The Trojan Horse of Shock Value- Poop

Why a children’s book author would write a book called Poop.


No one ever said writing is without risk. Writing is a funny thing, people ask all the time for you to bear your soul and to be as honest as possible. Actually, only writing that is honest, perceptive, and takes a risk has any shot of being noticed by readers. Yet, even when we bare our core there is still a chance that people won’t like it, or worse, they simply won’t care.

When I started working on Poop two years ago, I was in a bad place both financially and spiritually. I did what most writers do when they can’t figure life out; we write. I purchased a little red Moleskin journal, the writer’s confidant, and plotted out a story about a boy who was also going through a hard time and his imaginary friend that would help him go through it. The plot sat at the front of the book, though I didn’t have all of it, and I would reference back and forth as the year went on and the story continued.

Normally I don’t hand write work, it takes too long, but there is a certain magic that happens when you slow down. Text gets more dense, meaning becomes more layered, and the texture of the words feel organic. The red notebook came out anytime that life got particularly stressful. One of the key moments in the book was even worked on as a real estate agent was negotiating the contract for the house I was living in in the room next to me- a contract that would eventually lead to me needing to find a new home. Emotions charge writing, even if that emotion doesn’t come through on the page.

I wanted Poop to be honest. I wanted it to have emotion, to feel like something that actually happened. Characters were allowed to act on their own, say what they wanted to, and only move the plot forward when they felt like it. Many times I had to restructure the plot simply to afford a character who had made a different decision and, unlike most of my work, I had no idea what the ending would be until the book was almost done.

Poop came from a vast reserve of life experience- much of the plot actually happened to me. During the writing I underwent two cat scans and an endoscopy to root out the cause of my own stomach issues. I had arguments with loved ones just like Liam did and I came to some of the same conclusions on maturity and life that Liam eventually holds. In short, I was translating and understanding my own real world experience into this book. It felt like crystallization, like the memories were being converted into something more solid. Yet it wasn’t a journal.

When I finally finished, I started to understand what I had created. This book, the one with a smiling pile of poo on the cover, was actually about maturity. It was a Trojan horse ready to spring on unsuspecting readers. Liam’s journey through the book is one of self-realization in regards to his place in the world. He starts off feeling like he is the butt of existence, at the mercy of everyone, and it slowly dawns on him that not only is the world not against him- the world really could care less about him.

While that may seem like a harsh lesson, in reality it’s a great relief to the boy. That moment when we realize that life isn’t about us is crucial to maturity. It’s a threshold that some adults never cross (Liam’s father is just such an adult.) This change is entirely facilitated by Liam’s imaginary friend, Poop, who is in actuality Liam’s sense of fatherhood guiding him through the process.

Liam makes mistakes, he acts out for attention, and he heroically strives to solve his problems. He is everything that I wish I was and, eventually, what I became in my own life. For me, Poop represents turning your weaknesses into your strengths through a process of confronting life. Writing the book, in the same way that Liam writes his essay for the climax, was an alchemical process turning a miserable situation into inner peace.

My greatest hope for this book is for it to translate that same process for children going through their own difficulties. Yes, most of the people that respond to it have suffered from celiac or some other stomach condition, however, maturity is something that we all grapple with at one time or another- if not continually.

So why would a writer risk his reputation to publish something with a shocking title? Answer: when a writer feels that it’s the best avenue for conveying truth.

Poop is out and available for your Kindle and in Print. Follow this link to claim your copy.

My Autism, Colette Evangelista- Fellow Fridays

My autism is a part of who I am, like the sound of my laugh and the color of my hair….”

At this point and time I am a dinosaur.  Ten years ago when I noticed that my son seemed a bit “off”, Google predominately said that the three signs of autism were “non-verbal, doesn’t make eye contact, not affectionate”.  Or something to that effect.  My son was a hugger.  He had 12 whole words (for a solid year).  It can’t be autism.  When I questioned our pediatrician at a chronic ear infection visit, he got frustrated that my son kept flipping the lights on and off and opening the cabinet doors over and over.  He was however extremely impressed that a 15 month old could write the most perfect alphabet on the crinkled paper covering the examination table using crayons.  His expert opinion was that I was a “first-time mom” hypochondriac.

When the diagnosis actually came, it knocked my feet out from underneath me.  It would take years before I would even begin to find my equilibrium again.  Why?  Because I hit the hamster wheel.  Fix it.  Fix it. Fix it.  Try this.  Try that.  Do this.  Do that.  Diet.  ABA.  Therapy.  Shots.  Horses…….  WHERE IS MY MAGIC WAND?!?!?  Everyone else seemed to have one.

One night I lay in bed choking on my fear and failure.  I got up, went downstairs, banged out “My Autism” in about twenty minutes, and then promptly forgot all about it.  For 3 years.

