Tag Archives: Autism

Wednesdays with Writers: Benjamin Ludwig talks about how being a foster parent to a child with autism inspired his brilliant debut GINNY MOON, waking at 3 a.m. to write, how his superintendent denied a request for a leave of absence for a book tour, & so much more.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Heartwarming and refreshingly honest and delightful story about a young autistic girl, her struggles in life, and an American family struggling to be one. 

GinnyMoon-3d-cvr GINNY MOON (Park Row Books, May 2 2017)…oh how you’ve won me over!! Forever Blue, Forever Family, Forever Ginny…you are absolutely delightful, but I have to give you credit to your author,Benjamin Ludwig who writes with searing honesty, authenticity, and such delight that I found parts funny, poignant, sad–and at times–wanted to knock some sense into the characters.

Fourteen year old Ginny has recently been adopted by Maura and Brian Moon, her Forever Parents.
From all outside perspectives, Ginny appears to be a typical teenager. She loves Michael Jackson, she attends public school and reads classics in her language arts class…but she also gets ‘pulled aside’ where she interacts with a few ‘special kids.’

Ginny has ‘issues,’ but she’s working through them. On ‘the other side of Forever,’ she had a Birth Mother who abused and neglected her. She was bruised and emaciated when social services intervened.

Even though her new, Forever Home is warm and loving, it’s about to turn upside-down with the arrival of the couple’s first biological child. Ginny is very singularly minded, very literal. She is concerned with a baby doll she left behind in a suitcase with her Birth Mother. Everyone is perplexed, until they learn just what Ginny is referring to.

Told entirely in Ginny’s peculiar POV, she’s easy to love, plucky and adorable, even when she makes bad choices. GINNY MOON is quirky and charming and I absolutely loved it all.

Join me in welcoming Benjamin Ludwig to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Wow. I just devoured GINNY MOON. I know many of your inspirations to write this story came from your personal involvement at a foster parent. I think many of our first stories are just that: brought forth from a place or an experience in our ‘real lives.’ Can you talk about that, please?

Benjamin Ludwig: Glad to! As you mentioned, my wife and I are foster parents — and in 2009 we adopted a young lady with autism.  So right there, there’s the experience from my real life.  My wife and I are very socially conscious people.  She’s a computer scientist, so right out of graduate school, she was offered quite a lot of money by quite a few companies to come work for them.   Instead, [my wife] decided to volunteer for a year to live and work in a shelter for battered homeless women.  As for me, I’d been teaching for years, and had had a good number of foster and homeless children in my classroom.  Both of us have a lot of compassion for people who need homes, especially children.  Because man, if we can’t take care of children – who rank among the voiceless in our society – what business do we have doing anything else?  It’s incomprehensible for me to know that there are kids out there without homes or families. download (33)

It didn’t make sense or occur to me when I was writing GINNY MOON, but really the book gives a voice to a character (Ginny) who wouldn’t otherwise have one.  That’s what I want to do with my life, on every level: to give voice to people who don’t have a voice.

L.L.: So you’re an English teacher.  But you’ve always been a writer. I read somewhere (your acknowledgements section?) that you had a professor who said, “Don’t teach. Wait tables if you have to, but don’t teach.” It seems like you showed him! But you’re doing both. How do the two balance one another?

Benjamin Ludwig: I may have showed him, but he was still right in that teaching took up all my time.  I mean all of it.  So if I wanted to write, I had to give something up – and that meant sleep.  I get up at 3:30 every day to write, mainly because my kids get up around 6:00.  Then I’m a full-time dad, because we have a three-year-old.  He’ll be in pre-K all day next in the fall, so I’ll be able to get a lot more work done.

When I signed my book contract, I learned that I would have to tour for basically two full months (January and May) – and during those two months, school is very much in-session.  I asked my superintendent if I could take a leave of absence, and she said no.  So I quit my job.  Believe me, I didn’t want to!  I could go back to teaching public school, but not to the same place.  My position has been filled (I was a new-teacher mentor and department head – awesome gig!) and isn’t likely to open up again anytime soon.  My hope now is to teach writing at the university level.  So if there are any MFA directors out there looking to hire…

“Benjamin Ludwig gives us a remarkable heroine in Ginny Moon.  Writing poignantly and yet starkly believably from an autistic girl’s point of view, he allows us to see the world in all its glorious mess, full of people trying to do their best and often failing, but heroically so.”
—Melanie Benjamin, New York Times Best Selling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue

