Asperger Syndrome writers: how to write social interaction

If you go to an online group for writers and creative people with Asperger Syndrome, one common topic is whether an Aspie writer can write scenes of social interaction well enough to pass muster. After all, we have a deficit in social interaction skills in real life. We commonly miss nonverbal cues and that can make a social interaction go wrong. So how can we write social interaction?
One factor is the fact that we actually have social interactions all our lives. We may not fully understand them, but neurotypical people also have social interactions they don’t fully understand. Every time we interact with another person, they have things in their head that affect the interaction— and they may not reveal even important things either verbally or through nonverbal cues.
But the most important reason we Aspies can write good fiction, including social interaction scenes, is that it is FICTION. And social interaction in fiction is governed by rules.
Social interaction in fiction takes place in the form of scenes. Each scene in a work of fiction has a purpose— it advances the overall plot in some way. And each character that acts in a scene has a purpose in that scene. He brings an agenda to the encounter.
For example, take the first scene in the novel ‘Gone With the Wind.’ In the first scene there are three interacting characters— Scarlett O’Hara, a sixteen-year-old Southern belle, and two of her many beaus, Brent and Stuart Tarleton.
It seems like an ordinary social call, but all the characters start off with agendas. Scarlett prides herself in being a popular girl with lots of beaus, and she doesn’t want to lose any one of the beaus to the other girls. She flirts with the Tarleton twins even though she has no intention of marrying either one, since her heart is set on her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes.
Brent and Stuart want to rise in Scarlett’s estimation and become the chief members of Scarlett’s string of beaus. They probably have a vague idea that in time one or the other of them will propose marriage to Scarlett and she will accept. But the boys haven’t thought far enough ahead to even figure out that they can’t BOTH marry her and that this fact is likely to lead to a future conflict between the brothers.
Brent and Stuart have an immediate goal in the scene. A barbecue at the Wilkes plantation will be held the next day. There will be dancing, and the boys want Scarlett to promise them as many dances as socially possible.
Scarlett doesn’t want to give the boys the encouragement of too many dances. She has lots of other beaus she wants to dance with. And she wants to spend time with Ashley, the man she believes is her One True Love.
The Tarleton boys have a secret, though. They’ve previously visited the Wilkes plantation and were told a secret: Ashley’s cousin Melanie Hamilton will be at the barbecue, and the Wilkes family intends to announce the engagement of Ashley to his cousin Melanie.
Brent and Stuart think that revealing this will get them what they want— Scarlett’s attention. Girls like to know secrets, and they love hearing gossip about who is getting engaged, especially when they hear it before it becomes common knowledge. Surely this will win them lots of dances and attention from Scarlett at the barbecue!
But because Scarlett loves Ashley, she is distraught. It can’t possibly be true! Her attention has turned firmly away from the Tarleton boys. She absently promises them dances and other attention at the barbecue, but then she leaves without inviting them to dinner, which would have been common good manners.

You can see that it would not require lots of knowledge of real world social interactions in order to write a scene like this. Only a knowledge of what each character in the scene wants— and you, the author, gets to decide that.
Now, you will note that not everything in the scene is normal and typical of social interactions of the period. It is odd for the Tarletons to be chasing the same girl, and it’s odd of Scarlett to accept the brothers both into her circle of beaus. It’s also odd for Scarlett to forget her manners and not invite the boys to stay for dinner. But readers accept that. People don’t always live their lives according to the etiquette books. Because the characters have goals, and they act to further those goals in the scene, their behavior is accepted.

The scene, the first in the book, serves the purpose of introducing the main character, Scarlett, and the major threat to her happiness— her love is apparently about to marry another. This situation is central to the major conflicts of the novel right until the end.

So for writing effective scenes of social interaction, it is more important to know writing rules than the rules of real-world social interaction. And most Aspies with an interest in writing will be able to learn those rules by reading books like James Scott Bell’s book ‘Plot and Structure’ which will help you learn to create plots which follow the three-act structure, which in turn will help you to write valid scenes.


