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 BookRiot.com: 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 BookRiot.com and journalist Nicole Froio for including Easy on this amazing list.

July 6, 2015

Contours of the Heart - the Poem

I received an interesting question through email last week - one I've answered before in interviews, ask-the-author queries on places like Goodreads, and other email inquiries, but never here on the blog: Where did Lucas's tattooed poem originate?

Short answer: I wrote it.

Longer answer: I wrote it months before I had any conception of Jacqueline or Lucas - or Easy. I woke up with the lines in my head, but I was still half-asleep when I snatched my glasses off my night table, yanked the drawer open, grabbed a pencil and scratch paper, and jotted it down. (I'm convinced our brains are in full swing while we sleep, working through pressing problems and tackling all sorts of creative tasks like the Shoemaker's Elves. Whatever I'd been pondering when I nodded off must have been quite the romantic puzzle!)

I didn't recognize what I'd written as a poem, which was funny because I'd been composing poetry since age thirteen and you'd think the five binders I'd compiled over thirty some-odd years would have made it obvious, but nope. I did recognize it as, "Whoa. I should probably keep this," however - hence the drowsy scribbling. After coffee, I used the whatever-it-was (an epiphany of sorts?) as my daily blog post, because lazy. (Thank you for that, inherent inertia.)

Fast-forward a year and a half. I was writing Easy. I'd created a hero with a good heart, a tortured soul, and no desire whatsoever to tell my heroine (or ME) anything about his past. Lucas was the opposite of communicative. I had come at his story through Jacqueline, and I felt every ounce of her frustration at what she wasn't being told. She feared a likely heartbreak in his past - something that shattered him, something his feelings for her could never touch.

Four lines were inscribed on his ribcage - a tattooed poem. I was ahead of Jacqueline, finally, in that I knew what she would find when she went digging. I knew how those words connected Lucas to his painful past. Having examined the poetry collections on my shelves and online, looking for the perfect verse, I was losing hope of finding anything acceptable when it hit me that Lucas's connection to Jacqueline was all too similar to his father's connection to his mother: a brooding, logical man in love with an sensitive, artistic woman.

That realization was triggered by a song from my playlist: Hardliners by Holcombe Waller. (Proof that art inspires art, and the reason I create a playlist for each novel which I often listen to on replay while writing.) I pulled up my blog, entered logic into the search box, and found the short post I'd written more than a year before, titled Absence. Rearranged, those words became Lucas's tattoo:

The final four words also became the title of the series that now includes Easy, Breakable, and Sweet.