Can we stop sugarcoating domestic abuse in fiction?
Why didn’t she just leave?
They should’ve seen the warning signs.
They always seemed so perfect together.
It’s not my business, so I don’t want to get involved.
He isn’t perfect, but how bad can it really be?
It’s no secret that as a society, we look at domestic abuse from an often haughty, distorted lens that tends to be contradictory. On one hand, we promote the message that domestic abuse is wrong and that we would do anything to stop it. On the other hand, though, so many of us sit back and toss around condescending, judgmental ideas like the ones above.
In truth, it isn’t completely our fault. If we haven’t been through domestic abuse, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that it takes on other forms than what our very skewed movies and pop culture show us about it. We have a very defined idea of what domestic abuse is—and isn’t—thanks to the books, movies, and articles that try to tell us all about it.
But here’s the thing—abuse takes on many forms. It isn’t something that can be stereotyped or classified. Abuse looks different in every situation, for every person. And oftentimes, it is much uglier, more manipulative, and scarier than we ever can begin to understand from a few movies or television show portrayals.
As a society, we tout that we understand the struggles of abuse. We share hotlines, we offer meek attempts at consoling men and women who are in abusive situations, and we offer expert advice on getting out. These are things that can, in truth, be helpful. There are many organizations who are doing amazing work to help victims of domestic abuse. Still, for many of us, our goodwill attempts in public often equate to a faux rallying of the troops that we’d rather just leave for someone else to deal with. Because many of us would rather close our eyes to the uncomfortable truths about the abuse that goes on around us than actually deal with it or really understand it.
I am not a survivor of domestic abuse myself, and I don’t claim to be an expert on it. I, too, understand that this limits my understanding of the true horrors of surviving it. Furthermore, I realize that this isn’t a problem that is simple to solve. So many factors hinder our real-life ability to effectively reach out, to make changes, and to offer a true, genuine lifeline.
However, I think because it is such a difficult problem to overcome, we need to converse about it more. Furthermore, we need to have deep, real, and raw conversations about abuse, not sugarcoated chats that cover up the true ugliness of the problem. Our society’s thinly veiled attempts to skirt abuse under the rug in order to focus on prettier concepts is, in truth, a hurdle to effectively helping victims.
We say we understand the dangers of abuse—but we get uncomfortable when someone talks about it. For many of us, domestic abuse is something that happens to other people. We pride ourselves on spreading “awareness” about it, but we don’t actually want to see it, to deal with it, to handle it.
When I wrote A Tortured Soul, I knew it would ruffle some feathers because the abuse portrayed in the book is uncensored. So many times, I think the media muffles and mutes the harsh realities of abuse, which is dangerous. Don’t get me wrong—any abuse is horrific. It is something we need to seek to stop in our society. Still, I think the danger in a muted portrayal of the abuse so many women and men are undergoing is that as a society, we think it’s not that big of a deal. We run the risk of closing our eyes to abuse happening around us. We fool ourselves into thinking “she can just deal with it on her own” or “he should just stand up for himself” when so often, that isn’t the case.
I wanted to paint a dark, grim reality of abuse in my thriller because I think we need to stop shying away from the dark realities of abuse in the real world. Is it unpleasant to look at domestic abuse in its rawest form? Yes. But do we need to recognize the struggles of victims in our society? Absolutely.
It is by recognizing the true horrors of domestic abuse that we as individuals can stop silencing the truths around us. It is by seeking to understand the harsh realities so many are living with that we can seek to set things right in the best way we can. We can start to demand justice. We can stop pretending to spread support and start actually doing it. We can start finding the courage to look at the ugly truths around us to better support those who are living through them.
We can stop hiding behind a face of anti-abuse messages and seek to find a deeper sense of problem-solving as a society.
The most poignant scene in A Tortured Soul for me, as the writer, comes near the end, when the sheriff notes his own fault in the major conflict of the book. He takes ownership for the fact that he had been too weak to see the true horrors of Crystal’s abuse. He had turned a blind eye and decided it was for her to deal with on her own.
It was a scene that made me question my own understandings of the struggles of abuse victims. It was a scene that held up a mirror and made me ask the question: have I been blinded to the real horrors of domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse isn’t something we all live through, thankfully. Still, it is when we can begin to actually internalize what domestic abuse looks like that not only our empathy can be enhanced, but our will to do something to stop it.
L.A. Detwiler, USA Today Bestselling author
This book was AMAZING. A true page-turner and the kind of dark read I love.
