Writers’ Zone: Formating. Plus, room for writers’ concerns/questions.

Writers can save time, effort by formating for publishing from the start.

A blank page.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Regardless of how one writes – on paper, on computer, on stone tablet – one begins by facing a blank page. As someone who belongs to more than one online writers’ group/discussion page, I’ve noticed two particular concerns that come with the blank page: Story and Formatting.

Blank page against a floral background
Photo by Eva Bronzini on Pexels.com

Story

That’s often the first concern for a writer. Under the broad umbrella of story one finds considerations of:

plotting

character development

pacing

It is not uncommon for less experienced writers to focus so much on story that they overlook another important, if less creative element of writing: formating.

Unfortunately, this creates a lot of additional work and reformating that could be avoided, if one knows and uses the expectations of formating that agents and publishers have for initial submissions.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

Formating

Writers are creative. We often like to imagine we have many choices when it comes to formating our manuscripts. And we do – up until we want to submit to an agent or publisher.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Agent and publishers have simple expectations when it comes to how they want to see a manuscript:

12 point Times New Roman font

First paragraph of each chapter, left justified

All following paragraphs indented

Double spaced

(remove extra space before/after paragraph and use uniform double space)

Photo by Katya Wolf on Pexels.com

We mustn’t be discouraged about the uniform expectation for manuscript submission. Rather, we should use all that creative juice we wanted to use for formatting, and focus it on the story itself.

Questions, Concerns, Disagreement?

I am adjusting this blog slightly and rather than just featuring books/writers already published, I would like to include more information and a forum for writers working towards publication.

Do you have a writing question you’d like addresssed?

Do you disagree or have a follow up question with something said here?

Please comment or contact me.

Writing and Creative License: Knowing an autistic isn’t the same as being autistic

A rose by any other name and with any number of thorns is more pleasant to deal with than this book was

Pink rose being sniffed by the nose of a puppy.
Pink rose being sniffed by chihuahua-dachshund pup

In the community of writers, there is an ongoing debate about ‘#ownvoice’ writing vs. ‘writing as a creative act’, e.g. a writer’s creativity should not be shackled by their lack of personal experience. Knowing that I have little positive to say about a book that someone else labored long and hard on is something I’ve put off for months. But this is also a cautionary tale for writers about why we all need to be careful about trying to tell other peoples’ stories.

A cute puppy – Winnie – that I would rather spend time with:

Chihuahua-dachshund puppy.

There’s a great deal to be said for literary license, that allows us as creatives and writers to explore experiences that might be adjacent to what we’ve lived but aren’t our actual experience. Most writers, for example, will write both male and female point-of-view (pov) characters, while most writers will have lived from only one of those pov. . . and generally we as an audience are fine with that.

A day lily and 4th of July Rose that I would rather look at:

Orange day lily and red and white rose.

At the same time, I personally have read male writers’ women and thought, “They really don’t get it.” We – as writers – should still be allowed to explore different pov characters. And when we do, we also have to accept that we may be criticized for our take, particularly when we are writing from a pov rather far removed from our own. And when that pov represents a historically marginalized community . . . lots of room for trouble.

What is most frustrating for members of that marginalized community though, is when a book featuring ‘their’ pov is written badly by someone who is not a member of the community, yet does very well commercially. That is basically salt in the wound.

Our current case in point, The Maid.

Cover of The Maid by Nita Prose.
The neurotypicals are loving this one . . .

To summarize what at least one person has commented, Publishers and writers seem to think if they don’t name the disability, then when they are called on the inaccurate portrayal they can say, ‘well we never said the person was x’.

There are stereotypical social portrayals of autism which invariably include Obsessive Compulsive behavior, including fascination with a fixed topic; an inability to decode social norms and expectations; naivete, particularly compared to same-age peers. Throw these all onto one character and people are going to read her as autistic.

Someone who is not autistic, writing an autistic pov is fine in theory. But when the portrayal turns the character into a puppet who is manipulated (that’s an autistic reading, not at all what the writer was going for) by the neurotypical characters who are ‘helping’ her – by having her rehearse lines to say, saving her when she’s in legal trouble, and caretaking her because she is portrayed as unable to be truly independent – well, don’t be surprised when autistic readers are offended.

