Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the middle grade and young adult novels Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue, with two new novels, Moonwalking and Torch, forthcoming in 2022. She also edited Once Upon a Cuento which is a collection of short stories for young readers written by emerging Latino authors. She lives in New York City. She is joining me today to talk about her young adult novel, Rogue.
Carolee: How did your experiences with having Asperger’s impact writing Rogue, a story about a girl with Asperger Syndrome?
Lyn: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s 15 years ago, a diagnosis that has since 2013 been folded into the autism spectrum. At that time, I’d published one novel, with another recently accepted by the same publisher. Neither of them had autobiographical elements; in fact, I’d avoided writing a protagonist like myself because I didn’t want to remember the bullying and exclusion I experienced as a child. My diagnosis changed that. Finally, I had an answer for why I was different, why I had trouble understanding and following rules, why so many of my peers took advantage of me or bullied me for sport. I wanted to write a novel to show kids like me that they are not alone. Rogue is based on a choice I had to make when I wasn’t much older than Kiara—to keep doing something I knew was dangerous and wrong in order to be part of a group, or to stop letting these kids use me even if it meant being on my own and bullied again.
Carolee: It was very brave of you to share so much of your personal experience in the story. One of the benefits of writing about our personal experiences through fiction is that the reader connects with the truth and honesty behind what we write, but at the same time never knows how much of the story is truth and how much is fiction. Why did you decide to write about your experiences as fiction rather than as a traditional autobiography?
Lyn: I’ve fictionalized in service to the story, in order to create a book that readers will want to read. In Rogue, I began with a “What if?” Like Kiara, I tried to sit at the popular girls’ table in seventh grade thinking that’s how I could become popular, and one of the girls pushed my lunch tray to the floor. I did nothing in response, just stood there crying, but for decades I asked myself what would have happened if I’d picked up the tray and smacked her in the face with it. I would have salvaged my dignity, but I would have also gotten into a lot of trouble. So at the beginning of Rogue, Kiara does pick up the tray and hit the bully with it. And it creates a big problem for her, because she’s suspended for the rest of the school year. She wants to have friends and to belong to a group, but now she’s even more isolated, and the New Kid who moves in around the corner really is her last chance to make a friend for a long time.
Carolee: Amy Miller, director of the May Center in Santa Fe, NM, wrote a chapter for my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. Her chapter is “Fostering a Growth Mindset: Strengths-Based Super Hero Stories.” The May School is for students with learning differences. Amy heads a project called The Dyslexia Justice League and one of the ways she helps students to discover their “superpower” is to teach them to write superhero stories. In Rogue, the main character, Kiara, finds that she has special talents and unique gifts. She does this partly by identifying with the mutant X-Men character named Rogue. Do you have any suggestions for young writers about writing their own superhero stories or about writing stories in general?
Lyn: No matter what you write, the most important thing to do is to read. It will give you ideas and help you figure out what kinds of stories and characters you like and don’t like. A lot of times, the characters that feel closest to you—whether or not they’re superheroes—are the ones most like you. For instance, the X-Men character Rogue is most like Kiara because she can’t touch or be touched and she learns about emotions and what to say or do from watching others. Sometimes, the characters you respond to are the ones who do the things you wish you could do, like be good at sports if you are not. Writing your own story is your chance to be someone different, or be yourself but rewrite the past or possess a special power you don’t have in real life and see what you can accomplish with it.
Carolee: Speaking of heroes, early in Rogue, a friend of Kiara’s family gives her a book by Temple Grandin entitled Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. She tells Kiara that Temple has a “special talent” for understanding animals. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist on the autism spectrum, becomes a role model and a hero of sorts to Kiara. Tell us a little bit about the people who have been your real-life heroes.
Lyn: Temple Grandin is one of my heroes as well, ever since I read Dr. Oliver Sacks’s profile of her in The New Yorker in the 1990s and recognized so much of myself in her. Although I wasn’t diagnosed until almost ten years later, it meant a lot to me to see someone who had become as successful as she had and whose different ways of seeing the world has had such an impact on the way we treat the animals we raise for food. In general, my heroes are people who have defied convention and authority to make a positive impact on the world. Many of them are human rights activists, people who have resisted brutal dictatorships to bring democracy to their countries (like my protagonist’s father in another one of my novels, Gringolandia) or who have fought for the rights of people with disabilities and others who have been excluded or faced discrimination.
Carolee: Is there anything else you would like to say to young people struggling to find their place in the world?
Lyn: Do what you love, pursue your dreams, and find the people who understand you. And when you do find those people, try to be a good friend as well. Being a good friend is one of the things I still strive (and sometimes struggle) to do. It’s at the heart of Kiara’s journey in Rogue and of JJ’s journey in my forthcoming middle-grade verse novel Moonwalking, which I’ve written with my friend Zetta Elliott.
Carolee: Thank you for joining us and for sharing your experiences as a person with Asperger’s. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Rogue and look forward to Moonwalking and Torch. You are a hero who is making a positive impact on the world with your stories!
Lyn: Thank you for inviting me!
Read about books for kids written by Temple Grandin in last week's post as well as books written about her life - Books for Kids by (and about) Temple Grandin - Celebrating World Autism Month.