Flinch Not: Digging Deep to Research a Tough Subject
By Ashley Warren
On a sunny day in early 2010, I sat in my parked car, late for an appointment, stunned by an NPR story about sexual predators. I had no idea such criminals roamed freely on university campuses.
Since then, I’ve paid close attention to the issue. It never goes away, and by all accounts the crime is pervasive at every college. As I heard story after story, I began to wonder if I could write a novel about victims whose lives were brought together by a common assailant.
To write a credible story, I had much to learn. Readers demand plausibility and accurate details, and this was all fresh territory for me.
One of the first topics I explored was the rape kit exam, a four-hour procedure described by victims as a nightmare. Next, I read of the aftereffects of medication offered to victims to reduce the risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. To flesh out the story, I explored many minor subjects: the range of good LSAT scores, chastity pledges, low alcohol cocktails, and the charges filed against Roman Polanski in 1977.
To make the character of Lauren Le’s mother credible, I researched the patterns of Vietnamese immigration in the 1980s and 1990s. To describe one harrowing scene, I learned about the physical attributes of scalding burns.
My hours of exploration turned into days, and then the days stretched into weeks. I read books on the subject. Two of the best were We Believe You by Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino, and Missoula by Jon Krakauer.
We Believe You related the first hand account of many different survivors—life before the attack, the attack itself, and the long painful road that followed. Their stories were heartbreaking but also inspiring. I came to see the survivors as heroes. Many of them went on to become patriots in the fight to create a safer world for future students.
As I dove deeper, I learned of the symptoms of victims: stress, guilt, shame, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, anger, depression, flashbacks, and feelings of powerlessness. I found this quote on the website of the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA:
“Afterwards, I was too ashamed and confused to tell anyone what had happened. I tried to forget about it. But, it was eating away at me. I withdrew from my friends. I couldn’t concentrate. My grades fell. I started to drop classes. I had no self-confidence. Eventually I dropped out of college and returned home . . .”
It surprised me to learn that some victims become sexually promiscuous after their assault. Psychologists believe they do this in an attempt to take control of their feelings of abuse. In Survivors’ Dawn, I wove this behavioral pattern into Lauren’s character change arc.
As I dug deeper, I kept encountering the same chilling statistic: approximately one in five undergraduate women has been the victim of attempted or completed sexual violence during college. The source, I learned, was a 2012 study conducted by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
In his book Missoula, Krakauer references the clinical psychologist David Lisak several times. This quote is from Missoula:
“What Lisak found was that students who commit rape on a college campus are pretty much like those rapists in prison. In both groups, many are serial rapists. On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.
“‘It’s quite well-known amongst college administrators that first-year students, freshman women, are particularly at risk for sexual assault,’ Lisak says. ‘The predators on campus know that women who are new to campus, they are younger, they’re less experienced. They probably have less experience with alcohol, they want to be accepted. They will probably take more risks because they want to be accepted. So for all these reasons, the predators will look particularly for those women.’”
To prepare to write a hearing scene, I researched university processes for adjudicating complaints. The rules and procedures varied widely from school to school, so I felt comfortable designing my own. In the Survivors’ Dawn hearing, Colin Jordan is not allowed to question his accusers directly, but he can channel questions to them via the review board of faculty members.
To craft the climactic pivot in the story, I spent hours researching the legality of clandestine recordings of conversations. Different states have different rules. Some states allow such recordings with the consent of one party; others require the consent of both parties. I went back on forth on this issue, doubting my plot twist, but then I found a case where a serial rapist was convicted largely due to a phone conversation recorded by one of his victims.
Researching this novel was often heartbreaking, at times infuriating, and occasionally inspiring. When I started writing the first draft, I had an enormous cache of facts, data, and true stories. Although my first duty to the reader was to write an engaging story, I forced myself to stay within the confines of what really happens on college campuses.
Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers are fictitious characters, but when you read Survivors’ Dawn, you will walk with them—you will feel their fear, despair, anger, disgust, purpose, redemption, and hope.
Thank you for having me. Book bloggers make the world a better place!
About the Author
The unending accounts of sexual assault on college campuses compelled me to write Survivors’ Dawn.
