From “Normal and Healthy” to “Food Issues”

Present word count of WIP:  50,811

Jason at 4 months

I was already 38 by the time I was pregnant with our second child, Jason. We were living in Riverside, California, and our daughter, Allison (then 3) was thriving. She’d been born two weeks overdue and turned out to be a late walker and early talker. I suppose I expected some of the same after Jason was born.

He was pronounced “normal” and “healthy” at birth, weighing in at 6 lb. 14 oz. He was a really good, quiet baby, and nursed often. At six months, when I started introducing him to cereal and other baby foods, he didn’t show much interest, still preferring the breast. He quickly refused many of the baby foods I tried to give him, never even trying any of the meats. The only fruits and vegetables I could get him to eat for a while were bananas, applesauce, pears, butternut squash, and carrots. Soon, he started refusing the carrots. One day I tricked him into a bite of carrots and he gagged it up. After that, he wouldn’t eat any baby food.

I supposed I had lost his trust. In the meantime, my breast milk was drying up, so I finally weaned him at 18 months. After that, he refused to drink anything but water (which is the only thing he’ll drink to this day). As a toddler, the only things he would eat were plain white bread (without the crust) and Honey Nut Cheerios, but once he tasted plain Cheerios, he wouldn’t go back to the other kind. This became a pattern for him. Once he got used to anything new,  the old routine would be left behind.

Obviously, I was concerned about his diet. His pediatrician said I should force the matter. He said no child would willingly starve himself to death, so I tried to force other foods on two separate occasions. Both times, he refused, got sick (flu, fever, etc.) and I just didn’t have the heart to go back to starving him after he got better. I did manage to add a calcium supplement that had been recommended by the doctor, but it took a great deal of coaxing and even threatening to take away one of his favorite toys to get him to swallow a teaspoon of anything that didn’t look like water. It was that way with all medicines (and still is, to some extent), though he did get to start liking the sweet-tasting supplement.

We finally just gave in to his strange eating habits. He progressed (if you can call it that) from Cheerios and bread to white toast with butter, then Ritz Bits with Peanut Butter, then Ritz Bits with Cheese, then Grilled Cheese sandwiches, then French Toast, then marshmallow pieces in Lucky Charms (that was an accident), then a certain brand of Cinnamon-flavored Alphabet Cookies, then Eggo Pancakes, then Lays Baked Potato Chips, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Bananas (Yay!). He would never eat more than 2-3 of these items during any particular phase of his development.

The pediatrician thought we were “pushover parents.” I know because later, when I obtained a copy of Jason’s medical records for his first IEP, I was able to read all the doctor’s notations from my son’s visits and examinations. But that was before we–or the pediatrician–knew what Asperger’s syndrome (AS) was. AS only became an official diagnosis the year after Jason was born, so by the time we were dealing with his food issues, it was still very unknown, even within the medical community. Sure, the doctors knew about autism, but this was a very high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder, and you would never have thought Jason to be autistic at first, or even second glance.

We soon found out, however, that we were dealing with far more than a “picky eater.”

On Monday, I’ll share the other first clue to his “differentness.”

Originally posted 2012-04-06 14:06:14.

Autism: 1 in 88…My Son: 1 in 1,000,000

Present word count of WIP:  49,832

1 in 88. That’s a much higher percentage than it was back in 1996, when I first suspected something was off about my son…or even in 2000 when he was a first grader and I got the official diagnosis. And in some places, like Utah, the rate is even higher (1 in 47).

Whether it’s an epidemic or not, it’s certainly a direct concern to over a million families here in the U.S. and many more around the world. Then multiply that million by at least ten for all the families indirectly concerned (relatives, teachers, health care professionals, scientists, taxpayers) and you might begin to understand why autism is a topic that won’t go away. There is a very good reason we devote an entire month – April – to  Autism Awareness.

But I don’t intend to cite figures and percentages here. I’m all about stories. So, for my postings during this month, I thought I’d share my son’s story. After all, he is the reason I wrote my second novel – the one that will be published later this year.  I’m not sure yet of the title. That may be determined today when I meet with Linda to sign the publishing contract. But whatever it’s called, it will be, at its core, Jason’s story. There are bits and pieces of him throughout, either in detail or symbolism.

I’m traveling right now, so my earliest recordings of our Asperger’s journey with him are inaccessible. However, let me share a glimpse of the kind of challenge we still face now that he is 18.

While no two children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are alike, traveling with them is ALWAYS hard. Why? Because travel is all about change: changing location, changing the daily routine, changing the people you’re around, changing the places you eat and sleep, etc. And any change is most difficult for these individuals. They tend to want to cling to the familiar…even more so than the rest of us do.

