The Fate – Fire – Shifter – Dragon universe may be science fiction, but Rysa, the heroine of Games of Fate, is based on a real young woman, with real Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I wrote this book for her, and for all the young women like her. – Games of Fate dedication.
Rysa Torres, the selfless-yet-hyperactive heroine of Games of Fate, is based on the living, breathing human who happens to be my daughter. The universe of Fates, Burners, Shifters, and dragons might not be real but she is, and she lives her life inside a mind very much like Rysa’s — fast, furious, and vivid.
Girls with ADHD aren’t, for the most part, “heroine” material. They suffer self-esteem issues. They tend to bounce and be annoying. They can’t hold focus. Who would want to follow such a girl into battle? But, like my daughter, they can be strong, smart, and willing to save the world.
A young woman with ADHD can be the hero. Her journey is just a little more chaotic than it is plucky.
My daughter recently returned to her college campus to start her sophomore year, but today, she asked to share her real world with the readers of her fictional self.
“Suzu,” as she’s called in this interview (because sometimes a little bit of privacy is a nice thing)*, was diagnosed early with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The challenges of growing up a girl like Rysa in Games of Fate – being kicked out of class because of her hyperactivity, feeling overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, and the acute sensitivity to how other people disapprove – were all present in Suzu’s school years.
We sat down around my kitchen table, under our grand window overlooking our backyard with its wild turkeys and deer. We listened to the neighborhood lawnmowers and smelled the savory, smoky wonder of early September grilling. And we talked.
We were lucky enough to be joined by the young woman who graces the cover of Games of Fate. Suzu and Kitsu aren’t the same person, but they are fast friends. Both have insights into the ADHD mind.
Me: Welcome, ladies. Should we start with the basics?
Suzu: I’d say the big things are fidgets, filters, focus, and having way too much energy.
Kitsu: Sounds about right.
Me: How would you describe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Suzu: Okay, so, most people have filters on what’s coming in. I don’t. To my brain, the TV blasting upstairs is just as important as the conversation we’re having right now. The tapping on the keyboard is a constant distraction, even the fact that my phone’s sitting here, closed, doesn’t help.
Me: When I was in grad school and I taught psychology to student teachers, we touched on the neuropsychology of the executive functions located in the frontal lobes just above the eyes. ADHD appears to be connected to differences in frontal lobe processing, at least for some individuals.
Kitsu: I don’t have ADHD, but I do have other issues that help me understand Rysa’s character. Many parts of social anxiety feel very much like not being able to filter, though on a more person-to-person level than person-to-world.
Suzu: The fact that I have to consciously compensate for my lack of filters really hurts my working memory.
Me: When I taught, we also hammered home the connection between working memory and academic performance. If a student’s conscious processing is filled with overstimulation, or hunger, or fear, they can’t learn.
Suzu: As my grades showed.
Kitsu: Social anxiety does something similar. It fills up your head and you can’t think about anything else until the anxiety fades.
Suzu: I read that a lot of people with ADHD also have social anxiety. I can’t “ignore” criticism, it comes in at equal weight like everything else, and then my brain flags it as a possible threat. Once my brain’s convinced there’s a threat, my anxiety goes through the roof.
That reminds me of a story: When I was in school, especially middle school, I’d play with paper a lot. I did origami – little swans, little boxes, whatever the paper-folding fad of the day was. This time around, it was little paper “throwing stars”. I’d flip them around in my fingers so I wasn’t going crazy from being forced to sit there. Better than tapping my foot, anyway.
Kitsu: That’s what the teachers thought.
Suzu: Fidgets provide something I have some control over – an input I can use to “block” or “replace” other things coming into my mind from around me.
The teachers didn’t like me playing with paper. I got scolded a lot for it. But this time, it was really bad – a para pulled me out of class because I wouldn’t let them take it away from me. Apparently kids had been throwing them at each other and they were afraid of people getting hurt. I tried to tell her I was using it as a fidget and had deliberately constructed it to be harmless.
What she did next stuck with me to this day: She started screaming at me about “Well, you better have a diagnosis for that!” I freaked out. I didn’t know how to respond. I think I might have started crying. I had a diagnosis. My IEP was on file. She was there to help me because of my diagnosis but she wasn’t.
From then on, I never trusted the school again. They weren’t trying to help me. They just wanted me to be “normal” so I wouldn’t make a scene. No matter how many classes I failed, no matter how much my trust in anyone claiming to wanting to help me dwindled. They didn’t give a shit.
