Autistic Representation in Romance with Amanda Cinelli
Amanda Cinelli joins me to discuss representation of autistic characters in romance novels. Amanda shares how reading Helen Hoang’s "The Kiss Quotient" played a big part in her realizing that she was autistic, and talks about some other romances with autism representation that she loved. We also discuss why representing autistic love is important to Amanda as an author and her writing journey pre and post diagnosis.
Amanda Cinelli joins me to discuss representation of autistic characters in romance novels. Amanda shares how reading Helen Hoang’s "The Kiss Quotient" played a big part in her realizing that she was autistic, and talks about some other romances with autism representation that she loved. We also discuss why representing autistic love is important to Amanda as an author and her writing journey pre and post diagnosis.
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- Email: Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com
- The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
- The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang
- The Brown Sisters Trilogy by Talia Hibbert
- Bergman Brothers’ series by Chloe Liese
Guest: Amanda Cinelli
Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape, desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, I'm joined by romance author Amanda Cinelli to discuss representation of autistic characters in romance novels.
Hi, Amanda. Thanks so much for being here
Amanda Cinelli: Hi. Thanks for having me. I'm very excited to be here.
Andrea Martucci: I'm excited to have you and on short notice, because I was like I wanna record this weekend, and you pitched this topic, and I was like, hell yeah, let's do it.
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, I was very excited to get the DM back. I was like, yay, you picked me.
So very special.
Andrea Martucci: it's fun being picked, isn't it?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, it is. Number one.
Andrea Martucci: So Amanda, can you tell us all a little bit more about yourself and what you do in the romance community?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. So I am an Irish Italian author of 12 published contemporary category length romance novels with Harlequin Presents along with a mountain of other unfinished projects at various stages in development. I live in Ireland with my husband and our three young children. And I am also a obsessed romance reader since I was like 11. So this is an intersection of all of my favorite things. So I'm gonna reign myself in from not just like blasting excitement for nonstop.
Andrea Martucci: So did you grow up reading category romance? Like Mills and Boon in the UK?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. Yeah, like Mills and Boon. My mom was like a huge Mills and Boon reader. She used to buy them like, cuz we were fairly poor when we were younger and my parents were quite young and like my mom used to get books in the secondhand shop. And she would just read a lot. I don't think she had time to go to the library and stuff, so she would just buy when we were out doing the shopping in Tescos or whatever. I'm using a lot of very Irish terms here. You just have to, Walmart or whatever you call it. grocery store? Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: store or a grocery
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. I think it's Target I suppose. I dunno less upmarket Target though. Cause I know you guys have fancy stuff in Target, she'd have a pile of these books cuz my granny was a big reader. My mom was a big reader, so I just seen people reading all the time. And I read everything else as a kid. I'd read in school.
But one year we were on holidays in Italy. My dad's Italian, so we'd go to Italy for the summer every now and then. And my mom had these books. I'd run out of everything else to read. And I was like, oh, I'm so bored. I was like 11 or 12 and I was just like, oh, life's the worst. I need something. I'm not going out in the sun. The sun is bad. I need to be inside away from all the people. And I picked up a book.
The first thing I can remember picking up was a Penny Jordan. I probably read a different one first. This is the one that stuck with me because it was wild. It was like very not appropriate for 12 year old me. And it imprinted in a big way. And it was called Time Fuse. And it was about, this woman who went undercover working at her father's law firm to suss him out. And her, his like first in command was like, just. Obsessed with her from [00:03:00] first glance and yeah. Not great. I've reread it since, and I was like, wow.
But there was this scene in it where they were running through the rain. They would have this huge fight and they're running through the rain and she's I hate you. And he's like, come back. You're gonna catch a cold. You'll catch your death. And that's they had this big sweeping, kissing scene in a stable, in the English countryside.
And I was just like, whatever this is, give me all of it forever
Andrea Martucci: Put it in my veins.
Amanda Cinelli: The end. I've read very few different genres since I'm just I, I read too much romance that I don't have time to fit other stuff in unless it's like craft or
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Amanda Cinelli: I have to force myself to step outside the comfort zone now.
