Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Photo by Leanne Dyck

The Rosie Project is a humorous (love) story with a familiar protagonist.


If you watch the television show Big Bang Theory, you will undoubtedly notice the similarities between Don Tillman and Sheldon Cooper.  
'Don Tillman has a brilliant scientific mind , but social situations confound him.' -from book jacket
Don works as a University professor. 
'Sheldon...[is] a scientific genius who works at a local university and shows several characteristics typical to those who have Asperger's, such as an attention to detail, repetitive actions and a lack of social skills.' -Why Our Autism Community Loves Sheldon Cooper? by Kerry Magro

Does Sheldon have Asperger's? 
'[W]hile Sheldon's personality...certainly has traits in common with people with Asperger's, [Bill Pardy (Big Bang Theory co-creator] would feel uncomfortable labeling Sheldon as such...There's the danger that the other characters' insults about Sheldon's behavior--in other words, 90 percent of the show's comedy--would seem mean if they were mocking a medical condition as apposed to generic eccentricity.'-Reader mail:  Does Sheldon From 'Big Bang Theory' have Asperger's by Alan Sepinwall/The Star-Ledger
 Does Don have Asperger's?
'Claudia asked whether I had enjoyed the Asperger's lecture... 'Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?' she asked...
They were an almost perfect description of Laszlo Heveki in the Physics Department.' (p. 24)
But later says, with regards to his difficulties in finding the perfect woman,   'Nothing would change the fault in my brain that made me unacceptable.' (p. 302) So it seems that he realizes that his brain is "abnormal". 

Graeme Simsion's, author of The Rosie Project, response to the question:  '[H]e's a quirky guy who probably would be diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum -- but I don't claim to be an expert.' -the Classy Bird, the Penguin Random House South Africa blog

Humour arises from Don's inability to comprehend what is happening around him. 
'Gene was at the lectern of the darkened theatre, still talking, apparently oblivious to time, responding to a question about funding. My entrance had allowed a shaft of light into the room and I realized that the audience's eyes were now on me, as if expecting me to say something.
'Time's up,' I said. "I have a meeting with Gene.'
People immediately started getting up, and I observed the Dean in the front row with three people in corporate costumes. I guessed that they were there as potential providers of finance... Gene is always trying to solicit money for research... It is not an area I involve myself in.' (p. 21)
When asked how he felt about using autism/Asperger's as a source of humour, Graeme Simsion answered:  'Don is a person with big strengths (high intelligence) and weaknesses (poor social skills). I see him as atypical rather than disabled. Most stories, drama or comedy, require the hero to overcome a weakness to achieve their goal. Comedy arises when the hero is seriously under-equipped for the journey. And sometimes Don's view of the world makes more sense than ours. So far, the novel has been very well received by people with Asperger's, their families and organisations. Many have commented that they appreciate the socially-challenged person being the hero and the person we identify with rather than someone for the real hero to learn from (as in, for example, Rain Man). No doubt there will be other views but if the book prompts discussion, all the better.' -the Classy Bird, the Penguin Fandom House South Africa blog


There's a link between autism and genius by Kimberly Stephens and Joanne Ruthsatz (New York Post)

Autism and Genius:  A New Study Says They May Share a Genetic Link by Jamie Pacton 

Next post:  Sunday, August 8th (published at approximately 5 PM PST)
Some "normal" people pity the disabled. 
Does this sense of pity arises from a feeling that disabled people must live without? Is this always the case? Or can a disabled person live a life of abundance? How?
These questions lead me to write 'What Matters'.

Photo by Leanne Dyck
 Picture Books in Canada
 The Writers' Union of Canada
Writing for Children Competition 2016: Deadline July 31
Click this link for more information 

"Bim:  a big dog in a small package"
Photo by Leanne Dyck
Sharing my author journey...
When I spot a branch, when I think there it is -- that's my comfortable next, a breeze carries me even higher. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Well-crafted books are the product of careful research. How do you conduct the research for your books? Do you interview experts? Or do you draw from the body of knowledge you've obtained?

Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, attended Harvard University.
Alice Howland, protagonist of Still Alice, is a professor at Harvard University.
Lisa Genova holds a Ph. D. in neuroscience and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association.
Alice Howland has early-onset Alzheimer's.

Another scientist may have written this book with a sense of detachment, but not Lisa Genova. She is skilled at bringing us deep inside Alice's mind. We not only learn what it's like to have Alzheimer's, but we also experience it.
Struggling with lose and isolation, Alice 'typed the words "early-onset Alzheimer's disease into Google. It pulled up a lot of facts and statistics.
There are an estimated five hundred thousand people in the United States with early-onset Alzheimer's disease...
 She added the word "support" to her Google search and hit the return key. 
She found forums, links, resources, message boards, and chat rooms. For caregivers...
What about support for the people with Alzheimer's disease.' (p. 208-209)
Alice discovered that there simply weren't any. So she created one. 

