You Can’t See Numbers: Dyscalculia Representation in A Promise Broken

Posted May 13, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

You Can’t See Numbers: Dyscalculia Representation in A Promise Broken

It’s a few weeks after a test and our teacher is handing out the results, so we can go over the correct answers in class. When he reaches my desk, he pauses a moment and says “I don’t understand how you failed. You always work so hard.” True enough, when I look at the mark I received, it’s another failure. For the next test, my teacher decided that he’ll spend almost all of the class leading up to it teaching me how to do one sum and painstakingly explains how teachers come up with them and how to ‘trick’ the sum into giving you the correct answer. His reasoning is that this sum will be on every test, so if I just master that one sum I will at least score a passing grade.

When the next test comes around, I fail again. Years later, I will run into this teacher again and, somehow, he remembers me, that young teen who struggled so much in his class. Somehow we end up talking about it and I tell him that, after his class, I discovered I had dyscalculia. “That makes so much sense,” he tells me. The validation that sentence gives me is ridiculously much for such a short sentence.

Growing up, I’d never heard of dyscalculia. There were no tests, for all that it was obvious this otherwise precocious child struggled only with maths. My parents, even, dismissed it, saying that “You can totally do basic arithmetic with aids, therefore nothing in maths should be difficult!”

How different my life would have been if I’d known about dyscalculia as a child, if the adults around me had known. When I wrote the draft for my first book, A Promise Broken, I wound up weaving in all my frustration with maths and numbers. I’d never heard of dyscalculia at the time. What I had was a classroom scene with a little girl determined to keep up with kids twice her age and struggling. I didn’t set out to write a scene so close to my own frustrations and feelings, but that’s what happened.

Between that draft and the revisions for publication, I learned about dyscalculia and rereading that scene was like a little cog in my brain falling into place. Though it doesn’t play a huge role or an overt role in the story – and why should it? Why can’t we just simply be neurodiverse? – dyscalculia is integral to Eiryn’s life. As it should be, given that it affects her.

When I published A Promise Broken in 2013, it was the only book I could name that had a protagonist with dyscalculia. There was no fiction I knew of that featured someone who had the same kind of struggles as I did when it came to this. The closest I knew of were Blake Charleton’s Spellwright books and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and both of those dealt with dyslexia rather than dyscalculia.

Both Charleton and Riordan went a route I didn’t take: they tied dyslexia (and ADHD in Riordan’s case) tightly to the narrative and made them overtly important to the plot. Later, Yoon Ha Lee’s science fiction trilogy Machineries of Empire would introduce a dyscalculic character and make a similar decision.

I didn’t choose to go down that route with A Promise Broken, in part because its narrative centres on a small child and has a far more domestic focus than those books. Largely, though, it’s because what I need, as a reader, is casual representation: representation that may be important to the characters, but isn’t intrinsically tied to the plot. Nothing plot-important that happens to Eiryn happens because she has dyscalculia. The narrative never mentions that she has it either, which is something that I occasionally regret and usually don’t mind. My relationship to labels is messy, but at heart what matters to me most isn’t the validation of seeing the word, it’s the recognition in the way the author shows us how and why this label applies. It’s the sense that, in some way, the author captures a part of your experiences in a way that feels authentic.

Eiryn’s dyscalculia comes up in bits and pieces, but, to me, it’s unmistakable.

Everyone groaned. Everyone but Eiryn. She hadn’t known they’d had homework and, anyway, she hated arithmetic. It was the one class she never paid much attention to because no matter how often Radèn tried to explain things to her it always went wrong. Listening to all the other children reciting their answers one by one was boring, but it made her feel a little better.

Eiryn focused most of her attention on the girls in front of her because she didn’t want to think about anything. Syla-minnai and Mery-minnai were passing notes to one another. Eiryn couldn’t read what they were writing, but it was at least more fun to guess at that than to hear people answer sums she hadn’t seen and couldn’t do anyway.

After some time, Orryn-minnaoi started to explain multiplication and Eiryn was utterly lost. Radèn-minnoi’s explanations always made a bit more sense. He always used things to show her which helped. The last time Radèn had tried to explain numbers, he hadn’t written things down for children to copy like Orryn-minnaoi did. He’d stolen a whole bag of raspberries from the kitchens and they’d wound up with their hands all sticky with juice. It was much more fun than what Orryn-minnaoi was doing and at least it felt like she understood that. (O’Connacht, 2013, ch 10)

This chapter is the first time that Eiryn’s dyscalculia truly comes up. The chapter as a whole deals with Eiryn’s return to school after a period of mourning and marks her return to participation in wider society. These three paragraphs, while not related directly to the plot, lead readers into imagining what the rest of her day is like as well as the kind of person Eiryn is.

And I made it as clear as I could, without using the word ‘dyscalculia’, that she has it. The paragraphs don’t dwell much on Eiryn’s problems, mostly focusing on her state of mind than anything else, but they also deliver an important note on how to help dyscalculic children learn how to deal with numbers and do sums: give them physical aids to help them visualise the numbers, give them something concrete to hold onto.

Later in the story, in chapter 15, her teacher, Orryn, notices the issue for the first time. The chapter itself deals with Eiryn’s discomfort at the way one of her classmates no longer shows up. Orryn’s solution is to take her aside privately and, being Orryn, ends up turning it into a lesson that involves writing and counting.

The combination there matters because it highlights the way one topic is easy for Eiryn while the other is difficult. The section on learning to read or write is largely brushed over in the narrative, confined to a quick summary of what happens. The section on learning to count, however, is easily almost a third of the chapter’s total length.

