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Retraction: Interview with Stephen Roberts from The Dark Fiction Spotlight

  • Posted on January 10, 2011 at 1:02 PM

On October 26, 2010, I wrote a scathing post about The Dark Fiction Spotlight for hosting an autism anthology that stated in the guidelines, “Anything that will offend Autism Speaks will offend me and will not be considered.”

I didn’t really expect a response from the magazine.  I certainly didn’t expect the response that I received from Stephen Roberts:

I stumbled upon this blog by chance and it pains me that this is the image you’ve gained of myself, my associations and my magazine, The Dark Fiction Spotlight.

I wish to tell you about the autism anthology that will never be. 

[You read the rest of the comment here.]

Well, to say the least, this required a retraction.  But I was curious.  I wanted to know more.  So, I contacted Stephen Roberts, and was granted an interview.

You stopped participating in the autism anthology you were working on with Autism Speaks.  Where did this project come about and what ultimately made you make the decision to pull out of the project?

Well, to be honest, I’m new to the politics and such of autism. All I knew was what I learned from my nephews as I watched them grow. I was tapped by a publishing company preparing to launch that was to be run by a good friend of mine and she said she wanted to do the occasional charity anthology, to which I immediately thought of autism and my nephews.

Once announced, I received a great deal of support from the literary community, but also an outcry as to whom I’d associated myself with and more so my nephews, as they were to be involved in the cover art.

I immediately hit the web and started looking up every forum on autism I could and I found out that autism speaks.org didn’t represent my views on autism to say the least.

You are still interested in pursuing a similar project.  What are you looking for in recipients to the funds you raise?

I would still love to do something to help out the families touched by autism, namely the education of children and even the continued education of adults. I have found that many people write off those with autism, whereas all they need is a bit of patience from us to show us how brilliant they are.

I’m open to collaborate with somebody that has the vision and perhaps even the connections to get the funds earned to the proper place.

I also feel like we need more sites that represent the community of those touched by autism and not just the same biochemical explanations. More communication, less misinformation.

You are helping your sister raise your nephews, who have diagnoses of autism.  How has that changed or shaped your views on autism? 

Frankly, I knew little to nothing about autism several years ago, but when my oldest nephew was diagnosed (he’s 8-years-old now, his brother is 6-years-old), I sort of understood it, but mostly just did what I had to do for them on a day to day basis. I know their autistic, but to me they’ve never been “special” or hindered by anything.

I guess we (my family) must be doing something right, as their schools consider them to be gifted and they grow both socially and academically in leaps and bounds. 

What do you consider the most important areas for research in autism?

Again, to me I believe it to be all about education. Isn’t it a magical idea that my nephews could be given a shot that would immediately “fix them”, giving them perfect speech and altered personalities?

I do not mean to insult anybody on their views, but I just personally feel that education is key to the benefit of an autistic child as to ensure a healthy and prosperous adulthood.

I’m always open to learn more about the study of autism and welcome all opinions and websites to learn from.

If you had the opportunity to interact autistic adults, what would you most like to learn from them?

 If I could ask anything, it would be what I can potentially look forward to in the growth of my nephews. I’d love to know their views on the political stances taken on autism and the politicians who seem to be asking everyone but them.

I know that autism doesn’t make you “slow” or anything to the like, but in fact simply one who views this world from a different perspective. That’s something special in itself and anybody should want to converse and learn from them.

I hold my nephews to the highest of standards as far as their futures go and I’d just love to be able to know the stories of others and what they’ve achieved as individuals. Much like how a high school student might want to know what to expect in college, I’d just love to see what’s next. 

What change do you consider most important in how we, as a society and a world, address the challenges presented by autism?

I think we all just need to listen more. For one, I think that the whole puzzle piece symbolism is absolutely insulting. I don’t know if this is the consensus of the community, but once I really thought about it I didn’t like it. It implies that they’re not human or just don’t fit with us as a society.

What I’ve seen with my nephew’s teachers is that patience is key; all students are different, but they will tell you what they need if you’re willing to listen. No assumptions, no exceptions. 

For my readers who also write speculative fiction, can you give any tips on how to break into The Dark Fiction Spotlight?  (Also, do you have any idea when submissions will open again?)

Well, I wouldn’t say it takes much more than a love for your craft and the darker side of fiction to fit in with us folk. We’re open to most concepts as long as it’s dark in nature and the only thing we do not like are those who don’t take writing seriously.

We as a group do not believe in writing to be a hobby anymore than it is a talent to be born with. All the best writers I know don’t sleep some nights as their so obsessed with their craft.  Unhealthy? Perhaps. Does it pay off at times? Yes.

But all in all, Daniel, Stacy, Thadd and I are pretty easy folks to work with, at least I think so.

Unfortunately The Dark Fiction Spotlight is on hiatus, but not in a negative sense. We’re developing a solid game plan to take our 4theluv/contest money e-zine and evolving it into a print/digital magazine at pro rates. This is something we take very seriously and do not wish to rush just yet. We’re also considering anthologies, contests and things to the like on the site until said launch, so please do keep in touch with us and or visit the site to see what’s going on.

