Confessions of a Dyslexic Author

The other day I received a message from a nineteen-year-old woman thanking me for my outspoken stance on dyslexia. Here’s my stance in a nutshell. I have severe dyslexia but I don’t have a disability. My brain just works differently than other brains.

I talk openly and honestly about the horrors of growing up in a system that labeled me “Special.” I try to give support to parents and lead by example. I’ve become an unintentional spokesperson by helping people understand what dyslexia is and how to deal with it.

However, lately I’ve been feeling like a fraud.

Just because I’ve made it look easy doesn’t mean it was. Yes, you can become an author despite a limited reading ability, but it’s a tough journey. Dyslexia ranges from a few backwards letters to a fundamental inability to arrange letters, words and sometimes numbers in the correct order. It’s not fixable; you either have the ability or you don’t.

It never goes away. Sometimes you can figure out work-arounds but sometimes you can’t and you have to learn to live with it, which is embarrassing, frustrating and in some instances detrimental to your goals.

Some of the things I deal with are:

1. I can’t read aloud.

Words don’t make sense to me when I read aloud. It also takes an immense amount of concentration to say the correct word in the right order. For example: Librarian and Libertarian look exactly the same to me and if I say them out loud, I don’t know which word will come out. It makes my twitter feed interesting though.

I don’t do many book events because inevitably people will want me to read an excerpt from one of my novels. I’m honest when I explain why I can’t, but the shame is still present. There is still the eight-year-old girl in me standing in front of a classroom trying to get through a presentation.

2. I can’t spell.

It’s not the cute, there, they’re, their misspellings, but a deep lack of understanding of prefixes and suffixes, and many other spelling rules. This also ties into my inability to write by hand. I have a lot of childhood trauma around my handwriting and spelling ability.

I can’t write personal messages in my books. That one hurts because there are many supporters, bloggers, and reviewers who have supported me that I would love to give a special book to, but I can’t.

3. I read very slowly.

I also don’t read linearly, which may be why I can’t read aloud. I had to teach myself to read so who knows what my brain came up with.

I love to read, but it takes me about thirty hours to get through an average novel; compared to my fellow authors who can whip through one in about an hour and a half. I want to support my fellow indies by reviewing, but my list is already so long I’ll be reading for the next two years.

I justify my feelings by telling myself that I also can’t whistle, but no one will call me stupid for not knowing how to do that. Reading and spelling are easy to test so they have become the focus of our standardized testing culture. But the fact remains, if you have trouble reading you are considered dumb.

So as an author I stand on my soapbox and preach that people with dyslexia are creative and clever and survivors, but there is a part of me that feels judged, or more accurately graded. I have a stab of envy when I hear my fellow authors read from their novels. And I dread book signings.

But the point of this is that I do it anyway. I can’t be the typical author doing the standard author stuff. I have to interact more with people at signings. I have a friend read the excerpts from my novels at events and when I write a review for an indie, I mean every hard-fought word.

Having dyslexia makes things difficult but not impossible. I just wanted to share my struggles so anyone else struggling will hopefully not feel alone.

If you are never given “the box” you will always have to think outside of it.

Writing Outside the Lines with Dyslexia

I’m not sure when dyslexia became a common word. I remember seeing a commercial for it when I was younger, but in school I was labeled dumb, lazy, and a “slow reader.” People seem to think it goes away when you get older. It doesn’t. You just learn how to work with it.

Dyslexia is like someone telling me that I’m mispronouncing a word, but then not telling me how to pronounce it correctly. I know I’m doing it wrong, but I don’t know how to do it right.

The most debilitating for me is that I can’t keep numbers in order, but I work around it. Smart phones have helped a lot with that. If I read aloud I have to go slowly and concentrate on forming the words. It makes reading my pages to my audience impossible. That makes me a little sad, but it’s a small sacrifice to make in order to have the words in the first place.

The reaction other people have to learning of my dyslexia goes one of two ways. It’s either nothing but a few backwards letters or it’s a debilitating disease that I should be on disability for. For me it’s neither. It’s just a different way of thinking that I don’t consider a disorder or a disability.

I flip letters. The letter L and the number 3 are my worst offenders. I can’t put my hand to my forehead and call someone a loser because most likely the L will be backwards. Sad. I also put letters in the wrong order when I type. Auto-correct is my friend. I once had a fellow salesperson accuse me of writing in code in the database in order to keep him away from my clients. I wasn’t. I did turn off the auto-correct though.