We came down to Utah to attend our church’s General Conference, see our daughter, and sign my contract. Jason was reluctant, particularly since he was still getting over a chest cold, but he agreed since this might be our last opportunity to attend conference as a family for at least a few years. Besides, he had a particular question he was hoping to have answered during conference.

So, we packed up the grill, his preferred plate, fork, glass, and everything else I’d need to make his special grilled cheese sandwiches. He brought his pillow (to be honest, I wish I’d brought mine, as well) and three of his favorite books, his iPod Touch, etc. And once we got here and settled into our hotel, we tried to restore as much of his routine as possible.

He went to the Priesthood Session with his father, coughing through much of it. Later that night, my husband and I worried over how he might react should his particular question not be answered over the pulpit by one of the leaders or General Authorities. After all, he had been promised by church leaders that if you prayed faithfully to receive a particular answer during conference, you would get it. And those with Asperger’s take such things very literally. But by then, we knew what his question was and it was so particular that we both shook our heads in doubt. You see, the likelihood of his prayer being answered in that way wasn’t anything like 1 in 88. It was more like 1 in 1,000,000. Still, we’ve all known miracles to happen.

I’m sure, by now, you’re dying to know his question. Like others with Asperger’s (a high functioning type of ASD), Jason has his obsessive interests. For him, it’s media – particularly movies and books. He loves all things Disney and he loves the Harry Potter series (both movies and books). So, when he finally shared his question, we learned it was this:

Once and for all, are Disney and Harry Potter looked upon with approval by the Church?

I remember the way he perked up when President Uchtdorf began his talk Sunday morning by saying he’d felt moved to respond to the concerns of a mother about her two children. Surely, he must have thought, this will be my answer. Then, as the talk proceeded to focus on the dangers of contention and holding onto grievances, my son sagged back in his chair. Still no answer.

After the Sunday morning session, we had a talk about conference talks. We explained that while  some may provide very specific answers, they usually deal with general principles of the gospel. I told him that his best answer probably came Saturday morning when the prophet, himself, reiterated that we should seek for those things “that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy.” We told him that, guided by the Holy Ghost, he needed to determine for himself whether Disney movies and the Harry Potter series was of good report, praiseworthy, and uplifting.

Apparently, he made that decision. As we sat in the Conference Center waiting for the afternoon session to start, he pulled out my Kindle and began reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Talk about juxtaposing the sacred and the secular. Nevertheless, it calmed him and he hardly coughed at all during the whole session.

On Friday, I’ll post about how this Asperger’s journey began.

 

Originally posted 2012-04-02 06:00:56.

Responsibility #3: Supporting Writers

Present word count of WIP:  49,832

(Pitiful progress, I know. I’ll try and make up for it while traveling to Utah this weekend.)

In my earlier post about a writer’s responsibilities, I listed #3 as:

We have to support our fellow writers.

What goes around comes around. That’s probably the main reason most of us who struggle to get our writing out there put effort into supporting each other.

The writing community is pretty tightly knit, in and of itself. After all, writers always seem to be on the bottom of the totem pole–whether we’re talking about movies, plays, or books. The biggest Oscars (for Best Picture) or Tonys (Best Play or Musical) go to moneymen–producers–while the creative individual(s) behind the whole story are generally ignored once the picture goes into production. At least, when it comes to awards, the publishing industry has it right. The writers are the ones recognized, not their publishers. However, too many times writers feel like they get little to no respect even in the publishing industry. So, we have to watch out for each other.

That’s why we’ve got groups like PEN American Center, which is only “one of 144 PEN centers in 101 countries that together compose International PEN.” That’s why we’ve got Romance Writers of America and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. That’s why we’ve got a group for nearly every genre, not to mention all the online groups that help us navigate the complicated waters of getting published.

Then there are other, more specialized groups like American Night Writers Association and LDStorymakers, which are specialized to fit the needs of LDS writers and/or authors.

Yes, one of the ways we can help support each other is by joining one or more of these groups and being involved to the extent that we gain writing friends who will, hopefully, support us as we support them. There is always power in numbers.

Dave Wolverton (aka Dave Farland)

But there’s an even stronger impetus, I feel, for supporting other writers. It’s not about getting anything back for yourself. It’s about helping to grow literacy in this world. Talents always come with responsibility. If we have a gift for the written word, it’s incumbent on us to not only share it, but to spread it among others. I remember being so impressed with Dave Wolverton and the way he freely provides so much help to other writers on their way up the ladder. He doesn’t seem to see them as his competition. I think he sees them more as his legacy.

Let’s help each other freely and build a legacy of literacy.

