This guest post is from Stasia Ward Kehoe, author of the book "The Sound of Letting Go," which you can find here. Stasia holds a BA in English from Georgetown University and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University. Stasia wrote for us earlier this year about stereotypes that are often found in the autism community.
Autism Speaks Staffer Kerry Magro had a chance to discuss Stasia's book and her continued support of our autism community.
Kerry Magro: How did you come up with the title of your book "The Sound of Letting Go?"
Stasia Kehoe: I actually wrote and sold this novel under the title SOLO. However, as I began to revise the manuscript, I realized that the story was not about doing things on one’s own, as the word “solo” implies but about a teen discovering how she fits into the larger puzzles of her family, school and community. I shared my concerns with my editor then, at her suggestion, emailed an epic list of alternative titles. Here are a few that were rejected:
KIND OF BLUE
THE CHAINS OF FREEDOM
A PLAN FOR LETTING GO
Once we agreed on THE SOUND OF LETTING GO, the publisher expressed concern about the title being confused with Patrick Ness’s THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO. It also turns out David Guetta also has a song called THE SOUND OF LETTING GO. Conclusion? There’s no winning with titles. But I truly feel the title works—and I’m very happy we didn’t go with SOLO!
KM: In the book, Daisy is very into music and has dreams of a future as a musician. What made you decide to add that to the story and how do you think it plays a role in her life as a sibling of someone with autism?
This novel began not with Steven, the autistic character, but with his trumpet-playing big sister, Daisy, the music of Miles Davis, and my own curiosity about creativity and self-expression. But writing is a combination of hard work, deep thought and magical luck. While the book was in its very early, pre-plotting stage, I met the mom of one of my son’s lacrosse teammates. Her younger child is on the ASD spectrum and his needs profoundly impact her life, and the lives of the other members of the family. I began to wonder what it might be like for Daisy to express her truest self through jazz improvisation yet live in a household where quiet and continuity were necessary for survival. What would it be like for her to have an autistic younger brother—a person for whom communication and self-expression were immense challenges? The more research I did, the more I learned about the rising rates of ASD diagnosis, the more people I met whose lived were touched by the spectrum, the more I knew that this was the point from which the story would grow. It has been an amazing and enlightening journey.
KM: What type of research did you do specifically into the family dynamics of a household with an individual with autism?
SK: Writing realistic fiction is challenging because you want your story to be accurate and your characters to feel authentic, but you also want to create a literary structure that shows the way images and themes weave together—to create a novel that people can discuss on many levels, whether they identify personally with the plot or on some more abstract level. To create Daisy, I interviewed teen girl trumpet prodigies, parents of musicians, and music teachers. To create Steven, and the other members of the Meehan family, I started with my pediatrician and other professionals at a local children’s therapy center. With their guidance, I then reached out to individuals who worked at residential treatment centers, and to parents and family members of spectrum kids. I also did a lot of reading and online research. In the end, the moments I put on the pages are a blend of notions from my imagination, details I found in clinical resources, and images abstracted from personal interviews, such as a remark by the brother of an autistic girl about the way she’d lay out a game they played. I like to think that I’ve created one plausible set of family dynamics though there is a universe of different family configurations both for those with autistic members and otherwise.
KM: What do you hope our autism community takes away from reading your book?
SK: In THE SOUND OF LETTING GO, characters admit they are afraid of Steven, feel jealous of the time and attention he takes from them, cry in exhaustion and frustration. I like to think putting words on the pages of a book is like creating a safe, relatively guilt-free place in which readers, especially teens, feel they have permission to examine such difficult thoughts and emotions. So I suppose what I hope is that my novel offers folks in the autism community a point of connection from which to begin important conversations about the needs of some of its lower-functioning members as they, and their siblings, move into adulthood.
More broadly, as a parent raising four sons with different needs including Social Anxiety Disorder and Dyslexia, I wanted to write a novel in which I could explore the realities of life in a family in which someone needs more help, more time, more support than the others. This situation can exist whether you’re raising a kid on the spectrum, or a kid with other physical or developmental challenges. The world is full of these families—no one should ever feel alone!
KM: What's next for you? Any fun plans for autism awareness month?
SK: In support of autism awareness, I’ll be giving away a fun pack of book-related swag here. I’ll also be featured on several other websites, where I’ll be writing about diversity, autism, poetry and music. My publisher, Viking, will be hosting a Twitter chat and book giveaway later in the month, and there’ll be a some fun surprises, too. A list of April activities have been posted on my website. And I’ll be tweeting news via my twitter handle @swkehoe (which you’ll notice is “lit up blue”) throughout the month!