“Throwback Thursday: Back-to-School Beatitudes–10 Academic Survival Tips” (Crunk Feminist Collective)

Here is a terrific collection of academic survival tips for the “target audience” of my business and this blog from The Crunk Feminist Collective

Samples (QUOTED):

  • Be confident in your abilities.
    • If you feel like a fraud, you very likely are suffering from impostor syndrome, a chronic feeling of intellectual or personal inadequacy born of grandiose expectations about what it means to be competent. Women in particular suffer with this issue, but I argue that it is worse for women-of-color (particularly Blacks and Latinas) who labor under stereotypes of both racial and gender incompetence. The academy itself also creates grandiose expectations, given the general perception of academicians as hypercompetent people. Secret: Everybody that’s actin like they know, doesn’t really know. So ask your question. It’s probably not as stupid as you think. Now say this with me: “I’m smart enough, my work is important, and damn it, I’m gonna make it.”
  • Be patient with yourself.
    • Be patient with your own process of intellectual growth. You will get there and it will all come together. You aren’t supposed to know everything at the beginning. And you still won’t know everything at the end (of coursework, exams, the dissertation, life…).
    • Getting the actual degree isn’t about intellect. It is about sheer strength of will and dogged determination. “Damn it, I’m gonna walk out of here with that piece of paper if it’s the last cottonpickin’ thing I do.” That kind of thinking helps you to keep going after you’ve just been asked to revise a chapter for the third time, your committee member has failed to submit a letter of rec on time, and you feel like blowing something or someone up.
  • Be your own best advocate. Prioritize your own professional needs/goals.
    • You have not because you ask not.  You have to be willing to ask for what you need. You deserve transparency about the rules and procedures of your program, cordial treatment from faculty, staff and students, and a program that prepares you not only for the rigors of grad school but also for the job market (should you desire a career in academia).  But folks won’t hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to build relationships, ask questions, and make demands.
    • Figure out your writing process (the place [home, coffee shop, library], time [morning, afternoon, night], and conditions [background noise, total silence, cooler or warmer] under which you work best and try to create those conditions as frequently as possible during finals, qualifying exams, and dissertation.
    • Your self-advocacy will often be misperceived as aggression and anger, entitlement or selfishness. Don’t apologize. 


More here:

Throwback Thursday: Back-to-School Beatitudes–10 Academic Survival Tips”

Clients of Matrix Education and Editorial Services receive emotional support in each and every one of the areas identified by The Crunk. I have a weekly online support group for academics who have ADHD added to the challenges of non-traditional academic identities — i.e., people of color, LGBT, disabled, and other non-European-descendent-cisgender-male identities. This group currently meets Thursdays @ 5-6 p.m. Central through my Join.me technology (very easy to use), which allows screen sharing and recording (with your permission).

If/when I can gather three to four non-ADHD people interested in a support group that focuses on the issues specific to those non-traditional academic identities, I will create another group to be scheduled according to participants’ needs. The charge for this is $20 per person per one-hour session. If I have four people I will reserve one space for someone who needs to negotiate a lower fee.

Note: I am myself a white cisgender straight female, but my passion in life is to enable real social change by helping non-traditional academics to succeed and thrive. I have three identities that make ME non-traditional: I am ADHD myself, I am disabled in non-visible ways, and I have lived a lifetime of being “other” by virtue of surviving childhood sexual abuse. I know what it means to be invisible and to be judged by prejudice. In addition, I OWN the privileges that accrue to me by virtue of my whiteness and my status as middle class (despite low income) due to culture and education. And I am open to being called out when I do or say things that suggest I am unconscious of my privilege. I welcome being educated by my clients!


Dissertation writing: inscribing a newly created “author in the text” while we create ourselves anew as academics

One of the issues new dissertation writers must address, but which is rarely if ever discussed, is the extent to which writing a dissertation (or, for that matter, any other text) involves creating a new self who is inscribed into the text. That “author-in-the-text” is not, of course, our complete selves nor does it in any way even remotely reflect the fullness of our various subjectivities. Rather, that author-in-the-text who successfully jumps the dissertation hurdle is the person who has proven that she can join the world of academia as a fully credentialed scholar, particularly in her chosen field. The subject she inscribes into her dissertation has a certain degree of confidence and authority, but she respects those who have come before her (e.g., in her literature review) and honors the members of her dissertation committee by demonstrating her knowledge of THEIR work, to the degree it is relevant to hers. The voice with which she speaks is knowledgeable of what has come before, but she has some new ideas and research to add to that. And she is able to take on the mantle of the scholar.

We all have many personas (or subjectivities), of course, who come out in different contexts. There is the persona who has fun with her friends and may in fact be a “stitch” — the “class clown,” so to speak. There is the lover, the friend, the spiritual person (if that is important to her), perhaps “the poet” or “artist,” and even the political activist. Then there are the subjectivities that accrue to us through our positions within race, gender, sex, ethnicity, ability, and class backgrounds (as well as other forms of intersubjectivity).

Although to some extent the “political activist” has been given some room to enter academic discourse (a very SMALL room), none of the other personas are admitted. And the subjectivities that we have acquired through our political and social positions remain suspect.

In the effort to eliminate those “verboten” subjectivities, all too often dissertators squeeze the very life out of their writing.

Those who enter academia from the margins come into that academic world as strangers to it. We have to learn a new language, a new way of thinking about the world, a new set of behavioral rules, and particularly a new set of rules for thinking and writing. It is all very strange to us. Flipping an analogy from Clifford Geertz, we are natives “going academic,” rather than academics “going native.” In the process of finding our way in this strange land, we become uncomfortable with it, long for our old ways of thinking and being in the world. Even if we have been academics before (such as I was when I got my master’s in English), when we enter into a field that is primarily sociological, we are often lost. Nothing looks familiar, and very little seems like fun. Why are we doing this? Why are we subjecting ourselves to this strange new world?

Note the word “subjecting.” When we identify ourselves as subjects — as subjects in a sentence, so to speak — we are at the helm, in control, the subjects of our destinies. We knew our old world. We knew how to be in it. We knew how to be subjects rather than objects.

But in order to become subjects in this new world we have to rewrite ourselves into the texts of our academic work. Coming from the margins is particularly difficult, because there is so much in academia that is an anathema to the cultural positions we once enjoyed. We have to be rational rather than intuitive. We have to write in a linear, logical way, using a new vocabulary and following a relatively confining “map.” We have to prove to those who hold the power that we are worthy subjects.

In order to do that, we have to SUBJECT ourselves to this new culture. We have to “go academic” and let go of our native culture. What seems completely rational from the point of view of our “native cultures” is denied by academia. If it is not relegated to the garbage heap, at the very least it is seen as “less than” the academic way of being in the world and thinking about it.

This can be a very painful process. We don’t want to let go of our native positions, nor should we. What would be the point of bringing people from the margins into the center if we end up being just like the people who are already there?

And so we struggle, constantly, with the urge to give up and walk away. The problem becomes: how do we maintain our original, native culture while we inscribe ourselves into our work as academics? Sometimes the process just hurts too much. It feels just too damn hard!

Renato Rosaldo, in the book, Culture and Truth, the Remaking of Social Analysis, offers a whole lot of permissions, most particularly because Rosaldo quotes from a wide variety of different kinds of texts to make his points. One of my biggest problems when I was writing my own dissertation was the feeling that I had to somehow legitimize what I have to say before I can say it. And often the problem is that what I have to say cannot be said within the normal rules of academic discourse.

