‘Unprofessional’ for a writer to use a free blog or website?

Here is where I have to disagree with the ‘experts’, specifically Joanna Penn. She says that using free blogging services— wordpress.com and Blogger in my case, is ‘unprofessional’ and that discerning viewers can tell a free website and, evidently, look down on you for it.

Even people who have plenty of money might choose to not spend more of it on paid blog services and domain names and such. And also, it might be a sign of solidarity with poor, disabled, and other disadvantaged writers and aspiring writers who haven’t made it big yet.

If you are a writer or aspiring writer with Asperger Syndrome [autism spectrum disorder], you have according to some statistics an 80% chance of being unemployed— even though the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis (when they still had it) rules out retardation and extreme low-functioning. It’s hard to get even the most menial job when employers take one look at you and see you as ‘odd’ and ‘shifty’ because you can’t make eye contact correctly!

Writing was one of the recommended careers for Aspies according to one book I read, and the prospect gives a lot of us hope. But being told you have to spend money on just starting a blog….. There are better things to save our limited funds for.

There is also the case of homeless aspiring writers who are bloggers. I’ve read of a case where a homeless girl wrote a popular blog about her homeless life and eventually got a book deal. She wrote her blog, I assume, with a free blogging service, and used the computers in public libraries.

I reject the notion that you need to pay for your blog and for a domain name to be serious about being a ‘professional’ writer. I have seen writers who have tried to save money on a domain name and turned their free blog into something less functional. If your words are good, people won’t notice your blog isn’t a paid one. If your words are not yet good because you are still learning, people won’t notice your blog’s free status either because they will either criticize you (a good thing) or just look down on you.

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What true crime stories can teach us about fictional characters

I like to read true crime books, if they are well-written or if the case is interesting to me. And one thing I’ve learned about true crime stories— it’s all about the characters. There are some true crime books published every year because the murder cases garnered a few headlines and people want to read more. But the books soon drop out of sight, because most people don’t find the cases all that interesting.

Other cases— like those of Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, and O.J. Simpson— remain of interest, no matter how much time goes by. Why is this? The difference is about the characters.

Some murders are almost routine. Armed robber kills victim. Pimp kills prostitute. Violent husband kills wife. Wife poisons husband— or a series of them— for the insurance money. These cases make headlines at the time, but most of them are quickly forgotten once the trial is over.

But the interesting cases are those with something special. A murderer that is notable and interesting— like O. J. Simpson, once the nation’s hero during his football career. Or perhaps an accused murderer that many believe is innocent, like Lizzie Borden. Or a sympathetic victim, like little Grace Budd who was lured away by Albert Fish and cruelly murdered.

Murderers aren’t normally the kind of people we want to spend time with, but the good true crime author presents the case as if it were a fictional tale with heroes and villains, and an ending that often brings a degree of closure.

Fictional stories are like that. It’s all about the characters. If the characters are dull and prosaic and walking stereotypes, the book is dull and you may not be able to finish it.

I knew an author that had a longish book out on Kindle. I read a lot of the beginning but I couldn’t find characters I much cared about or plotlines where I just had to know the outcome— perhaps because they involved characters that hadn’t caught my interest. But then the author wrote a novella about one of his more minor characters. He did a great job on the novella and on the Lead character. It still didn’t give me the inspiration to finish the longer book, though I did try. But my experience makes the point— the characters are the thing.

Many writers, like those with Asperger Syndrome or autism, lack the social skills and insight to learn enough about the real people around them to create book characters based on these real people’s traits. But reading books, both fiction books and nonfiction like true crime, allow you to benefit from some other person’s social insights. Of course, a true crime writer might be inaccurate about the details of some of the characters. Some writers repeat local gossip about a murderer to blacken that murderer’s name. I read a book about a woman who killed all of her own children, perhaps because of the mental disorder Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy. The local gossips accused the woman of being part of a rumored witchcraft coven in the area. But the evidence seems to point to the idea that this woman was quite conventional and attended Christian churches.

Now, fictional characters are not exactly like real people. Each fictional character has a function in the overall plot of the story. Real life isn’t that neat. But learning more about real people, even through a habit of true crime fandom, can help you create more compelling fictional people.

New Writers must develop discernment

What do you need as a writer? Loads of original ideas? Loads of knowledge from hundreds of how-to-write books and blog posts? No, what you really need is discernment. Discernment to help you tell which ideas— your own or other people’s— are good enough to work with.

I have seen a number of new writers who consider themselves Christian writers. They develop a novel idea which is a fantasy idea set in Old Testament times and they write it. And self-publish it. And wonder why after 5 years they have not one review on Amazon that wasn’t written by their mother.

They lack discernment about what the average Christian novel buyer wants. Go into a Christian bookstore and see what fiction is being published by the Christian publishing houses. How many are retold Old Testament tales? None? Maybe that should tell new writers something, but some still churn out tales about the Nephilim and such that may not sell.

