Lyn Miller-Lachmann Interview: ROGUE

There have been an increasing number of books for young people with characters on the autism spectrum.  ROGUE is written by an author who knows what it’s like from the inside because she has Asperger’s herself.  She is also a teacher, book reviewer, DJ and world traveler!  I asked Lyn to tell us a little about herself and ROGUE.  (With photos, too!)  Enjoy!

Can you tell us how this book, or any of your books, came to be published?

I started out with a non-profit small press, Curbstone Press, that was known for literary, politically progressive, and multicultural/international fiction and poetry. Curbstone published three of my books, including my award winning YA novel, Gringolandia, before closing as a result of the sudden passing of its founder and editorial director, Alexander Taylor. Gringolandia was set in Chile and among Chilean exiles in the United States in the 1980s. When my editor passed away, I was working on a sequel. I knew I would have to find another publisher—Curbstone folded four months after Gringolandia came out in 2009, and the novel was sold to Northwestern University Press, which doesn’t publish YA—so I looked for an agent. The agent I found loved the sequel but couldn’t sell it.

In the meantime, I enrolled in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. With the encouragement of my first advisor, An Na, I began to write a novel about the subject I have most avoided—my own troubled childhood and adolescence as a person on the autism spectrum (though I was not officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until adulthood, when it became a separate diagnosis). Because of the success of Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World and your own Mockingbird, there was mainstream interest in novels about this subject, fueled also at the time by the debate over eliminating Asperger’s as a separate diagnosis in the psychiatry manual. I had a letter published in the New York Times on this subject, and shortly afterward, my agent sold my novel to Nancy Paulsen at Penguin. My editor was very interested in a novel from the perspective of a character with Asperger’s that was written by a person with Asperger’s.

What were some of the challenges you faced, writing such an autobiographical novel?

My principal challenge was creating a character who readers would find likable and sympathetic, when no one found me particularly likable and sympathetic when I was growing up. I wrote a guest post for Canadian writer and blogger Melianie Fishbane on that subject.

Getting Rogue published raised additional dilemmas, such as how public I should go with my place on the autism spectrum. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, many employers still don’t understand that persons with neurological differences have much to contribute because of our unique way of seeing the world. Writing careers, though, are precarious, and I’m obviously concerned that my very public disclosure will affect my future employability if things don’t work out. Thus, I’m grateful for your support and the support of readers, because I really want young people on the spectrum to see that if writing stories is their dream and their special power, they should go for it. And to know that they are not alone, and they are valued for who they are.

Besides the protagonist having Asperger’s, how much of Rogue is autobiographical?

The opening scene, in which Kiara tries to sit at the popular girls’ table because she believes that will make her popular, actually happened to me. One of the popular girls pushed my tray to the floor, but, unlike Kiara, I didn’t pick it up and smack her in the face with it. I just cried and all the kids laughed at me.

Kiara’s unwitting involvement in the drug business of Chad’s family is also autobiographical, though with different drugs. When popular kids started showing up at the community radio station where I volunteered in high school and asked me to drive them places and introduce me to people, I thought I had finally made it. Little did I know I had become their drug courier. I was crushed to find out the popular kids didn’t like me but were only using me, and it taught me an important lesson about how far I would go to have friends.

How did you come up with Kiara’s attraction to X-Men characters?

When I was growing up, I became aware of the X-Men, mutants who didn’t fit into society but had special powers that could help society and in this way create understanding of those who are different. Rogue didn’t exist at that time—she first appeared in the early 1980s—but I was drawn to Professor X, who I saw as a kind of mentor. He used a wheelchair and appealed more to me as a girl than the physically powerful superheroes like Wolverine, and I wished I had someone like that who would take me in and find me a place where I belonged.

Rogue is a natural for Kiara because she cannot touch or be touched. And she quickly identifies Chad as Gambit. In the X-Men, Gambit has a complex and close relationship with Rogue because they share roots in the Mississippi Delta (which parallels Kiara and Chad’s life in the poor town next to the wealthy college town) and because both have been pulled to the dark side.

Where did the character of Chad come from?

