Austin, Minnesota: An Autism-Friendly Town

 

The Famous Hormel Historic Home

In my novel True Mercy, Bruce often had to worry about his son Adam’s behavior in social settings. But if the story took place in Austin, Minnesota, he would have had much less to worry about. That’s because Austin is an autism-friendly town. Ten years ago, the community used their resources to educate local business owners about autism and train them to be aware of these customers’ needs. The town even has a community autism resource specialist. Therefore, Austin’s residents are probably more aware than most about the signs of autism that my story’s character Adam displayed: intense fixation on specific topics, unusual body movements like hands flapping, echolalia (word repetition), and meltdowns caused by feeling overwhelmed.

So how did the small town of Austin make itself autism-friendly? Just go in the Hormel Historic Home, a nonprofit museum dedicated to all things Spam, the canned meat that has been produced by Hormel Foods there for 81 years. Mary Barinka works there. She once worked as a Hormel marketing executive and is now the town’s autism resource specialist as well as a museum employee. Barinka has a sixteen-year-old daughter with autism. Along with working at the museum, she handles questions and requests from parents that can range from how to give a presentation to new business owners and their employees on becoming autism-friendly, where to find a good speech therapist, and how to help a local community college launch a special autism program.

You may wonder what business owners must do to make their establishments autism-friendly. Often individuals with autism react negatively to overstimulation, so these changes can include dimming the store’s lights, lowering the music volume, and training employees to speak slowly and in short phrases, and to be prepared to have more patience than usual.

The program began when retired Hormel executive and family friend Gary Ray asked Barinka if her then six-year-old daughter was able to participate in summer camp. Barinka told him she and her husband would like her to attend camp but it was not possible because they would need the camp to understand their daughter’s special needs and they would have to hire a helper. Ray and his wife then offered a donation for Barinka to start a camp. She jumped on it. The Ray’s have since donated over $100,000 to fund more programs such as a monthly respite night with children’s activities to give parents and caregivers a break, a peer program at the high school where student volunteers to spend time with another high schooler with autism one-on-one, day camps, and of course, the museum.

Hearing about the town’s programs, new families have moved in. Barinka also gets calls for advice from other towns who would like to set up their own autism-friendly programs.

Perhaps someday I will be able to visit Austin, Minnesota. I am sure my fictional character Adam and real-life individuals with autism would thrive in this town.

Information for this post came from The Washington Post article “The town that gave the world Spam is proud to be ‘autism-friendly’ by Amy Ellis Nutt.

True Mercy can be purchased on Amazon, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Share this:

Book Review: Library at the Edge of the World: Moving Forward after Personal Setbacks

My apologies for this late blog. It has been a hectic few weeks. Hope to get back on schedule

 

I recently read the book The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. Taking place in a small seaside community in Ireland, Hanna Casey returns to her mother’s home after living in London for years after her divorce from her cheating husband. Before marriage, Hanna had dreamed of studying to be a librarian and eventually working at a major public library in London. But when she met her English husband in her teens, she gave up her dream to support her husband’s burgeoning career as a successful attorney. Upon finding out he had a mistress for years who was a close friend of the family, Hanna took their daughter and returned home to Ireland. Deeply embarrassed, she appears standoffish and churlish to members of her community. Her relationship with her overly critical mother grows increasingly tense and she becomes determined to fix up a run-down cottage that was left to her by a great-aunt. She now runs a tiny library in town and drives out to distant communities with her mobile library van.  It was certainly not the life she had planned or enjoyed with her husband in England. But when the town council plans to close it down, Hanna discovers she has the support and affection of her community. She also discovers she has more strength and confidence than she realizes as she fights the powers-that-be to save her job and continuing her mission to provide books to those in her far-flung community.

Even though Hanna’s original plans do not materialize, she learns to appreciate the richness of her present life and make peace with it.

Quote: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

–Joseph Campbell

Share this:

Pachinko: A Potential Modern Masterpiece Falls Short

 

 

When I began reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, I initially thought this was the best book I have read so far this year. I had planned on writing a stellar book review. A National Book Award finalist, it tells the story of an impoverished sixteen-year-old girl named Sunja in 1930’s Korea. Sunja has a relationship with Hansu, a wealthy, powerful, older businessman who frequents her region. Sunja naively believes Hansu will marry her. Only when she gets pregnant and reveals she is carrying his child does she find out he is a married man who lives in Japan. Hansu, who has three daughters with his wife, wants Sunja to be his wife when he travels to Korea.  Knowing this is not honorable, Sunja rejects his offer for a much easier life and stays with her mother while they struggle to make ends meet. Soon, she meets Isak, a Korean missionary on his way to Japan to help build a church. Isak is willing to marry her and does not even question who fathered her child. He selflessly wants to give the unborn child a name. They move to Japan where Sunja gives birth to a son.

