September 5, 2015

The Face of Disillusionment

This past week, like many people around the world, I was horrified over the photos of the lifeless Syrian toddler who, along with his brother and mother, drowned while attempting to flee to a safer home. (Warning: the photos are highly disturbing.) His tiny body washed ashore in Turkey, and the world was forced to face the reality of what it means to be a truly powerless refugee.

Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

Upon further investigation, I found that over half of the 4 million plus (registered) Syrian refugees are children. Unsurprisingly, this is true of refugees everywhere, and the worldwide figures are staggering. I considered what it would take to tear my family from our home, to leave belongings that couldn't be carried, along with family and friends who would not or could not go, and to risk the loss of everything - up to and including life itself - all in search of a safer existence. As unimaginable as that seems to someone like me, I know one thing. This is not a decision people make on a whim.

This is the crucial point - when the face is the mirror is disillusioned and frustrated. The temptation to harden your heart in light of the seeming impossibility to make any kind of difference is strong. The excuses flood in: Leave the volunteering to people who don't have careers just taking off or families to support. Leave the donations to the wealthy and the government and all those tax dollars your hard work already provides. You can't help everyone, and besides, you aren't really sure what's going on and who's really on the receiving end of all those aid efforts anyway.

On the receiving end are people in need of the most basic necessities. Food. Shelter. Clothing. Jobs. Medical care. Homes. Yes, it's a good idea to educate yourself as much as possible, and you may feel more comfortable donating closer to home. But we don't have to understand every aspect of a fellow human being's plight to know they need help and to offer whatever assistance we can.

What could you give up over the course of one month? Could you ditch a bad habit (like smoking) and give part of what you save on cigarettes to improve someone else's life? What if one day every week you pack a lunch instead of heading for the drive-thru, or skip one trip to Starbucks? "That's only like ten or twenty bucks per month," you say. "How the hell is that going to actually help anyone?"

I understand - but stick with me.

What if twenty percent of your Instagram followers did the same thing? What if twenty percent of my Twitter followers did? Or twenty percent of the 72,845,934 people who follow Justin Bieber on Facebook? The latter would add up to over $1.7 billion in one year at $10/month each. No joke.

This is how we help, then. We bind together. Please check out the organization links below, and think about that ten bucks per month. Don't be afraid to check the "other" box and fill it in. That $10 is important, not only to the recipients, but to challenge your own fear about being a drop in the bucket. Be a drop. There are millions more where that came from, and together, we can do something good.

July 28, 2015

Sweet on Audible

Sweet - narrated by Christy Romano as Pearl and Zachary Webber as Boyce - released today on Audible! Happy listening to my audiobook readers! :)

July 18, 2015

Rape Culture and a Romance Novel

A couple of days ago, one of my Twitter followers asked me if I'd seen this post on Five Novels That Illustrate Rape Culture

Easy has made bestseller lists and favorite book lists and book boyfriend lists, and the thrill of those achievements has been gratifying and incredible. But seeing it on this list, among these outstanding, influential books, was the most satisfying moment I've had as an author. Recognition of this sort was everything I wanted for Easy when I wrote it, and everything I feared it would never achieve - because I'm a fallible human artist trying to translate emotions into words, and I relate to and interpret others more from observation than interaction, and most of my communication with the world is done through fiction. Romantic fiction.

I believe a reader takes what she needs to take from a book, an exchange as dependent on what she brings to the experience of reading as what I've attempted to disclose inside those pages. I can't suggest my book to some readers while telling others it might not work for them - and that's a good thing, because I would probably be wrong as often as I'd be right. Still. I wrote a coming-of-age romance with the issue of sexual assault at its heart. For some, that was an unorthodox choice, but I couldn't have written it any other way.

In Spring 2005, I took a Young Adult Literature course as part of my English degree requirements. That semester, we read and analyzed thirteen books, one of which was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Six years old, it was already a celebrated classic for its heartbreaking portrayal of acquaintance rape and the arduous recovery process a survivor endures when she is not believed.

As a rape survivor, I was not thrilled with its inclusion on that syllabus. Appreciative of its existence? Yes, absolutely. But my feelings about reading it were a solid nope.

Years before, I'd sat in a theater, so nauseated I couldn't move, watching The Accused (1988). That film introduced the argument - through the venue of a major motion picture - that there was no such thing as "asking for it." Serious discourse on the issue of what constitutes sexual assault arose and deep-seated presumptions in the minds of many were forever altered because of that film… but it traumatized me.

Having dodged rape-focused books and films ever since, I'd grown so skillful at that avoidance that I was barely aware of doing it. But here was this assignment, and as a conscientious student, there was no option to skip over it. So I gritted my teeth and I read Speak… and it moved me and helped me at a level I never expected.

Still, I was left with this question: How many other survivors steer clear of books and movies having to do with rape? Because even though I felt validated and voiced through Anderson's book, I hadn't come to it willingly, and I never would have.

As a reader, I often venture outside the romance genre, but a good story with strong romantic elements and an ending that leaves me smiling tearfully has always been my favorite. When Jacqueline brought me her story, it was all shame and not telling and untrue rumors and a breakup and behavior changes that no one understood. Lucas was a shadowy savior in a parking lot. I did not want to write it. I could not in good conscience write a book that I would never willingly read.

Then Jacqueline returned with a more developed Lucas - someone with buried pain of his own - and I saw my opportunity to write a love story with the romance-essential happy ending. I had one central message to impart: It wasn't your fault. Between bouts of typical writer insecurity, I felt sure that Easy could convey that message to survivors through a story that readers like me would read, and I wanted them to have it.

Thank you to and journalist Nicole Froio for including Easy on this amazing list.