Tag: Promises to Keep

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.


Once upon a time… A Look at Labels in My Work

Posted February 11, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Ace & Aro Studies, My Work / 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.

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Counting Books: Finding Dyscalculia Representation in Fiction

Posted January 28, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in My Work / 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.

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Rerelease: A Promise Broken

Posted August 20, 2017 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in News / 0 Comments


A girl looking out over the sea. A storm is rolling in.

A Promise Broken

Available as Ebook and Print editions

As of today, A Promise Broken is published through The Kraken Collective, a collective of several awesome queer indie authors I’m delighted to be a part of. WHOOHOO! This is something I’ve utterly failed to talk about a lot, and I’m sorry about that. It’s been fairly hectic the past two months. OMG!

But whoohoo! A Promise Broken is rereleased! To celebrate the ebook will be on sale for a week from now until the 27th of August!

What’s changed?

Honestly, not a whole lot. The publishing imprint has changed, so there are shiny new logos and I’d like to think that there are even fewer typos (even though typos are like a hydra; fix one and a dozen grow back), some backmatter book promos of fantastic similar books by fellow Kraken authors (seriously, go check them out <3) and… most notable of all: I’ve added content warnings! No more looking up whether the book has content warnings or not on websites or hoping that reviews will tell you. It’s conveniently available in all editions of A Promise Broken! Now that I’ve figured out a way to include them that I think works fairly well to balance people’s desires not to be spoiled with people’s needs not to be hurt by a book.

And that’s it, really. I hope that you’ll find all of the changes to be awesome and beneficial. 😀

What’s the book about?

Here, let me give you the blurb. You can head over to the book’s page to read part of the first chapter.

It’s a rainy day when four-year-old Eiryn has to say goodbye to her mother. Scared, confused and unwilling to do so, Eiryn tries to summon water to stop the funeral from happening and her life falls apart. Her uncle is always sad and busy; she keeps hearing her mother’s voice asking her to follow; her best friend keeps getting into fights; and some of her classmates hate her for existing.

Arèn never wanted children, but he’s desperate to protect his niece from his people’s extreme caution regarding magic and other races. Kerisaoina children aren’t capable of using it and his niece is no exception. Despite being only half-kerisaoina, Eiryn is already starting to show that she’ll be one of her generation’s most talented magic-singers and those who don’t approve of her existence are trying to take advantage of a young girl’s grief.

Eiryn is determined to make her uncle happy, but it’s hard to make other people happy when you have to struggle through the day yourself. She’ll find a way, though. She’s promised. And even if her mother won’t keep her word Eiryn will keep hers.

She’ll make everything right again.

You’ll see.

What warnings does the book have?

This book contains warnings for:

  • racism
  • bullying
  • depression
  • suicide ideation
  • family death

Not necessarily appearing in that order.

You can read an excerpt on my website here or on Kraken’s website. The excerpt covers funeral rites, so you’re thrown right into the content warning for family death.

I wanted to order the paperback. Where is it?

On CreateSpace! If you’d like to order it from elsewhere, please be patient a while longer! It’ll come back! I just didn’t realise that when CreateSpace said they’d take it down until I re-approved the new Kraken edition, they meant “We’ll take it down everywhere completely because clearly a PoD service cannot keep selling the old version while you’re working out the new one the way it does with ebooks”, so it’s currently cycling its way through being added to retailers all over again and that just takes a while. It should reappear sometime next week, depending on how quickly it gets processed.


Bookish News! Yay!

Posted October 20, 2016 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in News / 0 Comments

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I know I’m still super-terrible at keeping people in the loop regarding where my writing projects are at the moment, so… Let’s actually do an update now that I actually manage to find words to say things. >> I’m not good at this whole self-promotion business. T_T Other people, yes. I enjoy shouting their names off rooftops (on that note, Cheryl Mahoney released a new book, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, and Becca Lusher recently released the next of her Overworld shorts, Facing the Hurricane. Check them out!)

