There Are No Words – I read the synopsis, was intrigued by the premise, ordered two autographed copies, and as soon as my book arrived I read mine in two sittings. At first, the protagonist’s intelligence and command of language caught me off guard, challenging my perceptions. As the story unfolded, I became quite taken with Jaxon, the development of the characters’ friendships and the suspenseful twists of their fate.
Mary Calhoun Brown’s awarding winning book There Are No Words is a truly unique work of fiction about a 12 year-old, nonverbal autistic girl raised by her grandparents, whose future and fate of her and her friends are interwoven with a terrible disaster that actually happened. A train wreck at Dutchman’s Curve, which took place July 9, 1918, is the setting where their fate hinges upon trust and the outcome of their actions.
Here is a recent interview with Mary Calhoun Brown by J.W. Coffey, reposted with the author’s permission.
Author Mary Calhoun Brown, a West Virginia native, and her husband received the news in 2001 that their eldest son, William, had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome–a mild form of autism. Rather than let the news get the better of them, Ms. Brown left her job to homeschool William and learn more of his disease. She also turned the experiences and knowledge into the fodder for her first novel, There Are No Words. The novel, published by Ohio’s Lucky Press LLC, has been receiving rave reviews as well as publishing awards, with the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) calling the book an “Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities 2011.”
– Tell us about your latest novel.
There Are No Words is the story of Jaxon MacKenzie, who is autistic and nonverbal. One night she falls into an old oil painting in her grandparents’ parlor and lands in 1918 where she can speak for the first time. Jaxon’s mission in this world of horse-driven carts and prejudice is to try to stop the worst train wreck in US history. Ultimately Jaxon must decide whether to stay in the past or move on to her own future without words.
This is the summary I always give when asked about the book. But There Are No Words is more than that. I wrote it as a message about the value of friendship with people who are different. Recently CNN’s Kiran Chetry aired a segment about a young athlete who befriended an autistic boy at his high school. Oh. My. Gosh. I was literally in tears when I watched it. No one knows the value of a friend unless you’ve never had one. That’s why I wrote the accompanying curriculum guide that I give away free to teachers. Peer education is the key to building friendships. The teacher assigns the book, the students read the book, and maybe one child will offer the hand of friendship to another.
– Do your characters come first or does the story?
In the case of There Are No Words, the character of Jaxon came first. I searched for an historical event that she could visit. The same is true with my new project. I know these characters. I just have to find the right story for them. I like to think Jane Austen used the same approach. Clearly she KNEW the people she wrote about. They are so true to life that I wouldn’t be surprised if Austen spent her time watching those around her, even taking notes on the eccentricities of those in her acquaintance.
– Do you ever start with one concept and see the story deviate into something else? Is the finished product close to the concept you started with?
Again, with There Are No Words, I wasn’t sure until the very end whether Jaxon would end up staying in the past or moving on to her own future without words. If she chose to go back, I wasn’t sure how that could happen. If she decided to return to Bartlett, I wasn’t sure how that would work out, either. I also didn’t plan on the crush Jaxon develops with Oliver Pack, either. Sometimes you have a story in mind, but the character leads you someplace better.
– Do you have a favorite character in this book?
I love Jaxon, of course. I spent quite a bit of time walking around in her shoes as I wrote the book, but I have to say that I adore Oliver Pack. Ahhh! I love the way he materializes out of no where and leads with his smile and dimples. I also like Mrs. Hale’s snootiness. She was fun to write.
– Do you have a favorite scene or chapter?
You know, no one has ever asked me whether I have a favorite scene or chapter. I have a few favorites. I love it when Jaxon watches the raindrops, because I think it says a lot about her. I also like the transition from present time to 1918. I added that after the first draft, and now I can’t imagine the book without it. And there’s one last scene between Sarah and Jaxon and the Grandmother that I love, but to tell you about it would spoil the ending.
– What do you have in mind for your next project?
My next project will be a series of letters from an imprisoned mother to her two children, explaining why she committed the crime for which she has been convicted. She will tell the story of her life, her adopted â€œtwinâ€ sister and the events that caused her to do the unthinkable.
– What’s some good advice for those starting out? What would you tell other aspiring writers?
For aspiring writers I would say this: finish your story. All too often, writers start a project, tire of it and then begin something else. You can’t get published unless you actually finish your story. The same qualities it takes to write, re-write, correct editions and get published are the same qualities it takes to be successful at anything. Toughen yourself up for rejection. You will be rejected. Over and over. Get over it and move on. If your story is worth telling, someone will relate to it and embrace it. Join Writer’s Market. It’s worth the money. Learn how to write a good query letter. It will represent your work, so it needs to be fabulous. Unless you are J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you really don’t need an agent, no matter what the agents say. Make a web site and a blog and get on Twitter. Social media is the most valuable tool you have. Learn how to use it and make it work for you.
And by all means, buy my book.
Mary Calhoun Brown, is the award-winning author of There Are No Words. Brown tells stories about things that matter, weaving colorful and sensitive characters into history for a generation that prefers to be entertained rather than educated.
Brown is an advocate for children and adults with autism. She also partners with educators to create curriculum guides for her novels so teachers and home-school parents can meet state requirements while making the most of classroom and planning time. She is a professional speaker and loves to spend time with students, parents and teachers.
Mary Calhoun Brown lives in beautiful Huntington, West Virginia, with her husband Cam and three sons, William, Harrison and Dewey.