I was kinda nuts when I was a little kid – threw tantrums in school, that sort of thing. They kept me in the special ed room in first grade, and I spent most of my time hiding in a teepee. Thing is, I really wasn’t that bad. It’s just… my little kid brain realized the only time I actually got any help was when I was so crazy they couldn’t ignore it. And so I tried to game the system the only way a 7-year-old knew how.
Kitsu: My half-brother has ADHD. He gets really excited and does impulsive stuff. One day he cracked his head open in a moment of impulse. But as a boy with ADHD, his ADHD was treated as “real” and people paid attention to his problems because of it. In our area, people pay attention when a boy gets overstimmed. Girls are told it’s their fault, are punished because they can’t sit quiet, or yelled at when they can’t comply. At least that’s how it was at our middle and high school.
Suzu: Yes. I guess what I’m trying to say here is this: Rysa’s trains of thought are smoothed out for the reader. If you’re exhausted reading her point of view, imagine how tiring it is to have to live the real version. You can put the book down and walk away. I can’t. That’s what I have to live with, every second of every day. And every time someone says “just get over it,” that’s another person trying to tell me that what’s going on in my head isn’t real. That I’m not real.
Me: In my new FFSD story (Silent, available early November), I have Rysa’s friend Gavin dealing with an enhancement via his high-tech hearing aids. He’s hearing everything and it’s overpowering, especially for this young man who’s spent the last nine years of his life in semi-silence.
There’s a moment where he stops and wonders if this is how Rysa lives.
Suzu: Pretty much, yeah. But his brain is wired to sort things for him.
Me: True. Gavin quickly becomes accustomed to his new superpower. If it were Rysa, it would be like her Fate abilities manifesting all over again – continuous and all-consuming.
Kitsu: I think the vividness of Rysa’s visions show her ADHD well. They’re wild and chaotic, but she’s aware of everything in them, including the emotions.
Suzu: I can’t handle strong emotions – I get worked up, I stay worked up, and it feeds on itself until I either step away and reorient or go into overload. For me, horror fiction with lots of jump scares is a recipe for disaster. Even moments in stories where the protagonist runs into a big misunderstanding or makes a big mistake are too much a lot of the time, and I wind up skipping pages. It’s easier to handle positive emotions – they mostly make me want to run around a lot, but negative emotions are painful. And that’s not exaggerating.
Me: We noticed that when you were little. You’d hide during loud cartoons. I think that’s why you only liked “Blue’s Clues” as a child.
Suzu: In Games of Fate, Rysa’s in a constant rush. She doesn’t have a moment to step into a dark place and take deep breaths, or play a video game, or put on her headphones. It just piles on and gets worse and worse, and her anxiety’s whispering in her ear that it’s her fault.
Kitsu: I understand the self-esteem and social anxiety issues involved with ADHD. The being too sensitive to the possibility that you’re the root of all of the problems, so to speak. Thankfully in the story, Rysa has the support of Ladon and Dragon.
Me: Unlike Suzu’s para in middle school, Ladon and Dragon don’t judge. They understand.
Suzu: Not everyone understands.
Kitsu: Or wants to make the effort to understand.
When talking about a book, saying “I was confused,” or “It wasn’t what I expected,” are legitimate, valid responses. But misrepresenting a book and the characters is not.
Kitsu: I want to say right now that Suzu and I asked Ms. Radcliffe to write a response to a few points we felt needed to be addressed.
Me: What would you like to say?
Suzu: A lot of people seem to be asking why Rysa doesn’t just get over her ADHD. Why do you have to keep writing it like that? Why doesn’t the character calm down and stop having vivid visions? It seems to make some readers mad.
You can’t just get over it. Imagine it this way: You see something as orange, and everyone around you keeps telling you it’s red. They call you crazy, laugh at you, because you just aren’t seeing it right. They tell you that you just need to work harder. And every time you’re told this, you start to slide a little more into thinking they’re correct. That you’re a broken, stupid, crazy person. And all those little incidents become too much to bear and you’re sitting in the bathroom crying because going out there is just too much. That’s ADHD.
Kitsu: It takes awhile for feelings like that to go away. It’s all part of the emotional sensitivity we were talking about earlier.
Suzu: My life is alien to most people. I get it. But Rysa is an opportunity for others to understand. It would be helpful to girls like me if other people tried not to judge.
Me: I understand being annoyed by a character who is frantic all the time, if that character is without issues. But Rysa carries a diagnosis.
Suzu: When Rysa’s thoughts are called invalid by saying she needs to “get over it,” or more horrifically, by saying her emotional responses to Ladon are invalid because a college student would never act that way, the character is invalidated.