In elementary and middle school, I tended to be attracted to the bad boys who, even though they were often mean to me, were outsiders like me. And they became less mean once I hit my growth spurt around fifth and sixth grade and beat one of them up. The kid I beat up, an undersized boy who along with his twin brother had flunked a grade and was therefore older than me, is the closest model for Chad. People said the twins came from a bad family situation, which I guessed made sense because they were always getting in trouble.

Why do you think Kiara is able to deal with something as disturbing as a meth lab or child abuse, both very adult issues, if she is supposedly prone to meltdowns and lack of understanding?

Kiara doesn’t understand the emotional gravity of Chad’s situation, which allows her to stay involved with him in the way that she does. She believes Chad when he says his parents’ associates will hurt her and her father if she tells anyone, because she tends to believe everything she’s told and she doesn’t have the understanding to know otherwise. At the same time, she wants Chad to be her friend, and if she tells someone he’s in a bad situation, he’ll stop being her friend or he’ll go away and she’ll be alone again.

Kiara’s meltdowns usually have to do with her being frustrated in what she wants, and often over what appear to others to be minor things, like having the same take-out dinner several nights in a row. She doesn’t melt down over things that happen to other people. One might consider it a lack of empathy that can be attributed to having Asperger’s, but Kiara is quite capable of empathy. She has trouble understanding situations where empathy is called for or expressing it. Through the kindness shown to her by several other characters in the novel—most notably the family friend Mrs. Mac and her brother’s friend Antonio—she learns how to recognize the suffering of others and communicate the empathy she feels.

It seems to me that Kiara is a better friend to Chad than anyone else could be.  Why is that?

Like Kiara, Chad is a rejected child. He’s failing in school, and Kiara thinks his parents don’t like him very much. Kiara may not understand much, but she understands rejection. While she reaches out to Chad initially in order have a friend, she ends up with the kind of fundamental connection that may save both of them. That said, she doesn’t think that she’s doing a good enough job of being Chad’s friend because she can’t keep him from getting hurt. But she doesn’t stop trying. I think that her persistence—a common trait of people with Asperger’s—is what ultimately makes a better friend to Chad than anyone else can be.

Is there a sequel to Rogue?

I have an idea for one but am waiting to see if Kiara makes enough friends who want to know what happens next. I have quite a few other projects to keep me busy.

What are you working on now?

After finishing Rogue, I wrote a YA novel titled ANTS GO MARCHING. It’s about an academically gifted boy, the only person from his mobile home park in the elite accelerated-honors program at his suburban school. When a trio of well-to-do bullies attacks him following a verbal provocation, he sustains a severe concussion that leads to him flunking out of the program. The novel portrays his struggle to find a new place for himself, and to avoid the one he seems fated to occupy because of the circumstances of his birth.

Now that my agent is starting to submit ANTS, I’m working on a humorous middle grade novel with a 13-year-old nerd-boy who tries to find a new wife for his eccentric widowed grandfather.

Can you write humor?

Only by accident. But I keep trying anyway.

Is it true that you organized a book launch party with Lego minifigures as a way to encourage attendance?  (Great idea, by the way!)

Yes. Actually, the book launch party that got 100% non-attendance was for my novel for adult readers that came out in 2006. This time, I decided to organize an event where I would have more control over my attendees.

And here are the promised photos:

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Thank you, Lyn, for this interview!  To learn more about Lyn, please visit her website.  Looking forward to reading more of your work, Lyn!

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SEEING RED Playlist

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Although iTunes no longer seems to support the posting of a playlist on a website, I came up with my own by using Amazon.  So, here it is, the playlist for SEEING RED!  It’ll give a feel for the era, the characters, and the story.  And it’s some darn good music.  Enjoy!

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Nicole Griffin Interview (THE WHOLE STUPID WAY WE ARE)

I love Nicole Griffin’s voice.  And her characters — Skint is one who should go down in the annals of great literature.  And the very real in-your-face (in a good way) story.  And the raw emotions.  It’s all good.  More than good.  I think you’ll really enjoy The Whole Stupid Way We Are.  Horn Book and Publishers Weekly think so, too, having given it starred reviews.  Congratulations, Nicole!!  And now to learn a little more about the voice behind the story …

Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

I love this question with a great big L, because I have never once thought about it!  Only that I love and need to write, but not really what inspires me to do it.  I think the answer boils down to people.  I love thinking about people and how we feel and how that makes us act and react as we do, and what those actions and reactions make happen in terms of relationships and events.  This never, ever gets boring to me, and I think I spend a huge amount of time thinking about this.  EVEN WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE ALL I AM DOING IS CRUSHING CANDY, I am actually thinking about this and then eventually, I gotsta go write.

