The problem with ‘message’ novels is that – unless they’re actually non-fiction – they can be a exactly that, all about the message. There are people who like to read them. Not me. Boooring. Depressing.
Or they can be the stuff of romance novels, movies or TV shows, like Sleeping with the Enemy, or countless detective stories. Not exactly accurate. It goes in fads, and lately its been about domestic violence.
After all, you’ve got this charming, sexy, good-looking guy who would give the shirt off his back to someone who needs it. He’s protective – maybe a little over-protective, but what’s wrong with that? If there’s an argument, he’s apologetic, bringing flowers or other little gifts. It’s straight out of Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. If he pulls away a little, though, it’s understandable, if a little unsettling, but like Bella or Ana it’s internalized. It’s their fault for upsetting him. It becomes more and more about self-worth and self-esteem, his need to feel strong and manly, in control, and hers to be considered loved and lovable. Consciously or unconsciously, he uses that. Little things start to set him off more and more quickly.
Oh, you didn’t realize that we weren’t talking about the hero…
Recently a new friend called me about getting together for coffee, then mentioned that she’d invited an old boyfriend over…and during the conversation added that he’d once given her a concussion. He was sorry, he said, he’d changed. Something happened though to give her second thoughts, though, and she told him to leave, finally having to resort to threatening to call the cops. She was done with him, she declared.
I was relieved, but a little stunned and even a little angry that she’d brought him back into her life.
I get it, though. It’s tough going it alone. Even if you have good friends, it’s not the same. Women still define themselves more by their relationships than their accomplishments. And, you get lonely. You want someone in your life. Someone who will help carry the load, too.
As accomplished as we are, we also want to know we’re capable of being loved.
It’s even more difficult for women with children.
That one in three? Somewhere I read that one in three people know someone who is the victim of domestic violence.
So when I decided to write my ‘message’ novel, I wanted to make it entertaining, informative and accurate. Talking of accuracy, there’s Sleeping with the Enemy. First, where did she get the money to run? The first thing married abusers do is take control of the finances. Second, almost every woman who runs goes home. Where else is she going to go? And it’s the first place that an abuser is going to go to find her. It’s also the most dangerous time for most women – when they leave. There’s countless tales of women who’ve fled and been killed by their ex-spouse – with others as collateral damage. Here in Ohio a woman took a friend with her to meet her ex in a public parking lot. He shot the friend, and then himself. Another married a police officer after escaping her abusive spouse – who then broke into the house to shoot and kill them both. Not all abusers are stalkers, although many are. And most don’t look like the sleazy guy from a cop show. In fact, you may have had one in your home as a guest.
So, I didn’t write your standard domestic violence novel. First, I did my research. No case is ‘typical’, although there are similarities. Years ago I read a newspaper article about a woman who ran a group that rescued domestic violence victims and I filed the thought away. So that became part of the story. Also, I didn’t want to do the usual ‘poor-pitiful-me’ or ‘rescue-me’ novel. That last because it so rarely happens, and when it does, someone else gets hurt as well. I also wanted to show someone who was empowered, capable and a survivor. There’s romance, too, healthy and real.
By the way, count yourself as one of those three now. The reason I know so much? I was a victim, too.
20% of all proceeds from the book – after costs – will be donated to domestic violence shelters.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting And Sexy
“It was one of the most riveting page turners I’ve ripped through in a long time. I guess those who are a bit prudish about detailed sex episodes may be put off by this book. However, that is only a portion of this exciting story with its wonderful characters. For once an investigative work of fiction doesn’t revolve around a murder, but a disappearance, where the victim is still very much alive. I found the back story of a woman who heads up a spousal abuse rescue program very enlightening and the cast of well developed characters built around this group make for a very entertaining read also. The developing hot romance between the two main protagonists really adds some spice to an already great page turner. The description of the mountain location resort area during the Fall season with its colorful foliage also was a great addition to the story. This is one of those books that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down and finished in record time.” (thank you, sir!)
