My book arrived today. An actual first edition, from Berryville Graphics, (read my earlier story about them) to Crown, to me. The same book you will see in bookstores, three weeks from now.
I would show you a picture but I’m here by myself, and anyway, there’s a realistic computer-synthesized picture on the right side of the blog.
Allow me to tell you some things about the hardcover edition of Look Me in the Eye that a picture would not reveal and a casual handler might not notice.
First of all, picking it up, you feel its solidity. The Advance Reading Edition seems thin and flimsy in comparison. And it is. That’s why libraries stock mostly hardcover books. They last longer.
The cover has a smooth feel, reminiscent of polished stainless steel. The feel of a restaurant kitchen countertop, right in your hand. It’s printed in matte ink, with the exception of the name, Look Me in the Eye, which is printed in glossy black. And there’s more . . . the title is actually embossed, so a blind reader could feel it with his thumbs and so positively identify my book. Looking at all the detail of the cover, it’s clear this book is a very high quality product.
Turning to the rear, readers will see the title, What People Are Saying. And below that, to no ones surprise, are four examples of What They Said. Two color of ink were used to express What They Said. At the very bottom, there’s a bar code tag, and a price.
Turning to the spine, and tilting the book to the light, you’ll see that the title and subtitle – but nothing else - has a glossy finish. You probably didn’t realize it, but the application of that shiny finish was a whole ‘nother step in the printing process. And book aficionados will note that the cover is printed in full color, too, proof that the publisher wanted only the best for Look Me in the Eye.
The marvels continue when you open the book. For example, on the inside flap, you’ll find a picture of me, sitting with a Bentley Turbo automobile engine, and a shelf with some assorted books behind me. Many people will search for the deeper meaning in that image, and I will not spoil things by revealing it here.
Readers of my blog who buy the book will be in for a special treat. Colors. That’s right, colors. Remove the jacket from my book, and set it apart from the book on a table near a computer monitor, and display my blog on the monitor. What will you see? Color coordination, that’s what!
Only the most special and unique of books match the colors of their author’s blogs. And for those doubters among you, the color match is like a fingerprint . . . unequivocal proof that I, the writer of this blog, am also the writer of Look Me in the Eye.
I am not, of course, the only person involved in the project. Other people have snuck their names in, and you’ll see them in your copy. For example, on the copyright page, you’ll find the name of the designer – Lauren Dong.
What is a designer, you ask? The designer is the person who figured out how the book would be laid out. Chapters starting halfway down the page. . . a classic Ardelovian typeface . . . The use of scrollwork and ornate letters at the beginning of every section . . . the use of small letters when describing signs, so MENS ROOM does not become unduly prominent on the page. That is design, and this book may well be nominated for awards.
It’s an often unrecognized but vital task, book design. And I haven’t taken the opportunity to speak of it, before now.
And she isn’t the only one. On the back flap, we find other names: Jacket design: Whitney Cookman. Jacket photo: Olaf Tiedje. Author photo: Rick Colson.
It took a moment to see, but I finally got it. The book designer was very clever when she placed those competing names. For they are on the jacket, and not in the book. So, fifty years from now, when kids of tomorrow look at an old copy of this book, who will they find? Me, and her. The others . . . vanished with the lost jacket, as if they never existed.
They may have vanished already, actually. On two occasions, I went to the Random House building and I sought out Whitney in his corner office, and . . . . . there was no one there. I found all the others, but not him. If some day I do find him, I will take his picture, and he will join the others, on my blog gallery.
I urge you to purchase my book right away, on the 25th, while you can still get a First Edition that is also a First Printing. Who knows what the future my bring. . . cost reduction engineers at the printer may change my book in subtle and hard-to-define ways, and some of the wonderful things I’ve revealed here may not exist by the fourth or sixth or tenth printing. So get yours soon.
On September 25th
Friday, August 31, 2007
My book arrived today. An actual first edition, from Berryville Graphics, (read my earlier story about them) to Crown, to me. The same book you will see in bookstores, three weeks from now.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
It’s Thursday noon, and the reporters are gone. For the moment. It’s time to go to the office, and check on my world of machines.
When I opened today's Springfield Republican, I read that the Mercedes-Benz dealer in my city shut yesterday. According to the news, they’d been having financial problems for a while, but their abrupt closure was a shock.
Twenty years ago, I decided to start buying old Mercedes cars and fixing them up. I drove to the local Mercedes dealer and introduced myself to the owner, and talked about my plans. Surprisingly, he took me under his wing, and he was full of ideas. From a slow start, my business grew and prospered. So did his.
My company moved from my back yard to a rented space in an old industrial part of the city. A thousand bucks a month, and I parked my customer cars among blocks of stone owned by my ugly-tempered contractor landlord.