It’s that long because, firstly, in a book as focused on the growing pains of a small child as A Promise Broken is I have the room to expand on scenes like this. They’re an important part of Eiryn’s personality developing and maturing. It’s scenes like this one that teach her and hopefully the reader that it’s okay not to be good at everything and that struggling to understand something doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It’s a scene that explicitly goes against some of the messages bullying caused Eiryn to internalise and it’s a scene that highlights, for people without dyscalculia, how hard we struggle to make sense of it all.

To write it, I did more research into the ways that dyscalculia manifests itself in people. Unlike Eiryn, I can count to ten. Just don’t ask me to count far beyond about 30 because I will mess it up. It’s very annoying when you’re struggling with something that everyone else seems to take for granted as a thing you can do easily. The fact that she can’t recall the order of single digits may seem simply like a cute quirk on the surface, but it’s a thing that some small children with dyscalculia genuinely struggle with.

Though A Promise Broken leans heavily towards showing a dyscalculic character’s struggle with maths, its depiction, like dyscalculia itself, explores more than that. The representation in these two chapters is deliberately rather blunt because I didn’t want people to brush Eiryn’s dyscalculia off as something that she’s struggling with just because she’s young and this is new information to her. So is writing and she manages that just fine. The rest of the representation is more subtle, and we don’t get to see it from her perspective.

In chapter 11, Arèn, Eiryn’s uncle, finds her practice book of what are, in effect, magic spells. Magic in this world is thought to work through musical patterns that the kerisaoina start learning as soon as they can. The scene where Arèn sees what’s in the book is the one time in the narrative that Eiryn’s dyscalculia relates to the actual political plot happening in the background, and it does so almost tangentially.

One of the ways in which dyscalculia can manifest itself is trouble with formal music education. Or, put differently, some dyscalculic people have trouble reading and writing musical notation. Like me, Eiryn can’t read or write musical notation. Given that she’s four and only starting to learn, it’s easy to brush off her struggles as beginner’s issues. As such it mattered to me that the scene captured both the sense that she’s making the type of errors that one would expect of a child her age and skill level as well as ones that are more serious. From the perspective of someone who’s never heard of dyscalculia and wouldn’t recognise it, because why make it easy on myself.

Throughout the book, Eiryn has no trouble copying what she hears. She has, in fact, been reprimanded for making alterations to suit her voice type based solely on what she’s heard prior to this point. By the time the reader gets to chapter 15, they know that Eiryn is good even by the standard of a people who expect perfection[1] because the narrative has built up the idea that she’s a prodigy.

And yet when the reader finally gets a look at how Eiryn studies the very thing she’s already known for, Arèn’s perception of her studying methods are… less than flattering and her notation is immediately pitched against her practical abilities.

Arèn’s perception is best summarised by the line “The small book was filled with faulty notations, symbols he didn’t understand at all and a scrawl that was only legible because he knew what it was supposed to say, but he could find no flaws in Eiryn’s voice, only smaller practice errors that any child would make.” because it highlights that juxtaposition between what Eiryn demonstrably can do and what her notation suggests she will do. Further, the scene goes to some length to point out that, notation aside, Eiryn has no other trouble with the spells. It even implies that she doesn’t rely on the notation to reproduce what she’s heard.

The only way the scene could have made it clearer that Eiryn struggles with formal notation would have been to include her trying to sight-read something she’d never heard before. Instead, it focuses on the way Eiryn copies the same motif in different ways and yet still recognises that these pieces refer to the same motif. It could almost certainly do with a bit more clarity on how long it takes Eiryn to work out that the motif is the same or why. The subtle hint that it takes long enough for Arèn to start aiming his niece’s attention in the right direction is easy enough to miss if readers aren’t looking for it.

I drew heavily on my own struggles with musical notation for that one scene because I wanted to show that dyscalculia affects more than just one’s ability to understand mathematical concepts. I didn’t want a story where dyscalculia meant I was in some way special because it isn’t, and wasn’t, the type of story that I needed. I needed something quieter, something that said “It exists and is a part of you, but it doesn’t have to define you”. To me, narratives like Charlton’s Spellwright, Riordan’s Percy Jackson and even Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire books all do that by making their plots hinge, in some way, on the disability representation. We need stories like that, don’t get me wrong. We desperately need stories that explicitly include disability in a way that counters harmful tropes or outright erasure.

But we need the stories where disabled characters simply get to live too. I needed stories where disabled characters get to have adventures that are affected by that disability but not, in turn, affect that disability in any way. I’m hopeful that we’ll see more narratives like that in future. That we’ll get a good mixture of different ways in which we can see ourselves, so all readers can get the type of representation they want or need at any given moment in time.

Preferably without first having to write it because there’s nothing there like I did.

End Notes

[1] Kerisaoina society, I should note, is more than a little messed up.

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Week 19 Update

Posted May 10, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Goals / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday! After last week’s disasterous attempt at trying to be online, this week we’re back on track!

Completed Projects

None yet! To be fair, they’re all relatively big. It’s only the essay outline that’s not.

Goal Updates

  • 3,360/15,000 words of fiction written
  • 0/1 proper essay outline
  • 0/1 completed draft of the essay on Sing to Me
  • 2/12 books read
  • 2/5 discussions of papers in Asexualities

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 3,360

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 0 (Who am I and what did I do with myself?)

