Monday, April 8, 2013

In Honor of National Autism Month Please welcome author Glen Finland who talks about her memoir- Next Stop: A Memoir of a Family ––"There are no road maps to autism, so I suppose writing Next Stop was my own attempt to make sense of a confusing world."

-Next Stop: A Memoir of Family
Praise for Next Stop:
“This is not a romance, or even just a heart-warmer. It's a real love story, frank and particular. If you don't like it, you don't like love.” —Roy Blount, Jr.
“Glen Finland has written a memoir of wonderful insight and emotional honesty about … a world that doesn't always understand the differently abled. It may sound like a dark story, and sometimes it is, but Finland lightens it with self-effacing humor and impressive skill in describing small episodes that illuminate larger truths… She ends this love-fueled and enlightening memoir with an image of her son alone on the train...One can't help but wish them both well.” —Chuck Leddy, Minneapolis Star Tribune
VERDICT David’s journey is an eye-opener. The lack of resources for young adults with autism is alarming, and this book highlights the importance of educating employers about how they can hire people on the autism spectrum by simply providing a little extra support and understanding. A great addition for large public libraries with developmental disability collections” —Lisa M. Jordan, Library Journal Review
Next Stop manages both to warm your heart and to break it into a million pieces.” —Claire LaZebnik, author of The Smart One and the Pretty One and coauthor of Overcoming Autism

Glen it’s my pleasure to welcome you to my blog to talk about your book that’s releasing in paperback, Next Stop: A Memoir of Family. It’s an even more appropriate time to bring this to light now as April is National Autism Awareness Month.
Can you tell us about the book?
It’s the age-old story of roots and wings—how we as  parents must teach our children to learn to live without us. Of course, all parenting is fraught, but there’s a twist in Next Stop. Set in Washington, DC, it depicts the summer I spent teaching my 21-year old son David, who is tall, dark, and autistic, to ride the Metro trains— solo—and in the process, how he taught me how to let him go.  But the story of autism is never the story of a single child. It’s also the story of the family who loves him—his two neurotypical older brothers and a mom and dad who are eager to become empty nesters. 

I loved the term you used to describe David “a differently-abled young man”.
Tell us about David’s life now. 
Did he accomplish his goal?
Well, spoiler alert—David learned to drive so he’s really his own boss now. He’s still working for the Washington Nationals as he has for the last four baseball seasons, and he’s just snagged a job with a professional dogwalking business in the city. Fingers crossed it’s going to be a good fit.  His goal remains to move out someday soon, get an apartment on his own.  He’s continued his love of running marathons, sees a lot of movies, and has a sharp sense of humor.  At the same time, he seems to lead quite a solitary existence.  He has always been hard to pigeonhole and he will live life in ways uncharted by the rest of us.

In the Synopsis you said the book is “Rendered without sentimentality”.
How were you able to accomplish this?
Parenting an autistic kid can be a forever job, but early on, I learned there’s no whining in autism.  Someone always has to be the adult.  It’s nothing short of the   24-7 management of another human being’s life, one that often comes with no graduation, no send-off party, and no glimmer of a future empty nest.  So how to write a book that isn’t sappy or woe-is-me?  The key is to steer clear of self-indulgence because that’s boring, then to move the story forward from a place of love and purpose.  Of course, all children come to us unbidden, but discovering your child has autism can make you feel angry, sad, or trapped, like somehow you both got a raw deal. Yet a memoir is not the place to extract pity or revenge because that’s not writing, that’s complaining.   Even so, I didn’t want to minimize our family’s struggles because obstacles create compelling tension in a story.  How we each respond to our setbacks makes us human and offers that shiver of recognition readers need to connect to a story.  So in the end, Next Stop became one woman’s testimony about her family of four testosterone-soaked males who carry around very perceptive, finely tuned BS monitors. If the story ever veered toward being too spongey, too sickly sweet, I hit Delete right away.  If I hadn’t, my guys would’ve picked up the stench wafting down the hall and tossed me out the door on the count of three.