Andrea Martucci: When you know what you like, why go to anything else?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. I'm the same with food. Food and books. I know what I like and I just inhale what I love.
Andrea Martucci: Helen Huang's The Kiss Quotient has a main character who is autistic, and I think, when did it come out? 2019?
Amanda Cinelli: 2018. August, 2018. Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: And so did you read it when it first came out? How did you come to read it?
Amanda Cinelli: I seen an interview, I'm nearly sure. I can't remember exactly. My youngest daughter was born in August 2018, so I know I didn't read it in August straight away. Cuz I was like, in the fog. I had three kids under four. It was a lot. So I think I read it around, I read it before Christmas time because it all coincided with me realizing that my oldest child was having struggles in school, people had suggested she needed to go for an appointment to see if she needed extra help.
One of my younger cousins was diagnosed who was a girl. I had a cousin who had been diagnosed since he was two. And he would've been a very stereotypical presentation of what I knew of autism at the time. But then my other cousin was diagnosed and she would've been very like me when I was younger.
So all these things were coming at me, but I'm very much, if someone tells me to do something or if someone tells me that they think something, I'm like, no, sorry, you're wrong and I'm gonna need three to four business months to process it and decide that I've come up with the idea that maybe I know what's happening. So that's how it all went.
But I remember one of the big things that happened was I read The Kiss Quotient and in the book, Stella she struggles with kissing and she struggles with the sensory aspect of intimacy. And I was reading this book and I was just like, I had to keep stopping because I was so not uncomfortable. I felt so seen and I'd never felt that way reading a romance novel before.
So I felt something outside had invaded my safe space that I wasn't ready for yet. And I had to keep stopping. And then I would like, I remember I cried a couple of times and I was like, oh, it's just because it's so romantic, but really, I was like very much not processing the kind of realization that my subconscious was having in that moment, because I knew, like after finishing that book, I knew, I was like, if this is [00:06:00] what autism is for some people, I need to look into this. But I still held off for another two and a half years.
Yeah, I just couldn't, it wasn't until my daughter was really struggling in school. Like my husband and only child, and I'm the eldest of five and I'm like the eldest of like 24 cousins, Irish Italian family we're huge. I was around, raised around babies. So like when my husband was saying, is this kind of normal Is this what we should be expecting with our child? I would keep going. Yeah. So of course it is. Of course there's loads of people like that in my family. This is fine,
But autism is very much an inherited kind of family thing, and it's a culture as well, it's very it's this cross section of, neurology and we have our own culture.
And so obviously if there's a high percentage of autistic people in your family, you're gonna just normalize and adopt that culture. It's just obviously if it's a negative thing or if it's a positive thing is very important. And in our family, it would've been not a negative thing, but it was given labels that were very unhelpful and very marginalizing and very negative in ways as well as really positive things.
Like we have a lot of bright, very kind of creative people in our family. But I think choosing to go for diagnosis with my daughter, she was six at the time. That was the gateway for me.
And I definitely began reading more and seeking out more autistic people, autistic characters and autistic writers in my safe space of romance because that was where I felt happiest and it carried me.
Like these books carried me through a very difficult season of life as I tried to figure out, how to be a mother and how to be myself and how to be a writer through this very new lens, which I welcomed, but I also, I rejected it for a while and.
You go through like stages of processing. I did anyway, and through talking with other people who were late identified or late diagnosed it is some people describe it in different ways, but for me it felt very, like looking at myself through this new lens for the first time and I was just like, who have you been lying to yourself your whole life?
Have you been ignoring this?
You have these flashes of anger, you have flashes of excitement because it's like, oh my God, I'm not, it wasn't just me deliberately doing these things because I was seeking attention or the things you tell yourself and the things the people around you do to try and rationalize something that none of us understood.
So yeah, reading Stella was like I haven't fully I think I've read it again since I've become more at ease with, this new version of me new discovered version of me. But the character of Stella and the way that Helen [00:09:00] wrote her and even listening to Helen's interviews and reading her interviews because any late diagnosed autistic person or neurodivergent person will tell you you become very obsessed with gathering data and figuring out like, everything possible because that's what, that's how I would've operated as an undiagnosed person.
