Shortly after I reviewed The Way I See It, by Temple Grandin, I received an email from Lyn Miller-Lachmann, whose recently released book, Rogue, is based on her own experience with Asperger’s Syndrome. I am thrilled that she has agreed to be a guest on my blog today, and to offer a publisher’s copy (Nancy Paulsen Books) of Rogue in a giveaway. If you will leave a comment with your email address I will enter your name in the drawing and announce the winner on Monday, August 26.
Linda: Welcome, Lyn. Tell us a little about your own experience with Asperger’s syndrome. How old were you when you were diagnosed? What, if any, special services have you received in or out of school? How has it impacted your life?
Lyn: I was not diagnosed until adulthood, because I grew up at a time when Asperger’s was not an officially recognized diagnosis and a great deal of stigma surrounded a child’s autism diagnosis—this was the era when people believed autism was the result of the cold, distant “refrigerator mother.” In those days, only the most severely affected children received the autism diagnosis, whereas today we understand autism as a spectrum with Asperger’s at the high-functioning end. As a result, I didn’t receive special services in school, though my mother had me meet with someone regularly when I was six—we played games where I learned how to take turns, and I remember enjoying those sessions very much—and sent me to charm school at a department store when I was thirteen. There, I didn’t have so much fun. I usually skipped out halfway with the daughter of one of her friends who was also forced to go, and we ate giant soft ice cream cones.
Even though I didn’t have an official diagnosis, I always knew I was different from the other kids. It was hard for me to make friends and understand social rules. I also had a hard time knowing what other kids thought of me, so I never could judge who was a friend, who was a foe, and when someone was taking advantage of me.
Linda: How closely is the protagonist modeled after you and your own experiences?
Lyn: Kiara is based on my own experiences, but I’ve turned the character into someone living in the present-day—or close to the present-day because the novel takes place in 2006, at the time that pharmacies began putting Sudafed behind the counters so large quantities could not be purchased and used to manufacture methamphetamine.
As with Kiara, kids that I wanted as my friends took advantage of me to facilitate their drug-related activities, and I had no idea what they were doing. I genuinely believed that I’d become part of the popular crowd. But that was a different time, and the drugs were different as well. Like Kiara, though, I experienced the disillusionment of finding out my friends weren’t really my friends, and the moral dilemma of whether to continue to associate with them in order to be seen as part of the popular crowd or to break off with them, and if I did stop associating with them, whether or not to tell an adult what they were doing.
Also true to my experience is the first chapter, where Kiara tries to sit with the popular girls because she thinks that will make her popular, and one of them pushes her tray to the floor. But I didn’t then slam the tray in the girl’s face. I wanted to, but my parents were strict and would have punished me severely.
Other aspects of Kiara’s background and experiences are very different from mine, most notably her family situation. I wanted her to be from a bilingual and bicultural family because that is an important reason why she hasn’t yet been diagnosed at a time in which our awareness of Asperger’s and autism is much greater. Her parents have their own struggles communicating, and people who aren’t aware of the research might believe that growing up with two languages led to Kiara’s temporary inability to speak (which happened to me as well in early elementary school). At the same time, Kiara’s experience of two languages helps her to understand people and their emotions, as it did for me much later when I started learning Spanish in middle school.
Linda: How did you hit on using the X-Men mutant as a hero figure? Was it actually something from your own childhood?
Lyn: I was attracted to the X-Men as a teenager because they, like me, experienced exclusion because they were different. However, in those days, there were no characters with whom I could identify the way Kiara identifies with Rogue, as Rogue didn’t appear until the early 1980s. The character I liked the most was Professor X, because he served as the mentor for the misunderstood mutants and guided them in the direction of good. I wanted a mentor like him.
Linda: Is there a sequel to Rogue planned? If not, what is your current WIP about?
Lyn: I don’t currently have a sequel in progress for Rogue. I just finished another YA manuscript, though, which is going to my editor after Labor Day, and I hope she accepts it. Titled ANTS GO MARCHING, it’s about a fifteen-year-old academic superstar, the only person from his hardscrabble mobile home park in an elite accelerated honors program at his suburban high school. When he suffers a concussion from a fight with three classmates and flunks out of the program, he has to decide whether to try to regain his old place or stay where he feels safe and accepted. The novel explores class and inequality, themes that I don’t think have gotten enough attention despite their effects on every young person in this country.
Linda: Tell us about your experience meeting Temple Grandin. Was it before, during or after your writing of Rogue?
Lyn: I have always admired Temple Grandin’s work, but I only met her recently, at the American Library Association annual conference this past June, where she was one of the main speakers. She stayed after her talk to sign books, and there were so many people waiting for her signature that she ended up staying about two hours afterward. I didn’t really talk much with her but I told her how much I admired her work and considered her an inspiration, as someone on the autism spectrum who has risen to the top of her profession because of her unique gifts. I also told her that my protagonist in Rogue was inspired and comforted by her and her work.
One of Temple Grandin’s books makes an appearance in Rogue. Near the beginning, a friend of Kiara’s family gives her a copy of Animals in Translation. Although Kiara isn’t much of a reader, except for X-Men comics, she gives Animals in Translation a go, thinking “if Temple Grandin wrote a book, she must have turned out all right.”
Linda: Tell us a little about your radio show and how it figures in your creative life.
Lyn: For more than seven years, I have been the assistant host of “Los Vientos del Pueblo,” a weekly bilingual radio program on WRPI featuring Latin American and Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) music, poetry, and history. The longtime host of the program once worked as a translator for a radio station that presented news and music from various countries in Central and South America, but primarily from El Salvador. It was because of him that I decided to make Kiara’s mother from El Salvador. Many of my music selections in Rogue—particularly the songs that Kiara’s parents’ band plays—come from the “Los Vientos del Pueblo” playlist.
“Los Vientos del Pueblo” runs from 2-6 pm, Eastern Time, on Sundays and is live-streamed at www.wrpi.org. Once a month following this program, from 6-8 pm on Sundays, I host a program called “Mostly Folk World Tour,” which features traditional and contemporary music from around the world.
Linda: Thanks so much for sharing your personal story with us, Lyn and good luck with the book!