The book is about Rose Gold, who is in her early twenties when her mother, Patty, is released from prison. Patty was locked up for child abuse. She poisoned her own daughter and convinced everyone that Rose Gold was sick when she wasn't. Thus, Rose Gold enters adulthood with a very warped view of the world (understandably).
The book follows Rose Gold as she deals with her mother being released from prison, but it also flashes back to the early days after Patty's arrest when Rose Gold has to learn to navigate a new view of life. I love that the book also shows us Patty's point of view. Even though she's a character who is easy to hate, she also has some charming qualities that add complexity to the tale. I loved how each character had a distinct voice.
The description in this book was phenomenal. Wrobel is a standout writer and really shines with this book. This book looks at the mother-daughter relationship in a very warped light. This is a book that you'll fly through because you just can't look away from the dysfunctional family. It will stick with you long after the final page, however.
I loved the ending. I loved everything about it. Read this book if you love dark, twisted, introspective thrillers.
This book was scary for me to write because it was very different than anything out there on the market.
t's told EXCLUSIVELY in diary format, something very tricky to pull off for thriller. It's also very dark and gruesome.
Still, Ruby's story haunted me until I wrote it. It haunted me until I put it out there in the world.
This thriller isn't for everyone. It might be too dark or too different of a format for some. But that's okay.
It's the story that was on my heart about nature versus nurture. I wanted to explore the idea of where our dark tendencies come from. With a serial killer as a father and as her only real supporter in life, will Ruby follow her dad's path or find morality on her own?
Thank you to everyone who has read and shared love for this book, which is very close to my heart, as all books we write are.
Stay Safe and Be True,
You won't always have a tribe
An inconsolable mess of hot pink, stuffed animals, and tears, my five-year-old self remained buried face first in the princess comforter on my bed. Through racking sobs, I tried to explain to my mom what was so terribly wrong.
“I don’t have any friends,” I coughed out in between gasps. It had been a terrible day of Kindergarten. I’d done something to make my friends in the class angry, and they’d shunned me during playtime. I didn’t know it then, but I was on a long path that would be riddled with problems with friendships; female friends always seemed to dart in and out of my life. The road was just beginning, though, and it was the first time I’d suffered such an immense heartache as being left out.
My mom, as mothers do, hugged me tight, dried my tears, and tried to console me.
“What’s going on?” a male voice asked from the door of my bedroom.
My mom explained as the tears still fell down my cheek. “She’s worried she doesn’t have any friends.” The way my mom’s voice quivered slightly, I could sense the empathy along with the trepidation that perhaps, somehow, the child she’d worked so hard to raise had turned out to be a loner incapable of social relationships. Considering I was an only child, this was a very real fear, I realize now.
My dad walked into the room, and I peered at him through my blurry tears. I watched him shrug and look at me.
“Well, you don’t have any friends,” he uttered matter-of-factly.
Que more racking sobs, even more inconsolable now.
Que an angry sigh from my mother as she shook her head at him.
“What?” he responded after the glare my mother gave him. “It’s true. You don’t have friends. I don’t have friends. What I mean is, don’t worry. No one has friends. You are your only true friend in life.”
My mother shooed him away, knowing that a five-year-old needs hugs and advice on how it would be better tomorrow, not an existential examination of the meaning of friendship.
We still tease my father about his words of wisdom that day. In many ways, that was the first scarring moment in my five-year-old life. What did my dad mean I had no friends? What was wrong with me if even my dad thought I had no friend to speak of? At five, I couldn’t really comprehend what he meant. Luckily, my mother managed to calm me down enough to get me to go back to school and try in the friendship department again.
Nevertheless, I didn’t forget my dad’s words. And even if I’d wanted to forget them, I couldn’t—because over the years, they basically rang true.
My father is not a literary man by any means. Even though I’m an English teacher and he was the one who sparked my love for reading and writing in many ways, he does not value Shakespeare, Emerson, or poetry. Still, I can appreciate now, decades later, the Emersonian quality to his phrase—this idea of being independent, of being your own best friend in life, and of chasing your own desires no matter what others think.
He was trying to impress upon my way-too-young mind that people will always come and go in life. People will get angry at us when we deserve it, and they’ll get angry at us when we don’t. People will claim to be friends in the good times and leave during the bad times. And sometimes people will just up and leave because they can. There’s only one constant, one person you can depend on to have your best interests at heart—yourself.
I think that these words ring even truer for females.