Meanwhile, Lew’s Mercedes dealership moved from an old industrial building to a sparkling new showroom on Riverdale Road, home to all the other big car dealers. He was in the big time, and I was one step farther from the street. Both of us were proud of what we'd done.
And for a long time, both of us prospered. About ten years ago, our businesses began to change. I moved from a rented facility to my own building, a much nicer shop in a nicer part of town. My friend Lew got sick, and retired. His daughter took over and the place expanded. My place expanded too, but not the way she did. Her dad had three new Mercedes in stock; now she had thirty. I shuddered every time I looked at the lot, thinking of the finance charges she was paying on that inventory.
She drove a glittering black S500 sedan to work, while I drove castoffs from my customers.
It was a fine looking place she had, but the cost to keep it open . . . all those people . . . the cars . . . the fancy facilities . . . There was a time when I dreamed of have a new car dealer franchise, but times had changed. I was glad I wasn’t a Mercedes dealer then.
“I’ll be it costs her $20,000 a month, just to stay open in that place,” I said to Bud, out in our shop. When the car selling climate changed around here, a few years back, I was relieved I hadn’t gone down that road, too. Since losing all my money in the early 90s, I bought cars to order. I never had a huge lot full like the other dealers.
As the car climate worsened my decision not to stock high end cars proved wise. One by one, the used car dealers who competed with me vanished. I began to hear rumors about the Mercedes dealer, and one day a banker told me she was looking for investors. Then, without warning, they closed.
It’s sad to see them go.
But I’ve been cautious, and sometimes I’ve moved a little slower. My place may not be glamorous like hers was, but “was” is the operative word today. Robison Service is still open. Still fixing Mercedes. Still authorized Bosch Car Service for Springfield.
I don’t think we’ll be closing anytime soon. If you call 413 785 1665 there are still people picking up the phone, and it’s going to stay that way. Looking at my business choices today, I sure am glad, because there’s no bank holding millions of dollars in debt over my head.
When times get slow debt is the #1 killer of small business. That, and a lack of capital and a lack of hard assets. The best insurance a small business can have is equity in real estate. Banks like that kind of equity best, and when hard times come, the guy with $500,000 equity in his buildings will be fine, but the fellow with $500,000 in inventory may find his loan called, and his company in bankruptcy.
Why, you ask? Because a $500,000 building is 500 grand, any time to anyone (within reason) while $500,000 in inventory may have essentially zero value if the company ceases to operate.
So be cautious and move slow.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In today’s world, the television, radio, newspaper, and magazine media have a big influence on the sales of most any mainstream consumer product, books included. Books can’t sell unless people hear about them.
While it’s true that word of mouth can sell books, something has to make reader #1 pick up and buy the book to start the ball rolling, and that something is often a review or mention in the mass media.
For the release of Look Me in the Eye, Crown has lined up about fifty interviews with all sorts of media. To maximize my chances of success in these interviews, they also arranged media training for me, yesterday in New York. And those fifty interviews may well lead to a hundred more, so I really need to be ready. It's one thing to tell someone about your book at leisure at a party. Presenting the high points of Look Me in the Eye in a three-minute interview is something else entirely.
At this moment, I’d like to introduce my publicist from Crown, and Melissa Hellen of Clarity Media Group, my media trainer. Crown has really gotten the very best people on Look Me in the Eye, every step of the way. Meet two more of them:
Ava is on the left; Melissa is on the right. We're standing in Melissa's office in Rockefeller Center, a short walk from Crown Publishers, which is in the Random House building on Broadway.
To some people “media training” sounds almost sinister. Rest assured, it’s not. No one tried to make me into anything I’m not. Here’s a brief description of what we did . . .
We started by going over the schedule of interviews and talking about the interview process. Melissa showed me how people sit for TV, and how close they are (hint – it’s a lot closer than you’d expect.) She showed me how the cameras are typically set up, and how to wear the lapel microphones. She told me what to expect for makeup, and why they use it, and we talked about how my clothes will look on camera.
All of that will certainly make me more comfortable when interviewers with cameras come calling next week. I start my television career right at the top, with the Today show. They’ll be taping next week, and the segment will air as soon as my book goes on sale.
Melissa, Ava, and I talked about the questions I’ll be asked. While there’s no way to know all the questions in advance, Melissa was reasonably certain of some “standards” and we talked about them, and how I’ll answer in a clear and concise manner.
Then, we went into a little studio and taped an interview. Playing it back, they pointed out places where I paused, or repeated myself. We looked at places I could use examples from my book in my answers, and we did the interviews over and over with me learning more each time.
After that, we talked about the differences between radio and television interviews, and we covered print interviews as well. Then, it was on to the book tour. We talked about what I’d read on my tour, and she had several good suggestions. In particular, she showed me how reading several short passages from within Look Me in the Eye could be more effective than reading a single chapter.