The best way I have found to describe dyslexia is like this: think of your brain as two sisters. The left half is your mom. A 1950’s, pearl-wearing, vacuum-loving, June Cleaver mom. Ask and you shall receive: Mom, where’s my socks? I need graph paper! How do you make a soufflé? Kind of mom.

Right brain is your crazy hoarder aunt. She collects all kinds of stuff. There could even be a few stray animals running around her house that she doesn’t know about. But she’s a super sweet, go with the flow, sing-dance-paint, enjoy life kind of woman. Her music is too loud, her hair too messy, but if you need anything, she’ll be there for you. Just not the exact way you want her.

Need a ride home from school—she’ll show up two hours late on a three wheeled bicycle in a bikini. It may be embarrassing, but it gets the job done. Need the name of someone you love, she’ll reach in the drawer and give you a name. Granted, you were looking for your niece, Stephanie, but your dog, Joe was close. Most people find it funny when I call them in a three name sequence like Joe-Lou-Steph.

For most people these two sisters are very close and talk constantly. But in my case, they’ve had a falling out. I have severe dyslexia so these sisters don’t talk to each other at all. Mom still gets all of her work done. I can walk and talk and function normally. But all communication and memory has fallen on my crazy aunt’s shoulders. And she’s trying. She’s really trying. Her filing system is unique, but she can retrieve the important things and I google the less vital stuff.

She’s not much of a talker, but she likes to write and sing and she enjoys reading. I read at an average pace, which is painfully slow when compared to my peers. But books aren’t races so I don’t mind.

She hates numbers. Any and all numbers go in the trash. I have to hide a few around the house, but only the most critical ones like my kids’ birthdays, ages and my telephone number, and that’s about it. And it was a struggle keeping those. Sometimes my own age and the street number to my house get chucked, which gives everyone a laugh when I can’t remember how old I am.

Dyslexia is a different way of thinking, not a disability. All the volume is turned to one side of my brain—the creative side. Yes, I’ve lost some abilities, but I can’t even describe the abilities I’ve gained. It’s a superpower. As with any decent superpower it takes time and training to figure out how to first control it and then unleash it.

Why Do Thirteen Year Old Girls Disappear?

I made Agatha Stone, the protagonist of The Lost Knight Series, thirteen years old to embody just how unprepared she was to save the world. But I discovered something interesting: she doesn’t have a lot of other girls her age to stand next to on the shelf.

When I finished the series, my daughter was thirteen. She might have been able to save the world, but no one asked her so we will never know. No one ever asks a thirteen year old girl to do anything. We often say how hard “that age” is, but there’s really nothing in our society that addresses it. Instead, it’s shut down, minimalized, and our girls basically disappear until they’re fifteen and the messiness is over.

Thirteen year olds are not cute and silly, like they were just the year before. Instead, they’re uncomfortably sexual, highly opinionated and moody. When my daughter started middle school one of the teachers warned me that, “There’s nothing meaner than a middle school girl.”

I don’t think they’re mean. I think they’re in pain. Hormones riddle girls with doubts, which makes them afraid, which makes them act out or disappear.

Our society has based puberty off the experiences of boys. There are many coming of age movies-books-stories about how difficult and fun “that time” is for boys. I’ll wait while you try to think of a few for girls. If you said Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, congratulations you’ve made it to middle age. That book is forty-five years old. If you said Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, you’re not as old, but that was seventeen years ago.

There are a few disturbing examples of girls discovering their sexuality, but a comedy, drama or sitcom about the real issues of being thirteen is highly underrepresented. And the thirteen year old actresses are out of work unless they look ten. They won’t work again until they’re fifteen unless they model, but that’s a different discussion.

Generally speaking, there are no television shows where a thirteen year old girl is the star. If she was cast in a television show when she was younger, her now thirteen year old character is a shell, with minimal lines and almost no story. As a female writer, I don’t want to complain or moan about the unfairness of it all, or blame the evil thing (insert whatever evil thing you wish) or rail at men for writing about what they know. Instead, I wrote about a girl. I tried to make her as true to a thirteen year old girl as I could.

