Diversity in Oz Fic Series: Neurodiversity and Autism with Darren Groth

Welcome to the first Diversity in Oz Fic post. This series of interviews and post aims to highlight the diversity that exists in Australia and how that diversity can be represented in our literature. It can be a tool to help Australian authors looking to have true and diverse representation in their works.  Interviews will be with authors, book bloggers, readers and industry professionals who each have a personal take on diversity in Australian fiction. The series of interviews and posts aims to help authors educate themselves on various diversity topics. It’s important to remember that interviewees are relaying their personal experiences/areas of expertise. This may not be the same as what others have experienced. It’s recommended to research multiple sources when included an area of diversity that you don’t have personal ‘own voices’ experience with.

The first interview is with acclaimed YA author, Darren Groth, who is talking to us about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum.

Would you please tell us a bit about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum.

Neurodiversity was first coined by an autistic Australian scholar, Judy Singer, almost thirty years ago. The term gained notoriety in 1998 when Harvey Blume used it in an article he wrote for The Atlantic. A definition of neurodiversity I like: neurological difference is recognized and respected as per any other human variation. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is, according to the Geneva Centre for Autism, a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how people communicate and relate to others.       
Why is this area of diversity of interest to you?
 
My fifteen-year-old son is diagnosed ‘moderate classic’ ASD, placing him pretty much in the middle of the spectrum. I also taught special education for a number of years after graduating university. 
My understanding is that there is a lot of diversity within the autism spectrum itself. Are you able to explain to us some of the differences that exist within the spectrum?
 
I’m not the best source for that explanation. What I will say is that the differences are as many and varied as the people themselves. There is a saying in the ND community: if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.  
What are some of the stereotypes that exist around the autism spectrum/neurodiversity?
Silence, giftedness, aggression, a belonging or natural place in the occupations of information technology, lack of interaction with others and the world around them.
What are some of the most misunderstood behaviours of people with neurodiversity/autism?
I think what is most misunderstood is that challenging or perceived anti-social behaviour isn’t just uncontrollable compulsion, but more often than not is borne out of need or purpose. And, indeed, need or purpose that neurotypical people can very firmly relate to.
What issues have you seen in stories relating to neurodiversity and the autism spectrum?
 
Stereotyping. ND/AS as an enemy to be conquered. ND/AS as strange gift or magical power. ND/AS as a distancer, an ‘arm’s length’ phenomenon to be studied, observed, perhaps even awed by. ND/AS as the sole lens through which a character is described, viewed, voiced. ND/AS family life as suffering or noble or both. There is also the issue of ND/AS being towards the bottom of the ‘diversity hierarchy’. ND/AS rep overall pales next to race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and economic status.    
What impact have you seen as a result of this problematic representation?
 
To be honest, due to ND/AS being something of a diversity afterthought, I’m not sure many people see it as a problem. The ND/AS voices advocating for more representation and truer representation are few and far between. Those that do exist lack the platform afforded race, gender, etc. As such, any narrative discussion of ND/AS still revolves around ‘Rain Man’ and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, both of which typify ND/AS as remarkable, arm’s length phenomenon.
What are some key points/character traits that are often missed when people write about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum?
Essential humanity. The ‘another’ rather than ‘other’. I wrote a piece about this on my blog, calling for a shift in this imbalance: ‘Another’ Post About Book Diversity
Darren Groth copyAbout the Interviewee:
Darren Groth is a Vancouver author and citizen of Canada, having moved from his native Australia in 2007. His novels include ‘Kindling’ and the highly acclaimed YA work, ‘Are You Seeing Me?’. His new novel, titled ‘Exchange of Heart’ in AUS/NZ, will be published August 2017. In CAN/US, the book will be released October 2017 under the title ‘Munro vs. the Coyote’.

Darren was the winner of the 2016 Adelaide Festival Award for Young Adult Literature and has been a finalist in numerous other prestigious prizes including the CBCA Book of the Year (Australia), the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Australia), the Governor General’s Literary Awards (Canada) and the BC Book Prizes (Canada). 

For fun, he watches ‘American Ninja Warrior’ with his beautiful Canadian wife and eats at Fatburger with his wondrous fifteen year old twins.

Find Darren on Web|Facebook|Twitter

Giant Bookish Giveaway!

Birthday-giveaway-banner

Lakewater Press was created one year ago by my friend Kate Foster. To celebrate Lakewater Press’ birthday they’re having a GIANT giveaway! It’s HUGE. Amazon gift cards, books, bookmarks swag! You can find out all the details here.

 

#PitchMadness Candy Land Edition…Game on!

