Today Maria E. Andreu, author of YA novel The Secret Side of Empty, talks with us about secrets, shame, and writing our truths. I hope you’ll enjoy this powerful, inspiring post. I did.
Leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of The Secret Side of Empty; it sounds like a fascinating book. (US residents only.)
Where the Light Enters
by Maria E. Andreu, author of The Secret Side of Empty
The wound is the place where the light enters you – Rumi
I’ve had many wounds. That’s why I was so excited when I found out Cheryl would allow me to do a guest post here on her blog. I figured anyone who’s written a book called SCARS understands about wounds, light and what comes after. There are many of us, and we form a sisterhood of sorts, crisscrossing ourselves and the world in search of light we can learn to stand.
I grew up illegal. Illegal isn’t the “correct” word for it anymore, but it’s the word that describes how I felt. I snuck across the Mexican border with my mother at the age of eight. That’s the word my parents would use when I’d hear them whispering about it in the other room. “Somos ilegales,” they would say, as a preface to some other things that bound us. “We’re illegal so we can’t buy a house.” “We’re illegal so she can’t go to public school.” It was a stain, an identity. It was what I was. And I was ashamed.
I didn’t do anything to earn this brand, but I didn’t know that at eight years old. I didn’t know it at fifteen either. I didn’t know it until well past thirty, after I’d spent a third of my life hiding, measuring myself against others and coming up short. The thing that branded me was something that had been decided for me way before I had reached the age of consent or even understanding. But still it made me so desperately wrong. It was my darkest secret, one that not even my best friend knew. Then I got my papers through an amnesty when I was eighteen years old. I did everything I could do bury that part of my past.
But the light is wily. It found me one day as I drove my late-model German sedan on my way from one part of my shiny, put-on life to another. It came in the form of a hate-spewing talk radio guy saying that if we let “these immigrants” stay, they will destroy our country. He made me so furious, talking about “the fact” that immigrants bring diseases and live off the government. In that moment I realized that by keeping quiet I was aiding and abetting him in making his case.
So I began to speak. And write. I had spent a lifetime wishing to be a writer but hadn’t been able to connect somehow. Stories had gotten rejected. Agents had passed on my work. It was because I hadn’t been writing as my whole self, I realized. When I wrote my novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, about an undocumented immigrant high school senior, I got the first agent I queried, who sold my book in the first round of submissions with multiple offers. The irony was sweet. My broken places had let the light I had most wanted into my life.
So we are scarred, all of us. And we are still wounded, sometimes, still afraid. But when we speak with voices clear and true, we heal a little, and turn our faces to the light. And we shine.
I love International Women’s Day (IWD). I think it’s important to celebrate women–ourselves, the strong girls and women in our lives who we love, and the women we admire and know from afar–especially while we live in a sexist and oppressive society. (Think we don’t need IWD? Check out this article.)
We are making a difference together towards a kinder, more compassionate, more equal world. Sometimes the changes feel so very slow…but they are happening. I think of how social workers, police officers, and teachers are more sensitized and aware of child abuse in the home now–far more than they were when I was a child and teen. Of how women are now in some occupations that they never could get into before–even if we’re often still struggling to get equal pay. LGBT rights are increasingly growing in the world, and so is an awareness that oppression of any kind is not okay. There is a lot of cause for hope and celebration, even as we continue to fight for a better world.
Even if we’re “just” putting greater compassion and kindness into the world through our everyday interactions with others, we are making positive change. We are helping the world be a kinder place. And that takes goodness and strength, especially when we’ve been faced with oppression or adversity ourselves.
So I hope you take today to celebrate yourself–all the good you put into the world–as well as the women you know and love. We matter. And we are making a difference together.
Listen to my radio interview on Matters of the MInd – on being an incest and torture survivor, why I write the books I do, and what’s most rewarding for me.
Yesterday I was interviewed on Matters of The Mind by Dr. Peter Sacco and Todd Miller on ListenUpTalk. I talked honestly about being an incest and torture survivor and some of the effects (including, for me, self-harm, PTSD, dissociation, depression), why I write–and write the books I do, what’s most rewarding for me in the publishing process, and my books SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED.
I hope you’ll listen! You can any time. Just click through and play.
Today YA author Deb Vanasse joins us to talk about her and Gail Giles’ new book, and the way they both drew on their own experiences and emotions to write it–the way I think most writers do. I respect and love Deb and Gail, and I love Deb’s honesty here, so I’m happy to have her share with us today. Take it away, Deb!
