It is human nature to label people by personality type, learning abilities, social skills, and so on and then segregate those into groups in order to make broad assumptions about those that are tagged with various labels.
Some labels can be quite complementary: You are so creative. You are a genius. You are highly energetic.
Others are not so much. You are not realistic. You are out of touch. You are unfocused.
Two sides of the same coin. Unfortunately, the tendency to focus on the negative tends to blind us to the absolute brilliance that those we label as ‘different’ bring to the world. In the Shockpockets’ time and society, the family struggles to achieve recognition as legitimate scientists. They are repeatedly labeled as eccentric and an embarrassment to the conventional scientific establishment.
In a recent book review of The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket – Victoria, by Leslie Orton of The Aether Chronicle, Leslie mentioned that this is a family that refuses to be defined by others rules and uses its unique talents to persevere and grow as a family. We followed that review up with an interview to talk a bit more about labels and personalities and the back message in the Shockpocket series. Here is the interview from Aether Chronicle editor Leslie Orton
In my recent review of The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket – Victoria, I noted the family members are unique role models who refuse to be defined by anyone else’s rules. Shortly after publishing the review, Shockpocket author, Henry Walton, contacted me to say that he was thrilled that I had picked up on the personal idiosyncrasies of the Shockpockets and wondered if other readers understood the back stories and messages in the journals. We agreed to do an interview so that Henry could expand on the story behind the story.
LESLIE: When you contacted me, you seemed mildly surprised that I commented on the Shockpocket family member’s unique personalities and their perseverance in spite of those. Why did that surprise you?
HENRY: Well, first and foremost, I write the Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket to be a fun read and make people laugh out loud. When I started the series I did not set out to create a family of characters that exhibit what today would be labeled as a collection of learning disabilities or any number of other current diagnoses such as ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum, and so on. But, as the stories evolved, the individual characters became more fleshed out and, to my surprise, the Shockpockets became a family of very unique individuals that keep their chins up in the face of adversity and never bend to the pressures of society to conform. In spite of the character evolution I felt the personality traits and their importance to the story might be lost in the overall story and humor.
LESLIE: If the Shockpockets lived today, how would they be described based on their unique personalities?
HENRY: That is a great question. We, as a society, not only identify those people that we perceive as being outside of a narrow band that we call The Norm, we also create labels for those individuals. If Thaddeaus lived today, people would see that he is unable to concentrate on one thing at a time. In conversation, he jumps from topic to topic and is constantly coming up with new ideas and inventions. He is highly intelligent in several areas of science, but is unable to focus on just one. Today he would probably be labeled as attention deficit.
Sherlock appears to march to the beat of his own drummer and stays mostly to himself. He only wears kilts, he says, because he likes them. What he never confides is that the feel of cloth against is skin is highly irritating. He prefers to be along in the library reading because too much noise overloads his senses and causes him stress. He is very focused on details and this attention to order makes him extraordinarily good at designing mechanical devices. Were Sherlock to be here today, he would possibly be diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.
Tweak may be the character type that is easiest to identify. She is always spinning and dancing and never sits still. When she is happy, which is most of the time, she is on top of the world. On the other hand, when she is down it is best to stay away from her as her down times are dark indeed. She might be labeled as slightly Hyperactive and, given her mood swings, a bit Manic Depressive.
Katherine may be the most mainstream of the family. She is fairly level headed and is the rock of stability that the family can always fall back on. But even she might be labeled due to her soft spoken nature and preference to spend her days reading and studying other cultures. Her label would probably be Introverted.
LESLIE: Did society have similar labels for unique personalities in the time of the Shockpockets?
HENRY: The Shockpockets lived at the end of the Victorian Era and into the Edwardian Era. Psychology was refining its definitions of personality traits and the medical community was developing a number of new diagnosis and terms, but these were not widely used in public and it would have been more likely for the personalities of the Shockpockets to have been labeled with street terms for their behaviors.
Thaddeaus may have been called absent minded and eccentric. Sherlock might simply have been called an odd duck. Tweak would probably have been called spirited and moody, and some would have said she had the fidgets. If Katherine were labeled at all, she might have been called shy and less than sociable.
LESLIE: So how do these four characters and their unique personalities play into the adventures and experiences of the Shockpockets and what is the back story you refer to?
HENRY: These are four people that are pushed away from their peers because of they are outside of the norm. Thaddeaus is fired from the University after the unfortunate incident with his pet chimpanzee at the king’s birthday party and he is regularly ridiculed by other scientists, first and foremost his former college friend Wallace Bogglesworth. Sherlock is considered an outsider in his school in England and is probably better off for accidentally spending several years of his youth in the Amazon jungle as an adopted member of a local tribe. There, he was not held to the same standards as in his homeland. Instead he was held in high esteem for his house building skills and for introducing kilts to the tribe and this helped him grow into a confident young man. Tweak would rather get her hands dirty, create new inventions and fly about in an airplane or airship than take tea with other girls in the local village. And Katherine would rather stay in the study and read about other cultures than participate in the local womens’ horticultural society.
In spite of not fitting in with the rest of turn-of-the-century society, they make innovative contributions to the world and enjoy the adventure that is life. The message of the story is relevant today for all of us. Many, if not most of us, have at one time or another been labeled, or are guilty of labeling others, as odd or dysfunctional. The message is to relax, be happy with yourself and enjoy this crazy adventure that is our lives. There is only one person like you in the universe and there will never be another.
LESLIE: Do you bring any personal experiences to the stories and personalities?
HENRY: I suppose I do. We all probably know of people that exhibit these personalities, perhaps even ourselves. To some degree I am Thaddeaus. I have a very short attention span but love to learn about everything. I like to read, but if a book is thick and has a small type font, I will not even attempt to read it. I prefer to read short stories and that is, in large part, why The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket is written in the format it is. Each book is only around twenty-five thousand words. Within the main story arc are several sub-stories, each one making up a single chapter. This is by design so that anyone can pick up the Journals and consume them in small bits.
As far as experience with others that exhibit personalities outside of the mainstream, I am happy to say I know countless people that fit all of these labels and more and I think they are all absolutely brilliant. What a dull world it would be without creative minds and unique characters.
LESLIE: In addition to making your stories shorter to be more accessible to those with short attention spans, are there any other tools or stylistic things you are doing in your books to assist those with learning disorders.
HENRY: I was recently made aware of a font that is designed for readers with dyslexia. I understand that it is very effective and I am currently looking into having the journals printed in a second version using this font.
LESLIE: Any last thoughts?
HENRY: I have said this many times and it still sums up my outlook on life and hopefully comes through in my writing. The world is absolutely brilliant. Difficult sometimes. Confusing often. But humorous almost always. Enjoy the adventure.