Girl Scout Badge Nostalgia: Computer Fun (1990)

The main reason I collect Girl Scout handbooks isn’t their value (which is often negligible). It’s the nostalgia factor.

It’s also the fact that, while some of the content is timeless, other parts of the books aged faster than girls do.

Today’s example: “Computer Fun,” one of the badges included in Girl Scout Badges and Signs (1990).
Girl Scout Badge Nostalgia

Back in Ye Early 1990s, when this badge appeared in Girl Scout Badges and Signs and also back when I earned it, badges were organized into five “Worlds,” indicated by color: The World of Well-Being (Red), the World of People (Blue), the World of Today and Tomorrow (Orange), the World of the Arts (Purple), and the World of the Out-of-Doors (Yellow).

The World to which a badge belonged was indicated by the color of its border: Computer Fun, being from the World of Today and Tomorrow (which focused mostly on the sciences), had an orange border.

Badges were also graded by difficulty for Juniors and Cadettes: badges with a green background were comparatively easier to earn, and were for Juniors only. Badges with a tan background were comparatively harder to earn, and could be earned by either Juniors or Cadettes. Computer Fun was one of the “hard” ones.

Ironically, I suspect it’d still be one of the hard ones today, but not for the reasons it was hard in 1994.

Here’s the first page of badge requirements:

Page 101 of Girl Scout Badges and Signs, 1990. The first of two pages detailing requirements for the

The instructions, “Complete Six Activities,” were pretty standard for badges. Occasionally there were one or two mandatory activities, but generally speaking, we got to pick from 6-10 options.

This page contains Activity 1:

  1. Find computers being used for at least ten different purposes. To do this, look through books, newspapers, or magazines, watch television, or go in person. Share what you have found with your troop members.

Today, I suspect most girls could pull this one off without leaving their own room. In Ye Fabled Land of 1990, however, this one actually did take some research. A few lucky folks actually had computers in their own house. For most kids, though, computers were a newfangled thing we were all told not to bother with, for they would surely blow over.

Ahem.

Anyway, here are the rest of the requirements:

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(This page is from my former troop leader’s copy of Girl Scout Badges and Signs, which is why it has her signature and our names in it. On most of the others, she marked which activities we’d done, so I’m uncertain why they’re not marked here.)

Activity 2:

2. Spend at least two hours learning something new from a computer, either by taking computer-assisted instruction at a school or learning center or by using a computer educational toy.

Today, I’m pretty sure every kindergartener who signs up for Daisies has completed this one. In my day, though, there was an excellent chance that most or all of the girls in one’s troop hadn’t used a computer for two hours in their entire lives.

3. Help put on a demonstration of computer toys and games for your troop.

Time Traveling Troop Leader: “Okay, everybody get out your phones.”

Us, in 1990: “What?”

…In 1990, my home phone was still rotary dial. Touch tone service didn’t reach our part of the U.S. till I was in high school. Portable phones were attached to a battery the size of a small briefcase, so no one used them unless they had to.

4. Visit a business, bank, or other place that uses a computer to solve problems.

  • See the computer in action and find out some of the things for which it is used.
  • Find out what language the computer users, how information is put into the computer, and how information comes out.
  • Learn how to use an automatic banking machine.

When I was a kid, ATMs were magic. I’m not kidding. I spent a large part of my childhood thinking there was a person on the other side of the wall who just sat there and handled transactions all day. When free-standing ATMs became a thing, I was very confused.

That said, I’d like to send some of my high school students to do the first two. We’ve reached the flip side of the coin: Computers were brand new for my generation, but today, they’re so ubiquitous that students often don’t realize what software platforms do or how they’re coded.

5. Invite someone who works with computers to talk to your troop or group. Find out what she/he does with the computer, what training was necessary, and what other people are involved in keeping the computer working properly. or Interview four different people and find out how computers affect their lives.

Ah yes, the old “talk to other humans” activity. Some version of this activity appears in every single badge. And I hated then all.

6. Visit a computer store. Compare different kinds of personal computers. Ask someone to explain the basic options available to the average buyer. Decide which one you would buy.

Honestly? I’d have kids do this today. Knowing how to read computer specs has saved me from making laughably bad purchases on a dozen different occasions.

7. Read a computer magazine. Make a list of the types of information that can be found in the magazine and how this would help you use computers.