L.L.: At times, the writing and storytelling of GINNY MOON reminded me of Emma Donogue’s acclaimed ROOM. GINNY MOON is primarily literary fiction, at times it reads a bit like a domestic suspense as the pacing is there and there are some deeper psychological issues at heart. Can you talk a bit about your planning process for this novel, the structure? And are you a plotter or a pantser:

Benjamin Ludwig: (Find something from one of the other pieces here, about the voice.) I didn’t plan to write GINNY MOON at all – the voice came to me in a very mysterious, exciting way – so in that sense, I don’t think I can claim to be a plotter.  Not for this one, anyway.  Before GINNY, I’d written at least ten other books, all of them unpublished, and I planned out every single one of them.  But with GINNY, I came home one night in 2013 from my daughter’s Special Olympics basketball practice with a voice ringing in my ears.  It wasn’t my daughter’s voice, and it wasn’t the voice of any of the other kids I’d just been talking with at practice.  It was a desperate, quirky, driving voice – one that demanded to be written.  So I sat and I wrote, and immediately saw that I had something beyond exciting.  After that I wrote out an outline – but Ginny refused to do what the outline said.  And thank goodness!  Her direction proved to be much better. GettingReadytoRead-290x300

So I think I’m a plotter-turned-pantser.  The book I’m working on now is following the same format: I started with a voice, and am simply letting the voice go where it needs to go.  GINNY may have made a convert out of me.

L.L.: GINNY MOON touches on some of the children who have fallen through the cracks in our educational system, as well as adoption, foster families, and so much more. Can you share a bit about your thoughts on these subjects, what would you like others to know about the ‘system?’

Benjamin Ludwig: Yes!  I’d like to say that social workers are doing the best they can.  These aren’t folks who go into their professions expecting to make lots of money, like doctors and lawyers.  Most parents don’t dream about their children going off to college to become adoption case-workers.  It’s not exactly the American Dream.  The social workers my wife and I met have been genuine, hardworking, insightful people who enriched our lives tremendously by helping us to find and adopt our daughter. 

Are there problems in social services?  I suppose there must be.  After all, when you’re dealing with people who have had their parental rights severed, and children who have been taken forcibly away from their homes, and caregivers who feel they must protect children at all costs, someone isn’t going to be happy.  That’s a very different situation than the one we see in public schools.  In a public school, if there’s a student who needs help, everyone has the potential to benefit.  The parent, the child, the teacher, the school – everyone can enjoy the child’s success.  But in an adoption, someone has been taken away from someone, and that’s at least two very distressed people.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for social workers.  And for public school teachers as well. But if one of the two groups has a harder row to hoe, I’d say it’s the social worker by far.  And like I said, they did a great job for us!   

L..L.: If you were to explore another character or storyline in GINNY MOON, which one are you most drawn to?

Benjamin Ludwig: Funny you should ask that.  I don’t foresee there being a sequel to the book, but when I finished it, I couldn’t quite let Ginny go.  Just as you guessed, there are other characters and storylines I wanted to explore, PLUS I missed Ginny herself.  So I gave her a section of my newsletter.  Each month she updates readers as to her continued adventures.  Right now she’s trying to capture her neighbor’s cat (remember Mrs. Taylor, who lives across the street from the Blue House?), and she’s going to meet a new friend with a very different set of special needs.  The newsletter is available here (for free of course).  Each month I share book news, my thoughts about my journey from teacher to writer, and of course Ginny’s section. 

 L.L.: What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Benjamin Ludwig: I looked up the origin of the phrase “on par” because I wanted to use it in an article I’m writing for a magazine in Italy.  It’s a golf phrase, of course – and since golf originated in Scotland, I think I’m going to play it safe and not use it. download (32).jpg

L.L.: It’s been such a pleasure! I’m so glad to have been ‘introduced’ to GINNY MOON. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have—like what you’re working on next, your summer plans, what’s on your nightstand, what you had for breakfast?

Benjamin Ludwig: Likewise!  It’s been a lot of fun, Leslie, and I can’t thank you enough! I’ll tell you that yes, I’m definitely working on another book – and if folks sign up for the newsletter they can follow its journey.  This one is about a little boy who grows up to be a poet.  It’s a very different book, told in third-person, and one that’s very personal.  I hope people love it!

For breakfast?  Hardboiled eggs with salt, and a handful of radishes.  Best way to start the day!

For more information, to connect with Benjamin Ludwig on social media, or to purchase a copy of GINNY MOON, please see: 

BEN-photo.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: A life-long teacher of English and writing, Ginny Moon is Benjamin Ludwig’s first novel. Shortly after he and his wife married they became foster parents and adopted a teenager with autism. The novel was inspired, in part, by his conversations with other parents at Special Olympics basketball practices.