We taped that too, and looked at the results. I'll be more confident and smoother now, and all of you who come to see me can reap the benefit.
And that, in a few words, is what happens at media training. I am very glad Crown set this up for me. I’ll be a lot more confident now, and I’ll be able to get my points across more effectively. I’m still me, I’ll just do better in interviews now. And the first one starts soon, when I pick up a reporter who’s flying in from London in just a few more hours. So I'm off and running . . . .
Posted by John Elder Robison at 8:08 AM
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Several of you have asked where I'll be . . . here is a schedule that's complete as of August 22. However, more dates may be added. Check the appearances page of my website.
September 25 Barnes & Noble New York, NY 7:00 PM
September 26 RJ Julia Madison, CT 7:00 PM
September 27 Brookline Booksmith Boston, MA 7:00 PM
September 28 Attending the Asperger Association of New England event, Boston
Watch for me on Weekend Today
October 2 Borders East Madison Store Madison, WI 7:00 PM
Listen for me with Diane Rehm on National Public Radio
October 3 Harry Schwartz Booksellers Shorewood, WI 7:00 PM
October 11 Food for Thought Books Amherst, MA 7:00 PM
October 16 Buttonwood Books Cohasset, MA 10:00 AM
October 18 Elms College Chicopee, MA 4-9 PM
October 25 Northshire Bookstore Manchester Center 7PM
November 2 UMASS Lowell Lowell, MA 7:00 PM
November 15 Tattered Cover Denver, CO 7:30 PM
December 5 Amherst Books Amherst, MA 8:00 PM
Posted by John Elder Robison at 6:37 PM
Well, my book goes on sale in four weeks. The countdown starts. I am about to place myself in front of the larger public. For those of you who came out of the closet, that pre-emergent anxiety is just how I feel now.
So far, the reviews are all good. But what if I miss something, or screw up? There are so many things I don’t see and hear. Conversational nuance. Take the simple phrase, “Don’t crush that dwarf! Hand me the pliers!”
Normal people, hearing that, just know where the emphasis lies. I don’t. Is it the dwarf? Do they emphasize “dwarf” so the others grab him instead of the other drunk guy on the stool? Is it the pliers? Instead of the wire cutters? I grabbed little Mikey Parks back in seventh grade, and they packed me off to the principal’s office when he yelled.
Or is it “crush” that’s the key word? Maybe there’s a choice there. . . squash him or toss him. I’ve had that happen to me. Maybe you have too . . .six drunk guys grab you and who knows where they toss you. In the pool . . .off the edge of the building . . .
I got tossed onto a table once, in a bar, and then one of the guys sitting under me got up and walloped me with the chair.
But I digress. That was then, and this is now. Today, I appear much more civilized. I have already mastered the skills of personal appearance and hygiene on my own. Now, I must master the skill of Being in Public. A scary thought for many Aspergians like me.
I will try and stop by our Asperger Association of New England group meting today, and seek inspiration. There’s an interesting crowd there, for sure.
Two days ago, I had a British photographer here, with his Irish assistant, to photograph me for a magazine over there. What a strange feeling. I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos, but I have never before been the subject . . . “Step over there. Forward a step. Right-o” Changing setups, changing places, changing clothes. Even my hair.
Tomorrow, I go to New York for something called Media Training. I’m not exactly sure what that consists of, having not yet been trained, but I think they interview me on camera, and we watch it together, and we talk about improving my performance.
What sort of improvements will they have in mind, I wonder? Will I leave the training with my back straight and my head tall? Will I become an ardent Bush supporter? Will I leap from a building, convinced I am Superman?
People are skeptical. They say, “Yeah, right! When pigs fly! You’re always gonna be a geek!”
But pigs do fly. Right now, at the Champlain Valley Fair, pigs are flying around the track, and I am missing it. Just to get ready for this, the appearance of my book. I sure do love a pig race, though. The gate opens, and those pigs thunder around the track, thousands of pounds of rolling bacon-sandwiches-in-the-making, chasing that mechanical Snickers bar. Damn! Thos pigs are fast.
I was seated by the edge of the track once, and two champions tangled it up and hit the railing. Almost crushed me as the rest of the field thundered by. One of the handlers came by, with a bag of Gummi Bears, and got them off me.
I hope at least a few of you will think of me when you attend the pigs races at your county fair. And while you’re there, think of me at the tractor pull, the pie eating contest, and the concerts.
Next week I have reporters and interviews for all sorts of big magazines. Then the Today show is coming to film me. They’re the first of the network television people. There’s radio to get ready for too. Diane Rehm has invited me onto her show, on NPR, and there are more after that. What will I say? Well, I had enough thoughts to fill a book already. Hopefully they won’t desert me now.