Magazines stopped being the best source of this information 15 years ago. Unfortunately, now it’s even harder to find, since The Rise of the End-User has somehow meant that we’re all supposed to just know this stuff even though that’s literally the opposite of what “end-user” means.

8. Learn how to do some basic computer operations. Demonstrate your ability to do the following:

  • Format a disc.
  • Insert a software program.
  • Create a file.
  • Print stored information.
  • Save something you have created.

“Disc.”

Is there even an equivalent to formatting floppies today? I think “backing up our files to the cloud” might be the closest most of us get on a daily basis. For the kiddos in the audience: Yes, we used to format floppy disks all the time. It was the only way to reuse them, and because they only held 1.44 MB (you read that right), we needed a lot of them.

Anyway, my dad had an Apple IIGS, so I learned to do all of this much sooner than many of my peers. When Windows 3.1 came along and all my friends were going “WHOA NO WAI LOOK AT THIS,” I was going, “that’s literally just AppleWorks only less ugly.”

Then Clippy appeared. $#*(#& Clippy.

9. Play an electronic computer game at least five different times. Keep a record of how you do. What skills are needed? How can you improve?

or

Be a computer games reviewer. Play at least three different video games and write a brief review of your opinions of each. Include in your review: comments on the objective of the game, the skills required, the eye appeal and the quality of the graphics, the interest level, and the educational value.

…Let me show you what computer games looked like at the time this book was published.

prince-of-persia

Prince of Persia, 1989. I had a similar game for the Apple IIGs, Dark Castle, whose graphics absolutely blew my mind at the time.

indesdx

EGATrek, 1992. This is your readout as captain of the Federation starship USS Lexington. Oh yeah, I’m feeling very 24th century right about now.

indexaaa

And the crowning achievement of early 1990s computer games, Castle Wolfenstein 3D. This game literally changed how we thought about video games: it was the first one to let us move in three dimensions…more or less.

Stare good and hard at Wolfenstein for a while. I’m serious. Imagine a world where these graphics are incredible. They are blowing your mind. You have never seen anything so photorealistic on a computer screen. Ever.

Yes, I just typed “photorealistic” with a straight face.

Castle Wolfenstein 3D really did blow our minds when it came out. Even EGATrek was enough fun that I’ve gone searching for emulators from time to time over the years. But the technology keeps moving further than we realize: in 1994, the year my fellow troop members and I completed “Computer Fun,” these were amazing graphics.

Today, they’re “retro.” Kitschy, even. There are five year olds doing better work on Scratch.

I have no idea what the updated computer badges look like for Girl Scouts today. I imagine they cover an updated set of the same basic skills.

I do think girls would be hard-pressed today to complete the 1990 version. For one thing, where would they find floppy disks?

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Worldbuilding: How Much Do You Need? How Much Do You Use?

Worldbuilding_(2).png

Once in a while, I get a Quora question that I just don’t know how to answer. I try to answer it anyway. It turns into a blog post.

This one, for instance: What percentage of your overall worldbuilding ends up in your story?

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…But I also have no idea how to leave exam questions blank, so here goes.

Answer One: Less than 10 percent.

Probably less than one percent.

If you saw my post on what I keep in my writing notebook, you probably deduced that I’ve done a lot of worldbuilding. A lot. My worldbuilding currently runs to several books’ worth of content, if we combine all the notes in various notebooks, the content of my OneNote worldbuilding file, the Excel spreadsheet slash Niralanes dictionary, and the actual book I wrote just so I could cite it in other books.

That last book alone is longer than my first novel. The OneNote file probably contains more pages than my last novel. The Excel spreadsheet runs to over a thousand entries. My pages upon pages of notebook scribbles probably amount to more pages than the entire trilogy will combined.

The page counts get even longer when we start adding texts that are part of the world I’m building, but that I didn’t write. An example that is also a spoiler: like The US Book, which features prominently in Nahara

There’s a reason the OneNote file has a tab called “Library.”

How much of that ends up on the pages of the published books? Not a lot, and to be honest, more than I’d like. I don’t like exposition-dumping, even when there’s a plot- or character-based reason it’s happening.

Suffice it to say that what I’ve published is a mere fraction of what I actually know about the spacetime in which the Non-Compliant Space series is set. And what I know expands daily, since I constantly have to contextualize characters, places, and events. Every day I write, I have to find answers to questions I didn’t know I had.