I gave up.  Not totally.  I would never do that.  Too much at stake.  But I let go of the intensity of it.  I did my best.  I started to realize that I sucked at implementing ABA in our day, but I was good at pushing my son outside his comfort zone.  I tried to give him as much solid nutrition as possible but didn’t cry over another night where I allowed  Dominos to be for dinner.  

And one typical day in the middle of the week, my son was standing in our kitchen.  I looked at him and had a breathtaking moment of clarity.  He was perfect.  As he was.  I no longer saw “autism” flashing on his forehead.  Autism was one part of who he was, but certainly not all of it.  Autism was now neutral.  How did that happen?  When did that happen?  For years it was something to fight.  To fix.  What total crap.  What a total waste of energy.  My son deserved to have every part of him loved.  And that included the autism.  How could I have conveyed that there was a part of him that was not right?  That his beautiful self could have aspects to it that were scary and broken?  

Let’s be clear.  I had to stop right there.  I had already spent years punishing myself with the guilt of all the things I had done wrong.  Or worse, there were the “right” things I didn’t do enough of.  Now my energy would be directed at acceptance.  “Dear Lord…please help me to love with kindness and without judgment or agenda.”  It was time to celebrate all the good and do our best with what we had to work with.

And then I remembered “My Autism”.  I went back and looked at it.  I wrote THAT?  This positive story from a child’s perspective about having autism?  But  that wasn’t MY truth at the time.  How could I have done that?  

It’s been said that…as autism advocates….it is our job to be the voice of those who need help communicating their message.  “My Autism”  is my son’s truth.  This is our kid’s truth.

My autism is a part of who I am, just like the sound of my laugh and the color of my hair….”

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Colette’s Website: http://www.everyonehasautism.com/

Colette’s “My Autism” Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/MyAutismbook/

Writing for Autistic Children

Back in February of this year (2016) I had the pleasure of visiting a class via Skype. I didn’t know this going in, but the class was mostly composed of children on the Autism spectrum. They had a profound love of my books and that drove me to understand more about their needs and how to better serve their families.

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I went on Instagram and started interacting with the parents of ASD children. This led to a lot of fantastic conversations and a heaping helping of empathy on my part. I realized that I had an unusually large number of autistic friends (and former partners) and that the connection between myself and ASD was that I tended to be both over-sensitive and over emotive. My illustrations and writing also have the same tendency.

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So the question became, what kind of books could I make specifically for this audience?  One mother in particular, Mrs. Contreras (who also wrote the dedication for the new book), had a striking story to tell. Her three children are all on the spectrum, albeit at varying ends of the chart, and her household peace exists in a precarious balance. I asked her directly “What could a book do to improve your life?”

“Honestly,” she replied, “I just want to tell my son that it’s okay to hug me.”

I can’t imagine much that’s more painful than your own child refusing physical contact with you.

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From there we discussed pattern breaking (as I brutally phrase it) where a parent is able to convince or coax an ASD child off of an ingrained habit. Usually the pattern is disruptive in some way to either the child’s life or the parent’s well being. Notable examples include needing the parents nearby to sleep, keeping the house pin-drop quiet, or having one specific toy at bath time.

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I couldn’t address all of these issues, but I wanted to create a frame for discussion and specifically talk about Mrs. Contreras chief concern: intimacy. This subject became the central point of the book. The rest of the story, and I’m using that term loosely here, is focused on statement pairs. The first statement normalizes the pattern behavior while the second statement suggests something new that is outside of the pattern. I didn’t want to chide children for doing something that comes natural to them, neither did I want to fall into the trope of “you are a special snowflake that needs separate treatment because you’re not normal.” (I hate any attempt at division, even well-intended division.) The final pattern can be replicated endlessly and my hope is that parents will create their own pairs for their children.

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Once we had the story and the sketches down, I started showing the book to other parents on Instagram. The feedback was fabulous and contributed a lot to the look and feel of the book (even my own father got in the act by demanding better backgrounds.) I also met a therapist that specialized in working with ASD children, Saundra S. Harris M.Ed., CCC-SLP, who was kind enough to create a letter to the parents for the book- to which I am supremely grateful. Other parents noted that the simple language and direct illustrations were well suited to the audience. They were glad that I didn’t go into metaphor land.

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All in all, let his was the most collaborative project I have ever done. It’s my sincerest hope that this work is truly helpful to families out there coping with ASD issues. Doing work like this restricts the audience, as “It’s Ok to Hug” is by no means a bedtime story, but that’ skins of the point. Books are like shoes, there’s no one size fits all, and I much prefer to make books that people need rather than guess what people will want.

“It’s Ok to Hug” is available now on the Amazon Kindle store and on Apple’s iBook platform.