Humor and Hurt: We All Have Our Demons
When YA novelist Gail Giles suggested we team up to write a part funny, part serious series about a boy band that accidentally invites the devil to help them get famous, I wasn’t sure what to think. After more than twenty years, I’d just left an evangelical church, and I knew plenty of people who believed that demons were no laughing matter and that kids shouldn’t read about them.
But I trusted Gail. To the deepest, darkest stories (Shattering Glass, What Happened to Cass McBride, Dark Song), she brings the right mix of humor and hope. So we plunged in. Though menacing, our demon turned out not quite as you might expect. Neither did the devil, once our boys lure him up top.
After she finished the book, one of our early readers wrote, “My first impression was, how on earth do you think of these tales? Magic tricks, conjuring up the devil, dialogues between 13 year old boys–you must have a different part of your brain at work.”
Maybe our brains are a little, um, weird. But mostly what we do—what all writers do in one way or another—is grant ourselves access to the places where we feel most vulnerable, and write from there.
So when you read in our book No Returns about Pod’s deepest longing, to find his mother who disappeared one Halloween night, it won’t surprise you to learn that my own mother disappeared for thirteen years. And when you see Manny’s deeply conflicted feelings about religion and how he wants to be accepted, you’ll know I’ve been there, too. Becca with her clipboard, a little bossy for her own good—guilty as charged. Flaco mind-melded with his abuelo¬—that was me, too, certain my grandparents understood me when no one else did.
Gail brought her own longings and conflicts and memories to the story, some more conscious than others. She also brought humor, which she does like nobody’s business.
Our demons took shape. A little scary, yes. But we found places to laugh out loud. The demons didn’t go away—how could we write if they did?—but we knew who had the upper hand.
Gail Giles is the author of six young adult novels. Her debut novel, Shattering Glass, was an ALA Best of the Best Book, a Book Sense 76 selection, and a Booklist Top 10 Mystery for Youth selection. Her second, Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, was an ALA Top 10 Quick pick and a Book Sense 76 selection.
Deb Vanasse is the author of more than a dozen books for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, A Distant Enemy, was a Junior Literary Guild selection and is featured in Best Books for Young Readers, as was Out of the Wilderness. Follow her at www.debvanasse.com and www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.
I’m speaking about STAINED, strong girls, and many ways we’re all strong at du Cafe (885 O’Connor Dr., east end Toronto) on Saturday, Jan 18th from 1-3pm. I’ll do a reading from STAINED as well. You can get signed copies of STAINED, SCARS, and HUNTED. Come see me and talk with me, have some yummy cookies, and warm up inside. Hope to see you there!
(Go to Coxwell Station, take the 70A bus to O’Connor and Garden Cres.)
My Favorite YA Fantasy and Dystopian Books I’ve Recently Read, Loved, and Highly Recommend. Put these on your to-read list!
All of these books are new favorites of mine; they completely sucked me into their worlds, made me love their characters and root for them. All of them immediately made me want to pick up their sequels or other books by the same author. I highly recommend them all!
Insignia by SJ Kincaid
Acne-ridden Tom moves from casino to casino with his gambling father where he excels at virtual-reality gaming, but rarely goes to school…until a general recruits him for the army in WWIII. It’s his chance to “be” somebody…but it means letting them implant a computer into his brain. I rooted from Tom right from the beginning, though sometimes I wanted to shake him. I loved the details, the virtual reality and the corporation-run world; it all felt frighteningly real and believable. A thrilling dystopian/sci-fi novel that made me think of the Ender Games, I was so drawn into this book I didn’t want to put it down, but didn’t want to finish it because then it would be over.
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and what she writes in her diary often comes true. When she befriends an enchanted frog in the wood, eventually her kiss turns him back into a man… This is a feel-good, fairy tale fantasy with a strong-girl character who has magic in a world where fairy tales keep blending together and magic happens, including fairy godmothers, magic beanstalks, bewitched frogs, and more. There is so much good feeling in this book; it’s a comforting, enjoyable read, while still giving a lot of depth. I cared a lot about Sunday and her happiness, and was happy that she found love and strength. Enchanted is beautifully written and pulled me completely into the story as I rooted for Sunday and Grumbold. Some triggers for RA survivors but a lot of good feeling, too. I couldn’t stop reading.
Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
Magpie WindWitch, a faerie who’s also the granddaughter of the West Wind, tracks down demons and recaptures them, along with her faithful band of crow friends. When one of the most powerful devils is unleashed on the world, Magpie needs all her skills, talents, and friends to put the world back to right and keep it from unravelling. I LOVED this book–loved Magpie’s strength and courage and tenacity and goodness, loved the other characters, too, and the way they interacted, loved the richness of the story and the unique forms of magic such as the way Magpie and others can weave things into being and help keep the world together. Though it started slowly for me, once I got into it I couldn’t put it down, and I cared intensely about Magpie and her happiness. I loved this book so much that I immediately wanted the sequel, and was so disappointed to find that it’s not only not available in ebook (I love instant purchases when I’m into an author), but it’s also out of print and expensive to buy used. I will be buying the sequel any way. I could NOT put BlackBringer down, and I loved it so much I didn’t want the book to end.
Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Tamsin’s family are all powerful witches, and though it was foretold that Tamsin would be the most powerful among them, she is the only one without powers. Tamsin feels out of place in her family, and out of place with regular people–always an outsider. But when a stranger mistakes her for her powerful sister Rowena and asks her to magically find something, everything changes. Suspenseful, intriguing, emotional, and full of magic, this story completely sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go. I rooted for Tamsin throughout, loved Tamsin embracing her talent and strength and the relationship that blossomed, and thrilled at her being the hero.
Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike
I love ghost stories when they’re well done, and this one totally drew me in and had me wanting more! When Jeff attends a new school, he quickly discovers that he’s the only one who can see Kimberlee–a selfish girl who died the year before. Kimberlee has been hanging around the school, bored, unable to interact with anyone or move on because she has so much to put right. So many people she hurt by stealing so much from them. Jeff agrees to help–and it changes them both. This was an intriguing, compelling story that pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I loved Jeff, and loved his interactions with annoying Kimberlee who I came to like more as she changed. I rooted for both of them–and I didn’t want to put the book down until I was done.
Erasing Time by CJ Hill
Twins Sheridan and Taylor are transported four hundred years into the future–a future where people live in domed cities where people wear their popularity ratings and the government keeps track of their every move–and the twins can’t see a way back. The twins, along with a young scientist Echo, have to work together to find a way to outwit the government and make things better. This was a suspenseful, compelling read. I loved the relationships, the revelations, the writing. I cared so much about the characters and wanted everything to work out. Highly recommended.
Storm (Elemental) by Brigid Kemmerer
This book made me gobble up the entire Elemental series. Becca’s ex is spreading horrible rumours about her, and it’s affecting her happiness and her relationships. Then she intervenes when Chris Merrick is being attacked in the school parking lot–and suddenly she’s involved in something a lot bigger; Chris and his brothers are targeted because they not only have paranormal powers–being able to control the elements–they are some of the most powerful. Becca has to figure out who to trust and what is going on. I loved Becca immediately, and I loved Chris over time. I worried for both characters and was completely sucked into the suspenseful, thrilling story and the entire series.
If you haven’t read any of these books yet and you love fantasy or magic or dystopian, go check them out! Seriously–do not miss these. I LOVED them all.
If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you may have been wondering what all my tweets and posts on suicide and staying alive and well were about yesterday. Well-known YA author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Be More Chill, Teen Angst? Naaah . . .) who wrote about depression and was an inspiration for many teens, killed himself Thursday. I think the YA writing world is rocked by this. I am. I’m finding it incredibly painful and sad and heartbreaking. I always find hearing about anyone who’s killed themselves very painful, and also triggering but especially when it’s someone who’s put good into the world. Who’s tried to make a positive difference. Who had a good heart.
You may know that I struggle with severe depression myself (a direct result of the abuse and torture I survived). I also have PTSD, dissociation, anxiety, and other direct effects from the abuse, and I’ve dealt with suicide and thoughts of it for most of my life–again, a direct result from the abuse and torture I survived, and some of it actually taught to me (cult teaches victims through torture and mind control to kill themselves or want to kill themselves if they tell or escape–and I did both. Though I would have wanted to kill myself because of the torture, even if they hadn’t taught me to want that.) I had years where I wanted to die–every day and night of my life–because of the torture and abuse I was living, because it felt like there was no hope and no other way to end the pain, because everything felt too hard all the time. And sometimes I can still go there when things are really rough.
But while I’ve struggled with all of that, and sometimes it feels very hard, I also fight and keep fighting to stay alive and stay healthy and safe. I know how much killing or hurting myself would hurt, even devastate the people (and animal) I love and who love me. I know how much it would sadden and hurt my readers, and take away their hope. I know how it would effect even people that “just” like me and know me less deeply–just the way it would hurt me to hear about someone good dying like Ned. It’s a loss to the world. No more books that reach readers and make a difference with his exact voice and insights. No more readers being able to meet him and talk with him and tell him what an inspiration he is for talking about something that they, too, find painful.