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Answer Two: All of it.

“But wait!” said my brain, as I labored to calculate the exact quantity of worldbuilding that appears in my final drafts. “Without all those years of plotting and planning, none of the words in this story would exist at all. So isn’t all of our worldbuilding actually in this book?”

…My brain has a point.

There are a lot of things that aren’t explicitly laid out in the books. For instance, Nantais tells you, the reader, that the Jemison is a research vessel owned and operated by a massive and somewhat shadowy corporation called Interstellar Science, but it never explains exactly what Interstellar Science is or how it came to be. The Ambassador includes several opening scenes that reveal some key negotiations between another massive, shadowy corporation, Amalgamated Logistics, and various governments on a planet called Viida, without giving you one second of the millennia that led to Viida’s current configuration of nation-states. Characters in Nahara jump to conclusions about a Viidan character based on what they can deduce from the languages he speaks, without stopping to lecture on ethnopolitical minutiae.

And every piece I’ve written so far contains a sliver of the puzzle regarding who, what, and why the La’Isshai are, but nobody ever tells the whole story even though at least one character in every piece knows the whole story.

None of these things can happen without all the worldbuilding I’ve done. They just wouldn’t exist. If I hadn’t bothered to think through things like interplanetary politics, what happens when corporations have all the rights of natural persons, or just how it is humans can distinguish the English from the Irish by their accents, the novel universe would be hokey as heck. I’d be a poster child for Terrible Writing Advice.

Yes, I know exactly how the quest launched in Nantais ends. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to give you, the reader, the pieces you need at the right moments in order to make that conclusion seem realistic, let alone interesting. So all that worldbuilding is ending up in the story; it’s just ending up there in pieces, instead of as an infodump.

veruca-salt-edit

Answer Three: As Much As I Need

How much worldbuilding do you really need?

As much as it takes to tell the story well.

And how much of it ends up in the finished work? All of it, if you’re using your worldbuilding time efficiently, but almost none of that appears as an exposition or infodump.

Instead, it appears as:

Character descriptions that tell us something about the character.

She wore battered standard-issue coveralls and a pair of fingerless gloves that covered her palms. Tools bristled from the pockets at her sides.

In my notes, Dar’s use of work to avoid dealing with monumental life changes is laid out across several pages. Here, all we see is what she’s wearing. By combining this image with later revelations about her rank and her impending divorce, I can show without saying that burying herself in work is how she avoids her problems, I can show without saying that burying herself in work is how she avoids her problems.

Revelations that the problem is more complicated – and thus the stakes are higher – than we thought.

“Wait,” Molloy said, as the first half of this sentence registered. “Five species in one system? Sentient species?”

“Yes.”

She’d never heard of such a thing. “And forty languages? In the system?”

“Forty in the Syndicate,” Nantais corrected. “There are over ten thousand in the system.”

I could just say “This universe is very politically, culturally, and linguistically complex. I am definitely not introducing you to species after species that are defined by one particular character trait.” Or I can let readers experience what it feels like to learn how big the universe is for the first time.

Plot drivers.

“Those two are regulars, and regular assholes if they get drunk enough. But they keep to themselves. Usually.”

“Usually?” Molloy asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” Cordry said. “They’re fine as long as they’re sober and everyone keeps their mouths shut about their precious empire.”

...You see it coming, don’t you?

After this scene, I’ll never have to waste time describing the Viidan imperial military as a breeding ground for knee-jerk patriotism and xenophobia ever again. You already know, and when it costs someone their life, you’ll have seen it coming from five books away.

Symbolism.

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about espionage. Mostly, all I do is talk.”

The waxberries were actually cranberries. Maz flicked one onto the desk in disgust.

Presented without comment.

I find it easiest to worldbuild-as-needed. I make myself notes in the margins, which I then add to the OneNote or Excel files at a later date. If a particularly interesting idea arises, I make a note of it, then do research later, when I’m not trying to write. My worldbuilding files have increased in size over time, as I’ve added finished stories and novels to the published universe.


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Introducing My Favorite Candidate: Vote Pippa

As we all sit around waiting for the polls to close and the midterm election results to come in, allow me to introduce you to my favorite candidate in this year’s race:

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Pippa is young. Some say she is too inexperienced to hold public office. Others point out that she is a cat.