How-to-write books have a lot of advice, but the advice may not apply to YOU. If the how-to-write book author makes a load of money at self-publishing, but he worked as a salesman for years and had a very popular blog, you shouldn’t expect his success to come to you unless YOU have salesmanship skills and have a popular blog— which is harder to do now than in the heyday of blogging.

If you read some book promoting advice which requires you to have 50 friends, it probably won’t work for you if you have .5 friend(s). If someone says you should write what you are enthusiastic about, it probably won’t help if you are an enthusiast for Victorian doorknobs and your novel is filled with specialized doorknob content at the expense of plot.

Suppose you have a lot of ‘weird’ writing ideas. Do you have the ability to tell which one can be made into a story other people can relate to?

One way to tell if your writing ideas have appeal is if you have a few author-friends you can communicate your ideas with. In the online age, even hopeless people like me— I have Asperger Syndrome and a long history of having no real-world friends— can interact with other writers online. (You have to do things like read and review your friends’ books’ in order to make this work for you.)

In time if you read enough and interact with other writers (and readers) enough, discernment happens. And it will be one of the best tools in your writing toolkit.

#AspergerSyndrome and #Holiday Loneliness

Banquo’s Ghost. At the feast.

Having Asperger Syndrome or autism can be especially hard at Thanksgiving or other holidays where all the neurotypicals expect to be invited to celebrate with family or friends. Not being invited is hard. Being invited, perhaps reluctantly, can make you feel like the ghost at every feast. Here are some of the problems we might go through:

  • Not being invited. It’s not always a form of discrimination that you can ‘protest’ about. With our lack of social skills we may not be sending off the secret social signals that we want to be friends or want to be invited to things. Our non-hosts may even think they are being tolerant of our differences in not inviting us to an event they think we don’t want to attend. I don’t really know what one can do when one is not invited, especially by family.
  • Being invited and not thinking it’s sincere.  The thing to remember is that neurotypical people can have problems with social skills too. Sometimes they invite us in a way we think indicates they don’t want us there— for example emailing to an account you check twice a year instead of picking up the phone. Or only inviting you through another family member who is supposed to be responsible for you. It’s hard to know what to do when you are wondering whether someone is hoping against hope you will stay away, and they won’t give you any clues that would let you know if you are really welcome.
  • Being invited with restrictions. Maybe you once had a ‘meltdown’ at Thanksgiving when you were nine, and you still are cautioned that you can come ONLY if you behave yourself now that you are 52. Or you loudly proclaimed your atheism when the others were saying grace or proclaimed your faith when the others were congratulating themselves on their atheism, you may be told you can come ONLY if you keep your opinions to yourself. Now, it is a social rule not to discuss religion or politics at any family or social event where opinions may be divided, but forgiveness is also an option, especially if the host knows about your autism spectrum disorder. We may need to do a lot of forgiving too, especially if forgiving slights and even insults is the only way to stay connected to your own family.
  • An invitation that is clearly charity. If you have been invited by someone you barely know because their family custom involves some ‘charity’ invites and they can’t find a homeless person this year, you may feel too awkward to come. It is socially awkward being someone else’s act of charity when you feel like a regular, normal person who ought to be invited to events for regular, normal reasons. But you might try accepting such an invitation if you feel up to handling the awkwardness, because accepting someone’s charity invitation could be your act of charity toward them.
  • An invitation that requires a money contribution that you can’t meet. Some families celebrate with restaurant food or catered food. If they want you to kick in money you don’t have, it may be easier to stay away than beg to attend at the group’s expense. There is not much an Aspie can do about this. Most of us are unemployed, on scanty disability or underemployed. And most families who buy Thanksgiving food pre-cooked do so in order to spare family members work.

If you are going to be spending Thanksgiving alone, you don’t have to be depressed or lonely. If you have a working DVD player you can perhaps rent a couple of movies so you can keep yourself distracted. Better yet, buy some new books you will save for the day.

Social media may not be much of a help when most of your social media buddies are spending time with their families and shouldn’t take time out to interact with you. But there may be others in your situation. You can interact with people like that— maybe even plan a social media ‘party.’ And of course if you have friends In Real Life who will also be alone, why not suggest a get-together? You don’t have to plan a full feast. You can just heat up frozen pizza or chicken wings or something easy.

Another good solution is if you can find someone who has an ‘in’ at the local soup kitchen or a church where they have turkey dinners for the poor and lonely. Being one of the people who is helping may be easier than going as a recipient of the charity. And you can be doing good as well as feeling less lonely.

