community, Encouragement, reading, writing

How to Name Your Characters

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This is definitely an issue for writers. When you create characters, you go through the same process that expecting parents do — you want to give your “child” a name that you like, but that also fits in with your family, society, culture and the time period you’re all alive in. And it’s important to get these details right, because it helps your reader relate to the characters — and we all want that to happen, right?

So, here are some tips on how to find great names for your fictional babies:

Consider the time period your character was born in. Not the year you’re setting your story in, but when the person was born — this is mega-essential because most people are given names that reflect what’s going on at the time of their birth, not when you’re actually describing the plot. For example, The Order of the Twelve Tribes (my series) is set in present day, but most of the characters are between 15 and 45 years old, and their names take that into account. A middle-aged man or woman in 2017 would have a name that was popular in the 1960s, and their adolescent children would (most likely) have names that were big on parents’ radar at the start of the 21st century.

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Be sure to decide on your character’s ethnic/cultural background, and remember that when naming. Maybe your story’s set in modern America, but if your people are immigrants or belong to certain religions, their families may have wanted to pay homage to that by selecting a name from “the old country” or a religious tradition.

Fantasy/sci-fi names don’t have to sound “fantastical” or “alien.” Lots of readers struggle with this, especially in sci-fi or high fantasy novels. It can really trip up the flow of reading if you have to stop and sound out a name every other paragraph. If you’re writing about an alien race, how about mixing similar words from foreign languages — example, French and Spanish, or Latin and Italian — but not including too many syllables, to come up with names that sound unique and part of that culture, but that your readers can also pronounce. (Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark are good examples of this technique.)

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It’s more than okay to use names that aren’t exactly “in fashion” at the moment. When I was researching this subject for my own characters, I discovered that people really seem to like using popular names over and over.

And I’ve found there’s this trend in recent fiction recently, where it’s apparently mandatory to call every heroine a variation of Isabelle, or every hero a version of Alexander. Okay, not every single book/series, but is anybody else thinking this as they read? And quite frankly, it ticked me off, because I really like both of these names and was already planning to include them in my own work. Anyway, after having established several of my characters with classic/common names, I decided to try to “diversify” more with the rest.

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Visit websites and conduct up-to-date research. Nameberry (Google it) is extremely helpful, not just for name origins and meanings, but explaining the history of the name’s use, whether it’s so intensely popular that it could take a break from the cultural public eye, and even offers alternatives. And the site also has lists of popular baby names given in the UK, Ireland, France, etc.

And remember — don’t stress about it. If you feel like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown over getting your characters the “perfect” names, then you’re trying too hard. Trust me, it doesn’t have to be “perfect,” it just has to fit your story, the background, and your fictional friend’s “feel”.

And don’t forget, taste in names is like taste in salad dressing — it’s very subjective, and no matter how marvelous you think your narrator’s name is, there will always be somebody who goes, “Ehhh, I wish she was called Bernadette.”

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blogging, community, reading

So, You Want To Be A Book Blogger

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Note: Do not ask me for tips on origami. I borrowed all these photos from the internet, and I do not make any animals out of paper.

So, being a book blogger is now a thing. If you’re a reader/fangirl/fanboy, blogging about it means a big community (where geeks can all band together to take over the world), where you can find like-minded souls to share the hype and the flops and the overall love for books. It is good.

However, like with all good things, humans tend to forget that “in moderation” is really the best motto for life, and now book blogging is developing its own issues. For example, the “echo chamber” — meaning we all seem to be getting excited about and promoting the same authors and series. And the very sad notion that if someone disagrees with your review, they need to be strung up by their thumbs. Truly, this is not the sort of environment we should be cultivating.

So, here’s my advice for those of us just starting out in this interesting internet culture.

Along with creating the design/layout for your blog, plan which social media sites to join and how to link them to your own site. Of course, you hope that this will be fun. But, realistically, it’s just as much fun to see your stats go up, and know people are experiencing your content. So, after you place posts on your blog, you need to let folks know it’s there. One of the best things I did for boosting The Invisible Moth’s visibility was to join Twitter. Lots of book bloggers really like using Instagram or Facebook as well.