The site:

www.thedarkfiction.com

TDFS submissions/query e-mail:

tdfspublication.subs@gmail.com

While I cannot apologize for my gut reaction, I sincerely apologize to Stephen Roberts, The Dark Fiction Spotlight, and my readers for not researching the proposed anthology more extensively.  I know I’ll be check in with The Dark Fiction Spotlight from time to time, and I hope you do as well.  And I hope Stephen Roberts gets to edit the anthology he was hoping for!

Offending Autism Speaks

  • Posted on October 26, 2010 at 2:16 AM

Okay, so I didn’t intend to take a break from my bullying series until I’d finished with it.  But, I think this is worth it.

For those who don’t know, I am a professional writer—a professional writer at the beginning of my career, but a professional writer nonetheless.  I write full-time.  I make money.  I have been professionally published.  I’m writing two novels and a non-fiction book, along with many other shorter projects.  I market my skills to local businesses (and sometimes not-so-local businesses) and I get paid well for my work.

My point is that I have many interests.  One of the interests I’m resurrecting, after years of studying business, is my fiction.  I’ve neglected my fiction sorely over the last decade of child-bearing, autism-diagnosing, and degree-getting.  Now it’s time for that passion to be re-born.

While I make some effort to keep my variety of interests separate, there is some overlap.  The main character of one of my novels is rather Aspie-ish.  (Though, I’m not going to call her an Aspie—if, for no other reason, then because she’s a fairy.)  My other novel, which is being co-written by a friend of mine, has strong “outsider” themes.  My non-fiction book melds my interests in autism and business and confronts one point where those interests overlap.

Then, there are other, less pleasant, intersections.

I receive many newsletters for writers, including Writing World.  I scan the articles and choose which ones I’ll read in detail.  One I chose to read in detail was about dark fiction markets, written by C. M. Saunders.  This article recommended The Dark Fiction Spotlight as a token-paying market that publishes dark fiction.  So, I checked it out.  As I was scanning pages on the website I found a sub-tab called “Anthology for Autism.” 

Hmm, I thought.  Now, that could be cool!  I have an idea of for a short story that is both dark, science fiction and involving an autistic main character.  The story isn’t written; it’s one of many projects that has been postponed due to time-constraints.  But, I figured if there’s actually a market for it…

So, I started reading about this anthology, and it starts with:

About Autism Speaks:

Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We are proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and look forward to continued successes in the years ahead.

Oh, dear.  It didn’t look quite so promising any more.  But, I kept reading.  Maybe they’re open-minded.  But, then…

I repeat:

Anything that will offend Autism Speaks will offend me and will not be considered.

Honestly, my story would definitely offend Autism Speaks.  And, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I remember trying to interview someone at Autism Speaks once.  It didn’t go well.  It wasn’t even an advocacy piece, but that didn’t matter.  Even a piece designed to inform parents of their information options offended the Autism Speaks representative I spoke with.  They were only willing to participate if they had full control over what I wrote, which is an ethical no-no in the journalism world.

So, I took a break from my bullying series to warn my fellow speculative fiction writers and autism advocates that The Dark Fiction Spotlight or Lady Luck Publishing might not be publishers you want to patronize or write for.  As much as I hate to write off potential markets, I won’t be pursuing any opportunities with them.

* * *

For those who read this blog and don’t already know, this last part provides reasons why such an affiliation with Autism Speaks requires me to boycott this company and it’s zines.

In a sense, all of this is about bullying. 

Autism Speaks claims they exist to advocate for families with autism, but only 4% of the donations goes to those families.  They fund research, and one of their major projects seeks a way to diagnose autism in utero, which is a form of eugenics.

That is why I disagree with Autism Speaks’ agenda.  But that, in and of itself, does not warrant boycotting (though it is why I would not donate to their organization).

Autism Speaks goes even further than this.  Autism Speaks is an organization that intentionally spreads fear and despair.  They use advertisements that amount to hate speech against autistics.  They encourage parents to fantasize on camera about killing their autistic children, and use this as a reason why autistics should be eliminated from society.

They use “Autism Speaks” as their name to claim that they speak for autistics; they don’t.  Autistics can and do speak for themselves, like these protesters.  On the site for the anthology, there’s this branding slogan: “Autism Speaks. It’s time to listen.”  Autistics, in return, says: “Autism Speaks needs to listen.”  Instead, Autism Speaks actively tries to silence those not in agreement with their eugenics agenda.

If this wasn’t bad enough, they engage in unethical business practices.  They mislead donors as they raise funds for their research.  They try to control media elements, as they did when I tried to interview one of their representatives.  And they bully their way through politics and the social landscape.  Their message is clear:  If you don’t feel bad (or even homicidal) about having an autistic child, then there’s something wrong with you, because autism has stolen your child’s soul.  (Yes, the soul-stealing is paraphrased, but with their very words one of their representatives has used.)

As an organization, Autism Speaks is a bully—a well-funded, politically powerful bully that believes that eugenics is the solution to autism.  And that offends me.  They use their size and their wealth to attempt to stomp out disagreement.

And they create anthologies where one point of view is all that can be expressed, because they don’t want their audience to become aware of differing points of view.

That offends me.  Autism Speaks offends me.  As a business person who believes in ethical business practices and as a parent of three children with diagnoses of autism, Autism Speaks offends me.  And I cannot write honestly and not offend them in turn.

I wouldn’t change that even if I could.