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ACFW 2016: Social Advice from an Autistic Author

by Patricia Beal

Conference is thirty days away! Can you believe it?

I get fired up about our yearly gathering. This will be my third ACFW conference, and I can’t wait because the seeds we plant during ACFW grow for years. Lives change. How can we not get excited about it?
A Season to Dance
My first ACFW conference was in St. Louis in 2014, and that’s where I met my agent and my editor. My debut comes out next year.

Fast? Yes, and no. To have a legend for an agent and to be preparing to birth a book with a competent and exciting publishing house two years after my first conference is a huge blessing. That’s fast.

But the desire to write a novel came thirty years ago, when as a teenage girl back home in Brazil, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist touched my heart. I wanted to do that to people–touch their hearts with a simple story that had something to say about the human condition.

I moved to the United States in 1992 and learned English. My first byline (college newspaper) turns twenty next year. Thirty years of dreaming, twenty of which actively writing, does not an overnight success make, but I still think every step of the long way has been a huge blessing.

Best writing advice ever: Don’t quit.

In this thirty-year journey, I’ve become an American, a U.S. Army writer and editor, a Christian, a wife, and a mom. Good journey.

During this journey, I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which in 2013 quit being a diagnosis on its own and became an autism spectrum disorder.

What’s Asperger’s? Here’s what WebMD has to say about it:

“When you meet someone who has Asperger’s syndrome, you might notice two things right off. He’s just as smart as other folks, but he has more trouble with social skills. He also tends to have an obsessive focus on one topic or perform the same behaviors again and again.”

Life with Asperger’s hasn’t been easy (making small talk is the hardest thing for me–I don’t know what to say), but it has helped me as a writer: obsessive focus and same behaviors? Hello! I’ve been working on the same 329 pages (my debut) since January of 2011, and it doesn’t bother me one bit. I have a ballet obsession, too. If you follow me on social media, you know that. Now you know why 😉

My poor mother never understood my distance, my coolness, and my tantrums–we hurt.

But this new Christian who learned English in her twenties wouldn’t be here today–about to birth a Christian novel in English–without Asperger’s, so that, too, is a blessing. Good journey.

And here it is, at last…

Conference social advice from an autistic author:

Brandilyn Collins already established that the normal ship sailed without us, so let us see who you really are. Don’t blend in. Be who God made you to be. He made you that way for a reason–don’t hide.

Who knows? Someone may need to hear your story to understand their story. If it weren’t for a mom asking for prayers for her child and sharing the truth about Asperger’s, I would never have been diagnosed, would never have understood my quirkiness, and would never have been able to appreciate the neurotypical way of life.

Tell your story and be a blessing.

Put your heart out there. Share your passion and come alive at #ACFW2016.

Patricia BealPatricia Beal writes contemporary Christian fiction and is represented by Les Stobbe. Her debut novel, A Season to Dance, comes out on May 9 (Bling! / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). She’s a 2015 Genesis semi-finalist and First Impressions finalist and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati with a B.A. in English Literature. Connect: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads.

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7 Responses to ACFW 2016: Social Advice from an Autistic Author

  1. Patricia S says:

    Patricia, from another Patricia, looking forward to meeting you at the conference! You said it in a nutshell: Tell your story and be a blessing.

  2. Well said! And again well said!

  3. Patricia – I will see you soon 🙂

    Nancy – Thanks 🙂

  4. Ian says:

    Hi Patricia, I’m so looking forward to meeting you at ACFW. Thank you for sharing so openly with us. The power of a praying mother! What a blessing. God is so clever in how he uses each one of us.

    I have a nephew who has Aspergers and so I have some understanding of it. I will share your story with him. He will be very interested. In addition, a friend of my son’s recently told me that his 19 year old brother has been diagnosed with ASD and he happens to also be a very good ballet dancer. He lives in the US and attends one of the ballet companies or schools.

    Thanks again, Patricia.

  5. “Someone may need to hear your story to understand their story.” What a profound statement, and an inspiring truth for every writer, no matter what our unique personality “quirk” happens to be.

    Thank you for an excellent post, Patricia!

  6. Emily Conrad says:

    I’m not the first to say it, but I subscribe to the blog via email and had to hop over to tell you how much I love this quote: “Someone may need to hear your story to understand their story.” That puts into words what we all hope for in our fiction writing. Thanks for the encouragement to use our real-life stories that way, too.

  7. Ian – Great to see you here. I look forward to meeting you, too. God is indeed very clever in how he uses us. And do share the story with your nephew. My agent has another author who’s also an Aspie. The author’s name is Ron Sandison, and his debut came out in the spring (autism parenting from a Christian perspective). People who are open about their Asperger’s autism encourage me (Daryl Hannah, Dan Aykroyd, Susan Boyle). I hope we can all encourage each other by being more open about it. And, by the way, ballet and swimming are some of the best activities for us. We crave being in groups, but we don’t know what to do. Those activities allow us to be social without the elements that we don’t understand and will probably never master.

    Deborah – Thank you for your kind words. And thanks for the Tweet!

    Emily – How neat that you and Deborah both picked up on that line and applied it to books and fiction. I hadn’t thought about it in that way at all, but it’s so true. Glad you hopped over to share your thoughts. See you soon!