Neurotypical readers, however, seem to generally love this story. They are amused by the ‘quirky’ pov, while being able to identify with her saviors who swoop in at key moments. They are not relegated to being the character who is incapable of orchestrating her own narrative. She’s the woodchip, they’re the waves who move her.

A Collie, whose barking I would rather listen to:

Collie dog standing outside on a summer day.
Close up of collie dog

Note: because this whole endeavor has cost me a lot of spoons (please lookup spoon-theory if this is not a familiar term) I have randomly included images in this post that make me much happier than the topic itself has.

Neurodivergent readers: This is going to be turned into a film. And we all know the likelihood of them choosing a neurodivergent actor to play Molly is as low as it is likely that Ballantine Books will follow this book up with several written by #actuallyautistic writers.

Prairie Lotus: Linda Sue Park

Cover of Prairie Lotus

Genre: Middle-grade historical western.

I’m writing a middle-grade historical western thus I’m reading them. What a lovely example of the genre we have in Prairie Lotus.

I found it very interesting to read how Linda Sue Park came to write this book. We have in common a love of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books, the Little House series. She had long imagined what it would be like if she could have known Laura Ingalls as a child, and what it would be like to be Asian in the historical west. This book is the fruition of that imagining.

Overall well written and researched, the only bump-out I experienced was the very 21st-century concerns that passed through the main character’s thoughts at points. Park had wanted to in some way show awareness in the book about social injustice and prejudice. While I admire the goal the result was that at times the character’s thoughts were not in keeping with her time and place. I found this very acceptable though and appreciated what Park was trying to accomplish.

Linda Sue Park

Some books I feature on this blog are enjoyable, some interesting, some at least cause thinking. I would say this book has all those features going for it.

For the Autistic in the Virtual Room

Free image: Pixabay, PIRO4D

Back in 2018 I created a brief survey to begin collecting bare-bones input from other ASD folx about what they were finding most challenging in life.

As a writer and academic, this is a topic that I would eventually like to address in a book that would hopefully help ASD folx and their communities (i.e. the rest of the world) by making it clearer the prejudices and struggles those of us on the spectrum face in day to day life. At the very least I’d like to create a conversation starting point amongst those who like some data, not just anecdotal evidence. To be clear, I value the stories of those with lived experience. But part of the audience would be made up of those who value data points.

I’d left the survey open and knew it was still hanging out in the virtual-verse. Then I got a notice that after several years someone had taken the few minutes to fill it out, adding another voice to the experiences being collected. And it occurred to me that it would be useful to keep adding voices to that survey and that by posting a link here, we might find a few more folx willing to share.

Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NJTC92V

Responses to one of the central questions of the survey as of April 30, 2022.

This is a anonymous survey although respondents have the option of leaving an email address if they are willing to be contacted in the future.

I’d be interested in knowing (comment section) what topics you think should be covered if one had an opportunity to discuss being neuro-diverse with neuro-typical people?

Photography and Writing: You Learn by Doing

Sable and white collie, indoor, low, natural light

Writing and photography are two of my biggest passions in life – along with animal rehab and adoption.

But let’s not go down too many rabbit holes at once.

Gull on dirty spring snow, overcast day

Recently I was discussing photography with a young person and they said, while they enjoyed taking pictures, they didn’t do so often because they weren’t good at it. This is the same bind that many writers get into – I don’t write more because I’m not as good at it as I want to be.

Swan and geese on early spring lake, sunny day

People! None of us are born great, we achieve [largely moderate] success by doing, learning, and doing more. Trust me – I researched and wrote a whole dissertation on this topic!

Storefront in low-light, pre-dawn

Recently I treated myself to a new camera. I hadn’t been doing much photography lately because of frustrations with my old camera; we’ve been together decades and though we’re not divorcing, we did agree it was time to bring someone new into the relationship.

Quincy Mine lift, Hancock MI,
bright sun reflecting on snow

This new camera is mirrorless [internal element that reduces weight] and I’m in love again. But there’s a steep learning curve for new equipment with vastly different functions. In order to learn, I have to go out and take a lot of very average or trashy photos. Each picture teaches me something and rather than frustration, I feel happiness that there are so many things I’m still capable of learning. Or at least experiencing.

