JOHN ELDER ROBISON: BEING DIFFERENT IS THE SOURCE OF EXCEPTIONALITY
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Raising Cubby by John Elder Robison is one of those books that touches you deeply. It’s about a very different world and entirely different experience in growing up a kid. Our next guest is showing the amazing point of view by an autistic. Great thanks to Lauren Kuhn for her assistance of completing the interview.
– What is your memoire Raising Cubby about?
– Raising Cubby is the story of my son and I – a different kid and a different dad – growing up together. It’s the joy and fun of childhood and the challenges and threats that confront us as we get older.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I felt my book Look Me in the Eye told the story of my own life, growing up with autism. Be Different shows readers how to be successful because of – not in spite of – autism. What I had not done was tell the story of parenting; raising a child. That is Raising Cubby.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– The biggest challenge was deciding what to include in a 100,000-word book, and what to leave out. 100,000 words sounds like a lot, but in the context of all the things that happen in one’s life it barely scratches the surface.
– How tough was for you to describe yourself and your son as the main characters?
– It’s not tough at all; it’s just telling the story of our lives. I have always been a storyteller, and describing places I’ve been or things I’ve done comes naturally to me. Luckily I have had experiences that readers find interesting or entertaining, too!
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– I wrote the draft of the book in about three months. Then it took me about six months to do a rewrite, and another few months passed in editing.
– Look Me in the Eye is the first part of your life memoire. Did you expect such positive feedback and how do you feel when you read readers’ opinions on how much the book touched them?
– My books have generated far more positive feedback than I ever imagined. I am always pleased and honored to read that my words have had positive impact on others.
– Who are you?
– I’m a 57 year old guy who grew up autistic, in a time when autism was not well recognized. My differences disabled me in many ways – especially as a child – but they also made me exceptional in other ways, and facilitated my success in music, cars, and writing. Today I am a small business owner, a family man, a photographer and writer, a car, boat, motorcycle and tractor enthusiast, and many other things.
– What are your writing habits?
– I don’t have a well-defined writing habit. I write when the mood strikes me. On a good day I may write 7,500 words but I can go a week or more without writing anything toward my next book. However, I write something every day even if it’s not a book. For example, today I will look at half a dozen cars and I may write 500 words about each one to report to their owners or describe the work our men are about to do. Then there are days when I write many words in response to requests like yours. Other days my efforts may be focused on a book or magazine article. There is no regular pattern except that I am always churning out words.
Cars may be my business but words are my stock in trade, and my ability to use them to communicate has been key to my success in everything I have done.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– My books seem to be popular in many countries. However, it’s hard to know exactly what the sales are. Royalty accounting is very slow in many countries, and there is also the issue of people buying from outlets in other countries. So if you asked me how many books I’d sold in Bulgaria or Romania, I would have no idea.
There is also a question of piracy, especially with regard to audio books. When I look at online listings for my audiobook, I find that most of the downloads are bootleg. That same thing happened in music, and it’s forcing a fundamental transformation in how performers are compensated. I would not be surprised if something similar evolves for book authors.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I do a lot of speaking about autism and growing up different. That’s not really book promotion but it keeps me in the public eye to some extent and I’m sure that helps make people aware of my writing. When my next book comes out I expect I will do media interviews – in print like this one and in radio or television. I will also do events in bookstores and of course I will continue my public speaking.
For readers in distant lands the Internet is perhaps the best place for me to promote my writing. You can read my articles and essays from anywhere in the world.
– When we will see your next release and would you unveil something more about it?
– My next book is called Switched On. It tells the story of some experiments I participated in at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, where they tried to change emotional intelligence and rewire my brain with the use of high power magnetic fields.
The book will be published in February 2016 in North America, parts of Asia, and the UK but we don’t yet have a publisher in Eastern Europe.
– How does Asperger syndrome affect your focus or writing discipline?
– People often ask me that, but how can I answer? This is the way I’ve always been. I have no way to know what it’s like to NOT be Asperger, so I cannot compare.
Psychologists have said that I have an exceptional power of focus and concentration, and if so that would be a difference but all I can know is how I am.
– You own a service-station. How did you fall in love with car repair and may you compare the difficult task of making the correct diagnosis of a car with writing a successful literature plot?
– I have always loved cars, and tinkering with cars. I’m lucky to be able to follow my childhood passion with a business like this.
As for comparing diagnostics of a car with writing a plot in literature . . . they are not the same sorts of activity at all. To diagnose a car you proceed through a series of steps, in which you ask a question, and proceed to another question based on the answer you get. After a certain number of steps – which varies with the diagnosis being done – you get an answer; a corrective action that needs to be taken. In many cases, you actually have to do this several times in one job, because cars often come in with multiple problems each of which needs to be diagnosed separately.
Conceiving a plot for a book is a totally different kind of activity. With a car diagnosis, you have a system that once worked, and now it’s broken. So you have to fix it by making it as it was. With an unwritten book, you have nothing. The plot must be thought up, out of thin air. Perhaps there is an event in the news that inspires you, or maybe something in your past, but in terms of a book there is nothing there at the beginning so the creative process is not at all like diagnosis.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– I don’t ask myself questions in the interview; I just respond to your queries. If you ask if I’d like to make a statement it would be this: I hope my writing helps people to see that different is not less, and that people who are different can grow up to lead full and happy lives, despite having a contrary experience as children. Being different can be a source of challenge and disability, but it is also the source of exceptionality.
Check out his books:
Look Me in the Eye