Mary A. Johnson, Ph.D., is a counselor who semi-retired from private practice to focus on writing nonfiction. In 2015, she published her first book, A Caregiver’s Guide: Insights into the Later Years (PMJ Associates, Inc. Press). Her newest release is the memoir Love and Asperger’s: Jim and Mary’s Excellent Adventure (Atmosphere Press, 2021). You’ll find Mary on her website at MaryAJohnsonPhD.com, on Facebook, and on her Amazon author page.
What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Love and Asperger’s?
I tell the true story of falling in love with a person who has Asperger’s Syndrome and the excellent adventure that followed.
While writing the memoir, were you ever afraid of revealing too much about your life?
It was a sobering experience to make myself vulnerable by sharing intimate details of our life together. Telling the story, even years after it happened, was an emotional journey in which I had to put the project aside at times, to regain my composure. I had some hesitancy about some of the things I included, but I wanted the story to be factual, as a memoir ought to be, so some details needed to be shared. I left out some things that would have been true (but possibly hurtful to some people) because the purpose of the book was a positive one, to share information about Asperger’s and mine and Jim’s life. My motivation to be positive kept me writing, past the tendency to insert tangential stories.
Tell us how the book came together.
My second husband, Jim, asked me to write the book. I promised him I would, so I was bound by my promise. I began it a few weeks after his death, using notes of memorable events, backed up by emails we exchanged. I read over fifty books by both experts and ordinary people who had experience with Asperger’s, broadening my knowledge base. Even as a licensed counselor who had diagnosed many clients with Asperger’s, I had a lot to learn!
I realize the pandemic was a terrible thing, and I don’t diminish its horror to many people, but for me, it was a time of isolation without distractions, which enabled me to finish the book. My first draft, after over four years, was in excess of 600 pages! Lots of editing by myself, beta readers, and professional editors whittled it down to a manageable length. I contracted with a hybrid indie publisher that provided cover design from my photo and did the final formatting.
Do you have a favorite quote from the book you’d like to share?
A favorite quote, which provided the title for me, was one from Jim when someone asked about a move we were preparing to make. “It will be Jim and Mary’s excellent adventure!” Jim replied.
Did you discover anything surprising while doing research for this project?
I was surprised by the wealth of information available now about autism, including Asperger’s Syndrome, and the varying opinions of experts about the condition.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
I answered this for the most part in a previous question, but I added “Love and Asperger’s” to attract readers who were interested in the topic. At first, I had the title reversed, with “Jim and Mary’s…” before the “Love and Asperger’s.” Then one of my beta readers said, “Reverse the components of the title, to grab readers’ attention who are interested in Asperger’s.” Wise decision, and another reason to have honest betas on your team!
What was the expected, or unexpected, result of writing Love and Asperger’s?
I could never have predicted the overwhelming positive response to the book. I was fortunate to have David Steinberg of the Sunday Albuquerque Journal feature it as Book of the Week in June, and have received many emails from that article, as well as several speaking engagements. I have been asked to give a 90-minute presentation for OASIS on April 2, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. Another unexpected result was the constant request for an audio version, which I hadn’t planned to do. I have finished the recording, and the final product should be available by Thanksgiving, but for sure before the end of the year.
When you tackle a nonfiction project, do you think of it as storytelling?
Yes, I see memoir as storytelling, and I think readers expect to have a storyline of some kind to follow.
Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I prefer the creating aspect, as I believe most authors do. The editing has to be done, but to me, it is the really hard, boring part—catching any mistakes, as well as rearranging or cutting entire portions. I love doing research and learning, so I have no problem there.
What does a typical writing session look like for you?
A typical writing session is a whole morning or afternoon of uninterrupted time in which I have nothing else planned.
Is a memoirist’s responsibility to the truth of the facts or to her perception/feelings about the past?
Both, I believe. Intentionally inventing facts makes it a novel. I’m pretty firm about that. The author is entitled to report perception/feelings, in fact, should, to give a reason for writing the memoir, but in cases of being factual, should attribute any deviation from the generally accepted truth to be her perception or memory of an event. Memory can be tricky unless events can be documented by outside sources. I was fortunate to have many, many emails Jim and I exchanged, giving me documentation for events and the dates of the events.
What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
I enjoy hearing from people who don’t know me. I feel their input is unbiased, based on the writing alone. I’ve been greatly encouraged about this book by having several people tell me my book saved their marriage or changed their lives. That is encouragement to continue writing!
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m into genealogy, especially now that we have DNA evidence of relationships, so I’m gradually writing a family history for my descendants. The project I’m working on for publication is a memoir about my dad, that will be titled Wash Your Face with Cold Water. Rather than a chronological format, I’m playing with an essay format, to see how that feels.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I think I’ve said enough, but I want them to know Love and Asperger’s: Jim and Mary’s Excellent Adventure is my second published book. My first was A Caregiver’s Guide: Insights into the Later Years published in 2015. Lois Duncan, my dear friend, prolific writer, and long-time member of SWW, served as my encourager, editor, and also wrote the foreword to that book. I’m sure some members of SWW still remember Lois, who died in 2016. I miss her very much.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.
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