DemiPrincess2: I saw this coming at the start of the chapter I’m on, but I have hit a snag. It’s the “Let’s go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing from scratch” type of snag. Great! Because I needed a reason to slow my progress down further. In my defense, this will save time in the long run. I’m just… not happy about it.

When the Beds Were New: A mermay poem! I can’t go through mermay without returning to the Fairytale Verses setting – and Sea Foam and Silence in particular – now, can I? $5 patrons should look forward to seeing the first and ridiculously rough draft tomorrow. Wherein you’ll meet a very angry and very confused mermaid.

Life And Other Such Important Matters

You know, it’s really weird. I am happier now, when my life is a mess we’re not talking about because I like being functional thank you, than I was when my life was not a mess. Now if I had the first clue on how to fix it, that would be marvellous. Alas, I… don’t. It’s very annoying. But on the bright side, I’m not generally doing too badly? I think? Worse than I think probably, but high-functioning anxiety person FOR THE WIN.

Stand-out Positive Moment

I have succeeded at Mother’s Day gifts, if ridiculously belatedly. Look, my family is really bad at Mother’s Day things and my mother generally despairs of gift cards or our attempts at good gifting. I have found a gift that is sensible, entirely non-practical and basically meets all the requirements of being the kind of gift she loves and that we fail at giving her.

No, I’m not telling you what it is. Just know that when it was time for her to select exactly what she wanted, she of course had to pick the most expensive option. Well, it’s nice to know where I’ve got my tastes from, I suppose. (Note: I’m not actually complaining. If it wasn’t an option, I’d have vetoed it. I’m just bemused because normally I’m the only one who entirely obliviously picks out the most expensive option when given a choice.)

This Week on Patreon

All the Patreon posts from the past week, collected in neat and tidy lists, divided by tier.

Free

$1+

$5+

How about you? What have you been up to lately? Has anything awesome happened?

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8 Decades of SFF with Low, Intimate Stakes

Posted May 6, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

8 Decades of SFF with Low, Intimate Stakes

Every so often on Twitter, I see people talking about a desire for low stakes SFF. As a writer and reader who loves these stories, it always fills me with a tinge of sadness to know that people genuinely want these stories (the tweets come from readers, agents, publishers, authors, so basically everyone) and still feel they often get lost in the more well-known books with large, epic stakes.

Book series such as A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones), The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or, more recently books such as The Poppy War or series like The Sacred Throne where the stakes revolve around saving the world (or not). Where the characters struggle to win a throne (or destroy the throne entirely). Stories that lend themselves to a lot of action or at least several impressive battle scenes.

Very often, though, if you look closely at the way a lot of people discuss these books, it’s not the big stakes that form the central plot that people care about. Look at, for example, the fan commentary leading up to the release of Game of Thrones’s final TV season and the discussion about what the ending may be. While we all care about who sits on the Iron Throne, many of us do so not because we have care overly much about the future of countless of unnamed Westerosi. We care because the show made us care about these characters as individuals. It presented us these big, world-shaking moments and turned them into deeply, intensely personal stakes for the characters which, in turn, means we’re invested in their success (or failure) as individuals rather than out of any kind of concern for the good of Westeros as a whole. For another example that needs little elaboration: if the much smaller and personal stakes didn’t matter, The Lord of the Rings would have ended shortly after Sauron is defeated. But they matter and so it doesn’t.

Books that celebrate smaller, more intimate stakes (and shout-out to Eric Smith for introducing me to the phrasing!) and eschew focusing on the larger stakes, though, can feel like they’re far and few between or like they never existed in the first place, which is a shame because people have always written these types of stories too, even won acclaim with them.

As such, the last time I saw this mentioned, I asked my Twitter timeline if I should do a thread of books focusing on smaller stakes. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ and I made a thread that evening. But Twitter threads get lost to the ether quite easily and I wanted to have a record of these for future reference. So, here I am, writing an introduction a post collecting the stories I mentioned in that Twitter thread for ease of reference for everyone.

Like I said at the time, my definition for inclusion on the list is two-fold:

  • No galaxy/world/kingdom-changing plot unless it’s the B-plot (and ideally a C-plot).
  • The book must have been memorable to me for its small stakes.

And, yes, that means pretty much all the books on this list are books I’ve read. It also means that I have a clearly defined limit I can use to err on the side of caution. This isn’t a complete list of all the books I’ve read which centre around small, intimate stakes. It’s just a list of the books that stood out to me at the time I made the thread.

Caveat: Due to the fact that I read some of these a long time ago, it is possible that the most detail I can give a book is “Well, I remember the small stakes being very powerful and gripping”.

For this list, I’ve decided to break the books up into decades just to illustrate that they have, indeed, always been published. That said, this list leans heavily towards modern SFF due to my own interests and desires not to link authors more than, at most, twice.

Without further ado, let’s look at books with intimate stakes in SFF fiction!

1920s

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirlees may contain a quest to save a city, but it’s far more a quest of a father determined to save his child. It’s a story of ordinary people trying to do what seems right to them.

The Charwoman’s Shadow by Lord Dunsany a story about a young man who, in wanting to learn sorcery, discovers an old woman with no shadow and sets out to solve the mystery.

We’re skipping the 1930s, yes.

1940s

Iron and Gold by Hilda Vaughan may be hard to track down – I’m not sure if the Honno edition is still in print, but I highly recommend it – but it’s an intimate retelling of The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach and captures the Welsh landscape breathtakingly well.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake may seem like an odd choice. It is, after all, a chunkster, but it is a quiet book filled with love for the setting and the characters as they live their lives.

We’re skipping the 50s too.

