A big welcome to Shaunta Grimes who is here to celebrating the release of VIRAL NATION, Viral Nation #1 (published on July 2, 2013 by Berkley Trade). One of the protagonists in VIRAL NATION has autism, so I immediately wanted to know what challenges and advantages this provided and what sort or research went into creating an authentic character. If you’re as hooked by Shaunta’s characters as I was (my review will be posted later this month), don’t miss the giveaway for a chance to win one of five copies! Enter via the widget below.
Writing a Character With Autism
I knew almost immediately that Clover would have autism and that I wanted to explore the relationship between siblings when one becomes a caretaker to the other.
I had two inspirations when I was creating these characters. The first was my own two older children. My son has autism and his sister, who is a little older, doesn’t. While they aren’t in a position to need to take care of each other for daily survival like Clover and West are, their relationship really was the starting point for my research. The second was my own relationship with my younger siblings. I have eight of them. Our family situation was precarious when I was a teenager, and I became a caretaker to my brothers and sisters. The relationship between Clover and West is one of my favorite parts of Viral Nation.
Early on, I watched a Youtube video produced by a woman who has autism. She describes how touching things is her being in communication, in her native language, with her surroundings. I read and watched other narratives about autism from people who have autism. I also have experience working with and advocating for people who have autism. I’ve lived with a person who is fairly similar to Clover (although not just like her) for almost twenty years. I think I did the most research about Mango! People who don’t have problems connecting sometimes don’t understand how vitally important it is to be able to make a deep connection with another being. I wanted Clover to have that outside her brother. Mango, I think, prepared her to open herself up to Jude and the other Freaks when she met them.
When I was writing Viral Nation, I really wanted to create a story where my son and other people with autism could find themselves. Lots of books with people who have autism are “issue books.” You know? They are about autism. I think it’s important for people to be able to find themselves in pop culture.
The most difficult part about writing Clover was finding a balance between her natural instinct to isolate herself and making her likeable and approachable for the reader. She doesn’t like to be touched, or to look at people, and she gets prickly. When I was querying agents, I had several rejections where the agent said they liked the story and my writing, but they couldn’t relate to Clover. That’s the difficulty. I think I found that balance. I really hope that my readers think so, too!
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Shaunta Grimes has worked as a substitute teacher, a newspaper reporter, a drug court counselor, and a vintage clothing seller. No matter which direction she strays, however, she always comes back to storytelling. She lives in Reno with her family, where she writes, teaches, and perpetually studies at the University of Nevada. Viral Nation is her debut traditionally-published novel.
5 copies of Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes
Available on July 2, 2013 by Berkley Trade
After a virus claimed nearly the entire global population, the world changed. The United States splintered into fifty walled cities where the surviving citizens clustered to start over. The Company, which ended the plague by bringing a life-saving vaccine back from the future, controls everything. They ration the scant food and supplies through a lottery system, mandate daily doses of virus suppressant, and even monitor future timelines to stop crimes before they can be committed.
Brilliant but autistic, sixteen-year-old Clover Donovan has always dreamed of studying at the Waverly-Stead Academy. Her brother and caretaker, West, has done everything in his power to make her dream a reality. But Clover’s refusal to part with her beloved service dog denies her entry into the school. Instead, she is drafted into the Time Mariners, a team of Company operatives who travel through time to gather news about the future.
When one of Clover’s missions reveals that West’s life is in danger, the Donovans are shattered. To change West’s fate, they’ll have to take on the mysterious Company. But as its secrets are revealed, they realize that the Company’s rule may not be as benevolent as it seems. In saving her brother, Clover will face a more powerful force than she ever imagined and will team up with a band of fellow misfits and outsiders to incite a revolution that will change their destinies forever.
Read an excerpt
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