The question I’m being asked a fair bit is “why did you write this story?” This is probably one of the most complicated questions I’ve ever been asked, and the answer changed every step of the way. First of all, let me start by letting you know there are trigger warnings regarding domestic abuse and violence in the book and potentially in this blog post.
When I sat down to write this book, I didn’t expect it to be anything special. I thought it would join the ever-increasing collection of shitty first lines, first paragraphs, and first chapters that have been abandoned on the desolate wasteland of my Google Drive. For a long time, its title was something like “Contemporary Thing.”
I rewrote the first page and a half six times before it ever hit editing. I spent hours on three paragraphs. I erased them. I rewrote. I erased that. (You get the point.) I contemplated dropping it. But somewhere down the line, I figured out what I was writing — and I realized it was special, which both made the journey easier and more difficult.
Too Close isn’t autobiographical, but it is grounded in reality — in my reality, and in other people’s. Abuse touches so many people’s lives, directly or indirectly, but it isn’t something we talk about. There are so many reasons why, but in my experience, it has come down to one basic truth: it’s complicated.
In another world, it would be simple. One partner would perform a specific action, and the other would leave. But in reality, there are other factors: love, fear, children, finances, nowhere to go. Many people who are abused have been slowly but systematically isolated from friends and family, and they don’t know what to do.
Another question I’ve been asked is, “What message are you trying to send with this book?” By contrast, the answer to this one is simple: I didn’t consciously set out to send a message. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, considering the element of abuse, but I didn’t know what I was trying to tell people.
I can’t dictate or predict what readers will take away from this book. Maybe they’ll get an idea of how complicated abuse is in practice and how many factors can suspend someone in an unhealthy relationship. Maybe they’ll think I didn’t villainize the abuser enough or that I villainized him too much. Maybe they’ll think that Skylar is too innocent and too blameless or maybe they’ll think he’s weak, whiny, or spoiled.
Maybe they’ll just laugh at my gloriously terrible puns and carry on without it affecting them at all.
I wouldn’t mind a shift away from the knee jerk, “I’d never let myself be abused…!” Because that shame is part of the reason I don’t — didn’t — talk about my experiences. I realized after I finished Too Close that I could count how many people knew I’d been in an abusive relationship. I could even more easily count how many people knew any details. Over a decade later, I could definitively tell you who I’ve told. Until now — and maybe even now — it was too taboo, uncomfortable, unwelcome, shameful.
The stigma has to be lifted, and the need to remain silent and alone has to be addressed.
No one deserves to be abused. No matter what. And if you’re in an abusive situation — even if it seems hopeless, if you feel helpless, there are options. Spoiler alert? Unlike Skylar, I didn’t have a hot math teacher to get out of my situation, and I didn’t have a dependent younger sibling to be strong for. So take heart from that: this is fiction, and some of it is what I wish had happened instead of what actually did.
You are strong. You are worthy. You can break free. You may not believe it right now, but you deserve better. There are people who will help you.
In the end, I’ve rambled at you for several paragraphs to tell you the answer: the reason why I wrote this book is every bit as complicated as the reason why people stay in abusive relationships.
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: http://www.ncdsv.org/ncd_linkswominternational.html
Skylar Orion’s life has been complicated ever since his mother abandoned him and his sister Evie. Making ends meet seemed impossible until Tate Chandler took them in — his knight in shining armor who promised to make life about more than just surviving. But Tate is not the man he seemed to be, and even his whispered I love yous and generous gifts do little to soothe the pain he causes. Knowing he can’t give his sister all that she deserves without Tate, Skylar stays with him, relying on bad puns and a worse sense of humor to keep up the charade.
He will do anything for his sister, even if that means acting the responsible adult and going back to his old high school to meet Dexter Weston, the hot math teacher who can make even algebra interesting. Sparks fly between the two of them, but with his dependence on Tate, Skylar isn’t free to follow his heart. He wants what is best for Evie, but can he pass up the chance to find love that heals instead of harms?
Warning: This book contains scenes of domestic abuse and violence that some may find triggering to read.
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R. Phoenix has an unhealthy fascination with contrasts: light and dark, heroes and villains, order and chaos. She believes that love can corrupt and power can redeem. Her muse is a sadomasochistic slave driver who thinks it’s terribly amusing to give her the best ideas when she just got comfortable and warm in bed, and she passes on that torture to her readers. She also tries entirely too hard to be funny, and she mercilessly inflicts her terrible sense of humor upon anyone who speaks to her. She’d love it if you’d say hello!
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