My goal in writing the novel was NOT to focus on the act itself, but instead, to write of the victim’s journey, to tell a story about the strength, courage, and determination of survivors, to describe the difficulties they face in their pursuit of justice, and finally, to offer hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
As Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” implies, non-victims can never truly know how it feels to be assaulted, but we can try to empathize, and we can try to help. Awareness is key to reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campus. Please do your part by taking the It’s On Us pledge and contributing to organizations that are fighting on the front lines.
Thank you to readers who give me encouragement. It means so much to me. Word of mouth is an incredible thing, so thank you also for telling your friends about Survivors’ Dawn.
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About the Book:
Title: SURVIVORS‘ DAWN
Author: Ashley Warren
Publisher: Chaparral Press LLC
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Women’s Fiction / New Adult Fiction
A heroic story of three college women’s fight for justice
At first glance, Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers have little in common: a churchgoing virgin, a party girl, and a resident advisor. But they all have their own dreams, dreams that can be shattered in a single night.
When freshman Brooke Flanagan first arrives at the university, she’s excited to escape her sheltered life in a Southern town. Lauren Le, a scholarship student, likes to have a good time, but she never disappoints her hardworking, single mom. Nikki Towers always goes her own way. Confident, poised, and wealthy, Nikki’s biggest problem is what to do with her future.
Into these girls’ lives walks Colin Jordan. Colin is the son of a private equity titan, captain of his club basketball team, and a brilliant pre-law student. He is also a sexual predator.
Survivors’ Dawn relates a journey of heroes: the strength, courage, and determination of the victims as they fight to survive; the obstacles they face in their pursuit of justice; and finally, with its conclusion, hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.
A contemporary novel, Survivor’s Dawn wrestles with issues of privilege, sexual assault, and the responsibility of academic institutions to protect their students.
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A Day in the Life is Literarily Speaking’s newest feature. Here we get a glimpse into our favorite author’s day-to-day life! Today’s guest is Kathleen Shaputis, author of the magical realism romance, Their Witch Wears Plaid.
Welcome, welcome. Outside the window next to my computer, life is still cloaked in the darkness of early morning at 5:30 am. This is my most delightful time with the keyboard and my latest work-in-progress, everyone else in the house is asleep. Grab something to drink and join me. I have my diluted glass of Diet Coke, doctor’s orders to cut down on caffeine, it contains nine ounces of water and three ounces of DC. I usually go through three or four glasses during my mornings at the computer.
However, the dark mornings are made warmer (no matter if it’s twenty-four degrees outside) by a stately lamp post my husband installed at the edge of Junior’s Memorial Garden. Outside the window, is the edge of the front porch and then the stretch of trees saplings, white heather and a few other forever green shrubs. Oh, and the quiet of the house will be disturbed at least a handful of times by the three vocal cream-colored Pomeranians (Bouncer, Brugh and Miss Jazzy) at my feet barking at absolutely nothing. And maybe the occasional howl from Bouncer as his wolf ancestry comes out, while the others bark.
Mornings are dedicated to writing and social media. I never get to sleep in, despite weekends or holidays, because the fluffy trio demand to go out to pee. No, a doggie dog wouldn’t help because we have brazen coyotes, racoons and such outside, occasional black bear. And don’t get me started on the black-tail deer which will set off the dogs immediately. As it is, my writing will be interrupted as I’ll have to call them in from bark continuously in their distorted protective way (there’s nothing out there, I swear) or they’ll wake the neighbors.
Okay, the sun is up – and hopefully I’ve put in a thousand words or two into a new manuscript or edited x-amount of pages. Writing a first draft is one thing, but you end up rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. The rest of the house finally makes their presence known, typically just hubby, but we have a teenaged grandson who spends the weekends with us and may be moving in this year to finish high school as his mom is getting married and moving out of the area. This is the signal it’s time to put away my invisible friends and return back to reality. Not my favorite thing to do.
But there it is there, as my older brother use to say. Even living in my two acres of woods in the Pacific Northwest, I face the drudgery of laundry, washing dishes and grocery shopping. Paying bills, weeding the garden and trying to stick to my keto diet. Never a dull moment in the life of an author. Bottoms up!