It’s true that Pippa is young. And a cat. But her platform offers hope to millions of Americans. Just look at her positions on:

The Economy

Enact a 7-day nap week. Emphasize America’s skills in the lap-creation industry.

Civic Duty

Make “Feed Pippa” day a national holiday. Also, make every day “Feed Pippa” day.

Border Security

Any border wall must include a door, which is to be left open at all times. If the door is closed, a concierge must be assigned to it 24/7 in order to open it for anyone who wants to go in. Or out. Or in. No, out. Wait, let’s just stand in the middle for a while.

Healthcare

Make it easy and affordable for Americans to see their vet, especially for cases of flea infestation. Americans will not, however, be required to like their vet.

Welfare

Institute universal basic snuggling.

Drug Policy

Legalize catnip for cats ages 3 months and older. Tax sales of catnip and use the funds to pay for education. Humans need training for the most in-demand jobs of today, such as opening cat food cans.

Trade

Create a fair, organized system for other countries to shower us with gifts, mostly in the form of tuna, catnip mice, and that really nice kind of hairbrush.

Join me in helping a young cat realize her dream of napping on the Speaker’s podium. Vote Pippa 2018!

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What I’m Reading: Election Eve Edition

Two things I’m looking forward to after tomorrow:

  • Raking leaves in my front yard without having to talk to canvassers,
  • Getting only bills in the mail.

I’m not sure how many glossy, four-color trees died to warn me that The Liberals(TM) are about to give us healthcare, fix our roads, or return us to a sensible immigration policy, but for some reason, those are all the flyers we’ve received this election cycle. RIP, trees.

Here are several articles that have crossed my radar in the past week. They make far better reading than campaign flyers.

What I'm Reading_Election EveEdition

Current Events

U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See The Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It,” Janet Reitman, The New York Times Magazine

“Aside from the few white nationalists who had been identified by the media or on Twitter, Stout had no clue who most of these people were, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else in law enforcement….

This is like a Bermuda Triangle of intelligence, Stout thought, incredulous. He reached out to their state partners. ‘So you’re telling us that there’s nothing? No names we can plug into the automatic license-plate readers? No players with a propensity for violence? No one you have in the system? Nothing?'”

Twilight of the Racist Uncles: How Facebook Is Melting the Minds of Our Elders,” Ed Burmila, The Baffler

“If you are under the age of fifty, the odds are that you have at least one older person in your life who has gone down this road in the last few years. If you are white, I am certain of it. Lamenting our older relatives’ journey down the rabbit hole of right-wing paranoia and vituperation feels, at times, like my generation’s version of having the big talk about putting Nana in a nursing home. ‘Losing a parent’ has dual meanings for us after 2016. We’re dealing with the loss of people who are very much alive—but who have become such chaotic stews of anger, persecution complexes, racism, and half-assed conspiracy theories that they can no longer hold a normal conversation.”

Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” Masha Gessen, The New York Review

“But Trump is anything but a regular politician and this has been anything but a regular election. Trump will be only the fourth candidate in history and the second in more than a century to win the presidency after losing the popular vote. He is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won.

I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now.”

 

Writing

How to Write Consent In Romance Novels,” Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic

“Guillory says one of the best compliments she received about The Wedding Date was that the book could serve as a model for young people who want to better understand romantic boundaries. A friend from law school read the book with her book club, which comprised several mothers of young children. ‘One of the women told me that she wanted her little girl, when she got old enough, to read my book to know what consent was and how a man should treat her,’ Guillory said of the meeting, which she Skyped into. ‘It just really made me feel emotional, because I want girls to grow up thinking that they deserve to be heard, that their voices matter, that men should listen to them by default.'”

Writing Sex Scenes With Less Cissexism, Pt 2: Story Level Trans-Exclusion,” xanwest, Kink Praxis

Trans-exclusion breaks into two core things, that are often intertwined:

  1. Refusal to respect or acknowledge the gender of trans and/or non-binary people
  2. Not letting trans and/or non-binary people into the room (particularly gendered spaces)

What do each of these look like at the story level? I have three examples for each, along with discussion of how each can impact sex scenes.”