Saying that Rysa’s responses to her situation can only happen because of the actions of another character – that a realistic character could only be traumatized by abuse or rape at the hands of her ex-boyfriend – is saying that the Rysa’s character is invalid. Her disability is discounted and waved away as something fake. Her emotions and her thoughts could not possibly be those of a legitimate person.
Me: This is particularly upsetting because I detail in the book how Rysa’s ex-boyfriend, Tom, dies horribly while they are dating. All the ADHD aside, how is this not traumatic enough to validate her conscious fear of her new relationship? Why does she need to be abused or raped in order to have a negative reaction?
From upstairs, Mr. Radcliffe, who is listening in on this conversation, chimes in: People drop out of school all the time because people in their lives pass away. All the time. If you want, I’ll put you in contact with one of our student counselors.
Me: I thought a dead ex-boyfriend was pretty darned traumatic. Rysa and Ladon spend almost an entire emotional chapter discussing how her ex’s death affects her.
Kitsu: It is traumatic. Commenting that abuse is necessary is disgusting. Insinuating that a woman needs to be raped in order to be traumatized makes me physically ill.
Suzu: We thought that the question of Rysa’s agency needed to be addressed in a wider sense. It touches on all the issues of ADHD and that particular view that it’s an invalid disorder.
Me: I may be a tad oversensitive, but I see young women with ADHD as a vulnerable population. But that’s a mom’s eye view. It is, though, why I agreed to do this.
Kitsu: We’d like to talk about something else, too.
Kitsu: Rysa’s sexuality is not subtext for how “good girls can’t have sex.”
Me: “Good girls can’t have sex” is not part of the story. Once Rysa moves past her fear of hurting Ladon, they’re all over each other. The middle of Flux of Skin (book two) is devoted to Rysa learning to be comfortable with loving Ladon and leaving her fear behind forever.
Kitsu: The way I read it, Rysa consciously resists touching him because of her anxiety, and unconsciously doesn’t resist because she’s, well, not thinking about how afraid she is when she’s in a vision. She’s concentrating on their connection.
If you say that the character’s emotions are invalid, you’re going to go fishing for some excuse to justify why you discount her fear. And you’re going to come up with some easy-access trope you think you understand, like “goods girls don’t have sex.”
Me: Ah. (grins) See, this is why I pay Suzu’s college tuition. You both have a better understanding of how to read texts than those of us with film degrees and graduate work in psychology.
Suzu: It’s because of the internet.
Kitsu: We play a lot of games. We like to rip the worlds of those games apart, analyze them, and put them back together.
Me: (laughs) That, you do.
Kitsu: We know where the FFSD stories are going. How you’re working on unpacking Ladon’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder right alongside Rysa’s ADHD.
Me: I am. After talking with the two of you, I’m beginning to wonder how Ladon’s responses to Rysa could be seen in the same invalidating light, even though they are just as real to his PTSD as hers are to her ADHD.
Suzu: Something to think about for another day?
Me: Yes. Thank you, both of you. Thank you for doing this. If it helps just one person, it’s been worth it.
Kitsu: Yes. You’re welcome.
THE FATE – FIRE – SHIFTER – DRAGON SERIES:
ACTIVATION includes: GAMES OF FATE, FLUX OF SKIN, FIFTH OF BLOOD, plus the shorts CONPUSLIO and POP ROCKS.
Available October 16, 2014.
Rysa Torres: The Fate who will burn the world.
Ladon Drake: The only man capable of stopping the inevitable rain of fire.
Ghouls called Burners see Rysa as their savior. The past-, present-, and future-seeing Fates see her as the ultimate weapon against the coming apocalypse. And the Shifters just want her dead.
But Rysa is much more than the overwhelmed young woman Ladon and his companion beast, Dragon, find. She sees beyond the weight of the burdens he carries: She’s his key to forgiveness.
Trilogy One of the Fate – Fire – Shifter – Dragon series pits Rysa, Ladon, and Dragon against the worst Burners, Fates, and Shifters on Earth—and their own demons. Will their love be enough to keep them alive?
The Fate Fire Shifter Dragon series begins with the Activation Trilogy:
Games of Fate: Rysa Torres stumbles through life as she fights against her ADHD. But when monsters activate a hidden power, Rysa becomes the Fate at the center of an epic battle against a terrifying future—and a world consumed by fire.
When Ladon and Dragon find Rysa, they see the hell a young Fate might unleash. But Ladon quickly realizes Rysa is much more than the daughter of an old enemy—she is his key to forgiveness.
Will they accept the future, or will they break the bonds of fate?
Two Fates bound by the rigidity of the past and the arrogance of the future.
One Shifter with a gift too vile to use.