Intermittent Fasters must be prepared

If you decide to try intermittent fasting— fasting for less than a day— you have to be prepared. You have to be prepared with correct information about fasting— as in reading a good book about fasting such as The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore. You also need to be prepared in other ways. You need the right foods for fasting— both in the few things you are allowed to consume while fasting, and the foods you need for good ketogenic diet meals afterwards.

You may feel, after reading the fasting book by Dr. Fung, that you can do it with fasting alone, eating carb-containing meals during your eating times. After all, he got started in recommending fasting because some of his patients were not following the rules for a ketogenic diet— they would give up bread but not flatbread or noodles.

This is the big temptation of the Intermittent Fasting lifestyle— you get through your fasting time— perhaps you get ready to break your fast at 2pm instead of noon. And then you get tempted. You’ve eaten nothing for a lot of hours— and so don’t you deserve a donut? A candy bar? A slice of pizza? And actually when you do IF, you can get away with it sometimes. I’ve had a carby meal on days when I only ate one meal, and the next morning had an OK blood sugar. And then I did the same thing the next day, and ate more carbs because I was so hungry, and had bad blood sugar the next morning.

IF and a ketogenic diet go together. If you are on a ketogenic diet, you are less hungry because you don’t have carbs shooting up your blood sugar and making you hungry for more carbs. Very often when I was doing the Atkins diet, I’d skip a meal because I just wasn’t hungry. This is how some people get into IF. They start skipping breakfast because they are unhungry on their ketogenic diet, they learn about IF and they just formalize their meal-skipping into intermittent fasting.

Fasting does not have to be water alone. You can drink unsweetened coffee or tea. You can also have some broth. When you are feeling bad on a fast— or even on starting a ketogenic diet like Atkins induction— drinking a cup of broth can help. Part of that is the salt in most broths. If you make your own bone broth, be sure to add an appropriate amount of salt. I add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon to a cup of bone broth.

Dr. Fung, in the fasting book, allows you to put a small amount of cream or oil in your coffee or tea. Kind of like bulletproof coffee, but with smaller amounts. You are allowed this once in every fasting day. This makes it less than a total fast, but some people really need this mini-bulletproof coffee or tea in order to make it through fasting, at least the first few times. It means you have to have coffee, tea and cream and/or oil in the house if you are starting a fast, also broth— either homemade bone broth, or the less-ideal commercial bouillon cubes or powder.

You also need to have the right foods in your house for a ketogenic friendly meal. I am in less than ideal health, and find that sometimes I just don’t have enough energy when the time comes to break the fast to cook a full ketogenic meal. I need to have some things that are easy to prepare or can be made ahead of time.

Right now, I’m making a lot of the chocolate milk recipe from Dana Carpender’s Fat Fast Cookbook (page 76). The original recipe calls for using canned full-fat coconut milk. I usually sub a little heavy whipping cream for some of the coconut milk, since I do eat dairy. But last time I used coconut milk alone and it was still good enough.

I also like to have cold cuts and cheese slices (not the wrapped-in-plastic American cheese) so I can make roll-ups— an easy low-carb answer to sandwiches. I always have cans of tuna in the house. I get the kind with olive oil as that is healthier.

My hope is to be well enough prepared to be able to eat ketogenic even when I’m tired or don’t feel like a lot of cooking. Last year I was sick for over a month and didn’t have any appetite— which was good because I couldn’t get out to the stores regularly and I couldn’t get people to drive me very often. I lost a lot of weight, but when my appetite started coming back I started buying bread and making myself sandwiches— which was a hard habit to kick.


My current fasting experience:

I’m trying to do Intermittent Fasting daily until at least 11am. I need to work more on quitting eating at a regular hour— I currently stop eating some time between 5pm and 8pm. Later eating gives me bad morning blood sugar. I tried a 24 hour fast one day when I had bad morning blood sugar. I went 26 hours, felt OK, and my blood sugar went down to a much more normal level. (I might point out that I am no longer on any blood sugar medications, which is why I don’t mention doctor visits before the fast to adjust meds.)

 

Do I really need to learn Chinese to write this character? & Celebrate

Right now I am occupied with outlining a science fiction novel, Tiberius Base. I’ve written some 51 pages, by hand, in a composition book. I’m following the instructions in K. M. Weiland’s Outlining your Novel Workbook, and so far it has been useful in developing characters, particularly the main character, a junior administrator at a starbase-under-construction, Ping Yuan.

I’ve been having an impulse to learn a little Chinese as a result. Chinese is the character Ping Yuan’s native language though he is fluent in interplanetary Trade Languages like Esperanto and Volapuk.

Foreign languages are kind of a Special Interest of mine, and I try to keep them under control— ‘you can’t buy a beginning Italian book until you have finished the beginning Serbian book.’ But I’ve also come to understand that starting a language project is one method I use to relate to fictional characters.

