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Creating an Aspie

April 5, 2012

Fiction. Made up stories. Novels.

It’s what I used to write before mercury came along and tried to kill me off. Having defeated that monster, do I want to pick up my writing where I left off? Edit that first draft of a novel I wrote in the weeks before I got my amalgam fillings removed?

Hell no! All I want to do now is write about mercury toxic people. My first book Getting the Mercury Out was just the facts, ma’am, the memoir of my horrible brush with mercury. And back in November, I started writing a new book, a novel–which rapidly grew into a trilogy–peopled with a host of mercury toxic characters living in the not-so-distant future, a time when mercury toxicity is far more common than it is today.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been intensively editing the first novel in that trilogy. One of the characters is deeply mercury toxic–I don’t want to give too much away–but one of the big ways in which her mercury toxicity manifests is Asperger Syndrome.

At first glance it would seem that writing a novel is easier than writing a memoir, right? I don’t have to get the facts right, I can shape the plot to suit my whims. It’s set in the future for God’s sake, so I can even make up a town that doesn’t exist today if I feel too lazy to research one that’s real.

But I can’t cut corners with my characters. The book will fall flat if I present a character who doesn’t ring true, and this character I’m creating who’s an Aspie plays a pivotal role in this book. I have to get her right.

Like practically everyone on the planet alive today, I’ve come across plenty of Aspies in my life–members of my extended family, people I’ve worked with, children I’ve taught. But I’ve never BEEN an Aspie. I haven’t lived that experience from the inside out.

In order to get a better grip on the mind of my Aspie character, I decided to embark on a quick reading tour of the Aspie world courtesy of our local library system. Over the past few months, I read over a dozen books about the syndrome. Some were memoirs written by Aspies. Some were guides for parents written by mothers who are raising Aspies. A lot were self-help books to help heal broken romantic relationships between Aspies and their Neurotypical (NT) partners (I don’t know what the local librarians think is going on in my home, but I hope other titles like “Building Better Plots” and “Creating Dynamic Characters” tip them off).

In all of my reading, two excellent authors really stood out. The first is Temple Grandin. She is an Aspie who has been writing for a long time about her experience of the syndrome, helping parents, educators and curious writers like me understand how the mind of an Aspie works.

Temple Grandin is also famous for her work in designing more humane slaughterhouses for cattle. This fact made me avoid watching the movie about her life until very recently. I didn’t want to witness lots of scenes of animals suffering and dying. But the movie is very tastefully done and Grandin’s very sweet personality shines through and makes it a movie well worth watching.

I also recommend her book Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships which she coauthored with Sean Barron. It gives a very illuminating look at two contrasting forms of the syndrome from the perspective of each of the authors.

The other author I was seriously impressed by was Ashley Stanford. She is an NT married to an Aspie and her book Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships is an excellent handbook for navigating the everyday issues and misunderstandings that arise when dealing with an Aspie on an ongoing basis. This book gets top marks for helping bewildered NTs understand why their Aspie is behaving so weirdly and how to reach out and build a better relationship with them.

Okay, I just want to add one more book. This one is a memoir by an Aspie man who decided to spend a year focusing on healing his broken marriage with his wife. It’s called The Journal of Best Practises and it’s written with a lot of humor by David Finch. It showed all of the good advice from the other self-help books put into action, and proved that when you have a lot of love and determination in your heart, even a super-challenging relationship crisis can be healed.

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