Anya (my daughter) once gave me a book for Christmas, a collection of writings by women on war. One of the articles discusses how the techno-strategic discourse of nuclear defense excludes human subjects, makes nuclear missiles into the subjects that are to be “protected.” So that any reference to human subjects – the subjects of normal moral discourse – is illegitimate. The two forms of discourse are completely incompatible. The two have completely different referents. Within techno-strategic discourse, it is conceivable to have a “survivable” nuclear war, because the survivors are whatever nuclear weapons remain.

Rosaldo speaks of border crossings, of multiple cultural identities and subjectivities, of the insights that the powerless and subordinate may have into the powerful and dominant, of what the “weak” may have to say of the “strong.” Of incompatible narratives coexisting.

Clearly there are some narratives that must be buried. Some narratives are morally untenable.

I grew up as a nomad, with no particular community or set of identities, except, perhaps, for whatever community my family itself found in being different. There is a good deal about me that is “American,”’held onto tenuous indeed. However strong they may have been for her, they have not been passed on to her children.

I have no deep emotional ties to my own siblings. Though we have endured much trauma together.

I followed in my father’s footsteps, so to speak, in my adulthood. I have continued to be a nomad. I have refused roots; refused a history. I have sought freedom from my past. I am getting to be a bit old for that now.

Interestingly, in my search for freedom I also sought a community – a community of like-minded spirits. That community has been elusive. I touched it temporarily in Iowa City. A community of politically-committed intellectuals with imagination, striving to make sense of the world while trying to improve upon it. But it is impossible to find community in Iowa City because its population is so transient.

This is a rather roundabout way of getting to what I wanted to say about myself in the first place. And that is to my sense of intellectual homelessness. In a way I have repeated in my intellectual life the nomadic existence of my biography. I belong to no discipline. I stand in the border zones. Intellectually, I am like Rosaldo’s Chicano. Intellectually, I grew up in an Eden of art and literary studies, a writer of fiction, concerned with form, esthetics, beauty; I moved to the “real world” of journalism, history, sociology, anthropology; I’ve come back again to literary studies, armed with sociological and political concerns.

I suppose it is my intellectual homelessness that enables me to speak from the border zones, from the territory where the disciplines merge into one another. Borders have become my home. My home is wherever I am.

We have heard stories about the anthropologist “going native.” I wonder. Can a native “go anthropologist”? The anthropologist learns the language, ritual, customs, culture, of his/her subjects; then interprets them for an academic audience. Suppose we have a “native” learn the language, etc., of academia, and then return home to tell his/her community about the strange practices of academics. What could academics learn from such an exercise? Suppose an academic were to try to look at his/her own cultural practices from the point of view of his/her subjects of study?

Can the native “go academic” without losing his/her original identity? That is the question for those of us who have been at the margins and have entered academia, like Rosaldo as a Chicano, like nearly all women, and certainly all people of color. Learning academic discourse changes us; it makes the unthinkable thinkable. We have to acquire a different subject position, and that transforms us; yet we can never become one with the dominant class, one with Anglo-Eurpopean men. We no longer belong to the place where we came from; we will never find ourselves at the center, either – although it is questionable whether we desire that position anyway.

In some ways I think there is greater freedom in the margins. In order to be in the center you have to follow the rules that define the center. Becoming a critic automatically places you on the outside. Though of course there are centers of criticism, e.g., white Marxist males; in this case marginal positions are chosen by groups who otherwise occupy center stage. The difference is that marginalization here is a matter of choice; the men can return to the center at any time, are likely to be welcomed as prodigal sons.

Things fall apart.

The center cannot hold.

(Or something to that effect, from Yeats’s The Second Coming.)

What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

The center is disintegrating, and that is scary to those who have always occupied it.

The academic writing from the margins in order to eventually locate herself in the center of academia is constantly engaged in a balancing act: she must hold onto the special subject positions that she has acquired from living in the margins in order to maintain the special viewpoints that she brings into academia, for what else is the point of diversity? At the same time, in order to take on the mantle of the “credentialed scholar,” she must speak in an alien voice. She has to “go academic” while at the same time holding fiercely onto the person she was before she entered the academy. It is a challenge fraught with peril.

And I think that this, often, is the source of greatest anxiety for those attempting to enter academia from the margins — an anxiety that can cripple at worst and “constipate” (in terms of the flow of writing) at best. The linguistic structures that emerge from this battle all to often are cramped, confusing, ambiguous, and convoluted; worst of all, the process can “kill” — at least, kill the will to go on.

Committee members and dissertation advisers are gatekeepers, and as such they must learn to watch for the ways in which those who enter the academy from the margins can be destroyed by it. That is, if they are truly committed to diversity.

OTSD — Ongoing Traumatic Stress Disorder — a diagnosis for what ails us.

I have attached a pdf of an essay I that began with a response to a FB friend who was feeling overwhelmed by all she has to struggle with and fear on a daily basis. She is a prominent disability activist who exists within the interstices of several categories of oppression: as a woman, as a lesbian, as disabled, as poor, as black (with no particular order of significance implied). For such activists it is easy to feel extraordinarily depressed about how much still needs to be done, and how little effect our efforts seem to have had in the present.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to have OTSD — Ongoing Traumatic Stress Disorder — a label I just came up with this morning as I was writing my post supporting here (later to discover others have used similar labels). This is not and probably will never be entered into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — the psychiatry/psychology profession’s bible, because the concept violates the fundamental framework that grounds their understanding of their practice…that is, that people’s emotional and psychological problems are based on the individual’s processing of the conditions of their lives, separate from those of anyone else who experiences the same conditions. That is, the “science” of psychiatry/psychology is blind to systemic conditions and interprets all psychological problems as inherent in the individual, rather than a product of the existing organization of power relations.

Because the essay is long and complicated, and as a result, difficult to read online (especially with my currently designed website), I have created a pdf that people can download from here.

I hope people will take the time to comment on it/make suggestions/offer additional insights, either here on this site or on my business page on Facebook.


ADHD and Contextual Thinking

Years ago in early graduate school I wrote a paper on the communications theorist Walter Ong, who looked at the differences between and among primarily oral and primarily literate cultures and the ways that literacy actually restructures the way people think. He told a story about how some researchers were trying to get some indigenous people to categorize the way Westerners categorize things. You know — “one of these things is not like the other; which one is different, do you know?” The example he gave (if I recall correctly) was of a hammer, a saw, a carving knife, and a piece of wood. We would automatically say the first three are tools and the last one is not. However, these respondents absolutely insisted: “why take something away from the thing for which it was made?” Each of those “tools” would work on piece of wood — that is, the thing for which those tools were made. 

When we go about trying to “make a point,” we have great difficulty separating the “tools” from the “things for which they are made.” We are HIGHLY CONTEXTUAL THINKERS, and more often than not the context we feel we need to supply comes from our personal experiences. Thus as we relate our personal experiences as we are trying to make our point, it appears that we are “making everything all about ourselves.” When we are not at all doing that. We are simply conveying the ways in which we understand the world.

It is also our contextual thinking that makes it difficult for us to create a linear outline and to follow it, and to produce work that passes muster in a linear-thinking world. We understand what we read in the context not only of everything else we have read but also in the context of our personal lives. ALMOST EVERYTHING is relevant to the point we are trying to make, including something that may have happened to us (for example) when we were four years old!