Blogs I’m reading:

Dawn Witzke: Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn   –  I just finished reading Dawn Witzke’s book last night. An intense dystopian novel with a Catholic touch. And here she’s reviewing Declan Finn’s thriller A Pius Man (Pius like the popes of that name) which basically shoots up the Vatican but in a Catholic-friendly way.

Josephine Corcoran: Ignoring blog commentsJosephine tackles the topic of how the blogger should respond to certain types of blog comments, particularly those on very old posts.

Celebrating: Therapy!

Celebrate blog hopThis is the day of the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop.  And even though the fearless leader might be too ill to participate this week (prayers for her, please) I’m putting up a post and visiting some of the participants anyway.

Today I’m not posting from my own home. I had to come into town for an appointment, and stayed overnight at the home of my 90 year old mother.

My appointment was with my therapist, John Lindt. Besides being a licensed therapist, he also is a Protestant ordained minister, recently retired. We find a lot to talk about.

I originally started therapy because I needed someone to make an official diagnosis of my Asperger’s Syndrome. I continue because John’s a good guy to talk to.

Because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, I don’t have real-life friends. I don’t have a good enough relationship with any of my family, other than my mother, that they are willing to call me on the phone or want to talk to me if I called them. So, after my dad passed away, I had only one person to talk to IRL. And that’s not healthy.

John and I have a lot to talk about. We are both college-educated people. We also both have conservative political ideas. Sometimes John asks me about my opinion on stuff on the news— he’s interested in my sometimes-weird take on them.

We talk about things in my life (which I am not sharing) and other things. Yesterday’s session was taken up with talk about my new interest, psychology. Since he studied that in college, I thought he’d know some things, and he recommended an author to read (Viktor Frankel).

I find it very important to have this other voice in my life. Since my dad died I’ve had a problem in that my mom still knows how to press my buttons in order to try to force me to do everything in life her way. (As you can see, my mother never reads my blog.) She often acts as if the thing she wants to require me to do is the way every NORMAL person does things. It’s good to have John to talk to so he can reassure me that the way I do things is also valid and does not disprove my validity as a person.

Of course I know admitting I’m in therapy means that any lurking blog trolls can make fun of me for being ‘crazy.’ But, hey, people have been making fun of me all my life. I ignore it, mostly. And on a blog that means I don’t have to post the mean comments at all.

So, I’m celebrating my therapy and my therapist. And hoping all the other lonely people with Asperger’s Syndrome out there have good therapists to celebrate. Hint: if your current therapist is awful, thy a different one.

What I’ve learned since becoming a writer #IWSG

Insecure Writer’s Support Group

It’s IWSG posting day, and the question of the day is: What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?

OK. One valuable lesson I have learned is that I am disorganized as hell and I can’t be fixed. Which I suppose is just another way of saying that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder in which lack of executive function— a scientific term which means ‘disorganized as hell’— is a feature. And not one of the cool features.

One way ‘disorganized as hell’ works out in my writing life is that I lose vital stuff and never find it again. For example, years ago I came up with the absolute perfect system of military rank for my Starship Destine series. I remember that each rank had 3 grades, and there were no captains in the rank system. ‘Captain’ was just a title for the guy who commanded a starship.

I wrote this system down in a composition book, then misplaced the composition book. I couldn’t recreate the system from memory. This stalled the Starship Destine project for years. A year ago I finally bit the bullet and created a new system.

What I have learned from such experience is that every writing project must have a home. A physical home, such as a plastic box in which to keep the composition books, three-ring binders, and random paper scraps related to the project. And an electronic home, such as one or more Scrivener projects, backed up on Dropbox. (If you don’t have the money for Scrivener, try YWriter which is free. Or give up some of your expensive habits, like eating breakfast, until you’ve saved up for Scrivener.)

Physical printouts of your work is important. With my poems I have a Scrivener file for them, in which they are sorted by year and month. When I write a poem into the Scrivener file, I ALWAYS print out a copy and put it in a file box.  When one of my computers died in 2015, I got a new one, re-downloaded my Scrivener, and retrieved my poetry file from Dropbox. I found that several of the most recent poems were missing from the file. But since I had my hard copy, I printed out the missing poems and nothing was lost.

