Monday, October 28, 2013

Cover Reveal: BLEED LIKE ME

Today, I have the awesome pleasure of sharing my cover for my Fall 2014 Simon Pulse book, Bleed Like Me. You can read the current blurb below, but here's a few things you need to know about this book:

1. It involves a blue-haired guy named Brooks who smokes Indian Spirit cigarettes and has a nipple ring.
2. It involves a zebra-stripe-haired girl named Gannon who works in a hardware store, likes 80s horror movies, and avoids her house like the plague.
3. It is the story of what happens when one hot mess falls for another hot mess and instead of saving them, their love nearly destroys them.

And now, without further ado:
Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon is overwhelmed. Her parents are pre-occupied with her high-needs adopted brothers, her best friend is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding, and her job at the hardware store feels more and more like a life sentence. She finds an escape in troubled new guy, Michael Brooks. He's obnoxious, possessive, and addictive. Gannon lets him insert himself into her life, and Brooks is just as addicted to her as she is to him. Swept into an intense relationship, their passion ultimately becomes dangerous to them both.

I love this cover so much. I love it when I look at it next to Fault Line. I love it when I read that tag line. I love the sparseness of it. I love imagining it on bookshelves. If you want to add it to your TBR pile on GoodReads, you can do so here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"She Was Raped, But..."

Less than a month ago, very few people had heard of Daisy Coleman. A now fifteen year old girl from Missouri who last January drank too much at an older boy’s house and was then left in near freezing temperatures on her porch. Taken to the hospital by her mother, her blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit and a rape kit confirmed sexual intercourse. The sheriff had confessions from two boys and a partial video of the assault on an iPhone. The prosecuting attorney decided not to pursue the case and it was dropped. Until the cyber hacker group Anonymous got involved and Daisy Coleman decided to go public with her story.

In showing her face on TV, in telling her story in XOJane’s “It Happened To Me”, in disregarding the protection afforded by rape shield laws, Daisy Coleman has given a face to that which makes us the most uncomfortable. She has acknowledged her own culpability in drinking underage, disregarding her brothers’ warnings, and sneaking out of her house too late at night. She has also put us in the position of asking what would we do different, how could we have protected our own daughters from this, and how can we separate ourselves from something like this?

The answer is: we cannot. In the last week, several well-meaning people have come forth to begin the process of dissecting all the nuances in this case that allow us to make Daisy an “other” and keep something like this from our own lives. If only we taught our kids about the dangers of alcohol, if only we created a buddy system for girls, if only we enforced curfew. And with these well-meaning discussions come the inevitable, “I’m not saying women deserved to be sexually victimized, but…” conversations. These then begin a domino effect that ultimately leads to “What did she expect when…” conversations.

The answer to every question with regards to “What did she expect” when it comes to sexual assault is “She expected not to be raped.” This should be a basic human right. There should never be a caveat on when someone deserves rape. They don’t. Ever.

And yet, we do everything we can to create a laundry list of reasons victims deserve what happened to them: drinking, wearing provocative clothes, out too late, with the wrong guy, in the wrong neighborhood, etc. But what happens when we run out of ways to separate ourselves from this reality? What happens when that really could be us or our daughters or sisters or wives? What happens when there’s no “but”? Because we are reaching a critical point where the only consistent thing about rape victims is that they were raped. There is no “profile” of what rape victims look like, dress like, act like. It’s become too much of an epidemic. There is no longer an other. We are all Daisy Coleman.

Every time we create laundry lists of things rape victims could have done differently, we are sending a message to survivors that it was their fault. We are implanting an “yeah, but” in their head and the heads of all potential victims that could keep them from coming forward. We are teaching them they must look at how they were responsible for the crime instead of holding perpetrators accountable. This leads to a culture of silence. A culture where no one speaks out and rapists are allowed to continue perpetuating sexual violence. Are we really okay with this? Is separating ourselves from the possibility of ever being Daisy Coleman worth risking the safety of all the girls who could later be victimized? This is no longer just a matter of individual justice. It has become an issue of public safety and sooner or later, if more people don’t start talking about this, we will all be left vulnerable.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

On The Open Ending In Fault Line

I originally wrote this post for Novel Thoughts and wanted to re-post it here so that it lived in this place too. 

I did not set out to write a rape book. Frankly, I didn’t think I ever would. I always thought it was too close, too personal, that I carried too many stories around from survivors to be able to do justice to one.

And then one day Ben crawled into my head and wouldn’t leave until I laid everything out on the page. When people ask if this is based on a true story, I always say, “This is no one’s story and everyone’s.” Because there is truth in that. It is a work of fiction. There’s no Ben or Ani in real life. There’s just every survivor I’ve ever met, every one I worked with in hospital ERs, every one who I’ve heard tell their stories.