This is a problem for us for three main reasons and three o main reasons alone:

1) The rest of the world (but especially the academic world) thinks linearly, or demands linear thinking, because they see it as more “efficient,” and so therefore all our provisions of context are just a waste of time.

2) The rest of the world devalues personal experience both as a source and as a context for knowledge.

3) Efficiency of time use is prized above everything else.

Do you see how utterly contrary these three concerns that “normals” have are to our way of being in the world, our way of understanding it? And how utterly alien they would be to people living in a primarily oral culture, where time is measured by the location of the sun and the moon in the sky, and people don’t mind waiting for others to arrive at a gathering because the waiting time can be spent in all sorts of wondrous pleasures, and nobody is thinking about the next meeting they have to get to?

And when it comes to speaking and making points — STORIES are valued?

Now, it may seem contradictory that all of us here are writers and we love to read (but kapow! I just suddenly understood why so many ADHD folks have trouble with reading, and it is not because of short attention spans, but rather because reading is linear and the subject matter all too often taken out of context).

I have learned how to edit dissertations and other writing in order to get them to conform to the standards of the linear, academic world that prizes efficiency. I am absolutely superb at it. But I am much better doing it with other people’s work than I am with my own, because I don’t have the attachments to context that my clients do.

Come to think of it, this may not just be an issue of differences between ADHD folks and “normals” but also differences between people whose own cultures are different from the dominant one. For example, I can see how African Americans might have difficulty with the linearity of “standard” academic thinking, depending on whether they grew up in middle class or lower class environments. In middle class environments they would have parents who’ve also been drilled in how to think linearly. Ditto with working class cultures. I know that working class folks find much of academia alienating.

Anyway, I have come to the point that I intend to DEFEND my way of expressing myself as a legitimate way of understanding the world. I may choose to speak less often in deference to the constraints of time so that others also have the opportunity to speak. But I will ask people to be patient with my story-telling and all my prefatory material that I believe needs to be part of “my point.” And if they aren’t willing to be patient, am out the door. Because I don’t need that negativity.

People who are looking for support from other people to allow them be who they are in all their glorious individuality as well as their differences from the “norm” should be able to accept someone who is different, but different in a different way.

Time to have an ADHD Liberation Movement, maybe? I am only half serious about that. But the half that is serious is very serious. I think we need to stop accepting other people’s evaluations of ourselves for our failure to conform to their expectations. We have our own unique contributions to make. Yes, we need to become more self aware — if for no other reason than we know how unbearable it can be to be in a room full of ADHD folks who are unaware! We do need to find ways to compromise and live within the dominant world, but as we do that we must not for once think that our way of being in the world is WRONG, something to be FIXED.

Coping with ADHD (part 1 — or is it 2? 3?)

I wrote this in response to someone who commented on my “Rhythms are the Best for Working,” post and decided it was long enough and worthwhile enough for me to make it a separate post.

Jonathan, I encourage you to CELEBRATE your ADHD as a quality that makes you stand out from the crowd. People with ADHD are generally very intelligent and have a wide variety of interests about which they can be equally intense. Instead of seeing it as a disability (except when you need support for it), see it as a “misfit” between your brain wiring and the expectations of a rigid world that likes “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”

What I try to do is follow my interest for as long as I can, and then pick up the thread of something else when interest wanes. The trick is to keep track of all your various interests and have a way to remind you of all the work you’ve already done on as-yet incomplete projects. So when you run up against a blank wall, go back to your other projects and see if you can spark some interest in one of them again. If you keep going, eventually you will complete something!

I have been writing almost all of my life, and I have saved everything, whether on paper (earlier work) or electronically (I’ve had a computer since 1984). At 64 I decided I needed to go back to old work & pick up where I left off, writing an autobiography. Well, guess what? It is already 3/4ths written, between my journal entries, emails, facebook posts, completed autobiographical short stories (names changed, but otherwise, autobiography), novellas, fragments, and poems. Right now it’s a matter of bringing it all together, filling in the gaps, and planning the story I want to tell (which affects how I arrange the materials), and then writing an ending. These days my age is pressing on me — I’d better get this done now, or I will never do it. And so I find myself carving time out for it, whenever I can fit it in.

There will always be setbacks. For instance, in June 2010 my son-in-law committed suicide, and I chose to move closer to my grandchildren. This has caused a major upheaval in my life, as all moves do, but particularly moreso for people with ADHD and for people with my various chronic pain conditions.

Nonetheless, it is the experience of all of that that has brought be back to my writing as a way of healing.

Setbacks are barriers only if you allow them to be so. Setbacks can be stepping stones instead. You may have to step back for a while, but something will gestate if you allow it, and eventually you will be a better, stronger person, and a better writer!

“The Committee,” by Julie Schumacher–My Amazon.com review*

My “book review” is actually more my own review of what higher education is rapidly becoming. I do highly recommend this book to any and all who have experience with higher education in whatever position and at whatever level. It is funny as hell! In addition, as an “epistolary novel,” this book offers a terrific example of the skilled use of letters as a narrative technique. The story is constructed entirely from the wry, satiric letters of recommendation that the central character, an aging creative writing professor, writes on behalf of students and other faculty. It offers a number of real “LOLZ,” especially for anyone who has experience with higher education.

So, read the book and get those LOLZ for yourself! Meanwhile…

As a retired college professor in a different field (Phd., Mass Communication) and who has sat on numerous hiring and scholarship/award committees, I found this book about the travails of an aging creative writing professor extraordinarily entertaining and spot on in its satiric portrayal of the massively dysfunctional higher education system we have today (and may have always had — my teaching experience goes back to 1975), in particular the devaluation of all humanities fields, of which Mass Comm is one in spite of it being a good deal more practical than, say, English (my master’s degree), or Creative Writing (also part of my master’s, though not an MFA), as well as its increasingly absurd demands on humanities faculty (something that HAS changed since the 1970s).

Once upon a time professors were actually teachers and scholars. Now in many cases they are “content providers” who must provide exactly the same content across the board to everyone no matter their differences in teaching style or their scholarly interests and knowledge. I call it McUniversity, and it has about the same intellectual nutrition value as a Big Mac or a bag of fries provides to your body. Professors aren’t supposed to offer their own take on the subject matter because that means they are “shoving their personal ideology down students’ throats” — never mind that the specified content reflects its own ideological viewpoint. In my experience as both a tenure track and an adjunct, you aren’t supposed to criticize the status quo nor demonstrate to students how to do their own criticism, because the status quo is supposedly “the truth,” whereas criticism of it is “biased.” And thus McUniversities churn out more and more robots prepared to do as they are told. Which is exactly what the powers that be want.

The creation of a cadre of adjunct teachers who now provide the greater proportion of the “content” is in large part the functional foundation of McUniversities. Adjuncts (I have been one at several McUniversities/colleges) must provide their “content” in a way that is pleasing to students so they will get high evaluations, which are absolutely essential to getting rehired from term to term (although there are no guarantees even if you have the highest evaluations in the school). I tried so many times to explain to students that my job isn’t to give them what they think they want, but rather what I know they need–otherwise, why not just teach themselves? But no, the #1 reason a teacher would get low evaluations was if the course was “too hard” (translation: challenging, and because it was challenging, student would actually LEARN something they didn’t already know) and they didn’t get the “A” they expected from the day they walked into class).

While there are a few universities/colleges remaining that actually put learning and scholarship first, they are rapidly disappearing as that cadre of adjuncts (who might actually BE good teachers, but the circumstances require them to provide educational pablum so everyone can get an “A” or at least a “B”) takes over the majority of courses, because the university accountants have essentially taken control of the universities values, putting “saving money” ahead of providing a quality education.