About the Author
Kathleen Shaputis lives in the glorious Pacific Northwest with her husband, Bob, a clowder of cats and three pompously protective Pomeranians with little social aptitude: Brugh, Bouncer and Miss Jazzy. If not writing, she’s busy reading and watching romantic comedies, her ultimate paradise.
Her latest book is Their Witch Wears Plaid.
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About the Book:
Title: THEIR WITCH WEARS PLAID
Author: Kathleen Shaputis
Publisher: Clutter Fairy Publishing
Genre: Magical Realism / Paranormal Romance / Romantic Comedy
A giant-sized Druid, annoying trances and frightening nightmares mess up Nell’s festive end of summer plans. Living in Scotland, a palm reader for Baillie Castle, Nell loses her heart to a professional jouster. But is her shining knight in cahoots with the sinister Druid?
Will the recipe of a magic coin, diva queens and witches be enough to save Nell from death? Or will evil triumph over love?
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My, What A Difference Thirty Years Make
Jane Mersky Leder gives us her insight on the myths of teen suicide.
Imagine a world in which there are no cell phones, no social media, no World Wide Web. Think about a culture in which prejudice and silence reign—in which discussions about gender and sexuality, physical and emotional abuse, suicide are taboo. Remember a time when there were no role models for LGBTQ teens, when, for the most part, gays and lesbians were in the proverbial “closet.”
Well, that’s the way it was when I wrote the 1st edition of Dead Serious back in 1987 (Atheneum/Avon.) The workings of the teenage brain had yet to be fully understood. Myths about teen suicide (about suicide, in general) had not been refuted. It was the general consensus that teens who talked about suicide just wanted attention: they were not to be taken seriously. Besides, talking about suicide would make matters worse. Better to not utter a word and hope that the person struggling with suicidal thoughts would magically work things out on his/her own.
We’ve learned so much about teen suicide since 1987. Still, the number of young people who take their lives has reached a 40-year high. What are some of the reasons why more and more young people choose to die? What are the unique stresses they face?
Before talking about some of the pressures on today’s teens, it’s important to understand that there is NEVER just one reason why a person decides to take his/her life. There are often more than a dozen. It may surprise you that academic pressure—not breakups, not bullying—is, according to student surveys, the Number One cause of anxiety and depression among teens. There is always the next big test, the pressure to do well all the way through school, the pressure to get into a good college. Sure, adults faced the same stresses as teens but not to the extreme that kids today face.
Young people today spend an average of nine hours a day on social media, watching TV, and listening to music. Those nine hours eat up a lot of time for anything else—talking with parents, spending time with teachers, doing homework. And the effect of social media can be alarming. A teen who is bullied online cannot escape. Home is no longer a safe haven. There is no place to run, no place to hide. Sure, a teen can turn off her cell and cancel all her social media accounts. But she won’t because the need to “know” trumps any hurt and pain.
Other factors that may impact a teen’s mental health and could, if the problems go unchecked, lead to suicide include: loss, divorce, a move, physical and/or sexual abuse, economic stress, addiction. Again, it is important to recognize that there is never one cause of suicide.
How to address these issues and help break the cycle of teen suicide? Serve as a conduit to health professionals. Take a person’s suicidal thoughts seriously. Listen. Show compassion. Suggest using a suicide hotline or one of the many organizations that help support teens in trouble. And never keep a person’s suicidal ideation a secret. Better to break the code of silence and have an angry teen than to have no teen at all.
About the Author
Jane Mersky Leder was born in Detroit, Michigan. The “Motor City” and original home of Motown have driven her writing from the start. A “Baby Boomer” who came of age in the Sixties, Leder is fascinated by the complexities of relationships between generations, between genders, and between our personal and public personas.
Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide, was named a YASD Best Book for Young Adults.
The second edition of Dead Serious (with a new subtitle): Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide, will be published on January 23, 2018, and will be available as both an ebook and paperback on major online book sites, at libraries, and at select bookstores.
The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, and Thanks For The Memories: Love, Sex, and World War II are among Leder’s other books.
