I came across Lise Lotte when looking for bloggers to read and review my latest book, Cocktails and Lies. I became so fascinated by Lise's story, that we struck up a kind of correspondence which resulted in me inviting her to write a guest post on her reading experiences for my blog. As a former English teacher, I'm always fascinated to hear about readers' perspectives, and because Lise's autistic spectrum disorder, I thought her story might be of interest to authors and readers everywhere. Over to Lise.
My name is Lise Almenningen and I am the owner of the blog humanitysdarkerside.com. Along with that I run a few other blogs on various topics. I also happen to be ASD/Asperger's/Autistic.
I did not know I had Asperger's until about the same time I started my first blog, 2012. Until then, I just figured I had some unusual quirks that I tried very hard to suppress. When I realized all of that strangeness was normal for me, I stopped fighting it so hard. Surprise. Surprise. Life got simpler.
I believe the greatest commonality in Aspies, is how different we perceive what we see/observe/feel to non-ASDs (or neurotypicals/normals as you like to call yourselves). That is both our best friend and our worst enemy depending on what we are doing and who we are with. As a reviewer (once I let myself out of my preconceived idea of a reviewer), I believe being Asperger has shed new light on texts.
I am addicted to reading and will try to read anything. That does not mean I will finish, because not all writing is worth finishing. Whether a text is worth finishing has nothing to do with the author's level of education, expertise or category. I have read academic texts whose authors cannot have been beta-ed and "trashy" authors whose writing is so poignant, I am incapable of putting the text down. Sometimes a text is so technical, I am incapable of ever understanding it. I would not know if the author is good or not in such cases. But I will give them a try.
When I review a text, I will first read it through. I need that to set some kind of anchor in my mind. Then I will do research. If the author has a website, I check out what they say about themselves. Things like where they are from, have lived, interests etc. influence my interpretation of the text. If the author is from the US, I review with a different eye than if the author is from South-Korea.
When stories are about topics I know little about, I will check out terms. Lynette's Cocktails andLies had police titles I needed to know the definition of so I could know if they fit into their roles. The same thing with her main character. I know little about insurance, so I looked up that title as well. If the information might be of interest to people reading my review, I will link to it.
Then I check out the net to see if any other person has reviewed the story. If their review appeals to me, I will link to it. When I can find them, I try to include up to five other reviewers and prefer it if there are both good and bad reviews. Sometimes that isn't possible, because I am doing an ARC. I try to include any art I can find on a story. If there are translations, I dig up as much as I can about them and link to that information as well. One Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø, has a huge following abroad. If you check out my review on him, you will see what I mean about translations.
Once the preliminary work has been done, I pick up the story again and try to figure out how I want to approach it. From then on, it is all character-driven and my main question to myself is: Can I believe in this person? Has the author answered their own questions? This is also vital to character-driven stories. If you claim to write a mystery, there should be a mystery to solve. Another thing I look for in my characters is some complexity. This goes for children's stories as well as adult stories. I reviewed an illustrated children's short-story called One Less Meg that exemplifies what I mean.
Romances can be troublesome for me, and this probably directlyrelated to my ASD. I think that has to do with the type of interaction that authors give their characters in addition to the formulaic form I find the category struggles with. One of these is "the three-some". This has become a particular problem in YA stories that must think they target young girls (preferably US girls). It certainly is not a new concept. Zane Grey wrote about them in his Romance-Westerns. But instead of being a tool the three-some often feels like a fail-safe. Aspergers is a wonderful reviewers tool in that it categorizes details and shares those categories with me when cued. Maybe it is more difficult to get away with easy solutions when your reviewer is an aspie. Maybe. But if you write excellent romance, without or without excellent sex-scenes, I'm all yours.
Violence is another area that authors seem to use as a fail-safe. Well-written violence that fits with the story is preferred. I just reviewed a story called The Broken God with a little boy in it called Zoshi who broke my heart. The violence towards him wasn't of the gratuitous type, nor was it explicit/gory. Instead, we followed his feelings while traversing a dark place. Then, the moment came, and it was quick. But the intensity of being in this eight-year old mind blew me away. Again, One Less Meg was also a violent story, but appropriately so.
Authors seem to struggle most with tightening their stories up and using their resources (betas, editors, etc.) for what they are worth. I understand the desire to keep things. It is something I struggle with as a reviewer. But both reviews and stories need to be slashed and slashed again, or re-written, or ... (you know the theory). Unless you are a "one of a kind" author, writing hurts. This article certainly did.
As a reviewer, I love authors. You are brave people who take a chance on a fickle public. I want you to succeed and want you to do your very best to deliver a product you can be proud of. That is the frame of mind I try to be in when I review your stories. And don't be too hard on yourself when something falls through. Failures do teach you where to go next. At least they have done that for me.