Oh yes, I can see I need to write my own satirical book! Meanwhile I laughed all the way through this one as I recognized the conditions I had to deal with in my own professorial career (such as it was).

Now I am glad to be retired, and instead provide services to graduate students as a freelance editor and writing coach, and I am able to do what I always wanted to do but had to fight countless administrations determined to prevent, and that is to actually make a difference in students’ lives. Students shouldn’t have pay extra for what I do, but rather should receive it as an integral part of their university education. But alas, that is but a faint dream.

*This article is a book review I posted on Amazon.com today and it is awaiting content approval by the Amazon.com moderators. It includes a plug for my business, so it may not be approved. And since even if it is approved, my followers here would not likely come across it, so I am duplicating it here, minus most of the business plug (since if you are reading it here, you already found me!).

#Digiwrimo — ummmm….sorry, my brain doesn’t work that fast

I signed up for #digiwrimo with the idea in mind that it might help me develop some of the materials for the memoir I’ve been working on for decades. The launch party was 10/31 and I just learned today (11/3) that I was supposed to do some writing/media creation immediately after, as in: seconds, and then minutes.

Ummmm…I was sick that day (gastrointestinal bug) and I’ve been recovering from it. So, seeing that I am already several days behind, I think I am going to dump the project and just tag along to see what other people do.

This is an age of instant communications, and apparently it requires brains that function with lightning speed, and the owners of those brains never get sick nor need to rest.

I’ve been writing my book for nearly 40 years. It took that long to figure the story out, since I had puzzles about my life to work out and the puzzles weren’t solved until last year, after my mother died, at age 94. If I had started writing this in the age of social media I would have shared the insights of a 24-year-old, and while I was very smart back then, and an excellent writer (as I can see from reading original work I wrote back than, much of which will appear in the final version), I had no idea what the trajectory of my life would be nor of the insights I would have about the subject matter of which I wrote back then.

My work is not suited for #digiwrimo, or anything else that requires a brain that never flags. No wonder we have a world of literature dominated by the insights of 20 somethings. Wisdom requires the seasoning of years, and brains as old as mine just don’t fit into the world of communications written in nanoseconds.

I guess I am just an old dinosaur!

Well, perhaps, a WISE old dinosaur!

A few typographical points: making your manuscript more readable and saving paper to boot!

While I am on the subject of working with MS Word I figure I should make a few small (but crucial) points about typography.

The first thing you need to know about fonts is that there are two basic types: serif and sans serif. Serif type has those little squiggly things at the tips of the lines that form the letters. Sans serif type has basic, clean lines. One of the most popular fonts for academic work is Times New Roman (or Times); the second most popular are Helvetica and Arial, which are very similar sans serif fonts.

Below you will find a screen shot of the first three paragraphs of this post in Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Arial:

Font comparison 1

As you can see, Helvetica and Arial look quite similar — but notice that Arial takes up slightly less space, while Times New Roman takes up the least space of all. Imagine the difference that will make when you go to print several dozen or more pages—imagine how many trees can be saved when students choose the right font for printed papers! Not to mention how much money you save on copying costs or even printing your own. Although the ink cost is pretty close to the same, you would be saving the cost of paper, and over time that really adds up.

So, which of these are easiest to read? Studies on typography and reading have confirmed that serif type is easier to read in print, whereas sans serif is easier to read online or in electronic files. Whether your faculty want you to submit paper or electronic versions of your work is key to choosing which font to use. Many faculty are now requesting electronic versions only  — particularly for online courses, since the mailing back and forth can get to be horrendous. On the other hand, many still want to read your work on paper. Helvetica and Arial, however, can be readable at 10 point, which will save even more paper:

Font size comparisons

As you can see here, Arial 10 point takes up even less space than Times New Roman 12 pt. But it is still relatively easy to read, even on paper. In fact, both Helvetica and Arial are easier to read at 10 point vs. 12 point type—unless you are in need of large type because of visual acuity problems, the smaller font is easier to read. There comes a point with font size when the larger is more difficult to read than the smaller, especially when there are large blocks of continuous type as there are in academic papers. Headings and subheadings are a different story altogether, however. You need to check with your department’s preferred style book to find out how best to set those headings.

Now, here’s the thing. When you are submitting a manuscript to me for editing, I want all of your type to be exactly the same throughout (except where you need to indicate emphasis with italics). Why? Because I will use Word’s wonderful style setting features, which allow me to format your work exactly according to your department or graduate college’s specifications. And if there turns out to be some error, I can change every heading and subheading throughout the paper in the blink of an eye by just changing the style settings. This saves a tremendous amount of work!

Equally important is that those style-set headings and subheadings will be used to “magically” construct a table of contents, also in the blink of an eye, with all the page numbers exactly what they are supposed to be and where they are supposed to be. Amazing, huh? 

Now,when you are submitting a paper on paper to a professor or teacher, first make sure if he or she has a preference for specific fonts and sizes. If you have a choice, you have to weigh the advantages of saving paper versus readability. Saving paper matters most when you have to provide several copies of a long document—you can literally save yourself hundreds of dollars if you have to supply, for instance, five copies of a 40-50,000 word document, which is what most dissertations or books are. Most people can handle 10 point Arial or Helvetica, but some cannot. In fact, your professor may specify which font you are to use. There is a reason for this visual “rigidity”—too much font variation among student papers can be distracting. You want your professor to focus on the content of your paper and not on its visual appearance—unless, of course, there is an assignment asking you to use photographs or illustrations and laying the type and images out as a brochure or poster. Whatever you do, don’t vary the font WITHIN your paper (except for size and bolding or italics, as specified for headings and subheadings by your required style book (APA, MLA/Turabian, Chicago, etc.).

When you submit a manuscript for publication to a journal or book publisher, be sure to find out what type font(s) and sizes they prefer as well as which style manual they use. Some don’t care about the fonts, but most do. Again, the uniformity of appearance is intended to remove the distraction of having to read submissions in a wide variety of fonts.

There are a few other fonts that are now being accepted for academic work, such as the samples below:

Serif type comparisons

As you can see, Times New Roman beats both of these others hands down for space saving. And although this screen shot of Times New Roman isn’t the most readable (for one thing, remember, serif type is harder to read online), it is eminently readable on paper and the size is just fine. There are typographical terms that explain the differences in appearance and use of space, but unless you are a graphic designer, you don’t need to be confused by them.

Here are comparisons of other sans serif fonts that are becoming more acceptable for academic use:

sans serif type comparisons

As you can see, Gil Sans is the most economical in terms of space saving of all these sans serif fonts. However, I don’t recommend it for long blocks of type, such as what you would have in an academic paper. I use it mostly for cover letters (or other formal letters) because I can squeeze a whole lot of words onto one (or two) pages, and it is still relatively easy to read. It wouldn’t work well with 8-10 pages or more, however.

Font and font size selection in academia come down to first pleasing your professor, and second, saving money (not to mention trees) by choosing the font that is both easily readable and economical in paper consumption.

Next up will be more discussion of typographical issues. For now, this is enough to absorb!

The wonderful power of MS Word (and its aggravating complexity)

Some time back I posted a rather peevish entry about how so many of my clients know so very little about the powerful editing features that MS Word has to offer, encouraging (well, pushing) people to use those features before sending a file to me, as it could save them a lot of money for my fees.