For my Starship Destine series, I had one Scrivener file which was all my worldbuilding encyclopedia. I wrote out topics about my Starship Destine world/galaxy such as the different alien races, what Terra was like in that time period, how intelligent races were classified either as dominant, non-dominant and sub-dominant, how interplanetary affairs were conducted (no, not THAT kind of affairs….)  Printouts from this file are housed in a 3-ring binder which has a set of alphabetical dividers. So if I want to check a key fact about the Mender race, I find it under the letter ‘M’. in the binder.

Later I decided to use the Starship Destine world of an earlier era for my Western-with-aliens series which was to begin with a story called ‘Sky Machine over Texas.’ I did some outlining and character work on that and did some work on creating a Mender language— at least enough of a language to come up with personal names, place names and the like. I think it was based on a combination of Biblical Greek and ancient Egyptian. But I wasn’t being very organized at the time and some of the notes I made, including a language list of a couple dozen words/names and a list of Mender noble family surnames, has gone missing. I’m going to have to do a revamp of my Destine worldbuilding file to include the new material and a place to house the notes for both series. Will have to clear off some shelves to house some of this material when I’m not currently working on it.

I find that using this system helps me feel more confident. It’s a bit of work to keep it going and I have to remember to have composition books, 3-ring binders and plastic boxes around to house my hard copies, and have to remember to keep up with the Scrivener files and make sure to back them up to Dropbox. But I’m hoping I won’t have to drop writing projects for years any more because of lost notes. And for sure I mustn’t procrastinate recreating stuff that has been lost— I’m going to get out my Egyptian language book and my Strong’s Concordance (for the Greek) and create a new list of Mender words/names, as well as adding old Mender names and a word to my Scrivener file, by the end of this week.

Have you every had problems with organizing the notes for your writing or other creative projects? Have you come up with a system that works for you?


Blog posts I’m reading:

Since it’s IWSG posting day, I will be reading LOTS of posts from the IWSG list. If you want to read some for yourself, the list of blogs is here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Celebrate; “Eat that Frog!”

OK, yesterday I said I’d explain about the frog thing today, only first I have to mention Mark Twain. Which Mark Twain? There is the one I saw in an old Bonanza episode on the INSP channel. There’s another one from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. There may even have been a real Mark Twain once, or maybe it was Samuel Clemens.

But the Mark Twain I mean is the one that is quoted in some writing and productivity books as having said “If the worst thing you have to do today is eat a frog, do it first thing in the morning.” That’s a good, motivating saying. Unless you are French, of course.

The frog is supposed to be a symbol of the task on your daily to-do list that you most dread. It’s the one you most want to put off until tomorrow. Or next year. Various books insist that the best thing to do is to do that task first thing.

Sometimes I do that. Sometimes it works out better doing the least-dreaded thing first, just to get me into action. I did that yesterday and got my ‘frog’ task done as well.

Sometimes we get up and find out that a bigger, more intimidating frog task is the most important one of the day. That happened to me this morning. Every morning, when I have baby chicks or ducklings in the house, I check on them and give out a little water and feed so the beasts will SHUT UP for a while. Sometimes that enables me to get some more sleep. But today I noticed that my pen of Chantecler chicks was not only getting overcrowded as the chicks grow, one of the chicks was picking at another hard enough to draw blood.

The only way to give those chicks more room is to move them out to the brooder room in the barn. Which is filled with my ISA Brown chicks (hybrid laying hens) and two heritage breed turkeys.  Or it WAS, until I did my new ‘frog’ task of the day and moved the lot to an outdoor pen.

Now all I have to do is clean up the brooder room, replacing the light bulb and the heat lamp bulb, and then I can put wing bands on the chicks and put them out in the barn. My mini-flock of 5 ducklings will have to stay on the porch for a bit until they are a week or two older.

My point I guess is that even though being rigid about a to-do list can help you be more productive in your writing and your life, some days you have to be more flexible. What I do about that is that I always leave space at the end of my to-do list to add tasks like that. They don’t really count as full replacements for the items on the list, but they are tasks accomplished all the same.