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website. “Getting Ready to Read” photo credit: Perry Smith. ‘on-par’ image retrieved from this NYT article]

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Marion Pauw talks about her stunning thriller, THE GIRL IN THE DARK, how a trip to Panama changed her, creating circumstances in which you flourish, shitty first drafts, thearpy for writer’s block, how the body doesn’t lie, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In the vein of blockbuster thrillers such as THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and THE GOOD GIRL and the GIRL IN THE RED COAT, among others, it’s no surprise that GIRL IN THE DARK jumped out at me recently. GirlintheDark.JPG

Internationally bestselling author Marion Pauw  makes a splash with her riveting mystery/psych thriller GIRL IN THE DARK (Feb 2016, HarperColloins/William Morrow).

This domestic thriller has taken the Netherlands by storm with its psychological twists, high concept plot, and unique characters…and now, the U.S. can get a glimpse.

Iris is a single mother struggling with raising her behaviorally-challenged young boy while working part-time as a lawyer. In a very deliberate, yet organic manner, Iris uncovers facts that lead her to believe she has an older brother her mother never spoke of (NOT a spoiler, this is mentioned on the jacket flap). What’s worse, is this brother is institutionalized for a horrific crime he did not commit. Or, so he says.

Ray, meanwhile tells his story, through the eyes of a loveable, but “off-kilter” grown man in an autistic unit at a hospital. He loves fish. He’s obsessed with his saltwater aquarium and knows everything about it. Through flashbacks, we become the fabric of Ray’s life before his crime, we meet the woman and her young daughter who live next-door, and the family secrets buried so deep they’re bound to resurface.

And they do.

GIRL IN THE DARK is an irresistible combination of suspense and murder, lies, unrequited love, and the complicated bonds of family that survive–perhaps, barely–in the face of insurmountable odds.

I’m honored to welcome Marion Pauw to the blog. Thank you for joining us, Marion!

Leslie Lindsay: I know what’s haunting me about GIRL IN THE DARK—there are several images holding on like barnacles, as well as moral conundrums I keep thinking about. I don’t want to give it away, but I do want to know what was haunting you when you penned this story?

Marion Pauw: I always have been fascinated by nurture vs nature. What does it take to push a person over the edge to commit a horrible crime? Is there a scientific formula of personality traits x upbringing x events? In that way I am not interested in psychopaths or organized crime. I like thinking and writing about normal people who trip over the edge. Because of course I wonder if it could ever happen to me.

download (1)The other thing is that it would be the most horrible thing in the world to be confined to a mental institution for the criminally insane if you were innocent. Being in a prison would be bad enough, but this would be an even bigger nightmare as you are not sure if and when you will ever get out. In the case of Ray, being the way he is, he would have a hard time defending himself as he cannot read between the lines and has a very linear way of thinking. Because of him being different, his conviction would always include spending time in an institution.

L.L.: I really liked Ray. I know he’s been accused of this horrific crime and comes across as a little weird, but he’s likeable. And I think, autistic. In all honesty, I think I’ve read maybe two other books with an autistic protagonist. Where did the idea for Ray come from? Can you share a bit about his development with us?

Marion Pauw: My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was small. I as a mother always felt we were trying to push the round shape through the square shape of the block box. It was at times very frustrating because our whole system is built around a certain range. If you are too far on either side, there is just no place for you.

I wanted to give a 360 degree view on what it would be like to have Asperger’s. Having said that, nowadays I have a different view on Asperger’s when while writing the book. A visit to an indigenous tribe in Panama with my children changed a lot for me. I remember arriving and my daughter, my ‘normal’ kid took one look at the bare chested women and men wearing loincloths and said : ‘OMG mom, I don’t know if I can get used to this.’ Not my son. He got out of the boat and from that moment on he was there. I mean, really there. He would be fishing, playing soccer with an old torn ball, roaming around the jungle with the other kids. And at times I would have lost him and would find him in someone’s hut laughing and teaching each other local words. It was amazing to see this. And at that moment I realized: my son is not an autist, he is just a nature person. images (1)

When you come to think of it, if you lived in the jungle, all your senses would have to be wide open. You would have to be able to smell your prey, hear the faintest ruffle of the wind, see the bird hidden in the tree. Then imagine having to live in the modern day world with senses that wide open. If you would hear, see, smell, feel everything, all these details, you would go absolute nuts. You would have to find ways to protect yourself. You would figure out rituals to soothe yourself, you would try not to make too much contact.  All these symptoms we like to place in the autistic spectrum. So in my point of view, autism is not a disorder, it is a matter of being wired differently. And you have to create circumstances where your wiring helps you flourish in stead of lock down.

