Surprises, welcome and not
This was not the post I meant to make this morning.
In fact, I wasn’t sure I had a plan to make a post. If I did, it would have been the standard, “Hey, I have a new release,” though it would have come with a little explanation that this one was a surprise, unplanned, and unannounced. There was a tiny plan, I suppose. It happened that the formatter had the book ready last night, so I slid links to a new release out in the early hours of the evening as they came to me, as they went live at vendors.
At that point we were simply waiting for election returns. Everyone was nervous—hopeful, because we’d been told this was in the bag, but we needed to witness and make sure. A few people said, “Yay, a distraction!” and that’s about what I meant them to be. No big deal. The whole point of Santa Baby was to be a little holiday fun, a departure, low-stress for everyone. I had a press kit and a blogger letter ready to go, a plan laid out. I didn’t exactly mean to “release” on election night, but the Amazon link went live, so I posted it, and there we were.
And then the bottom fell out of the world, and now I am writing a very different post.
To say that the U.S. election has devastated me and my family is a mild understatement. I won’t explain how this affects other members of my family only to say that it does, each one of them, in varying ways with varying degrees of severity. And it affects us all to know that our “friends” and neighbors, colleagues, relatives, associates of all stripes saw such an openly racist, misogynistic, bigoted, cruel man, with no experience on the job, and they chose him over a woman more qualified, more steady, more kind, and more everything. That’s hard for everyone.
However, what I cried to sleep over, what I had to be drugged to stop crying over, what I had to be held by my husband over, and what I ultimately had to call a crisis hotline at 3AM over, was that after a month of denying (and writing through) old wounds, I could no longer contain my pain and panic over the truth that the country of my birth had just elected a man who bragged of sexual assault, was accused of it by so many, and who is accused of rape of a minor—that this man has been elected President. I could not bear this because I am a sexual assault survivor.
I have been barely able to stomach seeing and hearing him all month, but I got through it on the promise he would be vanquished. Foolishly I think I put my demons into the nominee, decided with his defeat I would be freed too. My abuser was never dealt with. I attempted several times to reach out, to name him, to call him out, but it never worked. Every attempt was twisted, turned against me. Sometimes those who tried to help became snared in his net too. When I discovered he’d gone after someone very close to me, I tried to be brave, to face him down, but I don’t know if it worked. I shook the whole time.
I want to say it ended? Perhaps? Perhaps I delude myself. I went to college. I could forget. If I came home, if I saw him even across a room, I trembled uncontrollably and had to leave. I couldn’t breathe. A boyfriend offered to beat him up; perhaps he did? I don’t know. I stopped coming home as often, but then I began having panic episodes at school at random moments that made no sense. Sometimes they did make sense—I’d be making out with a boy and his hand would move the wrong way and I’d beat him off as if he were mauling me. Or I’d go still like a stone. Another time I nearly was assaulted a second time by a boy who escorted me to my room after a night out. I don’t know how I got away, why he left.
A campus pastor counseled me, got me through. He heard my story, validated me, offered to help me prosecute my abuser. I couldn’t do it, part of me afraid he could be turned too, even though a greater part of me knew there was no way this man could, that he would be one hundred percent at my back no matter what my abuser said. But his conviction, his faith in me were what I needed. It healed me. It gave me strength. Over the years the pain of that episode of my life would ebb and flow, a ghost coming to visit me, but it never seized me. I wrote a book about it, A Private Gentleman, and I felt I was done. Survivor badge achieved.
And then it came up in Santa Baby, unexpected. I don’t know how to express to you how surreal it was to be writing what was meant to be a warm, rich, mostly light-hearted polyamorous romance and be sideswiped by a sexual assault subplot. To be writing that while on Twitter authors raged and fought over whether or not it was okay for another author to be writing a book where a young girl is groomed by an adult man as a romance happening while I wrote that scene was rough. But to be neck-deep in that when the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America appeared in a tape bragging about how easily he assaults women, then watch those debates and witness the parade of women come forward, hear him berate them and watch the press scarcely believe them either, have no comprehension how to treat assault survivors?