Originally posted 2012-03-30 13:49:59.

Responsibility #2: A Daily Regimen

Present word count of WIP: 48, 925

Our second responsibility as writers:

2. We have to work at it regularly, hopefully on a daily basis.

There are two key words here–“work” and “daily.”

You mean writing takes work? Oh, yes!

A lot of readers have the mistaken notion that artists get their inspiration in a flash of genius. They sit before their canvas, their potter’s wheel, or their blank sheet of paper (whether real or on the computer monitor) and wait for the muse to fill their heads with an idea, a concept, a situation, or a character.

Actually, those kinds of flashes come at odd times (I get a lot of mine in the shower), to be acted upon later during our regular writing period.

Why have a regular writing period? To condition our brains for creativity. No artist becomes good without practice and conditioning. Like athletes, we must exercise our creativity, craft, and imagination every day in order to keep them in top shape. Whether I know what to write next or not, if I don’t force my fingers to begin typing, the door to my creativity stays closed. Once I begin, however, the narrative begins to flow and it’s always a wonderful surprise to see its path develop before my very eyes. Even when I’m trying to keep to a vague outline, it will change direction in surprising ways.

The key is making it happen on a daily, or almost daily, basis. A true professional artist will carve out his/her creative time in the daily schedule, bar the door, forbid interruptions (except for true emergencies), and set to work. The more you keep to the schedule, the easier the art comes.

And we owe it to ourselves (as artists), our patrons (as art lovers), and the Master Artist (who set the example when the world was created, one part at a time, in a regular, methodical fashion).

Originally posted 2012-03-26 21:41:14.

Responsibility #1 – Truth Through Fiction

Present word count of WIP:  48,749

Last Monday, I blogged about a fiction writer’s responsibilities and I wanted to go a bit more in depth into each one, beginning with the first.

As I originally phrased it: We have to do our best to tell the truth through our fiction. I’ve since amended it to read as follows:

We have to do our best to show the truth through our fiction.

In response to my original post, Pauline commented: One point I question. Telling the truth through our fiction. Two thought processes at odds?

It may appear counterintuitive to make up stories in order to illustrate truth, but it’s as old as man. We are natural storytellers, compelled to seek understanding and validation through our tales. Mythologies developed as men and women everywhere sought answers to the wonders of this world. Every story in every religious scripture contains elements of truth about the human condition.

Is it strange or unethical to make up stories in order to convey truth? Jesus Christ told parables. Aesop had his fables. The fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm Brothers all shone a light on some aspect of the human condition. Shakespeare’s plays speak volumes of truth about mankind.

The real shame is when authors shy away from the truth in their stories in order not to discomfit the reader. (I’m not referring here to the use of “realistic” profanity or scenes of sex and/or violence in order to come off as more “truthful.”) I’m referring to the way we sometimes don’t allow our protagonists to suffer or make mistakes in order to learn and grow. I’m also referring to writing that presents characters and/or situations that are simply not credible, yet easier to sell to a readership that always wants happy endings.

I would far prefer to write the kind of truth that rings out about the human condition in my fiction, even if it means a smaller audience, than to write for immediate popularity’s sake. Why? Because the latter never lasts. The real classics in literature always point to the truth.

As another commenter, Susan, pointed out:

I loved that your first point was telling the truth through our fiction. When I taught literature to children, we used fiction stories to illustrate truths. In The Secret Garden, a girl who is kind to a crippled boy, has her own heart healed. I could go on and on and . . . needless to say, my pet peeve is the thief who marries a princess. There are many such examples in today’s offerings, children or adults who break rules, don’t pay the consequences, but have happy endings. These are lies to me. Truth was told when Dr. Zhivago ended the way it did.

Amen.

Originally posted 2012-03-23 19:53:32.

Book Blast for Rachelle Christensen’s “Caller ID”

Present word count of WIP:  48, 579

If you want a great read and a chance to win one of over 20 free gifts, head on over to Rachelle’s Writing Spot and use her special link to purchase her latest, CALLER ID, on Amazon. It’s good for today only!

Among other things, she’s offering books, ebooks, podcasts, tutorials, recipes, website design help, and a Flip Video Camcorder.

Remember, this offer is only good for Thursday, March 22, 2012.

Originally posted 2012-03-22 16:02:03.

A Writer’s Responsibilities

Present word count of WIP:  47,402

While each writer is unique and works in a unique setting and situation, we all share certain responsibilities as I see it:

1. We have to do our best to show the truth through our fiction.

2. We have to work at it regularly, hopefully on a daily basis.

3. We have to support our fellow writers.

4. We have to honor our contracts with publishers and agents.

5. We have to recognize when it’s time to take off our writer’s hat and be a mom, a dad, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a teacher, or a friend.