Why did you write this book / choose this topic?

Oh, lots of things!  When I was writing The Whole Stupid Way We are, I wanted to write about the kind of teen I see all the time, which is a  passionately compassionate person who craves to act on that passion when there maybe isn’t a clear path to do so.  And I heard a song once that sounded so much like grief feels that I wanted to write a book that felt like that, too.  I also wanted to write funny parts, so please don’t worry the book is only about sadness, potential readers.  There are jokes in there, too.  🙂

Why do you write for young people?

I think I write for young people because they deserve it the most, somehow, and their attention is also somehow the biggest honor.  I read incessantly as a kid, to the point of addiction, really, and I still remember everything I read back then, though I couldn’t tell you a title of a book I read last week.  Not because I won’t have loved it, but because my memory is now nonexistent.  Too many books as a kid, I guess.   But those kid-read books mattered to me enormously– and still do– because every word I read then became cosmology to me.  We adults do not read that way—we love books and read them and think about them, but we don’t grab onto to them to make ourselves the way kids do, and that kind of relationship between a reader and words means the world to me.

Tea or coffee?  Coffee!

Favorite season?  Winter!

Favorite comfort food?  COOKIES!

Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?  Tchah to all that is not chocolate!

Cat or dog?  Dog!

Ideal evening.  Hot chocolate bev and Cupcake Wars, my friends.

Favorite board, card, or computer game?  Pictionary. Why don’t we ever play this anymore?

Favorite sport or form of exercise?  Gymnastics.  I am an obsessive, crazed fan of this sport.  Don’t even get me started.

You’re going on a book tour:  Plane, train or automobile?  Plane!  I hate flying but like to get travel over with as quickly as possible.  Of course, I can tesser—no!  Forget that!  I’ve said too much!

Thanks, Nicole!  And here’s her website and entertaining blog so you can keep up with her!  Looking for a middle grade mystery from Nicole next year.  :o)

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Animals, Books, and a Great Cause

Six year old Catherine Hubbard, who lost her life in the Newton school shooting, had already made up business cards for herself as an animal “care taker.”  To honor her passion for saving animals, an animal sanctuary is being developed in her name.  Bobbie Pyron (author of A DOG’S WAY HOME and THE DOG’S OF WINTER) has organized a book auction on her website.  There are fabulous autographed books for you or someone you love.  The auction will be from June 3 to June 16.  Please consider participating and helping create this sanctuary and making Catherine’s Dream come true.

Thank you!

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Interview with Gigi Amateau

First, I want to congratulate Gigi because her latest book, COME AUGUST, COME FREEDOM, is a finalist in the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Awards!  Hooray!  (Voting is open until June 30th.)  It’s a particularly important book for Virginia, documenting — in novel form — what it must have been like for the enslaved Gabriel and his compatriots to try organize a rebellion in 1800 and attempt to gain their freedom.  Gigi researched and uncovered fascinating documents pertaining to his life and the times.  I think it should be required reading in every Virginia school, at least.

Gigi has written a variety of acclaimed books all dealing with different, and tough, issues:  CLAIMING GEORGIA TATE, A CERTAIN STRAIN OF PECULIAR, CHANCEY OF THE MAURY RIVER, and its sequel coming this summer, MACADOO OF THE MAURY RIVER!

To get to know the lovely Gigi better, I asked her to answer some questions for us — enjoy!

Favorite season?

Summertime and the living’s easy. I love summer!

Cat or dog?

A redbone coonhound named Biscuit and two horses: Albert and Latte.

Favorite sport or form of exercise?

Yoga and horseback riding. Or, yoga on horseback! My favorite sport to watch is VCU Men’s Basketball.

Language in which you’d most like to be fluent.

I studied Russian in college, and wish I had made the time to really immerse in the language. But, I really wish I had studied Latin. It seems like people who know Latin know their way around words and language very well.

