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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