Leder’s feature articles have appeared in numerous publications, including American Heritage, Psychology Today, and Woman’s Day.
She currently spends her time in Evanston, Illinois, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
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About the Book:
Title: DEAD SERIOUS: BREAKING THE CYCLE OF TEEN SUICIDE
Author: Jane Mersky Leder
Genre: YA Self-Help
Thirty plus years after publishing the first edition of Dead Serious, this second completely revised and updated edition covers new ground: bullying, social media, LGBTQ teens, suicide prevention programs, and more. Scores of teens share their stories that are often filled with hurt, disappointment, shame–yet often hope. Written for teens, adults and educators, Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide explores the current cultural and social landscape and how the pressure-filled lives of teens today can lead to anxiety, depression–suicide. Leder’s own journey of discovery after her brother’s suicide informs her goal of helping to prevent teen suicide by empowering teens who are suffering and teens who can serve as peer leaders and connectors to trusted adults. The skyrocketing number of teens who take their own lives makes Dead Serious: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide more relevant and important than ever.
“Talking about suicide does not make matters worse. What makes matters worse is not talking.”
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A Day in the Life is Literarily Speaking’s newest feature. Here we get a glimpse into our favorite author’s day-to-day life! Today’s guest is Jennifer Chase, author of the crime thriller, Dead Cold.
A Day In the Life of Jennifer Chase
I write in one hour or two hour increments during the day and evening. This allows me to be able to complete other things such as household chores, promotion, exercise, and errands. One of my favorite things is when I begin one of my new thriller projects, I love creating the bad guys. I work out my Big Three: Physical, Background, and Psychological.
When I outline the bad guys for my novels, it often reads like a police rap sheet and a psychological profile. I cannot overstate the effectiveness for research and outlining in fiction writing. There are those little pieces of nuggets that you can weave into the story that gives it the added realism and authenticity. These nuggets are like pieces of gold for me, and I love hunting for them.
Research into creating new characters works well for me because I love learning new things that I didn’t know yesterday, but it can be a daunting task if you don’t enjoy the process. I’ve managed to streamline my development a bit, so that I don’t get overwhelmed with too much information and avoid a major time void sucking the life out of me.
This is where I create the actual physical qualities of the character, what he/she looks like, mannerisms, specific characteristics, how he/she dresses, and even habits. I begin to get a real picture in my mind how this person looks, walks, and talks. It’s a writer’s character rap sheet with an added dimension.
Now it’s getting to be fun. This is where I begin to develop who they are with a history, life experiences, family, work environment, criminal activity, relationships, living conditions, education, and anything that wasn’t addressed with the physical area.
Now, I have an actual image of the character and some background information. It’s endless in creating the mind of a bad guy, and you can have so much fun with this area of writing. This is no doubt my favorite step to creating a bad guy. I like to have these characters answer a few questions for me, like what they would do if confronted with certain situations. This also includes their internal and external conflicts. Many of my bad guys are serial killers, so they are skewed with distorted perceptions, beliefs, and lack of impulse control. How fun is that?
About the Author
Jennifer Chase is a multi award-winning crime fiction author and consulting criminologist. Jennifer holds a bachelor degree in police forensics and a master’s degree in criminology & criminal justice. These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent sociopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling. She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists.
Her latest book is the crime thriller, Dead Cold.
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About the Book:
Title: DEAD COLD
Author: Jennifer Chase
Publisher: JEC Press
Genre: Crime Thriller
What happens when one California community has a disturbing spike in homicides? It catapults cops into a deadly game of murder. Frozen human body parts hideously displayed at the crime scenes offers a horrifying interpretation that only a sadistic serial killer could design—and execute.
On the hunt for a complex serial killer, vigilante detective Emily Stone must face her most daring case yet. Stone’s proven top-notch profiling skills and forensic expertise may not be enough this time.
Young and ambitious, Detective Danny Starr, catches the homicide cases and discovers that it will test everything he knows about police work and the criminal mind. Can he handle these escalating cases or will the police department have to call in reinforcements—the FBI.