A personal note on social media: You don’t have to do all of it. Find the sites that you feel are easy to use, have a community you’d like to be a part of, and connects others to what you want to share the most.

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Choose which sort of books you want to review most, but let yourself break the mold every now and then. If you mostly read fantasy, it’s totally fine to build your foundation on fantasy fiction. But if there are certain classics or fluffy romantic contemporaries that just really stir your soul, feel free to share those with your readers, too. After all, it is your blog.

Having a posting schedule helps, but it’s not necessaryIn my experience, declaring that you will, without fail, be posting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is not realistic. Things happen. You’ll get sick, go on vacation, misplace the charger to your laptop, need to make an emergency trip to the vet…and your post won’t get uploaded that day. And nothing’s wrong with that.

Don’t feel compelled to only read the hot new releases you see “all” the other bloggers featuring. Last year, I realized that there’s a big problem within our community — I’ve read other posts that refer to it as “the echo chamber syndrome.” Indeed, it seems that there aren’t just 4 or 5 people discussing the new Cassandra Clare/Rick Riordan/Nicola Yoon/Marissa Meyer publication, these are the only discussions going on anywhere, and “everybody” loves them without any dissent. Hey, guys, I’m sorry, but there are plenty of other books out there to read, and if you just don’t care for a novel/series that the majority of your community seems to adore, that’s really okay as well.

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Doing tags or challenges is optional. Honestly, I’ve given up doing these, as well as weekly themes, because I simply don’t have the time, and I’d rather be someone who posts discussions/topics I came up with on my own. There’s no right or wrong; a lot of newcomers feel it’s expected of them after another tags or links them. You can if you want; but most bloggers won’t hold it against you if you opt out.

Don’t feel bad if you hit a reading slump, or aren’t sure what to review this week, or even just want to hide from the world for a while. The great thing about maintaining an online presence is that you control how much of it is in your life. Sometimes bloggers need to take a break (the local vernacular is “on hiatus”), either because physical life is requiring your online stuff to take a backseat, or you’re just not feeling the posting/tweeting/instagraming vibe. And all of that is just fine.

Most of all, keep it fun. Unless you’re one of the rare breed who’s being paid to blog, you’re here for fun, so it needs to stay that way.

Having a platform to share my thoughts on things that are close to my heart has been very rewarding. But a major part of what’s made it worthwhile is all the super-supportive feedback and conversation I’ve received from the visitors to my site. That’s what makes this ongoing project really special.

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art, community, Encouragement, writing

Sending Out The Call

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…Or, The Post That May Get Me In A Lot Of Trouble. And yet, I’m fairly sure that won’t stop me from going forward.

Lately, I’ve been coming across some pretty intense (and very important) discussions on “Christian media” and whether it’s actually effective, helpful, or even valuable to its own audience. And these discussions are happening among believers in the Christian doctrine. Since I count myself among that set of spiritual principles, but also as an artist, I’ve encountered several problems with “Christian” entertainment before. And this is something we need to talk about.

A lot of Christian musicians, writers, and other sorts of artists feel extreme pressure to only produce certain content in their art. If they cover a “taboo” topic, or include an image or wording that some in the Church find offensive, they are worried about being branded as a “heretic” or a “blasphemer.” (Now, is it just me, or aren’t we past the time when Catholics and Protestants put each other to death in the city square?)

Apparently, labeling something “Christian” means that it will already cover the issues of Biblical teachings and modern churchgoing lifestyle that most believers should know and/or generally follow. And often it seems to point a finger at those in the denomination or the faith that “aren’t measuring up.” It isn’t affirming of the message that the Messiah came to die for all of us, while we were still sinners. Nor does it present anything appealing or encouraging to non-believers.

Personal note time: I don’t read Christian fiction anymore, because I simply can’t relate to finding a husband being absolutely more important than anything else in life (even more than God, apparently); or to non-believers always being presented as drunks or child abusers or corrupt in business (since plenty of non-Christians are in fact very moral and very nice people); or to believers never getting angry or making a mistake that wasn’t forgiven at the drop of a hat, just because they prayed for God to show the other person they were “being unreasonable” (ahem…).