1960s

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle likely needs no introduction, but for those who need it: this is the story of a unicorn who is looking for others of her kind. It has some of the subtlest, quietest narrative strands. There isn’t a part of this lyrical book that isn’t understated.

The Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien is a fairy story which may hold echoes of epic fantasy, but it’s largely focused on the exploration of Faery and the celebration in Wootton Major.

The Owl Service by Alan Gardner is a retelling of Blodeuwedd, centring itself in its Welsh valley setting and the way the narrative of Blodeuwedd keeps playing over and over and the generational trauma that that causes.

1970s

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper is technically the third in a series that is all about big and epic stakes, but this book is super-focused on the relationship between Jane and the Greenwitch, as well as the importance of kindness from one individual to another. The emphasis is strongly on the low and intimate stakes rather than the battle between good and evil.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula LeGuin is, first and foremost, a story about identity, but also about stepping out into the world and living on one’s own terms.

Beauty by Robin McKinley is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and focuses strongly on Beauty’s life with delightful references to domesticity and focusing on the way Beauty and her family settles into their new lives.

1980s

Seaward by Susan Cooper, which is admittedly one of my favourite books ever, is all about growing up in gorgeous, lush mythology and has the sweetest first love arc ever. It’s all about its two protagonists dealing with grief and personal loss as well as discovering who they are.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip is all about a fisherman’s daughter who curses the sea for taking her father from her. It focuses strongly on her friendship with the prince and a magician the village hires to help them once monsters show up off-shore. It’s just as much about Peri growing up as it is discovering what draws the prince to the sea again and again.

Little, Big by John Crowley is a generational story about a family that lives right beside an otherworld with lyrical prose and subtle touches of magic throughout.

Wise Child by Monica Furlong is a story set in a quiet, medieval Scottish village. Wise Child focuses on the importance of every day life and accepting people for who they are.

1990s

The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox is a story about the love between a vintner and an angel. Focusing on their meetings, it includes many glimpses into Sobran’s life as well.

Wizards Tale by Kurt Busiek and David Wenzel is about a wizard who really wants to be bad and just… keeps on doing good.

Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip is a retelling of Tam Lin and it’s one of the dreamiest, most lyrical retellings I’ve had. This story is all about Rois’s love for Corbet Lynn and the way that love and lust can consume a person.

2000s

The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint is… A book I admit I genuinely do not recall except thinking it focuses on low stakes. I’m informed a lot of De Lint’s novels actually have bigger stakes, but I mostly remember them because of their smaller stakes. His works absolutely centre the more intimate stakes that one would expect from a list about books focusing on low, intimate stakes.

Fitcher’s Brides by Gregory Frost is a mash-up retelling of Bluebeard and Fitcher’s Bird, set in 1800s New York State. It’s focused on the Charter sisters and their choices when their father is swayed to join a cult.

Tooth & Claw by Jo Walton is a fantasy-of-manners with cannibalistic dragons. Being a fantasy-of-manners, the story is all about social structure.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier is about Caitrin finding a new home. There are some elements of larger stakes, as the story is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that focuses as much on the people cursed with the Beast than on the romance between the titular characters, but at its heart it’s a story about individual people learning to trust and to love.

2010s

A Promise Broken by Lynn E. O’Connacht (that’s me!) focuses on a small girl dealing with grief as well as on the community looking after her (and other children). There are some relatively big stakes in the background, but it’s Eiryn and her relationships to the people around her that are what makes this story tick.

Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis is actually about a nation-changing event, but the focus is so strongly on Cassandra learning she does not have to do everything alone and on saving her school that it totally counts. It’s all about Cassandra and her relationship to the people at her new school and her family, as well as family secrets that end up uncovered.

The Mermarium by Amanda N. Butler is a verse novel about mermaids and sisterhood and found family. It’s a quiet, evocative story about dealing with trauma and healing.

Water into Wine by Joyce Chng features big stakes in the background, but it’s ALL ABOUT the small stakes of a family just trying to survive while war is happening around them.

City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault may, at first glance, sound like it’s more about big stakes, but it’s really all about the way the characters interact. It’s a book filled to the brim with small, intimate stakes that add up to creating bigger stakes.

Help Wanted by J. Emery is an NA novella about friendship and questioning one’s identity. And also birthday presents and magic. It’s all about the gradual changes in our lives and dealing with them.

An Unexpected Invitation by Ceillie Simkiss is a fantasy novella that centres around attending a friend’s wedding when travelling to them means being incredibly motion sick and how to accept help from friends.

Under Her Spell by Bridget Essex is an expanded edition of a series of novellas I read when they were initially released under a pen name. They are soft and pure f/f stories about moving into a small community and love. The book’s bound to be delightful!

The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green by Nicky Kyle is a novelette (I think) about friendship and wanting more from life than what initially seems possible and likely.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard is a mystery and all about what happened to a corpse after it turns out to have been murdered. ONE DAY I WILL HAVE PROPER WORDS FOR THIS BOOK. ONE DAY.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is all about a small community that relies on racing. Also kelpies, which automatically makes it awesome in my opinion, but really. It’s all about the relationships in a small, isolated community.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill is all about a small group of people trying to keep ancient arts alive and the importance of art in general. (I’m told there’s also going to be a sequel!)

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers is all about self-identity, persoonhood and found family. Also caring about one another.

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis has some pretty big stakes, but they’re all background for the smaller stakes of family, community and working together even after the worst has happened/is happening.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta is a Finnish post-apocalyptic story that centres around tea ceremonies and the protagonist discovering her place in the world, rather than overthrowing the admittedly very dystopian regime.

