It’s been a long time since Whedonopolis met James Christie, a man with Asperger’s Syndrome who decided one day to write a book on how he met Juliet Landau, best known for her role as Drusilla on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
Since that time the book has been well received. It was named one of the top romance books according to author Helena Fairfax. He’s been interviewed by the BBCand is now a regular blogger on the UK version of the Huffington Post. Whedonopolis caught up with him recently. More after the jump….Will you be sending a blog every week?
It depends on how much spare brainpower I have. As (hopefully) explained in Dear Miss Landau (DML), my major autistic disability is a massive deficit in information-processing ability. In brief, it’s as if a modern computer was powered by a twenty-year-old processor, so I have to nurse this faulty part along quite gently. If I get too tired, I can’t write. In fact, I can’t even think or speak all that well. Thankfully, my old brain has a form of back-up hardware which keeps me going, which is how I managed first time in Vegas after I’d been on a Greyhound bus for twelve hours. This is explained in more detail in chapter 37 of DML.
Luckily – in some ways, anyway – I am an unpaid external contractor, so within reason I can blog whenever I like.
How did you get the job?
Since Dear Miss Landau was published in March, Chaplin Books and myself have been exploring every single marketing possibility we can think of. In this case, Amanda Field (managing director of Chaplin) noticed the UK version of the Huffington Post had bloggers writing for it and asked them if they wanted a real-life Asperger blogging for them. They said “cool,” I supplied a couple of possible blogs, the deal was done and that was that.
Or perhaps there was a bit more to it than that. If life is a race towards redemption and Allah really does weave men’s destinies into many strange tapestries (a quote at the start of DML), perhaps another strand really was woven into the tapestry of my life. I had a short and inglorious period as a journalism trainee at a ghastly newspaper twenty-two years ago. I did not then know I was autistic and their idea of training was to put trainees under tremendous stress and try to make us do six things at once while also attending lectures in the badly mistaken assumption that this would make us “thrive” under pressure. For an Asperger, this was living hell. Ironically, I was the one they’d been counting on to come up with ideas, but their approach lost them all the potential they might have reaped, turned me against them for life and completely destroyed my self-esteem.
It was a very, very long, hard road back. I kept quiet about what had happened because whining about it would have sounded like the worst case of sour grapes in the world. The only way to redeem myself was, I felt, legitimately to make it into print. Specifically, I wanted to see the words:
“The moral right of James Christie to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.”
on the flyleaf of my book. One simple sentence, but the hardest thing in the world to do. Nor would I accept a compromise. The possibility of vanity publishing was always out there and self-publishing via Amazon is becoming easier and easier. When neuro-typicals started talking about such options, I just said no. I did wonder if I was being a bit black and white about it, but in the end the gold seal of authenticity can only be awarded when a professional publisher accepts your work on merit.
I am naturally eternally grateful to Amanda Field for doing so, but in some ways publication of Dear Miss Landau was the end of a long road, not its beginning.
Nevertheless, events did continue to take place, so I was quite pleased also to become a sort of feature article writer for the Huffington Post (UK), which was what I’d originally perceived myself to be when I was writing on the road in Australia. One does wonder what might have been if I’d been properly supported in the first place, though. Both the newspaper that nearly wrecked me and many other organisations go on and on about getting “passionate and talented” people and then seem hell-bent on beating that very talent out of them…
Maybe that will work in some cases, but perhaps the fact that I proved I really had talent by coming back from a personal pit of hell and pulling off the near-impossible means these organizations don’t always know as much as they think they do.
Are you given an assigned subject, or do you decide what to write about?
Basically the latter. The Huffington Post’s advice is that “the first thought is usually the best thought,” but although I am defined as a blogger that doesn’t mean I will then dash off a biased article without thinking. I’d say it is vital to have some idea of media law, to be able to verify my sources and/or to be willing to swear on oath that I was an eyewitness to an event depicted. If necessary, I would even consult a lawyer. In fact, I did all of these things when I wrote my second blog, and knew perfectly well that it still might not get past the UK blog team. Blogging may sound totally new and cutting-edge, but the same old rules of journalism still apply.
It’s been a while since Dear Miss Landau was published. How well has it sold, and are you satisfied with the response the book has been getting?
Well, my publisher once said to me that most first-time novelists sell an average of 15 copies. Dear Miss Landau is now pushing 2,000 and except for one lady who couldn’t stand it, has had superlative reviews. As I had to beat tremendous odds just to be published, and as the prospect of a second printing was a far-distant dream on the horizon not too long ago, I am pretty satisfied, but I do feel there are further dreams which should become reality…
What about the readers? What have they said about it?
Tim Coates said on Radio 4’s A Good Read that Dear Miss Landau was:
“the best book I’ve read for ten years.”
And this was combined with presenter Harriett Gilbert’s highly perceptive comment that seeing the world through my eyes was “really riveting.” This was because she felt that, unlike books such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, my autism was the real thing, not merely a novelist’s ‘device’ – and unlike many memoirs which purported to be accurate but turn out not to be so – “what you’re getting with Dear Miss Landau is the truth.”
I considered the “device” comment very complimentary, and based on that wonder if Dear Miss Landau is the first true autistic adventure story ever written?
I’m not sure. Seven Pillars of Wisdom might have a prior claim, although Lawrence of Arabia was never formally diagnosed with Aspergers…
Another reviewer on Goodreads.com said that:
“I read this constantly thinking “is this for real?” An autistic Scottish man in his 40s has an obsession with a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and writes a 250,000 word novel based on the character and ends up traveling to Hollywood and meeting the actress who plays her. You couldn’t make it up.
I think that review sums up the whole thing rather well. If the tale of Dear Miss Landau had been a fictional screenplay set for a Hollywood pitch, it might have seemed over-plotted and unrealistic, but it all really happened and proves, I suppose, that truth sometimes really is stranger than fiction.
I wasn’t sure how I’d react to a bad review, but in the event it didn’t bother me at all. In some ways the book others read is for me only a reflection of the life I lived and I can say with authority that it described and recounted real events very closely. Plot holes weren’t plot holes – they were things I genuinely got wrong or forgot to do! And if one day scholars of literature could travel back in time and observe events as they actually unfolded, then they really would (metaphorically speaking) see a lanky bloke stealing the Enterprise for his Helen of Troy that first day in March 2010. They could sit at another table in that
Starbucks Drive-Thru in Barstow on the 12th, watch me make contact on Juliet the Notebook while coming in on a wing and a prayer, or wait a little way from me on Sunset Boulevard, where I met my dear Miss Landau one Sunday morning not so long ago.
Is blogging tougher than writing a book?
In all honesty, it’s probably a bit easier. To gain the ability to write Dear Miss Landau, I had to practice for two decades, get myself traumatized at work, go through a near-nervous breakdown, rebuild myself and send myself across the world to a once-in-a-lifetime meeting on Sunset Boulevard.
In the case of blogging, all I have to do is utilize some of that ability to write about five hundred words about what’s pissing me off that week. Without deadlines to worry about, I’m not under excessive pressure, so it’s not too stressful.
I’ve also had five or six year’s blogging experience thrashing my former “profession” of librarianship on Tim Coates’ Good Library Blog. Tim, I’d better explain, is the former CEO of the UK bookstores/retailers WH Smith and Waterstones, a library campaigner, and founder of the e-book store Bilbary. I am also writing my own thread entitled Dear Miss Landau on SlayAlive’s fan website.
[Rest of the interview will be posted on Tuesday]