Not that absolutely all Christian fiction is this bad. But way too much of it is. So I’d rather spend my precious free time reading something that may not point to a spiritual lesson or spell out something of religious importance, but that provides lots of thought in the areas of growth and love.

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As artists, who are supposed to be creating and finding new and innovative ways to share our art (and our passion), we are continually being put in a box. As I attempted to finish the final draft of Volume 1, I explored the possibility of trying to get a Christian publishing agent, and was more than a little horrified by what I found. Too many companies informed prospective clients that “good Christian literature does not include swearing, sexuality, violence, any mention of other religions, the supernatural (even angels and demons), or reference other literature/music/art that is not Christian in origin and nature.”

Excuse me?! Have any of these people actually read the Bible, and discovered just how much violence there is, references to who “lay” with his wife, mentions of about 17,000 other cultures and sets of beliefs, and TONS of angels and demons?! And isn’t one of the major teachings of the New Testament that part of LOVE is respecting people who have a belief system/lifestyle/background you don’t agree with? Didn’t Jesus of Nazareth say that you could go to temple every week, follow all the instructions of the priests, and still be a sinner with a wicked heart if you ignored the beggars and the cripples on the street or didn’t give the repentent prostitutes a second chance?

This type of attitude among a lot of modern churchgoers is why I also don’t write Christian fiction. And believe me, I have worked way too hard on my “baby” to see it shoved into a corner of “not worth reading” by so, so many if it was labeled “Christian fiction.” Especially considering that most of the Christian publishers out there would call it “blasphemy” because it’s in the fantasy genre. (Haven’t they ever heard of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis?!)

Not that my series will be known for loads of profanity or explicit sexual references or graphic violence. But, somebody needs to tell me why, just because I write about faeries and unicorns and dragons — and angels and demons — I can’t call myself a Christian. And they need to have evidence that trumps the Gospels, which proclaim that my Savior came to die for autistic fantasy writers, too.

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Too much of the current Christian entertainment market is full of cheesy, unrealistic, dull, and even offensive portrayals that need to stop. I know for a fact I am not the only one who feels this way. That I am not the only one who feels the world as a whole needs to return to a higher moral standard, and that faith needs to be allowed to play a greater role than just “preaching to the choir.”

I don’t want to drop anybody’s names, in case you aren’t prepared for that; but if this is an issue that you face, as a believer and an artist, please raise your voice. To those of you who already have, thank you. We can band together to develop a place where our art is allowed to exist without discrimination, to reach all sorts of people through love of a shared interest or hobby, without in-fighting or unnecessary restrictions.

So, I am sending out the call. Let’s hear you.

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community, health

The Invisible Moth Goes to the Hospital

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Honestly, what am I even doing writing this? Well, there are a few things I’d like to get off my chest before I go to rest and get better.

I’ve been suffering from an infection caused by an ovarian cyst. When the pain became unreasonable last night (and induced too much vomiting), I was off to the hospital, so very late it was early, to suffer through a barrage of tests.

While I got the answers I was in need of, and now have the prescriptions to make it better (and Muffin is off with relatives for a “visit” while Mummy gets well), I am not a good patient, and I’d much rather not have to go through something like this very often.

Well, I am a good patient, in that I tough it out — and believe me, for this autist, it is saying something. IVs are the worst. I hate all the stimulation from the beeping machines and the bright lights, and oh, the blood, oh, the blood tests.

Furry boy above will definitely be keeping me company in my recovery. I missed him terribly while I sat in the ER for 8 hours.

At least there were reruns of Doctor Who (early Matt Smith) on the very limited cable channels. And I forgot my insurance card, but I brought my trusty latest Discworld re-read. (And one of the techs even saw my copy of The Fifth Elephant, and said, “Oh, I love that series!” Total geek moment. Vulcan salute.)

Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary, and if I do anything special, it will be eating something more exciting than chicken soup and applesauce.

I feel like Al Pacino in the almost-end of Heat: “I’m gonna go home, shower, and sleep — for a month.”