This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. I don’t know if I’m celebrating my baby chicks being old enough to commit attempted homicide or the fact that I’ve got the big chicks, including the one named Dahmer, big enough to move outside with no new fatalities. Or just the fact that I’m getting things done and getting blog posts written.

The blog hop is run by Lexa Cain. Last week she posted that she’d been ill and wouldn’t be able to do the blog hop herself. Today there was no new post. But those who are on the Celebrate blog list are doing it anyway.

Lexa did a very clever thing on her blog when she started to host the blog hop. She set up a blog list for the Celebrate participants. Since she is on Blogger, the blog list is not static. Instead, it shows the title of each blog, and they are listed in order of the most recently updated. So I can see just at a glance who has posted already on this Friday’s blog hop.

The blog hop is at: http://lexacain.blogspot.com/  and though now is not a good day to join up, you can at least stop by and give Lexa your get-well wishes. It’s a very good blog hop and they also give out info on books that are available as freebies. I submitted a book by my friend Robert Mullin called ‘Blood Song’ which was free at the time. (It may still be free, I haven’t checked. If interested, do a search on Blood Song and Robert Mullin on Amazon.)


Blogs I’m reading today:

Sharon’s Shells, Tales and Sails: A Fun and Safe 4th of July  She’s got a new book out and is offering a free eBook for anyone who will review it.

lightravellerkate: Bourges by Night  Beautiful pictures.

A Pius Geek: A Pius Superversive Novel? #PulpRev This blog is written by my friend Declan Finn who writes thrillers and vampire books, both well worth reading. And educational: in one of the vampire ones I learned how to obtain enough holy water for MAJOR vampire destruction.

Procrastinating your Blog Writing

juliannenorbert

I’ve been procrastinating about writing this blog post for a few days now. Two days ago I found the ultimate distraction from writing this post: I decided I first needed to read a whole book. About procrastination.
The book is ‘The Procrastination Cure’ by Damon Zahariades, and I have no clue whether the author is a well-known author of productivity self-help books or just a guy trying to make money writing by concocting these things. But I read the book and came away with some things. Including the one about eating a frog first thing in the morning (more on that later.)
One of the most useful things about the book is that the author went in to some of the reasons people procrastinate: fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed, laziness…. I guess it’s important to figure out WHY you have a procrastination habit before you can have the insight to start fixing it.
I’m a lifelong procrastinator, myself. I did it so much as a child that my parents characterized me as the child who never finished anything. And I believe that characterization to this day.
I had a number of reasons for my procrastination back then, but big one wasn’t mentioned in Zahariades’ book— perhaps because the book was written for independent adults. I procrastinated a lot because I was asserting my independence. Hey, it was cheaper than dumping a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor.

When we are children, most of the tasks we are faced with were set by our parents or teachers. We weren’t necessarily in accord with the need for the desired action.
Let’s look at the example of the clean-your-room chore. My room was normally messy— I had lots of toys and books, and far fewer places to put them away. Sometimes my mom would get on a neat-bedroom kick. Even though my room had been cleaned up pretty well recently, she would break into my Saturday fun time by demanding I drop everything and go clean my room. When my room was clean enough for ME already, I’d just put away one or two things and then find a book to read.
When I was in second grade I had a mean teacher. She noticed I wasn’t always doing my assigned pages in the math workbook. So she waited until I had about 20 unfinished pages and then called my mother, demanding that I do all the undone pages in the workbook up to the current page.
This pretty much ruined my week. Especially since the class had been allowed to skip several of these workbook pages and my mother was forcing me to do them all.
In both of these instances, procrastination didn’t get me out of the unwanted tasks, but it could delay them. And for a child, a short delay is everything.
The problem with procrastination it becomes a habit, a go-to strategy we use even on the tasks we choose to do. And it creates frustration as tasks go undone and we face the consequences of that.
What are the bad consequences of procrastinating on blogging? You end up going days between posts. Your blog becomes less read. And it’s harder to get back in the swing of regular blogging again.
If your rewards for blogging become smaller, then it is easier to not do it the next day. But the longer you keep it up the less your reward becomes.
The answer? Well, I’m working on my general procrastination issues by writing a daily to-do list in a notebook. I did that some years ago and it worked until the notebook got filled and I failed to replace it. And as for the blogging, I am challenging myself to write my post early in the morning. Normally I work on my current writing project at that time. But since I’m at the outlining stage and doing that in a notebook, I can get that done at other times.

