Monday, October 31, 2011

Give Them Wings and Watch Them Fly

            I foster dogs through my local animal shelter and recently brought home Ace, a one-year-old puggle named after the Snoopy flying ace character. Ace had been hit by a car and his family could not afford to have his broken leg fixed. They surrendered him to my local shelter. After surgery, he needed a place to heal his clipped wing. It took Ace a few days to get used to us.  But once he did, we all fell in love.  Ace knew his jobs - to snuggle up with me while I slept, to wake my 17-year-old son Ryan for school, to be accepted by Brendan - my 19-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum - and to find his way into the heart of my big old grumpy poodle.
      Ace didn’t know his other job was to get strong.  He approached all his jobs like the ace that he was and three weeks later, his wing was healed well enough so he could be put up for adoption.  It was time for Ace to fly.  I didn’t want to let him go but I couldn’t keep him. He had his wings.       
    It is not just dogs developing their wings in my household. My 19-year-old has Asperger’s syndrome and doesn’t like disruptions in his routine.  He doesn’t like to be far from his coping mechanisms - DVDs blaring on his laptop and music on his I-pod.  He began to panic when his laptop starting malfunctioning days before he and his brother were going to visit family in Washington, D.C.  I began to panic as well and took him to buy a new laptop to avoid a break down.  There was a minor melt down on the way home from the store when they didn’t have the laptop he wanted.  We got home and I escaped to my bathtub. Forty minutes later, I went downstairs.  Laptop, I-pod, DVD player and cords were scattered all over my kitchen table.  He had fixed whatever had malfunctioned.
        "Really?"  I said.
         "Yes," he said.
         "So you are all set for the trip?"
         "I'm still suspicious, but yes,"  he smiled.  He had done it. He had figured it out and although he still had his doubts, he was okay with it.  He had the wings he needed to go on his trip.
        Then there is Ryan, my younger son.  I don’t think he knows how much I love him and how terrific he is. He knows that I am always paying attention to his older brother and that I frequently bring foster dogs home for short periods of time.  But Ryan is an amazing kid.  He makes honor roll at school; he is a high achiever in football and track; he is funny; he is helpful around the house; he accepts the dogs I bring home as his own; he loves his brother. Ryan is gaining his wings, literally and figuratively.  He is taking flying lessons.  He wants to enlist in the air national guard in hopes of qualifying to be trained as a pilot.  He asked about going to boot camp this summer, between his junior and senior years of high school.  I said no.  I am not ready for him to grow his wings. 
Amy Lewis Faircloth is the co-author of the award-winning novel Wicked Good, the story of a mother and her adopted son who has Asperger's syndrome and searches for his birth parents.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sisters publish novel from their blog on Asperger's syndrome