I’ll be back in touch when I can, moths.

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Autism, Children's Health, community, family, Parenting, The Invisible Moth

Mind the Gap

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Note: As usual with my more serious discussion posts, I have attempted to soften the blow with some very lovely pictures.

Do we all know what “mind the gap” means? When you step onto a train, and there’s a space between the edge of the platform and where the actual floor of the train car begins? And they have signs and warnings, “Mind the gap,” because they don’t want anyone to accidentally get hurt?

The reason I chose that title for this post came from thinking about things where there are major gaps between one issue and another, gaps that really need to be bridged if we’re going to get anywhere.

So, when I was a young mother, and had a primary-grades child diagnosed with autism, I heard a lot about how autism was “bad.” It would create major obstacles for him in school, in future life, in trying to get a job, get married, have a career, function on his own in society.

And, feeling an immense amount of society-induced guilt, I tried my hardest to get my child to change his natural behavior. Encouraged him not to stim (even though it cut back on anxiety), forced him to try to conform, insisted he not spend too much time alone.

After a couple of years, I saw that none of this was working. And more than that, it was beginning to dawn on me that I was reliving a dangerous pattern.

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When I was young, I behaved differently than my peers, and I was told not to. Teachers felt my desire to play alone, to engage in solitary pursuits, was harmful. I was instructed to read less and take up more interactive hobbies, try a sport, join a club.

So I tried. And I was miserable. I couldn’t understand some of the social cues, and that made me sad and mad, and that led to worse inner experiences, because I couldn’t understand or deal with all the emotions I felt.

So I gave up trying. By the time I was a young adult, I just wanted to be left alone to behave how I wanted to.

Then White Fang’s father — and a bunch of other stuff — happened. Not only did it change my life forever (because White Fang was born), but it also started me on a path of self-discovery.

Having a child that shares the same spectrum I inhabit, but doesn’t rest on the same space I do, and only occasionally visits, has made part of this path more complicated. One of my first questions was — if it was so easy to diagnose him, why not me? What’s the big difference?

It turns out there are many, many women who are now adults that either were suspected of being ASD as children and weren’t diagnosed, or were considered “in an introvert or geek phase,” and therefore passed over for diagnosis. 20 years ago, most psychologists in North America were looking for autism based only on a very specific set of criteria; so if a female child wasn’t showing significant language delays, or regularly made eye contact or was able to tolerate social interaction, they were deemed “probably not autistic.”

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This idea was totally wrong.

Mind the gap…

Though we’ve entered a new age of research regarding autism, I truly don’t think we’re yet at a new age of how we approach and understand ASD. Quite honestly, it concerns me. I want my kids to grow up in a world where differences from the norm are accepted, where ways they perceive and react to life is just viewed as part of the whole grand human experience.

I don’t want my son to be told he can’t go to this or that church because he’s an abomination that “needs to be cured”. I don’t want him and his future wife to be told that, since they “run the risk” of having a child on the spectrum, they should engage in pre-natal genetic testing that may “help” them decide whether or not to bring this life into the world.

Mind the gap…

I don’t want Muffin coming of age in a culture where he has to constantly shout into the void that his brother is not a freak. I don’t want to live out my remaining days surrounded by neighbors and acquaintances that keep giving me funny looks, or determine my value as a person by how many public events I attend. I want to know that the struggles and achievements of Temple Grandin, Cynthia Kim, myself, mean something good for the future.

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Most of all, I want to know that for whatever purpose God put me on this Earth, with autism, it has been served.

“Sometimes even shooting stars find wishes that missed their marks… But when the night gets too dark, and the road home seems too far… We’ll see the sun come up again… We will climb higher than we’ve been… We’ve got a fire that burns within” — Dragonhearted (by Try Hard Ninja and Captain Sparklez)

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Autism, blogging, community, Mental Health, reading

Time for the Autistic Reader Disclaimer

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For those of you who are new around here, you may have noticed that I write a lot about autism and how those of us on the spectrum view the world. Mostly my goal is to bridge the gap between awareness of medical symptoms, and awareness of real life experience, in the general population.

