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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82 Comments on “A Real-Life Banned Author: Stephanie Saye

  1. Way to go Stephanie! You are indeed in amazing company, and you have written something that makes people think, and talk. Now there has got to be a way to use this to create some buzz and move those 250 copies… 😉

  2. I think that the reason child sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence is still so prevalent in our society today is because people do not want to know, or admit that it happening at the rate that it is, right under our noses. Anytime anyone speaks out, in whatever form that may take, people will be uncomfortable and want to run the other direction, because we are supposed to be the greatest nation on the planet, right? One way people run is by censoring, banning books that speak the unspeakable, and that must stop. Those of us who write about those things must continue to write about them and bring the topics out into the light of day until people become willing to open their eyes, speak of their own experience, and force a change. So many women are taken by force in so many ways and people turn their heads. It is time we force theses issues into people’s faces so that we can be a force of change.

  3. Now that’s the way to bounce back, Stephanie! How sad for the organizers to be paralyzed by fear. Thanks for sharing this post/author, El!

    Growing up, my parent’s often filtered what I read. I wasn’t allowed to read the trendy (and often poorly written) teen angst novels; at least not many. They called it “bubble gum reading”; it gave you something to do, but offered little-to-no substance. They weren’t afraid of the potential sexuality, violence, or protecting the “purity of my spirit.” My father insisted that if I was going to pick up something for “free reading”, it should be a classic. He taught me about the gift that we give ourselves when we examine the uncomfortable parts of our society and ourselves.
    As a homeschooling mom, I am often challenged on what I not only allow my kids to read but insist they read as part of our literature class. Their reading lists are diverse and (they will proudly tell you) have included a large number of once (and sometimes still) banned books. Most of the books are their lists are also considered “classics.” “Classics”, I believe, earn that designation when a book can be read and re-read at differing points in one’s life and, with each reading, offer a new pearl of wisdom; be it a piece of self-awareness or insight into the world around us. I believe it is the stories that make our stomachs churn, our fists clench, and a bit bile collect in our throat that force us to examine our souls and sift out our beliefs. When one reads something that challenges their sense of right versus wrong, they are given an opportunity to look deeper into themselves and the community and world they are a part of.
    Literature is something that has bonded me to my parents, my children to me, and despite the deaths of both of my parents, my children to their grandparents. The discussions generated by books have built generational bonds and, I believe, my children’s characters.They know what they believe and are not afraid to defend those beliefs. That is the power of a book.

  4. Ladies, Wow. Just WOW. I can’t believe this. Because your novel? Describes a scenario that happens all the time. If your novel is edgy, well welcome to real life. I am in shock. So glad you are in good company. Judy Blume!!!!!

    • The decision they made to ban my book was all about saving face and playing it safe. And that’s their choice. But it sure as hell won’t change who I am as a writer. Burn baby, burn. Love you, my friend!

      • It’s so sad to me that, in this day and age, people are afraid to really look at reality, or even read nitty-gritty fiction that deals in the ugly truth. You wrote an amazing and powerful novel, and you should be lauded for that, not have the rug pulled out from under you at the last minute.

  5. Kudos to you Stephanie and thanks El for sharing this. My jaw was dropping as I read it. First off, what a miserable thing to do to you on such short notice and after so much money and time has been invested by you in this project. But of course, that is secondary to the significance of why you were banned. Once again, censorship is saying “let’s not talk about that”. What @ONE HOT MESS said above is right on! Let’s pretend it doesn’t happen here. Let’s hide it and maybe it’ll all go away. Let’s turn a blind eye to the rape, incest, sexual abuse that is so prolific and out of control. Only by speaking up, being heard, talking about it all, whether through fiction or non-fiction, can the message get out that No, everything’s not okay out there on our streets, in our schools and sadly, in our own homes where children should be safest and aren’t.

    So why ban a book like yours? What will happen when my true story of incest hits the market? It’s a TRUE story, not fiction. It happened exactly as I write in my book. And there are thousands like me out there! I have a Facebook group and page for victim/survivors of incest and sexual abuse. The stories they are sharing with me and each other break my heart. I cannot encourage them enough to talk about and when they have the courage and no longer fear reprisals from their abusers and rejection by their relatives who refuse to believe it’s happening in their own families, to write about it publicly. We MUST get the message out!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. My favorite thing is speaking at book clubs, because that’s when the conversation really starts to roll, especially when readers share how this issue has touched their lives. And I’m still shocked how many people have either gone through this or know someone who this has happened to. Best of luck to you with your upcoming release. I have no doubt you will help raise awareness on the issue of incest and rape – and I applaud you for getting it out into the open!

