that everyone needs to be aware of.

So that one day there might be autistic superheroes.

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Autism, writing

What to Do When NaNoWriMo Crashes and Burns on You

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Yes, this is exactly what happened to me. About 3 days ago, I began to have extreme doubts regarding my NaNo project. The excitement that I had weeks ago for the premise was rapidly fading. Too much of what I’d written was feeling hollow, bereft of my original purpose, and the notion of trying to plow through for another 10 whole days on this concept was just…ugh.

It was gnawing at me, digging at my soul. So, I took a break and banged out the pre-printing formatting for Volume 2. That was a good thing, as now Volume 2 is being processed, and hopefully will be ready for sale by Monday.

But there was still the matter of the fact that I had already entered more than 40K on my NaNo project, and the thought of all that work going to waste… Insert loud wails of despair here.

I went to bed in an absolute pit of agony.

Then — at about 5 a.m. — I was having a dream that had nothing to do with anything (I was interviewing for a position at a day care center, and failing miserably, because most people won’t admit it but don’t want to hire autistic employees), and this began to occur in my brain:

What if we lived in a world that gave people like me priority, rather than the last shot? What if we were at the top of the ladder, not the bottom? 

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Hence, a new idea on how to portray the gap between autists and NTs (the major premise of my NaNo project) took shape.

Now, because I have already put in so much work, and there are no rules stating that you can’t switch projects midstream (and I know some people regularly break their NaNo up into several smaller stories/novellas that in total hit the 50K or more tally), I feel much better.

All my effort till now has not been in vain!

And I still only need around 5K words to finish and win!

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So, what wasn’t turning out well for me?

Well, I was trying too hard to write outside my comfort zone. I was going for first person in present tense (which I’m not the best at, and have only done so once before, and it was a real struggle).

I tried to go all meta (throwing in way too many references to my personal life, like blogging and even NaNo itself — yeah, go ahead and cringe, I did, too). The whole thing felt more like a surreal journal of an alternate timeline to my own life. (Please, no one immediately tell me that’s a fabulous plot idea. Go write it yourself, then.)

My hope was to draw on some of my own experiences as an autist (because it’s real, many people can relate to that) to paint a fully-informed fictional picture of a character with my condition. It was getting too close for me. I just couldn’t do it. It literally hurt.

(Don’t even consider telling me that pushing my boundaries is a good thing. I will throw this pillow at you. Yes, this one, right here, see it??)

NaNo is a time of strict deadlines, and jumping in the deep end with both feet to a style/genre that is distinctly not my forte during this period was an epic fail. Maybe one day I’ll attempt something like this again.

Maybe never.

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So now, I feel calm, I feel ready to kick the rest of this word count in the butt, and probably the tears can be kept at bay until December 1st.

Some of the concepts I was exploring in the original NaNo-ing I may go back to at some point.

In the very distant future. In a parallel dimension.

In the meantime, I know I’m presently creating something that I’ll be happy with months from now.

All this upheaval is worth it.

(Yes, it is. Hush.)

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