Unfortunately, it is precisely because Word is so powerful that it is also very complex and difficult to learn. Fortunately, however, there is plenty of information out there on the web to teach you how. There are even videos and slide shows that help make the instructions clearer—it can often be very difficult to figure out instructions when you can’t SEE what you need to do. I myself am a very visual learner, and even though I know Word pretty well right now, sometimes I forget how to use features (especially if I haven’t used them for a while), or there are new things I need to learn, or Word has changed, making it more powerful but also making it even more aggravatingly complex and difficult.

One thing everyone should know, and that is, if you don’t know how to do something, all you have to do is insert the right keywords into your browser’s search engine, and voila!…what you need will appear within the first few links.

For example, because it is often a long period between times that I need to use the “generate table of contents” feature (extremely useful in the preparation of defense and final versions of dissertations), that I have to look it up. So, for instance, I insert the following keywords into my search engine:

word 2011 create table of contents

The first two words identify the version of Word for which I need instructions, and the second two words are obvious. That is all that I need to get exactly what I am looking for. This yields the following collection:

word 2011 create table of contents

The very first link in that collection is:

create table of contents (http://www.papercheck.com/2011-microsoft-word-table-of-contents-mac.html)

This takes you to a page created by a professional editing company (believe me, you don’t want them: I am much less expensive and I give very personalized services, including coaching you through the emotional aspects of creating your essays, articles, dissertations, and books).

This page starts with the very first step, which is using the style function to create headings—Word uses these headings to create items in the TOC. Since I already know how to do that (and by the time I am generating a TOC I have already done that), I skip to the next image and set of instructions.

I don’t particularly care for the layout on that page (it’s kind of difficult to read), so I might go to the next link:

Word-2011-for-mac-make-a-table-of-contents (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/word-2011-for-mac-make-a-table-of-contents-automat.html)

This one goes into a bit more detail than the first, and it might be all I need. But the third is from Microsoft help itself, and this one gives you very explicit instructions on all of the steps, using a neatly organized set of links for each step:

Microsoft Word help site  (http://office.microsoft.com/en-001/mac-word-help/create-or-edit-a-table-of-contents-HA102929533.aspx)

So, in a very short time I have found everything that I need to remind myself not only how to create a TOC but also how to edit one!

You can also just start with the Microsoft Word help site  and use its site search engine to find what you need. This site is extremely helpful, but you might prefer a video to help you through each step. So, what can you do to find just video helps? Well, you go to Youtube.com and do a keyword search there.

Using the keywords: ms word 2011 tutorial table of contents

I get: ms word 2011 tutorial table of contents (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ms+word+2011+tutorial+table+of+contents).

The first two links don’t help much—apparently the youtube.com search engine sometimes yields superfluous links. But the third link is this:

Create a Table of Contents in Word 2011 for Mac (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaEHb4rM4pc)

This gives you a 6+minute video tutorial taking you through all the steps.

I am often surprised at how many people don’t seem to realize that about 95% of whatever you might want to know (except, perhaps, for the meaning of life!) is right there at your fingertips, waiting to be discovered with the right keywords. Well, what are the right keywords? That is actually pretty simple. You have to use the precise words that describe what you are looking for. For instance, you don’t want to use just “Microsoft Word help,” because that will give you a whole slew of links that may be useful but don’t get you to what you need right away.

In the cases here I have used the explicit term MS Word 2011 in order to get just the version of Word I need. You may have noticed that all of my links refer to the Mac version only. That’s because Microsoft first creates a new version for PCs (their largest market) and then adds the Mac version. So if you have a PC you might look for MS Word 2010 or even the latest version MS Word 2013. You can also look for earlier versions. Remember, PC  versions are created in the year before the Mac version.

So, I have identified the most precise version of the application. The next keywords identify exactly the tool for which I am looking, in this case, the Table of Contents. I can also look for Bibliography or Style or any other specific term for the tool I want to know about.

The same pattern applies no matter what you are looking for. First you identify the most precise general keyword (or phrase), and then the precise specific keyword (or phrase). The order in which you place the terms or phrases matters, because your search engine looks for those keywords first and the second set after. If you use

create table of contents MS Word 2011

you will still get what you need, but you will also get irrelevant links to other versions of MS Word. While the specific then general pattern in this case still gets most of what you want (since Word instructions are fairly precise anyway), with other subject matter that doesn’t have quite the precision you will get a great deal of irrelevant links that you will then have to search through to get the specific ones you want.

So remember this: no matter what you need to learn (or be reminded of) with MS Word, it is all there just waiting for you to do the search! 


An Editor’s Review of Kristen Ashley’s novel, “Sweet Dreams”

Preface: I originally wrote this review for Amazon.com but it got rejected, no doubt because of the discussion of explicit sexual language — in a book that they have no problem selling, of course. I decided to post the review here instead, even though it is somewhat outside the focus of scholarly editing, because some of what I have to say applies to writing in general, but also, primarily, because I am interested in editing quality fiction as well. And I also have a great deal to say about how this book reproduces some of the worst gender stereotypes (as well as other stereotypes) in our culture.

WARNING: multiple plot spoilers here. If you like Kristen Ashley’s novels but haven’t read this one yet, I suggest that you not read this review. One of the elements of the novel that I talk about is the absurd plot lines and subplot lines, and in order to do that I have to reveal the ending as well as other parts of the plot held in suspense.

I don’t know why I did it.

I don’t know why I slogged all the way through this really badly written “chick lit” romance novel, listening to the audio version from beginning to end. And I don’t know why I spent so much time writing this review (which Amazon.com rejected because of a few explicit sex terms — even though the book itself is FULL of explicit sex scenes and I am criticizing those scenes).

I think the positive reviews on this book on Amazon.com and elsewhere really got me going. I got part way through the book and thought, “oh my god this book is so bad.” So I googled for reviews to see if there was anyone else out there who thought this book is as bad as I do. While there are a couple of negative reviews, none of them do much of a job of criticizing the writing, and none of them that I have found talk about the gender stereotypes and mythologies (including rape culture mythologies). Most of the reviews are gushingly positive.

So I did it. I felt I had to. There had to be at least one published review of this book that tells the truth about it. And I slogged all the way through to the end so that nobody could accuse me of writing a review based on limited knowledge of the book.

What is the book? Sweet Dreams, by Kristen Ashley. I downloaded the audio version onto my iPad based on the overview, which on the surface at least seemed interesting. Turns out it is one of a series of her books set in small towns in Colorado…all of them, of course, of the “chick lit” and “romance” variety.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a place for genre writing in my pantheon of good books. I LOVE a good detective story or mystery, for instance. But regardless of the genre, it has to be WRITTEN WELL. And this one is not…by a long shot.

This is the WORST novel I have ever encountered in my entire life. I simply cannot understand the extensive positive reviews of this novel and other novels by the same author.

As another reviewer on Amazon said, Kristen Ashley is in dire need of an editor — for content, for style, and for her horrible grammar. (I listened to an audio version from the library, so I cannot comment upon the punctuation, as someone else has.) Worst of all, however, is that the characters in this novel (and I imagine in the rest of her work) represent of some of the worst gender stereotypes you will find anywhere, setting the women’s movement back half a century at least.

(And no, the fact that the heroine is a former airline company Vice President does not make her any less of a gender stereotype. Read on.)