Sisters publish novel from their blog on Asperger’s syndrome

Posted Oct. 02, 2011, at 8:28 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 02, 2011, at 8:59 p.m.
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Joanne Lewis (left) and Amy Lewis Faircloth.
Courtesy photo
Joanne Lewis (left) and Amy Lewis Faircloth.
WICKED GOOD by Amy Lewis Faircloth and Joanne Lewis, August 2011, Telemachus Press, $9.95, 250 pages.
Rory wears black clothes covered in skulls to keep other teens away. He doesn’t want people to laugh at the way he talks, how he paces when he’s anxious or his interest in lawn mowers and all things mechanical. Rory has Asperger’s syndrome (commonly known as AS), and he’s not alone.
“Wicked Good,” a first novel by sisters Amy Lewis Faircloth of Hampden and Joanne Lewis of Florida, is about a single mother, Archer, struggling to raise her adopted son, Rory. Their story opens a door into a world that is rarely seen.
“‘Wicked Good’ has really touched people,” said Lewis.
Rory isn’t a real 15-year-old, but his personality is based on Faircloth’s oldest son, now 19, who has AS. To protect her son’s privacy, she asked that he not be named in the article.
“I think that my son and I and Asperger’s is treated with respect throughout the whole book,” said Faircloth, who has spoken to her oldest son many times about the book and says that he is OK with it. “It’s based on his and my personal traits, but the situations are totally made up.”
AS is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively. Children with the syndrome typically exhibit an all-absorbing interest in specific topics, according to Mayo Clinic staff. But there is a long list of AS symptoms that vary depending on the person, including inability to sleep, poor decision-making, lack of empathy and difficulty reading nonverbal signs.
“The disorder is being diagnosed more and more,” said Faircloth. “Pretty much everyone we mention it to knows somebody who has Asperger’s or is involved in it in some way.”
Though the incidence of AS is not well established, experts conservatively estimate that two out of every 10,000 children have the disorder, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Named after Dr. Hans Asperger in 1944, AS is described as high-functioning autism that affects people with high and low IQs. Some people believe that celebrated geniuses Einstein and Mozart had AS.
“Wicked Good” unveils one experience of AS through intense dialogue and a dramatic, fictional plot that keeps the action rolling.
Lewis and Faircloth grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and both became attorneys. But while Lewis has been writing novels for years, Faircloth, a Bangor attorney, has no prior experience with fiction.
“Wicked Good” began with a phone call. Lewis, calling from sunny Florida, pitched the idea of writing a novel together. Faircloth, feeling that Maine March madness that has nothing to do with basketball, said, “Why not?”
The novel began as a way for the sisters to do something fun together, and it evolved into them wanting to educate people about AS through fiction.
“I didn’t know what Amy’s life was like,” said Lewis. “We talked about it. I heard about it. But I didn’t really know what Amy and [her sons’] life was like together. Growing up with a special needs child, I really didn’t get it, but now I do.”
The novel took them three years to complete, and after having a difficult time finding a publisher, they decided to create a blog and post chapters on the Internet accompanied by photos of places in Maine and Massachusetts that they visited to research for the book. Their blog gained followers, and after just two months, a publisher from a small press contacted the sisters. Now the entire book is published as an e-book (March 2011) and in paperback (August 2011).
“My family, we learned a lot during the process,” said Faircloth. “What we learned mostly was to accept each other and love each other and do it with humor … At some point, none of us can change who we are. But we all have something to offer.”
Faircloth used her experiences and knowledge, with the help of her two sons, to accurately write the family scenes. But as the story of acceptance progressed, the characters took on a life of their own. Rory’s violent outbursts and Archer’s battle with alcoholism are things that Faircloth has never personally experienced in her family.
Lewis wrote much of the historical fiction subplots (about the Salem Witch Trials and The Perfect Storm of 1991) and steered the plot to be a classic hero journey, which involves 12 stages, including a stage where the hero hits rock bottom.
In “Wicked Good,” many heroes collide and help each other along. Archer is battling addictionand a selfish ex-husband and is constantly doubting her parenting skills. Rory is on a quest to find his birth parents, understand AS and be a better son. And Rory’s troublemaking friend, Trish, quietly combats parental abuse and the stigmas surrounding her.
Though the main characters have no problem being in the spotlight, there is a richness and diversity of peripheral New England characters — the local policeman, the high school principal, gas station clerk, law firm assistant — and a web of unique relationships that links them all.
Trish, an unexpected scene stealer, has unresolved conflicts at the end of the book that will be picked up in “Wicked Wise,” scheduled to be published in 2012. In the sequel, 19-year-old Rory will be on a search for a “cure,” a mission catalyzed by bullying he endures at school.
“Wicked Good” has won the online 2011 Reader Favorite Award and it is among the finalists for the Royal Palm Literary Awards, the winner of which will be the determined Oct. 22 at a writers conference the sisters will attend together in Orlando.
Since starting the blog, Faircloth has connected with other bloggers, authors and readers who know people with AS.
“This tells people, they’re not alone,” Faircloth said. “They aren’t alone — someone just has to come out and say it.”