Monthly Archives: November 2012

It’s Okay to Be Like Everyone Else: A Five-Miler

I’m in a crowded room and then I’m in a bathroom.  I’m holding my breath.  I see someone. He’s carrying this biological terror inside him, this virus that he’s going to unleash on the world, so I take a deep breath and slip out the back door.  I end up in a bathroom, and there’s no toilet paper on any of the dispensers, so I dig under the sink and grab a handful of rolls, which I’m handing to several strangers.  And then I hear my name. It’s him again, and  he’s screaming for me.  Come help me, El, he says, so I go to him, and he’s fallen in this shallow pool with tiles on the bottom.

I hesitate.  I’m scared.  Then I see blood dripping from his mouth and eye, and I leap in there and grab him.  I lead him by the elbow to the infirmary.  But then I must leave.  I’m the only one who knows how to stop the virus.  The secret is orange juice.  The scene changes, and I’m sitting in the back of a car watching a long line of cars queued up for gas, trying to get the courage up to run inside and buy orange juice.  I must buy it, and save myself, and then save everyone else.  But first I gotta get out of the car.

I wake up, shivering.  It’s 6:55 AM and it’s time to get the kids off to school.  I make a mental note to buy orange juice.

It’s 9:45 AM.  I zip up my red running jacket and tap my Nike sportsband.  It’s 38 degrees, so I’m wearing shorts but once I get a mile under my belt, I’ll be warm enough.  My body is tired but my mind is not.  As I jog along, slow and steady, my thoughts flit and fly about and I let them be without trying to control what comes into mind.  I don’t have any agenda when I run today.  I just run.

My run follows the trail along Burke Lake.  Light brown leaves hang from tall pen oaks above me, and many more leaves obscure the soft dirt underfoot.  It smells like burnt wood and mold and dirt and lake water, which for me is what Heaven must smell like.

Last night, I stayed up until three AM working on draft two of I Run.  It occurs to me now that I once ran to keep from drowning under the sea of troubles I then was facing.  There was something almost superhuman in the miles I covered, but even as I ran and ran from my pain, I ran my body almost into ruin.  I smile, gently, thinking of the odyssey of healing and faith I was on, and thank God I don’t have to run like that anymore.

An old man wearing gloves nods at me, and I wish him a good morning.  I need to go to WalMart on my way home from this run because we’re out of laundry detergent.  It’s not the worst task I’ve ever faced it, but I’d rather be outside running past the birdwatchers clutching binoculars than negotiating the blue aisles of a discount store.  I sigh, and allow a small half-smile, because I’m happy now.

But when I ran fifty, seventy, even ninety miles a week, as I did in the pages of I Run, I wasn’t so happy.  It was never enough to be average, or good enough, or middle of the pack.  It wasn’t enough to run 15-20 miles a week, or get Bs in school, or less than excellent reviews as a young lawyer.  If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t enough.  I needed that external proof of my own value; I needed it like a woman needs oxygen, because I did not have my own source of self-value.  I knew not the unconditional love that God’s grace provides.

An Oriental woman runs past me in the other direction, and we smile at one another.  Fast or slow, tall or short, we’re all runners, and we’re in this together somehow, even if we never see one another again.  I used to be afraid to be like everyone else, “in it together with them,” because without trophies or a high enough salary or a low enough average running pace, I would be left with just me, my essence, my very being, and that could not possibly be enough.  After all, how could anyone love just me, without a good reason why?

I check my watch.  I’ve run 2.5 miles, and it’s a good time to turn.  A five-mile run is nothing heroic, and that’s okay.  I don’t need to be a hero.  I’m healed now, healed from so many things, including this sick sense that I have to accomplish anything to earn the title of being lovable.

Because that is what I am.  You see, I’m just like you and the next man or woman.  God loves us all, just the way we are.  I smile again.  He loves me.  And as I head back in the other direction toward my Mazda, I think about picking up the orange juice.  Today is my day to be like everyone else, and if that includes making a trip to a discount store, then I’ll face it with a smile.




What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?




The Mendacity of a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy

Here is what’s going down in my daughter’s life . . . to protect the privacy of all participants, I’m using initials instead of names, and in some cases have switched initials up.

