Cheryl Interviews Heidi Cullinan
Cheryl: There is a saying my son is fond of – If you’ve met one person with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)…you’ve met one person with ASD. There are so many different shades on the spectrum, as many as on the Rainbow Spectrum. I love how you’ve reflected this in that all your autistic characters are very different. Where did you do your research on the different shades of the ASD spectrum?
Heidi: I worked in my twenties with youth and elderly adults with autism, and so I learned first-hand there is no single autism experience. I also, for reasons I can’t explain, found I was drawn to my clients with autism (I worked in broad environments with multiple disabilities) and they to me. In my life now, in researching for Carry the Ocean I confirmed what I’d long suspected, that my daughter has light spectrum tendencies, and as she read the book earlier this year, she said she identified with Emmet and agreed with my assessment. (I hadn’t realized how much I’d based Emmet on her until she said this.)
Cheryl: My son is autistic. In some ways he is very like Emmett, but without being so obvious. It’s difficult for him because he looks and behaves normally…until he doesn’t. Do you think it’s, in some ways, easier for those whose disability is more obvious?
Heidi: Such a tricky thing, isn’t it? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Yes, because one can slip into a crowd, and strive, and do, and have agency other disabilities are denied. But then sometimes more difficult, because not having that awareness from others around you that you have extra needs becomes a potential for misunderstanding and struggle. So I would say yes and no. My daughter has faced this with her anxiety, though she has become better at adapting as she’s aged. Sometimes her adaptation is a good thing, but the better she adapts, the more difficult it is to explain to people that the only reason she’s doing so well is because of the adaptations, and this takes a great deal of effort.
Cheryl: Emmett is fortunate to have found his perfect job. Other people with ASD or mental illness find it difficult not to fall at the first hurdle when they can’t cope with interview. What advice would Emmett or Jeremy have for them?
Heidi: This was something I debated, giving Emmet a perfect job—it’s possible, I checked, and in fact my husband’s friend at Workiva said, “Does he exist? Can we hire him?”—but yes, in general people with any kind of disability struggle to find any employment, let alone something where they feel they have agency. I would say Emmet and Jeremey would say to keep striving but to look hard and be clever about how and where you look, and to push. Claiming agency in a world that doesn’t want to or has no motivation to give you that agency will take effort, and you’ll need to take it yourself. Get help, too, from family and friends and caseworkers. Anywhere you can find it. And don’t quit. Don’t give up on your dreams, but do find creative ways to achieve them. Perhaps you can’t be an astronaut, not the way you wanted. But how else could you get to the moon? If not literally, then how could you be there in another way? Push and push and push until you get as close to your dream as you can.
Cheryl: Does Emmett have anything to say about whether ASD should be considered a disability? Or about the fact it’s impossible to access help and services without it?
Heidi: I would say Emmet is conflicted. He’s practical in that (as he discussed in book one) he’s open to calling autism a disorder because his brain operates differently, but I think as he ages and discovers prejudice in the world more directly he is more sensitive to language and the need to watch how he allows people to label him. I think he gets annoyed that he must do this though, that the world can’t be as black and white as he would like, because for him it is and all this nonsense people put on it makes things needlessly complicated and hurtful, and because he can’t even understand it he can’t solve it, and at this point I think he needs his sensory sack.
Cheryl: Some of the things Emmett has developed to help with communication (like different shirts and his own set of signs) are great and would work well for others, I’m sure. Has he thought of writing a pamphlet with hints and tips for those with ASD and those who come into contact with people on the spectrum. Of course this is open to Jeremy too, for hints and tips on how to cope with social anxiety and depression (which often goes hand-in-hand with ASD)
Heidi: Oh dear lord I think you just gave him a plot bunny for book three. Hush, I have a year’s worth of stuff to get to first and he’ll have to write those pamphlets himself for right now.
Cheryl: Emmett would hate it in my house. I’m ashamed to say that, despite my son’s ASD (maybe because of it) my house, and life, is chaos. What are Emmett’s top five things he hates, as far as organization (or lack of it) goes. For example, is it worse to have a cup handle turned the wrong way, or to have a plan change at short notice?