As a kid I was a massive Star Trek TOS fan—  before Star Trek needed initials. I particularly liked the junior officers, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov. As a result at various times I tried to learn Japanese, Swahili and Russian. Not a lot of results, but I do know the Swahili word for toilet and learned to identify Japanese writing from Chinese or Korean at an early age. I even know a few words of Russian, including one naughty word.

I have at various times used similar approaches to characters of my own creation. I have also deliberately given characters a certain linguistic background to match a language I was at the time interested in.

In my current project I’ve done some of that. Esperanto, a language which is a long term interest of mine (I have read books in it), is the Trade Language most used in my setting. I made some characters native speakers of German, which is my own ancestral language and one I studied in college. I can also read in German.

The character Ping Yuan was made Chinese for story-related reasons— he needs to be a communist-style ‘scientific atheist’ because another major character is a Catholic priest. But I think that learning a bit of Chinese does help— I’ve signed up for the Chinese lessons on a free language learning site and ordered the book that goes with the 50Languages free audio lessons.

Question: Do I think language learning in general is a good way for writers to relate to characters? It depends a lot on the writer. And on the character. But the language learning process can help you relate, and you will probably learning bits and pieces of your character’s culture as well. You might give it a try especially if your character’s culture is different from yours. (Or if you are a German-American like me, your character is too, and you’ve never tried learning a little German.)


This is also my Celebrate the Small Things blog hop post. As of this week it still seems like blog hop host Lexa Cain is not feeling well enough to participate, so prayers for her are still in order.

My celebration this week is about the 50 Languages free language learning materials. I discovered this years ago. It is sponsored by the Goethe Institute which used to encourage people to learn German. The 50 languages thing is really quite clever. The lessons are translated into the languages, and the learner picks out two— his own native language and the language he wants to learn— and can download the paired two-language audios. So— I can download some Chinese lessons with an English translation, but some Dutch speaker who wants to take Arabic lessons can get audios for that, too. It’s very helpful and great for homeschooling families who want to teach a language.

Keto Living: Dana Carpender’s new Fat Fast Cookbook

Dana Carpender the Low-Carb/Keto cookbook author had come out with her second Fat Fast cookbook and so of course I ordered a copy. I loved her other Fat Fast cookbook.

What is a fat fast? It’s not a real fast as taught by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Jason Fung in the Complete Guide to Fasting. Fat fasting is a temporary restricted diet designed by Dr. Robert Atkins, author of The Atkins Diet Revolution. The Fat Fast was designed for patients who were already on Atkins’ diet at the strict Induction level and who had stopped losing weight when they still had weight to lose. The Fat Fast was, like the Atkins diet itself, based on scientific research. It is a restricted calorie diet, unlike most low carb dieting, and featured food rich in (healthy) fats. It has been shown that people lose more weight eating more fat than eating carbs or protein.

Under Atkins there were about 3 or 4 food items you could eat on a fat fast, but when Dana Carpender tried the fat fast she started created recipes that fit the nutritional profile of fat fast foods.

In this new cookbook there are many new recipes. One problem I have with this book is many recipes have as a main ingredient Shirataki noodles. These noodles are a great low carb noodle substitute but they taste weird compared to real, carb-filled noodles. Also, they are hard to get. My local grocery doesn’t carry them so I have to go into town to get them. They also are hard to store. They can’t be frozen but must be refrigerated. In my fridge it is cold enough on the shelf I stored Shirataki on that a package was frozen and destroyed.

But on the good side there were other recipes that I do want to try. There is a recipe for low-carb chocolate milk based on full-fat coconut milk. I haven’t tried the coconut milk version but have tried one in which I replaced the coconut milk with heavy whipping cream.

There is also a recipe for Vichyssoise which uses cauliflower instead of potato. I’m going to try that recipe as soon as I can get to a grocery store that sells leeks— recipe also calls for one leek.

Now, I myself am not really planning to do a lot of fat fasting anytime soon. I do daily intermittent fasting in the overnight to morning period. But the fat fast recipes can also be a part of any LCHF ketogenic diet, which is what I eat (or should be eating) during my eating hours.

I think the best way to stick to a ketogenic diet is to have a lot of recipe books for ketogenic diets on hand. You don’t need to do lots of exotic recipes every day. Just find a few recipes you really like, and make them regularly. I personally stockpile ingredients for some of my favorite recipes so I can make them without a special trip to the store. This is important during the winter where I live, since during snowstorms we can’t always make trips to the store.


Saturday is the day of the week I cover healthy/ketogenic diet issues as well as intermittent fasting. Usually. If you want to know more about ketogenic diet and fasting, I recommend the podcasts of Jimmy Moore. He often has Doctors on his podcasts, and discusses the scientific research that backs up approaches like ketogenic diets or fasting. I listen to his podcasts on most days, it helps me keep on track.

Jimmy Moore’s Fasting Talk Podcast.

Jimmy Moore’s Other Podcasts.