I had planned to reveal the winner of Coming Up Short by Laurie Morrison this week. Before that reveal, I had planned to post the following interview at the beginning of the week. Alas I was a little under the weather. The best laid plans of mice and men as they say. So here at least is that second interview. Both winner reveals will have to come next week. Now, on with the show!
On the blog today is no stranger to the community: the amazing Lyn Miller-Lachmann here to talk about her book She Persisted: Temple Grandin, which was published on April 5 by Philomel and illustrated by Gillian Flint,. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.
El Space: What did it mean to you to write this book on Temple Grandin? How did it come about that you did?
Lyn: The authors of each volume of the She Persisted series share some aspect of lived experience with their subject, and I’m one of them. I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2007 and had already written a book published by Penguin Random House loosely based on my time in middle and high school as an undiagnosed outcast who would do anything to have a friend. That novel, Rogue, came out in 2013 from another imprint at Penguin Random House, Nancy Paulsen Books. In 2020, editors Jill Santopolo and Talia Benamy at Philomel approached my agent, Jacqui Lipton, and asked if I’d be interested in writing Temple Grandin’s biography for this series, and I jumped at the opportunity. She’s a hero of mine, and I’m honored that they asked me to write about her life and work.
El Space: Were you able to talk to Temple Grandin? What was your research like for this book?
Lyn: I didn’t talk to Temple to research this book, but I have met her. She was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Chicago, there to talk about her book The Autistic Brain. She signed her book for me, and I told her how she’d inspired me to speak out about my own experiences as an autistic person. In addition to reading her books and Oliver Sacks’s 1995 article in The New Yorker about her, I took notes at her keynote speech and asked her about the speech when she signed my book. In her speech, she said, “When you’re a weird geek, you’ve got to learn to sell your work,” and when I spoke with her, she encouraged me to promote my work based not on my personal charm but on its quality and how my writing can improve the lives of my readers.
El Space: How long was the process of writing?
Lyn: I wrote the first draft of this book in about six weeks, with another two weeks for revision. I had a short deadline and could meet it because the book was part of a series, and all the titles have a similar structure. In addition, I’d already read a lot of Temple’s books and seen the HBO documentary based on her life [click here for the trailer], so I had a big head start on the research. I have a journalism background, so general nonfiction and biographical profiles are easier for me to write than fiction, and I use the techniques of fiction, such as the hook and scene structure, to enhance my nonfiction.
El Space: What do you want kids to take away after reading this book?
Lyn: When Temple talks about being autistic, she uses the words, “Different not less.” People who are different—who think differently, who have different backgrounds and experiences—can often identify big problems that other people don’t see as problems, and they can find solutions because they look at those problems from fresh perspectives. For instance, Temple observed farm animals and was able to interpret the world from their eyes because of her experiences as an autistic person. I’d like young readers to embrace their unique ways of looking at the world and acknowledge the perspectives and experiences of those they may have dismissed for being different or weird.
El Space: Well said, Lyn! I know with some of these projects, authors and illustrators never meet. Was that the case? How much input did you have in the illustrations?
Lyn: The She Persisted series uses the same illustrator for all the chapter books, Gillian Flint, which gives the volumes a unified appearance. However, I like my cover and illustrations best because they capture Temple’s affection for the animals she studies. I knew right away that young readers would gravitate toward a cover that had her petting a cow. As far as input, I had a chance to look at the illustrations ahead of time and point out places that might be inaccurate or confusing, and several illustrations were tweaked to make them clearer.
El Space: Will you do more projects like this? Why or why not?
Lyn: I love the She Persisted series! It’s accessible, and the women featured have accomplished so much against the odds. Their refusal to give up unites them across time, place, culture, language, and area of accomplishment. Right now, when girls and women face the curtailment of their rights and opportunities in the United States, they can look toward these women as role models who encountered similar obstacles and endured many defeats before achieving their goals. The series has been renewed for at least another two years, and I’ve proposed a biography on a sports star who fled a totalitarian regime when her outspokenness led the government to restrict her participation in her chosen sport.
In addition, I have a forthcoming collective biography of 15 contemporary women directors, co-authored with Tanisia “Tee” Moore, coming out at the beginning of September 2022, titled Film Makers, part of the Women of Power series from Chicago Review Press, it’s for readers aged 10 and up. Like the She Persisted series, it focuses on women from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’ve been working on several nonfiction projects related to the history of unions in the United States and around the world. In addition, I’m a translator of children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, mainly Portuguese because there are fewer other translators from that language and a lot of great books published in Portugal and Brazil. I just picked up a translation for my first graphic novel, and I’m really excited about it because I love the story. More details to be announced soon. I’m also trying to finish a YA historical novel in verse set in Portugal, but right now it seems like I’m moving backwards because I took out one character in a love triangle, which means my plot has to be something else besides a love triangle. Writing is hard!
Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!
I’m giving away a copy of She Persisted: Temple Grandin. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week sometime.
Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other covers from Goodreads. Movie poster found somewhere on the internet. Illustration photo taken by L Marie from her copy of the book.