Not to edge over into the realm of sexism, but honestly, ladies, aren’t we sometimes terrible to each other? Manoeuvring the catty world of junior high and high school with my bad haircut only to get to adult world and find out it doesn’t end—it’s been a tragedy worse than that seventh grade shaggy haircut I had and lack of hair styling techniques. All relationships are hard, but female friendships sometimes carry an extra weight with them. Competition, jealousy, and manipulation all seem to worm their way into even the best-intentioned friendships.
I’ve had friends and lost them. I’ve been backstabbed and lied to over the years. I also have done some things I’m not proud of in friendship. I’ve let jealousy or distance get in the way. I’ve failed to be there for the female friends in my life in ways I should have been.
In short, friendships do come and go, and sometimes it feels like the coldness of my dad’s words ring true—no one has any friends at all.
It seems like a stoic lesson on humanity, one that there would be no recovering from. Still, my dad’s words have helped me stay positive in the face of loss when it comes to relationships. At a young age, despite my mother’s eye rolls, he taught me to be independent.
My father taught me that happiness shouldn’t come from external forces. He showed me that a big part of life is learning to be your own best friend, to have your own interests at heart, and to let go of people who just don’t get you.
In junior high, I had a substitute teacher who I was convinced hated me. She was a long-term substitute for our home economics teacher, and she often got frustrated with me because I was, shall I say, somewhat of a failure in the cooking and sewing and everything domestic department (some things don’t change). I remember going home with my whiny, thirteen-year-old complaints about how unfair life was and how much she hated me and how mad I was.
My father’s advice?
“Some people won’t like you just because they don’t like you. They don’t need a reason. Just keep on going, don’t draw attention to yourself, and do your best.”
That wasn’t what my thirteen-year-old “life’s not fair” self wanted to hear. But even then, he was true to his mantra.
Not everyone will like you. Not everyone who says they are your friend will stick around. People are fickle.
You have to learn to be more than just okay with being alone. You have to learn to be confident in who you are, where you’re going, and sometimes hold your own hand on the way. Sure, along the way, there will be people who lighten the journey. There will be people who walk with us for a few miles or maybe even thousands. There will be friends who get us, who really get us, and who love us despite our shortcomings.
But there will also be people who don’t. There will be people on the sidelines pretending to cheer us on only to cheer louder when we trip. There will be friends who are actually enemies wearing friends’ cloaks. There will be friends who turn and leave when we need them most.
We will all find ourselves a teary-eyed mess, face down in our comforter wishing our mom could tell us of course we have friends and tomorrow will be better.
But as one of my favorite female writers and speakers, Rachel Hollis notes, you can’t let the opinions of others impact your self-worth. You have to ignore the negative opinions of others and realize they don’t change who you are.'
I’m thankful for my dad’s words because he set me on a path of being okay alone—more than okay alone. He taught me to find self-worth and self-identity outside the views of others. He taught me that it’s okay to walk by yourself sometimes through life—because we all do that from time to time.
There’s a wonderful quote in the book and movie P.S. I Love You where the mother is consoling he sobbing adult daughter when she is grieving over her lost husband. The mother says, “So now, all alone or not, you gotta walk ahead. Thing to remember is if we're all alone, then we're all together in that too.” It always reminds me of my father and his advice. It reminds us that human friendship is a struggle for everyone—we’re not alone in facing this.
However, we need to be confident enough in ourselves to walk alone sometimes. My father taught me that alone isn’t a scary, tearful thing. It’s just a part of life, and one we all can get through when we must.
There isn't a right way to handle the COVID-19 Crisis
We, as Americans and as worldwide citizens, are in crisis. There’s no denying it. Many of us feel like we’re free-falling into financial ruin, illness, and isolation. The COVID-19 crisis has not only put immense pressure on nations but on individuals as well. It seems like so quickly, our lives all changed, and now we’re left in an uncertain aftermath.
If you turn on the news or browse online, you can find numerous articles and ideas on how to best handle the social distancing and stay-at-home decrees. Psychologists will weigh in and tell you how you should handle the changes, and all sorts of people are issuing ideas on social media. All around, everyone seems to want to generalize how we can best endure the seemingly forever changed status of our individual lives.
But here’s the thing I keep thinking: I don’t think there is a single “right” way to handle this crisis as an individual. Sure, we’re all in this together. We all need to cooperate and get the financial and health crisis under control. However, from a psychological standpoint, there can’t be a “one size fits all” approach to coming out of this changed society feeling positive.
We all will handle it in our own way.
For some of us, we turn to humor. We share funny memes and jokes online about the crisis. This doesn’t mean we’re downplaying the very real threat or trying to mitigate anyone’s losses. We handle hardship with laughter. It’s just who we are—and that’s a perfectly okay way to endure this situation.
