It’s time for a happy shimmy because it’s Autism Acceptance Month!
And honestly a happy shimmy is the best reaction to this because we autistics do love to stim. And yes, a lot of people call it “Autism Awareness Month” but you know what? People are aware. They just don’t accept us…plus I’m 99% sure Autism Speaks invented this phrase and they are actual problematic garbage. So I’m here for saying Autistic Pride and Autism Awareness and I can’t be stopped. 🙌🏻
Last year I did a post about how to tell if a book has good autism rep + some book recs, but this year, since it’s just THREE DAYS until my novel, The Boy Who Steals Houses, is out, I wanted to do something a little special and talk about…
what it’s like to write a novel with #ownvoices representation!
I have a lot of Thoughts™ about the actual concept of writing #ownvoices novels, because the main reaction to them is usually, “Oh at least that author had an easy time! They’re just writing what they’ve lived.” Ohhhhh sweet crepe, that doesn’t make it easy. So I want to talk about that in a little more detail!
Before I go on though, I’m super excited to point you to The Boy Who Steals Houses’ blog tour!
I’m over at A Little But A Lot with a whole deleted scene (it’s super cute!! and about potatoes and LOVE) and at No Safer Place for a really heartfelt review. So please check them out if you get a chance! There’s also going to be a post coming up about why Autism rep is so important in YA and an interview with my cover designer! 👀
Let’s talk about writing…
I wrote two #ownvoices storylines into The Boy Who Steals Houses. (1) being anxiety rep for my protagonist, Sam. (2) being autism rep for my secondary character, Avery. (Although I lowkey admit Sam could be diagnosed with autism too tbh. But he isn’t labelled on page, so discern what you will 🙌🏻)
Writing #ownvoices experiences left me with a lot of Thoughts™ which I’m about to share with you whilst I eat a chocolate chip biscuits and remember the good ol’ days when I got blog posts up on time. (It is…not…this day.)
1. Writing #Ownvoices includes a lot of pressure.
The thing people don’t realise is that ONE #ownvoices experience ≠ everyone in that marginalisation’s experience. I wrote Avery’s autism to be HIS autism. It isn’t 100% mine. I wrote the way we think and react to things rather similarly, but I didn’t want to author-self-insert, so his character still required a lot of rewriting and research and thought. But some people are going to read this book and think Avery isn’t good rep because he’s not relatable to them. So that’s nerve-wracking?! And I also turn into a moss-covered stump when I think about mistakes I might have made. Because that happens!! I’m not perfect and I’m still growing as a writer and human. (Although, um, not literally growing? I am very smol and that hasn’t changed since I was 14.) (dammit)
I think #ownvoices stories are asked to be perfect and relatable to everyone within that marginalisation. And that can be super intense to take on.
2. autism is also such a huge spectrum to try and capture
Basically: YOU CAN’T CAPTURE ALL OF AUTISM IN ONE CHARACTER! It’s impossible. There are higher-needs people who must have a 24/7 carer. There are also autistics out in the world with jobs and families. There are those of us in the middle (meeee and also my character, Avery) who cope with so many things but completely fall apart in other aspects.
Plus Avery isn’t the narrating character, so I built him through a lot of flash backs too.
(And yessss, I would love to write more about Avery…and also Sam and the De Laineys. But it’s largely outside of my control.)
3. you have to figure out how to tackle stereotypes
Because here’s the deal: stereotypes can have their nuggets of truth. They did spring into existence from somewhere lol sob. When I wrote Avery, I just wrote him. Then later I started to fret…ok he’s a white teenage boy, aka the most typical autism rep. It was what my story needed, but am I a total fail for this?! He’s also really obsessed with cars…another “typical” autism rendition in media. (But confession: I was obsessing over Baby Driver loooool so that’s where it sprung from.)
But here comes the difference: Avery is more than a stereotype. He has complex thoughts and feelings, he has dreams and wishes. He also is extremely physically affectionate, a boy who craves pressure hugs and was clinging to Sam long after it was “socially appropriate” for brothers to hug. Lots of people equate autism with = hating touch. I hate touch! But not all autistics do.
So here’s the difference when it comes to stereotypes.
…a marginalised character shouldn’t just fit stereotypes and nothing more.
If a character is just a list of stereotypes to tick of a list…then it’s probably not good rep. Because humans are uncanny creatures who don’t fit in designated boxes.
4. You also know way way way too much!
You’d think this would be a good thing right?! BUT, UGH, I KNOW TOO MANY THINGS. I think this goes for anyone who is a master of a topic: how much do you say?!? You don’t want to lecture. You don’t want to overwhelm readers with information.
It’s a burden to Know Many Things™. Smh. Bring us cake and condolences. I mean.
5. it’s hard to be vulnerable and then put yourself out there
#Ownvoices authors are brave and wondrous things, because we’ve just put our heart on the page. Some people are going to hate it. Some will connect with it. It will be critiqued and analysed. It will be compared to other stories like yours…and maybe you’ll fall short. It’s just A LOT. And you can both want this and also be anxious about it.
I was so thrilled when I read someone’s review that said Avery reminded them so much of autistics they knew and that they felt the love for autism on every page.
So here’s the thing: I got to write Avery, a messy disaster, who is also unconditionally loved. It was special to me to write that and know it’s hitting other people’s hearts. It makes everything 1000 x worth it. I think there is so much power in #ownvoices stories.
(And none of this is to say “ooh how dare anyone critique my book!” Of course people should critique it. I won’t be reading that lol, but it’s a book like any other, to be loved or not.)
It’s important to know that #ownvoices books don’t necessarily equal easy books to write.
But they do equal absolutely special and heartfelt and IMPORTANT books. Because no one can capture an experience quite like someone who lives it. 💛
And they’re also so therapeutic to write. it’s like finally getting to talk about your perspective, your feelings, your truths — without being interrupted.
I’ve read a lot of books with autistic characters and a resounding theme (especially from non-autistic authors) seems to be “fixing” the autistic character. Getting them to stop their autistic tics and stims, break their routines, make eye-contact, and be more socially apt…and then letting them find love. Autism is always their personal villain. And sure autism really sucks to deal with at times. I live it! I know. I’ll be honest…today was completely shitty for me when my routine got messed up. And I feel a little fragile and drained as I write this blog post.
But being autistic is a huge part of who I am. How I think. How I see the world. And I love that about it. and getting to write an autistic character? It meant the world to me.
Avery’s autism isn’t the villain of the book. His decisions aren’t great (lol, sorry Avery) and he’s naive and vulnerable. But he also wears his heart on his sleeve. He loves Sam fiercely. He’s clever and witty and has an infectious laugh.
And he’s not broken.
I’m just so grateful I got a chance to write this book and fill it with love and ACCEPTANCE and pride.
right, your turn!! tell me some #ownvoices books you’ve read? and some autistic characters in books you’ve enjoyed?!