I had a similarly frustrating experience, in August 2013, when I sought support to deal with anxiety. I'm an adult with dyslexia.
'Anxiety is the most frequent emotional symptom reported by dyslexic adults.' link to article
My anxiety is heightened when I engage in social activities. 
'Individuals with dyslexia may have learned that being in the company of others places them at risk for making public mistakes and the inevitable reactions that may ensue. It makes sense, then, that people with dyslexia have become withdrawn...or become social isolates.'
link to article 
Not wanting my anxiety to limit my social engagement, I sought help. An Internet search brought me to the Association of Learning Disabled Adults or ALDA. Their website was engaging and informative. I had a deep sense that I'd found what I needed. My email drew a quick reply.
"Due to insufficient funding, next month we will be forced to remove our website and cease offering services."
I was on my own. Left to develop my own strategies, I sought the help of on-island (I live on remote island off Canada's west coast) health care professionals. I combine Rescue Remedy with meditation and Tia chi.

And my secret weapon against anxiety... enter Bim

"Bim" photo by Leanne Dyck

Some days are better then others. I remain plugged in to emotions. When feeling strong, I engage. When not, I don't.

The physically challenged may not need to explain the hurdles they face. The neurodivergent? Ah, we are a horse with a different rider. 
'I have good days and bad. On the good people and even my family use it as an excuse to think that I'm perfectly fine, even making this up.' (p. 220 - 221)
I've encountered this type of thinking in my life regarding dyslexia. For example, I've been told, by people who are intending to be supportive, that I simply have low self-esteem. (Low self-esteem may be a product of dyslexia.) And so the implied message is that I don't really need extra support. I should just try harder. But as an University of Winnipeg professor said, "Would these people expect a person in a wheelchair to climb a flight of stairs?"

Lisa Genova ends Still Alice with a speech. In the speech Alice Howland says, ' "I encourage you to empower us, not limit us... Help us develop tools to function." ' (p. 253)

I concluded Rising Above Expectations, an essay I wrote for the anthology My Gutsy Life, with a poem...

I need you to know that I am capable -- 
even when I show my inability

I need you to have faith that I will be able to pick myself up when I fall.

I need you to let me show you what I'm capable of --
before you help me

I need you to shout at the top of your lungs, "Yes, you can!
If not now -- someday; if not without me -- with me."

I need you to believe in me, even when -- especially when -- I don't.


Lisa Genova writes:  'I spent a year querying literary agents... [When] the last agent...said, "No thanks." I said, "Okay, then. I've had enough of this. I'm self-publishing." '

Click this link to read more about Still Alice's journey to becoming a published book.

Next post...
Sunday, July 31
I've been invited to spend a fun afternoon with friends and so the next post will be published three hours early (around 2 PM PST)
Book review:  University professor Don Tillman is a special kind of man seeking a special kind of woman.
You:  Huh, I wonder what book she's going to review?
You:  Hey, I know that book. It's...

  Picture Books in Canada
The mission of The Willow Awards is to promote reading by granting a "Willow Award" to the Canadian and/or Saskatchewan book(s) voted by Saskatchewan students to be the best of those nominated in designated categories for a specific year.
In an effort to encourage participation by all children, regardless of level at which they are reading, three awards have been established.
The Shining Willow Award for books written for young readers [younger than grade 4] 
-Willow Awards website 

Sharing my author journey... 

You may recall that one of my Summer projects was to revise 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was first published in the late 50s and reprinted in the mid-60s, mid-80s, early 90s and early 2000s. That's one popular book.

One can only speculate as to why it is so popular. Is it the strong character voice? Is it the unique plot? Is it the quality of the writing?
'[O]n a hot night when everyone is out walking, or sitting in the theater, there is a rustling, and for a moment I brush against someone and sense the connection between the branch and trunk and the deep root. At such moments my flesh is thin and tight, and the unbearable hunger to be part of it drives me out to search in the dark corners and blind alleys of the night.' (p. 197)

Perhaps Flowers for Algernon addresses a subject that goes largely unnoticed, from a perceptive that remains novel.

The book is comprised of a series of progress reports written by the protagonist Charlie Gordon. I meet Charlie in junior high (middle school). The first thing I noticed about the progress reports were the spelling mistakes. I noticed them because they were similar to the ones I made.

Charlie writes... 'How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes -- how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.' (p. 199)

I knew I was stupid because I had trouble with things the other kids found easy -- like spelling. Often this meant that I was fuel for the class clown.

Charlie writes... 'People think it's funny when a dumb person can't do things the same way they can.' (p. 43)

I longed to take a pill or undergo an operation that would have made me "Normal".  