I would've gathered the data about everything in life and made sure that I had my structure in place and made sure that I knew how to survive and how to cope through the adversity that I faced, on a micro level every moment of every day.
So like reading these characters who were a lot more confident in themselves and a lot more at different stages, or who had lived their lives in different ways, it gave me new data, new understanding, because I didn't really talk to a lot of other autistic people early on because, I felt like a fraud.
I felt like I was making it up for a very long time.
That was a really hard part of it. That was if I could make up stages of late diagnosed autism, that would be the first stage after the denial.
The, this is not real. I'm not autistic. The next stage is definitely the, am I making this up?
Am I lying to myself?
Andrea Martucci: There's no test you can take where like a blood test that
And I've talked about this a little bit on the podcast before, but basically I figured out that I had ADHD live in a conversation for the podcast with Tasha Harrison.
And we were talking about A Duke by Default, by Alyssa Cole.
Amanda Cinelli: I love that book and I love Tasha.
Andrea Martucci: yeah, and so we're talking about it and Tasha's talking about, basically how her ADHD is presenting and like the character. And I'm just sitting there, I'm like, wait a second. That sounds like me. What you were talking about earlier, I guess I just always assumed that was just something that was like wrong with me.
And what you were talking about where the stigma around it is I think a big part of the difficulty of accepting it. Because on the one hand, there's all of this relief. Oh my God. There is a reason, and it is maybe not well understood thing, but it's something that I can look over there and understand that there's like a framework for understanding this as opposed to just wow, what's wrong with me? And that's really comforting.
But then on the other hand, I think there is this like grief process where you're like, oh, like this is actually just something I don't wanna, this sounds negative. I have to accept this about myself, and it's always gonna be here.
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, definitely. Because it's I always use like metaphors for everything, and I always have, because they help me understand. I have quite a visual mind. Like I don't have an internal monologue as such. I have an internal silent movie or something. I dunno. That's another thing I didn't realize was different about how my brain operates.
So when I was trying to like, come up with a metaphor to explain, because I overexplain myself, I'm constantly trying to overexplain and tell people, this is how it is and please [00:12:00] believe me. And, so I came up with this like idea of it's like when you need new glasses, and you're using the glass, like to feel uncomfortable, it's better.
You're looking at the world through a completely different lens and. You're seeing things as they actually are and as they should be. And you just need a little bit of help here and there. Or some people need more help. And there's that's like all the terminology and it's, it is a completely new world that you step into because you know you want to be a part of a community of people where you feel more accepted .
My experience as an undiagnosed autistic woman was, I felt constantly othered. I felt constantly put on the outside. I was constantly looked at differently and spoken to differently. And like when people say, you know about saying my kids, they would say, why do you need to get them diagnosed? Why do they need the label? And my response was always like, I've had labels my entire life. This is the only label that I've actually felt worked for me and I identified with, and I, the minute I tried it on, I was like, oh my God, this is what it was all the time.
And then I started speaking to other people and it's a funny, it's a funny kind of feeling because I think maybe it's my own personality thing. I've always been very like, oh I'm unique, I'm different. I was the only left-handed person in my family. I was the only not fully Irish kid in my class, and I was always, different and kooky and quirky and, so like when I realized, you're very similar to all this huge area of people over here, and all these people are telling me their experiences and it's almost identical to mine in places. And I think for a while I was like, oh, but.
Andrea Martucci: Like I thought I was special.
Amanda Cinelli: I'm not that different to all these people at what? So it's like a switch. It's like you have to switch from one rail to another.
But it's so much more comfortable over here, I'll tell you that much. I feel like I've found myself in my thirties and it's so welcome to be quite honest cuz life is easier now after, getting access to the tools that I needed.
So once you go through that little grief piece of childhood me and teenage me and young adult me who really needed all of these tools then, but she didn't get them and that's okay. And, seeing my kids go through it now and I'm their parents, giving them access to whatever help they need in school or talking things over social understandings and emotional regulation.
And I'm healing that part of myself through parenting them in a healthy way. I hope not in a living through them. But yeah.
Andrea Martucci: you are in a place where, because of your experience and because of what you understand, are able to give them the resources that you wish you could have had, which isn't, it's not like you're trying to live through them, it's more like you're using your knowledge to benefit them.