Dear School Board Rep. MM:

Re: bullying of MEF

I am attaching the e-mail I sent to the principal at TCES. My daughter, MEF, a 4th grader in Ms. GB’s class, has been subjected to bullying all year, which has now culminated in assault. We are considering contacting the police and we certainly will do the same if another hand is laid on my daughter. One of the children involved in the assault has been harassing MEF since second grade. At that point, Ms. Principal S switched my daughter into a different class. In this case, that will not be a satisfactory resolution.

TCES has a so-called zero tolerance bullying policy, which as far as I can tell simply protects the strong from serious repercussions. Given the increase of teenage and even pre teenager suicide that results from bullying, I am very concerned that the school isn’t doing more. While my daughter is not as of yet demonstrating signs of depression, she is showing an increasing desperation and sense of isolation. To date, she has tried to stand up to the children who have been hurting her, and somehow this has led her teacher to argue that MEF gives out almost as well as she gets. I find this more frightening than laughable.

Regards,

ELF___________

 From: ELF
Subject: bullying
Date: November 15, 2012 4:04:51 PM EST
CC. Principal S

Hello GB:

As we mentioned during our Parent-Teacher Conference earlier this month, we are concerned about KZ’s bullying of MEF. This has been occurring all year and today, it culminated with my daughter racing off the bus in tears. Apparently at recess, MEF was sitting alone and playing a game. Three boys (AK L, DG and KZ) marched over and spat at her (which they also did yesterday). One of them ran up and called her a “Guana [sic] Pig” and “Ninja Pig” and when two girls tried to intervene, KZ pushed MEF, causing her to fall down. AK kept calling MEF these nasty names; then DG shoved and pushed MEF into playground equipment. MEF tried to chase them away, and they screamed, “Leave foul beast.” At some point, AK said, “I hope your little ‘sister’ dies” (referring sarcastically to my son TJF, who tried to stand up for his sister during recess yesterday). At some point during this, MEF called KZ a “stupid idiot.”

At the end of this, KZ told MEF that she’d better not tell on him, or else he would tell on her and say that she was bullying him. This, of all the things I’ve heard from MEF, disgusts me the most. She admits to calling KZ a “stupid idiot” only after she was shoved, pushed, called epithets, struck, made fun of and basically tortured.

I do not want to hear what I heard earlier this year: that “boys will be boys.” No. You have a zero tolerance bullying policy. Let’s go ahead and see that policy in force.

Let me be clear: this is a clear pattern of bullying. We have spoken with you regarding DG, Ms. Principal S. In second grade, we switched MEF to a different class after he sexually harassed her. I don’t want him to ever lay a hand on my daughter again and I don’t know how else to make this clear. And Ms. GB, this is at least the fourth time I’ve raised the issue of bullying, either in writing or in person, this year. MEF loves being in Ms. GB’s class. At this point, if anyone is moved, it must be the perpetrators and not the victim.

I would appreciate if this e-mail is forwarded to the parents of all involved children. And Husband and I request an action plan.

Regards,

ELF
___________________

Mr. Vice Principal PBJ:

Thank you for calling me earlier. I’ve received the rest of the story.

MEF just got home from school and told me she was afraid to answer your question about pushing. To your “leading question” of, “Do you think it’s okay that you pushed the boys,” she didn’t answer what she was really thinking. At that point, she’d given up. It isn’t polite to argue with adults, mom.  What she said to me was, “I was trying to protect myself from them. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t fight back. Especially when they’re spitting at me and calling me bad words. But I didn’t bother telling Mr. PBJ that because he didn’t want to hear it. They don’t really care. Why can’t you just transfer me to a different school, anyway?”

At school today, Ms. GB caught AK and KZ (I think) while they were spitting at MEF. (to MEF’s tremendous relief, Ms. GB gave them a serious rebuke). AK was also bragging that he’d lied and told you that MEF had hit AK (which is nonsense). AK thinks it’s hilarious that he’s pulled one over on you and has somehow convinced you that MEF has bullied THEM. I refer, as exhibit 1, to MEF’s near-perfect behavior record. Seriously. Go ask all her prior teachers.

Oh, and one other thing MEF did not tell you: she has tried to defend herself physically in the past. One day she hit KZ, in the stomach, at recess when he was bullying her. He laughed at her and called her a “weakling.” I fear that she will try to protect herself and will suffer harm at the hands of these boys, who are much bigger, stronger and heavier than her.