I sure am lucky, though, to have the support of all these communities. The Aspergians. The bloggers. The teachers. My friends. I'm sure I'll be OK. All of you believe in me. Meanwhile, I have to go crank up the tractor and mow the meadow and the lawn and then remove my neighbor's dead pine tree.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 9:36 AM
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Many of the folks who write in to my blog are female, and most are moms. Having said that, allow me to add two more tidbits for the curious: Less than 1% of the readers of my blog leave comments (OK, now the rest of you - speak up!) and most blog comments come from females, whereas most email responses come from males. Go figure. Anyway, today’s essay is really a question for all of you . . . When I follow the links from your comments, and read your own blogs, in many cases I read almost exclusively about kid raising. And it leads me to wonder. . .
You must have several lives going on all at once . . not just kid-raising. Where are they?
First, you all have lives as individuals. As my mate says, “I’m my own person!” Some of you have jobs outside the home, and for those who work outside, a big part of your life is spent there. There are all your dreams, and hobbies, and interests that you alone enjoy.
There are your own manias, phobias, conditions and disorders. Surely all those things provide some food for thought? Mine certainly do.
Some of you fly airplanes, or jump out of them. Some work in offices, and some drive bulldozers to build offices. What ideas or inspirations do you get from work? And if there isn’t any inspiration, why work, or why work there?
Then there’s life as part of a larger family unit. There are the visits to Grandma, and feeding the family, and going hiking in the state park together, and maybe even going on a cruise.
If there’s a mate in the picture, there are the interactions with him. Or, in some cases, her. If there’s not a mate, but there’s a kid, where did he go? Did he just split? Or is he in prison? Or perhaps buried under those heavy flagstones on the patio? Perhaps in that spot where the ground is soft and the grass is especially green?
Those too are things to write about.
Finally, there is life as a mother. Direct engagement in kid management, kid training, kid development and even play. Are the kids living bundles of joy? The kind of kids that win the competitions at the County Fair every year? Blue Ribbon children? The kind your parents wish they could stuff and hang over the mantle, and say, “Look at them! If only you’d been like that, when you were a kid!” Or are they nasty little buggers, like me and my brother, loud, rude, disruptive? Farting, fighting, and biting.
Now, I know some of the moms reading my blog have kids on the autism spectrum, and I know that can become all-consuming. The search for a cure. . . should there be a cure . . what to do? You could certainly devote your whole life to it. And the blogs reflect it.
So the question is . . . . What do you do that’s not kid-centered? And what about writing about it? One day, the kids will be grown up and gone. What then? What are your plans for a post-child life? That’s a big question, one all of us must address.
Even dads, like me. And I did do something. . . Got myself a motorcycle, wrote a book, and went hog wild. And here I am, writing to all of you today from my perch atop a flagpole in a secret location 32 miles from Keene, New Hampshire.
Something different to write about. What will you do?
Friday, August 17, 2007
Some of you know that I have a whole 'nother life in the automobile business. For that reason, I have decided to offer some unsolicited - but nonetheless correct and valuable - car advice to all of you. Most of you - I'm sure - drive cars. For you, the tips below could save you ten dollars, or they could save your life, whichever is greater. Others among you drive carts pulled by mules or oxen. For you, the tips will have no cash or health value, but they may still entertain you as you watch the cars pass your wagon on the way to market. A few of you don't drive anything. But others around you drive, and an informed passenger is a happy passenger.
And so, with no further ado, we will begin with Tip Number One:
Do not, under any circumstances, stick your fingers into the engine’s moving parts while the motor is running. If you have long hair, avoid leaning over a running engine. Cats and other animals sometimes learn this lesson the hard way. I once saw an engine that had ingested a six-foot snake into the fan belt area. It was an ugly sight indeed. Luckily, the snake was no longer in biting order when the hood was opened.
The advice given to Chicago voters – “Vote early! Vote often!” can be applied to checking tires. Check your tires early – before a drive, and do it often. The two biggest issues with tires: running them with insufficient air pressure ruins them, and tires frequently wear out on the inside edges, where the wear is harder to see. Your car should have a tire pressure decal in the door jamb or the fuel filler area.
When is motor oil not oil? When you’re standing in front of the display at Wal Mart or your local parts store, wondering what to buy. Oils are not all the same, and they are often not interchangeable. Many new cars – especially high performance cars – have very specific oil recommendations, which you ignore at your peril. For example, Mercedes Benz cars use Mobil 1 0-40 oil, and the use of Mobil 1 15-40 oil might actually harm the motor. Look at your owners manual, and pay close attention to what’s being put in your car. Don’t count on the kids at the quick lube place to get it right. Remember, if you use the wrong oil, and the motor fails, it’s you that will be paying the bill.
If you have to tow your car . . . use a flatbed. Old style wreckers that lift one end of the car are much more likely to cause damage, and they should be avoided. Also, if you have to ride somewhere in the wrecker, know that the people who drive flatbeds are of much higher caliber than the lunks who drive old-style tow trucks. Many surveys have shown that to be true.