Low light bridge photo;
needed a tripod and didn’t have one with me

Embrace new opportunities! Admittedly, I’m the last person to suggest we should always be embracing the new. I need routine. I’m clinically OCD, and even with medication, my need for order is at best managed. I get my brain to accept challenges by considering them educational opportunities. Undoubtedly you’ll need to find your own way to embrace the new, the less than perfect, the practice sessions that are necessary to get better at any endeavor.

Brick Building; mixed clouds and sun

None of us, however, can get really good at anything – writing, photography, teaching, dog training etc., without first being really average, maybe even mediocre. It isn’t where you start out that’s going to decide things, it is how much time and practice you’re willing to put in. Stick-to-it-ness accomplishes as much or more than raw talent and I’ve been around long enough to see that play out from the art community to academics and industry.

Succulent plant
Same succulent, different lens setting

Vladimir: Lit hit at Shades of Grey?

Potential spoilers, so reader beware.

Cover of Vladimir, by Julia May Jonas

When a friend brings a book to you and says, “I think this may be weird, read it and tell me what you think,” it goes without saying that curiosity is aroused. Particularly when the friend has read the book and is seeking a second opinion.

The cover didn’t help my initial impression of the book. I love book covers and judge a lot by them and this one did not speak to me or appeal to me. Still, I was now curious if I would find Vladimir a ‘weird’ book or not.

First, props to Julia May Jonas for what in my opinion she did well. She has written an engaging story, that reads quickly, and despite my moments of frustration with her main character, kept me reading. Do you know how some books are an effort to finish? This one was not. Some of her characters were very realistic, ironically, she seemed to do best with the aging professor-husband of the main character.

Julia May Jonas

Perhaps equally ironic the one I took most issue with was the point of view character- a woman. My issues with this character remind me of the ongoing debate in the writing community about writing from one’s own point of view/experience.

The point of view character in Vladimir is an aging, female, university professor.

Jonas is several decades younger than her protagonist, works on a university campus but in the theater, and her field of expertise has no overlap with her main characters. In other words, she’s watched aging, women, university professors and on that basis felt ready to write from the point of view of one.

As someone who in real life is much closer to the main character than Jonas is, I was at times rolling my eyes at the inaccuracies and internal conflicts that Jonas gave this character. They were often the concerns of a younger, non-academic person. Fortunately, most readers of this book won’t be aging, female academics, so they won’t be bothered by these details.

Now for the weird part. The book starts out with all the trappings of literary fiction: life-crisis, questioning of values and meaning, potential turning points, and affairs. Fairly standard stuff told with an engaging voice.

About 2/3 of the way in, however, the novel appears to be veering sharply into the Shades of Grey territory. So sharply that I felt like I’d been dropped into a different story. This was followed by an equally sharp correction (by now I felt like I was in a car with a drunk driver) and we were once again back into Lit Novel territory and then the final sharp lunge of direction happened, with no foreshadowing at all. Which as a writer and reader I dramatically dislike. You can throw in all the surprises you wish, but give me a heads up with a hint of foreshadowing, or I’m likely to accuse you of lazy writing.

My response to my friend then became, “Yes, this is a weird book. I felt like I got in a car with a drunk driver – by choice – and spent the trip wondering about my own life choices.”

This is some solid escapism reading for those who aren’t aging, female university professors, or for those who are and still have the anxiety and lesson planning skills of a 20 something.

Mouth to Mouth: Maybe I’m too autistic for this one.

cover of Mouth to Mouth

Let me begin with a disclaimer of sorts: I believe Antoine Wilson is a strong writer, who is capable of producing a story that keeps a reader engaged. I am basing this in part on the other reviews I glanced at after reading this book. Lots of them said they felt engaged, couldn’t put it down, found it to be a page-turner.

As someone who spent many formative years in Canada, I also have a soft spot for Canadian writers, such as Mr. Wilson. I was rooting for this to be an engaging book.

The challenge I ran into with this novel is that when you have an unreliable narrator telling you therefore, unreliable things (which are clearly self-serving,) am I really supposed to be surprised that the natural outcome of his obsession and self-serving narrative is the destruction of another person?