The “heroine” and primary narrator (we get her first person point of view all the way through until nearly the end) Lauren Graham (god she has so many nicknames it is hard to keep them straight – “Ace,” “Lori,” “Ri” (or however you spell it –audio versions are no help there), has to be one of the stupidest women I have ever encountered in a novel, and that includes books written by misogynist men. She is utterly clueless throughout 99% of the book and is always misunderstanding her lover, the “smokin’ hot, badass, biker bounty hunter who looks good in jeans” Tatum Jackson, in spite of the fact that his patterns of communication as an “alpha male” are repeated endlessly. She is always confused about what he wants from her when anyone with half a working brain cell could figure it out. I certainly did myself, and I have zero knowledge of so-called “biker talk.” I can’t tell you how many times, while listening to this story, I said “you idiot” out loud. A problem is that those misunderstandings form the foundation of the vast majority of the plot in this book.

For example, I really got ticked off at Lauren when she goes into this tizzy trying to figure out whether Tate wants her to live with him. Get this: she is ALREADY staying in his house and has made her move out of the motel room she was living in and enjoying, purportedly for her safety given the serial rapist/killer running amok, not to mention that this is, after all, a biker town. In spite of all that she goes so far as to look for an apartment and then pisses him off because of it. Just asking him appears to be out of the question for this spineless woman. Still, he has made it clear in no uncertain terms that he wants “his woman” where he can know where she is at all times. Sure, she is insecure when the novel starts out (though how a former corporate VP could be that insecure is beyond me), but by the time THAT scene rolls around she has been playing “biker babe” for quite a while.

To me Lauren comes off as a complete idiot. I have serious trouble believing she was EVER an “Executive Vice President of Human Relations” at an airline with a recognizable name. You don’t get to a job like that being as mealy-mouthed and as lacking in self-confidence and self-esteem as Lauren is. She doubts EVERYTHING about herself. Ok, so in part that’s because her now ex-husband ran her down all the time, but seriously now. A woman at a job at that level letting a man like Brad (a stereotypical pompous ass interested only in status) run her down is simply unbelievable. She doesn’t leave him — he is the one who divorces her. Even after the divorce she is still pining for Brad, saying they can work it out, even though the main reason for the divorce is that he has “fallen in love” with Lauren’s best friend, and the two have been having an affair for five years. The fact that she still wants him back even after the divorce is final (at least until she “finds herself” in biker town Carnal, Colorado and falls in love with the salaciously delicious Tatum Jackson) alone is enough to tell you what an idiot she is.

Then there are all those “uuuhhmmms” that get repeated and reiterated when she isn’t sure what to say. They make her sound like a teenager! “Uh oh! Daddy (i.e., Tate) caught me doing a b-a-a-a-a-d thing! How do I get out of this now? Oh! Oh! I know… I say, ‘Uuuhhhhmmmmm’…”  (Those Uuuhhhhmmmmm sound particularly bad when they are read aloud.) A smart woman who isn’t sure what to say keeps her mouth shut until she figures it out! She will very likely say things like “I’m not sure what you want from me.” You know. DIRECT communication. 

Equally disturbing — Tatum Jackson’s personality and his expectation of maintaining control over Lauren make him a serious control freak, and his whole modus operandi especially relative to his chosen woman, involves characteristics you find among domestic violence perpetrators. No, he never hits her (thank Goddess!) but he is a large man with an incredible muscular build, and there are frequent hints at the possibility he will be violent — verbally if not physically — if “his woman” disobeys him,  although of course that threat is never fulfilled. However, Lauren seems to like that implied threat of violence (so long as, of course, he doesn’t fulfill it). For instance, Lauren perceives her family backing off from questioning Tate for fear of what a man with his physique might do to Lauren if he is sufficiently displeased by her family. And there are other scenes where Lauren is clearly intimidated by this hunkahunkahunka burnin’ love because of his size and the way he tries to control her. And she apparently finds that attractive, all of her protests notwithstanding.

All of THAT supports the mythology that what a real woman wants is a man to boss her around — as long as he is terrific in bed and, although he is physically intimidating, he never actually hits her. Although she tosses out objections now and then, leading a lot of readers (it appears from the reviews) to see her as a woman they admire for her “sass,” she ALWAYS loses the confrontation. ALWAYS. Until the very end when she has proven her ability to be submissive to her hunkahunkahunka burnin’ love so she is somehow able to talk him into being decent to his son and into refraining from real physical violence against another man. Until she has proven that she knows her place in this castle, Tate absolutely refuses to listen to her.

Often he has good reason not to listen, I have to admit, because often she is so freaking stupid. 

Worst of all of the gender stereotypes is  the “no means yes” mythology that gets reinforced in nearly all of the sex scenes, where the potential for rape is implied —  but of course she always submits in spite of her initial objections.  Ok, yeah, she is seriously attracted to him, but gimme a break. If she says no, he should accept it. PERIOD. Because that mythology of “no means yes” is the #1 reason women experience date rape. 

I can tell you one thing — if I were ever to meet a man like this I would run like hell from him. Actually, I HAVE met someone like that, and he ended up trying to choke me when I told him I wanted to see other people. I got away from him only by turning into that submissive woman that Tate is training Lauren to be, telling him, sure I would do whatever he wanted, knowing that if I didn’t, I could end up dead, playing that role so I could escape alive the next morning.

Of course, Tate Jackson isn’t THAT guy. Tate Jackson somehow incorporates the personality of a control freak with a sweet, loving man who only has his woman’s best interests at heart. Uuhhhhhmmmm. No. No such person in real life, though lots of women get sold on that myth, and end up imprisoned in an emotionally if not physically abusive marriage.

Let me tell you, at 66 years of age and having spent some time working at a domestic violence shelter, not to mention having been married to a control freak for 7 years, I can say with considerable authority that if you come across a man who has to be in control all the time — run like hell. He will NOT turn out to be sweet, sensitive, and understanding the way Tate Jackson turns out to be. GuaranDAMNteed! 

The reality is that this character is a complete fantasy bearing zero relationship to the real world. A man in the REAL WORLD who is as much of a control freak as Tate is ALWAYS ends up being violent with “his woman” (either physically or emotionally; usually both) if he displeases him by disobeying his orders, or simply not doing what he wants (which she is supposed to figure out by telepathy).

Tatum Jackson is of course incredibly hot, hot, hot! Not only does he LOOK hot, he is the most incredible lover who ever lived — described by Lauren as a “god” in a few scenes. He is a masterful man constantly barking orders (which rebellious Lauren challenges in that “stamping your foot” kind of way so many women use, but ALWAYS ultimately gives into) whether about household matters or sexual matters or…WHATEVER.

What you have in Tatum Jackson as an “alpha male” in reality is everything that is wrong with the way masculinity has been defined for centuries. A) He OWNS his woman. She is his PROPERTY. He needs to take a “strong hand” with her. B) He is orders her around without any consideration for what SHE might want — he supposedly already KNOWS what she wants (that is, a big strong he-man to run her life since she has made such a mess of it on her own). C) It is his job to protect her at all times, including from herself (hence all the ordering around). She CAN’T POSSIBLY figure out how to protect herself without him telling her (such as not opening your door unless you know who is on the other side). No. Tate has to very carefully instruct her about peepholes and bolt locks and how those door chains are utterly useless. And no, she is not in her late teens/early twenties. She is FORTY-TWO.

Of course, we always find out LATER that Tate had a good reason for telling her to do something, but he couldn’t possibly be bothered with explaining that to her until after she gets all rebellious and makes him tell her WHY she is being such an idiot.

