When I was twelve years old, my mom had left a book sitting on the kitchen counter. As a youngster genetically programmed to read anything with words, I picked it up out of curiosity and began reading. Fortunately, I hadn’t gotten very far before my mother caught me and took the book away, stating that I was too young to read it. At the ripe old age of pre-teenhood, I internally balked at the preposterous notion that there could be books beyond my understanding. I was reading Shakespeare and studying Biblical languages in my spare time (Don’t tell my dad I read his books).
In retrospect, I now understand that it was the content material that my mom didn’t want me exposed to. But at the time, I was determined that no book of mine would ever be off limits to anyone.
But between then and now, I grew up. Life happened. I have become intimately aware of the darkness and evil that runs rampant in this world. And yet the awareness of that evil has brought a deeper awareness of the strength of goodness and light.
When writing this book, I struggled with the choice to include a subject as dark and taboo as sexual assault. Theoretically, I could have arranged my plot board to include something similar but less degrading. Less triggering. Less likely to get my book banned and shunned by the religious institutions that are such an important part of my life.
And yet no matter how hard I tried to rearrange the pieces, this component stubbornly remained. It was a fundamental piece of Stella Morrigan’s work as a mental health counselor and her history as a wounded individual. I believe it is an important topic to think about. All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing. Facing the reality of this type of crime is the first step toward doing something about it.
Once the choice had been made not to twist the story into something more palatable but less dynamic, the question of writing in a non-triggering way made it’s way to the forefront. How was I to adequately describe what happened without falling prey to sordid and unnecessary details? How could I represent the horror of a flashback without wounding the reader? And most importantly, how could I keep this portion of the story from rearing it’s way to the forefront and dominating the narrative?
It was a battle that occupied a large portion of my writing and editing time, and truth be told, it is still undergoing revisions. Taking a subject this sensitive, working it into Stella’s world, and bringing it to a satisfying but realistic conclusion in the context of the bigger story is not a task I take lightly.
I hope my revealing this aspect of the story will not dissuade you from reading my book. I understand that this is a subject that some people are not ready to think about.
However, before throwing out my book, I encourage you to read the following excerpt. It is an example of one of the few scenes dealing with rape, and a representation of how carefully I handle the topic.
Stella could see the ensign’s internal struggle through the tensing of her hands, the movement of her eyes, the speed of her breathing.
“If you saw that happening to someone else, would you call them weak?”
“Good. So the next time your brain calls you weak, remember that it is only a trick, a lie your brain created to try to make sense out of an impossible situation. Your brain wants to create a scenario that explains what happened in a way that gives you the opportunity to prevent it in the future. ‘I will work harder, avoid men, train harder, stop trusting, be more vigilant, whatever it takes to prevent this from recurring.’ The only way to do that is to blame yourself for not being good enough. But that’s a lie.”
The ensign’s eyes were wide, as if she had been startled into silence.
“Are you hearing this, or do you need time?”
“You want me to tell myself that I am not weak. But what if it’s true?”
“Even if you were paralyzed with fear, that would not make you weak. Even if you were the strongest female in the seas, it wouldn’t be enough. The attack didn’t happen because you were weak. It was the action of a person who made a horrible decision and is no reflection on you. The only way to heal is to accept that something terrible outside of your control happened, but it is over, and you survived.”
The young woman nodded, but still didn’t speak.
“I know you won’t remember most of this conversation, and you’ll need to hear it again and again, but I have one more piece of advice. Don’t fight the memories. You survived once; you will survive remembering. Look for the lies and refute them. Bring the memories and thoughts to me, and we will find and heal the wounds. Let yourself cry. Let yourself scream. Let yourself walk through the corridor where it happened and smack the bulkheads if you need to, although I recommend something softer. Let it out. Punch a bag in the gym. Curl up under a blanket and cry. Don’t pretend to be okay when you’re not. The faster you let it out, the faster it will heal. Don’t forget that.”