Rape and Childhood Abuse

As a book reviewer, sometimes you dread opening up a new book. It could be amazing. You always hope for amazing. But more often than not, you find yourself facing the mediocre, or worse, a book that you can barely force yourself to finish. That’s why it’s a relief when I hear that someone wants a book by M.D. Meyer reviewed. To give you just a taste . . .

In The Little Ones, in their first experience as foster parents, Colin and Sarah Hill find themselves caring for the two daughters of the man who sexually abused Colin as a child. Less than six years old, the girls already show the signs of severe neglect and abuse—Emmeline lashes out physically; Verena eats from the garbage like a stray dog.

Chief of Police Colin works to solve a kidnapping, only to begin to suspect that not only is the girls’ father out of jail and back in the remote Native reservation town of Rabbit Lake, Ontario, but that he is also behind the kidnapping. Worse, he’ll do whatever it takes to get his daughters back.

In The Little Ones, Meyer effortlessly weaves together suspense, the contemporary issue of the lasting scars of child abuse, and theology as her characters seek to answer the question “Can God be both merciful and just?”

And after saying just that in a review for Maranatha News, I had the opportunity to write an endorsement for Meyer’s next book—Jasmine.

Eight months after her rape, Jasmine Peters has isolated herself from everyone who loves her. When her childhood friend Andrew Martin returns to the remote Native reservation town of Rabbit Lake, Ontario, after finishing his training with the RCMP, he hopes to ignite the sparks of romance that used to exist between them, but he barely recognizes the woman he finds. She’s gained weight and is filled with fear and anger.

Andrew slowly begins to bring her out of her self-imposed exile, then loses all the ground he’s gained when he has to arrest her father. Unable to face yet another loss, Jasmine’s desperate attempt to escape the pain endangers not only her life, but the lives of Andrew and two others as well.

Although some of the plot twists near the end might be a stretch, I rushed to see what would happen. Meyer had once again tackled a delicate topic with sensitivity and grace. I think Jasmine’s struggle can help woman who’ve been raped know that they’re not alone and that healing is possible.

As the author of five books, M.D. Meyer has never shied away from addressing difficult issues. That’s something that I really respect about her writing. Jasmine was the first in a new series, and now that it’s on sale, I thought you might be interested to know what drives her to also tackle those tough, touchy topics.

MK: You’re not of First Nations’ ancestry. Why did you choose to set this new series in a First Nations’ community?

MDM: I worried about how my books would be accepted by readers since I’m not of First Nations’ ancestry, but I seem to gravitate there. Maybe because I spent the first four years of my life in a First Nations’ community. Maybe because my mom was a foster parent, so the brothers and sisters I spent my days with were First Nations. The Northern lifestyle is familiar to me and comfortable to write about.

MK: Where did you get your inspiration for the plot of Jasmine?

MDM: It actually came in the form of inspiration for a whole series. After attending two Rising Above conferences and leading support groups for people who’d experienced sexual abuse, I thought up the idea of a fictional support group with a separate story for each step in the healing process. The books are short and can easily be read in one week, so my dream is that these books can be used in a real support group for weekly discussions.

My focus for this first book was on the first step in the healing process – telling your story. Jasmine, at the beginning of this book, is very much in denial. I chose the issue of rape to start with because I’d focused on child sexual abuse a lot in my previous books, and I wanted to balance this with the adult sexual abuse.

MK: What research did you conduct to understand what women who’ve been raped go through?

One book that I read was Surviving Procedures after a Sexual Assault. I was also studying a lot about depression and post-traumatic effects. But how could I possibly write with the voice of someone who’s suffered through something I haven’t? I rely a lot on the stories that people tell me of their experiences. As I write their common thoughts and feelings in my characters, my story becomes the story of the thousands who’ve gone through a similar trauma.

MK: Can you give us a sneak preview of the plot of the second book?

MDM: In Lewis, I ask the question, “Why would a young woman leave the security and love of her home to sell her body on the streets?”