I could barely stand to see the man, could not hear his voice. My only solace was that he would go down. Everyone assured me he would. He would go down—and I wanted him to—by the hand of a woman. A woman who looks so much like my mother.
And now I must accept my country has lifted this abuser up instead.
I have fallen back, into some kind of intense relapse I never saw coming. I have discovered this was never a ghost. Or rather there was something more that went with it. Something I must wrestle with. Right now it manifests in that I literally cannot stand to see or hear the man I am supposed to call President. I cannot say or write his name. His voice makes me start crying. Suddenly I am twenty again, running from a bar because I saw my abuser’s head across the room, shaking and vomiting and not understanding why.
I’m going to take care of myself. I got myself into RAIIN last night when the body blow was too much, when I could barely breathe and all my running caught up with me. They helped me unpack, taught me the breathing thing, and I’ve got numbers for someone local to talk to. So I’ll be okay.
But as I said. My post about my casual, surprise release is a little different than I meant it to be.
Santa Baby is still a light distraction if you want it, a holiday surprise. I’m adding third party links as they go live to the web page, but a lot of the big ones are already there. The story does have a serious subplot, as all the Minnesota Christmas stories do. Yes, Arthur and Gabriel have an open relationship in this book, and it’s not a threesome, not exactly. It’s a full-on polyamorous romance, with calendars to set up who has what weekend and everything. And yes, there’s a character dealing with sexual assault. I worked hard with someone I trust on this subject to treat it not only with dignity but with care. I wanted it to be something someone who had assault or abuse in their past would find healing, and to be honest, I wanted to continue my own healing.
I admit, I’m sad to discover I couldn’t write off all my own pain, that I’m not firm in my survivor seat with Dale this morning. But I’ll get there. And if you’re having a hard time, be it because of assault, or fear for your rights, or even simple anxiety and fear for what the nation will become, you can come and sit with me. Find me on Facebook page or profile, or Twitter, or Patreon, or in my books. You can bet I will be writing a lot. I’m finding this morning I have a lot of things I need to work through, and story is the only way I know how to do that.
Several readers have sent messages or notes as Santa Baby went live or was sent to them as a patron gift, thanking me because my story was “just what they needed” at that dark moment. Each time it made me cry, because even though of course that’s what an artist hopes to hear, that their work lifts people up, to hear it in that moment, that your work is a light in someone’s darkness when you are feeling so dark—I don’t know. It’s an odd reminder that you still possess the light after all. Like feeling that you’re drowning and someone reminding you that air is all around.
I have been trying to be more positive, to stay out of bickering and fray, to spread love not hate, etc. I still want to do that. I thought I would be angry today, and I will in a hot second if someone threatens my kid, but mostly I want to work to help, to spread hope, to build things, to move forward. I am dismayed and disgusted with so many people, and I have the feeling there are some very awkward conversations ahead, but right now I am spent. I don’t begrudge anyone else their anger, but I don’t have any right now. This amazon is benched, I’m afraid.
My next book is a Carry the Ocean sequel, somewhat in the spirit of Short Stay. Emmet has been talking to me. Oh, how I could use some Emmet right now. And then I will let the girls of Love Lessons tell me all about their helpless rage, and we will see what we will see.
But right now, I have a little Christmas, right this very minute, if you’d like it. I’m sending out information to bloggers later today, and there will be an excerpt up at USA Today Happily Ever After later this week. In the meantime, go take care of yourself. Don’t dwell on things that make you upset and scared. Be with people you love. Do things that make you happy. Consume art. Make art. Love.
Be light. Darkness only wins if we let it consume us. And I have met you, readers, spoken to you, known you. You are rays of light, every single one. You tell me my work lifts you up? Well right back at you. Right back at you.
Off to some self care.