Dear readers, writers, reviewers, and other humans:
I am writing this not because I want a reading landscape full of explicit, traumatic, and triggering fiction, but because I don’t want a landscape utterly devoid of real, flawed characters, genuine conflict and consequence, and legitimate representation for everyone and their experiences.
Let me begin by saying I am no stranger to trauma.
If my life were a TV show, it would have an NC-17 rating and like, 14 trigger warnings. Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel couldn’t even show it. Multiple psychiatric professionals have been rendered speechless by the sheer “wtf-ness” of my personal history.
Through everything I experienced, I read to escape - the library was my second home, the librarians were my other family.
I went to Whangdoodleland and Narnia and Middle Earth and Oz and Wonderland and Shannara. I helped Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames solve mysteries. I vicariously rode Black Beauty and sailed with pirates and ran away with the circus and escaped from a tower with rope I braided from napkin threads. I read Agatha Christie and Stephen King and Clive Barker and a hundred others I don’t remember. I read fantasy and scifi and mystery and romance and true crime … I read it ALL.
This was back when the only content warning was the librarian saying “this book might be a little old for you.” It was a time when encountering something gross or uncomfortable in the story meant you skipped a few pages ahead - or stopped reading and went to another book if it kept being a problem.
The thing is, sometimes I wanted to keep reading. If the character was going through something familiar - something maybe uncomfortably similar to my own experiences - I wanted to see what happened to them. Not all the time, but sometimes. I wanted to know that things could get better, that justice could be served, that damaged didn’t mean worthless.
I want to find myself in fiction. I want to find fat characters not trying to lose weight. I want asexual romances and characters living with depression or chronic pain or repressed trauma or all of the above. And I want them to get a decent ending not in spite of their trauma, but by moving into it and finding the gift of it all.
Since my fantasy trilogy, Melody’s Song, was picked up by Cobble Publishing in 2018, it has remained under the proverbial radar. The publisher believes in the value of this story as much as I do, but we didn’t account for today’s ultra-protective reading circles when we brought Melody out into the wide world.
Melody is not in those circles for one overarching reason: Book one, Awaken, contains a single, brief scene of sexual violence. That one page, those few paragraphs, have kept her story - the story of a sheltered young woman thrust without warning into the magically intolerant civilization she has been raised apart from - away from a huge potential audience.
To be clear, there are three entire books to balance out those few paragraphs. Characters develop and grow and change over the course of the story. Things happen. They make good, bad, and morally gray decisions. People are good. People are self-serving. People are evil. Things continue to happen. Characters persevere through multiple challenges, ranging from a bounty on their head to overwhelming grief, from defeating an ancient evil to escaping a terrible relationship. There is action. There is love. There is sacrifice and magic and faith and triumph.
But one scene - an essential scene - in one chapter of one book bars the entire trilogy from traditional small-press avenues for promotion. The vast majority of review sites and promotional groups will accept anything EXCEPT sexual violence. They cite trauma, triggers, and creating a safe environment for reviewers - which I understand. I do.
I did not tell this story to traumatize anyone. The violence isn’t glorified. I told this story to show that trauma doesn’t have to define us, that we can step into our power and do amazing things. We can be broken AND powerful. We can be damaged and still love, we can be weak and still be strong. We can be betrayed and still trust. I feel like that is an incredibly important story for survivors of any kind of trauma to read.
My thought is that maybe, just maybe, one or two of those reviewers on the other side of the No Sexual Violence wall could use a story like that. Maybe someone reading this could use a book like that, but has never heard of Melody’s Song because she isn’t welcome in so many internet circles.
The story isn’t ABOUT that one scene in that one book. The scene doesn’t exist to motivate a male character, there are no refrigerators. It’s just a story - a three-book story packed with ups and downs and pain and joy and zombies and magic and giant spiders and singing. There’s even a bit with a dog.
In Conclusion, thank you for coming to my TED talk.
The more you share this post, the more likely a reviewer or book promoter is to read this - and maybe bring Melody past the red velvet rope.
Should that happen, should any reviewers or book promotion people see this article, agree, and want to connect with the goal of getting Melody into a wider world - bring it on.