You know what we never talk about enough around here? BOOKS, OBVIOUSLY.
Haaa HA ha ha…just KIDDING! I mention them once or twice, when I’m not pretending this blog isn’t completely about cake and how many rainbow books I can fit into one photo. (#Lies. That is exactly what my blog is for.) But there is an aspect of my book blogging, authorly, and bookworm life that I haven’t discussed here and I’m very passionate about so what are we waiting for?! *
Today I’m having a Q&A with my friend @DaleyDowning to talk a bit about how we’re both on the autism spectrum and how our autism affects our reading, blogging, and writing lives! This is definitely a different post to what I usually shout at you about, so I confess to N E R V E S. At least two of them, maybe three.
Since I’ve never actually discussed my autism on the blog before, I’ll do a little mini FAQ before I faceplant into the discussion like the truly chill person I am.
* I mean I’m waiting for the apocalypse. But whatever.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is exactly what is says: a spectrum. So everyone is super different.
- It’s a disability, NOT A MENTAL ILLNESS. Although it’s usually a pre-packaged deal with mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.
- People like to classify autistics as “high functioning” vs “low functioning” which is fair, but hard to gauge because autism isn’t a line. There are “low functioning” autistics who can talk to strangers. There are “high functioning” autistics who can’t leave their house.
- Girls are often under-diagnosed because we can blend in more easily than boys. Hence I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 21.
- I’m not an expert on anyone’s autism except my own!
- Some really excellent YA novels with good autism rep are: Lady Midnight, Queens of Geek, Kids Like Us, and Things I Should Have Known.
- Contrary to the myths, autistic people don’t eat their followers’ souls. That’s just me. Mwah hahaha. Aren’t you SO GLAD TO BE HERE.
ALRIGHT LET’S DIVE INTO THE Q&A!
1. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE GENRES TO READ AND WHY?
DALEY: Fantasy and YA. Sometimes historical fiction. Mostly it’s because I don’t have a very strong attention span, so I really prefer shorter novels (300 or so pages) and styles that don’t include 17-letter words that I constantly have to look up. Also I like to be able to pronounce the character and place names, so I’m not huge on high fantasy or sci-fi.
CAIT: My truest love is also fantasy, everything from magical realism to high fantasy. Basically = please let there be knives and dragons. But lately I’ve really fallen in love with contemporary YA too. I’m finding the new releases to be really emotional, raw, diverse, and prone to breaking your feels and while you cry into your cake about it. Books are so nice. I mean.
2. WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHORS?
CAIT: Maggie Stiefvater and VE Schwab win for BEST OF BEST…but I also adore Cassandra Clare, John Green, Leigh Bardugo, Scott Lynch, Adam Silvera, and Jay Kristoff! (Yes I’m sorry but I’m allergic to minimizing my answers to this kind of question.)
3. WHICH GENRES DO YOU PREFER TO WRITE AND WHY?
DALEY: Fantasy, for sure, but also contemporary. (I have created my own genre, called suburban fantasy – since my plot/characters are generally set in small town communities in modern times.) It’s so much easier for me to keep up with the language and technology and fashion of an era I (more or less) understand, than trying to go back a hundred or more years.
CAIT: I’m with Daley in that my top 2 genres are definitely fantasy and contemporary. I write a lot of epic fantasy, but I’m dying to try magical realism. The idea of having WiFi and chocolate ice cream BUT ALSO faeries and dark magic just is pleasing. I also write just YA contemporary, which is 50% me being able to make a shameful amount of puns and add in Tumblr humour and 50% me trying not to let everyone get murdered because apparently that’s not normal for contemporaries. Who knew??? Amazing. I have written sci-fi before but HAHA NEVER AGAIN. I DO NOT SCIENCE.
