Today, Kaleidoscope author, Jim Hines is here to tell us about his story. We both love Jim’s non-stop work to make the SF community more inclusive, and we were thrilled when he agreed to write something from his Libriomancer world. Here’s what he has to say about why he chose to write for us.
Nicola Pallas didn’t start out autistic. In the first draft of Libriomancer, the character was named Nikos, a weary, arrogant man described as looking “like an accountant in his plain suit and tie, gold-rimmed glasses, with thinning black hair.” He was also neurotypical, which raises the question, Why did I go back and make the character autistic?
There’s another, equally valid question, albeit one I rarely hear. Why did I make the character neurotypical in the first place? Nothing in the story required the character to be one way or the other. There was no reason at all for the choice I made in that first draft, save that this was what my brain defaulted to when it came time to add a new character.
It’s always a choice, though it’s not always a conscious or deliberate one. Choosing to write Nicola Pallas the way I did wasn’t about political correctness or tokenism or meeting some imaginary diversity quota. It was about trying to write a more honest reflection of our world, a world that – despite what some stories might suggest – includes a wonderfully vast range of differences.
Nicola’s autism isn’t the focus of the books. It’s acknowledged, and it’s a part of who she is, but she’s not The Autistic Character, and her story isn’t about being autistic.
In the process of writing the books, Nicola turned into a pretty awesome character. She’s a Regional Master for a worldwide magical organization, and “spends her free time trying to crossbreed French poodles with chupacabras.” (My favorite of Nicola’s pets is Pac-Man, so named because when he was young, he tried to eat a ghost.)
When Julia and Alisa invited me to submit something for Kaleidoscope, I knew instantly that I wanted to write more about Nicola, to explore what her life was like when she was younger.
My son is autistic. I’ve seen some of the challenges he faces because his brain sometimes follows different paths than those of his peers. I’ve also watched him make what seem to be amazing mental leaps to new answers and ideas. It’s a part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him.
I didn’t want to write a story about Autism, or a character who was defined by that label. I definitely didn’t want to write a cure story. I wanted to write a YA story with magic and action that happened to be about someone who was autistic. And I wanted to explore how Nicola first got so interested in chupacabras.
It was important to me that I try to get this right. I ended up posting an open call on my blog, explaining the story and asking for beta readers with autism who might be willing to share their thoughts. They helped me to catch some of my own assumptions. No story is perfect, but I believe this one is stronger for their feedback and assistance.
I’m proud of this story. I’m grateful to Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein at Twelfth Planet Press for giving me the opportunity to write it. And I hope you all come to love Nicola Pallas as much as I do.
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