Unlike the first half of the book where the reader encounters characters living lives of quiet nobility, the second half is filled with vengeful and sexually depraved characters who wreak havoc. The writing is polished and author Lee offers beautiful imagery in her descriptions (“The sea was bluer than she had remembered, and the long, thin clouds seemed paler—everything seemed more vibrant with him here.”). But unfortunately, the characters go from Biblical in majesty to wreaking sensationalized tragedies. Lee spends too much time on the challenges of minor characters and transforms a few from kind and friendly to malicious in a single scene. The emphasis becomes Japanese racism of Koreans, depriving them of good careers and citizenship, despite their families having lived in Japan for generations. Lee never clearly explains what pachinko is, but I gather it is a gambling casino, one of the few jobs Koreans can work and make a decent living in Japan. By the end, the beauty of the story and its characters are lost and all the reader is left to contemplate is Japanese bigotry and foreign powers taking control of Korea itself, splitting the nation in half. Koreans in Japan no longer have their homes in Korea and those from the North who return end up starving to death. Thus, most have no choice but to endure the ongoing discrimination in Japan. An unsatisfying read after a remarkable beginning.

Share this:

Resources for a Writing Career

In my last blog post, I mentioned the the abundance of difficulties writers face getting published and adequately paid. But writers can find help in getting their writing careers started. Below is a list of resources that have helped guide me through the complicated landscape of the writing world:

 

  • Jane Friedman is a noted writer, editor, and speaker. She worked in the publishing industry for 20 years and now writes articles for Writer’s Digest and Publishers Weekly. Her newsletter, Electric Speed, gives updates on the writing world. Her website (https://www.janefriedman.com/) contains an abundance of resources. Friedman is upfront about what works and what doesn’t. Her latest book, The Business of Being a Writer, gives honest information and doesn’t candy-coat the challenges of writing. She offers advice for both self-published and traditionally published authors.

 

  • BookBaby (https://www.bookbaby.com/) is a self-publishing, book printing, and distribution company. They offer services to help an author publish, market, and distribute their book. There is a price for their services but they have a good reputation for helping guide authors. I haven’t used their services myself, but I did attend their writing conference in Philadelphia last year and listened as many industry experts gave presentations. BookBaby has also a newsletter.

 

  • Alliance of Independent Authors or ALLi (https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/) is an organization for self-published authors. I love their chart rating self-publishing author services. They also have a watchdog desk that monitors possible scams. They offer free booklets, discounts, and legal advice dealing with contracts and other issues. ALLi also offer free seminars.

 

  • Independent Book Publishers Association or IBPA (https://www.ibpa-online.org/) is another organization that offers self-published authors services like discounts for marketing services and placement at book fairs and catalogs. They clarify the prevailing language  and procedures in the publishing world and offer writing and marketing webinars as well as advocacy. The IBPA partnered with BookBaby at the Philadelphia conference I attended last year.

 

 

  • Writer Beware (https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) is an Internet resource I refer to often. I receive so much information from so-called publishers, invitations to submit to writing contests, and book marketing programs that the first thing I always do is go on the Writer Beware website to find out if they are legitimate organizations based on other writers’ experiences . If Writer Beware gives them a thumbs-down, I don’t bother to investigate them any further.

 

I just want to add that while I struggle in my writing career, I still plug away. Like most writers, I know I have to be persistent if I hope to succeed. But these resources provide invaluable guidance in the writing field today.

 

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller novel intended to bring awareness to two issues: families dealing with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is available on Amazon, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Share this:

Grappling with the Harsh Realities of Being a Writer

 

I admit I never read the book but have always remembered the title: Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.

Oh, how I wish that were true for a writer!

But unfortunately, it isn’t. The reality is that most writers cannot make a living on their writing. They have to take on noncreative writing jobs like technical writing or work another job entirely and write on the side. This is as true now as it has been since time immemorial.

But still, deep frustration persists within me.

When a person trains as a nurse, they can make a decent living with nursing. When a carpenter trains in their profession, they can live on their earnings. So it is with a chef. And on and on.

But a writer, whether they receive a degree or learn through intensive studying, cannot make a living on writing. And as with all other professions, writing involves years of practice. Writers have to spend time learning the craft and staying on top of trends that interest current readers.  In addition, some forms of writing involve legwork and/or extensive research.

And for those yearning to make their mark through publication, tremendous obstacles abound.

Unless a person is blessed with miraculous good fortune, getting traditionally published normally takes years. Rejection is a way of life in this business. But today, writers are fortunate to have a chance to see their work in printed books through self-publishing. For me, since I did not want to go through the hurdles and years of rejection before getting traditionally published, which is always a big MAYBE, I decided to self-publish my first book, True Mercy. I don’t regret my choice, but many self-published writers do because they are many “publishing services” that help writers with the process of getting an author’s work to publication but they are also scam artists. You can go on the Internet or attend a writers’ conference to find stories of writers getting ripped off, losing the rights to their own work, and filing court complaints against self-publishing services. There are legitimate ones for sure, but if you are planning to enlist the services of one, proceed with caution and do your research.

Also, nobody can explain the ins and outs of the publishing world or where to submit a manuscript better than an agent. Yet again, unless a person receives divine intervention or has the luck of the Irish, it normally takes years to find an agent willing to take the chance of representing a writer who is neither a celebrity nor a prominent person with deep connections.

So, if your passion and vocation is writing, how can you face all of these tremendous obstacles?

In my next blog, I will make suggestions based on the advice of nationally-known writing and book marketing experts. As a struggling writer myself, one piece of advice I will give is despite being overwhelmingly difficult to make a living, don’t give up on your passion if that makes you happy. The joy one gets from writing shouldn’t be abandoned due to the lack of monetary reimbursement. The satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment from composing compelling and/or entertaining literary work that gives pleasure to others has its own rewards.

Share this: