Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell has worked as teacher, counselor, psychologist and consultant for several decades. Her Masters and Ph.D. degrees focussed on autism spectrum disorders and helping kids to reach as high a level of independence as possible.
In a March 2012 announcement, the Centers for Disease control released their latest statistics on autism. One in eighty-six American children has an autism spectrum disorder and one in every fifty-four boys. Every teacher will have a child with autism in their classroom. Every coach will meet a child with autism. If autism has not touched your family, it will affect your friends or neighbours.
When parents, especially mothers, receive the news that their child has autism, they spend countless hours researching the subject, usually at night, after an exhausting day. There is a lot of information out there, much of it by competent authorities. But after a hard day of work and family responsibilities, who wants to read a textbook?
Writers are admonished to show, don’t tell. Kids with autism learn best when shown rather than “talked at”. Why not write a book that shows how a family and a school help a little boy with autism? Does a book have to be hard slugging for the reader to learn new things? Does learning have to be tedious? What if you could just read a good story and still gain ideas to try?
So, the novel “School Daze” was born – a light read aimed at a general audience. Yes, life with autism has it’s struggles, but there are strengths as well and the fun parts that any family experiences. The book’s full of the challenges inherent in autism plus strategies that make life easier for all concerned. It’s a story about a single dad doing the best he can.
What inspires you to write?
I like to have fun. Last November, I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month www.nanowrimo.org) for the first time. I approached it with great trepidation since I had never before attempted fiction. But once I began, what fun! The whole concept of burying your inner editor in order to write 50,000 words in one month was freeing and I could let the words fly from my fingertips.
Once I started, I saw this as a venue to write about autism, it’s strengths, challenges, effects on families and how you can help. With 1 in every 88 American children having an autism diagnosis, there are lots of parents and teachers seeking information. When they’re hanging on by their toenails, just trying to get through the day, these people have little time to pour over heavy textbooks or sift through the information available on the internet.
Why should learning have to be so hard? Shouldn’t it be possible to combine solid information with a light, entertaining read? So, School Daze – Autism Goes to School was born.
Tell us about your writing process
Unfortunately, I’m not a good marathoner. I’m more the sprinter type. Even during the NaNo month, I’m erratic. While in my ideal world, I’d write 1600 words a day to make my goal of 50,000 words in a month, some days would go by when I’d write nothing. Those days would stretch to a week when the demands of life loomed heavy. Then, there would be the evening where 5,000 words just sprang from my fingers. When those days happened, I’d forget about bed time as the story would grab me and the characters moved through the story.
If I told mysel I’d write a book over a year, I’m not sure it would get done. Limiting myself to a short interval like a month forces me to get into the story and to just get the words down. I live and breathe the book, even on those days when I’ve slacked off and written nothing.
There’s time after that month to go back and edit and revise and revise and revise again. Yes, that’s not quite as exciting or as much fun, but I didn’t really mind that part of the process. It was like plugging holes and layering and texturing. Then beta readers added their input as well as finding those typos that had escaped my scrutiny.
I don’t think there was any part of the entire process I didn’t like.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Definitely! And, they sometimes take me in directions I had not even considered. Once I get inside a character’s head, they take the lead in how they respond to a situation. That’s all part of the fun of creation – I set up the scene, throw problems their way then the characters do their things.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
It’s a difficult decision. I’m more familiar with the traditional publishing route, or at least it seems closer to my experiences writing for magazines. But, I’m an impatient person. Spending months (or years) querying agents to represent my work, then waiting that long again for a publisher to pick the contract, then waiting another year before the book was printed all seemed way, way too far in the future.
Plus, similar books retailed for around $20. For some people, that’s a significant enough outlay to give them pause. I passionately want to share knowledge about autism spectrum disorders – the challenges and strengths inherent in the disorder, along with strategies that can help and are workable for families and teachers. If the book was priced low enough, it would be affordable for anyone. With traditional publishing, I’d have no say in the price. If I self-publishing, the price would be my decision.
I chose to publish in ebook form. The cost to me would be more time and effort than cash, allowing me to sell for less. Currently the book is priced at 99 cents on Amazon. Just a few months after it was published, School Daze – Autism Goes to School ranked #1 in two Amazon bestseller categories, selling hundreds of copies a week.
Although most of my sales have come from Amazon, the book is also available in all other eReader formats and as a PDF. I did this through Smashwords, who then make the book available at major online booksellers apart from Amazon. (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/156913).
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I was a die-hard book person, absolutely convinced that I needed to hold a physical book in my hands. Then, I tried a Kindle. Within the first week I was hooked. This tiny contraption contained thousands of books. The screen created such a pleasant reading experience, whether propped up in bed, sitting in a car or lounging in the direct sun at the beach. I could go weeks without having to recharge the Kindle.
I love the fact that I can read the same book on my Kindle, my iPad, my laptop and/or my iPhone, although my favorite is the Kindle. I’m an avid reader and spend far, far less on buying ebooks that I did with print books.
I used to read print textbooks with a highlighter in one hand and note paper in the other. Now, I can highlight text on my Kindle, make notes that it stores, read notes that other people have written and shared, book mark pages, search the book and so much more. I have found textbooks for Kindle at 1/4 of the cost of the hardcover text.
Can you tell I’m enthused? While there will always be a place for paperback and hard cover books, ebooks are so handy and accessible that I can see them outselling physical books over the next years.
With the Indie Publishing movement, it will take a while for the cream to rise. When anyone can now publish and sell anything they’re written, there are some bad books out there. But with Amazon’s review system and online communities such as this site, the poorer books will not get many sales, while the worthwhile books will receive an encouraging readership.
What do you use?
Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write:: fiction, romance, special needs, psychology, education
What formats are your books in: eBook