What’s happening here is a small, sweet kid is trying, really, really hard to take matters into her own hands. She is trying to create a safe space for herself. When she tried to do that and enjoy some peace, the boys invaded her space (a situation that seemed laughable to you because it involved a make-believe “command center”), spat at her, called her a PIG . . . and then she’s in trouble for pushing them? This is nonsense. Unlike some of the kids in her class, she is not a violent kid, but she’s trying to do her best “to survive,” as she put it. If you don’t act soon, someone is going to get hurt. Please work with me to keep my child safe. I am not satisfied with your response.

Regards,

ELF

On Nov 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM, PBJ wrote:

Good Afternoon ELF,

I am sorry that MEF has the perception that we do not care about what she said because we do.  As I said on the phone, our goal is to make TCES an inviting, safe space for all of our children.   We have begun taking steps to address the concerns we uncovered today and will continue to do so.   I would be happy talk with you further about this either on the phone, or, if you prefer, we can meet next week.  Please let me know how you would like to proceed.  I expect I will be here for at least another thirty minutes, if you would like me to call you tonight please let me know.

PBJ

We won’t stop.

ELF      Date:   November 16, 2012 5:01:24 PM EST

To:       PBJ

I’m far too upset–in tears– to speak to anyone more tonight.

____________

I wasn’t exaggerating. Before I’d typed this, I’d asked all three children to go outside for 15 minutes.  So I could cry.  I needed to break down, feel weak, feel this, for just 15 minutes.  Then I got my shit together, which really only happened when my husband walked across the threshold.

After I took a run, I calmed down and got back on the computer.  A friend of mine sent me a note last night.  She told me a pretty haunting story about a bully named KZ (the same KZ) who tortured one of her son’s friends so badly last year that the child transferred to another school. Yep.  The victim transferred to another school.  My friend added that she heaved a sigh of relief when finding that KZ was not in her child’s class this year. “My son is happy again.”

KZ has chosen another victim: my daughter. His parents don’t or won’t intervene. Meanwhile, the school has erected a smattering of anti-bullying signs around the hallways—the same hallways KZ prowls, searching for victims. 

He preys on the sweet kids. The ones who wear glasses, or are a little bit unique, or aren’t surrounded by a posse at all times. And he’ll keep on hunting until the school stops him. You know what sort of thing happens when the school bureaucrats don’t act?  Kids take their own lives, or they bring a gun into school and . . . well.  Columbine.

What do we do?  I’ve prayed on this a lot.  I’ve prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me; I’ve asked Him for peace and love and I’m still praying, and pretty damn confused.  I know one thing for sure.  I will not go along with the blanket of secrecy that the school uses to shroud the misdeeds of out of control students.  I will fight, and I will not stop until my daughter is safe. So help me God.

 

 

 

 

 

 




A Hail Mary Pass Thrown into Swirling Gust of Wind: Medicating AD/HD

I paced back and forth in front of my son’s first grade classroom, waiting for his teacher to finish talking to another child’s parents.  My husband tries to come to as many parent-teacher conferences as work permits, but I’d scheduled this one for 10 A.M. on Election Day, so I was going into the breach solo.  And while I didn’t want to feel scared and worried and a little sick to my stomach, I did.

Too often, these conferences hadn’t gone well in the past.  At the very first one, when Ben was still in preschool, his teacher glared at me with this serious, disapproving look.  “You know, you’d better get a handle on this sooner than later, when there’s still time.  Otherwise, he’s going to end up in jail.”

I glanced at my husband in shock.  “Jail?”  I gasped.

“Jail,” she repeated.  “At this rate, with this much oppositional behavior, this much anger, jail.”

In case you’re wondering, we switched preschools after that.

Things got worse before they got better.  When Ben was in kindergarten, I would jump when the phone rang.  If it wasn’t the school calling, I breathed a sigh of relief.  When I visited Ben at school for lunch, his classmates told me that my dear son was “bad.”  As I have written here, this hurt like hell.  I felt powerless and not a little clueless.  The last thing I wanted to turn to was the medicine cabinet.

But we did it anyway, both for our son’s sake, and for our own.  The payoff was not immediate because we had him on too low of a dose: 10 mg of Metadate, which is a generic form of Ritalin.  But once we got the dosage right (20 mg), the turnaround was immediate.

And yet, as I stood in front of Mrs. X, I wasn’t sure.  It had been about three weeks since we’d increased Ben’s dose, and we hadn’t heard from her except for one phone call, which I received the day after we increased Ben’s dose.  It had been a really weird call.  Mrs. X called for the sole reason of telling me that Ben had behaved well all day.  Was this an anomaly, or a new beginning for our troubled six-year old?