And there is this deep in my bones knowledge that you never really shake rape. You heal, you move on, you survive, but there is never a time when you forget and there is never a time when this isn’t a part of who you are.

Ellen Hopkins asked me on a panel at ALA if I was prepared for the flack I was going to get about my open ending. It was such an interesting question because this ending had proven polarizing for agents and editors alike. As a matter of fact, I added more to the ending in the final version so the ARC isn’t exactly right (Take note people who read ARCs, things can change quite a bit still). Although I still leave the ending open. Leave it as this final moment where we teeter on the precipice of “I don’t know if it’s going to be okay.” I just make it more obvious I’m doing that intentionally.

I ended this book on that precipice because I think sometimes we forget that teenagers live in a constant state of it. Every day they stand on that edge. We as human beings are works in progress, there are no happy endings, just happy for nows. Why would we think it’s any different for teens? Why would we want it to be? This is the best time in their life to be a work in progress. Try new things, figure out who they are and what they want.

But specifically, in the case of Ani and Ben, I did want to say something with my open ending. I did want to add a question into the cannon of YA literature dealing with rape. I did want to add a wrinkle to the immediate assumption that survivors heal and the bad guys get it in the end.

That is not the reality of rape as I’ve seen it. Rape is largely unreported and largely underprosecuted. Bad guys getting it in the end happened less than a dozen times in the 100+ rape cases I saw in hospital ERs over a decade. But further, the assumption of rape survivors moving on and healing was one I wanted to explore. Not because I don’t believe it, it has been proven to me over and over again by the army of survivors standing beside me in this work. But I wanted to explore it because of a survivor I met named Sarah.

Sarah participated in a survivor testimonial writing workshop with me in 2011. She is an amazing woman with a harrowing story of being sexually assaulted on the Appalachian Trail with 3 other friends the summer of their junior year. During a break in the workshop, I asked her what had happened to her friends who were also raped. She told me that one is still one of her closest friends, one doesn’t really like to talk about it, and one disappeared. I asked about the one who disappeared and Sarah said, “I don’t know what happened. She could be dealing drugs, she could be homeless, she could be dead. We lost her.”

We lost her. Those words echoed through me and would not leave my head as I wrote Fault Line. Not because that’s the ending I wanted for Ani, or even expected, but because it could be. The reality is that we lose survivors sometimes. And sadly, this year with two sexual assault-related suicides prominently in the press, this has become achingly obvious to me.

So I left my ending open. I asked a question and didn’t give an answer. But I hope I started a conversation that will lead to every single person doing their absolute best to make sure that we never lose a survivor again. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Daisy Coleman, the Defn of Rape, & is Alcohol Really the Problem?

So I'm not sure how many of you are following the case around Daisy Coleman and the involvement of Anonymous and the Kansas Star paper in bringing the facts to life, but if you're not, you probably should be. There are things about that night in January that we don't know. That Daisy Coleman doesn't know. But here's what we do know:

-Her blood alcohol was twice the legal limit
-The senior boy involved admitted to having sex with her, and another boy recorded part of it on his iPhone
-She was left outside in freezing temperatures on her porch afterwards with no shoes, socks, or coat

In the state of Illinois (and I assume most other states) the legal definition of criminal sexual assault includes "the accused commits an act of sexual penetration and the accused knew that the victim was unable to understand the nature of the act or was unable to give knowing consent". So. There you have it. I'm not sure why this is still being debated. If you have sex with a person who cannot give conscious consent, this is rape.

But, let's put the legal part of this aside. Because I actually don't want to get into a legal discussion over the line of when someone "knowingly" consents. I want to get into a bigger discussion about whether we are okay with this.

Whether we are okay with our sons videotaping others having sex, whether we are okay with plying girls with alcohol and having sex with them afterwards, whether we are okay with dropping a girl off on her porch in freezing temperatures without even ringing the doorbell, whether we are okay with having sex with thirteen and fourteen year old girls to begin with.

I am NOT okay with this. I can't imagine any parent being okay with this. I'm not okay with living in a world where people are pointing to lines of legality instead of codes of ethics. Who are these boys perpetrating this type of crime and why do we keep seeing it? When is the decision made in a boy's mind to stop treating someone like a human being and start treating them like an object? At what point do we lose our sons?

