Welcome to the first Diverse Author Spotlight! You may have seen me talk about this idea on twitter a little, but for those who haven’t, here’s the gist of it. Diverse Author Spotlight is a new monthly series on my blog where I’ll introduce and interview a marginalized author!
Richard Ford Burley is an autistic author who’s first novel, Mouse, just came out on the first of August. You can read my review of Mouse here, and, in case the review isn’t enough, go read it. It’s amazing.
Without further ado, read on for my conversation with my friend Richard. My comments will be bolded and labeled AC. Richard is RFB. Enjoy <3
AC: I’ll start with the big question 🙂 why do you write?
RFB: I guess the short answer is that it’s the only thing in life that I always well and truly enjoy, every time I do it. Even when it’s “work,” it’s better than all the other things I’ve ever done for work (and at this point, I’ve done a lot of things for work… sometimes strange things). Just building a world and then building windows into it to show it off to people, it’s the most fun I can imagine. lol I sound like I’d be great at parties, don’t I?
AC: Hell yeah So what inspired Mouse, both the world and the characters?
RFB: So about five years ago my then therapist and I came to the conclusion that I’d been walking around for nearly thirty years not knowing I’m autistic. I’d love to say that I wrote Mouse as a conscious effort to work through through it, but I think in a lot of ways it was the other way around, the ideas working themselves out through me, if that makes any sense. A lot of Mouse is really loosely inspired by my childhood—I mean, without the magic and whatnot—but through a lens of how things could’ve gone if I hadn’t had all the privileges I had then and still have. Mouse is who I imagined you’d get if you turned some of the dials in my life up to ten that are currently set at three or four.
And then, of course, I watch a *lot* of anime. One of my blurbers (is that a word? that’s a terrible word if it is one) called it in part a love letter to anime, and I think that’s probably true, too. I originally conceived of the project as Mouse having that interest in anime and trying to work out the experiences he’d had through writing one himself, but that conceit fell by the wayside as I couldn’t find a way of doing it that didn’t come off as too artificial.
AC: (I could totally see all of the anime influences it made me want to start reading manga again) How does you being autistic affect your writing? If at all?
RFB: So I’m trying to write another book right now, with the working title of Queer Young Punks (yeah queer sci-fi!), and writing from the perspective of non-autistic people is a little harder than I thought it’d be, I guess? I mean, I personally figure out people’s facial expressions by itemizing bits and pieces (raised eyebrow, wrinkle at the corner of the mouth, etc.) and comparing them to a mental list (how surprised was I to find that everybody else doesn’t need to do this, by the way? Very) which was great for writing Mouse, but I think it makes it harder to write neurotypical people. I keep finding myself overdescribing facial expressions and then walking it back going “no, this character would just know what that meant.” But that’s why I have friends, too, to read through things after I’ve written them and tell me if things sound off.
AC: Wow, I’d never really considered that! And this new book? Can you tell me more about that?
RFB: I can tell you a little but I can’t guarantee it’ll be the way it is when it’s done. It’s about a bunch of siblings, family tragedy, a conspiracy, and a parallel universe. It started off being set in a lowkey dystopian present, but over the past twelve months it’s just kind of turned into probably what next week will be like? Anyway after Mouse, I’m kind of trying to use my writing to more consciously work through my issues, this time with gender, so… I guess it’s cheaper than therapy? lol I’m planning on getting sensitivity reads done and major things might need to be changed so… yeah we’ll see how it goes.
AC: Are you planning/hoping for this new one to be published as well? There’s a distinct disparity between books about gender and books about sexuality. How has writing this helped?
RFB: Well I’m hopeful about it being published, and my publisher is interested in seeing it when it’s done, which is promising at least. As for gender and sexuality, well the main character is bi, which is pretty easy for me to write because I am too. But in the first chapter he finds himself physically transformed into a copy of his dead twin sister. So in some ways it’s a trans narrative, which is why I’m going to need sensitivity readers, but I really started writing it as a way of working out my own discomfort with masculinity and trying to figure out why I’m so uncomfortable in masculine spaces. I guess I still don’t know the answers, but I’m hoping writing this will help me figure some of them out. So to return to the question of publishing it, I’m a firm believer in the “first, do no harm” school of writing, so I’m not going to move ahead with it unless I can be sure I’m not going to hurt anyone reading it. Which is why, as I said before, some major things could change depending on what early readers take away from it.
AC: So, I don’t want to ask too many more, but what are you hoping to achieve with your writing, as in what do you want your first book, MOUSE, to affect, and any of your future writings?
RFB: I think the time in my life I enjoyed reading the absolute most was when I was in high school. It was a way to get to places that biking around suburbia just wouldn’t take you. So part of what I’m trying to achieve is to pass that feeling on to others, kind-of ‘paying it forward,’ as the saying goes. And the other part, with Mouse especially, is that I want autistic teens to be able to read something about someone at least a little like them, for whom autism isn’t the story. Most of the autism representation I’ve seen is like that Netflix show, where autism is essentially made out to be the plot: “main character is autistic, mayhem ensues,” sort of thing. But being autistic isn’t a story in itself, it’s a part of a character. We need more stories with autistic people doing things, having adventures or saving the world or falling in love (or all three, or more!), so that’s part of what I was trying to do with this one. As for the next, it’s still in progress, and I’m not sure yet what I want from it. I think it’ll tell me eventually, though.
AC: But wow, I really like that! It is definitely important for everyone to see themselves in novels, and I know that, personally, reading a story where the main character just happened to be enby was what really hit me, that people like me could be anything. I’m excited to read what you have next! 😀