My whole life, I knew I was different from my peers, but could never figure out why; it turned out this was because how I experienced the world and how they did was vastly different, neurologically and physically. (It’s called “sensory perception disorder”.) But I honestly didn’t realize until I’d spent several years learning specifically about the Autism Spectrum — after my oldest child was diagnosed on it — that most of my struggles (social anxiety, extreme sensitivity to loud noise or sudden occurrences) also fell under the “umbrella” term.

Anyway, I’ve posted in the recent past about how certain things just really make my skin crawl, or just don’t click with my mind or emotions, and how this affects what I read. It means that I won’t read particular genres or styles to help avoid triggers, and I’ve tried to make it clear that while this does limit my possible choices of reading material, it’s purely a personal preference, and it doesn’t mean I think anything I decide not to read is rubbish.

I am currently having a big, intense feeling of guilt over this issue. The fact is, I’m starting to feel bad over opting not to read novels recommended to me, or written by people in my community — or maybe I do read it, and I appreciate the skill, the amount of work the author clearly put in, but it may not move me emotionally. And when there are other people in the community — people I respect and like — flailing over these novels… Well, that creates this odd, twisty sensation inside me.

Often when I explain things about having autism to people who do not have it (also known as Neuro-Typicals), I find it necessary to defend myself (and my fellow ASD-ers), because we have so frequently been persecuted and struggled against the prejudices society has developed regarding our natural state of being. But today I feel the need to apologize for something that I can’t change.

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And what my preferences/triggers are will probably be different from another (or 10 other people) on the spectrum. That’s just what a “spectrum” means — a range of things that have certain core issues that are the same, but otherwise can vary greatly in how they’re experienced. For example, some autists may not get bothered at all by horror novels, knowing it’s just fiction and that any of the violence or gore involved isn’t actually happening. Then there’s me, who faints when I get a hangnail that starts bleeding.

Most of what bugs me when I read is stuff that bothers me in real life. If I’m around people who swear profusely, the harsh sound of constant profanity (or in “music” or as part of movies) gives my ears fits. Too much blood and gore makes me squirm. Too many emotions — yes, emotions — do my Vulcan soul in. Do I understand the basics of love, empathy, compassion? Yes, of course (I’m part Spock, not part Khan). But some of the more intricate details, and their relevance, are lost on me.

There are women who simply adore a fictional man who proposes to the heroine by renting a whole restaurant, strews rose petals on the floor, lights a million candles, and then gets down on one knee with an elaborate speech about how amazing she is to him, and a diamond ring the size of Gibraltar. If I read or watch a scene like that, here’s what I’m thinking: “Good grief, how much did all of this cost? What if she slips on those flower petals and twists her knee? They could burn the place down with all those candles, for heavens’ sake!”

Here’s something displaying a lot of emotion that I will totally get and appreciate: A heartfelt monologue about the beloved’s traits and why the hero needs her in his life, about why having her by his side makes him a better person. And then they proceed to attack the spaceship about to destroy a whole planet of innocent civilians.

(Sorry, guys, I am married.)

And now I’m getting slightly off track…

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But my biggest point here is this — I really, really don’t want anyone in the blogisphere to think that I thought their work or recommendation was rotten raspberries just because I failed to connect to it on a deeper level. I have a very specific set of standards for what I give 5 stars, purely due to how my neurotransmitters fire. And maybe it’s the result of this “unusual” programming, but I can also separate the quality of work from what I prefer, and establish that something is quality, although I am not getting all mushy over it.

(I just don’t do mush. Not very much. Small animals and truly exceptional people break that rule. By truly exceptional, I mean someone like Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, or Firestar and Yellowfang, or the Death of Discworld. So please don’t feel bad if you don’t see yourself among the mush-making list, either. There are tons of people whom I honestly love and feel deeply for, even if you don’t see the gushing — just remember that one time Spock actually smiled at Kirk in the original Star Trek series.)

So, I have probably confused you, but I hope that I at least gave you a little something to laugh over. With any luck, my apology makes the smallest amount of sense. Have a great day, moths.