The review started out with this, though – “I’m not quite sure why so many others didn’t like this book…”
I suspect that I do.
Many people expect Independent writers to write ‘froth’ – easy to read romances and erotica (and I write those, too) or genre fiction like fantasy – and not in depth mysteries that discuss difficult subjects.
When I wrote The Last Resort I wanted to write about someone who had experienced domestic violence, not ‘survivor’ or another victim. I wanted it as a subtext to the primary story. The basic story was based on fact – a group like Carrie’s actually existed once, I don’t know if it still does. I wanted people to experience what it was like to be on all sides of the issue, in an entertaining story. It’s the only one of my books written in the first person, and it was originally intended as the first in a series of novels, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Like many of my novels, it started out as a real experience, with real people (and some not so real). I hope one day to see people coming to this book with it’s complex characters and deep storyline, looking for an entertaining mystery – and a little romance.
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The Last Resort
Since the release of the girls in Cleveland OH from their kidnapper there have been a lot of question. Chief among them – at first – was why they didn’t escape. Then the details began to come out – the chains, the locked doors, the withheld foods. And of course the beatings.
CBS News did a special report on battered spouses. As if it was something new. And of course, the reporter asked the same questions of the woman they interviewed. It was more understandable from the kidnap victims, but he got the same answers. Why didn’t she call for help? No cell phone. Why didn’t she escape, run? The doors were locked from the outside. He mentioned that many victims take up to seven tries to successfully escape. What he didn’t mention was that it’s also the most dangerous time for the victim. The time when she’s most likely to be killed by her spouse.
How do I know so much? Experience. I was one of the lucky ones, though. It only took two tries for me to escape. Why two tries at all? Well, there’s a pastor who owes me his life, because if I told him the truth when he asked or didn’t go home with my ask, we’d both be dead. Along with all those folks in the church.
When anyone asks me which book I would choose as the best book I’ve ever written, The Last Resort is one of them. Surprisingly, for its topic it’s also fun and heartwarming. I wrote it that way deliberately for several reasons – I wanted to show someone who had moved on, and because I wanted to write an entertaining book that wasn’t preachy. It’s the only book I’ve ever written in the first person, and it has some amazing characters. Real and unreal. I’ll leave you to figure out which is which. *grinning* Someday, as planned, I’ll write the sequel.
Review – Ms Douglas crafts a fine tale of romance, intrigue and suspense. Her characters draw you in and you feel that if you met Carrie on the street you would probably recognize her. Carrie has her own demons to battle as she wages war against the foes of others.
When Jack Spencer, the Head of Security for Fairview Mountain Resort, calls to about a missing coed, computer tech and sometimes troubleshooter Carrie Anderson answers. The last thing the resort needs is bad publicity. Jack knows that on the side Carrie is part of a team that help domestic violence victims escape their homes and abusers.
Complicating things for Carrie is the handsome new attorney that just joined the team.
What she finds, though, will test her skills at making people disappear and put all their lives in danger.
The Lutheran Church, Pastor Charles, bless his heart. He was young and a little too naïve, a big, gangly, lanky man, but he wasn’t a bad pastor. There was one car in the church parking lot. A beat up old Chevy. Not the Pastor’s car. The parsonage for the church was down the street on the other side.
Sometimes it just went like this, nothing for a couple of months, and then suddenly a bunch of calls.
I headed for the door to the church, knocking just as Drew’s Volvo pulled into the lot. He’d wasted no time. That was a good sign. On the other hand, maybe he just wanted to make sure I knew he took this seriously. The thought he was trying to impress me pleased me more than it should have.
It was a small church, with the Pastor’s office and the Sunday school in the basement. I opened the door and held it for Drew.
“What have we got?”
“I don’t know yet,” I said, as I stepped inside the little entryway.
There was a short flight of stairs up into the Sunday school hall, and to the right, a longer flight of stairs down to the pastor’s office in the basement.
Pastor Charles poked his head out of the door at the bottom of the stairs. “We’re down here.”