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. [00:15:00] Definitely. My oldest is so like me and when I see her in school, like she's so confident and she loves performing and she loves public speaking and these are all things that I really struggled with.
But because she knows herself and she understands where her difficulties are, she can lean into her strengths so much more, and yeah, I'm just such a huge advocate for, helping all kids where they need to be helped and fuck the labels, basically, because they don't matter, like they're always gonna be labeled with something.
They're gonna be the hyperactive kid, they're gonna be the too talkative kid. And I think if you give people a map or a guidebook of, this is my kid, they're amazing at public speaking, sometimes she can't sit in her seat, sometimes she needs to go for a little walk. You avoid them getting those negative labels that we all know. They hold you back for your whole life. They lead on to more difficulties. They lead on to, poor self-esteem and these things. And I've firsthand experience of where that goes.
So take the other labels. That's what I say.
Andrea Martucci: I think that's like something that happens a lot in romance novels, right? There are issues with this in romance novels too, where it tends to do it much more for certain types of people and not other kinds of people, but basically this idea of saying the things about you that are unique are the things that are lovable, not, I love you in spite of these things.
And I think that, that is a big blocker to feeling like you even deserve to be loved is realizing that there are things about you that you may think of as this is what is wrong with me? And it's more like what makes me unique and like how do I come at the world? I just come at the world differently.
So there, I think there's really something powerful, having representation of not just all sorts of types of diversity, including neurodiversity in romance.
So what are some other romances with autism representation that you've enjoyed? And what in that representation made you feel seen and backed up that idea of being autistic isn't something that people love you in spite of?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, I have a whole list here that I've had to pull myself back with. But I think it, it's a mixture of the authors themselves and the books that they write that make me feel seen. So yeah, I think like Helen Huang she has three books in The Kiss Quotient series. And like I love the first two. Stella is the character in the first one, and then in the second one, I forget his name.
Andrea Martucci: Kwan. Is it
Amanda Cinelli: Yes. He has like an arranged marriage and I loved his book as well, but my favorite of that trilogy is the last one. And I know she got a lot of pushback on it because it was quite a heavy book, but I've never felt more seen than her describing, the main character is gone through burnout as an undiagnosed adult. And through the course of the book, she discovers that she's autistic, but she's also coping with the burnout as well.
And [00:18:00] with heavy kind of family themes and difficulty, and I felt like she broke me apart and put me back together in that book. That book was a big experience for me. And I just think it was so beautifully written as well, and how she channeled her creativity and that kind of creative burnout. Because I've gone through that. I went through 18 months of not writing. I thought I was gonna give up. I was only for my editor at the time, reached out over Twitter and was like, Hey,
you wanna send me something? I would've walked away. I would've 100% because it was all just too much. And so reading that book was like a validation or just a, I don't know, it just helps to see yourself.
I think for me it like reminds me that I. I belong in these stories just as much as anyone else. Just because I go through these periods of burnout sometimes, just because I can't socialize for weeks or can't leave my house sometimes. Or I'm late with my deadlines or whatever, I still belong, I'm still valid, I'm still human just like everyone else.
So stories like that are really important, I think, even though they are a heavier read. And, but she still gets her HEA at the end and she still, has her romance arc and I just thought it was beautifully done.
And then Talia Hibbert is I've stalked Talia Hibbert on social media. I'll say that upright upfront. She has the Brown sister's trilogy and like the last book is Eve Brown's book where I think she discovers she's autistic through the course of that book as well. And then the hero in that book is already identified diagnosed as autistic but has also said like all three of the sisters would show a spectrum of neurodiversity. And other family members as well are also like you, it's so present that it's a family thing, but they're so accepting of each other and they're they see each other and they live in this kind of chaotic, fun little, hive of people.
And I just love that because I just think that's so healthy showing that like neurodiversity is lots of different kind of things. It's not just autism, it's not just ADHD. So I loved those books. I especially loved Eve Brown's book though, because the way she described that, not knowing who you are and not knowing what you're doing, and her kind of very slow realization that, oh, wait, if he's autistic and if I do all these things too, I just thought it was gorgeous.