If you drive a car equipped with OnStar, TeleAid or any of the other voice-response systems, and you are a criminal, you should know this: Big brother may be watching. Agents of the Federal Government can obtain a court order that allows them to use the aid system in your car to listen to conversations that take place within the vehicle, and they can also use the vehicle’s navigation system to report its movements and position.
If you live among rodents, take steps to keep them out of your car. If you have mice infestation problems, mothballs will often drive them away. Mice will chew on electrical wiring, and I’ve seen many electrical fires as a result. Such damage is covered by the comprehensive section of your automobile insurance in most states.
And finally, Tip Eight:
Pay attention to your gauges. Modern cars use a lot of aluminum in their engines. Aluminum is not tolerant of overheating, and it’s all to common for an overheated aluminum motor to need replacement, not repair. In the case of a Range Rover, for example, that can mean a $12,000 bill. That’s a high price to pay for ignoring the temperature gauge. If your gauge goes to the top, pull over. Do not attempt to drive home. Do not attempt to drive 5 more miles, or one more mile. Stop now.
The oil pressure light in your car also only illuminates to warm you of impending disaster. Pull over immediately if you see that light too.
There are certain lights on most cars that can be ignored. But it's a mechanic's secret what they are, so I can't tell you here.
A select few of you may not see Tip Three. That's because Tip Three contained software that scanned your computer to determine what sort of person you are. Tip Three is, between you and me, only visible to the more mundane and sub-ordinary readers. Count yourself lucky if you see this explanatory paragraph and not Tip Three.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 9:51 PM
Thursday, August 16, 2007
A few days back, one of you asked if I’d write something on my sense of humor. Well, here it is.
Some strange but true facts about my Aspergian humor.
I write my thoughts as they come. I don’t have the subconscious filter that most of you have, so I say things that, while true, may be startling. An example would be, “What happened to you? You’ve gotten awful fat since the last time I saw you.”
Most people’s internal governor would prevent them from saying that, even though it’s true. Not me. Some people find statements like that funny. Others find them interesting or embarrassing. Myself, it’s just how I am. If it’s true, and I think it, I say it.
People say, "He says startlingly insightful and honest things." Well, I just say what I think, based on what I see and hear. Other people presumably see and hear the same things, unless their sight or hearing is deficient as compared to mine. But their internal filters get in the way of accurately expressing reality. And I guess sometimes other people find reality funny, when I repeat stories of it, even though no one thought it was funny when we all stood around, observing it.
That's a most curious fact.
I write and say things that are funny, at unpredictable times and in unexpected places. I never really know when I do it, though. I have to rely on feedback from readers. For example, I can tell you what the funniest parts of Look Me in the Eye are. How do I know? My editors told me. I can’t see it myself.
I cannot “write something funny” on command. There’s no telling when funny things will come out. I can’t tell, at least.
I am very serious until I become relaxed around people. That can happen in a matter of minutes, or hours, or never, depending upon the people.
Sometimes things I write or say are funny because my thought process is different from other people’s, and my thoughts just naturally flow in unexpected directions. Sometimes if people think that’s funny, I do too.
I also interpret many things literally. For example, when I hear a joke that’s funny because someone is placed in an embarrassing position, I may not see it as funny. I may simply see it as a description of someone in an embarrassing position. I often don’t get other people’s jokes.
Sometimes, if I tell jokes I heard elsewhere, it’s because I think they are funny. Other times, I have learned people find a certain story funny, and I repeat it.
Aspergian humor is unpredictable.
And no one knows what to expect. The only Aspergian TV star I know of was Mister Spock, and that was a long time ago. And speaking of Mister Spock . . . as a fellow Aspergian, let me assure you that no real Aspergian would do most of the things attributed to Spock, McCoy, and the others in the dreadful fan fiction that has swarmed the net since the show ended.
Like me, Spock played it straight.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Things I have accomplished:
I have had fifty cars. In fact, I have even had fifty each, of several brands of car.
I have had fifty, fifty dollar dinners
I have loaned several people fifty bucks
I have mowed fifty lawns, and in order to grow the most recent lawn, I spread fifty truckloads of topsoil as a bed for the fifty bags of seed and fertilizer and lime.
