You have written many articles for adults, but this is your first book for young people. What inspired you to write this novel?

The material is what really drew me. In fact, this was the first creative writing I ever did. I wanted to write something about the world that I came out of. I had tried in various nonfiction formats to work with that material and nothing said what I wanted it to say. So I started playing with fiction, and [Accidents of Nature] was the result. I started writing it back in 1994.

Is there a real Camp Courage, and did you experience the kind of epiphany that Jean experienced, when she's exposed to others like her, with disabilities?

No, but it is rather similar to a lot of camps, including one that I went to. I went to summer camp, from age 8 to age 17, so it was really part of my whole growing up world. I made up a story about a girl for whom this was the first real close contact with disability, because that story made a better opportunity to highlight what the experience is like.

Would it be fair to say that your own experiences were closer to Sara's? Someone who was committed to exposing the hypocrisies of "the Norms" and who called things the way she saw them?

Sara, Willie, Margie—my experience was more similar to theirs. I think one thing that fiction did that nonfiction doesn't do as well is to show a fairly complex situation. Sara, at least by the end of the story, is pretty negative [about Camp Courage], but in spite of itself the place had some wonderful qualities. It's a community of exclusion but it's a real community. By having different characters you can show something fairly complicated and rich.

In the narrative, you let readers into a very private, intimate world that exposed the insidious ways in which the "Norms" condescend to people with disabilities. Are some of the examples cited by Jean, Sara and others (the telethons, an award for every camper) still quite rampant?

I hope that some things have changed. One thing that I hope will happen with the book is that maybe I'll get to talk to a lot of disabled young people and find out. I think clearly the image of disablility in the larger world is a lot different now, but I think there are still enclaves that are not that different from Camp Courage. We do still have competitions where everybody wins; there's still one major telethon. But I hope young people today see that this is a historical novel.

You have an extraordinary ability to capture Jean's thought process as it is happening. Did you find this difficult to do?

I found it really fun. She is a very different person from me. But I had a pretty clear idea of her, and it was "let's pretend" from beginning to end. It gave me a break from being me.

Did you come across any challenges specific to writing a work of fiction for young people, as opposed to writing nonfiction for adults?

I didn't really know I was writing for young people. I just wanted to write this story. I did have an idea that I wanted it to be accessible, that you didn't have to have a college degree to read it. I was thinking of disabled people of my own generation who often didn't get an education. I wanted it to be clear and straightforward. Holt made the decision [to publish it as a YA novel], that that's the way it ought to be marketed. I personally remember the books I loved when I was 13 and 17 and 20 better than the ones I read last year. I liked the idea of connecting with people who are impressionable—that seems trite—but they're open in ways that we aren't as we get older.

Do you think you'll write more books for young people?

I don't know. I don't have any plans to do another book of any kind right now, but that's not to say I won't. I didn't plan to do any of the things I've done.

What do you hope people will take away from your book?

I hope that some people will see themselves in it, will know that some of their experiences are not weird. I hope that other people will maybe realize some things they don't know. What I would hate for people to say is, "I read this book and I know all about disabilities." I'd like to leave people with questions.

Some readers have been very frustrated that I don't tell what happens to [Jean], but that's important to me. It could go either way. She could have a lot of the things she wants, or she could end up in Butner, forgotten. To me, they call the place Camp Courage for all the wrong reasons, but [Jean] really has courage to go forth, knowing that either way is possible. That to me represents a particular type of courage.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

When I think about the ending one thing that I think has changed in the world, is that disabled young people in 1970 really had no model of disabled adults. We knew about Helen Keller and FDR, but I think nowadays people have images of other disabled people doing things that these kids didn't dare dream about. Things are possible, but they're not easy, they're not guaranteed.