I could have written a lot more today, but instead I spent my morning working on a Power Point Presentation on Asperger’s that I’ll be giving to a pack of about 20 Cub Scouts. Sure, I could have counted it as writing, but I didn’t. Instead, I took off my writer’s hat to prepare to teach. Why? Because I have a son who’s grown up with Asperger’s Syndrome and I know how important it is for these young 8-10-year-olds to understand better so that they might be more inclusive of those around them they might see as “different.”

Then, this afternoon, as I prepared to put my writing hat back on and make more headway on my WIP, I got a call from a friend–a fellow writer–who needed help with her new WordPress blog. The hat stayed off.

As much as I love writing–and I do–there are things that are more important.

Originally posted 2012-03-19 21:53:40.

I Have a Book Deal!

Present word count of WIP:  47,161 (I know…no increase, but I did finish outlining the entire book!)

I am very excited to announce that Walnut Springs Press will be publishing my second novel, Laps (though the title will likely be different), later this year…probably late summer or early fall! I promise more details as they develop.

I believe I have the recent ANWA Conference to thank for helping to seal this deal. While there, I was able to meet with their editor, Linda Mulleneaux, and I’m sure that my winning a couple of awards in their BOB (Beginning of Book) Contest made a favorable impression, as well. Thanks so much, ANWA!

Here’s a taste of the book (taken from my first chapter) to whet your appetite:

Budding writers could be so defensive, Daphne thought, not for the first time. The women she taught in her graduate tutorial bruised like teenagers, pouting and suffering in silence. Most of the men argued with their jaws clenched—none more so than Reuben. She picked up his short story anyway, drew in a breath, and read aloud his opening sentence.

“Merrick languished in the lazy afternoon sun.” She paused and looked up at the clock on the back wall. Five minutes to go. “To be honest, this opening takes the reader nowhere. Yes, it may tell us Merrick is lazy . . . or it may not.”

Reuben raised his hand, the muscles in his face already working, and began to squabble with her assertion. Guy, the only truly talented writer in the class, wasn’t there to take her side. So she chewed on the inside of her cheek as Reuben went on and on about the visual quality of “languished.”

When he finished, she said, “I suppose you don’t care about getting published then,” and dismissed the class. As he passed her desk, she heard him call her “narcissistic” under his breath along with another unflattering term. He was wrong. She hadn’t found the right word for herself yet, but she was definitely not narcissistic.

Still stressed when she pulled into her garage a half hour later, Daphne headed straight for her pool. She checked the desert sky. No moon. She’d swim without a suit, then, shielded by the wall of palms, hibiscus, and oleander surrounding her backyard. Since the death of her parents, she’d used moonless nights to such advantage.

As she started to unbutton her blouse, she noticed that one of the four dark shapes she knew to be her patio chairs had been moved back several inches from the circular glass table with the umbrella. A sense of foreboding crept up the back of her neck like a spindly-legged spider, and she shivered. She never left a chair out of place.

For a moment, Daphne considered changing her routine. But she couldn’t. The swim in total blackness wouldn’t soothe if she varied the pattern, and though she didn’t understand the reason, she knew that patterns smoothed out the wrinkles in her life like lotion applied to rough, cracked skin.

She pushed the chair back in and undressed quickly, leaving her folded slacks and blouse on the deck. After stretching out the kinks in her back and running her fingers through her cropped hair, Daphne took her usual starting place at the far side of the pool and sliced into the dark water. Six quick strokes, and she flipped to push off the wall for the return. Ninety-nine laps to go.

She pulled at the water, deconstructing Reuben’s opening line in her mind with each lap.

Merrick languished in the lazy afternoon sun. Flip turn.

Merrick languished in the lazy afternoon. Flip turn.

Merrick languished in the lazy. Flip turn.

By the tenth lap, the classroom began to recede from her mind. By the fifteenth, the last memory of the evening’s unpleasantness sank below her consciousness. Buoyed by the night-cooled water, Daphne relished the pungency of chlorine and the familiar numbness spreading through her arms and legs.

If Daphne bowed to any god, it was the god of water—the pool his holy sanctuary, the daily swim her prayer. Water freed her, saved her from a society in which she felt ill at ease. In its liquid cold and calm, her oddities were masked or erased.

At age three, when she’d first ballooned her cheeks to slip beneath its glimmering surface, Daphne had opened her eyes underwater and discovered a world of muted sounds, bluish vision and slower motion. Here, no fly could dart around. The yapping of the neighbor’s dog hushed. Her feet and hands, often so clumsy on land, worked together in water and found a rhythm previously unknown. Stroke after stroke. Lap after lap. A coordination so practiced over the decades that now, at forty-one, she slashed through the water without thinking.

