In The Kiss Quotient (Berkley, June), autistic econometrician Stella hires escort Michael to teach her about sex and relationships—and they both get an unexpected lesson in love.
Like your heroine, Stella, you’re autistic. What were your biggest obstacles in writing such a personal novel?
The most challenging part of writing this book was devising the situations where Stella failed socially. I rewrote the scene where Stella meets Michael’s family more than half a dozen times, and the closer I got to the final version, the more frustrating it got. How do you write something you don’t understand? This is when my agent’s editorial experience really helped me. Her suggestions guided me in the right direction as I analyzed my own past social blunders, got a better grasp of what went wrong and why, and incorporated parts into the story.
How closely does your own experience with autism map onto Stella’s?
I kept Stella’s experience very close to mine. It’s been a consistent worry of mine that I might inadvertently harm the autistic community with inaccurate representation, and I’m most confident of what I’ve personally lived. With the next book in the series, I branched out somewhat, but only after further research, interviews with multiple autistic people, and sensitivity reads.
What factored into your characterization of Khai, another autistic character, in comparison with Stella?
I wanted Khai’s autism to be more “visible” than Stella’s. It’s my experience that outer signs of autism in women can be subtle (which I think contributes to the underdiagnosis of autism in women in general), and I hoped to illustrate this difference somewhat.
What was your approach to giving your secondary characters so much depth?
Many of the secondary characters were modeled after real people. Michael’s grandma is an exact replica of mine. She passed away years ago, and bringing her back to life on the page was special to me. His mother and sisters are also mine. Maybe my love for them shines through in the writing. The idea of that makes me happy.
What was the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing this book?
Growing up, the stories I wrote all took place in historical or fantasy settings, and the characters struggled with grand problems like war and the fate of mankind in addition to love. These stories were a far escape from reality and the problems I faced. The Kiss Quotient was a turning point for me. Not only was it my first attempt at contemporary romance, but it was also the most personal book I’d written. Instead of hiding from my insecurities, I confronted and explored them on the page. That’s the biggest thing I learned from this book: When stories are personal, they’re better.