Like it was so well done. And then with Jacob, like I, I really, he's a control freak just like me. So I love to see him pass.
But I just love seeing that, like the comedy aspects brought in that we can be funny, like autistic people are hilarious sometimes, and it's not all doom and gloom. We're not all just like hiding away all of the time. Like we're all just [00:21:00] different people. Same as neurotypical people, there's a spectrum of autism and people don't usually know what that means.
I think people struggle because they think of it as, you're a little bit autistic or you're very autistic, you are the stereotypical presentation of, the autistic men that you would see in movies, which is for a long time that's all that we had was autistic boys and men in TV shows and movies acting very differently from all their peers. And a very medical terminology used and a lot of worry and a lot of othering.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think what has been burgeoning in the last it feels like the last five years, and maybe it was before that too, but is this understanding of masking and that certain people, certainly because of gender roles or other cultural kind of expectations for people may not present in a way that seems typical.
Like the classic one is ADHD boys like this very hyperactive, whatever, presentation. And that's a stereotype too. That's not to say that is always how it presents for boys, but that was the cultural idea of ADHD . And so I think, even now if I'll tell somebody, particularly people of an older generation oh, I have ADHD, that sometimes they're like, you don't seem like you do.
And I'm like I have excellent coping mechanisms that I have developed. Excellent in the sense that like they mask a lot of the symptoms externally, but there's a lot going on under the surface to make sure that I don't. Because I was always trying to like massively control and hold it in, right?
And part of that is expectations oh, you're a girl, you need to behave a certain way or whatever. I think culturally there is this growing understanding that like really single understanding of a diagnosis is not accurate. And that we do also have to trust people's experiences and trust that there's a lot of things happening under the surface that if it feels that way, that that's the important thing, not necessarily what other people observe.
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. When you're socialized as a girl, when you grow up with those gender roles, like my family would've been very stereotypical in their kind of, traditional gender roles. It's difficult to say how you feel when you're told to behave a certain way quite often.
And especially in a medical setting. Like I went through severe mental health issues as a teenager, but I was also an overweight teenager. I was obese. That was my label for most of my teenage years. That was the explanation for why I was so, um, difficult in social settings where I had such difficulty with social cues and with people and everything even why I had sensory issues with food. I had issues with sleeping, everything was put down to Amanda is obese. Amanda has all of these other issues as a result of her [00:24:00] obesity first.
And that's quite a common experience, I think with obese women or obese people in general. It's like the expectation is that, oh, you have all of these other symptoms or traits because of this terrible thing that you've got going on in your body. So it's that's what I mean by like, when you have all these labels, like nobody's looking at the person underneath, nobody's especially in a medical setting, they will deny most of your experience a lot of the time because they believe that the obesity comes first.
So when I went through the medical settings for mental health issues as a teenager, everyone was just asking me to go on diets and people were just telling me to cheer up and go for a walk. And, it's like burning out every week because I was trying so hard to do all of these things that I just innately could not do on a prolonged time period.
I couldn't go to school for a full day every day. And have that kind of level of sensory, social, emotional input going on and not burn out. So the result of that becomes, your baseline is permanent stress and permanent panic because you don't understand why, I think as a child, the social map of whatever you go through is very different.
It's a little simpler and I see it now with my oldest. Once you get to about eight or nine things start to become more complex and even more so with every year that passes as you go towards adulthood and that period of time and specifically is like really hard for autistic kids.
So even not just romance, not just representation in romance is important, representation everywhere in all kinds of art and fiction and, ya middle grade all like, we just need to show these kids that it's okay to be who they are and. That's why it's important to me.
And like I don't write middle grade. I don't write YA, I write romance.
So I try to just do what I can to show all different kinds of people struggling through their life basically. That's if I have to boil my stories down through that's what they are. It's just like lots of different people struggling through.