Did you write the book as a guide for other parents, an outlet for your own feelings, a combination or something entirely different?
Ha! There are no road maps to autism, so I suppose writing Next Stop was my own attempt to make sense of a confusing world.  Here’s what I figured: Even though you may have no connection to autism, we’re all connected to messy families.  It’s part of being human, just like autism is a part of being human.  So I decided  If I could pluck out what was most important about my family’s day-to-day life with autism and shape events without violating the truth, then I could tell a good story by letting history be history. But something unexpected and wonderful has developed at my readings.  Other parents are aching to tell their own quirky stories, to be listened to, even in a room full of strangers.  The stories pingpong around the room so fast that I just sit back and listen and nod. It’s become a cathartic public arena to speak up about things perhaps only those who’ve lived it can fully appreciate; we all  get it and there’s a real healing agent that comes with that.  Suddenly we’re no longer strangers at all.

In your opinion what is the biggest misconception we the public have about Autism?
Rainman. Forrest Gump. These fictional Hollywood stereotypes of what a person with autism looks, acts, and sounds like still prevail in the public mind. Better to think snowflake here, because as any member of my tribe will tell you, When you’ve met one autistic kid, well then, you’ve met one autistic kid.  The struggle is how to make it clear that the autism spectrum is quite broad.  As with all of us, the lives of autistics are deeply nuanced, richly textured with countless ways of being in the world. Yet, the larger obstacle is apathy because most people will never have to care about autism.  In all candor, I sometimes wonder if I would, if my David hadn’t come along.  So, what will it take to raise public awareness?  The freshest kickback to this comes from my friend Tony Trott, newsletter editor at the ENDependence Center in metropolitan Washington, DC.  His job is to mentor people with all sorts of disabilities and to help them create independent lives they can call their own. Tony is a handsome, blue-eyed, upbeat guy in his early forties.  He and his wife get around DC  via their wheelchairs and scooters.  He says the  best way to break through apathy and erase the stigma that comes with being differently-abled  is to simply show up. “Show up and do normal things,” he says.  “My wife and I like to roll onto the Metro, go to the ballpark, or go eat out at fancy restaurants a couple of times a month.  You know, spend a little money.  At one place, they call us ‘regulars.’  Yeah, we like that.” 

When the hardback version of the book came out in April of 2012, you were the recipient of many awards. 
Was there one that meant more than the rest?
Each of them delighted me, but one surprised me most of all. The National Library Services for the Blind touched a deep chord by inviting me to make an audio recording of Next Stop for registered NLSB patrons across the country. I  hadn’t expected this story to find its way into the broader disability community, but it really makes sense because there is so much crossover angst in the lives of anyone viewed as different from the average guy on the street.  Perhaps the book offers a little push-back on that battlefront. At any rate, there is strength in numbers and I’m happy as hell to see the book used as a bit of a rally cry in the ongoing fight for awareness and equal civil rights for the disabled.

Do you think that your memoir has raised awareness of Autism?
Outsiders can only see what Insiders know, so I sure hope that’s the case. I’m often told, “Wow, I had no idea raising an  autistic child to adulthood was anything like this.”  Kudos to those folks for making the effort to think outside their comfort zone.  On the other hand, many members of my tribe write in to say, “Your story is my story” and “I know a  David.”  But there’s another response that creeps in on a regular basis.  It’s from fathers stuck in denial over the issues surrounding their child diagnosed with autism.  They often say  the book has made them look at their wives differently. One dad emailed me from Chicago’s O’Hare airport where he had just finished reading the book between flights and found himself crying for the first time since his son was born. He said he couldn’t wait to get home to his wife, his new hero.  Another dad wrote to thank me for putting a smile on his wife’s face because, after reading the book, he now wakes her up with my husband’s daily greeting to me: Good morning, Beautiful.  My husband claims he’s gotten a lot of mileage out of that line, but he wisely notes, once you start using it, you can never stop.

Do you ever see yourself writing fiction?
I’m plugging away on a novel right now and over the years several of my short stories have found homes in small presses and anthologies.  Of the two genres, I find fiction harder to pull off because the writer has to make it all up and then go figure out why it matters.  True stories sit there like treasure chests just waiting to be dug up.

Speaking of the “Dave interrupted marriage,” how’s that going now?
We’re 30 years into it.   Why mess with perfect?

Glen, thank you for being here and for your candid replies. Will there be any events to celebrate the paper back release?
Here’s what’s on the calendar so far:
April 2nd, 2013   -      Penguin’s Paperback Release Date for NEXT STOP
April 16th, 2013   -    7:30 pm Reading/book talk The New School, New York City.
April 26th, 2013  -    Keynote to Innovate: Advance LA Conference, Los Angeles, CA

Please visit Glen's website for news and more.

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