When I wrote “The Shelter” I was terrified of writing something that would offend a lot of people. But then my old writing mentor’s words rang in my ear, “Bleed on the page!” Bleeding on the page is when a writer creates something without censoring themselves. And it is in this spirit of non-censorship that I wrote “The Shelter.” Why was I initially afraid of my own words? Well the truth is that so much of today’s dystopian fiction chooses to avoid tough issues around growing up, especially when it comes to issues concerning girls. Issues like poverty, sexism and sexual exploitation are often avoided or treated in such a way that the end result can only be compared to magical thinking. Because of this I knew that my story might be viewed as extreme.
Last Spring I was reading a YA novel that’s been compared to Hunger Games, while the book was well written I found myself unable to continue reading. Why? Well, some of the storyline just did not ring true for me. How can you have a dystopian story about a teen girl living in an oppressive society who is jailed by a brutal ruling class; but she doesn’t even face the threat of sexual assault? I know that it’s YA literature and you don’t want to depict graphic upsetting images; but come on let’s be real here. I’m not saying that every dystopian story about a young girl in an oppressive society has to have some type of sexual assault issues, all I’m saying is that oppression and rape usually go hand and hand in the real world. And if you try to completely avoid even the slightest innuendo about how sexual assault is often used as a weapon in an oppressive society, I think that you’re cheating your reader, especially young readers.
Sometimes Childhood Is Hell
Sometimes childhood really is hell. There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t hear about some tragic story about a young girl being killed or exploited, especially in undeveloped countries. A matter of fact, some people in this world have so much hatred of girls that they try to kill them for doing something as wonderful as going to school. Look at the recent story about Afghan schoolgirls being poisoned. How terrible! Are these men who did this just naturally spiteful and sexist? No, I don’t think so. But I do know that when a society has collapsed the worse in some people is bound to come out. But the hell of childhood is not confined to some far off lands. We can look right here in the United States to find children facing challenges most of us can’t imagine. Right now, we have cities and towns in this country that have collapsed. Municipalities are returning roads to gravel, cutting back on public services and many citizens are finding themselves unable to survive financially. Some of those people turn to illegal means to survive, many of those people are children. Did you know that there are millions of underage girls (and some boys) trafficked in America’s booming sex industry and that the number is growing? Girls are especially vulnerable in collapsed societies because there is no rule of law that will wield it’s mighty force to protect them. If you add poverty into the mix, girls have even fewer rights in societies that are in the process of imploding.
Why The Dark Side?
For the past few years I’ve had a very strong desire to tell stories about young girls living in dying societies. How do they survive? How do they cope? Who will become their allies? I didn’t want to tell these stories in a milquetoast way. I wanted to write it honestly and authentically. It feels good to know that I achieved that authenticity with “The Shelter ” and I hope that I’ve also reached my goal with my new novel New Hope City which continues Sunni Brown’s story when she’s 14 years old. If you want to receive updates about the about sales, new fiction and other things related to my work please sign up for my mailing list.