And a man and a dragon who must save them from the mountain’s smoldering anger—and the weight of their souls’ ashes.
Conpulsio is now available as part of Itch: Nine Tales of Fantastic Worlds.
Flux of Skin: Century after century, the need to do battle with with malicious Fates, Shifters, and Burners always won. The world needed Ladon. So he fought. But now he’s left his past, and his violence, behind. He found a new way: A quiet, modern life with his beloved Rysa.
When a vicious group of Shifters rains death down onto everyone he loves, Rysa’s developing abilities turn into a raging cyclone. Her body—and his mind—rip apart. Violence edges back in. But Ladon needs to find the strength to save his family before his rupturing soul destroys everything….
Fifth of Blood: An insane Shifter stole Rysa’s talisman, jacked her body, and caused her abilities to nova. Now, she wastes away in front of Ladon’s eyes and he can’t stop the power that’s eating her alive.
Watching her anguish triggers flashbacks. When Ladon’s soul ruptures, only Rysa holds the cure he needs. But she’s too far away to stop what’s eating him alive.
With the help of the newly-healed, newly-invincible Derek, Rysa runs from the worst Fates and Burners on the planet as she desperately tries to heal Ladon—and herself. Can she solve their problems—and recover her talisman—before the long immortal find their prey?
More in the Fate – Fire – Shifter – Dragon universe:
Daisy Reynolds might be taller and more athletic than the average seventeen-year-old, but she doesn’t make waves. Hiding from her klepto mom’s terrifying Shifter ex-boss makes an invisible life necessary. But when a Burner—a chaos ghoul—gets a whiff of Daisy, hiding turns into running for her life.
Daisy soon realizes the conflicts around her run deeper than nasty ghouls and mean Shifters looking to beat up her mom. Future-seeing Fates want a piece of her, too.
But some fates cannot be escaped unless you have courage… and an unlikely ally.
Bonds, Episode One of The Silence Cycle, introduces Daisy Reynolds Pavlovich, an important new character to the Fate – Fire – Shifter – Dragon universe. Join Daisy as she navigates a landscape punctuated by unfamiliar creatures:
Fates with the ability to see past, present, and future.
Ghouls called Burners who devour with fire and acid.
Shifters who shape much more than their bodies.
And two dragons who speak with color and pattern.
After Daisy Reynolds’s friend and protector vanishes into the desert, she realizes one option remains: Leave San Diego for Branson, Missouri, and ask for help at the bar favored by the dragons.
The Shifters at The Land of Milk and Honey hold the key to finding her missing father, but they also have the power to compel her to spill her secrets. When threatened with an enthralling, Daisy runs.
But bad people take advantage of the threatened and the vulnerable—and escaping a very bad person soon becomes Daisy’s only option for survival…
Warning: While not graphic, the situations depicted in Broken are at times difficult and brutal, and for adult readers only.
Watch for Silent, Episode Three of the Silence Cycle, available November, 2014.
As a child, a horrendous accident stole Gavin Bower’s hearing. He wears aids and he lives his life. He’s pre-med. But the night the Burners come for his best friend, Gavin suddenly finds himself drowning in a new world of Fates, Shifters, and Burners—until Daisy Reynolds Pavlovich saves his life.
While Gavin’s best friend, Rysa Torres, fights for her life three states away, Gavin and Daisy fight their own battle. Together, they realize Gavin holds a gift that could save Daisy’s mother. And together, they work to take down the most powerful Shifter syndicate on the planet.
Join Rysa, Ladon, Daisy, and all the characters of the Fate – Fire – Shifter – Dragon universe in Book Four, All But Human, available in early 2015.
*Suzu is short for Suzuran, the Japanese word for lily of the valley. On its own, it means “bell”. There’s no deep meaning to it, or anything, I just liked the way it sounded and enjoyed the symbolism of a pretty but poisonous flower.
I’ve always preferred using screen names over my real name online, because I enjoy maintaining some distance between my internet activity and my real-world activity. There’s two main reasons for it: I enjoy having a degree of separation between my “personal” and “professional” activity, and it gives me a slight privacy buffer that makes it harder to trace my identity online. I’ve been starting to loosen that, as I prepare to start doing more professional things as an aspiring independent game developer, but the separation is still very important to me.
“Kitsu” similarly is short for “Kitsune”, the Japanese word for fox. I applied to to myself in 7th grade, friends shortened it to Kitsu, and Kitsu stuck.
I love foxes, the symbolism of them. Sounds nicer than “Fox” and has a lot less negative connotation amongst English speakers than “Foxy”. ‘Kitsu’ itself also doubles as being an eerily popular on the web as a screen-name.