That macho macho man that every woman supposedly wants is a big load of donkey doo-doo! Any woman who clearly likes getting ordered around (really, she gets off on it) like that seriously needs a good therapist, preferably a feminist one. Any woman who in real life hungers after a man like Tatum Jackson will be hugely disappointed when she finds him. Because control freaks in real life are impossible to live with, are always putting you down, and you always end up selling your soul to them in order to try to make the relationship work, because of course if it doesn’t work out, YOU are the one with the problem. No ACTUAL male control freak  has the sensitive, insightful understanding of human nature that Tate has but that he only reveals when he has to (and when it works for the plot line so that Lauren won’t go running off). 

The worst of that — aside from the reinforcement of rape culture’s “yes means no” mythology and the idea that all a good woman really wants is a good man to tell her what to do — is that no real man can measure up to the ideal man as represented by Tatum Jackson, and so women who fall in love with this character and then measure their husbands or boyfriends against him, will be horribly disappointed. This brute with a heart of gold doesn’t exist. I can’t tell you how many divorces I have seen resulting from the fact that women keep pining for a man who can’t possibly live up to this fantasy!

Get over it, already! If you want a man who is sensitive to your needs, don’t go looking for an alpha male, because no real alpha male is anything like Tatum Jackson.

As for Lauren as a character, aside from being so incredibly clueless (which she has to be in order for the plot line to work), she is spineless as hell until the very end…but even when, in the end she successfully “stands up” to Tate by talking him into being sensitive to his son and out of being abusive or violent to those who have wronged him, she is still being submissive to him overall. She ends up emphasizing how much she loves to give Tate ANYTHING he wants. Absolutely ANYTHING. 

BTW what was that “dirty sex” scene about? Elsewhere there are pages and pages of detailed, explicit sex scenes, and then Tate tells her he wants to “do it dirty” with here. Where there should be details to explain the difference, there are none, just a quick quick description and boom, it’s all over. What?  Did he give it to her anally? Has the author suddenly become shy about being explicit with her sex scenes?

I mean I can’t see anything, other than that, that would be “dirtier” than the sex they are already described as having. Not that I am a prude…I just get tired of the repetition. Ok, Tate “lights her up.” Ok, she has multiple orgasms. I get the point! How could anyone NOT get the point? How many of these scenes are essential to the story line? Oh wait. Ok, maybe it’s INTENDED to be gratuitous. Maybe the readers who love this author really get off (innuendo intended) on these scenes. But for me? Enough already! I’d rather have REAL sex than read about it! Especially when it is NOT advancing the story line.

And then there are the dumb phrases like “he cupped my sex,” meaning, I assume, that he cupped his hand over her vulva. Look, if you can say “cock” and write about oral sex, you can also say VULVA, or even CUNT (referring to genitalia, not to the character of a woman) if you need a feminine slang term on the same level as “cock.” If you can talk about a woman working her “clit” then for goddess sake you can be more explicit than “her sex” in reference to her vulva. Sure, sure.  “Her sex” is a remnant from old style romance novels that were never sexually explicit and used the phrase “his/her sex” to refer to the entire genital region. But this writer is explicit about everything else, so why say “her sex” instead of “her cunt” or “her vulva”?

Aside from the gender stereotypes the novel is full of stock characters like “the hippie chick” and her boyfriend who, oh by the way, are the only “hippies” in a tiny biker town in Colorado. Of course they are nearly always stoned, and yet they manage to make a living off of a coffeehouse that is completely out of place in a “biker” town. Naturally all the townspeople come to love the hippies, thanks to Lauren helping them out. Well, tell ya what. I have seen hick towns like that and these “hippies” would have been run out of town on a rail if they didn’t have others around to support them. Least of all would they have a decent business going — and I don’t give a damn about how spectacularly delicious the baking is.

Sorry. If you are a hippie couple and you want to make a living with a coffeehouse in a small town, there really have to be OTHERS like you around. Maybe a college or university nearby. Or an artists’ colony that brings in tourists. Stuck out in the middle of nowheresville? Not a chance. Bikers and hippies just do not get along. Not even if there is a woman with a heart of gold to bridge the gap. The only thing bikers and hippies have in common is a rebellious appearance and a predilection for mind-altering drugs.

And then there are the plot and subplot lines. The serial rapist/killer subplot is completely unbelievable. You cannot tell me that “the best bounty hunter” in the country — who says early on that the killer has to be someone that the women know — is not going to check out every single male in town that he hasn’t known going all the way back to his childhood very EARLY in the investigation, as soon as he figures out that the killer has to be known to the women. This super-bounty-hunter is extremely successful, and yet he is unable to track down any leads for months (years, even, as this goes back several years), puts the case aside and leaves it for the cops and the Feds, and then, when his woman’s life is on the line, is able to figure it out IN ONE HOUR, just in time to save Lauren. Oh. How ConVEEEENient.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?????

It is a freaking SMALL TOWN, so small that you can walk the entire business district, which exists on one street, Main Street. Here’s a store, there’s a store, here’s a motorcycle mechanic, there’s the hippie coffeehouse, and then, of course, the biker bar. The ONLY biker bar in town. And that is pretty much Carnal entire.

You are going to tell me that this incredibly successful bounty hunter is going to be stumped THAT LONG? When the investigative starting point, at least for the Tanya character, would so obviously be the bar that she left from before she was attacked? And where it turns out (at the very end of the book) the killer has worked as a bartender for a few years in the bar Tate Jackson owns.  I tell you this much, I would NOT hire a bounty hunter who hasn’t looked into the immediate associates of EVERY victim, least of all the first one who is that close at hand.

Not to mention we find out that this killer rapist — who is targeting “bad girls” — has come to see Lauren as a “bad girl” (even though throughout the book she represents herself, as does everyone else, as a “good girl,” with that being her primary characteristic). He comes to the “bad girl” conclusion about Lauren because she is now living with Tate without benefit of marriage, worst of all eventually in front of Tate’s son. Throughout the novel up to the climax and denouement, when Tate is explaining the inexplicable WHY the rapist targeted “good girl” Lauren, there is not a single moment when “good girl” Lauren even questions her living with Tate, not even with his son there, though she is constantly questioning whether Tate WANTS her to live with him.

So, ok, today’s sexual morality is a bit different these days. But to not even THINK about the impact it might have on the son? He has already had to cope with a promiscuous mother — shouldn’t there at least be SOME TALK about whether the live-in situation is APPROPRIATE for the son? Some DISCUSSION with the son about what the change means? Shouldn’t Lauren at least WONDER about it? And wouldn’t a truly GOOD father make sure that a woman who is going to be living in the same house as his son has a commitment to the kid BEFORE they sleep together when the son is there?

I mean, kids need stability. They do NOT need to be present while EITHER mom or dad works out this, that, or the other sexual partner sleeping in their home while the relationship is new.  There needs to be TALK about it at the very least. Otherwise you are putting your kid in yet another situation where he/she will lose someone who becomes important.

So anyway, now suddenly “good girl” Lauren is a “bad girl” in the eyes of this serial rapist/killer (who already killed his “bad girl” mother for falling in love with someone other than her son and then framed the man for the murder…oh, goodie, another plot stereotype). What puts this man over the line in re:Lauren is when Tate talks explicitly about how he and Lauren “get it on” in bed to an audience in the bar — the sole purpose of which is to enable Tate to lord it over Lauren’s ex-husband Brad, strutting his macho macho man around and marking his property boundaries.

