August 12, 2011
By Autism Society
Katie Bridges has received awards for her juvenile science fiction novel Warriors of the Edge: The Search for Stone. She maintains multiple blogs about writing, life as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, futurism and other topics at her website, www.warriorsoftheedge.com.
In this two-part interview with the Autism Society’s Nate Rabner, she discusses the creative process, the challenges and triumphs of having her first book published and promoted, and shares her advice for aspiring authors with autism.
Autism Society: Why do you enjoy writing?
Katie Bridges: I enjoy writing for the same reason that people love going to theme parks. I am, in essence, creating my own theme park when I write a story. I choose the setting, construct the landscape, design the costumes, and fill it full of characters that will bring the right kind of atmosphere to my magical land. I write the scripts too, so that the characters can put on the best show possible for the many guests who will want to visit my land. The best part is that I can visit my theme park again and again. I can walk my favorite paths, enjoying the same scenery that delighted me the day before. I can hop onto the same rides that carry me to faraway places.
When I work on a scene, I am swept into that place. I am looking around at what’s going on. I am seeing the details. I am feeling the emotions of my characters. The more I describe it, the more real it feels to me. The story is something that is happening to me, rather than something I am merely relaying to others. I often feel like I’m taking a vacation whenever I work on my story. I get to explore and see new things. I get to experience the thrill of adventure, without having to worry about any actual harm coming to me.
Writing for me isn’t so much about escaping real life as it is about creating an experience that flavors my real life. When I can enjoy myself for a few hours in a futuristic world, I am able to emerge from that place with renewed vigor. I feel ready to tackle what lies before me. My imaginary world is a place that strengthens me and helps me cope with the difficulties of daily living. It provides me with the inspiration I need to bring a touch of creativity to every area of my life.
AS: Why is science fiction your preferred genre?
KB: I need to break that down a little more because science fiction can take on many forms, from space drama to juvenile adventure stories. I definitely prefer adventure stories written for children. That’s why I write children’s books. When I write for children, I’m not trying to aim a story at their interest level. I write to my own interests, which just happen to be the same as what a twelve-year-old likes. But beyond that, I am most interested in science fiction that is science based, especially if it involves futuristic inventions such as robots, space travel, or cities of the future. Anything that can take me into that setting is thrilling for me because I love to be immersed in that kind of advanced technological society where I am surrounded by scientists and their work.
I am also drawn toward stories that are fully detailed and realistically portrayed, even if they don’t happen to be science fiction. I loved James Herriot’s books for this reason. His stories about life on the farm have had a more profound effect on me than anything I’ve ever read. When I first read his book, All Creatures Great and Small, I dreamt about cows every night for weeks afterwards. That’s the power that kind of descriptive writing has on me. To blend that sort of realism with futuristic science fiction is the ultimate for me.
AS: How do you get ideas for your writing? What is difficult and what do you enjoy about the creative process?
KB: The creative writing process never ends for me. I have to carry around pen and paper wherever I go because I never know when an idea will strike me. My children got used to my strange driving habits from a young age. As I would drive about town, running errands, I would need to pull over to the side of the road multiple times before we got to our destination, just so I could jot down my thoughts. The story never leaves my mind. There are times when it’s very difficult for me to walk through a grocery store and think about what I need to pick up for dinner if I’m deep into my story. People will talk to me and I’ll look right past them without hearing what they’re saying. It’s like I have a running script going on in my mind at all times and I can only focus on that. That can be a problem at times. For that reason, I’ve forced myself into a routine for my writing. I now assign certain weeks for active writing and certain weeks for being more fully engaged with my family. But even during family time, I’m still spending a large portion of my day writing and coming up with ideas. I just try not to focus on it as hard as I do when I’m actively working on a story. I purpose myself to focus on others instead.
The easiest part of writing is editing what I’ve already written. I would spend all my time doing that if I could. I am the queen of the edit. I rework my writings until one would think there’s nothing left to rework and still I’ll rework it. That’s where all the fun is at for me, getting it to sound cleverer than it did the day before.
AS: In your blog, you mention that verbal communication is difficult for you. How do you deal with this challenge when it comes up in your career as an author?
KB: Right after I wrote my first science fiction story, I got the brainy idea to offer a creative writing class to preteens and teens. The idea struck me in a moment of inspiration, a moment that was quickly lost once people began signing up for my class. When the day came for parents and their children to arrive for their class, I panicked. Cars were pulling up in front of our home and people were making their way to our front door. I did the natural thing. I ran to the bathroom and locked myself inside, refusing to come out. After a long time in there, my husband began knocking on the door.
“You’re got to come out,” he said. “People are already seated.”
“Tell them the class is cancelled,” I said, panting for breath. “Tell them I’m sick. Tell them anything. I can’t do this. What in the world was I thinking? I must have been out of my mind.”
“You can do it,” my husband coaxed me. “Just come out. People are waiting for you.”
My husband persisted until I finally came out of the bathroom. I made up my mind to get through this nightmare somehow, but I promised myself I would never do something like this again. At the time, I had no ability to speak freely to people. My thoughts just didn’t form for verbal communication. I had trouble even answering questions. The only thing I could do was read word for word what I had typed up for my class. But even that I didn’t do well. I was so scared that I kept stuttering and gasping for breath. I also read my science fiction story to everyone, as part of what I offered in the class. I had no idea what their reactions were because I didn’t make eye contact with anyone. I just focused on the papers in front of me.
Imagine my surprise when the kids ran up to me afterwards and threw their arms around me, hugging me. “That’s the best story ever,” they began to say. “It felt so real.”
I was shocked at their response. Their words of affirmation did much to help encourage me, but it was years before I was willing to try something like that again. It was very traumatizing for me.
I’ve gone through a lot of training since then. I can now get up in front of people and speak with confidence. But I still have to read what I’ve previously written out in order to make sense and bring my point across. Occasionally, I can deviate from what I’ve written and speak off the cuff but those ideas often come from thoughts I had just a few hours before my speech. If I have enough time to prepare, I will memorize entire speeches. I’m so practiced at it that most people don’t know that I’m not speaking freely. In the past few years, I have received training to help me speak during interviews. I have people in my life who will sit with me and ask me one question after another. As long as the material is fresh in my mind, I do okay. And questions can be catalysts for promoting new ideas, which also helps me along. But it’s easy for me to lose my train of thought or mangle my answer. I have to put a lot of focus to it.
I recently was interviewed for a radio program. I knew I would not be able to spit out answers as fast as they would be asked. I wasn’t willing to rely on my verbal skills for something as important as a radio interview. So what I did was anticipate the kind of questions I would be asked. I wrote out the answers to them and memorized every word, which I then put onto cards. When the phone call came through from the radio host, I was prepared. I not only had the answers memorized, I had their positions memorized on the table before me. In an instant, I could locate the correct card, and know what the answer was for any question that the radio host asked. That technique probably wouldn’t work very well for a television interview. Verbal communication remains a challenge for me, but I manage it much better than I used to.
Stay tuned for Part II of this interview on Monday, August 15...
For information about Asperger's Syndrome, visit the Autism Society's Asperger's Syndrome Web page.
Topics:Living with Autism
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