Monday, December 15, 2014

Defiant is Coming (I got a #book contract)

Yeah. So. I won’t be self-publishing Defiant because it’s coming out through a proper press. They will also be taking Imaginary Friends when it is done on the blog, and we have a tentative deal worked out for terms for future Clay Dillon books as I devise them.

I know, right? Who would have thought we’d be here at the end of 2014.

I’ve been working this deal for a while, talking to various members of the wider neurodiversity community, getting to know academics, putting together Neuroqueer… and then it all just kind of came together. Not just the publishing, but the whole thing.

Defiant is Shaping Clay No. 25.

You read that right. Nothing is Right is No. 1, and it is the only one that I don’t intend to serialize on the blog. Defiant is No. 25. Imaginary Friends is No. 2. To understand the breadth and scope of Clay Dillon’s experience and what it is meant to say about autism, sexuality, and American culture, you have to start by knowing what the origin of the character is and what the inciting incident of his final act will be. Anything else would fail to set the stage for the telling of his journey.

The different books are different books, you see, but there is only one story. It’s not the story of Clay Dillon’s disability. It’s the story of Clay Dillon’s life, as it is shaped by the societal forces he is born into and the reactions of real people to those forces. Shaping Clay is not about self-actualization… that would be both too easy and too self-indulgent. Shaping Clay is instead about the culture I grew up in, the ways that it changed during my lifetime, and the ways that its demands became more regimented. It is about racism, gender, LGBT civil rights, and disability rights and justice. It is about literature, music, politics, economics, family values, and religion. And it is about the ways that those things operate on individuals, in individual lives, on a daily basis. Shaping Clay is the story of our times. If it is about one thing, it is about the way that the environment we breathe in limits us.

If I wanted to be truly effective at telling the story this way, I felt that I needed to be able to show how these forces, as applied to a life like mine (with parents who were under-educated, neurodivergent, steeped in a culture of aggressive capitalism and unthinking faith--just not always religious faith), how those forces combined to crush a bright, emotional autistic, and how they made her into a self-hating, depressed, unemployable adult. And then how she broke free of that.

That’s why I needed to write out Defiant before going back to give you the rest of the story. Because what you need to understand, from the moment you open Nothing is Right, is that Clay Dillon misunderstands his environment because he is autistic and he is not supported, but the reason he is so miserable is because he is not being allowed to learn and experience life.

He is instead performing, and being shaped by that performance, until the background noise of dysphoria and sensory hell is simply something he accepts, the same way that he unthinkingly accepts the pronouns used to batter him throughout the third person framing of the story. When Clay finally realizes that the reason nothing is right is not because he is autistic but because she is the narrator in her own life and the third-person memory that is the telling of her story is a forceful disassociation from herself, then the series will be over.

Shaping Clay is not the story of autism, or of an autistic. Shaping Clay is the story of trauma, and of being repeatedly traumatized until you lose your sense of self. Whatever else it is, whether it is cultural criticism, a morality story, or a politicized developmental narrative, it is also an exercise in phenomenological truth. The events in it are constructed--mythologized, really--out of a mash of my life, dramatizations of common scenarios presented in case studies and literature, and the hyperbolic satirization of the worst excesses of popular but pseudoscientific psychological theories.

Clay’s methods of perception, though? Those are my own. From the physicality of experiencing emotion in purely tactile ways (heat, cold, sharp, blunt, heavy, light) to the synesthetic meltdowns that can happen when sight, sound, actual tactile input, and emotions are all occupying the same space, he thinks and feels the way I think and feel. If I am to construct social criticism in a dramatic form, I can only do it by writing what I know.

Similarly, the cultural rhetoric of Clay Dillon’s environment, from the physical objects he possesses (baseball cards, Calvin and Hobbes books, illicit copies of Amy Tan novels), are the story of the society that his parents shape him in. Both the cultural artifacts he interacts with and the ones he is oblivious to are part of this construction--the story is not just what I place in Clay’s environment, but what I do not.

To ignore those things or consider them setting is to miss the larger theoretical framing of the drama, to collapse it into a mere story, and to forcibly ignore the truth at the heart of Clay’s character: that we are all social constructs inside of animals, and only those of us who learn to live in the plurality of both existences will be able to appreciate either.

Clay Dillon is an autistic boy. She is also a trans woman. He is also a bisexual college student, and she is a loving husband.

This is the story of how her point of view was unmoored from his social conditioning, and how they lived happily ever after.

And there will be thirty installments.

Defiant will be released at the beginning of the Society for Disability Studies’ 2015 conference in Atlanta. Autonomous Press will be holding a launch party for it and for their other titles at that event. More details will be announced as I have them. #Defiantiscoming