Which brings me to Part 2 of this post, involving the publication of this article in Slate. I ended up getting into a very good Twitter debate about this essay. I argued that the set-up for this article, the headline & the structure pointed to a crap ton of victim-blaming. In spite of Yoffe's persistent declarations of not blaming victims, she quite clearly puts the onus on girls and their alcohol consumption to stop rape from happening. She then goes on to cite all sorts of statistics about alcohol consumption and its involvement in rape cases. I do not doubt this to be true. What I have a very difficult time with is the fact that YET AGAIN we are pointing to some sort of external bandaid (stop getting drunk, girls) to solve the issue of rape. As if banning alcohol is the wrecking ball that will deconstruct our deeply imbedded rape culture.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that I got drunk as a teen. I did a lot of stupid stuff I regret. And I probably would do it again. This is the reality of being a teenager and being human. If we have expectations of teens walking the road of perfect human beings, we are going to have some very big problems on our hands. But there is a difference between doing stupid stuff like drinking too much, and someone having sex with you, videotaping it, and leaving you on your porch in freezing temperatures. I'm not sure why the fault is on Daisy Coleman for drinking alcohol in this case. And if any boy thinks part of the definition of "doing stupid stuff" includes sex with a non-consenting drunk girl, videotapes, & leaving her to freeze, then we are in even bigger trouble.

What makes drunk girls rapeable? What gets us to the point that conscious consent on both parts is not essential? And why is the onus on girls to own their consent and not on boys to ask for it? The problem with Yoffe's article (well, one of the problems) is the acceptance/assumption that boys have sex with drunk girls because they're an easy mark. As if guys in general are on the prowl for sex with non-consenting partners. I'm pro-dude so I would like to think better of guys. And the reality is that many, many guys do not do this.

So what do we do with the ones that do? Are they salvageable at all? This feels pretty critical to me. And this feels like where we really need to educate. And we need to do this early. We need to build in a foundation of respect, understanding, the space where we hold guys accountable for things they do that make girls "less". We need to educate about enthusiastic consent, educate about the idea of green zones and when it's okay to have sex with someone and when it's not, educate about girls being human beings worthy of respect and also girls should be allowed to do stupid stuff without their very person being in danger.

I'm not saying we don't have conversations with girls about being safe. Those conversations are critical. But the fact is, I think we're having those conversations already. I think that we have been protecting our girls from BAD STUFF from the very beginning of their lives. I think that girls are very aware of the fact that the world isn't totally safe for them. I look at how I explain to Jojo why she can't wear a bikini. I realize that part of me is shaming her with this "You're not going to the pool dressed like that" and I'm equally aware that this shame is also my shield for her. And I think that when bad stuff happens, girls frequently blame themselves first because "they should have known better." They are hard-wired for this. And yet, they are human and should be allowed to be so.

The conversations that we are not really having are the ones where we explain to our sons why it's not okay to call a girl a slut, where we explain to our sons that if a girl is drunk at a party they should take her home or watch out for her, where we explain to our sons that consensual (and great!) sex involves getting a fully conscious yes, where we explain that rape jokes aren't okay, where we explain that social media should not be used to hurt people, where we acknowledge there is a power differential, statistically guys are way more frequently perpetrators, and the onus is on them to ensure they are having consensual sex.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Release Day: Standing on the Edge of Possible

This is what debut release day feels like to me. It feels like I've just climbed this really huge mountain and I'm a few feet from the top. A few steps from this wide open world. And all the hard parts of the mountain behind me have sort of slipped away in this moment. All the bad weather conditions and falling rocks and everything else aren't weighing me down because I'm a few steps from so much possibility.

Possibility to me isn't awards or lists or great reviews or anything like that. Possibility is the idea that somewhere today some teenager who I've never met, never tweeted, never FB-friended, never interacted with, might be standing in front of a bookshelf in a book store and pull out my book and think, "Yeah, I'll try this." Possibility is someone waking up to this book on their e-reader and finishing it and feeling like this one meant something to them. This one mattered. Possibility is the idea that half the proceeds from this book will be funneled back into a rape survivor writing workshop. Or two. Or three.

If you ask anyone who knows me, they'd say that I'm a glass is half empty sort of person. This likely comes with the territory of working in rape activism for so long. But today, right now, in this moment, I feel like I'm on the edge of something bigger than my pessimism. Something bigger than me. That I'm putting something into this world of possible. And all I have is gratitude.

Thank you, my dear friends, for being on this journey with me. Thank you for giving me this day. And thank you for tomorrow when I'll look at the next mountain and think, "Oh, I'm never going to be able to climb THAT one." Thank you for holding the ropes and bearing my weight and catching me when I fall over and over again. Thank you for standing on the edge of possible with me and reminding me that it's okay to hope for change, to want to leave the world in better shape than we found it, to believe.

And so I'll leave you with my favorite comic of all time. Bill Watterson's last comic, drawn when he was on a different edge of possible.

Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.