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Autism, community, family, health, Mental Health, reading, writing, Young Adult fiction

Shouting into the Void

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I wasn’t going to post today. But in the last 24 hours, I’ve come across a discussion that really bothers me, and if I don’t speak up about it, I won’t consider myself worthy of the title advocate.

There’s a new YA novel out called “The Secret Science of Magic” by Melissa Keil, and there’s a major representation of a main character presenting symptoms on the autism spectrum, and her parents and friends basically just telling her to “knock it off” rather than getting her tested.

To say I am disturbed is an understatement.

According to posts I’ve read in this discussion, the author intended for the character to be “one of the girls who exhibits ASD characteristics but is never diagnosed.” (Before I get accused of misquoting, I’m just paraphrasing information posted by other reviewers.)

Warning: I’m about to be potentially not nice or diplomatic. Some people won’t like this. I might even get some hate mail. (Be aware: all nasty comments will be deleted.)

As an adult who only recently found out that I have had autism my entire life, and suffered greatly because of being undiagnosed, I find it simply irresponsible on the part of this author to write a novel with these intentions. 

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The reason I called this post “Shouting into the Void” is because this is how I feel, most of the time. My 14-year-old son has been diagnosed on the spectrum since preschool, and some of his teachers and peers still won’t listen when he and I explain a sensory perception or trigger. For all the campaigns for autism awareness, there are still major misconceptions about the spectrum flourishing in civilized society.

I am often frustrated by neurotypical people insisting I need to change, or that my son needs to change, without considering that if we do what they want, we won’t be who we were truly meant to be.

How many people in history, who are thought by modern researchers to have been on the spectrum, contributed invaluably to science, medicine, the arts, how we view the world, humanity? Trust me, there were plenty of them.

And there are plenty in the world right now, and if you tell them they’re “wrong,” then what might you be robbing the future of?

Anyway, with specific regards to Ms. Keil’s novel — I have not read it, but I am quickly developing the position of not wanting to. And, I’m sorry, folks, but I really hope that no one else does, without fully comprehending that the main character is supposed to be autistic.

And this is why I simply think this should have been made crystal clear in the novel.

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When there’s something so prevalent, affecting so many people worldwide, as autism, and tons of stereotypes and stigmas about it, we do not need more misunderstandings spread. 

Maintaining ignorance is not a luxury; it’s perpetuating a plague. People need to wake up. Just because something is different does not mean it is wrong or needs to be erased. (I have to say this on pretty much a weekly basis.)

The other thing that worries me intensely about “The Secret Science of Magic” is the idea that it may actually encourage people to think, “Yeah, Sophia (the narrator) was a real jerk,” instead of becoming more informed about why she was behaving the way she did. For many ASD-ers, our neurotransmitters don’t fire in a way that means we naturally understand body language and emotional reactions. So if we don’t respond to conditioned social cues or an emotional display in the way NTs would, it is not because we are cold and uncaring. It’s because for us these things are a behavior we have to learn. Just like training a child to share, or a dog not to bark at 2 a.m.

But society seems to have very little tolerance for people who behave differently — even if we’re not hurting anyone. We look and act almost like NTs, but not quite, so we get put on the radar of “a possible threat” — the same way separate races and religions have approached each other for centuries. (And, no, I don’t consider that an unfair comparison to make.)

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It also breaks my heart for the character of Sophia (even though she’s fictional, because she’s representing real girls everywhere), for the ridicule and heartbreak the author forces her to endure, without forcing the other characters to get a clue and open their minds. To me, it’s not simply a “realistic portrayal,” it’s — as I mentioned before — an irresponsible one. How on earth are we going to change people’s perceptions if we let them stay stuck in the wrong ones?

So, Ms. Keil, with respect to your “intentions,” I’m afraid they’re going to backfire horribly. I know I (and probably many others) would much rather read the story of Sophia, who has been undiagnosed until now, and the rest of the novel being about her journey now that she’s informed, the treatments she seeks (therapy? anti-anxiety meds? deep breathing techniques?), and the way her family and friends react (guilt? remorse? trying to understand?).

There may be interesting reactions to this post.

But I don’t regret what I’m saying for a minute.

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