How to Write Full-Time in the 21st Century,” Lance Ng, Medium

“Commercial writing is a very unscalable way to make money. It’s not like selling products or services because you have to do it yourself and you only get paid once (most of the time). The only way to increase your income is to raise your prices. But what would justify it? Especially in an era where rates are falling for the written word. If you want to make a living out of writing, you have to rethink your value proposition today to survive tomorrow.”

Nightmare Fuel

Are You Living in a Simulation?“, Nick Bostrom

“This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.  It follows that the transhumanist dogma that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.”

(See also: this Vox video for an overview, or Brian Dunning‘s take on Skeptoid for some perspective.)


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Non-Compliant Space: A Short Guide to Short Fiction

I’m nearly finished with the draft of Nahara (the sequel to Nantais), and I wrote a contribution to Spoon Knife 4: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime that’s also set in the Non-Compliant Space universe. Short pieces on my author blog keep proliferating.

I figured it was time for a quick guide to the available short fiction.

Untitled Design

This guide is more or less in chronological order. I say “more or less” because a couple stories involve time travel.

If it’s free to read, the title is linked. If not, the title of the thing you can find it in is linked.

“Kill Your Darlings,” Spoon Knife 3: Incursions

The action takes place in 1945, but the characters’ sense of “now” falls roughly in the first third of The Ambassador and the first half of Nahara, or the summer/fall of 2371. “Kill Your Darlings” is the first piece that steps away from the world of the Jemison and lets us know just how large and messed up this literary universe really is. Makes chasing intergalactic slavers look like small potatoes.

“Scene From a Barbershop,” Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber

Set on Mars in 2357, “Scene From a Barbershop” is the ignominious tale of how Resa Molloy and Richard Hayek met. It involves kindergarteners and hair.

Nantais

Nantais, the first book in the trilogy, takes place in the summer of 2371 (if we’re counting by Earth time, which not everybody is). It’s the story of the ISS Jemison and how she got in way over her head by being too curious for her own good. Also, pirates.

Niralans: An Overview. The Planet,” “A Brief Historical Overview,” “Physiology I,” and “Family Units

If you ever wanted to read that book Hayek is perusing in Nantais, here’s every excerpt that I’ve released so far. The titles are pretty self-explanatory; it’s as non-fiction as you get with a fictional species in a fictional universe.

And yes, Niralans are basically copper-based cats.

Nahara (available in 2019)

Nahara is the second book in the trilogy, occurring in the summer/fall of 2371. There are fewer space battles, more family drama, and the most dangerous being in the known universe: a 15 year old girl.

The Ambassador (Part 1)

The Ambassador is the fourth book of the trilogy. It takes place at roughly the same time as Nahara, during the summer/fall of 2371, and it wraps up before the events of Nirala. Unlike the trilogy, however, it’s less a space opera than a political thriller. Is everyone in this fictional universe a spy?

Travel Companions

A one-shot that takes place during the first act of The Ambassador and that gets referenced in the book, but doesn’t actually appear in it. I wrote it based on a Tumblr post discussing how aliens would react to humans’ weird habit of bonding with animals.

From the Desk of the Ambassador

Occurs within a few hours of “Travel Companions,” and appears in The Ambassador in a somewhat hacked form. Like everything Niralans say, this one has far more layers of meaning than it appears to have at first glance.

Dossier” and “Wiretap

“Travel Companions” did two things: it introduced Anev Nahara, and it sporked the fact that humans’ need for socializing runs so deeply we’ll bond with just about anything. “Dossier” and “Wiretap” take both a bit further, and prove that sometimes the best mischief is made after you’ve left the space station.

Letter

“Letter” links Nahara and The Ambassador together, and appears in its entirety in the former as Dar and Koa try to work out exactly how dangerous a 15-year-old girl really is. (Their answer: not very. They’re wrong.)

“Something Within Us Which is Always Surprised By Change” (available in 2019 in Spoon Knife 4: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime)

This short story takes place in 2381, in 2371, and in 2337, and the whole thing is just Hayek talking to someone over drinks. If you hated the fact that Meredith Cattrell got iced after one scene, you’ll either love this one or hate it – no in-between.

 

 

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So You Want to Write a Book About Autism

So you think you’d like to write a book about autism. Maybe you’re already writing a book about autism. And, like most aspiring authors, you’d like your book about autism to get published somewhere.  How do you make that happen?

First, the cold, hard truth: whether or not you get published (as opposed to self-publish) isn’t entirely within your control.  The publishers you pitch your book to will have final say over whether or not they accept it for publication, and even then, you may not like the terms they offer.

In this post, I’m going to give you one of the most important pieces of advice you will ever hear as an aspiring author.

so you want autism

This advice comes straight from the mouth of an editor and partner at a small press that hears from a lot of people who have written books about autism.  But I’m not just talking about what we’re looking for.  This is advice that will help you get accepted anywhere you pitch your book.

Here it is: you need to understand the genre in which you’re writing.  To start, you’ll need to be able to answer these questions:

  • What kind of book about autism did you write?
  • What other books about autism are most like your book about autism?
  • Who reads books like your book about autism?
  • How are books like your book about autism used, talked about, and treated by the media?

You don’t need to be an expert on the myriad subtypes of books about autism.  You do need to be reasonably familiar with what’s already out there, and with how your book expands, builds on, supports, or refutes the books about autism that are most like your book.

Why?  Because when you understand how your book fits in to the “big picture,” you can explain it to an editor in your query letter or pitch.  When you explain it well, you answer the editor’s biggest questions: How is publishing this going to help us? and How much work is it going to be to publish this?

I have no idea what kind of book about autism I wrote.  What kind of question is that?

“Books about autism” is a big umbrella.  Here’s a list of the most popular subtypes in the category.

1.  “I am autistic and I wrote about it.”

  • Books that are most like this book: The memoirs of Temple Grandin, John Elder Robison, and Donna Williams.  Tito Mukhopadhyay’s books and Dawn Prince-Hughes’s Songs of the Gorilla Nation also fall in this category.
  • Who reads books like this book: Late-diagnosed autistic people, non-autistic parents of autistic people, people wishing to goggle at a zoo spectacle and feel self-important for doing so.
  • How books like this book are treated: Mostly, like self-narrating zoo exhibits, although there are a few interesting (and obscure) academic articles that consider them more closely.
  • Chances a publisher will take this book: Moderate to poor.  This book was groundbreaking when Temple Grandin wrote it thirty years ago.  Today, not so much.

2.  “I/we am/are autistic and there are important things you need to understand about autism.”

  • Books that are most like this book: Sparrow Rose Jones’s The ABCs of Autism Acceptance, Cynthia Kim’s Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life, AWN’s What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew: A Girls Anthology,  Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump.
  • Who reads books like this book: Autistic children and adults; non-autistic parents and professionals who are interested in hearing firsthand accounts of autistic life.
  • How books like this book are treated: These books get much less media attention than “I am autistic and I wrote about it” books, as a rule, unless the author(s) can be reduced to self-narrating zoo exhibits.  Within a/Autistic circles, however, they may enjoy considerable attention and praise.
  • Chances a publisher will take this book:  Pretty good, if you choose a publisher who has already released one or more books of this subtype and you can explain how this book differs from the other major titles of its subtype. 

3.  “I examine or explore autism through an academic, philosophical, or essentially non-fiction lens.”

  • Books that are most like this book: Anne McGuire’s War on Autism, Jordynn Jack’s Autism and Gender, Sonya Freeman Loftis’s Imagining Autism, Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes, Majia Homer Nadesan’s Autism and Representation, Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars, John Donvan and Caryn Zucker’s In A Different Key: The Story of Autism.
  • Who reads books like this: Autistic adults (and some children), researchers of all kinds, some particularly motivated non-autistic parents and professionals.
  • How books like this book are treated: The more academic and in-depth the approach, the less popular attention the book gets, although it may sell well in its circles.  The more journalistic and “human interest” the approach, the more popular attention the book gets, and it may sell extremely well.
  • Chances a publisher will take this book: Extremely good, if the book covers an area that has not been addressed previously and it is pitched to the right publisher.  Remember that academic publishing is an entirely different world from commercial publishing, with different timelines and rules.

4.  “I examine or explore autism through a storytelling, poetic, or similarly creative lens.”

