Stina Leicht is an author that I’ve recently come across via Twitter (of course). I was so enamored by her online presence, her kindness and her insights that I decided I absolutely had to read Of Blood and Honey. Let me tell you, Of Blood and Honey is, hands down, one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. I’ll review it after this event has completed, but for now I have to say that this book really shows of Stina’s incredible depth and I honestly can’t begin to imagine how much research went into writing such an informative, captivating and realistic book. She isn’t just an author whose talent I appreciate, she’s an author whose mind I admire. Stina is one of those people I’ll be watching for a long time, because she has proven herself to be such a formidable author and a wonderful person all around.
When I approached Stina to write something for this event I was less than halfway into Of Blood and Honey. The reason I asked her to be part of Special Needs in Strange Worlds was because I was really struck by Liam’s inability to read and appreciated the unique depth that brought to his character and the insight into how things on an educational level worked in Northern Ireland in the 70’s. I feel rather odd that I was so excited by that aspect of Liam’s character, but I was. It really made an already amazing book that much more incredible to me. Liam isn’t perfect, and his imperfections add an incredible, subtle zing to the book that I really would have missed had it not been there.
I’m beyond thrilled that she was willing to write something for my paltry blog and I hope she is warmly welcomed.
About the author
Stina Leicht was born in St. Louis. She went to Catholic school, learned to skate, fought pirates, and rescued her sister’s dolls from terrible fates. Her father, being a practical-minded person, didn’t wish for his children to believe in anything that wasn’t real. Unfortunately for him, her mother soon hired an Irish babysitter with a gift for storytelling and then armed her with a three inch thick volume of fairy tales. Thus, Stina’s future as a practical-minded person was forever doomed. (Not that practical-minded girls are known for pirate fighting). Reading on her own didn’t come easily. So it wasn’t until she was eight that she discovered the magic of books. Strangely, the first story that motivated her to read wasn’t fiction. It was a biography of Hellen Keller. She hasn’t stopped reading since. Currently, Stina is a fantasy writer. She lives in central Texas with her husband, their shared library and a cat named Sebastian. She still fights pirates but traded in her trusty wooden stick for a rapier and dagger. Of course, pirate ships being somewhat rare in central Texas, she makes due with her friend’s back yard — which is fine because she gets stabbed quite a lot and would only end up in the sea anyway.
Conflict makes a story, and tension is what keeps a reader reading. Let’s face it. Perfection is dead boring. Real human beings have flaws, make mistakes, become broken, have accidents, heal, acquire scars, and most certainly have problems. Layering conflicts creates stories with depth. (In much the same way that Verner Vinge’s rules for great scenes layer plot, character development, and background all at once.) That said, I try to give my main characters some sort of flaw in addition to their plot-related problems. In the Fey and the Fallen novels, the main character, Liam Kelly, is a working class Catholic who thinks his father is a Protestant who died or vanished before he was born. Actually, Liam’s father is a shapeshifting member of the legendary fey warriors, the Fianna. Liam becomes involved in The Troubles and eventually becomes a wheelman for an IRA bank-robbing unit. Liam has a number of challenging character flaws, not the least of which is dyslexia.
During my research, I discovered that most working class kids in 1970s Northern Ireland dropped out of school at age fifteen or sixteen. Also, illiteracy was high among working class men. Jobs were scarce too.* With slim hope of a real future, there was very little reason for kids to stay in school. In that kind of environment, chances were high that Liam would’ve been a drop out. However, I was afraid it might be tough for an American reader to identify with him. That’s when I decided to give him a learning disorder. Americans today know what that means. As it happens, I’m mildly dyslexic. In the 1970s no one knew what dyslexia was — or if they did, they weren’t teaching at my school. So, I spent the first few years of grade school wondering why people bothered to read. (It wasn’t until I discovered books that I had a reason to learn.) In Liam’s case, the chances of getting himself past that obstacle (as I did) would be next to none. He’d have very few resources. For example, I had access to cheap books through the Scholastic Books program which gave me ample motivation. He wouldn’t. Plus, he’d face outside anxieties and pressures I never did — dangerous outside pressures. So, Liam is functionally illiterate in the beginning. It isn’t until later when he gets help that he finally graduates from school. However, his handwriting will never be up to par, and he avoids writing as much as possible. All in all, dyslexia doesn’t define Liam as a character, and it shouldn’t. It’s just a small part of him. It affects his self-confidence, certainly, but It isn’t a vital part of the plot. That’s why I don’t draw much attention to it. I let the reader figure it out for themselves.
It’s important to note that just because Liam has dyslexia doesn’t mean that he’s stupid. Studies have shown that dyslexics tend to be more creative thinkers because they’ve trained themselves on a base level to solve everyday problems in non-standard ways. They have to in order to function. In any case, I didn’t realize that I’d done anything unusual by creating a dyslexic character for adult fiction until Sarah pointed it out. When I think about it now, I suppose I did, but it wasn’t my goal. Liam was always meant to be an average kid born in a non-average, highly stressful environment.
* At the start of The Troubles, the unemployment rate among Catholic males was about 17.3%. By 1984 it had reached as high as 35%. That was the average. In some areas the unemployment rate among Catholic males was as high as 56%. (from the University of Ulster CAIN website)
If you haven’t read Of Blood and Honey, I really think you should stop reading this and get your hands on a copy of that book. It honestly blew me away.