MK: What motivates you to tackle such thorny issues in your novels?

MDM: The love of God for a hurting world. As I come to accept that God truly loves me and accepts me, I want that for others too. I want them to know God’s amazing, unconditional, and abundant love.

To learn more about M.D. Meyer and her books, visit her website at www.dorenemeyer.com.

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Looking Ahead

As we begin a New Year, I thought I’d take a moment to look back, and plan ahead. What are your writing goals for the year? Do you have any?

Marcy and I are great friends. We met at Write! Canada in 2004. We happened to take the same fiction intensive class and became instant friends. At Write! Canada 2008 we decided to begin writing together about a mutual experience we knew needed to be told. We hoped that by combining our credits and experience we could get closer to our ultimate writing goals. While at the conference, we were able to pitch several editors, land a few assignments and also began writing regularly for Maranatha News doing book reviews.

And we haven’t looked back.

What are our ultimate writing goals? Well—we’d love to have our fiction published (is it too vain to want people to read your fiction too?). We write articles to pay the bills, get clips and gain experience, but our first love is fiction. To that end, we’ve both written a few fiction manuscripts that may never see the virtual shelves at Amazon. And that’s OK. But I keep writing. We keep writing.

At Write! Canada 2008

Seeing Improvements

I like to go back every year and look at my past work and see how far I’ve come. I look at those early manuscripts and see everything I did wrong, and realize how much I’ve learned and improved. That’s encouraging for me. I’m getting closer.

And while I continue to work on my own freelance career, working with Marcy over the last year and a bit has taught me a few things I’m not sure I would have learned any other way.

Planning

I do not like planning. It’s boring, tedious and I just don’t like doing it. Give me a blank document and I’m happy to go from there. Marcy is a planner. Give her a blank document and she stares at it totally lost. She needs an outline. Working with Marcy has taught me the value in doing some planning—and I hope that working with me has taught Marcy that “pantsing” (writing by the seat of your pants – no planning) also has its merits.

Self-Editing

Nothing makes you examine your own work, and scrutinize every word, more than knowing your writing partner is going to make your page look like a red pen vomited all over it. Marcy, and a number of the editors I’ve worked with, taught me the value in accepting an edit. It’s hard to let someone look at your work and tell you everything that’s wrong with it, but ultimately it makes your work better. As a writer, this process has forced me to know why I chose that word, that quote, that statistic, so when it comes up in the editing process I can decide whether something stays or goes.

Working as a staff writer taught me to really examine who my audience is, and how to write for them. When I wrote for Teen Challenge, I had in my mind a picture of the typical couple who were Teen Challenge sponsors. This couple became the testing group for every word I used. Would they know what that meant, would it mean the same thing to them that it means to me? Asking myself those kinds of questions was incredibly valuable and beneficial.

Pushing Yourself

Working with someone else gives you greater accountability. You always have editors that require you to meet deadlines, write clean, do your own fact-checking, etc. But when I hear about a new assignment that Marcy’s landed, it motivates me to keep digging and sending queries. We push each other to always write better and not be satisfied with just doing enough. Writing is such solitary work, having others there to encourage you is invaluable. I’m also a member of a local writers group that meets monthly. Join a local writers’ group, or an organization like The Word Guild, Inscribe, or the AFCW. Find like-minded people who will do more than pat you on the back, but actually push you to be better.

Heading into 2011

And as I’ve looked back on the things I’ve learned and my various achievements, I always try to keep in mind where I’m going. There are so many volunteer opportunities and distractions, I’ve become ruthless with my time. I ask myself, will this help me get where I want to go?

Marcy and I have ambitious plans both for our freelance careers, and our fiction endeavours—including working on a manuscript together. But this year, I’m also striving for balance. As a wife and mother of three busy elementary school-aged children, I need to do better at turning off the laptop and spending quality time with my family too. Deciding to work from home was one step in that direction.

So, tell me your writing goals. What’s helped to encourage and motivate you to keep at this writing business?