Andrea Martucci: And that basically, what you're getting at then is like, why is it important to represent autistic love to you as an author? Have you written autistic characters? Has that only been since you got your diagnosis? Like how have you started to incorporate that into your fictional universes?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. So like consciously the first book I wrote with an autistic main character was the Billionaire's Last Minute Marriage. The heroine in that is Pandora. The whole series is like a play on like the Greek mythology, just like a very light kind of inspiration. So she's an Irish woman called Pandora. We won't look into it too much, it's Harlequin Presents. We love our crazy names. She has to marry her boss basically because she broke up his first wedding and it's a very Harlequin Presents high fantasy [00:27:00] plot. But she's a diagnosed autistic woman. It's named on page. Her brother's also autistic. Her parents are parents of autistic kids. Her dad's most likely autistic.
It's like I wanted to show an autistic person as a main character. And autism had nothing to do with the plot. You know, Autism was just a part of her experience. It affects her on page, like it affects her interactions with her male lead. But it's not a plot point. At no point is autism used to up the stakes. And I think that was me trying to heal something of just I wanted to write that for me. And I just wanted to write more autistic people into my books, just living their lives.
I wasn't ready to write a self-discovery story because I felt like that was too close. But I did just want to start writing deliberately neurodivergent characters on page with all of their traits as they are, not changing them. Not, reining them in or making them seem more appealing in ways or trying to fancy them up or anything. But when I actually looked back through my back catalog I don't think I've ever written neurotypical characters.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, but it wasn't called on page because you weren't there yet, but you were writing what knew.
Amanda Cinelli: And it's bizarre, like even my very first book, cause I remember I, I listened to an interview, I can't remember who it was, but they were talking about how the first book that you write is usually, you could psychoanalyze it in some ways of it all your id list stuff is gonna be there all your like big, parts that you love about life or that you struggle with.
And like my very first book was about an Irish wedding planner who was like, extremely perfectionist very anxious, very controlling. She was like known in circles as just being like this absolute terror of a wedding planner where everything had to be perfect. I suppose you put yourself into your characters always. I think there's always little parts in there, but it's just so funny to look through all of these books.
And like in that very first book, what she was struggling with was that she went through the menopause in her very early twenties and she realized that she was infertile and the way she was socialized as a young woman, she felt like she had to apologize for this part of herself and hide it. And I think I just wrote so many of my own feelings about how I felt about myself into that character. Just using a very different kind of situation.
But you do feel like there's something wrong or there's something you know, unchangeable about you and the very negative terminology when you don't know what's going on.
And then I just love showing characters reaching that point where they fall in love and I don't like showing characters who fall in love to love themselves. I like to show characters who, through meeting different [00:30:00] people and going on this journey of the story of the actual plot of whatever, crazy Harlequin Presents situation I've put them into, they really accept themselves through that journey. And then the kind of cherry on top is that they are finally able to accept love. Or whatever way it happens, if they fall in love first or, it happens at different points in the story for different characters. It's always very unique to them. But it's always important to me not to use a relationship as like a bandaid on someone's, difficulty accepting themselves.
I always like to give my characters the opportunity to reach that point themselves where they could take or leave the HEA and then they choose the HEA.
I just feel like that that's really important to me.
That's story, the kind of stories I like to write. Cause they're the stories I love to read. I don't want every book that I read to be a hero's journey, a big grand thing. I do like to see growth and I like to see people tackling really difficult situations and issues and being an undiagnosed autistic person and discovering that you're autistic is like fairly high up there in terms of difficulty.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think that you know what you said about essentially like autism being the conflict or not being the conflict. I think that's really important when it comes to representation in a genre.
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: Because I feel if the only representation is when that marginalization is the conflict, it reinforces for people that like it is right for that to be the conflict. And it others people like, like you mentioned.
Amanda Cinelli: It does, you're seeing the condition first. You're seeing the othering first, and then you're seeing the character.
Where I think, if you want to actually show representation, if you want to teach people what autism is, you want to teach people about how many different kind of people are within the autism community.
You have to give that kind of representation where it's like, this is Pandora, she's breaking into a billionaire's safe because she did this really dumb thing and now she's dealing with the consequences. Oh, also, she's autistic. That's why she struggles with noise and you're gonna learn little things about autism on the way, but you're learning it through a person who, you are already meeting as them.
Andrea Martucci: It's like the same way where different characters have like different careers or they're in different settings or whatever, where it's like I don't wanna sit in like a criminal case if the character's a lawyer. You don't want that to be the focus, you want the focus to be like the romance in romance novel, right?
