By Nicole Hennessy
Just after a thunderstorm, Nick Shamhart took his 3-year-old daughter, Paige, to a public garden, confident they’d have the place to themselves. Not ashamed of his autistic daughter but tired of staring strangers, he’d begun to go to public places when people were unlikely to be out.
When they arrived, he told Paige to go play, and began to relax for a bit as she started smashing rocks together. Just then, a little boy pointed to the sky, screaming, “Rainbow! Rainbow! Rainbow!” Shamhart remembers.
Skipping around, he continued, “Rainbow! Rainbow! Mommy, look!”
Annoyed by how perfect the boy and his family seemed – how normal – Shamhart began encouraging his daughter to put the rocks down and look at the beautiful full rainbow the boy was so excited about. But it was no use.
A bit discouraged, he started going over all the moments in life that might feel this way for him, Paige still happily playing. And the boy, who … was now in tears?
He’d been so consumed by the rainbow that he’d run right into a rose bush and was now bloody and crying in his parents’ arms.
“Huh,” Shamhart thought to himself, smiling down at his still oblivious daughter, smiling back, happy, not because the boy was now a bloody mess, but because, he realized, “life gives you rainbows and life gives you rocks,” he told a small crowd gathered to hear him speak.
“It’s up to you to watch where … you’re going.”
Sitting on a small stage, Shamhart poured bottled water into a plastic green M&M mug, his novels filling a table in the back. Going straight to the Q & A section of the evening, he talked, often off topic, sharing stories like the incident with “rainbow rocks” – small moments that shaped who he is as both a parent and a writer, always with an edge of dry humor and some Star Wars references whenever possible.
Currently working on the screenplay for his latest novel, “The Fog Within,” Shamhart shared with the audience some of his frustrations with mainstream publishing and some of his experiences, which lead him to believe that if you are an entertainer, it won’t bother you to change your work to suit the short attention span and sexualized young adult novels that seem to sell.
But, for better or worse, he considers himself an artist, so he self-publishes, blending genre and breaking all sorts of other “rules.”
“The Fog Within,” a departure from his “Balance” series, which follows the theme of the afterlife, is a book he never wanted to write, he explained. He’s not pretending to be an expert on the subject of his daughter’s condition, he just saw the opportunity to write a human story, a story where the protagonist hits the bumps we all do but is also held back in other ways.
“This story is about everything my daughter, Paige, has taught me,” the dedication reads.
Shamhart sat on the stage, repouring water into his mug, waiting for another question, just before closing time, nobody else was asking one. So he waited for the room to clear, standing by his books.