Country you’d most like to visit.

Wales. I’d like to go listen to some storytellers and ride horses in the mountains.

What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?

The Bible, nature, my horse, and my grandparents inspire and guide me.

What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?

Come August, Come Freedom is based on the historic events surrounding Gabriel’s Rebellion, one of the largest slave rebellions ever organized in U.S. History. The leader of the rebellion, an enslaved blacksmith named Gabriel, was born in 1776 and was executed for the conspiracy in 1800. I hope readers will take away the nugget that our history is full of heroes and sheroes who we may not read about in textbooks.

Why did you write this book / choose this topic?

The historical record on Gabriel’s Rebellion is so fascinating. His is a story about power, politics, military strategy, the early republic, and the insistence of enslaved Americans to determine their own lives.

When do you write?

I work full-time, so I write when I can. Early in the mornings, late at night, and all day on Saturdays and Sundays!

Where do you write?

All sorts of places! In the winter, I sit in the big wing chair in our living room with a fire burning in the fireplace. During spring and summer, when the river is low I like to write on a big rock in the James. I LOVE to revise during half-time at basketball games. And, I get some writing done in my office, too.

What helps you write?

My dog, a composition notebook, and a Ticonderoga #2 pencil.

How do your ideas come to you?

Often ideas come while I’m walking or practicing yoga. Lots of ideas occur during research, too.

Is there a sequel?

No, there’s no sequel to Come August, Come Freedom, but I might write about a different man who was involved in the rebellion.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on the third book in the Horses of the Maury River series. The second book, Macadoo of the Maury River, comes out this August. And, also this summer, I’ll release a mobile app based on the first book, Chancey of the Maury River for the iPad, Nook, and Kindle.

Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?

Because readers are leaders. If you look back over history, those who determine their own lives and those who change the world can read, including the blacksmith Gabriel.

I love that, Gigi!  Thanks for the interview!  To learn more about Gigi, please visit her website.  Happy reading!

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Little Free Library — Brilliant Idea!

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I love this idea.  A tiny library in your own neighborhood.  Most of us have books we don’t mind donating and it’s kind of fun to see what’s in there that you might enjoy reading — like a little treasure box.  You can find a Little Free Library all over the world.  This is our local little free library.  It was low on kids’ books so I donated a copy of Mockingbird.  Do you have one in your town?

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Mother’s Day Meander

Just photos.  It was such a gorgeous day I couldn’t help taking photos along the way:

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A Poet?

IMG_1369Several times recently I’ve been told I’m a poet.  I’m flattered although I don’t believe it for a second.  What I might be willing to accept is that my writing can sometimes have a poetic quality, occasionally even being like poetry.  I so respect real poets.  To be able to convey an idea, feeling or emotion in just a few words is something I haven’t mastered.  It’s HARD to find just the right word or short sequence of words, especially when you can use 10 or 20 to say the same thing, like I tend to do.   My poor husband has been dealing with this for years:

Me:  “That tool with the removable ball on the end that you flip around and it goes reeh-er, reeh-er, reeh-er and you screw things in or unscrew things depending on what you want.”

My husband:  “Ratchet screwdriver.”

Right, that.  So I’ll just sit back and read and admire Jeannine Atkins or Kristy Dempsey or Alma Fullerton or Mary Quattlebaum.  And be grateful to Jen Bailey for pointing out some poetic elements (that, honestly, I didn’t even recognize — another reason I’m obviously not a poet) in my novel Quaking.  I’ll try to be more cognizant of poetic language in my writing, which may be challenging given that in my current teen road trip novel the main character’s language is poetic in the style of, say, Al Pacino.  But there’s always room for some poetic language, right?

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SEEING RED, Seeing Stars

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The first advance review copy of SEEING RED was overnighted to me by my lovely editor and I am seeing stars.  This book has been a long time coming and I’m giddy that it’s finally “born.”  I started this novel  14 years ago, in the previous century . . . I checked my computer and the earliest notes are from 1999.  My apologies for this long, self-indulgent post, but this book is near and dear to me.  Like all stories, it comes from my past.  It comes from my head and my heart and, most of all, from my gut.  And it has a long history . . .