I have made the kid do his chores fifty times
I have seen my sound equipment play in fifty of the largest concert arenas in the country
I have spoken to fifty troubled kids and hopefully provided some encouragement
I have visited Holyoke, Massachusetts – the gateway to Chicopee – fifty times
I have made friends with fifty people
In the first eight hours of my birthday, I received fifty spam emails offering sex aids, Russian girls, and money from Nigeria
Things I have partly accomplished:
I have fifty thousand dollars, but I do not have fifty million dollars
I have induced fifty people to place advance orders for my book, but I have not actually completed any sales
My subjects, Martha and Cubby, have obeyed my commands fifty times, but they still fail to recognize me as their King who must be obeyed
I have gone on fifty boat rides, but I have not gone on fifty ship voyages
I have written fifty magazine articles, but I have not written fifty books
Things I have not done:
I have not had fifty dogs
I have not had fifty cats
I have not lived in fifty places
I have not gone to fifty parties
I have not been to fifty states, or fifty countries
I have not had fifty girlfriends, nor am I anywhere close to fifty wives
I have not spent fifty days in any prison or jail
I have not been to fifty pig races, or fifty NASCAR races
Sunday, August 12, 2007
This afternoon I went to a meeting of the Asperger’s Association of New England. I’d looked at joining a while back, knowing they sponsored various activities, but I didn’t take them up on it till now.
I was anxious going in, because my parents had put me in “support groups” and “discussion groups” as a teenager, and they didn’t accomplish much. However, this group was different. I went to a grownup meeting, with me, a young married Aspergian couple, three guys ranging in age from 20 to 60, and a facilitator.
I enjoyed it a lot.
We all introduced ourselves and talked about what we did, and my book proved an interesting topic of conversation, along with one fellow starting a new job, and another fellow talking about shyness, something I’d experienced when I was his age.
I was surprised to see a myself reflected in most of the younger attendees. One had my awkwardness and my “geek” love of computers. Another talked about his awkwardness at job interviews, and I could just see myself fumbling my interviews at Milton Bradley and Simplex, thirty years before.
There was an older fellow there too – it’s always comforting to have someone older than me around – who had retired from a career on Wall Street. In him, I saw the intense focus that helped make me successful.
I also saw something of the struggle we all have, getting by every day. But any mom with a young Aspergian child would surely have found the whole bunch of us inspiring, because we’re all making it on our own, at various levels and in different ways. That was very encouraging. The mood at the meeting was upbeat. There was popcorn, too. And it was free.
In short, I saw something of myself in every Aspergian there. I wonder what they saw in me, especially the younger Aspergians. What would I have made of a middle-aged Aspergian when I was 21, I wondered? Just another old geek, most likely. Could the younger people know how similar I was to them, when I was their age? It certainly brought back memories, hearing their stories. I learned "what I learned" and some new things, too. And I hope I was an inspiration of sorts to them.
These meetings are an excellent idea for grown Aspergians, and I commend the society for thinking them up, if indeed they did think them up. And even if they didn't, they're still worthwhile. I’ll be attending the next meeting on the 25th, and I'm bringing my friend Bob, a fellow engineer and geek that you'll meet in my book.
Now, for the tip of the day: What to do when snapping turtles come calling
Many Americans live in tightly packed housing in cities. If you are one of those people, the following turtle tip will not be useful, but check back for next week's tip – removing large snakes from apartment ventilation systems. I know - you say it can't happen to you - but it does, every day, somewhere in America. And for the rest of you . . Those who live in homes with yards may one day look out to find the lawn covered or at least spotted with turtles
When that happens, prompt and decisive action is needed.
There are many theories regarding the best way to remove a snapping turtle from a lawn. Some say, “Dangle an ax handle in front of its nose and carry it out when it latches on.” Others say, “Jab it in the ass with the ax handle and get it moving the direction you want it to go.” And the real connoisseurs say, “Time for turtle soup.” Those are the ones the turtles fear, and with good reason. The ones who approach smiling, in puffy white hats, and with white coats.
Personally, I have not found turtles to either bite on command or move in the direction indicated by my jabs. And the local turtles are tough eating. Also, they can chew hell out of the ax handle, rendering it dangerous and splintery for subsequent wood cutting.
I have found that the easiest answer to turtle infestation is a snow shovel. A shovel can be slipped under all but the biggest snappers with a minimum of difficulty, and the turtle can be relocated with ease. And unlike snakes, agressive turtles cannot climb the handle to bite you. Any turtle that tries will find himself on his back, on the ground, waiting for the shovel or the stewpot.
Cubby pointed out that many people with serious turtle problems will want to know if the same turtles return again or if new turtles keep appearing. To find that out, simply tag each turtle you relocate with a distinct pattern of paint dots. My turtles are all blue dot, so you’ll know them if they appear in your lawn. May I suggest yellow or red, with shape stencils, for your neighborhood.
Solve YOUR turtle problems now, while you still can.
Monday, August 6, 2007
In my book, I talk about things people say to start conversations. Being conversatioanlly handicapped, I pay close attention to things like that. Often, they start with a question, or a statement followed by a question. This weekend, I went to Lake George, where a bunch of my friends are vacationing, and I met Rich and Jackie’s son-in-law.