Emyr’s Smile by Amy Rae Durreson may be best read after The Lodestone of Ys, but it’s a sweet m/m story and two men dealing with their emotions. (CN: On-page sex)

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace is, perhaps, another book you might not expect to find here, given the hints we get of the world’s past and the ending, but the focus is strongly on Wasp’s desire to be free I couldn’t leave it off.

A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman is the third in a series, but arguably the least big stakes of them all. It’s all about a lesbian queen and her found family solving a mystery.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal is a delightful story inspired by Jane Austen’s work that focuses, largely, on delivering a low-conflict fantasy-of-manners story.

Unbound and Free by Becca Lusher is the first of her Historical Aekhartain books. This one is all about Demairo and his friends, who help him deal with his abusive father and an island intent on killing everyone who sets foot on it. It’s a story about family and belonging.

Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth is the first in the Dreamhealers Saga. This is an SF story about students just trying to get through university. And friendship. And dealing with anxiety and the harmful impact of stereotypes. Contains space elves, pretty much. Personally, I would recommend Dreamhearth over Mindtouch for low, intimate stakes because it’s all about settling into (adult) life and a new community. Highlight of the book is off-screen pet death (as opposed to the on-screen child dying in one’s arms that marks the climax of Mindtouch), but I don’t think it reads well on its own. You really need the grounding of the first two books to make it work.

Chime by Franny Billingsley is all about witches and family and self-love. Also unreliable narrators and small communities and one’s place in them as we grow older.

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Lynn Elsewhere: 3 Tropes I Love In Fantasy Fiction at Dear Geek Place

Posted May 5, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in News / 0 Comments

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Surprise Sunday link post! Earlier this week I was over at Dear Geek Place to discuss 3 tropes that I love in fantasy fiction to celebrate Wyrd and Wonder.
The post itself is what it says on the tin: a discussion of 3 tropes I really enjoy in writing.
Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy. You can read more about it here. It’s an event run by Lisa (Dear Geek Place), Imyril (There’s Always Room for One More…) and Jorie ( Jorie Loves a Story).
There are photo challenges, read-alongs, giveaways… If you enjoy fantasy and talking about books, do check out Wyrd and Wonder and consider participating! 😀
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April Newsletter

Posted May 4, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Goals / 0 Comments

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April Newsletter

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Monthly news and accountability! This month’s post has, as you can see, been relocated to Saturday. Next month we’ll be back to a Friday schedule, no fear. Yesterday was the first day of my period and, well, it wasn’t a great day. Sitting at a computer even for writing up this post just wasn’t going to happen.

Life And Other Such Important Matters

Right now, life is a little less than great, but it always is the first day or so of shark week. Other than that… It continues to go apace, really. I live a terribly, awfully boring life at present.

Featured Post

Lynn rambles about… She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Season 2 (Full)

But also, hi, did you notice how the only characters who get to be openly queer are the secondary if not tertiary ones? (No, Scorpia’s crush doesn’t count. I’ll get to that in a moment.) Because Bow’s dads get to be openly and visibly in a gay relationship, and we can make an argument for Spinerella and Netossa, but Scorpia? Scorpia’s very obvious romantic crush repeatedly gets couched in platonic terms. Catra is her “bestie”. They’re “friends”.

Completed Projects

  • 4/4 discussions of papers in Asexualities
  • 14/12 books read
  • 2/2 essays for May
  • 100% Abstract submission
  • 1/1 video on ace rep in The Bone People
  • (May Addition) 1/5 discussions of papers in Asexualities

May Goals

  • 15,000 words of fiction written
  • 1 proper essay outline
  • 1 completed draft of the essay on Sing to Me
  • 12 books read
  • 5 discussions of papers in Asexualities

April Goals

  • 4,529/10,000 words of fiction written

Writing Updates

This Month’s Fiction Wordcount: 4,529

This Month’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 15,244

DemiPrincess2: Slow progress is slow, but still better than no progress.

Stand-out Positive Moment

I… don’t think I have one this month? Not because the month was bad and terrible or anything! Just because more or less the only thing I can think of is stuff like “I saw sparrows sandbathing in the garden” since April was that… normal. I’m not used to normal. How do you pick out a stand-out moment of positivity and awesome when the best thing about it is the way in which the whole month just seemed to have a level of… normal to it and that this feeling in, in and of itself, a stand-out positive thing?

This Month on Patreon (+ the first weekish of May!)

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Several of My Favourite Retellings

Posted April 29, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

Several of My Favourite Retellings

Last week, I revisited an old post about my favourite fairy tales. As that post had a companion, this week, I’m revisiting a discussion on my favourite (fairy tale) retellings.

I’m sure it doesn’t take people long to pick up on the fact that I enjoy fairy tale retellings rather a lot. I’ve only got a series exploring them, after all. I’ve always loved them. There’s something fascinating and beautiful about the many ways in which we can retell the same story without losing our originality or personality. Retellings, to me, are a testament to the power of storytelling and imagination because even the ones that are similar to one another are recognisably different and have always been such.

Talking about my favourite retellings may be a little disingenuous since, in many cases, I’ve only read the story once. I’m not great at rereading nowadays, but these are all stories that have touched me deeply and that I’ve enjoyed reading rather a lot.