4. WHAT PARTICULARLY ASPECTS OF WRITING DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH, AS AN AUTISTIC AUTHOR?
DALEY: Making sure my NT (neurotypical) characters behave in ways non-autistic people would behave. (Depending on the scene, that can be really hard.) Also not cutting short dialogue (because I can’t come up with the corresponding emotional reactions), and explaining action sufficiently (my brain likes to get ahead of my fingers).
CAIT: I’ve always struggled with writing characters, particularly relationships…ok fine, particularly romances. Since I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until a few years ago, I didn’t know why I this was so hard for me and it genuinely freaked me out that my characters couldn’t seem to move beyond sassing each other to death. (Though I still see no downside in that. My aesthetic.) But I’ve put a heckin’ lot of work in with a lot of research through reading and it pays off! As a writer, I think it’s our duty to write from different perspectives and work at it!
CAIT: I also write a lot of neurodiverse characters but not intentionally. Recently I finished a book with my first canon autistic character and my sister read it and said, “OK so who isn’t autistic here?” WHOOPS. So it slips in. Just like it’d take conscious effort for a neurotypical (non-autistic) author to write an autistic character, it’s the same for us vice versa. We have to translate and analyse. I’ll be asked by betas to explain myself more and put more emotional connection on page. “You know your characters can touch right?!?” I’ve been told for my romances and then realised with surprise that I hadn’t done that because my autistic-self hates physical contact so I accidentally avoid writing it. And just like Daley, I find myself doing a double take on how I’ve made my neurotypical characters act. It feels like a big messy puzzle and one I didn’t even know I was putting the pieces in backwards until recently. But do I enjoy the puzzle? #YES.
5. AS AN AUTISTIC READER, DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC TRIGGERS OR EXTREME DISLIKES THAT YOU TRY TO AVOID WHEN YOU CHOOSE BOOKS?
DALEY: I don’t like explicit, graphic violence or sexual content or lots of profanity. Too much info-dumping really bores me and makes me not invested in the story. And I’m not one for 5-paragraph descriptions of how the character’s shoes were made.
CAIT: I’m opposite to Daley though in that I love dark books. Darker the better yessss. (I’m sure I’m fine, shh don’t fret.) But some of my biggest triggers are: (1) talking flippantly about suicide, and (2) actually reading bad representation of autism in books…which happens a lot. When you see “your people” in books but they’re constantly belittled or forced to change or just written with condescending stereotypes, it gets to you. I’ve finished YA books about autism and felt anxious and ill afterwards. So that’s what problematic representation does to those in the minority, peoples.
6. DO YOU FEEL THAT FINDING NT (NEUROTYPICAL) CHARACTERS IN BOOKS THAT YOU CAN RELATE TO IS HARD?
DALEY: Sometimes, yes. Often I like to read about protagonists who are introverts or who have traits that put them closer to the autism spectrum (even if they’re not actually on it), because I simply can’t connect with people who have 345 friends and are always going places and like having a 9-5 job. And finding narrators/protagonists who experience sensory issues (like a fear of crowds or loud noises and the ensuing physical responses) is very rare and precious.
CAIT: Again I’m so with you, Daley! I love finding characters who have a lot of autism traits because I instantly connect. Sometimes they won’t be diagnosed on page, but I will headcanon that they are and it IS SO NICE. (Especially in fantasy! Where are my fantasy autistics?!) However? The average protagonist…no I don’t relate to them. I actually freak out over this and all my low-star ratings on books I review. Is it because I don’t relate? Am I doing the book a disservice because my brain + that book = aren’t compatible? But fretting aside — I CAN enjoy a book and not “relate.” Good writing wins.
7. DO YOU FEEL THAT WRITING FROM AN AUTISTIC PERSPECTIVE WILL MAKE YOUR OWN NOVELS DIFFICULT FOR MOST PEOPLE TO CONNECT WITH?