But this post is all about me. So… first of all… I’m running a special seasonal promo for The Passage of Pearl. It’s $0.99 (or 2 dollars off) for the rest of October. If you’re looking for a quick, scary read… Check it out!

I’ve also managed to figure out how to get The Princess who Didn’t Have Cake price-matched on Amazon, so now it is permafree everywhere. WHOOHOO! I’m so glad that I managed to figure that out! (It actually turned out to be pretty easy, but wow do they hide that price match contact us option deeply.)

I’ve decided that there’ll be no serial next year. I don’t have anything that’s suitable for it at the moment and we all know that if I try to serialise anything that’s not at least halfway finished before I start that I’ll end up going on hiatus right in the middle and no one wants that. (Or at least I don’t and I’m writing them, so.)

Speaking of next year! I’ve got PIP lined up for publication in early 2017. It needs some more tweaking and finalising and I’m pondering whether to try and experiment with availability and/or preordering options. That’s just a little too far into the future, though. It most likely will, however, be released in ebook and print at the same time. Yay!

And speaking of print books, I’m done fiddling with the print versions of A Promise Broken and Feather by Feather and Other Stories! They’re not published yet, so if you really wanted a print copy of them, don’t go rushing off to stores just yet! I’ll be releasing them in November and December respectively, so each can get a moment to shine.

Feather by Feather and Other Stories will get a second edition with a few added extras. This will also be the time when I reset the price, so if you want the (first edition) ebook cheaply, get it before December! It’ll also come with a new cover, so if you love Anna’s art as much as I do and way it to grace your ereader, again, get it before December.

But there we are. I have almost done what I set out to do this year! And then I accomplished a bit more. November is looming and I’d like to try a proper NaNoWriMo again. For a given value of ‘proper’ since I’m not planning on starting anything new. My plan is to continue working on DemiPrincess and get 50,000 words of that added to it. I’m thinking since it seems to like the trilogy format that it’ll want to be around 240 words, so I’ve got plenty to work on! Once November starts, I’ll be updating the word count on the front page. Probably on a weekly basis, but I’ll do my best to check in every day and share snippets. (Because that worked so well last year.) The rest of October’s writing time will be dedicated to finishing up the last bits of “I changed fundamental parts of the setting, let’s rewrite it all” and the nonfiction projects of my bilingual HEX read and the Sailor Moon (re)watch. I’ll be focusing on HEX, though. I really want to try and finish it completely before January. I also need to write one last Design Adventures post for these final proofs, of course.


Discussing the third A Promise Broken proofs

Posted September 13, 2016 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Design Adventures: A Promise Broken Proof 3

Welcome back once again to another instalment of Design Adventures! This time we’re tackling the third (I think it’s the third) set of proofs for A Promise Broken. I’d say we’re getting close to the end of finally releasing it, but I may have to disappoint you. So let’s just dive straight in and see what we’ve got!

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Making proofs for A Promise Broken

Posted June 2, 2016 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Design Adventures: A Promise Broken Proof 1 & 2

Welcome back to the next installment of Design Adventures! This time, we’re taking a look at the original proof of A Promise Broken and why it’s not yet available in print. This time, there will be pictures! Excitement! Anyway. When last I discussed by adventures in design (see what I did there?), I was playing around with collections beyond my skill level to get the hang of what I was doing again. Once I had that… I switched over to A Promise Broken. A novel can be fiddly and annoying — I lost a couple of hours restoring all the italics because I’m absolutely brilliant like that. If you’re using InDesign, that actually has the ability to import Word files with the formatting intact, so make use of that! — but it was comparatively straight-forward. Huzzah!

So, Lynn, you’re probably asking me. What went wrong? Well, first of all, I didn’t have an imprint logo at the time and I wanted the book to look (and feel) professional. I had to get that first, but actually the biggest thing that’s held me up has been the cover. You see, I’m not that experienced in graphic design, all things considered, and I was struggling to figure out what to do with the darned thing. I’ll be talking about covers in more detail in separate posts later. For now, know that it’s not the interior layout that’s holding me up so much as the cover. The interior, at this point, is pretty much done.