One of the newest additions to my list of favourite fairy tale retellings is Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a distinctly Vietnamese flavour set in a post-colonialist and post-apocalyptic world. It’s arguably science fantasy and maintains an amazing balance between being nothing like Beauty and the Beast and yet being recognisably a retelling of the fairy tale. It deals directly with the question of consent inherent in the narrative as well as the question of how such a palace could be forgotten. One of the great frustrations for me in fairy tale retellings is the way they deal with the timelessness present in the original. De Bodard deals with it beautifully and poignantly, as she deals with every aspect of the narrative. My favourite aspect, though, is almost certainly the magic and the commentary it delivers on certain well-known magic systems.

Another new addition to my list of favourite retellings is Jo Walton’s The Prize in the Game, which retells The Táin and, having finally read it, lets me posit all three of the books as a single unit for the purposes of this post. I think they’re best read closely together, to allow this prequel to nuance Sulien’s opinions and commentary in The King’s Name and The King’s Peace (both of them retellings of Arthurian legend). These books are some of the richest and most in-depth retellings I’ve ever read. Like De Bodard in In the Vanishers’ Palace, Walton retells these tales in a way that is both nothing like the original and yet unmistakably that story. There is a depth and lyricism to Walton’s retelling that encapsules both modern fantasy novel sensibilities without losing that sense of myth that comes with a story retold many times over many centuries.

Sticking with the theme of not-actually-fairy-tales and retellings of The Táin, I also want to highlight Jules Watson’s The Raven Queen. This is a historical fantasy retelling of the tale and, thus, far more recognisable in its retelling. Watson, unlike Walton, seeks to tell a story that reads like it could be the ‘real’ story before time and storytelling polished it into the tale we know today. It’s a companion piece to Watson’s The Swan Maiden, and though The Raven Queen stands on its own perfectly well, it’s worth reading The Swan Maiden first as the two are closely intertwined and you’ll get a better understanding of events overall.

Novis by Rachel Tonks Hill is a science fiction retelling of Beowulf, and exceedingly epic in its scope. I don’t even really know where to start with this one. It’s a delightful take on the tale and, despite being a science fiction setting, still manages to keep some of the horror of the original poem intact. Choosing to retelling Beowulf in a space opera allows Hill to keep everything that makes the poem so memorable whilst giving it a spin unique to the story that Hill is telling.

Returning to actual fairy tales, I cannot write a post like this without mentioning Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty that weaves the fairy tale firmly into reality and tragedy by tying the narrative of the fairy tale to the Holocaust. It’s difficult to talk about this book without feeling like I’m spoiling it. One of the reasons it was so powerful to me was knowing virtually nothing about it beyond that it was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It is, however, one of the most powerful and heart-felt retellings, and a perfect example of how we use stories to make sense of the world around us.

Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl is one of the most faithful retellings I’ve ever read while still making the story into an entire novel. In some ways, I think Hale’s retelling of The Goose Girl is the way it’s always lived inside my head plucked out of the world of dreams and poured into written form. In most ways it isn’t, of course. I never dreamed of Bayern or the way magic works in them. But if Seven was the novella that taught me just how different you can make a fairy tale retelling while keeping it recognisably its original then Hale’s was the book that taught me the power of staying true to a story’s core. I’ve never read a retelling that felt, so keenly, like it was an unabbreviated version of a tale.

Iron and Gold by Hilda Vaughan is a book that I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard of. It’s a retelling of a Welsh fairy tale, Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach, and is utterly, utterly gorgeous. If you enjoy fairy tales, especially an exploration of the fairy bride trope in fiction, I strongly urge you to track down a copy of this book. It’s thoughtful and thought-provoking as well as emotionally gripping. The introduction of the Honno edition is well worth your time too if you’re normally the kind of person who skips introductions.

One of the most powerful retellings I’ve ever read was Deerskin by Robin McKinley. Deerskin is a retelling of stories such as Bearskin or All-Kinds-of-Fur and deals unflinchingly with the aftermath of rape. It’s a sensitive, gentle retelling, if at times harrowing. McKinley’s style is somewhat hit-or-miss for me, but in Deerskin, certainly, it works a wonder on me. It’s an honest look at the healing process and trauma and seeks to deal with it in a way that I’ve not seen many fairy tale retellings even dare.

As this technically covers eleven books already, I will leave it at this. I have many more books that I utterly love and that I’d recommend without hesitation (if, at times, with content warnings) and I hope that if I’ve inspired you to pick up any of them, that you’ll enjoy them immensely.

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Week 17 Update

Posted April 26, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday!

Completed Projects

  • 4/4 discussions of papers in Asexualities
  • 13/12 books read

Goal Updates

  • 0/2 essays for May
  • 0% Abstract submission
  • 4,529/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 0/1 video on ace rep in The Bone People

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 736

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: ???? (It’s numbers. My brain can’t do numbers right now. T_T)

DemiPrincess: I’ve made a tiny bit of progress! I got kind of sideswiped by the week. (Seriously, how is it Friday already?)

Life And Other Such Important Matters

I have heard back on one of the stories I submitted! Whoo! It was, alas, a rejection, but thankfully I could have a good conversation about it and, if I’m honest, I’m 100% behind it and mulling over what, if anything, to do. For now, at least, the story is trunked while I try to figure out whether the issues are fixable or not. I have way too much on my plate to worry about it now. (Basically, the only chance at fixing it is turning it into a novel and I do not have time for another novel, especially not one I might still have to trunk afterwards. So it goes into the drawer for poking at a later stage.)

Beyond that, life continued apace. I’ve been brave and sent out the scary important emails and heard back from one of them. And then I got into an ongoing grumbly fight with Paypal and, well, my week was not that great, if I’m entirely honest. But hey! I still made progress, I may, eventually, be able to access my money.