  6. Great post El. Am going to share this on my Facebook page at OUT FROM UNDER and with my group members at SPEAK OUT FROM UNDER This must be read. Really riled me up. But @Stephanie Saye, I’d be proud to be a member of the elite “banned” group. There’s another famous Canadian author, perhaps one of the most famous of all, Margaret Laurence, whose book was banned from high schools. All of these banned authors are the ones folks most want to read. So this’ll probably propel your book up the Amazon charts. Yoo-hoo. Play the “banned” card for all it’s worth LOL

  7. I wish I could say only in Texas, instead I will say it figures it happens here in my uptight home. I am sorry. You are in wonderful company though Stephanie and I am glad you have found the silver lining in what is truly shameful on a variety of levels.

    It infuriates me to no end, we continue to shove our heads in the sand. We refuse to see what is before us. Child endangerment, abuse, rape and acts of violence blanketed as love happen every single day in our homes and schools; we turn a blind eye. Some days we even wink and say well there must be something wrong with her, or boys will be boys.

    I have added your book to my Wish List Stephanie, right now I have more than 20 books on my bookshelf and have promised my Dearly Beloved I will buy no more till I have finished them and hauled a load off to the 50% Off Book Exchange.

    Thank you El for a wonderful share (I am anxiously awaiting Ripple).

    • You sound like me. I’ve uncovered a wealth of books since I decided to write my own sad story. So busy reading them I can’t finish my own LOL. But every story needs to be shared, read and talked about. All this abuse won’t stop just because we deny its existence!

  8. This stuff is real. My sister-in-law’s best friend was just charged with murdering her husband, leaving their three kids in foster care (my sister-in-law was their nanny). I don’t even want to imagine what kind of a monster he was to bring out that kind of mother bear.

    As far as censorship goes, I’m not sure what I think of it. People should be able to choose what they want to read.

    • Yep, this stuff is real! So sorry for what your SIL’s BF went through . . . Helen Thompson is shaking her head and grasping her husband’s golf club in sympathy.

      I have two minds on censorship. For sure the company was within its legal rights not to carry Stephanie . . . censorship is a bit different when a private company does it versus a governmental actor. At a minimum, what the company did was extremely rude and unprofessional. From an intellectual freedom standpoint, it bothers me that the company used all of its power to keep a controversial topic from obtaining a wider readership. While this is definitely not quite the same thing as censorship, it still does worry me . . . gah! I’m in a rush to do a million things and don’t have time to finish my thoughts. LOL!

  9. I think what the literary event did was completely unprofessional. Banned books are the most ridiculous thing. They are a throwback to the dark ages. If we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen is beyond ignorant and archaic. Certain books may be more adult content (I’m thinking erotica here) but should be shelved in the adult section.

    • Hey there Kourtney! “Unprofessional” is exactly the word I would choose. And the very concept of banned books is horrifying, isn’t it?! In general, hiding from unpleasant realities only makes the cleanup harder, you know? And yes, aside from shelving erotica in appropriate sections, for sure we shouldn’t limit the public’s exposure to controversial topics! Thanks for stopping by my friend!

  10. I really appreciate the way you (Stephanie) handle the situation and the enlightened point of view you took from it…Yes, your book was banned, but yes, you can move forward knowing you are amidst amazing authors who endured the same fate and perservered. Being a single mom of a young girl, I would most definitely read your book and take heed from it. In our world today where it seems that “everything and anything goes”, I’m disheartened that a book such as yours would be considered inappropriate in any literary arena. Writing is as much about the writing itself as it is about the content. It is an art form and allows for freedom of expression. Let those who can’t stomach it move along and those who will benefit be exposed to the work, you know? I wish you the best of luck as you head onward to new opportunities! Thanks, El, for sharing this with us! XOXO-SWM

    • Hello dear SWM!! I agree in applauding how Stephanie handled this situation! I know I would have been in a chair-throwing frame of mind (LOL–not that I would actually throw one–um, I think) after getting that obnoxious e-mail. And you’re so right that we live in an “anything goes world,” and yet that same tolerance isn’t extended to victims of rape and sexual assault! Thanks so much, my friend!! xoxo

    • “Writing is as much about the writing itself as it is about the content. It is an art form and allows for freedom of expression.”

      Just love how you wrote the above. I couldn’t agree more. I always believed that my stories are a form of art. Thank so much for the support!

  11. Whenever I hear that a book has been banned, it makes it instantly appealing. Must read it now! What a terrible thing to do to an author at the last minute. They should be ashamed.

