CWU student to release book featuring autistic main character


Courtesy of Emily Holyoak

Morgana Carroll, Staff Reporter

Emily Holyoak, a senior in professional and creative writing, signed a book deal with publishing company Includas for her book “Newfangled,” set to be released in fall of 2022. 

According to the Includas website,Newfangled” is a young adult book about Dinah, an autistic teenager trying to navigate her way through highschool as dilemmas, such as a new therapist and a new crush, greet her at every turn. 

Holyoak said she thinks there needs to be more representation of autism and general disabilities in books. 

According to Holyoak, in a lot of aspects the world of literature has become more inclusive. The queer book section at book stores is constantly growing and there are more stories from authors of color than ever before. 

She said she hopes that literature by disabled authors, with disabled experiences front and center, can experience the same kind of treatment in the world of literature. 

Holyoak said, “As an avid reader I felt that there was not enough representation of autistic people or protagonists.” 

Holyoak said the inspiration for this story primarily comes from her two daughters, who both have autism. Holyoak’s oldest daughter often gets sensory overload, Holyoak said. She copes with this by wearing comfy clothing and headphones to lower the amount of noise from the world around her.

Holyoak said her youngest daughter seeks out stimulation, often running as fast as she can to get the sensations and sound of wind rushing through her hair and past her ears. Holyoak said her inspirations for the main character come from her daughters. 

“I don’t know what it’s like to have a neurotypical kid, and others don’t know what it’s like to be me,” Holyoak said. “That was really why I wanted to write this book, to show people my experiences.” 

Another major inspiration for Holyoak comes from her time at CWU, specifically her time in the classes of Professor Maya Zeller from the English department. 

“It was the first time that I felt that I wasn’t producing really great content,” Holyoak said. “[Zeller] was trying to push me beyond my boundaries to see what I could actually write.” 

According to Holyoak, Zeller is one source of inspiration that pushed her to get her writing out in the world.

Another inspiration came from the Holyoak family service dog, Bowser. He is the inspiration for the main character’s service dog, Higgins, to show how big of an impact service dogs can have for those that need them. Not only did the dog inspire a character, but had a hand in the idea for the story itself. 

“The idea popped into my head one day as we were sitting and watching my service dog,” Holyoak said. “I said this story must be told.” 

According to Holyoak, she got rejected by 108 different publishing companies and agents before Includas, a publishing company primarily centered around publishing books featuring disabled characters, offered her a book deal. 

Holyoak said the publishing process can be stressful. 

“I didn’t think it would be like trying to become a rockstar, “ Holyoak said. “I didn’t want to become famous, I just wanted to publish my book.”

According to Holyoak, some agents will take a look at the contents of the book and reject it without any comments.

”I didn’t get a lot of feedback either, just them saying ‘sorry, no thanks,’” Holyoak said. “Thirteen times it went into an agent’s hand and they said ‘I just don’t feel like I’m the person to champion it.’” 

When an agency does consider a draft, there can be months in between the time when the client sends in a manuscript and the time the agency gets around to reading the pages, Holyoak said.

Holyoak said she feels happy to be working with the Includas team. Holyoak had another pending offer from a publishing company when Includas extended an offer to her, and she chose Includas because she felt like that’s where her book belonged.

“It belongs with a diverse and neurodivergent group of people,” Holyoak said. 

Another challenge that Holyoak said she didn’t expect to encounter came in the form of sensitivity readers. While going over the draft, the sensitivity readers found some words and concepts that were outdated, according to Holyoak. This was a hurdle that Holyoak had not expected to have to overcome, but said overall she is glad they corrected her. Such concepts included the autistic community not agreeing with Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), and replacing the puzzle piece with the rainbow infinity sign, according to Holyoak. 

Holyoak has lived in multiple states, including Wisconsin, Utah, Montana and currently California. She said her family has to move often because her husband is in the U.S. Air Force. 

Having moved around so often, she said she has had the chance to experience what it’s like to be the mother of children with autism in different states. 

From her experience, she said Wisconsin is a great place to raise an autistic child. She said the community where she lived was very supportive, and many facilities were very inclusive, such as the local movie theater one day out of the week doing a night where, while showing a movie, the sound was a little lower and the lights were still turned on, and these small gestures really helped with those who can be easily overstimulated.

“It was great to see, as a community, people so aware, versus different states that I’ve lived in,” Holyoak said. 

This will be Holyoak’s debut novel, but she said she intends to write more novels in the future. 

“I definitely want to explore my imagination and push forward and publish more books, because this whole experience has been a dream come true,” Holyoak said.