  • Books that are most like this book: Michael S. Monje Jr.’s Imaginary Friends (also Nothing is Right and Defiant) and also The US Book, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World, Joyce Carol Oates’s Carthage, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (probably), Tito Mukhopadhyay’s poetry.
  • Who reads books like this: Autistic kids and adults (depending on the book), some non-autistic recreational readers.
  • How books like this book are treated: Like “I am autistic and I wrote about it” books, these books tend to sell more copies if they reduce autism to a curiosity, spectacle, or self-narrating zoo exhibit.  Books in this genre that portray autism more realistically, however, enjoy a small but intensely loyal following among autistic and neurodivergent readers.
  • Chances a publisher will take this book: Very good, especially if you have nailed the genre in other respects.  (For instance, if you are writing science fiction, make sure you can explain how the book works within the sci-fi genre, as well as how it works as an artistic exploration of some aspect of autism.)

5.  “I am not autistic but I know someone who is and I wrote about it.”

  • Books that are most like this book: Ralph James Savarese’s Reasonable People, Josh Greenfeld’s A Child Called Noah, Clara Claiborne Park’s The Siege and later books.  Several books in the nonfiction and fiction categories, including  Neurotribes, In a Different Key, (maybe) Carthage, and Barry Prizant’s Uniquely Human, fall into this category as well,
  • Who reads books like this: Non-autistic parents and curious others; anyone looking for a zoo exhibit to goggle at.
  • How books like this are treated: Generally, as narrated zoo exhibits.  This is true even though the books’ actual treatment of autism varies wildly (hint: the ones that include the words of the actual autistic person, like Reasonable People, tend to take a much more humane view than those that do not).
  • Chances a publisher will take this book: Unfortunately, much higher than the chances that the same publisher will take an autistic person’s book, unless you choose a publisher who specifically seeks out autistic voices – and sometimes not even then.

6.  “LOL autism.”

  • Books that are most like this book: Clay and Gail Morton’s Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap: NT is Okay!, Kathy Hoopmann’s All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome.
  • Who reads books like this: Autistic kids and adults, non-autistic friends and family members of autistic people.
  • How books like this are treated: While the mainstream media has no idea how to treat these books, they’re generally well-loved by audiences, especially if they turn existing stereotypes on their heads effectively.
  • Chances a publisher will take this book:  Lower than they should be, but still pretty good, especially if you can demonstrate a command of good satire.

So now what?

When you query publishers, or pitch your book, refer to the genre and subtype (not necessarily in the terms listed here).  Mention one or two already-existing books it resembles, and then immediately indicate why your book is different.  For instance, you might write, “While my book is in the tradition of autism memoirs like those of Temple Grandin and Dawn Prince-Hughes, its honest exploration of the gritty realities of growing up an undiagnosed autistic in the projects – including the two prison terms that entailed – makes it stand out.”

As an editor who publishes stuff by autistic people about autism (among other things), my heart would do a little happy dance if that sentence appeared in a query letter.  In three lines, you’ve told me (a) that you know what’s already out there, (b) that you probably have a good idea of who your readers are, and (c) you’re willing to fill a giant gaping hole in available autism memoirs.  Heck yes, I want to read your manuscript!

There’s a lot more to a good query, of course, including the publisher to whom you pitch your manuscript, and I’ll get into that in later posts.  For now, keep in mind that the publisher most likely to take your book is one who has published books in the same subcategory before and seen them sell well.  Your job is to explain (in three sentences or less – editors strongly dislike rambling) how your book both looks like those books and is sufficiently different that readers who read those previous books will still want to read yours.

Is it a tough thing to do?  Well, yes.  Query letters stump even the most accomplished writers.  But hey, you wrote a book.  You can do this – if you know how your book relates to what’s already been written.


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Posted in neurodivergence, writing | 1 Comment

An Update on My Crabs

If you were reading my author blog last spring, you may remember that about six months ago, I kicked a serious case of the crabs. And the bucket they rode in on.

bucket-blue-crabs-52661

How has my life changed since I divorced myself from the toxic sectors of the autistic activism community?

In short: It’s great.

My anxiety levels dropped precipitously after I banned and blocked about two dozen people, and they’ve stayed down. I’ve been able to take on more challenging work. I’ve completed several projects I never thought I’d actually get done. I’ve had much more interesting, in-depth conversations with researchers who aren’t constantly trying to pull their fellow crabs off the rim of the bucket.

Oh, and sales of my book…actually increased.

In short, I can absolutely recommend walking away from people who are dragging you down. If you need a sign, this is it: Life is better without crabs.

 

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