Chatting with A Face for Picasso Author, Ariel Henley

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Chatting with A Face for Picasso Author, Ariel Henley

About Ariel Henley

Many of us have read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, but few have heard the story from someone with first-hand lived experience. As a support worker in the disability sector, I am acutely aware of the lack of disability visibility in mainstream media, or on the flip side, the extreme use of disability troupes – a person to pity, the eternal child, or the evil villain. Actors without disabilities play ones that do. Authors without disabilities write about what it’s like to live with one or know someone with one. To me, the best way to learn about the real lived experiences of those with disabilities is to talk to someone who’s willing to share their story. This is why I’m so happy I had the chance to interview Ariel Henley, debut author of A Face for Picasso.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across Ariel Henley, but when I found her Instagram page, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. Ariel’s life has been shaped by what it means to be beautiful, mathematically, societally and personally. 

Ariel and her twin sister Zan were born with Crouzon syndrome, a rare craniofacial disorder where the bones in the head fuse prematurely which led to multiple surgeries. Doctors reconstructed and expanded their skulls and shifted facial features out of the places they once knew, as a result, Zan and Ariel had to learn who they were all over again. When I spoke with Ariel about A Face for Picasso, I was blown away by her story of resilience and her journey to self-love and acceptance.

Ariel’s Reading Preferences 

How many books do you read in a year?

I love to read but since working on A Face for Picasso, I’ll admit I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like. I would say I probably read about 40-50 books/year. 

What’s on your bookshelf?

I have a ton of memoirs on my bookshelf. I also read a lot of thrillers, gothic mysteries, and feel-good YA. I’m a big fan of Simone St. James and Julie Murphy. I’m currently reading Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath. 

Do you prefer paperbacks or e-books?

Paperback. I like to feel the book in my hands and smell the pages. 

Which authors inspire your work the most?

I am inspired by so many writers, but the first ones that come to mind are Lucy Grealy and Laurie Halse Anderson. 

What It’s Like Being an Author

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author. Was this the career you always knew you wanted?

Paperback. I like to feel the book in my hands an

I’ve always loved writing. I was a smart kid, but I was also a traumatized kid and I missed a lot of school due to medical appointments and surgeries. I was just trying to get through the day, and I didn’t really care about my grades or about doing my homework. But the moment an essay or creative writing project was assigned, I was all in. So in that way, I think I always knew that writing was my calling. It wasn’t until I was in 7th grade that I knew I wanted to write A Face for Picasso though. This desire started after my twin sister Zan and I had surgeries to advance our forehead and face. We’d had these surgeries before but returning to school after a summer of traumatic operations looking like a stranger to myself was extremely difficult. Not to mention, watching my twin sister go through it too. We went back to school not even looking like the same people anymore. So trying to process the repeated trauma we experienced from surgeries and from having facial differences is what led to me wanting to share my story. I remember writing a short story for class and having my teacher tell me that I might have a future as a writer and having that ‘aha’ moment. From that point on, I was pretty focused on my dream of writing a book and sharing my story. 

What does a typical day in your life look like?

When I am not writing, I work as an Accommodation Specialist at the University of the Pacific, helping students with disabilities get set up with academic accommodations. I work remotely, so every morning I get up around 7 a.m. and feed my animals (I have a cat named Peanut and a dog named Patrick). Then I get ready for the day and at 8 a.m., I sit down to work. I usually write during my lunch break if work isn’t too busy. After work, I make dinner, and catch up on social media and news posts I missed throughout the day. My boyfriend and I will usually watch a show and then we take the dog for a walk. After that, I take a bath and get some reading time in or I sit down to write more. Then I go to bed and do it all over again the next day. 

When you’re writing – where do you write? What is the setting?

Oh, I love this question, because I’m sort of a chaotic writer. I wrote most of A Face for Picasso sitting at my kitchen table with papers and notes EVERYWHERE. My boyfriend worked nights at the time and he sometimes came home to me asleep at my computer surrounded by my book in progress. I tend to move around my apartment while I write. Sometimes it’s on my computer in bed. Other times it’s sitting on my couch with my feet up on the coffee table, balancing my laptop on my knees. Sometimes I sit cross-legged on the floor and work that way. It’s all about how I feel most comfortable that day. 

What exciting projects do you have coming up?

I’m still in the launch phase of my forthcoming memoir, A Face for Picasso, but I’ve slowly been working on two other projects. One is a gothic mystery and the other is a YA novel. I don’t want to say too much because I’m still in the early stages of writing and I don’t want to jinx it, but I will say that both books do incorporate disability and facial differences.

Food for Thought

How do you handle failure?

I try to give myself a set amount of time to be upset and feel sad or frustrated. Then I pick myself up and assess the situation. Why did I fail? What went wrong? Sometimes it’s trying to figure out a different approach. Other times, it’s accepting that something just isn’t meant for me. I try to focus on what I can learn from an experience and channel that growth into my next endeavour. 

What is your dream brunch date? Where and with whom?

My dream brunch date would be with Taylor Swift. I’m a huge fan. Her music got me through so many hard times and she just seems like such a genuinely kind person. I love breakfast food and I love cooking brunch for people, so I think it would be a blast to hang out and make French toast while drinking mimosas and swapping hilarious dating stories and life lessons we’ve learned along the way. 

What is your ideal comfort food?

Chocolate chip pancakes. 🙂

I can’t say I’ve read a YA author’s memoir before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But Ariel shares her whole self, openly, honestly and authentically. She doesn’t shy away from the bad or the horrible. If you’re looking for representation on your bookshelf, this is a must-add to your collection. 

Let us know your favourite #OwnVoices book here or DM us on socials @bookbrunch!

Rachael Wallace
Rachael Wallace is a homebody who always has at least one book on the go and prefers experiences over material items. She is passionate about always seeing the gifts, strengths and contributions of those around her, especially those with developmental/intellectual disabilities. Rachael is always striving for personal growth and implementing daily self-care practices into her life that align with her needs.

Favourite book: Purple, Green & Yellow by Robert Munsch
Favourite brunch item: waffles, fresh berries, maple syrup and, if she’s getting extra fancy, a little bit of coconut whipped cream to top it off


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