Jennifer Brozek | Tell Me - Xan van Rooyen

Tell Me - Xan van Rooyen

Today Xan van Rooyen tells me why a book may need to be re-written multiple times before the writer grows into the author the novel needs them to be. Then, and only then, can that story be told as it needs to be.


Silver Helix took me 12 years and 5 rewrites before it was ready for publication and found a home with Android Press.

This book became the YA novel that landed me my first agent, but never sold, possibly because it was a little too odd and a lot too queer for the industry back then. At the time I began writing this book, I had no idea I was non-binary. I knew I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin despite how hard I tried to embrace my assigned sex at birth. For years I thought if I could just perform ‘girl’ better, then happiness and validation would follow. Thus the only reason I wasn’t happy being ‘girl’ was because of my own failings.

I shelved the book and wrote other stories, all queer, all helping me explore aspects of myself I was struggling to name. “Write what you know” is an adage attributed to Mark Twain, a statement sometimes erroneously taken literally when really it means to be aware of appropriation and to write authentically, doing due diligence when writing characters with identities different from your own. Thing is, for years I was writing what I didn’t know I knew. Deep down I knew I wasn’t cis but I didn’t have the vocabulary or the self-awareness to find a label adequately describing who I was.

It took years of self-discovery and writing a variety of queer characters, inserting myself into their bodies and minds, to understand my non-binary identity. While I remain wary of labels, I eventually started using non-binary and bisexual to describe myself, and later realized I needed to add demi-ace and possibly pansexual to the mix since identity can be fluid as people change, evolve, and gain better understanding of themselves.

When I proudly displayed these labels on my social media pages, I thought I was done. The self had been realized. This was the truth I’d always secretly known, but not been able to articulate. This was why I’d been writing queer stories for as long as I could remember while masquerading as cis and mostly het.

Turns out, I’d not only been writing queer characters before I knew I was queer, but I’d been writing autistic characters (or at least characters with autistic traits) long before I ever imagined I was autistic, too.

Struggling with sudden and debilitating mental health issues, I self-diagnosed myself with everything from a brain tumor to psychosis, but eventually connected with a therapist who recognized autistic traits in me and recommended an evaluation. Almost 18 months later, I had officially been diagnosed with autistic burn out and my identity had once again been altered.

It was only with diagnosis in hand that I remembered all the times editors had called my characters quirky or idiosyncratic with peculiar habits (all little pieces of myself I had inadvertently written into my stories). I realized I’d been writing autistic characters for years the same way I’d been writing queer characters.

So, back to Silver Helix, which I rewrote a fifth and final time while getting diagnosed. It was simultaneously a source of escapism and a way for me to process a potential new identity. I never meant to write an autistic character in Silver Helix, but I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad my journey of self-discovery is reflected in my character as they grapple with their own identity, and I’m so grateful I will get to write a sequel in which my character will learn to love and accept themself the way I am still learning to love and accept myself.


Climber, tattoo collector, and peanut butter connoisseur, Xan van Rooyen is an autistic, non-binary storyteller from South Africa. You can find Xan’s stories in the likes of Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Daily Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge among others. They have also written several novels including YA fantasy My Name is Magic, and adult aetherpunk novel Silver Helix. Xan is also part of the Sauutiverse, an African writer’s collective with their first anthology Mothersound out now from Android Press. Feel free to say hi on socials @xan_writer. Linktree:


Comments are closed