This month's guest blogger is children's author Lawrey Goodrick. His middle-grade book Cans for Change is traditionally published through Brisbane-based Hawkeye Publishing.
He's written a very unique, inspiring and educational post for the blog, and I'm very excited to share it with you all! This post focuses on autism but I'm sure anyone who has dealt with something that makes them different - but a stronger creative because of it - will relate.
As a child, author/illustrator, Lawrey Goodrick, experienced anxiety and depression. He often felt like an alien, unable to find his place, and he didn’t understand why. In his racing, analytic thoughts, he considered it a consequence of his vast imagination and curse of creativity. As an adult, Lawrey was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, and the world as he knew it made a whole lot more sense.
Lawrey writes and illustrates outrageous characters and adventures that reflect his world of Autism, with a hope that kids and adults alike will find the courage to challenge adversity and tackle life’s big questions, be themselves and follow their dreams doing so.
Buy a copy of Cans for Change.
How High Functioning Autism scored me a debut book publishing deal.
‘This is really good,’ said Carolyn Martinez, director of Hawkeye Publishing, as she leafed through the first five pages of my middle-grade fiction book Cans for Change. I’d been offered a chance to pitch a story idea to a professional that could potentially open the door into the writing industry, and although I was nervous, I couldn’t quite comprehend the applause. It was a reaction I didn’t expect and one that totally shifted my perception of publishers.
Throughout my life I had wondered why I was different, why I was plagued with overwhelming sensations of isolation and alienation, even amongst my biological family. Little did I know that I had High Functioning Autism (HFA) and it wouldn’t be till I was halfway through my 30’s that I was diagnosed.
Going undiagnosed left me with questioning doubt of my existence as early as I can remember, and it was debilitating to my mental health. Creative writing essentially saved me and was as an outlet to understand my complexities, as well as involve others to understand my condition. I have never had a shortage of imagination, and not every idea I’ve wrote has been reciprocated with warmth, but everything I offer, however random or bizarre, did quirk people’s interest, which is how I knew I had something that others lacked. But it wasn’t until I penned the story Cans for Change that I figured out why.
Being an autistic author is no easy feat. Having to convey the mass jumble of information zipping around my non-neurotypical mind into a resourceful, educational, and entertaining middle grade publication was trialling but extremely worthwhile. And it is no surprise that during plot development, character arcs, and multiple drafts, that my stories represented autism and the mental health issues associated to that diversity. And what a unique and fulfilling, energised emotional rollercoaster it is!
Here are some HFA traits that sold my debut middle grade fiction book.
1. Unique language
HFA, when I didn’t understand it, was a mental minefield. Sometimes I’d struggle to find the correct words to convey my thoughts and emotions, substituting ‘like’ words that didn’t accurately reflect the definition I was chasing. It was frustrating and undermined my confidence and self-esteem.
Despite the debilitating effects, this trait has had success as much as it has had failures. Failures usually occur in social oral situations, a trait that defeats most autistics socially. The success of my HFA vernacular is that I’d developed a unique language style that others would fail to replicate. It is random but original. This language trait of HFA has helped inspire my stories with refreshing changes to cliches and overused everyday words, in particular the car-based similes and metaphors in Cans for Change.
A constant struggle in writing however is my inability to successfully apply correct syntax in sentences. This fortunately I can combat through the gradual re-drafts of a story. But it’s funny that my mind recognises the flow in a sentence to be incorrect and I can shift words or sentence parts around until the flow sounds correct. It’s also funny that although I’m a published author, I can’t keep track of the literacy language definitions and devices, bar the basics. It’s only from reading and watching movies I’ve been able to understand what is required in a story to make it effective and entertaining.
2. Use of exclamation marks
Some authors suggest using exclamation marks minimally, or to paraphrase Mark
Twain, ‘Don’t use them, it’s like laughing at your own joke.’ I, however, found that writing comedy and action required a fair few of these literary devices. But not just for appearance’s sake. No, for reflection of my spectrum.
For me, sound has been both a beautiful and offensive thing. People when they speak tend to sound like they are shouting or using a raised voice. And during my re-drafts for Cans for Change, with the knowledge instilled on me by my editor Lauren Daniels, I strategically edited down the amount of exclamation marks as to not exhaust their use — even though they are an integral part of HFA day-to-day life and apply to autistics’ struggle with sound sensitivity.
For future conversation, ask me about the trials of adjusting to people's excessive and varying use of explicit words — it’s like experiencing shellshock from word bombs.
3. Active, fast-paced storyline
Racing thought processes and interpreting and analysing addition stimulation is a
common trait of HFA, and of autism in general; something autistics are plagued with on varying levels.
Growing up undiagnosed was a battle through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, constantly unable to quieten the voices and information that never switched off. It’s a trait I knew neurotypical people would fail to understand, so when I learnt in creative writing that I needed to keep a reader engaged by using an active voice, the racing thoughts that plagued me helped form the structured and uninterrupted fast-paced storyline that is a trait of me just as much as my stories.
It is no secret that in Cans for Change the father, Lawrence Jeffries, is obsessed with
recycling, and from an HFA perspective, this is dead-set fixation. When recycling culture came to Queensland, I was hooked with the incentives it offered for young and old alike, which saw me collecting cans, sometimes bin diving, embarrassing my kids, chasing that thrill as well as helping the environment and my pocket.
My fixation trait did take over, and it’s not the first time. (Ask me about a childhood fixation with golf balls or hunting down species of frangipanni variants for the visual pleasure they offered. You’ll be as amused and captivated as I was.)
A fixation can help HFA individuals focus on their interests and tasks, but it can also derail them, and there’s sometimes never a concrete answer why the fixation occurs, but it does offer a humorous advantage for storytelling. My current fixation is coffee and finding alternate tastes. Expensive but satisfying.
5. No filter
There’s no doubt that you’ve come across autism in your lifetime, and one of the
most prominent features you would have witnessed is a ‘no filter’ dialogue autistic individuals are equipped with.
The no-filter trait has put me in a lot of uncomfortable situations, where stuttering and spluttering to dig myself out of a vocal exchange hasn’t done me any favours. This trait I’ve applied to all the characters in Cans for Change, which adds varying levels of hilarity, encouraging outrageous actions to propel the story along. It also helps promote the uncomfortable reality that autistics are exposed to, for they already are overwhelmed with the objective of social integration, but slip-ups add attention to lacking social ability, creating overthinking anxious characters and outrageous antics to compensate to prove themselves socially viable.
Despite the personal struggles I’ve been through, the debilitating effects of living life
with undiagnosed High Functioning Autism and its effects on my mental health, I wouldn’t change who I am or how my brain is wired. I love my autism, for what it offers has made me unique, standing out from the socially conforming pack.
‘This is sooo good, Lawrey,’ said Carolyn, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing.’
Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Lawrey! Again, you can buy Cans for Change online, here.