Some of us will find ourselves crying in the shower daily and just trying to survive minute to minute. Change is hard for us. Crisis is hard for us. We can’t help but feel anxious about the uncertainties and about what’s next. We feel sad about what we’ve lost. That doesn’t mean we feel like our cancelled graduation or concert is worth more than lives. It just means we’re grieving. And this is a perfectly understandable reaction to the crisis.
For some of us who are go-getters and goal setters, we feel the need to keep busy in this time. We’re the ones posting about learning new languages or reading more books or taking a class with the stay-at-home order. We need to feel like we’re putting this undefined amount of time to good use because we can’t stand wasted opportunities or minutes. This doesn’t mean we’re judging you if you’re struggling to get through a regular daily routine without learning Russian or French or taking a painting class. It’s just how we best cope with a negative situation. We feel the need to pull something positive from it in the form of goals and achievement of those goals. This is the best way for us to handle it, which is perfectly acceptable.
Some of us hate feeling helpless, so we turn to helping others in this time. We feel the need to sew masks or deliver groceries or whatever we can to feel in control of something. We need to express empathy, not just in words, but through doing. We devote our time to finding ways to rally behind others. It doesn’t mean we’re looking for accolades or trying to be Mother Theresa. It just is the way we feel most in control of the situation. That is a perfectly admirable way to handle this crisis.
Some of us feel the need to self soothe in these tough times in any way we can. We might be the ones in the stores accused of buying non-essential items. It isn’t that we’re trying to be disrespectful. We just need to find some way to bring a piece of “normal” life back, of happiness. For some of us that might be through chocolates at Target or a face mask that you don’t think is necessary. For some of us, that might be getting takeout or ordering from Amazon or posting about a new makeup product online. For some of us, that might look like pulling away a little bit and taking time for self-reflection and self-care. We aren’t trying to be selfish. We are just trying to get through, and that is a perfectly acceptable response.
Some of us will reach out to others in this time, needing social interaction in any form. We’re the ones making videos on social media or trying to organize family Zoom meetings. We just need people around us to help us feel like it’s all going to be okay. We’re trying to do our part to social distance, but it’s hard. And that’s a perfectly understandable response to the situation.
Some of us will find mixtures of these approaches to work for us or completely different approaches. Some of us will swear this is the worst time in our lives. For some of us, we will choose to look at the positives and find something good in all of this.
No matter how we choose to handle this crisis as individuals, however, that’s the thing--they are all acceptable ways. As long as we are doing our best to follow the guidelines of the state and the government to help put an end to this, there isn’t a single right way to handle our changed world. We all need to find the approach on our own that works for us.
However, what I do think we all need to do is be more understanding of this fact. I’ve seen so many articles, posts, and comments online slamming other people for how they are dealing with the situation. Please, please, please do your best to extend kindness and understanding to others. None of us expected this crisis or wanted it to hit home. None of us wanted to see family members sick or unemployed or struggling. None of us wanted to wake up to everything changed in our lives.
But here we are. And now it’s our job to do the best with it in the way that works for us—and to extend graciousness to each other in this difficult time. Wearing masks and social distancing isn’t the only way we can succeed in this together. It is also through extending kindness, understanding, and patience, especially online where it seems like judgement and anger run rampant.
So however you’re handling this crisis: Keep doing your best. Reach out if you need help. And remember that you’re doing okay, no matter how you’re doing it.
Stay Safe and Be True,
L.A. Detwiler, Author
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is a slow-build that is masterfully crafted to build tension despite a pretty simple plot line. Tricia, nine-years-old, gets lost in the woods when out on a hike with her family. The book follows her harrowing journey through the woods and the psychological effects it has on her.
Overall, there isn't a lot of action in this book or obvious scares that you would expect in a King book. Nonetheless, the eerie atmosphere coupled with the psychological terror builds a creepy read you can really put yourself in.
The book oozes with outstanding description that really makes the scenes come to life. This book is a perfect read for writers because it really shows the power of masterfully crafted descriptions and how word choice can really bring a particular mood to the forefront. This work also shows that terror often comes from the inside and doesn't have to involve relentless chases and horrors. The scariest things can often be the most realistic, and that's what really haunts in this book: the fact that so many of us could picture this happening to us or a family member.
The ending was a bit anti-climactic, but overall this book was a quick read that shows how good of a writer Stephen King really is. With a limited setting and characters, he was able to weave a tale that sticks with the reader long after the final page.
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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"This, I think, is the cost of telling, even in the guise of fiction--once you do, it's the only thing about you anyone will ever care about. It defines you whether you want it to or not."