And it's like, yeah, yeah. Gimme a little bit of what their life is like as a lawyer. Someone's career is just one part of their identity, right? You wanna get a sense of their whole life. You wanna focus on their romance and
Amanda Cinelli: yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And I think this is basically what you said earlier, but look, people have all sorts of very complicated reasons why we have a hard time accepting that [00:33:00] essentially we are worthy of being loved and accepting love. And I think that is a much bigger blocker for most people's relationships. Literally just being open to it and accepting of it. And when you get there, you accept that you are worth being loved. Then you can be in that relationship and that relationship can be successful.
Part of it is yes, this is a romance. We're focusing on the romance, and like we wanna see that journey.
But yeah, it's not like, this other person loves me, so therefore I must be worthy of being loved, and now I have value, or this other person loves me and now I have value. It's like you had value all along.
Amanda Cinelli: Exactly. And I think it's a, it's important to show like that autistic people can be romantic. They can also enjoy sex, they can really enjoy sex, they can struggle with sex. There's a whole different spectrum of sexuality in there as well as being autistic.
And I think it's always the representation is so important to show, how many different kinds of humans are inside this huge community. We're small community, but we're huge,
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Amanda Cinelli: big personalities. And I just think there's so many books that do sex really well with autistic representation, like Talia Hibbert, like Helen Hoang. I love Chloe Liesse's stuff as well. Her Bergman series, she has two books I love. And the most recent one was Ziggy's book. That was, If Only You. And I just love the way she writes the autistic experience of, if you have sensory issues, yeah, just seeing all of these different authors put their own spin on the romance tropes that I adore, that I've grown up like craving and needing, but also having, autistic people front and center and being given like a full romance arc of their own. I love it. I'd read 20 of them in a row and I'm trying to write more myself.
Andrea Martucci: So now that you are exploring that in your fiction, do you feel like not to put a rule on it, but do you feel like you've got a career ahead of you where you could never tire of writing about autistic characters. How do you feel about that?
Amanda Cinelli: It's been a weird kind of up and down journey because at first I just wanted to write autistic characters. Then I panicked that I wasn't writing them well. Then I panicked that I was copying other autistic characters that I'd read and it was like I was learning how to write again cuz I was looking at myself writing all of a sudden, where before I was just writing these characters who were quirky and whatever, had all these different things going on and I wasn't looking at them too closely because they were just coming from somewhere.
But then all of a sudden I have to re relax back into my craft through
Andrea Martucci: sounds like you had like the burden of responsibility then, right? didn't do it wrong.
Amanda Cinelli: yeah, because after feeling the value of reading so many amazing stories written by autistic authors about autistic people, I wanted to do that, and I wanted to give that out back out into the universe myself. But then I was like, are people gonna get bored [00:36:00] reading a million autistic characters in Presents, or am I gonna write too many? Am I gonna burn myself out? But I've, I just, I eventually re relaxed myself down and I just told myself to write the characters who were coming to me again.
So some of the characters are, the labels the diagnosis or their neurodiversity would be named on page. And then some are just coded in where people aren't actually aware that they're neurodivergent or not. But readers always know.
I've had readers message me via and go he's autistic, isn't he? And I'm like, yeah, he is. Um, he doesn't know yet, but he will find out.
But some stories. Like the last book in that Greek series the hero is coded autistic. He's very obviously autistic to me when I write him. And in my head, I knew that he would find out he was autistic once the kids were of an age where they, one of the kids was going to be diagnosed. But I didn't wanna write that into their book because they had enough going on. They had a one night stand on a jet, and then she was pregnant and, they had all this stuff going on. I was like, do you know what? Like he, he knows who he is. She knows who she is. She was diagnosed ADHD a few years before, and the book begins.
I love exploring the ADHD and autistic dynamic together in relationships because that's what I live, myself and my husband. Like I didn't need a diagnosis. I didn't need to know I was autistic to fall in love with my husband and for us to work well together because we both accepted each other and we both accepted each other's traits and quirks and difficulties and challenges better than we'd ever experienced before with anyone else in our lives. So I think I write that into books without even thinking, and I know I've done it before in my back list because it's just that feeling when someone knows that you're struggling and they know, oh, you won't like going to that party, and you don't have to be neurodivergent to have that acceptance.