No matter who you are or what your life has been like, I hope you can always feel the way you’re connected to other people, the way you matter, the way what you do effects them. I hope you always know that you matter, that you deserve kindness and compassion and happiness, and even if it feels hard to find at the moment, you will find it again and there will be more. If you struggle with depression or panic or anxiety, if you have PTSD or dissociation or trauma, if you’ve been sexually abused or tortured, if you’ve thought of suicide, if sometimes everything feels too hard and too much–I’ve been there. I understand. And I want to remind you–it gets better. It really, really does. Keep reaching out for support when you need it. Remember to make use of crisis lines. There are always people who care. And please read my post on not killing yourself.
Most of all–please, please take gentle good care of yourself. Treat yourself the way you treat someone you dearly love. And know that even if things are hard right now they will get better. You just have to hang on and be here to see that happen.
Today Jasmine Denton, Indie YA author of From The Damage series, joins us with a powerful, honest post about her past, including self-harm. Thank you for sharing this, Jasmine!
Rising From The Damage
“You have to be like the phoenix,” my mother said to me once. I was seventeen years old and going through a hellish year. Some nasty rumors and hardships at school had pushed me to tears yet again, and I’d been crying in my room for what felt like hours. “You know what the phoenix does, don’t you?”
I just kind of shrugged, stuffed my hands in the pocket of my hoodie and avoided her gaze. Back then, I never looked anybody in the eye. I was too afraid they would see my pain, the suffering I tried so hard to hide.
But my mom was stubborn and determined to get through to me. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. “The phoenix rises from the ashes,” she whispered. “That’s what you have to do, Jazzi. You have to rise from your own ashes and fly.”
At the time, it seemed impossible to do. I was surrounded by so many ashes. It seemed like from the time I became a teenager, my life was a giant wildfire. The flames had consumed everything. I’d been raised by lesbians in the bible belt, which meant a life of secrecy, ridicule and even a little shame. Though not a lot of people knew about my home life, I lived in fear of what would happen if people found out. I would listen to what people said about ‘gays’ and feel outraged, but could do or say nothing about it. All I’d ever wanted was to feel normal, be normal. But going to a church finally led my parents split up. They felt their relationship wasn’t ‘right’. At just 14, this was hard to hear and even harder to watch. It would be years before I realized this was, for all intents and purposes, a divorce. And like most divorces, it completely rocked my world. That ‘normal life’ I’d always wanted was now mine, but it’d come with a terrible cost.
Before I could fully recover from this loss, I lost my grandfather, the only father I’d really ever had, to cancer just short of my sixteenth birthday. We moved in to take care of him, and I was holding his hand when he died. Watching the light go out in his eyes, feeling the way his hand went limp in mine, would haunt me for a very long time. What was even harder was seeing the way my grandmother coped with the loss by immediately trying to replace him with other men. It filled me with anger and resentment toward a woman I’d always gotten along with before. Now, I hated her, despised her and felt like she’d betrayed us. Happy sweet sixteen.
For years, I’d relied on my twin sister’s light and love to get me through, but ever since a school field trip she’d been acting different. Her light shone a little dimmer, and Genna, always the extrovert was now secretive and shy, and anxiety led her to eventually quit school altogether. Back then, I was too caught up in my own drama and pain to realize there was something seriously wrong, and I’m ashamed to say I let her suffer alone.
I would wander the hallways, hiding behind my dark eye makeup and my hoodies, pretending I didn’t give a damn about what was going on around me when the truth was all I wanted to do was belong. When someone finally had the nerve to push past the barriers I’d put up all around me, I was so grateful for the attention that I never wanted to let him go, even though he ended up being dark, sometimes scary and very bad for me. This relationship lasted well through high school and into my early twenties.
Throughout those years of pain, I had only one outlet. Self-injury. It may not have made sense to others, but it made sense to me. I couldn’t trust anyone enough to let them see how much I was hurting, and sometime I hurt so much I thought I was going to explode. Cutting helped me release the tension, not only by the pain of the cut, but by the blood that followed. Once I saw that blood, it was like I could finally breathe again and that weight on my heart became just a little lighter. But with this temporary relief—which I used only as an emergency release, when I just couldn’t take it anymore—I got more than I bargained for. I needed to see that blood more and more often, and soon that wasn’t good enough. I took matches to school for quick relief, and when things became too tough to face, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and burn myself. I didn’t realize I would be leaving scars that would last so long, or that the road would turn so dark. Even today, you can still see a few of those burns on my arm. Though most of those scars have faded to where you can barely see them, I still bear one painfully obvious cut. It was so deep that I needed stitches, but I refused to go to the doctor. I was too ashamed.
