If you would like to contribute questions or answers to this page, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, let me know if you would like to share your name, initials, or leave your answers anonymous.
One word/quick comment to sum up the book so far.
From Cascadia Book Club for young adult spellers: *Powerful.* *Pleasing.* *I love it. So moving to have Sandra be a non-speaker.* *It is awesome to have a character I am able to relate to.* *So suspenseful.* *Paving the way for non-speakers to live more independently.* *I like that she has speech like mine and her typing too.* *I think that she really describes being a non-speaker well.*
How is Sandra like you or not like you?
From Cascadia Book Club: *She has a soul and a brain that cannot agree like me.* *She is more independent. I need more supports than Sandra.* *Her desire for independence is like me, but she has more skills.* *She is able to live alone, not like me. She has a love of trees like me and she likes to see kindness in her parents.* *She wants to live in a condo not like me.* *She is a lot like me in that her voice does not allow her to speak the full depth of her soul, though she has far more control over the rest of her body.* *I am fiercely like Sandra. I also want to be free without supervision.* *I can relate.*
What supports would you most want/need to live in a condo like Sandra?
From Cascadia Book Club: *Bring mom lol, dad would be on his own.* *Someone living with me to help with everything and keep me safe.* *It is hopeful to think of independence. Can I get a new motor control system?* *Would need to be S2C trained too!* *It is hard to imagine a life without mom to help me since she supports me with almost everything. My ideal would be a speller community with friends and lots of CRPs.* *Having one other non-speaker, so we can share supports. Ideally that person would have a different set of skills.* *I would need help with meals tons. More help to have activities with a friend and keep me on time. A CRP too, and help with hygiene, too.* *I would need lots of motor practice to be able to feel my body more. I am praying that I will one day be able to master my motor so I can have the life I dream of every day.*
What are you thoughts on Quinn? Did you see that coming?
From Cascadia Book Club: *I knew Quinn was no good. He was a bully. Also his dad was no good!* *Lots of rage and not a good person. Am waiting to hear what happens with this evil character.* *He takes advantage of his popularity to manipulate others. I knew he was shady, but not as bad as he is.* *Yes, I saw it coming. I do not like him. He is manipulative as well as a murderer. It make me nearing a meltdown thinking of that character.* *He is hopefully going to get caught. I didn’t kindly think that good guys felt the need to be with dangerous guys.* *Give him a break. I have compassion for him with his rotten father.* *Felt a little sorry for him but I think he should be punished anyway.*
What was the motivation for Mark and the others to start hanging around with Quinn?
From Cascadia Book Club: *I think it was protection from bullying. They liked being accepted. No more taunts or being made fun of.* *They wanted to feel special and included. They were not seen and being with Quinn made them visible.* *They wanted to be cool and accepted by someone more popular and liked.* *They are nice guys. They just wanted to hand out at first, then they liked being popular.* *They must have thought that another person finally saw that they were worth paying attention to and it probably felt really good at first.* *The most common desire of teens, to fit in. I don’t fit in, but I’m a better judge of character!* *Mighty nice to hear all of your ideas.*
Prediction time–What happens next (this was up to chapter 18)?
From Cascadia Book Club: *Sandra types “Look at my camera”.* *I think unless Sandra tells what she saw, they are screwed.* *I think Sandra will figure out how to tell what she saw, but first she will experience some dangers.* *I think Sandra is able to type a clue. Quinn is getting nervous.* *Can have Sandra so rightly type. Love that.* *I have no idea, but I hope that Sandra will be the good samaritan and help the police.*
How did Sandra and Susan’s relationship evolve over the course of the book? How has your relationship with your family changed since you gained communication?
From Cascadia Book Club: *Love it. Great Question. Have to say not nearly changed in some ways and then more too it is hipster and loving now.* *They enjoy being together even more. Even more opportunities.* *Sandra has acquired more understanding from Susan. Her mom can now communicate with her more effectively now that Sandra can express herself. Many of us relate to this.* *Love calm balm communicating now. Have to say sun rises coming out of me now.* *Some try to include me now. Not all though.*
What aspects of Sandra’s character do the woods symbolize? Is there somewhere you like to go to fell calm and centered?
From Cascadia Book Club: *Love she had the woods. Would love to have that kind of freedom too.* *Sandra experiences inner peace and harmony in the woods. My calm spot is the shore.* *Sandra keeps returning to replenish her calm.* *Needed all the time here, but I can’t just bike or swim without help.* *Like how her calm space is accessible.*
Since you may not be as independent as Sandra, how do you find calm on your own?