After the operation is proven to be a success, Charlie writes... 'Am I a genius? I don't think so. Not yet anyway. As Burt would put it... I'm exceptional -- a democratic term used to avoid the damning labels of gifted and deprived (which used to mean bright and retarded) and as soon as exceptional begins to mean anything to anyone they'll change it. The idea seems to be:  use an expression only as long as it doesn't mean anything to anybody. Exceptional refers to both ends of the spectrum, so all my life I've been exceptional.' (p. 153)

This book is truly unique in that it not only comments on how society sees the intellectually challenged but also the gifted. Society sees the challenged as less then human. The gifted are emotionless robots. Isn't it  sad that society's attitude has remained largely consistent on this matter since the late 50s?

Charlie learns that being a genius isn't all he had hoped it would be. Even with his advanced intellect, he's not as smart as he would have hoped. And neither is anyone else. They are all frauds in his eyes.

So what is the answer? Maybe it is to be happy with what you have. Maybe it is to do the best you can with what you have been given. Maybe it is to realize that under the right set of circumstances we are far more alike then we are different. Maybe we need to realize that we all have two sides to our intellect:  an over trusting moron and a brilliant egoist.

Next post:  Post published on Sunday, July 24th around 5 PM
We'll play this game again.
Book blurb:  A Harvard university professor loses her battle with Alzheimer's, but learns that she's more than just a brain.

(photo by Leanne Dyck)
Picture Books in Canada

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
'The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, established in 2006, honours excellence in the illustrated picture book format.'
For more information, please click this link

(photo by Leanne Dyck)
Sharing my author journey...

This week was full of surprises.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

4 books that changed my life by Leanne Dyck

What are the books that changed your life?

Here's my answer...

I can't remember life without a pen. And before that I told stories to puppies and kittens. When I wasn't telling the stories I was listening to them. All this listening and all this writing inevitably lead me to want to write a book.

1st Question:  Can I write a book?

It seemed like an unreachable goal. In a blog post I wrote 'even a short book is over 100 pages'.

So how did I achieve this goal?

By writing one short story after another.

an audio book a collection of knitting-themed short stories
published in 2006

2nd Question:  Can I sell my book?

is a short (approximately 35,000 words) mystery 
set on Mayne Island 
published in 2009

As I wrote the final chapter, I worked on the marketing plan. I envisioned my target reader and devised plans to reach her. These plans included a book launch featuring Mayne Island musicians. This book served as an introduce to the publishing industry. I learned what is involved in the publishing and marketing of books. I sold over 200 copies (through several bookstores and directly to readers). Maynely A Mystery was a Mayne Island best seller.

3rd Question:  Can I find a publisher?

The success of Maynely A Mystery inspired me to take (what I viewed as) the next step--finding a publisher for The Sweater Curse a novella-length paranormal thriller. Novellas are challenging to place. I searched the Internet. Bono Bookstore (imprint of Decadent Publishing) taught me how to work with a publishing house. My writing benefited at the hands of skilled editors. I worked with other authors to develop marketing plans for our books. 

Link to a YouTube video of me reading from this book

4th Question:  Can I build a writing career?

Novelty Yarn taught me that I could write a book.
Maynely A Mystery taught me that I could market a book.
The Sweater Curse taught me that I can find a publisher.
You, dear reader, taught me that I can build a supportive community.

And now I'm ready to work with publishers to build a career in writing.

(photo by Leanne Dyck)


Please click this link for my complete publishing history


Next post:  July 17th (around 5 PM) 
(a clue from me to you) Logline:  An operation to increase intellect fails, but the experience teaches a man with down syndrome that there are more important things than intelligence. 
The book is... 

(photo by Leanne Dyck)
Picture Books in Canada

'Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable is one of many Children's Literature Roundtables across Canada. We are a varied group of educators, librarians, parents, authors, illustrators and other professionals who meet 5-7 times between September and June to celebrate and promote children's literature. Our programs are varied and offer something to everyone. Children's literature enthusiasts are always welcome.' -quote from the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable website 

For more information, please click this link and this one 

  Sharing my author journey...
A black blanket, studded with a sliver moon and twinkling stars covered the earth...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sarren's Curse (short story) 2 of 2 by Leanne Dyck

Re-capping part one:  Plagued by her muse, Sarren desperately seeks Doctor Zimmerman's help. But instead of helping her, the doctor seems to be seduced by her stories.

Link to part one

(Is that a clothesline? Is that a dress? Photo by Leanne Dyck)

Sarren returned and Doctor Zimmerman learned that just as interesting as the manuscripts was the true story behind the written words. Session by session, he unearthed the trail that had led Sarren to his office. It wasn't easy work. Much of the path was old and overgrown with weeds. She'd begun the journey as a preteen. Back then, she often had a pen in hand. Intoxicated by the sweet smell of ink, she'd bring the tip of the pen down onto a blank piece of crisp paper and before she fully realized what she was doing a story had been created. The young Sarren would have been content to carry on like this, filling notebook after notebook with stories, if not for her mother.

