Combating the Heartbreak of Erasure

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Part of my commitment to courage in writing fiction is my desire to give voice to the marginalized: people with mental illness, people of minority sexualities, people who are neurodivergent. Almost all my characters, even those more superficially on the “inside” of society, find themselves in situations where they feel cast adrift, either geographical or emotional outsiders. Many are expats. Most cling to an equilibrium that’s fragile at best.

These are the people I love, the ones who feel like home and whose stories I want to provide a home. Our culture erases or flat-out ignores their stories so often as a matter of course that writing such narratives feels like a radical, even transgressive act.

And it’s not always well-received. My latest novel, Etched On Me, faced 15 (yes, 15) rejections before being accepted by a publisher. Many editors called the book “too dark,” “too difficult.” Well, hate to break it to you, NYC, but that’s exactly what life is like for a young, queer abuse survivor fighting for her right to be a single mother.

Lesley’s story needed to be told. She is a fictionalized dramatization not only of a famous real-life case, but of the thousands of women with mental illness who face child protective services’ involvement in their lives at three times the national average. Their struggles fly quietly under the radar, thanks to privacy concerns and bureaucracy, but with Etched On Me I had a golden opportunity not only to showcase Lesley’s struggle, but to humanize it as well.

It’s far too easy to dismiss a statistic. But a story, with a warm and real (albeit fictional) voice behind it, is much harder to turn away from. And that’s one of the many reasons I keep writing.

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8 thoughts on “Combating the Heartbreak of Erasure

  1. I have a friend who started her own literary press because she waned to write the stories she cared most passionate about. She would like her books to be best sellers, but she said she was not going to compromise her story just to get a publisher. Apparently there was one novel an editor was interested in, but he kept asking her to make changes. After awhile he lost interests because she did not want to change things, and she choose to eventually publish on her own via Amazon. Maybe this is the solution for someone who wants to tell a particular story, but is having issues with finding a publisher. Such stories are probably not going to appeal to mainstream readers, and you can definitely find the right audience by promoting it yourself on social media. Also, my friends novels are not selling wildly, but I was excited when I found a review of someone who had purchased her book, and really made a lot of good points about it. She had not seen this until I discovered it, but to her this was more rewarding than finding a publisher who would only market a book if he fit his vision.

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    1. So true! I would have self-published Etched On Me had it not found a publisher, no question. And like your friend I cherish every positive review and piece of feedback I get from readers.

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  2. Good on you for writing stories about underrepresented voices! I’ve always felt most drawn to stories like that, which I attribute not only to how I’m an eternal outsider looking in, but also because Grimms’ Fairytales was the first book I ever read, at three years old. I knew early on real life can be very dark and depressing, and that not everyone is so-called “normal.”

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