Welcome back to the blog! With me today is another wonderful friend from VCFA: Lyn Miller-Lachmann—author of the critically acclaimed Gringolandia (Curbstone Books 2009), teacher, blogger, and Lego enthusiast. Welcome, Lyn! Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency.
Lyn’s latest novel, Rogue, debuts mañana, so I’m thrilled that she’s here on the blog not one, but two days. Woot!
Here’s a quick synopsis of Rogue, published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin:
Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? Kiara has a difficult time with other kids. They taunt her and she fights back. Now she’s been kicked out of school. She wishes she could be like her hero Rogue—a misunderstood X-Men mutant who used to hurt anyone she touched until she learned how to control her special power.
When Chad moves in across the street, Kiara hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. When she learns his secret, she’s so determined to keep Chad as a friend that she agrees not to tell. But being a true friend is more complicated than Mr. Internet could ever explain, and it might be just the thing that leads Kiara to find her own special power.
In Rogue, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann celebrates everyone’s ability to discover and use whatever it is that makes them different.
El Space: Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Lyn: I was just approved for my own show on WRPI, so in addition to being the assistant host of Los Vientos del Pueblo, which features Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history, I will now have a world music show on Sunday evening. I have constructed an entire Lego city with a dystopian underworld, and I recently added an entertainment district to the city.
I spent fall 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal, fell in love with the city, and am trying to find a way to live there again. I took a class in Portuguese this spring, which the professor taught through creative writing, and I wrote a 16-page short story entirely in Portuguese.
Lyn and her husband and colleagues in Lisbon
El Space: Lyn, you always were an awesome DJ! The fact that you’re a hard worker was obvious when we first started at VCFA. You make me feel lazy with all of your accomplishments. Congratulations on that radio show, by the way. Now, let’s talk about your middle grade novel. How did the title for Rogue come about?
Lyn: This novel changed titles multiple times. My agent submitted it as Kiara Rules, but a boy in my seventh grade Sunday school class said, “This is the kind of book I’d read, but not if it has a girl’s name in the title and pink on the cover.” The publisher chose Rogue because she is the X-Men character with whom Kiara is obsessed, and Kiara is herself a “rogue”—an outsider who has trouble following society’s rules.
El Space: Rogue is my favorite of the X-Men, so I’m all for the title. How has the shifting information we have about Asperger’s syndrome helped or hindered the path to the publication of Rogue?
Lyn: The debate over classifying Asperger’s syndrome under the broad category of autism, rather than a separate diagnosis, definitely helped sell the manuscript. I had a letter published in The New York Times about this topic, shortly before the book sold to Penguin, expressing my concern that those diagnosed with Asperger’s continue to receive the support and accommodation that has allowed many of us to succeed in school and in the workplace.
I feel that I took a big risk “coming out” as someone on the autism spectrum—I’ve had the official diagnosis since 2008—but social skills are key to success in so many endeavors, and discrimination still exists. I hope that Rogue will open people’s eyes to what all of us can contribute to the world, even if we have trouble fitting in and aren’t exactly social butterflies.
El Space: How much of your experience informed the writing of Rogue?
Lyn: Many of the incidents in the novel are variations of things that happened to me. In the first chapter, Kiara figures that if she sits at the popular girls’ table, she too will be popular. I too thought that would happen, but when I set my lunch tray on the table, one of the popular girls pushed it to the floor. It’s one of those moments from middle school that you never forget, but I didn’t react in the same way Kiara did when the popular girl pushed her tray to the floor. I wish I had, but I was too afraid, and thus continued to get stepped on all the way through middle grade and high school.
Also drawn from my experience is the moral choice that Kiara has to make—to keep Chad’s secret about his family’s business in order to keep Chad as a friend, at times even abetting what the family is doing—or break off the relationship and tell someone. When I first got my driver’s license, I unwittingly became a conduit for popular kids in the grade below me who were buying and selling drugs. For me, the worst part was realizing that these kids didn’t want me in their clique. They didn’t want to be my friends; they were only using me to get what they wanted.
I hate to stop here, but I have to for today. Don’t give me those puppy eyes! Tune in again tomorrow for more of my discussion with Lyn. Meanwhile, you can find Lyn at her website or follow her on Twitter: @LMillerLachmann.