He stepped out as we came down. “She’s quite upset. Her name is Sandy Miller.”
From the office I heard a bark, a little sharp one. Unmistakable. She’d brought a puppy. I blew out a breath. And what else?
He smiled ruefully. “She brought her dog.”
Oddly enough, I didn’t think that was a good sign.
We stepped inside.
Sandy Miller was a nervous wreck, pacing uneasily. Also, not a good sign. It wasn’t the agitation, victims were usually scared, but something about the quality of her tension. There were two children on the floor, one about eight, one about five, and both were far too quiet. The puppy bounced between them yipping, wanting to play. The children weren’t in a playing mood.
“Pastor,” Sandy blurted, “I’m so scared.”
With his sweet gentleness, he gestured at Drew and I. “These people are here to help you.”
“He’s really bad, really,” she said. “I’m so scared.”
She was moving very stiffly, as if her back hurt her.
“Okay,” I said, gently. “Are you sure you want to leave?”
“Yes, oh, yes,” she said. “Now. We have to hurry. When he finds out we’re gone… He said he was going to check on us. Make sure everything was okay.”
Warning bells were going off. Loudly. I took a deep breath but my heart was suddenly pounding.
“How often? How long ago?”
The look Drew gave me told me he was picking up on the concern in my tone.
She looked at me sorrowfully. “An hour, maybe. He called, just to check on me. I already had everything packed. I grabbed the kids, but they wouldn’t leave the dog, so I ran back inside to get it and then ran out the door.”
Some part of her knew. Oh, shit. Talk about a baptism by fire. Oh, I hoped we had time.
“Pastor, get the puppy if you would, Sandy get the children.”
I was hooking my hands-free over my ear and pushing speed dial. “Code,” was all I said when Moira picked up. I hung up instantly. “Let’s go.”
All of us heard the sound of a car in the parking lot, hitting the gravel in a hurry, a bit of a skid.
One of the kids started crying as instinctively I hit the stairs two at a time, praying to get to the door first. The car door slammed even as I shot the lock home. Drew and the Pastor were both in the hallway.
“Are there any other doors unlocked?” I hissed.
“The front doors.”
“Try to keep the children quiet. Bring everyone out into the hallway so he can’t look through the windows.”
Both my shoes were off and I was sprinting through the building to the front of the church. It was a small church, very local. Come on, come on, I told myself as I tried to figure out how to lock them. Drew reached across from behind me and shot the bolt home. I jumped about a foot. He damn near scared the shit out of me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, quietly.
“Too many things to explain right now.” I was already heading for the one window that would give me a clear view of the parking area as someone banged on the door.
“Sandy!” a voice shouted. “Sandy! I know you’re in there. Come on, honey. It’s okay. I’ll be good. I just got a little mad. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
He banged on the door again, the force of it belying his words. He was pissed. He’d seen the car and knew she was here.
Carefully, I peered out the window. Looked again. Ready to duck if he looked the wrong way, I took a closer look, trying to keep out of view. He was pacing in front of the door. There was something about the way his jacket was hanging. Then I was running barefooted through the church again, Drew close behind. I gestured him through the basement door and pulled it quietly shut behind me.
A very frightened Sandy Miller crouched with her children at the end of the hall. The Pastor was looking very bewildered.
“Sandy,” I whispered. Please don’t say yes. “Does your husband own a gun?”
Slowly, with big eyes, she nodded.
This was worst case scenario, all my preparations and plans undone. I nodded, hitting speed dial.
“Moira, call them off.”
I hung up. “Does he know where the parsonage is?”
Pastor Charles nodded, his face paling.
I darted quickly into the office, grabbed the phone, and dragged it out of the office.
“Call your wife, tell her to get out of the house. Go to the nearest neighbor’s. She’s to go now.”
If Sandy’s husband got no answer here at the church, that’s where he’d go next.
I dialed 911 on my cell phone.
“There’s a man with a gun at the Lutheran Church in Fall Meadows.”