DALEY: I do worry about it a little. Since I have 2 characters on the spectrum, they’re really easy to write; and yet, I truly hope I can describe their experiences in a way NT readers will understand and get something from. There are certain things about myself that I just can’t alter or adjust to seeing in a purely NT way, so I do A LOT of editing before I consider my manuscripts complete, hoping to achieve a good middle ground.
CAIT: Again, I hadn’t thought about this till recently…but I’ve worried about it! I also worry that if I write “too many autistic characters” people won’t be as interested in my work. Is that worry unfounded? Maybe??? But I see SO MANY reviewers on Goodreads reading a book with an autistic character and their first comment is: “Well I didn’t relate obviously because I’m not autistic.” It makes me sad. Then it makes me worried. I don’t think it SHOULD be a problem because if I can relate to a neurotypical, why shouldn’t you relate to an autistic? But so far, any betas I’ve had have all found my books delightfully stabby and relatable and I’ve had NO problems. OK fine they didn’t say “delightfully stabby” but I’m sure they think that deep inside.
8. HOW DO YOU PREPARE TO WRITE? WHAT’S THE ENVIRONMENT YOU NEED TO BE PRODUCTIVE?
DALEY: I like it quiet, not many (or any) people around. The cat is fine. Sometimes I like to put on music, or a movie I’ve seen 14 million times, so it just becomes background. Definitely I need to have been thinking tons about my next plot point or moment in the character arc. Usually I handwrite my first draft, then take everything to the computer from there for easier revising and editing.
CAIT: I need 100% silence. I have noise-cancelling headphones to help with this. I also need a very tight schedule to be fully productive. So I write in “binge sessions” and will put in 8+ hour workdays with every minute accounted for (WITH RESTS OK I’M NOT A MACHINE). People often ask me how I even focus for that long and…well I literally can’t focus like that for ANYTHING else. (I have the attention span of a gnat.) But writing? Dude, I just don’t stop. I get into hyper-focus and I’m gone.
9. ARE YOU PURSING TRADITIONAL OR SELF-PUBLISHING, AND WHAT ARE YOUR REASONS?
DALEY: Self-publishing, because I got really tired of sending out queries to agents and getting this response: “We feel your work is promising, but…” The “but” always related to something autistic I’d done (often without even realizing it) in the manuscript, and most people aren’t well-educated on ASD, so they didn’t even consider that the writer was ASD or even close to that possibility. So it boiled down to they liked my premise and my style, but they didn’t get the plot points or MC’s motivations. Through self-publishing, I have total creative control, and no one telling me “not to be autistic.”
CAIT: I have a really lovely and understanding literary agent in the UK and I honestly don’t think I’ve had any hiccups that a non-autistic writer pursing traditional publishing wouldn’t have had too! It’s long and hard journey and YOU GOTTA BE PATIENT even when you want to eat a brick wall. But my agent is extremely understanding and there has been 0% problems with the facts that (a) I’m autistic, (b) I can’t do phone calls because of social anxiety and I’m not good at speaking out loud, and (c) the way I think and write stories.
10. WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT BEING AN AUTISTIC WRITER AND READER?
DALEY: That we frequently won’t see things the way you do – we may never like the same authors you do, or the same genres, for very valid reasons. And it doesn’t mean we’re being stubborn or extremely judgemental. Often I’ve read books that weren’t for me at all, but I still considered them to be well-written and even recommended them to other readers. Also that as writers, we work REALLY, REALLY HARD to craft a tale that can be enjoyed by a variety of people (I can guarantee harder than most authors, and many of them do work their tails off). And that you shouldn’t worry that you won’t be able to relate to our writing; lots of NT readers have really enjoyed my debut novel. (You may even learn something about how we think and why we act the way we do, and that’s all good.)
CAIT: I love what Daley’s said there! I also think that it’d be nice if NT readers didn’t go into a book by an autistic author or about an autistic character with the assumption they’re not going to relate. Just enjoy the story. Don’t put up mental-roadblocks yourself. Our brains are having a slightly different party to yours, but it’s still a freaking cool party.