Mary Calhoun Brown – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

There Are No Words tells the story of Jaxon MacKenzie, a twelve-year-old girl who is both autistic and nonverbal. The night after she finds a faded newspaper clipping of the worst train wreck in US history, Jaxon falls into an old oil painting in her grandparents parlor. She lands in 1918 where she can speak for the first time and determines that she must attempt to stop the train. Ultimately Jaxon must decide whether to stay in the past where she can speak or move on to her own future without words.

I’m excited to tell you that There Are No Words has been named “Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities” by IBBY, won “Runner-Up” in the Middle Grade/ Young Adult category at the Nashville Book Festival and has been nominated for the Autism Society’s “Outstanding Literary Work of the Year.”

Tell us something about yourself.

The most wonderful perk about being a writer is being able to live where I want to live. My husband and I and our three sons have chosen to live in beautiful Huntington, West Virginia, where I am daily inspired by nature and the humble spirit of my neighbors.

Aside from being named the “fattest city in the U.S.” by Jamie Oliver, Huntington is the birthplace of autism awareness. Autism pioneer Dr. Ruth Sullivan, my personal hero, has created an environment of love and acceptance in this town that is unparalleled. She has inspired me to serve as an advocate for children and adults on the autism spectrum. A percentage of every book I sell goes to autism charities.

What inspired you to write this book?

Do you remember what middle school was like? Basically, it’s horrible. The teasing. The bullying. The teenage angst. Now imagine you’re just slightly different than everyone else. Children with developmental disabilities, like autism, bear the brunt of their peers’ bad behavior.

I wanted to create a story about a regular girl. She’s bright. She’s pretty. She has curly hair. Oh yeah, and she’s autistic. Jaxon isn’t less than anyone, just different.

One in 100 children are born with some type of autism. That means one person out of every 100 understands perfectly what it means to be autistic. My goal with There Are No Words is to begin educating the 99 peers who will surround the one every day. Teachers don’t have time for character education. That’s why There Are No Words meets state education standards for fourth through eighth grades, and I give free curriculum guides to teachers. It’s simple, really. Teachers get a comprehensive curriculum and meet state testing requirements and character education all at the same time.

How did you publish this book?

There Are No Words was published traditionally by Lucky Press, LLC.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I knew I wanted to write the first time I realized I could put letters on paper and others could decipher what I was saying. My first stories are curiously lacking vowels, but my moter kept a few of those. I love them.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

Since this is my debut novel, I learned about the publishing industry with this book. I learned to have a good editor and how to write a query letter. I learned to take rejection and to accept success with humility.

What are you reading now?

I read several books at once. The short list of what I’m reading includes House Rules by Jody Piccoult, On Writing by Stephen King, The Social Meda Bible, The Thief Taker and Pride and Prejudice. (For the record, I’m always reading Pride and Prejudice. When I finish, I just start over.)

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I absolutely love Jane Austen. Her writing is brilliantly witty and always character-driven. I imagine her pretending to read but secretly watching the ridiculous behavior of those around her… and then writing about it. I literally snort with laughter. Folks in the autism community speculate that Jane Austen had Asperger’s Syndrome.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

As with anything, hard work breeds success. You can write all you want, but unless you work HARD to be published, no one will ever read it. Getting published is as much a part of writing as the creative process itself. You will be rejected. A lot. Get over it and move on.

The other tip I would pass along is this… you will always make more money if you sell the book personally. When someone buys my book from my web site or through a personal visit, I make dollars. When purchases are made through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, I make cents. Big difference.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

Promotion. Ugh. This is my least favorite part about being a writer. Because my book was published by a small press, I am using social media (Twitter, Facebook and MANY others) as one way to promote my book. I’ve entered contests and send out countless review copies. I speak in schools and conferences and have enlisted the help of combined book exhibitions to take the book to shows and conferences that I can’t personally visit. The promotion phase of book publishing takes time away from writing my next book. I can’t wait to start writing again.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

There Are No Words is available at http://marycalhounbrown.com, at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Wholesalers for the book include Quality Paperback Books and Brodart and Ingram. A portion of all sales goes to autism charities.

I’m all over the web, so a simple Google search will give you nearly 100,000 places where more information can be found.