Licorice Castle

Welcome to Team Licorice Castle! It’s been a long week of reading through all the amazing pitches. Our wonderful readers have narrowed the slush, and your team hosts have chosen seventy pitches for the agent round. To meet the slush readers and hosts go to this post here. And you can find out more about the participating agents on this post here.

For those of you not familiar with Pitch Madness, it’s a contest where agents compete in a game against their peers for pitches and you can find the rules and instructions of the game here.

I’m co-hosting with the amazing Jeyn Roberts! Check out her site and follow her, you’ll be happy you did.

Jeyn Roberts

Jeyn Roberts

Website | Twitter

Author of the Dark Inside trilogy, The Bodies We Wear and When They Fade. Vancouverite. Animal lover. Destroying words in a coffee shop near you.

 

 

Scroll down to view all 10 picks for my blog or click on the links to each post …

Middle Grade

SJ 1: MG Magical Realism (#OwnVoices) – Wok Magic

SJ2: MG Fantasy (#OwnVoices OCD) – The Deepest Lake

Young Adult

SJ3: YA Science Fiction – Submerge

SJ4: YA Psychological Thriller (#OwnVoices PoC) – Girl In Ruins

SJ5: YA Fantasy – The Merciful Crow

SJ6: YA Horror – Neffers

SJ7: YA Science Fiction – Rogue

New Adult/Adult

SJ8: Adult Paranormal Thriller – Specter of a Chance

SJ9: Adult Literary Historical – The City With Three Names

SJ10: Adult Gothic Science Fiction – L’Abatteur

 

Comments are set to moderation so the agents won’t see the other agents’ requests. Please no comments other than those from the agents. After the agent round, we’ll release the moderation and let you all comment on the entries.

We’ll reveal the agent requests on March 17 starting at 4:30 Eastern time. All the twitter fun will happen on the hashtag #PitchMadness, where we’ll tweet the results of the agent round.

Join us for the Twitter Pitch Party on March 23 from 8AM to 8PM Eastern time on the hashtag #PitMad. It’s open to everyone!

How do you twitter pitch? You can find all the details here.

A huge HUGE thank you to my team and to the wonderful agents!

Go to all the hosts’ blogs to read more winning pitches …

Team Ice Cream Sea – http://www.brenda-drake.com/
Team Peanut Brittle House – https://pintipdunn.wordpress.com/
Team Licorice Castle – http://sharonmjohnston.com/
Team Peppermint Forest – http://wadealbertwhite.ca/blog/
Team Candy Castle – http://samanthajoyce.com/

 

 

This entry was posted on March 16, 2017. 1 Comment

SJ 1: MG Magical Realism (#OwnVoices) – Wok Magic

Title: Wok Magic

Category: Middle Grade

Genre: Magical Realism (Own Voices)

Word Count: 30,000

Pitch: Song Li is destined to be a great chef. But he only wants to be a K-Pop star. When his family’s wok works magic on him, he discovers his true self.

First 250 words of manuscript:

I received a wok for my 10th birthday. I asked for singing lessons for the fifth time and a phone for the second time. I even suggested cash or some better fitting underwear. But no. I got a wok. And it was an old wok — greasy, stinky and black with decades of burnt soy sauce caked on. When I expectantly opened the gift, my response was… well, let’s just say, unexpected. “What the… huh!?”

Mom looked hurt. Dad glared.

“Song Li! What is it? You don’t like birthday present?”

“Well, it’s just that… I was kind of expecting… something else.”

Dad started getting red. “You want something else? You don’t want your future? That wok was given to me when I became 10. It was big honor! It meant I could cook magic with grandpa. I would start my training to be great chef.”

“Yeah, that’s great.” Not. No one was fooled. There’s nothing great about this.

Mom walked out with her head bowed in shame and sadness.

Dad spoke softly but firmly. “Our family has made good food for kings as well as people with no homes. This has been our sacred wok. See, no holes like other old woks. It holds secret flavors from our ancestors. And it only works for our family. If you do not cook, you will fail us all. No pressure.”

Somehow, somewhere, dad learned that if you add “no pressure” to any amount of pressure, it lessens the pressure. He learned wrong.

This entry was posted on March 16, 2017. 6 Comments

SJ2: MG Fantasy (#OwnVoices OCD) – The Deepest Lake

Title: The Deepest Lake

Category: Middle Grade

Genre: Fantasy (Own Voices OCD)

Word Count: 50,000

Pitch: Ever since her dad’s accident, Pearl counts everything by twos to keep everyone safe. It works, she swears—at least until a freak storm sweeps a mind-reading girl with a death wish into her backyard.

First 250 words of manuscript:

When the storm hit last summer, the Girl was in her underwater house at the bottom of the lake, pacing the halls in her long white dress. She wasn’t dead, not yet. I hadn’t even met her. I was hiding in my bed from the thunder, and the rain was aiming for me, smacking my window so hard the glass shook, just like me.