Before I even sat down in front of Mrs. X, I knew the answer was the latter: Ben had gotten a fresh start.  A redo, a do-over.  “You know, I’ve been looking forward to this meeting,” beamed Mrs. X.  “It’s been like night and day, like a sun rising, ever since you made the brave step of getting him the help he needed.”

“Really?”  I couldn’t breathe so I tried to sit down without smashing my knees into the tiny table in front of me.  I’m clumsy like that.

“Yes.  Really.  The transformation has been the biggest one I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of AD/HD kids.  Sometimes the meds help a little.  Sometimes a lot.  In his case, he’s gone from . . .”  Mrs. X paused to find a tactful way to say it.  “Well, from struggling, to being helpful, and attentive, and funny and . . . oh so kind.  I mean, he was always sweet and affectionate, but my gosh.  Now he gives me flowers, tells me how much he loves me—“

—“He’s always been so affectionate and sweet,” I murmured, my heart hurting.

She nodded.  “The great thing is that you made this change for him early in the year.  So his classmates won’t always remember him getting in trouble.  I mean, they all struggled to figure out the rules in the beginning, so he didn’t stick out as much in their minds.  And now he’s getting along with his classmates.  He’s funny and well-liked and . . .”  Her voice trailed off and she smiled at me.

Some decisions, when viewed from hindsight, seem obvious.  Other ones seem divinely inspired, like small miracles.  But the decision to medicate our son was more like a Hail-Mary pass thrown into a swirling gust of wind: a combination of savvy quarterbacking, divine guidance and a tad of blind luck all in one.

 

 

 




Ripple, or Women Helping Women: A WIP Blog Chain

As most of you know, I’m aiming for a Christmas release date for Ripple. My friend Deb Bryan linked to me on a chain that contains a few questions about my upcoming book, so here goes . . .

What is the Working Title of your book?

Ripple. Renée Jacobson came up with it while she helped me on the first draft. She told me to listen to the Grateful Dead song of the same name. The following lyrics inspired the name:

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

After considering a host of alternatives, I’m sticking with Ripple as the title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The characters came first and the plot followed. I used dialogue as a therapeutic device while in treatment for chronic PTSD. To help me unwrap my messy past, I wrote conversations between my adult self and my younger self, or “Little El.” Eventually, the name “Phoebe,” which means “Child of light,” entered my subconscious, and so little El became Phoebe. Before I composed the main plot of Ripple, I asked myself the following question: what do I wish my mother had done to my abusers? The instant answer was: I wish she had killed them.

And so the main character of Ripple, Helen, becomes the avenging mother I wish I’d had.

Meanwhile, the third protagonist, Cassandra White, was born one awful morning, when I awoke to “barf in the bathroom and a broken down bus,” which was the original working title. Instead of giving up her legal practice to raise kids and write, like I did, Cassandra practices law, and balances a busy practice with raising a family. The morning she awakens to the aforementioned disaster scene, she receives a phone call from a safe house for domestic abuse victims, which is where Helen and Phoebe are hiding. Cassandra becomes Helen’s defense counsel, and like me, battles her own demons even as she helps her client.

What genre does your book fall under?

I struggled with this one, because Ripple stretches across several genres. In some respects, it is a psychological thriller. Like Silence of the Lambs, it has a creepy sociopath stalking a little girl (seriously, you’re going to have to read Ripple to figure out who this is) and some passages that will make you cringe. Ripple could and should fall into the category of women’s literature as well, but I took care to create a few likable male characters.

And yet Ripple is neither a thriller per se or women’s lit: it’s a work of literary fiction, and clocking in at 132,000 words, it’s almost epic in sweep. Although it’s not a beach read, the nonstop action and constant motion leads to easy page turning. Readers who enjoyed The Color Purple or Lovely Bones will likely appreciate Ripple.

 Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

A movie producer-friend called me after reading the first few chapters of Ripple, and practically screamed, “Meryl Street must play Helen!” Indeed, the opening scene of Ripple features Helen, a high powered lawyer “who stands astride the legal profession” slamming a conference room door so hard the frame “shimmers and vibrates.” When I think of Helen, I think of the fashion executive from The Devil Wears Prada.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh no! I can’t . . . oh okay. Let’s see. A murder suspect teams up with a band of women at a safe house to trap a would-be rapist who is stalking her daughter.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I am completely stoked about my decision to skip the entire agency representation process and go straight to self-publishing. As I wrote to my friend, Deb Bryan, I want to retain artistic control over my product. Traditional publishing is run by “writamaticians,”—or folks that view writing more as science than art. The more I researched it, the more I saw that by and large, the only way some excellent novels get published is despite of the mediocre ministrations of a horde of agents and publishers and their minions. Instead of offering the public a true range of work, they act like politicians who form their beliefs only after using focus groups to determine what the public wants. Rather than gatekeepers for the public, agents and publishers act as low rent intellectual whores. And I want no part of it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

© E. L. Farris

Six months, give or take a year. I wrote the chapter about barf and the broken down bus a year before I was able to resume writing the rest.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As mentioned above, Ripple resembles Lovely Bones and The Color Purple, but it has a happy ending. Also, I adore William Faulkner, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger and pretty much all writers who take chances.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My therapist, who helped me piece myself back together and escape the mental prison of my past, inspired me to show other women how they could find their way to health and a better life. Therapists and professionals who give their all figure prominently in helping Helen and Phoebe turn from victims into Rebel Thrivers.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

© E. L. Farris, 2012 Zander’s inspiration

My characters move constantly, either on horseback, in vehicles, or running on foot on tracks, fields and cross country trails. Many scenes take place in conference rooms, where lawyers argue, negotiate and posture. My favorite character in Ripple, Zander, is based on my youngest son, Ben, and those of you who’ve read my blog entries about Ben understand just how entertaining Zander can be. My favorite scene in Ripple is when Zander climbs on top of a barn roof. He wants to see if his chickie can fly. You’d never guess who rescues him!

Thank you so much to my dear friend Deb Bryan, who tagged me in this blogging chain. Please mosey on over to visit the next link in the chain, my friend Stephanie Saye. The author of Little 15, Stephanie has completed one manuscript about a breakup gone really bad, and is working on another dystopian story about a man who gets pregnant after his wife is granted a wish by a psychic.

Before you go, do you have any questions or comments about Ripple?




A Real-Life Banned Author: Stephanie Saye

Stephanie Saye is one of my friends. She’s also the author of Little 15, which tells the story of a high school girl who has an affair with her basketball coach. Little 15 raises a number of provocative issues, like: whose fault is it anyway? What sort of moral culpability, if any, does the teenager bear? What kind of girl gets involved with a married man? What kind of married man violates all moral and legal precepts by sleeping with a child?

The plot of my upcoming book, Ripple, does not shy from difficult subjects either; indeed, by chapter eight, the main character has killed her child-molesting husband with a golf club, and yes, friends, Helen Thompson would do it again. Why? Because he had it coming to him? Or because he had threatened to rape their daughter again? Did the main character act in self-defense? Could she have prevented the rape from occurring? How does a girl heal after having been raped? How does a girl overcome the pain and stigma of rape and incest?

Like Stephanie Saye, I write about subjects that are taboo–that make grown men cringe. When I first pitched my book to friends and acquaintances, many people gasped, winced, or simply stared at me slack-jawed.  Soon enough I realized that many people couldn’t get past my one-sentence synopsis. I know that Stephanie has encountered similar resistance. But you know what? If people can find the courage to read our books, and to delve into the deep issues we explore, they might find the tools they need to carve a path out of their own darkness.

But there’s the rub: our books must reach the public.  And so when Stephanie dropped me a line the other day to let me know that Little 15 had been banned from a private literary event in Houston, well, I got fired up and asked her to write about her experience here. Without further ado, I present–

• • •

Stephanie Saye:

Do you know what sometimes happens to fearless authors who write controversial books?

Their books get banned.

And that’s exactly what happened to my book just last week.

Long story short, I was uninvited to market and sell my book at a high-profile literary event this week in Houston.

I’m not going to tell you the event name, because I’m not devious and I don’t believe in revenge. But I will say this: the keynote speaker for this event is a best-selling author (I’m talking New York Times Bestseller list here), whose blockbuster novel was recently made into a hit movie.

Up until a few days ago, I was one of a handful of authors selected to sell books before and after the big name author’s speech, which based on ticket sales, is expected to draw a crowd of over 1,000. And for an indie author hungry for sales, that’s like striking gold.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked diligently back and forth with the event coordinators on copy and images for promotional materials, including the event program that would feature a write up on my book. I did exactly what they asked of me every step of the way. I made travel arrangements. My husband set me up for wireless credit card processing. I ordered promotional materials for my booth, along with a couple hundred copies of my books from my publisher, which were delivered to my door step in six separate boxes that have since taken over my living room.