It took years of hard work, and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t making any progress, but eventually I overcame this difficult period of my life. I held on to my mom’s advice and tried to be like the phoenix. I even got a tattoo of a phoenix as a constant reminder to always hope for something better, and then create that something better. I switched the cutting habit out for a writing one, and with my stories I created teenagers who were just like me. Suffering, but finding light at the end of the tunnel.
When people ask me why I choose to write for teens, this time of my life always comes to mind. For what was supposed to be the best years of my life, I think I got pretty jipped, and I know others have too. I guess the concept is simple really. You could stand right behind somebody in the lunch line, or sit next to them in class, or like my sister and me, share the same bedroom and not have a clue about the struggles they face. As a teenager, you live in this little bubble filled with things that are important to you, that affect you and seeing things from someone else’s point of view just isn’t a priority. Eventually, life pops your bubble and tough lessons allow you to see the bigger picture.
One of my biggest goals in life is to help the teenagers who were like me and could barely get out of bed, let alone face their day. This is the reason my sister and I created our book series, From the Damage.
In From the Damage, several teens are brought together in a support group. Nobody really wants to be there and they have a difficult time opening up around each other. So their counselor pairs them up with a ‘sponsor’. She puts the cheerleader with the high school dropout, the jock with the school outcast, a girl with a perfect family is paired with an orphan, etc. Her experiment works; bonds and unlikely alliances form. By catching glimpses of the pain and suffering of their partners, the characters realize that everybody hurts, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
I never try to directly send messages through my work, and instead try to portray the lives of my characters in hopes it will strike a chord with somebody and help them, even just a little.
The series has grown so much more than I ever thought it would. The stories have evolved and continue to evolve, as each member in the group struggles on the path toward healing, as writing them continues to heal me.
In the latest release, Collateral Damage, a new girl comes onto the scene. Kendall is the wild child who refuses to be tamed, but underneath her dark exterior is a very wounded spirit. Collateral Damage is available for purchase here. I’ve also posted an excerpt on my blog.
If you’d like to learn more about From the Damage, you can visit the series website. Be sure to look for the About the Characters section for an in-depth look at the characters.
I hope you will check the books out and spread the word about them to support this message of healing. And always remember to be like the phoenix. Rise from your ashes and fly.
About the Author:
Jasmine Denton is the author of several YA books, both paranormal and contemporary. She believes that books have the power to change the world and is trying to do that, one story at a time. You can find Jasmine on the web at these locations:
My little dog Petal is a sweetheart–so happy and friendly and so loving. She’s also a picky eater, and she has some food sensitivities, so I try to make sure she only has healthy food (I want her to live a good long time!), and doesn’t have anything that makes her itchy or not feel good, like wheat. But she LOVES treats (which, ahem, I may give her a little too much of, though she gets a lot of exercise, too). Petal’s birthday is coming up–she’ll be three on December 20th!–so I decided to try making my own biscuits for Petal as a treat. And they turned out beautifully!
My little picky eater (who prefers human food) stood there almost the entire time I was making them, looking up at me pleadingly with big eyes for a taste (I gave her just a tiny taste because there was raw egg in the batter), and then gobbled them down once they’d baked and cooled. I was SO surprised! I also tried them out on another very picky dog we know, and he also gobbled them down. So they’re a hit!
I made the recipe from this one by bakingobsession, but I modified it to fit Petal’s tastes. She doesn’t like many herbs, I didn’t think she’d like Brewer’s Yeast, and I also wanted to make sure there was protein in the biscuits (hence the egg, which I also saw in some other recipes). I used rice flour which is basically ground rice and good for doggie tummies, and ground up oats.
So, here’s my Healthy Yummy Wheat-Free Dog Biscuits Recipe For a Picky Eater
1 and 1/8 cup brown rice flour (plus more to sprinkle on and roll out the dough)
1/2 cup oats, finely ground (I just put them through the blender)
1/2 cup chicken stock (or beef stock) Low sodium is best because salt isn’t good for dogs.
1 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a bowl, stir together the rice flour and ground oats. In a measuring cup, combine the chicken stock, egg, and olive oil. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined. Add more brown rice flour if it’s too sticky. It should have a nice texture.
Dust the working surface with some rice flour, place some of the dough out, and sprinkle it with more rice flour (to keep it from sticking). Roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Gather the scraps and reroll again, repeat until there’s no dough left.
Transfer the cookies onto the prepared baking sheet without leaving much space between them. Bake the cookies for about 17 to 20 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container.
Be ready for your dog to love them!
I dream of a world
without bullying, rape, abuse,
Without homophobia, sexism, or racism.
No more murder or violence or people causing pain.
I dream of a world
with only compassion, love, and healing.
Where empathy and kindness come first.
I wish it was now.