Emily Stone’s covert team pushes with extreme urgency to unravel the grisly clues, while keeping their identities hidden from the police. With one last-ditch effort, Stone dangles someone she loves as bait to draw out the killer. She then forces the killer out of their comfort zone with her partner Rick Lopez, and with help from a longtime friend Jordan Smith. A revelation of the serial killer’s identity leaves the team with volatile emotions that could destroy them.
The killer continues to taunt and expertly manipulate the police, as well as Stone’s team, and as they run out of time—they leave behind everyone and everything—in Dead Cold.
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Title: GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL
Author: Ellen Marie Francisco
Publisher: Scribbles and Ink Publishing / Friesen Press
Millions of viewers have made the television series “Orange is the New Black” a pop culture sensation, but Ellen Marie Francisco (http://www.EllenMarieFrancisco.com) has no interest in watching it or reading the memoir, by Piper Kerman, which spawned the hit show.
Francisco has lived her own version of “Orange is the New Black,” an experience she refers to as “innocent in oranges.” “Oranges” is prison jargon for the orange jump suits worn by prisoners who have been charged but who have not yet been to trial, Francisco explains.
Francisco, an author and entrepreneur, describes her experience behind bars in her latest book, GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL (FOR THE BAD GIRL IN US ALL). A gripping and candid tale of her journey through three California jails for women, GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL (https://books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000025993982) also serves as a resource guide for navigating the legal thickets necessary to surviving what Francisco dubs the “Incarcer Nation”.
GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL “is a call to action to remedy the lack of support for pre-sentenced women sitting in jails across America who are not educated enough to understand what they’re negotiating in the courtroom,” Francisco explains, “and for the women who don’t realize how close they already are to the courthouse steps.”
Francisco was arrested in 2013 in Lake Arrowhead, California and charged with carjacking, assault with a deadly weapon and robbery after an incident involving her impounded car. The charges were ultimately dropped, but not before Francisco had served nearly two months in three county jails. While locked up, she talked to hundreds of women “each on a different path without a definitive end, each living with the certain fear that they were not in control of their own lives.”
Those conversations became the nucleus of GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL.
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Wow, where do I even begin with this? Good Girl’s Guide to County Jail was an awesome read. Self-made business woman, realtor and mother of two Ellen Marie Francisco goes to get her car out of impoundment jail. When the person behind the desk tells her that they don’t take checks, she takes it upon herself to go get her car and drive it out of the lot. Big mistake – the impoundment jail police stop her, she is arrested and embarks on a journey quite foreign to her. Being locked up when you’ve never been to jail was an eye opener to the point where she thought maybe women (and men) on the outside needed to know what really goes on in the inside and in a lot of circumstances, the situations are quite ridiculous.
For one thing, though, if impoundment jail didn’t have a ‘no checks allowed’ sign up, they would have an argument, but if not, that’s a rude awakening for someone walking in with a check wanting to get their car out of jail. With that said, because the author needed to be at a certain place at a certain time, she was desperate and took it upon herself to go get her own car and drive it out of the lot. I would say that’s probably not a good idea. If she hadn’t done this, then she wouldn’t have ended up in county jail. They say all things happen for a reason so Francisco decided to turn lemons into lemonade and gather information from the inmates and lawyers so that people on the outside would know what to expect should they find themselves in the same situation.
But what was eye-opening to me was the fact that all these inmates had a story to tell and because of the laws of the land which we all need no matter how ridiculous they sound, they were inside because of an action they took they shouldn’t have taken according to the law books.
What also opened up my eyes is that the ‘being in jail’ stigma lasts forever. Once you are in jail, people get this perception you’re a bad girl. Francisco did not commit armed robbery. She didn’t kill anyone. She was not selling drugs and she didn’t abduct or kidnap anyone except for her own car. Not everyone in jail fits that mold. But the law is the law.
I read this book from cover to cover in one sitting. Hearing from the inmates who wanted to remain anonymous about life behind the bars was a head-shaking revelation. The lawyers she interviews added helpful tidbits about such things as why sentences are getting longer, plea bargaining and other great information I wasn’t aware of.
Everyone needs to pick up their copy of Good Girl’s Guide to County Jail to gain insight instead of being judgmental.