So let’s go look at some pictures of the first proof for A Promise Broken! More importantly, let’s look at the ways in which things are, um, broken and talk about the perils of interior layout design. Remember how I said this series could alternately be called “What NOT To Do In Design”? This is why. Because I’m about to discuss what not to do. Or at least what to avoid doing if you possibly can. Anyway! Pictures.

Please note! There are several fairly large pictures, so if you’re on dial-up or otherwise have limited bandwidth available, tread with caution.

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The Faces of Depression

Posted April 17, 2015 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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The Faces of Depression

Please note! This post comes with a content warning for a discussion of depression in fiction, the different ways depression can show itself (or not), and references to suicide.

On a tangentially related note: This post was written for submission to a column anxiety weasels got too loud about. Mostly because I have no confidence in my ability to actually remember things accurately and what if I get it wrong?! So. You know. There’s that.

If anyone was wondering for any reason, why I haven’t commented on the Hugos… You know, apart from being the non-confrontational person I am in general, I was a little preoccupied attending a funeral and looking after myself. (If you’re worried: I am mostly doing okay by now, I think.) My thanks to all the moderate voices letting me keep somewhat up-to-date without being a ball of tears.

Lastly, my thanks to the lovely and wonderful people who looked it over for me and helped me get enough confidence to post it here.

And now, without further ado. A post below the cut!

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Goal Review and Upcoming Plans Mar/Apr 2015

Posted April 2, 2015 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Goals / 0 Comments

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Monthly Goals. The text 'monthly goals' underneath a scroll with a key on it. A look back at my goals of the month.

And this March winds to an end, spring his come and I am too tired to come up with a long intro, so let’s just jump straight to the goals of last month. ^_^



I Want to Read:
– Retold: Six Fairytales Reimagined by various authors
– Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
– Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman

I Want to Write:
10,000 words of fiction

March went soooooo slooooooooowly. On all fronts. Part of that is that I actually spent much of the month reading two books on one ereader. That worked well enough with one book being for a readalong with structured breaks, but not so well with the other book being a collection of short stories. Short stories slow me down. A lot. I like novels. I like their heft and their weight and the fact that you don’t need a hummingbird-speed brain to switch between settings and characters all the time. Don’t get me wrong; I like short fiction too and I’ve got a hummingbird-brain about a lot of things. It’s just that with short stories, I need to be careful how many I read in a row or I get story-overload. I did read all three books that I’d aimed to read, though! GO ME!

And then the writing… Well. It’s a good thing I said that I wanted to write words of fiction in general rather than what project I wanted to work on because I have not one, not two, but three projects that won’t wait for their turn. No, wait. One of those three is the one I wanted to work on with two extras I didn’t want to focus on next. I’M CONFUSING MYSELF.

So. I’m working on three stories simultaneously at the moment, largely because two of them are first person and won’t shut up. I’ve got Promises 2 (which I set out to write this year), a longer (and totally different) version of The Princess who Didn’t Eat Cake, and Sea Foam and Silence (a verse novel attempt at an asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid). Yes, I’m finally working that short poem into something longer like I said I wanted to since I first posted it. I also rewrote The Princess who Didn’t Eat Cake and shared that earlier in the month.

Only one of these three new projects is in third person and I’m pretty sure that the demisexual fantasy romance has two first person narrators. I am excited and a little scared and more or less going “Thank everything that I only have three stories clamouring this strongly for my attention!”

This will change in a few months when I add “Edit the Space Ghost story for publication, hopefully” to my plate and it’ll be four stories. *rubs face* But I said I was going to try and embrace the “Work on things simultaneously” thing and see how it goes, so that’s what I’ll do. I am totally not going to complain about more stories to share with the world (even if I’d sincerely like to get the hang of this “Stick to a deadline” thing) anyway.



I Want to Read:
Whatever I feel like.

I Want to Write:
Whatever I feel like.

This month is… going to be all about looking after myself. Due to a recent death in the family, I’m not entirely myself as I write this. (Everything above the banner was written earlier.) So I’m inclined to just see how it goes.