Stand-out Positive Moment

Come on, this is clearly the release of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power season 2. Unless it’s that one scene in episode 2 of Game of Thrones season 8. It’s a toss-up.

This Week on Patreon

All the Patreon posts from the past week, collected in neat and tidy lists, divided by tier.

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Fairy Tale Favourites

Posted April 22, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

Fairy Tale Favourites

A few years ago, I wrote a post about my favourite fairy tales. I figured that, with two more fairy tale retellings published and a third in planning stages, it would be a good and fun idea to revisit the topic.

Like many, I grew up on fairy tales. Notably, those that are canonically considered to be Western European fairy tales and the English and Germanic tales in particular. Those are, after all, the tales I know best and they make up the majority of the stories that I grew up with.

Growing I was surrounded by retellings of many of the most well-known fairy tales: Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and so on. None of that is particularly surprising. These fairy tales are exceptionally good at what they do and they fit neatly into the Victorian-era recasting fairy tales as something for small children, as nursery and bedtime stories, and their ideals on proper behaviour. The violence in earlier versions of Cinderella is, after all, much easier to pare down than the violence in The Juniper Tree. The visual gruesomeness of Cinderella happens at the end, when the stepsisters cut parts of their own feet and have their eyes plucked out by Cinderella’s feathered friends. None of the violence is integral to the central narrative of Cinderella’s hard work and good heart being rewarded. The visual gruesomeness in The Juniper Tree, however, drives the plot. Without the stepmother in the story cutting off her son’s head, there is no story.

That is not counting all the simply plain weird fairy tales, such as The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage or The Louse and the Flea or The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean. And then there are the anti-Semitic fairy tales, and the ones that are barely stories such as A Riddling Tale. That’s not to mention the ones that are like more well-known tales and yet didn’t gain the same popularity, such as All-Kinds-of-Fur. My point is that there are a lot of fairy tales that didn’t – and don’t – get retold as much as the ones we all know, and it isn’t all because of Disney’s influence on fairy tale retellings as a whole.

All of that isn’t to say that these stories never get retold – they do. It’s just that they rarely gain the popularity of retellings of the more well-known tales. One of the most impressive feats about Jim Henson’s The Storyteller is that none of the fairy tales it retells are the ones you might expect. The closest the series gets is Sapsorrow and the meshing of All-Kinds-of-Fur with Cinderella and Donkeyskin works exceptionally well because they’ve all got similar beats.

To me, one of the most fascinating things about fairy tales and their retellings is how much individuality authors can pour into what is, at its core, the same narrative. It’s what draws me to the tales again and again. Though I grew up with a lot of books containing fairy tales and retellings, notably complete collections of all the stories collected by the brothers Grimm and those written by Hans Christian Andersen, most of my favourites all come from Grimm’s collections.

The Juniper Tree is actually one of them. I couldn’t quite explain why. I suspect it’s largely the combination of a story that is exceptionally gruesome and yet has an element of whimsy to it.

I have a big soft spot for Puss-in-Boots as well, though my favourite cat fairy tale was probably Madame d’Aulnoy’s The White Cat. Because it has a cat princess who saves the day for the prince. How was I not going to love that tale?

One of my absolute favourite remains The Two Brothers, largely because of the sheer amount of animal helpers in it. The Two Brothers is a fairly long fairy tale, smushing together several different motifs, but it’s always been the first half that holds my interest. This is the fairy tale that I’ve got bookmarked in my collection to this day.

In the first third of the story, we’re introduced to two identical twins who, because it’s a fairy tale, end up being able to find a gold coin underneath their pillow every night. They get kicked out of their home and taken in by a kindly huntsman, who raises them as his own. Now adults, the two brothers leave. They come across five animals, all of whom they decide not to kill after the creature begs for its life, and they’re both given a young animal in return, which they keep as pets.

In the second third of the story, the two brothers have split up and we mostly follow the younger of the two in his adventures to defeat a dragon and marry a princess. He defeats the dragon, with the help of his animal companions, but a marshal was watching and steals the proof that he’s done so. Or so the marshal thinks! Anyway, a short story made shorter the younger brother marries the princess and becomes a king. One day, he goes out riding and manages to get himself and his animals turned into stone.

Cue the third part of the story which focuses on the older brother. He returns to the village where they parted and discovers something is amiss with his brother and he goes off to discover what happened. He gets mistaken for his brother and, somehow, cannot get out of sleeping in the same bed as the princess. His brother, after being rescued, is really rather upset about it, lops his head off, then regrets it and the animals help him magically restore his brother back to life. They go back home, get recognised for who they are, discover the princess did not sleep with the brother not-her-husband, and happily ever after has been reached!

Trust me, the last part is incredibly unsatisfying to read in its full form as well. The first two thirds are delightful, though, and I’d happily recommend it if you enjoy fairy tales with animal companions. They’re really the star of the whole thing.

Another of my favourites is Brother and Sister, which I did a loose if fairly faithful retelling of in Feather by Feather and Other Stories. Here it’s definitely the sibling relationship that’s done it. I love the wildness of the deer and the love and friendship that remains between the siblings even then.

Some of my favourites are a little more well-known, though. I count The Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Six Swans (or The Twelve Ravens, take your pick) among them as well. In the case of the former, it’s the dancing that always gets me. I love dancing and it’s so integral to the story here. In the latter, it’s, again, the love between siblings as well as the hardship of the way the princess breaks the curse on her brothers. Imagine trying to do what the princess does. (And then remember that she fails. How many fairytales end in failure? I mean, sure, it’s got a happy enough ending and all, but she still didn’t finish that last shirt she was making.)