Everything seemed to be falling in place for this event, until I opened up my email one morning and found the following message:

Good Morning Stephanie,

Thank you so much for signing up for the 8th Annual [HIGH-PROFILE PRIVATE LITERARY EVENT]. After further review with administration, we feel that your novel is not appropriate for our event. Due to the nature of the book, we just do not feel comfortable including it at the event. I apologize for the late notice and decision. We thank you for considering to join our event and again we are sorry to have to decline.

We wish you the best with your future endeavors!

All my best,

[Event Coordinator Person]

Are you kidding me?

The thing is, the event committee APPROVED my book almost two months ago. As part of the selection process, I was required to send a copy of my book and a sample of reviews. Shortly thereafter, I got an official letter inviting me to promote and sell my book at the event.

So here’s how the cookie crumbled. When the copy for the event program went up the ranks for approval, a chief decision maker apparently stopped on the description of my book and took issue.

Little 15—a riveting story about a girl, her coach and their torrid affair.

“This points to a major breakdown in our selection and approval process that we will be sure to correct moving forward so this never happens again,” one official assured me over the phone. “We are so very sorry, but given the nature of your book, we just aren’t comfortable having it at our event.”

Fine. I know my book is edgy. I know it’s risqué. But as I told the event official, my novel is intended to be a cautionary tale—one that is helping to raise awareness of an issue that happens all too often in our schools. In fact, if you look at some of the reviews for Little 15, readers have said that my novel has inspired them to sit down with their kids and talk to them about this kind of abuse.

I used that and other reader feedback as the basis for producing a book trailer for Little 15, which I scrambled to launch last week on the heels of having my invitation revoked. Psychologically speaking, it was what I needed to do to move my artistry forward in the face of what some might consider a failure or loss. But in my mind, having my book banned from an event because of the nature of its content underscores my purpose as an author: to write books that move me, no matter how off color my stories might be in the face of mainstream societal beliefs.

On the other hand, I understand how the topic of my novel could be offensive. Literary works of art often are. And that’s OK. I knew that going in. But to change your mind a week before the event? When I’ve already invested in promotional materials and 250 copies of my books?

Judy Blume: Banned Author

*Inhales* *Exhales*

Moving on.

So now, as I reflect on the events of last week, I find myself asking the question: “Is there a silver lining to all this?”

Oh yes, my friends, there sure is.

As it turns out, having my book banned puts me in a category with some pretty famous authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou and Judy Blume to name a few.

All of these authors, and many like them, have had a book—or in some cases, books—removed from school or library shelves.

This sort of thing still happens all the time. I realize that my book wasn’t actually removed from a library or school, but having my invitation revoked to a private literary event gave me a taste of what censorship feels like.

In Good Company

To give you some background, each year the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that were “challenged” (their removal from school or library shelves was requested).

Not surprisingly, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (which is one of my family’s all-time favorites) draws the most complaints, commonly from parents and others who believe the books promote witchcraft to children. Other frequently challenged titles include:

  • “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, for its use of language, particularly references to race
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, for the description of rape she suffered as a child

    Harper Lee: Banned Author

  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, for offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
  • Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer, for religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  • Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, for offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  • My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

That’s a pretty impressive list, if you ask me. And I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t aspire to be a part of it. So why this allure to be part of the banned?

Because to me, being a banned-book author is more of an accomplishment than a drawback.

It means not being afraid of tackling hard-hitting topics that might make people uncomfortable. It means not shying away from writing about real-life drama that sometimes exposes the dark side of our human character. And it means having the courage to write for one’s self instead of being driven by what people think.

That’s what I did when I wrote Little 15.

And that’s what I’ll continue to do over and over again.

• • •

***Stephanie Saye is the author of Little 15—a story about a high school basketball star, her coach and their torrid affair. When she’s not writing novels, getting a wax or spending time with her husband and two sons, you can find Stephanie on the street corner trying to hock the 250 copies of her book that she’s now stuck with after getting banned from a recent literary event. A recovering corporate suit and a native Texan, Stephanie surprisingly does not own a horse, a gun or even a pair of chaps.

To purchase a copy of Little 15, please click on the link HERE.

What do you think about censorship, banned books and controversial topics?




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