“Dad? Dad?”

I called for him like I was still a little kid, like he could still climb the stairs and keep me safe. Like he wasn’t out cold from his pain pills most nights.

I should have known better. He never checked on me, not anymore. I checked on him.

So I forced myself out of bed, and I trudged down the stairs by twos, my hands over my ears. Like always, I skipped the odd steps, because they were odd, or because I was odd, or both.

Okay, both.

In the living room, Dad was sprawled out in his La-Z-Boy, sound asleep, like the sky wasn’t exploding. Like the world wasn’t out-of-control.

“Dad! Wake up!”

He didn’t move, not an inch, but at least he snored. At least he was breathing. In the dark, I couldn’t see the brace and screws along his leg. I imagined the storm could melt them away. I imagined I’d give anything for that. But I did not imagine the Girl was rising up out of the lake and into the air. Spinning toward us. Toward me.

This entry was posted on March 16, 2017. 7 Comments

SJ3: YA Science Fiction – Submerge

Title: Submerge

Category: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction

Word Count: 82,000

Pitch: Seventeen-year-old programmer Ariela hacks a top-secret immigration database to escape her artistic underwater community where she doesn’t belong and pursue admission to her dream school on futuristic Iceland’s forbidden surface. THE LITTLE MERMAID meets CINDER.

First 250 words of manuscript:

I sing like a dying humpback whale.

Which is unfortunate because during talent exhibitions the musician skill set always performs after the voice. Since my graduating class has a billion singers, the musicians are stuck waiting to test until the late afternoon. Every other artistic medium cut their school day short and headed home. But not me.

I sit closest to the stage door of Ragnar Theater, my legs stretched long in front of me, crossed at the ankles to avoid anyone looking up my grey accordion skirt. The silky notes of saxophones caress my skin and the low bass lines of cello warm-ups melt into my blood, drowning out the steady whir of the oxygen filter.

The boy next to me—Atlas Bjarkisson—taps his warty fingers against the scuffed black floor, like he’s practicing piano. He leans over to me with a huff. “Can you stop with that? It’s distracting.”

I raise an eyebrow and glance to my laptop. While he’s been practicing for his piano exposition, something I probably should be doing, I’ve been typing on a different set of keys.

I offer a curt, “No,” and continue typing.

He says under his breath, “Stuck-up bilun,” and jams his fingers harder against the floor, as if to drown out my typing with his fake piano playing.

The bilun insult stings, even though I should be used to it by now. Calling me a failure is hardly original. I’ve already been held back a year and everyone knows it.

This entry was posted on March 16, 2017. 3 Comments

SJ4: YA Psychological Thriller (#OwnVoices PoC) – Girl In Ruins

Title: Girl In Ruins

Category: Young Adult

Genre: Psychological Thriller (Own Voices PoC)

Word Count: 75,000

Pitch: Boy meets girl. Girl murders boy.

Accused of a murder she doesn’t remember committing, a seventeen-year-old ballerina’s freedom hinges on finding her boyfriend’s killer, before they find her.

Black Swan meets We Were Liars

First 250 words of manuscript:

LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT’S 911 TRANSCRIPT LOG 

Date: January 1, 2015, 2:47 a.m.

Dispatcher: 911, what’s your emergency?

Female Caller: I did it.

(Heavy Panting)

Dispatcher: You did what, ma’am?

Female Caller: He’s not breathing—I’m going to leave him here (muffled) The house is on fire.

Dispatcher: I’m going to need you to calm down and tell me your location.

Female Caller: It’s my friend’s beach house in Paradise Cove… the glass mansion. Off North Avenue.

Dispatcher: Are you out of the house, ma’am?

Female Caller: I’m in the driveway.

Dispatcher (off-call reference): One of the Paradise Cove homes is on fire! There may be a person trapped inside.

Dispatcher (to caller): Are you still there, ma’am?

Female Caller: Yes! Are you sending someone?

Dispatcher: Help is on the way. Can you tell me more about the person not breathing? Are they still in the house?

Female Caller: (Whispering) Please don’t let him die.

Dispatcher: I’m trying to assist you with the proper resources, but I have to know, prior to the fire—was the person trapped inside the house hurt? Is that why they’re not breathing?

Female Caller: (Hysterical Crying)

Dispatcher: We need to gather more information to find you. What is your name?

Female Caller: Tell him that I’m sorry and… I love him.

Line goes dead.

PRESENT

The Pantages Theater’s stage lights are harsh, like a plastic surgeon’s knife, slicing through my body’s every

imperfection, while I dance center stage. My body wasn’t born to dance.