THAT is what sets this killer off on a quest to torture, rape, kill, and scalp “good girl” Lauren. And yet, Tate, who has all kinds of other reasons for feeling guilty, hardly gets the point that it was HIS TALK, HIS need to mark his territory that set the guy off. I tell you, if any man did that to me he would NEVER touch me again. But of course, mealy, weasely little Lauren registers her objection, but like all of her other objections to Tate’s actions, she just SWOONS over what he does to her in bed, and so she just can’t find it in her to actually make him listen to her.

I don’t care how good a man is in bed. He is NOT WORTH THAT violation of privacy. Yet it seems for our heroine who is supposed to be GROWING in a positive direction in this novel just loves the macho macho man routine, calling him “captain” and following his orders. Even when her captain puts her life in danger.

Yes. Tate puts Lauren’s life in danger. But because he somehow manages to figure out who and where the killer is within an hour, and gets out to this secluded spot in the nick of time, Tate is the hero.

Oh, and then there is this main plot where Lauren realizes how superficial her life was before in Phoenix with Brad, focusing on what money can buy, and so she transforms her life completely after she ends up in this biker town where she finds REAL life. Only it turns out she craves closets full of clothes and high heeled shoes, and ohhh, it is so great when Tate gives her a brand spanking, sparkling new kitchen (that somehow got put together while she was at work…yeah, right), and mountains of silver jewelry as proof of his love for her. And of course we get “treated” to detailed descriptions of her clothing purchases and what she is wearing at any given time, not to mention her hair and makeup. Talk about superficial!

All she has done is exchange her business suits for “biker babe” duds, which apparently are just as expensive. And a mousy haircut for a very expensive one with highlights done at the salon run by the “gay guy.” (Ugh. More stereotypes! The hairstylist apparently the only gay in town until the butch  “lesby” comes along to waitress at the biker bar…who then, of course, gets taught how to be more feminine by Lauren. (Like, the only kind of lesbian is seriously BUTCH, but hey, she can be taught if the right person comes along! And the only gay guy is a hairdresser.)


I have much more to say about the plot lines but this is already long and there is more to cover. So now, the “smaller stuff.”

Apparently, Kristen Ashley has never taken a decent writing course nor had a decent editor. This is SO obvious with her grammar errors, but then there is her wild variety of attribution tags.

 #1 lesson regarding attribution tags. DON’T use any words other than a version of “said” unless there is a GOOD REASON for it. Attribution tags are there just to keep clear who is speaking. You do NOT need to vary them…definitely not to the wild extent that Ashley does…out of fear of repetition. What is important in dialogue is WHAT is said, not the attribution tag, which needs to fade into the background unless there is something about the WAY something is said that needs to be emphasized.

For instance, if you need to convey that someone is shouting, you say “shouted.” If somebody actually whispers, then you say “whispered” (Ashley uses this way too much in circumstances where a whisper hardly seems appropriate.)

NOBODY, but NOBODY “breathes” words. (That one is an abomination!) And you don’t need “reply” because it is obvious from the dialog that someone is replying.

Most important, you do NOT need to change the attribution tag with every sentence. Why? Because unless there is a good reason to use a different word for the fact that it conveys meaning other than simply speaking, using an attribution verb other than “said” calls attention to the tag rather than to the words being spoken.

The one that annoyed me the most, aside from “breathed” was “educated.” You may be educating someone when you speak, but you do NOT educate words. Get that? You SAY words. PEOPLE GET educated.

The verb “educate” is a TRANSITIVE VERB. A transitive verb has two characteristics. First, it is an action verb, expressing a doable activity like kick, want, paint, write, eat, clean, etc. Second, it must have a direct object, something or someone who receives the action of the verb.

That means, for instance, that the person who is in the process of educating someone can, for example, “educate a student” (verb=educate; object = a student). But you CAN’T write:

“One plus one equals two,” the teacher educated.

(No that is not an example from the book — I will NOT listen to it again to find the gawdawful places where she uses that as an attribution tag.)

More examples:

The blonde’s eyes narrowed.
“Did Bubba put you up to this?” she asked.
“Bubba?” I asked back, at this point confused.
“Bubba,” she bit out, then glanced around…

…I looked again at the blonde.
“I’m not kidding,” I told her.
“Bullshit,” she replied irately, already at the end of her patience.

…Tate’ll like her. Big time,” he declared. “Bubba will like her even better.”
“Shut up, Jim-Billy,” the blonde muttered.
“About the job…,” I stated…

Those aren’t the worst cases, but again, I can’t skim audio. And there is no way in the world I am listening to this again.

“Asked.” Ok, fine. She is in fact asking a question. But “asked back”? You have a question mark, you don’t need to note that it is a question in the attribution tag, especially not when it is as awkward as “asked back.”

And then, “she bit out.” “Bit out?” Ok, you SPIT OUT, but you don’t BITE OUT words. You can speak biting (i.e. harsh) words, but if the words are biting it should be obvious from what is said.

Then “I told her.” Not inaccurate, but completely unnecessary. Generally you use the verb “told” as in “I told her a story.” Or “I told you not to go outside without a jacket.” But here there is no purpose, no value gained, by using the word “told” in an attribution tag…better still would be to not even use an attribution tag, as Ashley does SOMETIMES. You need that tag in dialog ONLY when you switch speakers or if there is something special about the WAY something is said.

And here is a really awful one:

“Bullshit,” she replied irately, already at the end of her patience.

Ok, I will let the “reply” slide. Not really necessary, but hey, ok. N.P. What you REALLY don’t need is “replied IRATELY…” The irritation is OBVIOUS from the word chosen: “bullshit.” I don’t know of ANYONE who says that word who is NOT irritated when they say it.

“He declared.” Mmmmm…maybe. Can the writer JUSTIFY it as a declaration? I am not so sure.

“I stated…” This is a really awful one. The verb “state” is reserved for formal statements (as in “the president stated that he would withdraw troops…”) or documents (the divorce decree states…), not ordinary conversation. “Stated” is used frequently throughout the book, always in reference to ordinary dialogue.

There are many far worse ones than these, particularly (but not only) in the sex scenes. These tags become especially obtrusive in the sex scenes! But one more time: I am NOT going to listen to this again.

Finally, there are the absolutely endless and boring detailed descriptions, especially of absolutely irrelevant actions. The ones that come to mind immediately are all the descriptions of how Lauren opens up her cell phone and dials number, and then of course we are “treated” to a description of the procedure she uses for ending her call. Why are those details important? Is there something special about the way Lauren makes and ends a call that is different from the way other people do it? Ok, so maybe if she snaps the phone shut because she is irritated about the call, but why do we have to have the information about opening the phone and putting the numbers in? Why can’t she just CALL someone? If it is important that she is using her cell, fine, say that. But why do we need a description of her dialing?

That is just one example of absolutely unnecessary descriptions of actions. Yes, descriptive detail is important. BUT ONLY IF THAT DETAIL ADDS SOMETHING to the story. Does she have a particularly quirky way of dialing? Fine, describe that, as it might reveal something about her character. But unless the description reveals something about a character, advances the story in a meaningful way, or is essential for setting the scene, LEAVE IT OUT!

I could cut this book in HALF and still have everything that actually matters in the story.

Not that any part of it matters to ME, since I hate the characters and the story line. But hey, to each her own. I guess.

So, why did I bother to listen to the whole book and spend the time it took to write this review? Because this book is representative of so many other books in its genre. And worst of all, it is badly written. And there are so many women who fall for the mythologies built into it. That is the biggest tragedy of all.