Back to School Blog Tour: Writing a Middle Grade Book with an Autistic Protagonist

Flying in a Cage book cover

Back to School Blog Tour of 2018, hosted by Tiffany Turner, I’d like to share a little bit of the process behind the writing of my latest novel, Flying in a Cage.

A person with autism is non-neurotypical, meaning their brain works differently than other people. When I decided to write a book from the point of view of a character who is autistic, who’s brain doesn’t work the same as mine, I knew it would be a challenge. Aside from the research that I did before I began (and while I was writing), I was pushed to find a new way to approach my writing.

Doing Research

When I thought of the initial concept for Flying in a Cage, I started out by doing research. I read non-fiction books on autism, plus fiction books that feature characters with autism. I really enjoyed some of those books, including Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, The Someday Birds by Sara J. Pla, and Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I found that most of the fiction novels focused on people who have Asperger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism), which was not the direction I wanted to take.

I also spent time watching videos that observe children with autism, or documentaries that show a glimpse into a life of someone with autism. One of the most interesting videos I watched was a movie based on the life of Temple Grandin, a woman with high-functioning autism, who was one of the first people who was able to explain what autism is.

Writing the Story

Once I began the writing process, I found myself looking for a new way to tell a story.

I wrote the first draft in first person point of view. The narrator is ten-year-old protagonist, Ivory, and she tells the story in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way. She is very in tune with her sense of sound, and there’s a heavy focus on music, so there were a lot of onomatopoeias scattered through the narrative.

I was happy with it, but after reading some great middle grade books in verse (Love that Dog and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech), I realized this was a medium that would work really well with my story. It was time to make some changes that would take my novel to the next level.

Now, I had never written a book in verse before. I didn’t have a lot of experience writing poetry. In fact, I didn’t exactly love the poetry segment of the Creative Writing class I took in high school. (I was just waiting for it to be over so we could get to the next semester’s topic, which was writing a mystery.) Because of this, I was hesitant to rewrite a perfectly fine draft and start again, this time in verse. But everything in me told me this would be the best way to express Ivory’s thoughts, so I went for it.

I was happily surprised to find that it was a lot easier than I initially thought it would be. Because Ivory didn’t narrate the way an “ordinary” protagonist would, the poetry felt natural. In fact, now when I look back, I can’t imagine why I ever thought it was a good idea to write this book in prose.

#booksforchildren #autistic #middlegrade #autism #backtoschool