Easy is such a powerful and important book. What prompted you to write it?
I began hearing Jacqueline’s story, as if she was telling it to me. I resisted, because I saw myself – see myself – as a romance writer. I didn’t want to write an “issues” book – certainly not about the topic of sexual assault. As a rape survivor, I’d spent years dodging anything concerning the topic in books or film – let alone my own writing. I credit this story to my fictional character, because she would not let up. I finally felt I had to write the story for readers like myself who were never going to willingly pick up an issues book about sexual assault, even if we needed to – and I wrote what I knew how to write:a romance novel. My only “message” was for survivors: It wasn’t your fault. I received and continue to receive emails, notes and messages from readers, thanking me for helping them see that one truth. I know I did the right thing in writing it.
We normally think of sex as a loving and/or fun thing. When it comes to teen fiction, we see very little of sex being used as a weapon or a way to hurt someone. Can you tell us what it's like for Jacqueline when sex - or more accurately, non-consensual sex - suddenly becomes something to fear, a very real danger?
Like me, I don’t think Jacqueline thought about rape as something that could be perpetrated by an acquaintance – a friend. Most of us think we can judge other people’s characters, but the truth is, we aren’t always correct. Her first instinct was disbelief. This isn’t happening. I can talk him out of it. And then fear. This IS happening. This person I thought I knew isn’t responding to my resistance. In my own head, I didn’t label my rapist a rapist until years later. How do you report something or tell someone when you think it was your fault in some way? People like Buck prey on people in situations where they’ll blame themselves. It’s how they get away with it – which is truly terrifying.
I feel Easy isn't just important because it brings such a big issue to readers' attention, but also because of how Jacqueline deals with her experiences, how she moves forward, being the very real heroine of the story by saving herself.
I went into the story knowing that Jacqueline would escape being raped in that first chapter because that would go toward her trying to shrug it off. If he’d have succeeded – if Lucas hadn’t shown up – she’d have been more likely to report. At the least, she’d have told Erin. She had also experienced a recent, devastating breakup of a long-time relationship. She focused on that loss because she could blame her depression on it more easily – it was, after all, the thing everyone knew about. She had to come around to understanding that she was more aware than she’d realized that Kennedy was wrong for her. She had to face how affected she was by her fear of Buck and the comprehension that he was spreading rumours about her to get back at Kennedy – his fraternity rival. Lucas might have saved her from being raped, but he couldn’t make her stronger and more self-aware. She had to do that for herself. Her personal transformation began with admitting to Erin that she’d been assaulted, strengthened with her agreement to attend self-defence classes and lend her support to Erin’s sorority sister, and culminated with her resolution concerning the relationship she wanted – as well as the one she no longer wanted.
I found it interesting what happened at the meeting with the sorority, all the different views/opinions on the girls' experiences. It's really hard to believe that people, even friends, would think ignoring the issue is the best way to deal with it.
Women can be very judgmental of each other, and that can go in multiple directions. We can also believe that someone else’s experience is personally skewed, or outright lies, or the consequence of their own actions – and therefore, we don’t feel motivated to help. It wasn’t so much ignoring the issue (in that meeting) as it was deciding whether or not it was an issue. The truth is, we don’t like to admit that someone we know (in this case, for these girls – that would be Buck) could do something that seems out of character. In a widely publicized (RL) rape case from a number of years ago, a woman did what we’re “supposed” to do – she reported it immediately. There was physical evidence, so the guy claimed it was consensual. Her sexual character was picked apart publicly – she was wearing sexy clothing that night, she’d had sex with dates before, etc. People actually said, “He’s rich and good-looking – he doesn’t have to rape someone.” This guy was acquitted… despite the fact that there were three other women willing to testify to prior sexual assault by him. It was a wide-scale ignoring of the issue – a decision not to face the fact that rape is about power, not sex.
You were originally a very successful self-published author, but I read you went down the traditional publishing route because of how important Easy was to you.
I attempted the traditional route before Easy – querying and pitching to agents – with my first book (Between the Lines). I couldn’t find an agent willing to represent me. The main characters were celebrities rather than college students, but they were in that 17-22 age range, and publishers had determined that no one wanted to read stories about people in that age range. I figured that there had to be a niche market for stories like mine. That first book did better than I’d ever dreamed, once I self-published it. I had a solid following by the time I published Easy – my fourth self-pubbed book - but the response shocked me. I knew there were hands I couldn’t get it into by myself – readers in libraries and readers who shunned digital books for whatever reason. I wanted it to be widely available, and to do that, traditional publishing was needed.
What research did you do for Easy? Was there anything that surprised you?
I actually did less research for Easy than any book I’ve written. I worked on a university campus as an undergraduate advisor. My oldest child was a recent college grad, and another was a current university student at the time. I was familiar with course schedules, dorms, campus organizations and how professors thought, behaved and worked. I patterned Dr. Heller on professors/instructors I worked with and knew – including the one I live with (my husband is an adjunct finance professor).
When I was initially in college myself, I worked 2-3 jobs at any given time – so that feeling of class-work-study-sleep-repeat was ingrained. For two semesters, I was the tutor for a macroeconomics course I’d aced the year before. While writing Easy, I chatted with a couple of my daughter’s friends –a sorority member and a music education major – to make sure I got those facts right.
What do you hope readers get from Easy?
I didn’t write Easy with an agenda, other than to take the subject Jacqueline wanted me to talk about – her story – and tell it as well as I could. What I think Jacqueline and Lucas want readers to take from their story – other than a few enjoyable hours spent reading, is this: If someone hurt you, it was not your fault. It you couldn’t save someone from being hurt, it was not your fault. Take that self-blame and lay it down.
What do you think about how teen fiction deals with sex, generally? And sex crimes in particular?
I think teen fiction has become more realistic in some ways, less in others. Many teens are sexually active, and I think it’s right to portray that – not as ‘you should be doing this – everyone else is,’ but as an acknowledgment of the personal choices we begin to make in our teens. I’ll be the first to admit that most teen relationships don’t last. People grow apart, or find out their partners aren’t who they thought. The protagonists in my stories fall in love. Do they stay there? I don’t know. Yes, I think teen fiction portrays sex crimes more realistically than the general public understands, and yes, that should scare the hell out of everyone. Jacqueline didn’t tell. Neither did I. Neither did any of the girls/women I knew who were raped by an acquaintance. Be angry about that – but please, be angry at the perpetrator of the crime, not the victim who is becoming a survivor.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’ve received countless emails and messages from survivors since the day I published Easy in May 2012. The stories are all different, and all the same. One sentence stands out over and over – ‘I didn’t realize that what happened to me wasn’t my fault.’ The age range has been huge – from 13-year-olds to one woman in her 70s. Every one of these women (I know there are male survivors, but I’ve only heard from female survivors, except in two cases) was living with guilt she had no need to bear, and almost all of them were drawn to Easy because it was a romance novel. Easy isn’t going to fix the issue of acquaintance sex crimes – I have no delusions there, and I never did. It’s just one more little spotlight on it. The more spotlights we can shine on it, the better – and those spotlights should come from every direction.
Thank you, Tammara, for such a fantastic and important interview! What do you think about the things Tammara's discusses? Do you think YA portrays crimes more realistically than the general public understands, like Tammara said?
Check out my reviews of Easy and it's companion novel told from Lucas' point of view, Breakable. And be sure to visit Tammara's website. If you haven't read Easy yet, it's definitely a must read! And thanks to Tammara, two lucky readers will win a signed and dedicated set of both books!.
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