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Meet Emily Holyoak of Good Morning, Dinah

Meet debut author, Emily Holyoak of YA contemporary novel, Good Morning, Dinah! We’ve got an exclusive interview all about Emily, what it was like writing the book, and fun rapid fire questions!

What did you want to be when you were a child?

My earliest memories were that I wanted to be a mermaid. Then, I wanted to be a scientist.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

I really liked creating stories all throughout my childhood. I especially liked writing in high school, and I took the Utah state aptitude test that told me that I would be a good writer and author upon  graduation of high school. But it never occurred to me to make it my career path so I went on to go to medical coding school and I was a medical coding specialist for seven years before I decided to pursue writing full-time.

How long did it take to write the book from the very first word you typed to the last?

The idea of Dinah started as a NaNoWriMo project of 2019, though I didn’t finish it all in one month, obviously. The first draft took me about three months total. As far as crafting the story, plus editing and feedback and beta readers and sensitivity readers? Two and a half years.

What inspired you to write Dinah?

The idea of Dinah was born through our service dog, Bowser. I was walking him when he was just a puppy, about four months old. We decided to go a different way and a really big dog scared him. My heart jumped into my throat and I was like, “What would my daughter’s reaction be if her dog got hurt or something happened to him?”

So I came up with the idea to show not only how an autistic person would react to such a huge change, but how they would react to these everyday changes in routine.

Can you tell us about what it was like creating Higgins?

Higgins was based off of Bowser, our golden retriever. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter began having epileptic seizures every day, and Bowser had very high anxiety.

While he was a great service dog for my oldest daughter, I would have to deal with my youngest daughter, and I was dealing with a lot of depression, and it just became too much. While it destroyed me to re-home Bowser, he is very happy with his new family. I get pictures from them regularly. My youngest daughter only has seizures about once a year now, and we have cats to help them with their autism sensory and stimulation.

Were any of the characters or story moments taken from your real life? 

Way too many. I used to fantasize, just like Dinah does; I used to escape into my fantasy worlds. I would put certain CDs in my Walkman when I went to bed, listening to the soundtracks and kind of making movie trailers in my head: of my life, of what I wanted to happen, or a fantastical scene, just like Dinah.

What was the hardest thing about writing this story? 

I’d say the hardest part of writing this book was to make sure that the autistic community would be comfortable in their representation.

I received some education from the sensitivity readers of how I could provide a better representation of autism in my story, when I’m autistic myself and I have autistic children. It just proves that the spectrum is so huge, and even in my writing, I have found that I had reflected some of the characters as people in my life who didn’t quite receive my little quirks or my stims so heartily and so accepting.

Which character was the easiest and hardest to write?

Maverick was the easiest to write. Maverick, I think is everybody’s dream boy: he accepts your quirks, thinks you’re fascinating, laughs and tells you when you’re funny, and accepts your safe spaces.

The hardest character to write was probably Eliza, because all of the people who have ever worked with me or my children have been so fantastic. While Eliza is very good at her job of being Dinah’s aide, they do butt heads, which was kind of difficult for me to write.

What have you learned about being an author?

That it’s not easy. That there are hurdles and there is progress. The progress that you make as a writer from first draft to final is the growth of not only your characters, but you as the person who has created them. You see the world how they see it and how you want to see it. My characters have shaped me for the better.

Any writing rituals?

I am one of those autistic women who feels like I want to be organized, like I want to have a planner. I buy a planner every single January, and I stick in my routines…and then we get to comfortable chaos again.

My biggest writing ritual, then, is that I craft my characters using pictures that I find online. I write out all of their their quirks, their likes, their dislikes, basically turning them inside out before I start writing about them.

Any pieces of advice for debut authors?

Don’t be shy! Make those social media accounts. Be silly. Be yourself.

Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes! I have recently been admitted to the Master of Fine Arts program for Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts; I begin that in January. I have two very specific projects in mind, both of which showcase autistic women. One is another contemporary fiction, and one is a cozy fantasy.

Rapid-Fire Questions!

Favorite color: Green. Any kind of green: olive green, jade green, sea green.

Current favorite TV show: House of the Dragon.

Last book you read: Greenwich Park by Catherine Faulkner.

First book you fell in love with: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Favorite dessert: I like milkshakes – it’s not the hardness of the ice cream, it’s soft and I can drink it from a straw real slow or I can scoop it up in a spoon. I’ve just always loved the texture of a milkshake. My favorite flavor is marshmallow.

First video game you played: Super Mario Brothers: World 2. I would beg my brothers to let me play with them on their NES, so they would unplug the second controller and pretend like I was Mario. 

Three emojis to describe your book: An infinity symbol for neurodiversity. A heart for the cute romance. The face with the droplet of sweat, to represent the anxiety and the meltdowns that happen. 

How Dinah would describe her story in three words: Challenges, journey, and accomplishments.

Secret about the story or a character that no one knows about: Dinah does get her period, and we normalize this in a young adult book so that people can feel more tied to the character, and more grounded in the normalization of periods. I was originally going to give Dinah endometriosis, which is a condition that affects lots of young women today and complicates periods.

How are you feeling on release day: If only I could describe it in about three gifs! It feels like a fever dream. It feels surreal that people are going to read what I consider my third child, essentially.

good morning, dinah book cover.About Good Morning, Dinah:

He’s all about change. She’s not.

Senior year—not the biggest deal in the world, right? Except that it is, because everything is changing. Most seniors worry about their dates for school dances, soaking up final memories with friends, and planning life after graduation. Seventeen-year-old Dinah Finaylson has other worries, like students brushing against her and her autism service dog, Higgins; like winning board game matches in the disability classroom; and like opening up to a new student, Maverick Wright.

Maverick asks too many strange questions and Dinah is scared of everything that could go wrong by letting this mysterious guy become part of her routine. That is, until he becomes her first best friend. But the moment Dinah makes Maverick part of her schedule, he disappears, changing everything in Dinah’s life and sending her into a downward spiral. Was the risk of letting change enter her life worth it? Now that senior year is ruined forever, Dinah can’t possibly imagine braving the halls of high school for one more day, let alone finishing senior year—or can she?

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