But I think when you're autistic and when you're neurodivergent, it's like when someone sees you and they make those accommodations and you don't have to ask, it's just this, ugh, it's this beautiful feeling. So when I wrote that into that book I decided not to name his autism, and I just have him as he is because he didn't need to know right then.
And she didn't need to know, cuz they were just vibing as people going on a very intense journey together. Very fast tracked romance story they have because of the way it worked out for them. But yeah, I just I like to play with it a little and see what would they do,
Because in my head they are people in my head they exist.
Andrea Martucci: And In your reader's heads, right? It was really important for you to read autistic characters in other author's work. Have you gotten any reader feedback from people who were similarly really excited to see the representation in your books?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, lots. I've had really great feedback. I've had readers DM me, I've had actually like friends from school DM me and stuff and be like, oh my God, I've realized I might be ADHD. I've realized I might be autistic too. I'm gonna go for an assessment. Because [00:39:00] they're seeing it, they're, it's being laid out in a way that they've never heard it before or they've never seen it before. And the conversation is open when you have stories like this out there. So I'm just always so aware that my kids are gonna grow up and they're gonna be reading books, and I want them to have access to this kind of stuff and not just be seeing, the same kind of people all the time.
Andrea Martucci: A single story of what it's like to be, right.
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah. Cause it just makes you feel like you have to make yourself smaller and just not be so obvious that you stick out so much. But I'm just like, let everyone stick out.
We all stick out. There were, Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Amanda, I wanna thank you so much for being here today and talking about autistic representation in romance novels. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story and all these great recommendations. What has come out recently from you or is coming up next by Amanda Cinelli?
Amanda Cinelli: My most recent book was Pregnant in the Italian's Palazzo. That was the last in the Greeks Race of the Altar series. All three of those books have heroines who are neurodivergent and their neuro divergence is named on page. And then what's coming out next for me is like a complete, just, jump out into the high fantasy where it's a fictional kingdom and crown Princess who has to find the husband real quick. It's called A Ring to Claim Her Crown. And it's inspired by the Swan Princess animated version.
Andrea Martucci: That's exciting. Is that from Harlequin as well?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, that's from Harlequin as well. I have other projects with a couple other places, but nothing is finished yet, so I can't talk about anything else. But I will be writing a lot of very different neurodivergent characters in romance over the next couple of years, I believe.
Andrea Martucci: That's really exciting. Okay. So where can people follow you on the interwebs to keep up with all of these exciting projects?
Amanda Cinelli: Twitter, acinelliauthor and. My website is www.amanda-cinelli.com and it's C-I-N-E-L-L-I cuz Italians love making their c's real difficult as you know. I would imagine
Andrea Martucci: With uh, Mar-Too-See, Mar-Too-Chee,
Amanda Cinelli: I get everything I get Caneelee, Can-ah-lee.
Andrea Martucci: I'm pretty sure I have said your name on the podcast before, and I think I said Sin-Ell-Ee, I'm guilty.
Amanda Cinelli: Everyone says that. That's fine. No one knows how Italians pronounce their C's cuz they just like being awkward.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And you're on TikTok and Substack as well, right?
Amanda Cinelli: Yeah, I have Love, Amanda on Substack, which I have written one thing of, but I will write more cuz I want to write. I love your Substack, so I want to keep, I want to write more kind of essay type stuff, but it's just finding that time, isn't it?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I know.
Amanda Cinelli: Finding the time, being consistent, all these things that come great when you're neurodivergent,
Andrea Martucci: yeah. Time management, executive function. Yay.
Amanda Cinelli: Great fun.
Andrea Martucci: Thanks so much again for being here. I really appreciate it.[00:42:00]
Amanda Cinelli: Thanks for having me.
Andrea Martucci: Hey, thanks for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out Shelflovepodcast.com for transcripts and other resources. You can increasingly find me over at Substack. Read occasional updates and short essays about romance at shelflovepodcast.Substack.com. Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month Patreon supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, and Frederick Smith. I have a great day. Bye!
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