I was thirteen once. I had a daughter and a stepdaughter who both struggled through “that time.” It’s nothing to be afraid of. I encourage other creative types to explore these interesting and uncharted stories and let our girls be heard.

My “Small Town” Orlando: When Terror Hits Home

People think of theme parks, waterslides and miniature golf when they think about Orlando. And it does have its fair share of those things, but it has another side, the small town—know your neighbors, worship together, and just generally be kind-type of town.

Orlando has so embraced the LBGT community that our town is hurting, all of us are hurting. I’ve never been inside Pulse nightclub, but either my husband or I pass it twice a day, every day when we make the rounds for his job. It is unimaginable that our city has now joined the growing list of mass death.

I remember walking around in a haze of sorrow for days after Columbine. I can tell you exactly where I was when the planes hit the towers. I was glued to my television when the bombs went off in Boston and I cried for those babies and brave adults at Sandy Hook.

It’s our turn now. My husband and I watched the news unfold, we identified landmarks and looked for people we knew. I called some friends to make sure that they were alright and I took phone calls and assured people that it was far from my home and everyone was okay.

We cried and we wondered why. And then we went to dinner in downtown Orlando. The restaurant was crowded—life went on. My fourteen year old daughter had tickets to the Oh Wonder concert at a club in downtown on Monday and we questioned whether we would take her if it wasn’t canceled. It was, eventually. She went to a crowded movie theater instead and had fun with her friends.

Life went back to normal. The news read the names of the people who died and we cried. There were vigils to attend and services to watch. Donations to give. But the people who did not know the victims went to work Monday morning. Life returned to normal and people went about their business. We’re sad and we’re angry—but we’re used to it.

The mass shooting club that Orlando joined on early Sunday morning is not exclusive. The list keeps growing. And the level of horror grows with it. This isn’t the “New Normal”—this is normal.
As Americans we persevere. We go on. We buck up. But when do we say enough is enough? This didn’t have to happen. When do we force honest non-politicized discussions about how to stop it? When do we stop accepting terror as normal?

Why I Love YA Fiction

There are many book genres and most times, adults are automatically presumed to like either mysteries, romance or other popular mass market books geared toward adults. Well, I love to read and write YA! As I shared in a previous post, this is my favorite type of book to escape into. I admire different types of stories, but there is just something special about fantasy YA for me.
Continue reading Why I Love YA Fiction

I Love Books

When I’m not writing, I’m reading. That is a writer’s life isn’t it? There is something thrilling about cracking open a book and delving into a new tale. Buying books for me is like purchasing plane tickets to undisclosed locations. Stepping onto a 747 is akin to turning the first page. Sinking into the first couple of chapters is a trip down the airstrip and when the story hits its stride and hooks me it’s like a successful lift off and landing all at once. Finishing a good book feels like the end of a vacation. You’re happy you went on the journey and you’ll flashback often to remember the things that intrigued and touched you. If the excursion was especially memorable, you’ll take the trip again and again.
Continue reading I Love Books

I Create Because…

As we count down the days to the launch of The Lost Knight Volume I, the first book in my six-part series, I am reminded why I like the art of creating. I’m sure every kind of artist whether they are photographers, painters, actors, singers, dancers or jewelry or clothing designers all have their favorite things they love about doing practicing their craft.

Continue reading I Create Because…

Has The Digital Age Made The BFF Extinct?

The time honored tradition of the best friend union has definitely changed. I remember a time when you met your BFF at school or at your first job or internship. You know like how Oprah met her bestie Gayle when they worked together at a TV station when they were in their early 20’s. Ahhh, the good old days.

Continue reading Has The Digital Age Made The BFF Extinct?

The Magic of Music

What is it about music that it can make us scream with delight when our favorite artists hit the stage or take us back to the very moment we fell in love or got our hearts broken?

Songs are magical because they can tell our life stories better than we can. You know that one melody which can sum up a whole summer or how certain albums can serve as the backdrop for years of your life.

Continue reading The Magic of Music

Why Playing Video Games is Important

As someone who likes to play video games, I’m here to tell you that it is vital to my well-being. Seriously. Yes, exercise, eating right and living a purposeful life is very important and I totally subscribe to doing those things, but if video games weren’t included in the equation, I know I wouldn’t be as fulfilled or happy.

Continue reading Why Playing Video Games is Important