From Cascadia Book Club: *Hard to do. Looking at books or pics. Watching a movie or audiobooks or rest if tired. Pacing lets out energy. Walks good but need someone for that.* *I retreat into music and my mind colors, or try to connect with friends in other realms where we don’t need bodies.* *It is so damn easy to upset me. I need to have balm calm around me always.* *I get calm as I ride my bike or swing.*
Do you consider Quinn more of a victim or a culprit? Why? How does that change your feelings towards this character?
From Cascadia Book Club: *Both. He was pressured and he also knowingly chose to follow his father. Not a good person. So complicated and dangerous.* *Mean and horrible like his dad and fake dad. Needed his mom’s influence. So hard to say how he would have turned out with a better family.* *Victim and culprit.*
How will this book change other people’s perception about people with autism?
From Cascadia Book Club: *I think more people will care about us and interest themselves to know us.* *Hope it will raise respect and let others see us as competent, caring and strong. It shows the importance of being able to communicate and considering all means.* *Most people don’t always presume we are capable so I hope it will change some minds. Everyone does their part to get the word out!*
How do themes of technology and communication coincide throughout the book?
How did trusting her soul help Sandra overcome her anxieties?
From Cascadia Book Club: *She could relax deeply, she felt a kinship with the animals, it was the home for her soul.* *So hard to overcome anxiety and it is a continuous process. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not.* *Love that you wrote about the soul against autism. I feel that too.* *That is tough. Lots of affirmation when I am anxious helps. Am also helped by getting me thinking about other calming things.* *She has a sensory room and nature. I have to go in my room and put my blankets on my head to calm down.* *I go to Foothill park near my house. I like the trees and the birds in the trees.* *I let myself feel the positive energy and love in the universe to calm down. I enjoyed learning Sandra’s tips, even if they were fiction.*
What would you ask Aaron, either about the book or the writing process?
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
My first priority for my novel was to entertain. I wanted to write a compelling story that readers would enjoy even if they didn’t have any personal connection to autism. The second priority was to educate non-autistics what it is like to be autistic to hopefully generate some empathy, but more importantly, to understand our capacity. I hope that it changes some views about the non-speaking community. Third, I wanted to increase awareness about human trafficking. While I researched the topic, I was shocked at how common it is. Those victims are voiceless and powerless also. So, I felt like I should raise my voice for them too. Finally, I hope readers will be impressed that someone who came up through the special education system could write a smart novel, not because of the system but in spite of it. I hope more voices like those on this panel and others will create a change in the minds of our educators about our intellectual capacity.
What inspired you to create the book?
I decided that I wanted to write a novel with a protagonist that had autism and was a non-speaker for a couple of reasons. First, I think people relate better to characters in stories than sometimes they do when reading memoirs about people who are different than themselves. So that is why I chose a fiction novel as the format. Second, I wanted to send a message that although we have challenges that we have to wake up to every day, we non-speakers are also capable of making a great impact on those around us if given the chance. So, I wanted my character to show both sides: her weaknesses and her strengths.
How long did it take?
I started writing it in 2020 and wrote the first version in about six months. That was by working up to typing in one-hour sessions. If I was on a roll, I might add thirty minutes to the session. Those were only on days that my dad wasn’t at work, so there was a lot of time in between sessions to think about the next chapter. Once I sat down to type, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say and it was just a matter of getting it out. Then I would spend a session or two editing until I liked how it sounded. After I finished the first version, I couldn’t find an agent who would take me on. I got some feedback from one about the story and decided to rewrite the whole thing. That took a lot longer, but the story is much better, so it is worth it. I finished it last November (2022). Finding a traditional agent has still proven difficult, so I went with a hybrid publisher to get the book out there.
How did you get your ideas and plots?
Sandra evolved kind of on her own. When you hear authors say that their characters come to life in their minds, it is true. I feel like Sandra just came to life in my imagination. I tried that with all the characters as well–imagining what it would be like to be in the story from their point of view and then added some individual things about their background to make them more personal and believable in terms of motive. The plot also just developed as I wrote it. I wasn’t sure how it was going to end when I started. I had the basic premise of Sandra witnessing the crime, and the rest developed with time. My first version ended very differently. A third version would probably be different also. But I like how it turned out.
Was it based on any real cases?
No, it is all made up but we did research how human trafficking works and so the company that Quinn’s dad ran was somewhat based on real situations.
Did you have meaningful communication as a child or did you have to wait?
I didn’t have what I would define as meaningful communication until I was fifteen and started learning RPM (Rapid Prompting Method).