Heidi: If you could see inside my head…
Cup handle, he says, but it’s not the cup, it’s the lack of order, because when things are out of order, especially in his own space, it upsets his internal order and starts a cascade that is very upsetting. It seems to represent something in his brain that is just bad and wrong and he doesn’t want to talk about it much except to say, “It’s bad.” Plans are bad to have changed, and he says it was worse when he was young, but he’s used to it now. He doesn’t like it, and it’s as bad as a cup, but he can deal with it. Oh, okay. I get it. He says the house order and his own space being exact is how he manages the stress of things such as plans which he can’t control. Makes sense.
He says he would be fine in your house for a short time and he’s sure it’s a nice house, but he would be happy to help you make your space clean and happy if you wanted. I’m not sure how exactly he plans to cross the logistical fiction/reality barrier, but I’ll let you two sort that out.
Cheryl: For Jeremy – how difficult is it to live with someone who always has to have the cup handles in the same direction. (PS I know the answer to this but was interested what others might thing )
Heidi: LOL. He says it is quite difficult, but the notes help a lot, and he manages it because he loves Emmet and knows it’s something that he needs. Having his own bedroom is a big help as well, even though he also has to keep that cleaner than he normally would. He does enjoy a clean space, though, so in the end he benefits. It does stress him out a little worrying if he’s kept things neat enough, but he simply does his best and apologizes when he doesn’t meet Emmet’s standards.
He’s blushing as he adds this next part, but he says make up sex is a nice perk.
Cheryl: A question for Emmett’s mother. Do you ever wish Emmett was “normal”? This is a question that is raised a lot in the support groups I attend.
Heidi: Oh my, did you lob that at me on purpose? I wouldn’t let her write the three thousand word response she wanted, and so I am obliged to begin with
(she wanted more exclamation points)
but more calmly, she adds that Emmet is normal, he is her son, he is wonderful and perfect as he is. If he were different, he wouldn’t be Emmet. She would rather the world learned to accept who he is and his needs than he change to fit them. She’s all for therapies which help him succeed but not things which alter who he is inside.
She wanted to go get links to about six articles but I told her that was a whole nother interview.
Cheryl: Another question to Emmett’s parents. What are your hopes and dreams for you son in the future? I would ask the same question to Jeremy’s parents but I dislike them and am not interested in what they have to say.
LOL yes that dog is best left alone.
Emmet’s parents want him to be happy and successful in whatever he chooses to do. They wish the best for him and Jeremey, and they want to help and support them in their efforts in their life together, without getting in the way (but leaping in whenever asked). In short, they want what every parent wants, but they also want the world to see their son the way they see him, without seeing his disabilities first. But they aren’t terribly worried, because if anyone can cure them of their misconceptions about who he is, it’s Emmet.
Shelter the Sea (The Roosevelt #2)
Published ~ 18th April 2017
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Some heroes wear capes. Some prefer sensory sacks.
Emmet Washington has never let the world define him, even though he, his boyfriend, Jeremey, and his friends aren’t considered “real” adults because of their disabilities. When the State of Iowa restructures its mental health system and puts the independent living facility where they live in jeopardy, Emmet refuses to be forced into substandard, privatized corporate care. With the help of Jeremey and their friends, he starts a local grassroots organization and fights every step of the way.
In addition to navigating his boyfriend’s increased depression and anxiety, Emmet has to make his autistic tics acceptable to politicians and donors, and he wonders if they’re raising awareness or putting their disabilities on display. When their campaign attracts the attention of the opposition’s powerful corporate lobbyist, Emmet relies on his skill with calculations and predictions and trusts he can save the day—for himself, his friends, and everyone with disabilities.
He only hopes there isn't a variable in his formula he’s failed to foresee.
:: Cheryl’s Review ::
Carry the Ocean (The Roosevelt #1)
Normal is just a setting on the dryer.
High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The young man with a double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he has autism.
But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When Jeremey’s untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility.
As Jeremey and Emmet find their feet at The Roosevelt, they begin to believe they can be loved for the men they are beyond their disabilities. But before they can trust enough to fall head over heels, they must trust their own convictions that friendship is a healing force and love can overcome any obstacle.
Meet Heidi Cullinan
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family.
Rafflecopter Prize Carry the Ocean + Shelter the Sea signed paperbacks and Roosevelt Blues Brother kit (black fedora and skinny tie)