One more thing: imagine placing a real city kid in the jungle. He would probably show some very disturbing behaviour and the indigenous people might think he had a disorder.

“Gut-wrenching and relatable. A must-read for fans of character-driven stories, such as Tana French’s Faithful Place.”

Booklist

L.L.: Speaking of protagonists…the way I see GIRL IN THE DARK, there were dual-narrators, Iris and Ray. Others will argue that there can only be one protagonist in a story, one single person we are fighting for, but still…I didn’t see it that way. Can you speak to that, please?

Marion Pauw: Haha, this actually is the first time someone has ever said that to me. I like having two narrators as you can see them coming closer to each other throughout the book.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you let the pen do the leading, or do you carefully craft plot?

Marion Pauw: I really admire people that have the discipline to plot out the whole book and have a wall full of post-its. I have been doing screenwriting as well, and then I am forced to work that way and I am always so relieved when I can just start writing instead of plotting! I really love the process of being behind my desk and trying to let inspiration take over. I like being surprised! But on the other hand, I always do make a basic outline, because you have to have some point at the horizon.

L.L.: So revisions…I’ll be the first to say that I hate them. There are many writers who say things like, ‘write a junky first draft; just get it down.’ And then there are people like me who say, ‘make the first one pretty good so you don’t have to do much work later.’ Where do you stand on this?

Marion Pauw: I am a ‘real shitty first draft’-kind of writer. I believe I read this in Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. Whenever I try to write something really good, I get so stressed out, I completely lose my mojo as a writer. When I write my first draft I just make myself go from a to z on intuition. After that is done, the real crafting begins. I also like that phase, because then I am not so worried about if I will be able to complete the story. I know I have, all I have to do now is make it better! I think it is very normal for a writer to be totally insecure, as the pressure is so high. You just have to figure out ways to encourage and soothe yourself every day. I have also had writer’s block for a couple of months. I felt like I was a little kid trying to make a drawing while behind me there were people looking over my shoulder saying ‘Now draw, dammit’. I had to go into therapy to get over that. Seriously.

L.L.: As a writer with two young boys, what do you find the most challenging aspect of balancing your writing life?

Marion Pauw: My kids are almost mature now. My son is 17 and my daughter is 18. This makes all the difference. Now I can just give them money and say ‘It’s your turn to get groceries and cook.’ But that is just the practical part. Honestly I feel super guilty for being so preoccupied with my work so often. When I am writing, I am just not completely there. A part of me is always wondering off, thinking about the story. My kids can sometimes talk to me and I do not completely hear what they say. Or they go to school and I realize I have not one time really looked them in the eye. I really do not like that about myself, and I am trying to do better. What I really prefer is just going somewhere for a month by myself and just write, write, write. In that way I can get a lot of work done and by the time I come home again, I am more present.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?

Marion Pauw: Right now I am actually studying! I had wanted to do something completely different for a while and I had done this body based therapy that really helped me, so now I am doing the course myself. The whole theory is that the body cannot lie. You can fool yourself thinking all kinds of thoughts, but your body will always tell the true story. Also lots of old emotions get stored in the body etcetera. It is super interesting. After I have finished this study of 4 years, I would like to write a book on this subject.

L.L.: What might have I asked, but forgot?

Marion Pauw: Ehmmm. ‘Is it true that all people in Amsterdam smoke pot?’ Haha, that is what most people ask me when they hear I live in Amsterdam. The answer is no, by the way.

L.L.: Marion, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Just loved GIRL IN THE DARK and wish you the best of luck!

Marion Pauw:  Thank you, Leslie!

 

5389aa5fddf0c0.83985404About the Author: Marion Pauw is an author and screenwriter. Her novel DAYLIGHT (aka GIRL IN THE DARK) won the Golden Noose Award in the Netherlands and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Europe. GIRL IN THE DARK is her US debut.  Pauw is one of the bestselling writers of The Netherlands whose books have also been published in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, and now the U.S.  She made her debut with Villa Serena in 2005.  Her big breakthrough to a wider readership and the critics came with Girl in the Dark (2008). The Dutch film rights for the book were sold to Eyeworks and successfully adapted to a movie. Next, she wrote the thrillers Sinner Child, Jet-Set and Kicking the Bucket.  As a screenwriter, Pauw has adapted several series for Dutch television, including In Treatment and Diary of a Callgirl. Pauw lives in Amsterdam with her two children.

[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow. Asperger’s image retrieved from on 5.4.16. Nature vs nurture retrieved from on 5.4.16]