He said, “I’m a service manager for Firestone. What do you do?” I think he expected me to say I did something with cars, since Bob and I were talking about radiators when he attempted to join the conversation, but that’s not what I said.
Thinking fast, I said, “Actually, I work in the movie industry. I produce adult films. Now, of course, they’re not film at all. They’re DVD. But we call them films. I’ll bet you’ve even seen some of my productions.”
Well, that brought the conversation to a standstill. Bob’s wife Celeste, sitting next to me, said, “Is that true? Or it another bizarre carp story?” For brevity’s sake, I will have to explain “carp story” another time. In the interest of tranquility, I conceded that I was not a pornographer, and conversation restarted with a small bump.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
Have you ever filmed yourself? Well, I hadn’t either, until last week.
My publicist at Crown is working to present me to a wider world, as my book moves into the market. Since I’m not a public figure, one of the things media people wonder when she calls is, how does this guy look and sound in real life? Is he a drooling idiot or the next George Clooney?
They’re all too tactful to say that, but I’m sure that’s a good approximation of what they think.
I decided the best way to address that concern was to get a video recorder and tape myself talking about the book. So I did that. And son of a bitch! They were right! I do look like a drooling idiot! Can it be?
Let me tell you . . . if you didn't know me, and you looked at the tape, and someone told you how far I've gotten in life, you would be amazed. Him, you would say? That freak? No way! Clearly, there is a significant misalignment between the reality of my life and what's currently depicted on video. And we must bring those two into alignment, and soon.
So I am practicing reading and talking before the camera, until I get it right. Yet another skill one has to learn to be a successful author. Until I watched, I actually had no idea I made some of the facial expressions I saw. No wonder some kids find me funny, and others run for cover. At least now I know. I always thought it was the bad manners, or the funny clothes.
I have also been studying "Manners for Dummies" and buying new clothes at a feverish pace. A slow feverish pace.
I told the folks in New York I’d have this video last week, but it’s clear I need more practice. A few more days worth, at least. But I’ll keep at it. By the time they see the finished product, no one will ever know how I looked at the start.
And I learned one more thing. Lucrative as it may sound, I would need a whole ‘nother skill set to enter the adult film industry. I can tell people about it at parties, but actually doing it . . . if I can’t even get a good film of me standing still . . . But just listening to me, how would they know? As a child, I learned this secret: The more outrageous a thing you say, the more readily people believe you, provided you say it with a serious expression.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 8:24 AM
Friday, August 3, 2007
Yesterday, I called my publisher. Rachel – my editor – and Mary – her assistant – were both on vacation. So my call got switched to Heather, another member of the Crown editorial staff, a loyal and hard working member of the Random House publishing Empire, subject only to their masters overseas at Bertlesmann.
Now, one of the tasks of any editorial assistant is to deal with authors. I had a small change to make, a word to be corrected, and I hoped I was in time. I knew Look Me in the Eye was headed for the printer soon.
And in just a few moments, she did it.
“I called production,” she said brightly. “You’re all set. Just in time.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. One more error, found and fixed. This late? What about unfound errors? I don’t worry about them, because I haven’t found them. So they may not even exist. Obviously.
So then I said, innocently, “By the way, who’s printing my book?”
After a long pause, she said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to find out.” Apparently, of all the authors she dealt with, I was the first one with that question.
A little while later, she called back and said, “Your book is being printed by a company called Berryville Graphics, in Virginia.”
I decided to look them up. You should, too. Here they are: http://www.opm.com/aboutus.html
Well, a little bit of reading later, I found that Berryville Graphics prints 370 Million books a year. Wow! That’s a lot of books! And there’s more. They are a subsidiary of this group, http://www.arvato.com/index.php?LANG=en&PAGE=inhalte which prints a ton more books, along with CD, DVDs and all kinds of other stuff. And they distribute it, worldwide. Billions and billions of books, cds, and all kinds of other stuff, all over the world.
They are the six hundred pound gorilla of the publishing world. Hiding back there in the Virginia mountains, printing enough books every year to reach the moon, or totally bury Montreal, or cause Mexico city to subside 1/4 inch from the weight.
370 million books a year.
The masters at Bertlesmann own them, too.
That’s some serious book production.
Now, I know that I do not have to worry about my publisher’s ability to print and distribute as many copies of Look Me in the Eye as the public wants. And you shouldn’t worry either. In fact, with that kind of production capacity backing me up, buy three or four copies of my book, so you’ll always have copies to loan out. Buy ten. Think big. Buy a whole case.
And those of you who worry that Americans don’t read, be encouraged by that 370 million book statistic. And remember, there are more printers in this country. And they wouldn’t print all those books unless SOMEONE read them, or did a good imitation.
I’m going to try and visit Berryville Graphics on my book tour, if they let me in.