Lisa

From On Spec to Assignment

Most freelancers dislike writing on spec because finding ideas for articles and pitching editors is time consuming (and sometimes fruitless if no one likes the idea). Also, as much as our conscientious Canadian faith-based editors try to avoid it, articles can get pushed back for months at a time, themes change and publications get reworked. Stuff happens.

When an editor asks you to cover an event, interview a particular individual or write on a specific issue or topic, it means they already have a place for that piece. Assignments mean you’ll get paid for your effort, and your writing will go to print (most of the time). And if an editor offers a kill fee, it’s win win.

Self Promote

Let the editor know that you’re interested in taking assignments, some freelancers aren’t. When I submit an article accepted on spec, I usually drop in a few lines at the bottom of the email letting the editor know that I’m available for assignments and am willing to write on a tight deadline—should something come across their desk, would they think of me. A tight deadline is better known as short notice. I’ve landed a number of assignments by being available.

Be Professional

I have been offered assignments after working with an editor just once because I treat my freelancing like I would any other job. I meet deadlines, write well, write clean, research and cite my sources, adhere to guidelines and word counts, am willing to be edited, and I’d like to think I’m easy to work with.

What Editors Want

We asked a few of the Canadian faith-based editors we’ve worked with what they look for from a freelancer. Here’s what they said about how to go from working on spec to landing assignments (all emphasis mine):

Bill Fledderus — Faith Today

[I look for] evidence that the writer is capable (e.g., past work for same editor, writing samples or well composed query)…Evidence that the writer knows the publication’s readership or is in sync with it (e.g., writer is him/herself part of target demographic). Evidence the writer is professional (can meet deadlines, contacts editor early if focus begins to shift during research or to renegotiate word length, is comfortable being edited). [emphasis mine]

Are you easy to work with and able to take constructive criticism? Are you reliable? Do you follow instructions? Are you capable? These are the questions freelancers need to answer for editors.

Fazal Karim, Jr. — The Christian Herald

Freelancers write in essentially saying they can write anything we need. That’s nice, but an editor likes some direction in knowing what the writer’s all about…You’re not locking yourself into a box if you say you like doing one-on-one interviews. If you’re affordable, competent and easy to work with, you’ll get asked about other features as they arise.

Anyone who’s had to write a book report on a novel they hated understands that the finished product is always better if you’ve enjoyed the assignment. As a professional writer, if you accept an assignment you had better be able to deliver what you’ve promised, but editors are looking to hand out assignments writers can be passionate about.

Peter McManus – City Light News (Calgary)

Be succinct. Don’t clutter up their email box with multiple emails. Do some homework regarding the “style” required. (e.g. written in third-person, as a column, or a newsbrief).

Editors are going to remember the freelancer who made their job easier and followed their preferences. If you continually annoy an editor by spamming their inbox, query with ideas they don’t publish, etc. I can assure you that kind of squeaky wheel never gets the grease.

Stephen Kennedy – testimony (PAOC)

I would need to read something they’ve written. I need to believe that they understand and will respect the nature of our publication. To get more than one assignment, they need to respect deadlines and word counts. Again, to get a second assignment, they must be humble enough to accept that their work needs editing.

Steve is an editor for a denominational publication. Most editors accept freelance material from writers who aren’t members of their denomination, but they’re looking for writers who understand their particular denominational preferences, traditions and theology. You’re not going to get far with these editors if you can’t write to their specific audience.

Johanne Robertson — Maranatha News

We are looking for writers that can meet a story deadline and stick to the assigned word count. Someone that is mindful of submission dates. Have included the who, what, when, where, how and answer the question, why should our readers care?

There are several Christian newspapers in Canada. These publications are some of my best sources for assignments due to the frequency with which they publish, and their need to have timely and relevant material. These editors are interested in the here and now stories – the rally next week in your community or a recent Supreme Court decision as it affects the Church .

Have a question? Send it to us and we’ll do our best to help you out. Who knows, your question just might be our next blog post.

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.