While many of those who are leaving reviews talk about the “surprise twist-ending” I’m with the reviewer who asked, “What did you think was going to happen?”

For me, it was thus an interesting if unsurprising narrative.

Antoine Wilson, Canadian author, writer of potentially surprising endings

This book combined with a few others I’ve read lately have left me wondering if sometimes neurodiverse readers just have a very different experience with a story compared to neurotypical readers. I have suspected sometimes that I’m missing nuances at play between characters. In this book, for example, there’s a scene near the end where it is revealed that one character has actually known a big secret that the point of view character (POV) has kept hidden the whole time. The POV character acts like this is a big deal. I couldn’t help but immediately think of a straightforward logical way of dealing with this complication and was mystified by why our scheming character was so dumbfounded and overwhelmed. I feel like I’m missing something here in the expectations around relationships between neurotypical people.

At the same time, it is pretty hard to surprise me. A twist isn’t much of a twist when you can see it coming from early in the story. I’ve heard/read other neurodiverse readers say something similar, “How did everyone not see that coming?”

Antoine Wilson, Canadian writer. If you’re neurodiverse, read and let me know if you perceived the ending ahead of time. If you’re neurotypical, you’ll love the surprise ending! 😉

Middle Grade: Christmas in Camelot

First book in the Magic Treehouse – Merlin Missions Series

Mary Pope Osborne wasn’t writing when I was a kid, more is the pity. I would have collected and been devoted to these books. When I was young, I read about Merlin and King Arthur, in a far less youth-reader friendly version of the story.

A 1962 edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur

Of course, the Magic Treehouse books aren’t telling the King Arthur tales; they are telling stories of a brother and sister, Jack and Annie, who are sent on adventures through time by Merlin.

In the first book, however Annie and Jack do travel back to Camelot to aid King Arthur and his citizens, who have lost all joy and hope. Who better than children to set out on the quest to recover them?

This excellent adventure with just the right amount of not-too-dangerous danger made for a compelling read. How much I wish this book had been available when I was a young, dyslexic reader looking for something that would draw me in but not be too frustrating.

Mary Pope Osborne,
champion of young readers

Matrix: A Novel

Cover of Matrix: A Novel

This week’s book is Lauren Groff’s Matrix, her sixth novel. Groff is a gifted writer, so I feel bad saying I never really warmed up to this book, even though unlike some readers I loved the premise: historical, strong women, nunnery etc.

Strengths include tackling subject matter that most writers avoid, including imagining a [probably not very accurate] life for a historical person, in a way that it has not been previously imagined. Strong women who create a cloistered world that largely keeps problems, aside from hunger, at the edge of their domain.

Admittedly, the narrative style kept me at arm’s length. I also wasn’t sure about hanging this imagining of the main character’s life on the name of a historical woman; it could have been, in my opinion, just as powerful to use a created name alongside a statement that the story was inspired by the historical poetess and nun. My own limitation: I don’t like creating so many fictional events and sticking them under a real person’s name, even when that person is long dead and particularly when the events don’t always jibe with what is known about the historical person.

Lauren Groff

Despite not appreciating all of Groff’s choices in this particular work, I think she is a gifted writer who will continue to produce noteworthy work. I look forward to seeing what is next from her pen.

The Stranger in the Lifeboat

My Best Read in a month. (Attempt to avoid spoilers but be forewarned, discussion will include information from book.)

Mitch Albom

I’m not going to lie. I enjoy Mitch Albom’s fiction.

Albom’s work that I’m most familiar with includes considerations of faith: what is belief and what do we really believe in – people, an idea, a standard of behavior/ethical framework that guides us, a specific being, a relationship with that being… What forms faith, what challenges it, what destroys it?

In both this book and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Albom explores what happens to someone when they lose a close loved one, and this seems to be what he considers the breaking point where most people are likely to ‘lose’ faith.

What then would be necessary for them to reclaim that faith?

In Stranger there were some depictions of God that had me question my own assumptions about faith. It was a strong reminder that my beliefs are personal, individualized by my own experience. It was very interesting also, to see how Albom brought the different threads of his story together by the end. And just like The Five People you Meet in Heaven, I’ll be thinking about The Stranger in the Lifeboat for some time, recommending it to people who want a fairly quick but thoughtful read.