Writing About Trauma

(Given the title, the content warning might be obvious…)

I really have to wonder about my choices of things to write about. Even when I try to write something happy, bad things end up happening to my characters.

It’s been that way for a lot of the time that I’ve been writing. Early on in my romance author career, which happened under a different pen name, a publisher told me to stop writing about abuse survivors, because they were present in every one of my books. I did try, but the books I wrote with “healthy” characters were flat and uninteresting, and they didn’t sell so well. I couldn’t connect to the characters.

I have unfortunate experience with abuse and trauma. I can relate to characters who have gone through it. I ended up going back to writing the type of character I was comfortable with, and those books, at least some of them, sold pretty well and got decent reviews.

That doesn’t mean I enjoy writing about those characters. Or at least, I don’t enjoy writing about the horrible things they’ve gone through. Sometimes it’s just painful. Other times, it’s triggering.

But I keep writing the stories because those are the characters who come to me asking that their stories be told. Which might sound weird if you aren’t a writer, but believe me, to writers their characters sometimes seem to have lives of their own.

The Dangerous Side of Dating

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Last week, I talked about the new book I’m working on, which is about relationship abuse.

Unfortunately, this is something too many people encounter. It seems to be particularly prevalent among teenagers, especially if they’re dating someone older, but even with someone the same age. When you’re kind of just learning how to be in a relationship, you don’t always know what is or isn’t okay. And it’s easy for someone to take jealousy as a sign of love, when it often really isn’t.

According to the website loveisrespect.org, one in three teens will experience dating abuse of some kind. For one in ten, that will be physical violence. Statistics indicate that it happens more to girls than guys, but those statistics might be affected by the fact that boys don’t often report dating abuse. If a guy slaps his girlfriend across the face, most people would say that’s abusive, but if a girl does the same to her boyfriend, people act like it’s no big deal.

And that, of course, is the heteronormative perspective. I wasn’t able to find stats on dating abuse among LGBTQ+ teens in the short amount of time I spent researching this post.

Any incident of abuse is one too many. But people on the receiving end of the abuse often try to make excuses for their partner—or take the blame for their partner’s behavior. They lie about injuries and pretend the relationship is just fine. Sometimes they realize things aren’t fine and are able to get out of the relationship. Sometimes they aren’t.

Sometimes the relationship costs them their lives.

Loveisrespect.org has resources available if you’re in, or think you might be in, an abusive relationship. Those resources include online chat, a phone line, and a text line for people to contact. If you’re concerned about a relationship, whether yours or a friend’s or family members, please visit that site, or talk to someone you trust.

Work in Progress

CONTENT WARNING: DATING ABUSE

Recently, I started a new project. It isn’t the easiest thing to write, but I think it’s important. My publisher suggested I stick with contemporary fiction, so that’s what this is, but in the real, contemporary world, sometimes things are not easy to deal with. And those are the kind of thing I seem to end up writing about much of the time.

This book is about a boy who is in a relationship with another boy. Doesn’t sound so unpleasant so far, right? Relationships can be good things.

But this one isn’t so good. The main character thought at first that his new boyfriend was just a little nervous about being in a relationship. Then he thought his boyfriend was insecure about his other friends. After all, there’s nothing unusual about being a little bit jealous when you’re in a relationship with someone, right?

It might not be unusual, but sometimes it becomes poisonous. When the “little bit” of jealousy becomes the boyfriend taking away his phone to read his texts, and listening in on phone calls, and following him around to make sure he isn’t cheating, it isn’t so good.

And when none of that reassures his boyfriend that their relationship is solid, and the jealousy becomes physical abuse…

That’s the part that’s tough to write about. I know too many people who have experienced that. And I’ve seen too many teens on social media saying things like “He doesn’t love you if he isn’t jealous,” and even implying or flat out saying there’s nothing wrong with physical abuse in a relationship. There IS something wrong with it. It’s never okay.

That’s why I’m writing about it, even though it isn’t easy. I want to make sure people know it isn’t okay. I want people to know they can find help getting out of that kind of relationship.

But first, I have to finish the book.

Teaser Thursday- Cutting Cords

From book 3 of the now out-of-print Reality Shift series.

I arrived at school before the custodian unlocked the doors, so I sat on one of the benches outside to wait. Since the beginning of school, I’d become used to hanging around out there in the mornings. Some days, they’d unlocked the doors by the time I arrived. Depending on how the nights went, sometimes I reached the school too early. I didn’t know what I’d do when the weather turned cold. Waiting outside during our winters wouldn’t be pleasant.

I’d only been there a few minutes when Jonah showed up, walking up the path with his long, dark brown ponytail hanging over his backpack. The light in his blue eyes showed even from a distance. My heart gave its usual happy little jump when I saw him, and I told it to knock it off.

“You aren’t usually here this early,” I said as he sat beside me on the bench.

“What happened last night?” he asked abruptly.

I stared at him, trying to sort out whether I’d done something to make him angry. After a few seconds, I decided I hadn’t. Jonah tended to be pretty up front about his feelings. If I’d upset him somehow, he’d tell me.

Which meant I had no clue what he had on his mind. “What are you talking about?”