And about the eat-the-frog thing? Well, I’ve decided to procrastinate on that part of this blog post. I’ll think about that tomorrow….


Blog posts I’m Reading:

Bayou Renaissance Man: “Indoctrinate the Kids. To Hell With Their Parents!”

The Write Practice: The Ugly Truth about Self-Doubt As A Writer

 

 

 

New opportunities in Christian fiction

Christian fiction— perhaps it will go down in history as the genre most harshly judged by critics who don’t read the genre. But Christian fiction has a place, and that place is widening.

My earliest memories of Christian fiction were of fiction sold only in specialty Evangelical Christian shops. My impression was that it was mainly designed for members of strict Evangelical groups who taught that Christians don’t read worldly novels— or drink, dance or own a deck of playing cards.

Our family wasn’t that kind of Christian. We were Presbyterians, and went to PCUSA churches— though the church had not fallen away from Christian teaching so badly at that time.  We read ‘normal’ fiction. Though my mom had a novel called ‘The Silver Chalice’ which was VERY Christian in tone and told the story of the Early Church. But that novel was brought out by a mainstream publisher, and later was adapted into a Hollywood movie.

My, how the times have changed! Modern publishers don’t care to retain their Christian readerships. Mainstream novels are full of references to Christians of all sorts as ‘haters’— because the authors think it’s ‘hateful’ to oppose aborting children or oppose calling gay relationships marriage. Publishers not only don’t object to it, they seem to almost require it. And although Christian readers have adapted to this bigoted atmosphere enough to be able to read anti-Christian-biased fiction, it’s often hard to enjoy it. Particularly when authors accuse Christians of all being ignorant, while displaying their own ignorance of the commonest details of the faith they are hating.

Evangelical Christian fiction got noticed when the ‘Left Behind’ series started to hit the best-seller lists. It was helped along by the fact that secular folks got really interested Christian beliefs about the End Times about then, since they believed that the Evangelical End of the World would happen in the year 2000. This was a false belief— the REAL Evangelical End of the World happened in 1988 (40 years— one Biblical generation— after the founding of the State of Israel.) But it sold a lot of exciting books filled with Christian characters to people who might have been in spiritual need of them.

But now in the Internet age, the picture has changed. For one thing, Christian authors are connecting across church/denominational lines. In my Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy FB group we’ve had Evangelicals of many sorts, Protestants, an Episcopalian monk, Catholics, and a Mormon or two. And so we are more aware that sound Christian fiction can come in many ‘flavors’— though we disagree on the authenticity and usefulness of some of the ‘flavors.’

The indie fiction revolution means that Christian fiction writers are no longer out of luck if their denominational background is not accepted by the bigger Evangelical fiction publishers and their own church’s publishing house doesn’t accept fiction. Along with Evangelical fiction, Catholic fiction and LDS (Mormon) fiction, all of which have traditional publishers, the most obscure denominations, like WELS Lutherans, can have fiction tailored to their church background.

Because of indie fiction, individual Christian authors no longer need be restrained by old-fashioned and silly-seeming Christian fiction rules. For example, some of the old Evangelicals wouldn’t allow Christian characters to be shown drinking alcohol, dancing, or playing innocent card games, because some readers would have objected.

The indie freedom has its downside, though. Many Christian writers have read far more secular fiction than Christian. They also often have had very little if any religious education. I know of a number of young Christian girls who see nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage and cohabiting relationships, so long as the partners claim to be engaged. It’s perfectly possible that there are some young indie authoresses out there writing ‘sexy’ romances in which the characters are Christians, and who market their work as Christian romance. It won’t sell to the Christian market, and secular romance fans probably won’t touch it because of the Christian label.

Indie Christian fiction, then, is less ‘safe’ than traditionally published Christian fiction which has been vetted to death for offensive things, even trivial ones. But, as in secular indie fiction, that adds to the excitement of reading and discovering new indie authors. It helps to follow Christian fiction blogs and web sites which review indie and small press books as well as those from the big Christian publishers. They can help you find books which you might enjoy and warn you about any content concerns such as excesses of ‘magick’ in a fantasy novel.

