I’ve received countless emails and messages asking me why and how I came to decide on Genevieve. Why autism? What was my reasoning for this? Yesterday, I received an email from the lovely Kathie asking me how I started writing about autism. That finally got me to sit down and write this post. Thank you, Kathie!!
To be honest, it feels like a lifetime ago when I was on my treadmill pondering this series I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to write the type of book I enjoyed reading. Something with an intriguing mystery, well-developed characters and with a smart sense of humour. Also I wanted to write about the topics that interested me – psychology, art, politics, music. A tall order. So, I got on my treadmill and started walking through this challenge. Hee. Pun totally intended!
My choice was both practical and personal. The practical side had to do with the writing – finding a character people would love. I wanted someone who was interesting, smart, strong and with a great hurdle/challenge/obstacle that’s holding her back. I decided on a woman, because I’m all for equality, strong and independent women, etc. It also added the extra layer of vulnerability that as women we have to contend with every day. No matter how strong we are.
I wanted my main character to have something holding her back. Something real. Not the usual (and very real) family issues, alcohol, gender discrimination, etc. Something new, different and interesting. That’s when I thought of mental or physical disabilities. It wasn’t a hard choice for me. And this is the personal part of my decision. In my life, I’ve had many people close to me suffer from depression (in all its forms), bipolar disorder and a few other painful challenges.
Mental health is so vastly misunderstood, misrepresented and not talked about. For a long, long list of reasons, we are scared of talking about our mental state. That means we often suffer alone because we think we’re the only ones going through this specific experience, not knowing that our brother, sister, neighbour is experiencing something very similar and also suffering in silence. I wanted to address a neurodevelopmental disorder that the average person on the street know very little about. A disorder people walk wide circles around, causing even more hurt in the already confusing world these individuals live in.
And that was the birth of Genevieve. I wanted her to have had to deal with the discrimination that so many people on the spectrum experience. Hers came from her snobbish family. But I wanted her to be strong enough to walk away from it and create her own path. Which she did. She understood her disorder and instead of fighting it, worked with it.
Most people on the spectrum have great difficulty recognising nonverbal cues. Genevieve realised that and became a world expert in that topic as well as studying psychology. She empowered herself with knowledge, using her analytical mind to help her understand neurotypical people. It took the mystery, the fear out of her environment and made it easier for her to function within society. Not that she chose to be part of society. But that choice was made when she had the knowledge of how society functions and she made the informed decision to stay on the peripheries of society. She didn’t feel forced out, ignored or avoided. It was her choice.
And I wanted to challenge even that. I wanted to push people into her life who would challenge all the stereotypes she had formed. That strong division between right and wrong, good and bad. I wanted people who she normally would never associate with to accept her, love her and help her develop, grow into an even stronger individual. And I wanted her to struggle with that.
I wanted all the things I just named in the above three paragraphs because from the core of my being I believe that we can achieve our dreams no matter the many things holding us back. For Genevieve, it is something we can name – Autism Spectrum Disorder. But for most of us, it is our own thoughts limiting us. If Genevieve, who has a diagnosed and recognised neurological disorder, can face her fears, grow, learn how to be a friend and lover, then we (who do not have a neurodevelopmental disorder) can surely find a way to face our own fears and push to become the best person we can be.
When I started writing Genevieve, I’d hope people could identify with her, connect with her on some level even though she is extremely different to most of us. I didn’t expect so many readers to connect to her. Every time I receive an email or a message about this, I’m amazed how many people find a smaller or bigger part of themselves in her. I know she reflects me in certain areas. But then again, so does Colin, Vinnie, Nikki, Manny and even Phillip! 🙂
Another question I’m asked very often—and always very gently, is if I am autistic or have a loved one who is autistic. The answer to that is no. But for some inexplicable reason, I have an intense understanding of and empathy with people on the spectrum. My social communication (related to gestures, jokes and flow of conversation); social interaction (related to making friends, knowing how to act in social situations); and social imagination (related to understanding and interpreting people’s ideas, thoughts, feelings and actions) are too developed for me to have ASD. But there are other traits that I can definitely claim as my own. Then again, I think all of us have a bit of a non-neurotypical side. Right?
I hope my very long and chatty post gave you an insight into why and how Genevieve came to be. Thank you so much for all your emails about Genevieve! I treasure each one.