Swimming saved her in the dry heat of Phoenix where pools freckled the landscape. No matter Daphne’s schedule at the university, her morning swim came first. It steeled her for a college classroom full of opinionated writing students. And if a day’s teaching drained her, as this had, she swam again in the afternoon or night.

Switching to the breaststroke for her twenty-sixth lap, her right hand brushed against something mid-stroke. She jerked upright, surprised. Had she imagined it? Daphne strained to see in the blackness of the pool, but she could make out nothing. She swept her arm across the dark water. Still not a thing. She inched further and propelled her arm underneath the liquid surface. Contact. Wet cloth over a hard object. When she poked it, it moved away, but only slightly. She reached again. Feathery strands tickled her fingers. She lurched back and gasped. 

 

Originally posted 2012-03-16 13:36:26.

The Book Business

Present word count in WIP:  47,161

(That doesn’t count the fact that I did write today…I wrote a 999-word personal essay to be posted on Danyelle Fergusen’s blog some time in April–Autism Awareness Month. I’ll let you know when it’s up and link to it. She asked for those who’ve dealt with autistic spectrum disorders up close and personal to share some positive, uplifting stories, so I complied.)

And now for Seth Godin’s last three pieces of Advice for Authors:

17. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book. Publishing is about marketing and sales and distribution and risk. If you don’t want to be in that business, don’t! Printing a book is trivially easy. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You’ll find plenty of printers who can match the look and feel of the bestselling book of your choice for just a few dollars a copy. That’s not the hard part.

18. Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.

19. Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.

I love how he covers all three aspects of the business in these last three tips–publishing, marketing, and writing.

Publishing isn’t easy and that’s why it’s so difficult for writers to break into it. They have to build up their writing muscles over time so that the content they offer is worth the publishers’ risk. They have to build up their fan base over time so that, again, the publisher will be tempted to take a chance on them. And then, once they’re in, from all I can observe it becomes like a long-distance race. Either they’re in it for the long haul–all the signings, appearances, marketing, and, most importantly, more writing–or they get left by the wayside.

Bookstores are becoming more and more obsolete because now the reader can go directly to their chosen writer via Amazon.com or another online bookstore. And with the advent of the ebook, who needs shelves? Of course, this is not news. But more and more, I foresee bookstores using their personal touch to compete online with the big elephant. Check out Just the Right Book, for example. Here is a bookseller who got smart, moved her bookstore online and is offering the kind of service Amazon is too big and impersonal to give. If you doubt me, check out the Just the Right Book Facebook page. This is one bookstore, in my opinion, that is not a lousy business. They have vision.

As for his last tip, I readily agree. I always learn more about a topic (and myself) when I have to write about it. Once I can encapsulate my thoughts or the pictures in my head in a well-described scene, complete with realistic dialogue (both inner and outer), I am enriched…and, if I’ve done my job right as a writer, my words will likewise enrich the reader. The most fascinating thing about the writing process, besides the splashes of insight and inspiration, is that no two readers will read the same words with exactly the same result. Why? Because the reader brings his/her own life experience to meld with the author’s. That’s why the author-reader relationship is so valuable.

If you’ve ever been tempted to write your own book, do it!

 

 

Originally posted 2012-03-12 21:22:00.

Consider Organizations, Not Just Individuals

Present word count of WIP:  47,161

Okay, I slowed down on my output the last two days. First, I was bummed yesterday at receiving another rejection. It was so nicely worded, however, and included enough good feedback that I almost felt guilty about feeling depressed. (At least, I know the agent judges me to be talented and would definitely consider future proposals.) Then today, things really began to look up and I simply couldn’t concentrate on writing all morning. I may have an important announcement to make next week, so stay tuned!

For now, Seth Godin’s next bit of Advice for Authors:

16. Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload. In other words, sell to organizations that buy on behalf of their members/employees.

This got me thinking about another way to market my second novel, LAPS, once it gets published. Since a couple of key characters in the novel have Asperger’s syndrome, I could contact local chapters of Autistic Support groups and donate cases of books or, at least, provide them at deep discounts simply to help spread word of the book.

Autism Society of America

Since my son has AS, we have been participating in a study put on by the University of Washington. In fact, we recently gave them permission to share all our data with the National Instititute for Health. They might also appreciate copies of the novel. It’s something to keep in mind, for certain.

Asperger's Under the Umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders

How about you? Can you think of organizations that might have a natural tie-in to your most recent or upcoming book?

Originally posted 2012-03-09 16:45:10.