If you are a writer and a Christian, it might be well to consider whether the wider world of today’s Christian fiction might be the right place for your writing. Pitching your book to fellow Christians might be a wiser move than aiming at secularists who might reject your work if they learn about your faith.


Will I review your great new Christian indie novel? Probably not. I am a very slow book reviewer and I have a backlog of books written by friends I must review. Also, I don’t enjoy every possible subgenre within Christian fiction. If you have a great contemporary romance, it probably won’t catch my interest enough to finish it even if you are the best romance writer ever! But, don’t despair. I am hoping to recruit a couple of Christian authors who will do a little guest posting of reviews for this blog. (How do you get your Christian book reviewed in the meantime? Join appropriate Christian author groups, make a few friends there, review THEIR books, and perhaps you will be able to arrange to trade reviews.)


One blog for (Evangelical) Christian fiction writers is Mike Duran’s deCompose. Here is a sample post: The Importance of Implicit (vs. Explicit) Christian Content in Fiction


My FB group for Christian writers of science fiction and/or fantasy:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/366357776755069/

Now, this group, being on FB, does not actually BAR non-Christians from joining. However, since the topic is the problems of CHRISTIAN writers in these genres, non-Christians rarely have much interest in the group.  But all are welcome to join.

Poets market: Eastern Structures

One of the most significant moments of my writing life happened in 1989. After having written poetry intensely for about a year, I finally dared submit my poems to a couple of markets— I had purchased Writer’s Digest’s ‘Poets Market’— and one of them, Struggle: A Magazine of Proletarian Revolutionary Literature, accepted some poems. (I was in my Youthful Marxist Phase at the time.)

I wrote a lot more poems that had ranty Marxist topics and I got published a few more times in Struggle. And I think that I learned a lesson about getting poetry published— try to find a poetry ‘zine you are in synch with and submit regularly.

Currently I discovered a new poetic market in a Facebook group about sijo poetry. It’s called Eastern Structures, and publishes 3 poetic forms: ghazals, sijo and haiku. The editor of Eastern Structures, R. W. Watkins, was seeking out some submissions of sijo for his next edition. The web page of Eastern Structures is: https://sites.google.com/site/nocturnalirispublications/eastern-structures

The ghazal form is explained on the website. ES publishes only 5-7-5 syllable haiku (& senryu)— they are quite firm about that. But they don’t insist on a season word in the haiku, or the strict division between haiku and senryu in the subject matter.

In the Sijo Poetry Facebook group, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/21083466365/), I asked the editor if he had any preferences for sijo in the matter of the number of lines. All the sijo in Eastern Structures #2 were written in 3 long lines, instead of breaking each long line into 2 half lines, leaving what looked like a six line poem.

R. W. Watkins replied: ” I prefer the original three-line version. The six-line version has a tendency to become a six-line thing in itself. I wrote an article on this subject almost two decades ago. Certain people hated me for it; it was an ‘inconvenient truth’.”

So— if you are a sijo poet, I would suggest you submit your sijo to Eastern Structures as poems of 3 long lines. If you have written sijo of 6 lines where the two line-pairs don’t work well as one line, the editor will probably reject it.

If you are new to submitting your poems to a market, here are some tips useful for submitting anywhere:

  • buy a sample copy or two of the ‘zine and read what has been accepted.
  • review descriptions of ghazals, sijo or haiku and see if your poems qualify as these forms.
  • write many, many ghazals, sijo or haiku before submitting, so you can pick the best of many.
  • after completing the first draft, let each poem ‘age’ a month or two before working on the final version.
  • if you think a market is a good fit for your work, don’t take rejection badly. Many poetic markets get hundreds more submissions than they can use. Submit your best new work at a future date.

Have you ever submitted your poems or prose to a publisher? How did it work out for you? Are you still submitting?


Other Post of Interest:

Celebrate: Poem Published! https://myantimatterlife.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/celebrate-poem-published/