This book is dark, twisted, and raw. It delves into a topic that many writers shy away from, but Kate Elizabeth Russell dives completely in to tell a poignant, dark tale of a woman haunted by abuse.
When Vanessa gets involved with her teacher, Mr. Strane, she is led down a twisty path of lies, abuse, and betrayal that will mark the rest of her life. This book is a raw look inside the mind of an abused woman who spends much of her life denying the abuse. It's about the confusion girls face when abused and the darkness that can mar one's life if they don't find help and healing.
I found this book to be uncomfortable to read at times--which I think is the point. So many books shy away from the gritty, ugliness of abuse, especially in a power dynamic like this one. Russell digs into the description, the confusing emotions, and the uncomfortable scenes in a way few books do. She goes to a dark place in order to show the truth about how abuse and sexual assault can really change a woman.
I found this book to be revolutionary and brave in its portrayal. I know many women may be triggered by this book, so it isn't for everyone. However, I think this book makes an important statement about abuse, victims, and how difficult it is to move on from trauma.
In addition, Russell's writing style is beautiful, despite the ugly topic. She paints words in a way that will stick with you.
I will be looking for more work from this author because I appreciate the fact that she doesn't censor her writing and is willing to write a book that other authors would shy away from.
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The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter
There’s just something about reading a diary that is intriguing, at least from my perspective.
Growing up, I loved the Dear America series, which were diaries told from girls in different points throughout history. I loved feeling like I was in on a secret or really getting to know the main character.
When The Diary of a Serial Killer’s Daughter first came to mind, I was nervous about the diary format. Could I pull off an entire thriller in diary style? There were a lot of challenges that I would face…but still, the idea was intriguing.
For one, I haven’t read any thrillers in purely diary format. I liked the idea of doing something different. I’m always looking for a challenge in my writing, too.
So even though it seemed intimidated, I decided to go for it. And I have to say, I’m happy with the final product. The diary format really gives you a different vantage point of the thriller story line. It puts you right in there, on the front line with Ruby. It also lets you see a sense of honesty that you don’t always get from the characters in a traditional book.
It gives you a deep, insightful peek into the mind of a girl living in an unthinkable situation.
I can’t wait to share Ruby’s diary with you and her story on March 12th. If you’re not sure if the diary format is for you, use this link to download a free sample of the first portion of the book. I want you to love it before you buy it and make sure it’s really for you.
Stay Safe and Be True,
Follow You Home by Mark Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This twisted book is one that will haunt you long after you close it.
This dark tale tells the story of a couple going on the trip of their dreams. However, when they meet another couple on the train, they are forced down a sinister path that will change their lives and haunt them forever.
I liked how this book played with chronology. Just before the absolutely horrible thing happens to the couple....the author flashes forward and you get to see the fallout from the horrific events. However, you're left trying to figure out exactly what happened to Daniel and Laura.
Once you find out exactly what happened to the couple in the woods in Romania, you aren't disappointed: you are horrified. The secret they are keeping is extremely dark. This book is not for the weak-stomached.
I loved how there were multiple layers and twists to the story. It was a complex plot pulled off in an exceptional manner. This book is the thing of nightmares, and it really makes you understand how secrets can haunt you.
I would recommend this book to any fans of dark thriller or horror. It has a Stephen King meets Ruth Ware vibe to it, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought the characters were well-developed and the plot was revealed at a perfect pace.
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Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You were not made to be small."
This book came into my life at the perfect time. I was feeling unmotivated and lacking enthusiasm. Rachel Hollis's book helped me change my attitude and get re-motivated to chase all of my dreams.
I'm not usually one for self-help books, but Rachel Hollis approaches self-help in a light, conversational way. It doesn't feel like she's lecturing you or on a soap box. To me, it felt like she was just providing real stories about herself and giving lessons she learned along the way. As an overachiever and a writer, I totally related to many of her chapters, especially the chapter about "No" and the chapter about writing.
There were so many great quotes that I actually have on my mirror now to keep me inspired. Rachel helped me cut through the distractions and self-doubt that had been pervading my mind in order to achieve my goals. This book really was what I needed to re-start my passion for my dreams.
I highly recommend this book to anyone feeling uninspired or down about their dreams. It really is eye-opening, and she has chapters that would speak to any woman in any walk of life.
Thank you, Rachel, for helping me remember why I was chasing my dreams and that "no" isn't an acceptable answer when it comes to dream chasing.
~USA Today Bestselling Author, L.A. Detwiler
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USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door