  12. To all of you who have commented here and haven’t read Little 15, yet, I want to tell you that you are in for a treat. It’s a must-read with a unique point of view and wonderful, gripping, prose.
    And, to Stephanie, I am in shock that a literary event would shy from your topic. Your novel is so timely, with the revelations coming out of the Boy Scouts and Penn State. You did such a wonderful job of portraying the way people in authority groom their victims by writing from the POV of the victim being selected and groomed. It obviously happens to both boys and girls. I just wish you the best and I hope you’ll keep moving forward with your next novel so that I can read it soon.

    • Amen to the above Ann, and welcome! You’re so right about books not being written from the POV of victims . . . like Stephanie, I do the same (at least for part of Ripple) and it can be a really effective way to show the reader how the abuse really affected the abused. I hope you have a lovely day! ~el

  13. Blogger/Wordpress allow me access to your site a liittle less than half the time. (Hiss and spit). Today, I am beyond grateful that I was allowed to play. Many of the books which remain on my shelves and are read and reread come under the heading of ‘controversial’. I read to be entertained, but I also read to be educated, and most importantly to be made to think. Outside the box, or about issues which I hadn’t confronted or even considered.
    So, to both of you, thank you. And you will be well towards the head of my ‘must read list’.

    • Good morning my friend! And yes, some of my favorite books also fall into the controversial category. I like deep, raw and edgy, you know? Or as you said, “I also read to be educated . . .” exactly how I feel. Thank you so much for persevering and commenting!!

  14. Just started reading this book yesterday and I’m already intrigued. Edgy? Who cares? Banning is ridiculous in this day and age and clearly they haven’t looked at the bestseller’s lists lately. There’s plenty of edgy (or risque if you prefer) there. Makes me wonder what kind of book event this is…

  15. Fan-freaking-tastic, Stephanie! And you are in great company. Something tells me those books are going to sell. Congratulations for writing a fabulous book. You may have to wait for the dust to settle, but you have a BOOK! Mazel tov!

  16. Hi Stephanie, So sorry to hear that the book was banned from such an event, and on short notice. Really that is a breach of contract and I would think you could be reimbursed for some if not all of your expenses related to the event. I do think that is a tough topic but very real. When I was in high school many years ago a student had an affair with a married coach. And just 5 or more years ago the three teachers were fired (over the course of two or three years) for inappropriate conduct with female students at a local high school in a very nice area. Looking at some of the comments here I would like to share a thought…. As a parent, I do have to say there are some books I would rather not have on the library shelf at school where they could read them at a tender age. It is a parents job (and schools job) to allow children to be children by protecting them from knowing too much too soon. If a parent feels differently they can always own the book. But at least then it is an individual choice that respects everyone, from those who want to protect their children until they are a little older, as well as those who pride themselves on letting their children in on the adult world early. To each his own and that is a wonderful thing when we can all respect each others differences equally without one view trying to take the high ground. Best wishes to you with your novel. 🙂

  17. As a writer of books that should be banned I applud your courage. As print and fiction continue to lose ground and, really, die, there is no longer any reason to ‘flinch’ when writing. Dig deep into your soul and write for poserity cuz that’s probably all you are going to get.

    stevenrage.wordpress.com
    morbidbooks.wordpress.com

  18. This post gave me chills, both times reading it. My artist’s hat goes way off to you, Stephanie, for writing a controversial story you believe in and for your stellar attitude regarding being banned. The school lost out big time. I feel sad for them, and stoked for you. Great things will follow; I’ve no doubt.

    Thanks for sharing your stage with Stephanie, El. Both of you are superstars in my book—no pun intended. 😉

  19. This was very interesting to read, and I’ve got to say – my sincere, sincere condolences.

    You ARE in great company, yes, but for the high you must have experienced, and told work colleagues and friends and family, and then the devastating about turn: I don’t mean to be so litigious, but I truly believe the invitation, the back-and-forth and the confirmation your book will be in the event CONSTITUTES AN AGREEMENT. I feel you have a damned strong case to seek compensation.

    If they do this to people – and writing a book start to finish, draft, redrafting, editor consider, reconsider, rework is NO MEAN FEAT – and just move merrily along, it is HORRENDOUS. I genuinely believe you should still get a cut from the ticket sales, etc – whatever was promised for merely being part of their gig.

    I admire you bringing this out, exposing it, and I don’t think it would reflect negatively on you to take this action. You are ACCEPTED into this gig, and PROMISED to this gig, and (inherently) PROMISED a cut, and then to undo like that is not only unprofessional but distasteful and immoral.

    I am truly sorry. I loved Catcher in the Rye, btw.

  20. This is amazing. I’m late hearing this story, but wow. This is why 1 out of 4 girls in America continues to be abused–because the very topic makes people backpedal and stutter and hide and cover their faces and wring their hands and, and, and. How did this turn out? Did you get compensation? And YES, I totally agree with the poster who said a banned book is more appealing to her! I’m buying yours.

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