“Stay on the line, please, I’m relaying to dispatch now.” I hit mute on my end, so I could hear her on the other end but I could still talk.
There was a bathroom down here, if I remembered correctly. No windows and a door. It would be crowded, but it would be one more door between us and him. “Sandy, take your children in the bathroom. It’s the door across from you.”
Pounding on the door upstairs. Thud. Thud. Thud.
“Sandy, I know you’re here. Come out here now.” The voice changed, wheedling. “Come on, Sandy. I’m not mad. I’m not.”
I slipped into the pastor’s office and peered up through the window, looking again, just to be sure. Wanting very badly to be wrong. Drew, standing next to me, was keeping in the shadows, looking up at the man now pacing impatiently away from the door.
Youngish, average height, brown hair, and eyes. A light windbreaker hanging heavily to one side. Something big and weighty in that pocket. He stuck his hand in the pocket, closed his hand around it, and wiggled it around.
“Do you see?” I whispered. He nodded, his eyes steady. Bless that.
We backed quickly away.
“Without seeing it for certain, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is,” I said, softly. “A gun.”
“How did you know?”
I let out a breath. “Instinct, I guess. I didn’t, for certain, but something about the level of fear. The way she ran, and the place she came. She’s young, she has parents, a family. She didn’t go to them, instead she went the one place she thought he might think twice about. Church.”
Twenty percent of all profit made from The Last Resort will go to victims of Domestic Violence.
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Of all my books, perhaps The Last Resort is the most conflicted. It’s also the book one of my beta readers swears is the best I’ve ever written. It’s the book that nearly won a contest, but won one of the judges’ hearts – she asked to be notified if it ever reached print. (It has!) It’s also the book that receives the most mixed reviews – primarily a complaint that too much is going on. Which I have to admit makes me laugh even as I struggle with it.
Because life is messy, and complicated, and so much of events of The Last Resort are based on reality. Events that took place almost exactly as they happen in the book, and at the same time. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Or innocent. I have to admit to being tempted to hold a contest asking readers to tell me which characters in The Last Resort are real…and which aren’t. I’m also grateful that some of the participants in those events are probably dead by now although I doubt they’d recognize themselves. People never do.
One reviewer even commented on the level of detail, objecting to a mention of the heroine raking leaves. Yet that rake shows up in a later scene. As a writer I had to explain why it was so conveniently placed there. I had to make it real.
Even the ‘rescue rangers’ are based in truth. Some time ago, I read about a woman who had organized a group of retired cops and ex-service people to help battered women escape their abusers. It was difficult and dangerous work, as they and any police officer could tell you.
I sometimes wonder if people have just seen too many Lifetime movies where the victim escapes into the arms of the one man who will love her, who will fight for her, and in the end save her from her abuser.
In real life, that just doesn’t happen. Most women who escape run to their families (where their batterers frequently find them) or live in shelters on subsistence. They have no money because their abusers made sure they had no access to any. Most are ashamed.
When they do call for help, they frequently panic immediately afterward. Many times cops become caught between the abuser and the victim, because the victim is all too aware that the laws don’t really protect her. In all likelihood her abuser will be back out on the street within hours. And looking for her. Unless she finds a shelter – most counties don’t have domestic violence shelters – he’ll very likely find her. A protection from abuse order is worth the paper it’s written on, it’s a formality that must be part of the record…but one that is almost guaranteed to infuriate the abuser – who never considers himself the bad guy. It’s shaming, and inflaming for them.
Leaving is the most dangerous time for most women, and the time when most die. One to three women in the United States daily.
So I wrote The Last Resort from my own experience, and it translated fairly easily. All the events in the book took place around the same time.
What I didn’t want to write was just another domestic violence book. I didn’t want it to be primarily about domestic violence. I wanted to write something that would be entertaining as well. I wanted the book to balance what I frequently see as a culture of constant victim-hood, with women and those around them defining themselves always by this one event for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way.