… my first sale, my first publisher merger, my first change of editors, and my first sad pulling of a novel because I didn’t like the way it was ending up.  That was hard to do — I had finally made it to the “big time” and I wasn’t going to see it published.  Sometimes it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey although, I admit, I didn’t feel that way at the time.  But as I tell students at school visits when I’m encouraging them to take the time to revise, this is your name, your stamp, your brand you’re putting on this work.  Is this really what you want it to say?

This book has been through many, many revisions.  The plot has changed.  The  title has changed — here are just a few I remember over the years:   Facing Freedom, Deer Season, Freeman’s Phoenix, Cornerstone, Finding Truth, Finding Hope, etc. — but the heart of the story has remained the same.  And the era.  It’s still 1972, with all the strife of that time — Vietnam, Civil Rights, equality for women.  The characters, too, have stayed steady.  Their spirit has been the same through every revision.  Red is still angry, confused, hurt, loyal, thoughtless, caring, responsible and irresponsible– like all of us.  He’s a mix, which is what makes him not perfect but real.  Beau is sweet and kind and smarter than most give him credit for.  Miss Georgia is strong and tough, given what she has been through, and doesn’t take any guff from anyone.  I love that.  Daddy is still idealized by Red, all the more so since he’s gone, but the rest of us can probably find a few flaws because he was, after all, human.  Still, what a great dad to treat your son like a man and give him responsibilities and give support, by standing by, as he solves his own problems.  Mama is coming out of her shell and awakening to the women’s movement, helped perhaps, by Rosie, who suffers her own pain but has the hope and resiliency of youth.  I could go on because I’ve lived with these characters for a long time, but I’ll leave it to potential readers.

After my non-publication disappointment, I didn’t want to pick up this story again for a long long time.  I’d tried so many iterations and it just wasn’t working.  The manuscript was a complete jumbled mess.  But the characters still spoke to me and people kept asking about it, including my very encouraging editor.  When I, reluctantly, went back to the manuscript I saw it wasn’t such a horrible mess after all.  There was hope.  There is ways hope.  So … more revisions.  More research.  More time.  My editor retired.  I still worked on it.  Enter, stage left, Andrea Davis Pinkney at Scholastic.  She championed it, got the support of the Scholastic book fairs and clubs, and people in house cheered for it.  Like every good editor, mine had some suggestions–give this character more room, go deeper here, face the demons.  So now I’m glad that it didn’t publish ten years ago.  I don’t think I was a mature or brave enough writer then to really write the novel I wanted to.  Now it’s finally there.  And now it’s finally here.  And I’m proud of it.  Thanks to many people along the way, it’s finally where I want it to be.  It’s the story I want to tell.  Thats why I’m seeing stars.

Oh, and a note on why revisions are so important?  Picking up the ARC, seeing it as an actual book and, even as the author, feeling more like a reader, I saw a glaring omission.  At the back of this novel is a list of some of the important characters and their inspirations.  Somehow, I neglected to explain my main character’s name.  Thank goodness for advance review copies!  The rest of the ARC’s will be out soon (although perhaps not with the explanation about Red; that will be in the final version).  Thanks to everyone who has expressed interest.  And to the teachers, librarians, booksellers and  those in the literary world who wanted an ARC, thank you in advance for taking the time to read it.  I appreciate it.

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MIKE-apalooza! Thanks, Nelson Middle School!

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Nelson County Middle School is doing a school wide read (or listen) of THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE.  It was such FUN talking with these smart, funny, clever young people!  Here are some of their creations:

Signs from the book for various rooms (I like how the front office got to be “Big Dawg,”) and quotes:

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A beautiful Lego bridge and map, just like Mike’s, and a cat clock just like Poppy & Moo’s:

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In fact, all the clocks in the school were transformed into “Felix the Cat” clocks:

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A bulletin board with Lego tile comments folks can leave related to the book’s themes (“Do you remember a time you were lost?”), a skit,  quotes from the book and even, the piece de resistance, Past’s shopping cart complete with laptop, cooler and photo of Misha!  Wow!  And even flowers and a Relay for Life luminaria in my honor!  Yup, this is what makes a writer’s day — no, a writer’s whole year!  Thanks, guys!

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