He set his backpack on the ground. “You can’t answer a question with a question, Shanna. Last night around eleven thirty, I had a really strong feeling that something went wrong with you. If I hadn’t known you’d get in trouble, I would have called to find out if you were okay. What happened?”

He’d known about my parents’ fight and Mom’s dragging me out of bed. Maybe not the details, but he’d known something. It didn’t even make sense. Jonah had a psychic-y way of knowing things; I’d seen that. Whenever we spent time together, he knew whether something bothered me or had happened. This time, he’d known from half a mile away. It shouldn’t have even been possible. “What do you mean, a strong feeling?” I asked, hoping my question would make him forget his.

Of course that didn’t work. He sighed. “Question with a question again. I mean that when something’s upsetting or hurting my friends, I can feel it. And you’re a good friend of mine. Again, what happened?”

I tried to process the “good friend” part.  I’d only known Jonah about a month and a half, since the beginning of school. So far, he’d become the best friend I’d ever had. I just had trouble believing he’d think of me that way. Friends I’d had in the past had never thought as highly of me as I did of them, so they didn’t usually stay my friends for long.

“I’m waiting,” Jonah said patiently after a minute or so. “You don’t have to talk about it, of course. I’m just concerned, Shanna. You have a bruise on your energy field, too.”

“I bumped my head,” I mumbled. My hair covered where the mop handle had hit me, so he didn’t see any bumps or anything. Of course, every injury showed in my energy field.

Jonah looked closely at me. Oh, yeah. Lies showed up in people’s energy fields too. I looked away. “Must have been a pretty hard bump,” he commented.

“Yeah.” I glanced at him out of the corners of my eyes, unable to look him in the face. Most of the time, I told Jonah the truth about my life. However, lying about the stuff Mom did had become so much a part of me that I did it without thinking. “It still hurts.”

He reached toward me. Instinctively, I shrank back. Hands reaching for me didn’t usually mean anything good.

“Shanna, I’m not going to hurt you.” He gently put his hands on my head, exactly where Mom had hit me.

I flinched before I realized it didn’t hurt. Only warmth from Jonah’s hands, more than just body heat, touched me. Energy, flowing from the universe, through him, into me.

Reporting Abuse

I’ve talked and blogged in the past about reporting bullying. This week, I’m talking about reporting abuse.

For some people, the idea of reporting abuse by a parent or partner is terrifying. The fact that making the report might lead to a major life change, such as moving to a new home, is only one thing that might worry someone. Reporting an abuser, if the report isn’t handled properly, can lead to an escalation of the abuse. Some people feel safer accepting the status quo than trying to leave the situation.

But no one deserves to be abused. If it’s safe to do so, reporting abuse can lead to an end to the abuse. There are hotlines which can be contacted for help, and some have ways to prevent an abuser from finding out a report has been made. Informing law enforcement or other professionals about abuse does carry a risk, but those reports are usually taken seriously.

If someone you know has told you they’re being abused, even if you’ve promised to keep it to yourself, reporting it might be the best thing to do. As a friend or relative of someone who is being abused, you can’t always help them, and carrying that knowledge might be too much for you to handle alone.

If you are in an abusive situation, I hope you’ll at least consider seeking help. You deserve to be safe and happy.

Unhealthy Relationships

I originally posted some of this on Tumblr, but I think it’s important enough to repeat here.

In high school–even in middle school/junior high–a lot of people are starting to think about relationships. Going on dates, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, finding that one person who completely gets you and who maybe should be an ongoing part of your life.

Sometimes, that words out well. One of my high school classmates posted on Facebook over the weekend that it was the 30th anniversary of the day he asked out the girl who is now his wife. (For those who like math…I’m 45, so you can figure out how old I, and therefore my classmate, were 30 years ago.) Sometimes, middle school and high school relationships don’t last that long, but you still have fun, have positive experiences, and learn a few things along the way.

And sometimes relationships aren’t quite so healthy.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who says you aren’t allowed to talk to certain people, or who holds you responsible for the behavior of other people in your life and for whether that behavior is “upsetting”…If you’re in a relationship with someone who holds you responsible for *their* behavior and mental health…If you’re in a relationship with someone who insists on seeing or hearing every conversation you have with others, or who tries to stop you from having conversations with anyone except him/her/them… If you’re in a relationship with someone who constantly threatens to leave you if you don’t do exactly what they say…

Think carefully. You don’t deserve to be controlled and manipulated. You deserve to be loved and accepted. To be treated kindly. To be happy. To feel safe AT ALL TIMES with the person you’re in a relationship with

Jealousy, control, manipulation, threats…those aren’t love. Those are toxic at best, abuse at worst. And if there is any physical violence, it’s abuse. Full stop.

It isn’t your job to make someone “better” when you’re in a relationship with them, or to “fix” them from hurt or trauma in the past. It’s your job to protect YOURSELF. That might mean listening to people who try to warn you about red flags in your relationship, even if you don’t like what you hear. It might mean keeping friends and supportive people in your life even if the one you’re in a relationship with tells you not to. It might mean breaking up with the person and being alone for a while. But YOU matter.

If you’re in a relationship that feels unsafe and/or unhealthy for you, please get out. Get help. Talk to a friend, a family member, a guidance counselor, whomever. Visit a website or call a hotline such as LoveIsRespect.org. Take care of yourself. Please.