Heavy pounding on the door, a harsh voice cutting through the wood. "Go outside! It's unnatural to be cooped up all day!" No invitation was requested, none was granted, but still the door flew open. "Your sisters go shopping with the popular girls, date hockey players but all you do is live in your bedroom. Don't waste your life!"

Sarren learned to hid her stories. She squirreled them away in a cardboard filing box under her bed. She thought they were safe but one day, she returned from school, to find her notebooks spread out on the kitchen table. Her mother was pawing through them with red pen in hand. Story after story had been torn apart. Whole passages were circled. Critiques -- boring, incomplete thought, wordy, repetitive -- were scrolled, like graffiti, in the margins. "I'd love to tell you that you had talented. You know I would. But I love you too much to delude you. I'd never be that cruel. The sooner you put this silly phase behind you, the happier you'll be."

So Sarren turned her back on the writing life. She learned how to resist the lure of the blank page. She  learned not to pick up a pen. 

Years passed, Sarren moved away from home. She gained employment wiping tables and serving customers. But her love for story continued to grew. She filled her small apartment with books. One of her favourite haunts was her local library; the staff at her local bookstore knew her by name. 

One day, her sisters invited her to lunch. "Mom's cancer is getting worse," they informed her. "We'd be there for her, if we could be but our lives are too full. Our kids, our clients need us. But you don't have those responsibilities." 

Sarren didn't waste words disagreeing. She simply kept vigil by her mother's bedside. She was there to consult with the palliative care staff and to console her mother even in the dead of night. It was exhausting. But Sarren bore the weight without complaint. And she watched cancer eat away at the woman she'd believed was made of iron. The night cancer took the last bite, Sarren heard a sound she hadn't heard in years--voices, stories.

"And that's what brought me here to you," she told Dr. Zimmerman. "I don't want to write. It's a waste of time. I don't have any talent."

"Is that truly how you feel or what you've simply been led to believe?" He closed his notebook and retrieved one of Sarren's manuscript from the side table. "Your stories do have literary merit, you do have talent. And although you may be the creator, you're not the sole owner." He noticed her puzzled expression. "Stories are written for readers. Yours is a talent that's meant to be shared." He set the manuscript down. "Is the problem lack of sleep or that you're driven to write? If I told you that you could write and get the proper amount of sleep, would you be interested in learning how?"

It was like someone had dumped a bucket of water over her head. He says I have Maybe I can write. She answered quickly. "Yeah, of course."

"Good." His face eased into a grin. "I suggest you go to bed and wake up an hour earlier. As soon as you wake, spend at least ten minutes writing. It doesn't matter what you write about, simply write. This will train your creative unconscious to be more in tune with your wake/sleep cycle. I caution you against expecting an immediate cure. It will take time. But if you believe this will work and are faithful to this strategy, you will receive the benefit. Are you interested in giving it a try?"

That night she went to bed an hour early but she tossed and turned all night long. The voices refused to leave her alone.

In the morning, her alarm clock rang, and still groggy from lack of sleep, Sarren stumbled out of bed. She stood in front of her full length mirror and peered through the fog at her reflection. "Dr. Zimmerman told me that this will work and it will. All I need is time."

She poured herself a mug of coffee and grabbed a pen and piece of paper. Mostly what she wrote was 'I need more sleep' but she wrote for ten minutes.

Night after night after night, Sarren continued to stick with the strategy. She could hardly believe it when one morning she woke rested and realized she'd slept through the entire night. She recorded the momentous event in her journal but instead of writing for ten minutes, she wrote for twenty. It was Saturday, she had the time.

Occasionally, Sarren still did have sleepless nights -- especially when she was in the middle of writing a story or when she was encountering difficulties with plot or character development or another aspect of her writing--but those nights were rare.

Through her writing, Sarren explored some of the issues she had with her family. She wrote a poem about the joys of writing that she titled For Mom. She wrote a short play that drew inspiration from her relationship with her sisters. The act of writing these pieces and sharing them with a supportive writing group transformed Sarren. She walked taller and spoke louder. For the first time in her life, she was proud of who she was and what she could create.

(What do you see? Photo by Leanne Dyck)

Next post: Sunday, July 10 (approximately 5 pm) 
4 books that changed my life
If someone where to ask you, "Hey, what book(s) changed your life?"
What would be your answer?
I hope you'll visit this blog to read my reply.

Picture Books in Canada
The Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) is a national, not-for-profit organization dedicated to encouraging, promoting and supporting the reading, writing, illustrating and publishing of Canadian books for young readers. 

Sharing my author journey...

Characters aren't just talking heads. I thought I knew this. But