Posted by John Elder Robison at 7:58 AM
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Library Journal magazine interviewed me a few days ago, and they had some unexpected questions. You can read the interview and review at www.libraryjournal.com
Library Journal interview follows:
We think of Asperger’s syndrome (considered a milder form of autism) as a disability that prevents someone from leading a full life. But can it be a disability if you don’t know you have it? John Elder Robison, older brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors), was self-diagnosed with Asperger’s in his forties but not before he built a successful business, designed pyrotechnical guitars for KISS and had a family. All this and more are chronicled in his satisfying biography, Look Me in the Eye (see the review in LJ 8/07).
LJ reviewer Corey Seeman (Kresge Business Administration Library University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) sat down with Robison to discuss how Asperger’s has affected his life.
LJ: In what ways could Asperger’s be seen as a positive character trait for someone in business?
JER: People with Asperger’s can do really well in many highly technical occupations. Car repair (my field) is a good example. Software engineering is another. Some experts refer to Asperger’s as "the engineer mind." I’m driven to know everything there is to know about the machines I work with. I’m also very direct and good in situations where I have to explain how something works or how it failed or broke. I’m very precise and detail-oriented. There are many, many work situations where these traits would be beneficial. To me, Spock on the original Star Trek is a great example of a functional Aspergian in the workplace.
What is your favorite car to fix?
That’s hard. Probably classic Land Rovers because they are such rugged, simple beasts. My next favorite would be the old Rolls Royces because they have such beautiful craftsmanship. And I like the newer BMWs because they are just such technological masterpieces.
Can you see patterns in machines that others cannot? How do you work with people in the shop?
It’s hard to know what I see that others don’t because I can’t see in their minds. Life experience has shown me that I often have an unusually keen insight into the workings of mechanical and electronic systems. I am often able to solve problems others can’t by using my focused reasoning powers. I know I can visualize how things work in my mind and run different scenarios to figure out why some certain thing may be happening. This ability to run "computer simulations" in my head is uncommon, based upon what others tell me. In our shop, I’m seen as "sort of eccentric," but I think I’m accepted as the technical leader. There are some things each guy knows more about than me, but I have a lot of general knowledge about what we do, and they respect that.
What can adults who think they have Asperger’s take away from your book?
First, my book may give them some insight into their own conditions. I was miserable for years because I felt like I was a fraud and a misfit. Now I understand my place in the greater scheme of things, and I’m happy with it.
Do you see Asperger’s traits in your brother or your son?
My son is a little bit Aspergian and has some other learning disabilities. For example, if you draw a chess board on a blackboard and ask him to mark a sheet on his desk to follow your moves, he will do it wrong. But if you tell him, "move to row three, column two," he does that fine. My brother had learning disabilities and eccentricities as a child, too. We’re all eccentric to varying degrees. Did the kids you grew up with dress in aluminum foil? Did you? My brother did. I dressed like a barbarian and retreated to the woods as a feral child. But look at us now. Functional, but different.
Asperger’s is often viewed as a disability. However, in your situation, did it actually better enable you to live with your family?
My brother thinks my Aspergian logicality and detachment sheltered me from the worst of my family’s craziness. I think on balance, Asperger’s has bestowed rare gifts upon me and made me the creative person I am. Without Asperger’s, I would not have created any of the things you read about in my book, and I wouldn’t have written the book in the first place. That said, Asperger’s affects other people differently. And for some, they are indeed impaired in key ways, and some struggle with daily life tasks. I’m very fortunate.
What is normal?
That’s a good question. What do you believe is normal? Your normal and my normal may differ. Whose is right? Yours? Mine? Can both be right? In some cases, things are absolute. A particular radio wave may have a wavelength of 2.2 meters. And that’s it. It’s not 2.1, and it’s not 2.4. But when we move away from measurable absolutes, things get harder. Do you like the way I act? Which painting do you like better? For those things there are no absolute answers, only opinions. My book discusses this question at some length. For what I am, I’m normal. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by mental health workers, I’m Aspergian.
Given that you are in western Massachusetts, have you ever thought what type of guitar you would have built for James Taylor?
I have never actually considered a guitar for James Taylor, but since you asked… James is primarily an acoustic musician. My guitars were kick-ass, fire-breathing beasts that I created for people playing heavy metal. Loud, flashy, electric music. I would have been shocked beyond words if an acoustic musician such as James Taylor had asked me to build him an instrument.
Still, if James Taylor had a problem with bears raiding his garbage, and he wanted a guitar capable of vaporizing the bear and the dumpster, and maybe even the side of the house, I’m his man. At least, I was back then. Today, I am aware of our responsibility to care for our environment and all God’s creatures, and I’d seek to relocate the bear rather than atomize him.
So I don’t know where that would leave James Taylor, guitarwise.
The original interview is at:
Posted by John Elder Robison at 10:17 PM