In 1980, I was frustrated. Very frustrated. Speech pathologists were publishing papers identifying stuttering as a laryngeal problem and nothing more. At least one well-publicized treatment program was spawned from this notion. Those of us who worked with stuttering, our own and other peoples, and studied the problem knew that viewing stuttering as a disorder of a body part was an unhealthy oversimplification. We knew that feelings associated with stuttering, anger, fear, embarrassment, and the like, leading to alienation and an intensification of those very feelings contributed mightily to the onset of the problem and its continuance. But, at that moment in history , the most vocal of our colleagues insisted that stuttering was a laryngospasm. Very neat. Very operant. Stop the spasms, and the problem goes away. Not so for many. And so much for free speech!
I decided to counter those voices. I would author a textbook addressing the role feelings play in stuttering. But, despite, my previous record of never having a manuscript rejected, my proposal received only disinterest from textbook publishers. Instead of becoming discouraged, I became bolder and decided to put my ideas before the public, to write a trade book for adults, stutterers and nonstutterers alike. But I had no more success finding a publisher in that genre than I did for the textbook proposal, although I did come close to signing a contract with Simon & Schuster, but their editorial board finally decided "not enough of a market" and sent me what they intended to be an encouraging rejection note. Saddened and angered because I wasn't able to publish something that really mattered, I slipped into a form of shock and undertook no more outward action toward publication of these ideas. I did not know then where else to publish. But I never stopped puzzling over how I would transmit the "truth" about stuttering. Then, while driving my car a year or so later, I had an "Ah-Hah!" moment: I would write a story for children showing what it was like to have a stuttering problem. Readers would feel stuttering, the physical tensions, the anxiety, the embarrassment leading to alienation, the anger. They would learn that stuttering is not just something wrong with the way someone speaks but a particular way of seeing the world and yourself in it that can lead to profound alienation from others and your own true self.
If I hadn't been intensely motivated to share these thoughts, I might have given up before I began to write. The task of writing fiction for children was daunting. It took years. Like anything else: Something that looks easy can be extremely difficult. Shifting genres from scientific/technical impersonal/objective writing to fiction was major for me, like building a rocket to fly to the moon. Joining the Society for Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, attending "hands-on" writing conferences, workshops, and seminars where I received and offered critiques , and participating in a local writers' group for authors of children's books provided me with a vision, some tools for reaching it, and whetted my drive. I KEPT WRITING. Jane Yolen, a noted children's book author addressing a workshop I attended admonished those of us in attendance by saying, "You're not a writer unless you're writing." I had since decided I was a writer, not simply a researcher! So pride and my original motivation drove me to keep going.
Jason's Secret underwent at least 15-20 complete revisions. I lost count. Changes were made in plot and style but never in intent. I was determined to show what it was like to stutter, how stuttering feels, how you feel about yourself, the envy you have for those who speak smoothly, the longing to be like everyone else, the fear of being thought of as a freak. I was determined to show what can be required to change into a more fluent speaker, for the child and the adults who care about the child. And I was motivated to help children with stuttering problems break out of the isolation so many experience by reading about a 10 year-old boy who had similar experiences and feelings.
I also studied children's book publishing. I learned how to write query letters and manuscripts that moved through the "slush pile" into an editor's out-stretched hands, the role of agents and how to obtain one, and contracts. As I kept writing, I watched children's book publishing go from boom to bust as bottom-line driven conglomerates demanded "best sellers." Backlists were shrunk and "kill contracts," contracts negating the original contract, given out. New voices were no longer sought, or so it seemed. I was extremely frustrated, saddened for everyone touched by the publishing industry, and angry. I had developed a manuscript workshop leaders told me "needed to be published." But I doubted publishing houses that were promoting the books by royalty, television judges, movie stars, and best-selling authors of adult fiction, would publish me. I decided to avoid the children's book scene altogether and approach therapy materials companies. One major company initially expressing high interest in publishing Jason's Secret concluded one year later that that it would not be cost effective. They rejected the manuscript despite favorable reviews by their editorial consultants who recommended publication. Not wanting to face more agonizing rejection, busy developing my business and living my life, I literally put Jason's Secret on a shelf in my office. I believed that was where it would stay.
Then, about two years ago, I learned about electronic publishing, namely ebooks and POD products, i.e., print-on-demand books. Electronic publishing bring authors' works quickly and economically to the public as anyone who is a fan of Steven King knows. I decided this would be the way to get the message out and published Jason's Secret both as an ebook and POD product. It had been long enough in the making. It was time for it to be launched.
In the year 2000, the message of Jason's Secret no longer seems as radical as in 1980, but it still needs to be heard, especially by children and not just children with stuttering problems. Children feeling alienated from peers and society in general and children with anger management issues may find in Jason encouragement and direction to become their own true selves.
I've selected two chapters to share online with Conference attendees, Chapter 1, "First Day At MacAllister," and Chapter 10, "At the Mall.". They provide samples of some intense feelings Jason, who recently moved to a new city, experiences as he tries to hide his stuttering to be accepted. Jason, by the book's end, does, with the help of his home room teacher, school speech pathologist, and parents, make some friends, learn to speak more fluently most of the time, and live without a crushing feeling of isolation and a blinding fear of rejection.
I look forward to your comments about Jason's Secret and, if you care to share them, your experiences facing and altering your own feelings and behavior associated with stuttering, or, if you are a fluent therapist, your experiences helping others.
NOTE:Jason's Secret is available in ebook and POD format from 1stBooks website (www.1stBooks.com) and as a POD product at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Walden Books and local booksellers.
Date submitted: August 1, 2000