I also have a soft spot for Fitcher’s Bird. It’s a Bluebeard variant, but here the girl pretty much rescues herself and her sisters. Sure. There are menfolk to do the killing, but she doesn’t go about locking herself up and hoping men’ll show up before the sorcerer breaks down the door and murders her. She goes about rescuing her sisters and sets up a ruse to trick the sorcerer into believing she’s not left his house. I think Fitcher’s Bird was probably one of the first self-rescuing heroines I ever encountered. Again, I mean, sure she gets help, but the vast majority of the story is about her outwitting her sorcerer husband-to-be and succeeding. Mostly by decorating a skull with flowers to pretend she’s watching the sorcerer from afar. It is the gothiest of Bluebeard variants.

There’s also Frau Holle. (You may or may not know it under the name of Mother Hulda.) What I loved about it is… Well, probably much the same as what I loved about most portal fantasy stories, really: the portal. The idea of stepping (or falling) into a completely new world where apples and bread can talk to you. Also where you make it winter in the world you came from by shaking out down covers! Look, I’m not fond of winter, I admit that, but if I could make it winter by raining feathers down onto the world? Sign me up!

I have a massive soft spot for The Goose Girl as well. It takes a lot for me not to want to pick up a retelling of it, or not to like it when I read it. I loved Falada. I also always interpret Falada as a mare rather than a gelding, but there you go. I loved the way the wind obeyed the princess (and only the princess) and the solution the king arrived at to convince the princess to talk about what actually happened. It’s such a fun play with loopholes. Also the geese. They may play only a small role, but I do enjoy their presence.

I also have a deep love for The House in the Woods. Partially it’s because this is one of the stories I recall listening to on audiobooks and I can still hear the soothing cadence of the narrator whenever I think of this tale. Largely it’s because it’s a story about the importance of kindness. While that’s not an uncommon staple of fairy tales in and of itself, in many tales there’s a strong current of “If you are kind to others, others will be kind to you” and it’s not that that strand isn’t here at all, but it’s comparatively muted.

You see, The House in the Woods sees three sisters all stumble across a house in the woods where they ask for shelter. This is agreed to, provided that they cook supper. The eldest two cook supper for themselves and the old man living in the house. The youngest also cares for the animals without being prompted. She wakes up in a palace and learns that the old man was a prince cursed to be an old man until he meets a woman kind to both people and animals. Though, like in the other fairy tales, kindness to animals is rewarded, the animals don’t set out to help her win trials in return. They just go to sleep, fed and contented. It disrupts the general concept set out by more well-known fairy tales that the reason to do good deeds is because others will do good deeds in return.

Lastly, because I have to stop at some point, one of my favourite tales is One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes. I’m sure it’s the goat. (Are you noticing an animal theme running through my fairy tales? I am.) But it’s also interesting in how it’s the middle daughter who is the heroine. This makes sense if you look at the title, but it’s still a pretty rare occurrence. It’s usually the youngest child or, in a pinch, the eldest. This is also one the few fairy tales I know of where the evil sisters aren’t severely punished for their cruelty. They’re left poor, sure, but the story ends on both of them repenting of how they treated their sister. The sisters don’t get their eyes pecked out or shoes they’re forced to dance in until they die or anything like that. It’s just a small note about people learning that what they did was wrong and showing remorse. To a child that’s been bullied, the idea that those bullies may one day learn to be better people can be a powerful one.

Those are just some of the tales I’ve loved and enjoyed and continue to love to this day.  While I do greatly enjoy the more well-known fairy tales as well, it’s often the lesser-known ones that truly hold my heart.

Become a Patron on Patreon!

This post is also available on Patreon and is sponsored by generous patrons. Thank you so much for your support! It means the world to me! <3 I love you all!

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Week 16 Update

Posted April 19, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Goals, News / 0 Comments

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Weekly Accountability

Hi, everyone! It’s that time again! Weekly updates delivered every Friday!

Completed Projects

  • Lynn Rambles about… Star Trek: Discovery Season 2

Goal Updates

  • 0/2 essays for May
  • 10/12 books read
  • 2/4 discussions of papers in Asexualities
  • 0% Abstract submission
  • 3,793/10,000 words of fiction written
  • 0/1 video on ace rep in The Bone People

Writing Updates

This Week’s Fiction Wordcount: 1,067

This Week’s Non-Fiction Wordcount: 1,338

DemiPrincess2: Chapter 11 is done! I hate it, but it’s done. Huzzah!

Life And Other Such Important Matters

Whelp, I got the bill for the fainting of the ambulance. It’s… nowhere near as bad as the US, but wow. Still more than I was expecting. Eep.

Also with spring in full swing, it’s finally time to clean the patio outside and prepare to enjoy the weather there.

Stand-out Positive Moment

The stand-out positive moment for this week is top secret, sorry, so I’ll pick something fairly predictable: season 8 of Game of Thrones has started and in a few weeks’ time we’ll have an ending to the narrative!

Also did I mention I finished chapter 11 of DemiPrincess2?

This Week on Patreon

All the Patreon posts from the past week, collected in neat and tidy lists, divided by tier.

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How about you? What have you been up to lately? Has anything awesome happened?

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Writing Asexual and Aromantic (Fairy Tale) Retellings

Posted April 15, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

Read More

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