I wanted to write about someone who would give women hope, an example of someone who had broken the chains of domestic violence. I wanted to write a book about a woman who had not only survived, but thrived and grew stronger because of it. I also wanted to show that it was possible to love and be loved again, to have a healthy relationship.
Someone like me.
Twenty percent of all the proceeds of The Last Resort will go to charities benefiting the victims of domestic violence.
Available from Amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052UX3V6
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It’s always been hard for me to talk about it, at least partly because of the assumptions that are made about me. Because of the questions that are asked. You seem smart, how could I not have known? I know the judgments that are made…and they are made. Silently. Because they really don’t want to know. No one does. There’s a part of me that is curious to know what people make of the idea that I went back, since it’s so much a part of the pattern, and part of me is glad that I don’t.
Back to those assumptions.
How could I not know?
It wasn’t like he had a great big A tattooed on his forehead. He was handsome, with beautiful blue eyes. He was more romantic than almost any man I met, hearts and flowers. If he was a little jealous, well…when you’re nineteen it just seems sweet. After all, isn’t that what they show on TV and the movies, the guy who’s just a little bit jealous because he loves you so much? And if he’s just a little uncomfortable that other men are looking at you? At your clothes and how well they fit. He just doesn’t want to lose you. What’s more romantic than that…even if it’s a little overboard. That’s the first time that he gets a little too heated, though, and his anger is just a little disturbing. Frightening. But you forget, you let it go, because he loves you, and he’s so sorry. Until it happens again. But still, he’s loving, and there’s the flowers. And you’re nineteen, isn’t this how it’s supposed to be? That’s how they do it in books and movies. When he proposes, its on one knee, and it helps you forget that his temper and criticisms of your clothes are getting worse. You quit the job to make him happy. Maybe now it will be better. Except of course it isn’t and it doesn’t. It gets worse. Only now there’s no one to talk to, no one to tell. Every little thing can cause a temper tantrum. There are guns all over the house. And then one time he pulls the gun, spins the cylinder, and points it at your head.
I was lucky. I got out. But, like many, not the first time I tried.
Most domestic violence victims run to family the first time. It’s easy to track them down. They have no money – he controlled all that – so where else can they go? It was easy to track me down, but a neighbor got me out of the house. It was my pastor who betrayed me, under the guise of ‘trying to save my marriage.’ I told him I didn’t want to save my marriage, I wanted out. He said he’d help me convince my husband. I asked him if there would be other people there. He told me there would. What he didn’t tell me was that they would be in another part of the Church, and many wouldn’t even know we were there. What he didn’t know was that my ex-husband would show up with a gun. He’s lucky to be alive.
That’s what many women face, in addition to the rest. Even so, most don’t go back because of threats of violence, but because of poverty. For their children. Without jobs, battered women have no money to support themselves or their children – while their exes do. Child support doesn’t really kick in until after the divorce has been decided. Meanwhile the ex has the house, the children’s toys, their pets. Even if they can find a shelter – many counties don’t have one, in fact you’re more likely to find a dog shelter – they will live one family to a room and subsist on charity. For many of these women, returning to the abuse is better than living poor. Of seeing the judgment in eyes of others as they pull out the food stamps.
After being stalked for a time, I found shelter at one of the resorts, living on property where there would be no record of my residence.
For me it’s been a few decades, but one of the things I noticed when the discussion about domestic violence comes up among those who survive is the victim mentality.
So, being a writer, I wrote. The idea was to create an entertaining mystery novel about a victim of domestic violence who not only survives but thrives. I based the novel on real events taking place at that time. To my amusement the book has been criticized for having too much going on, and yet all of that was happening around the same time. Life is messy, it doesn’t always go predictably, and when you don’t have enough time, it throws even more at you. That’s the way it goes sometimes, and I’ll stand by that.
More than anything else, though, I want to stand for those women who want more than what society expects from them. I want to show them that it can be done, that what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and you can survive. You can even live happily ever after.
20% of all proceeds go to Domestic Violence charities.
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