Championing the Abused in Mystery Fiction
By C. Hope Clark
Lowcountry Bribe, the first in The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, is not a cozy. Slade’s world becomes violent, the pace heart-thumping quick. The humor is dry, the air often thick with fear. The threats start with her job, a cherished part of her persona, and she reluctantly agrees to fight the good fight to salvage her career. But then those threats cross into her home life. First her children, then her own safety, and ultimately her life. Then she realizes the threats aren’t just from the obvious culprit. A family member becomes just as bad.
Domestic abuse is real. I experienced a nasty divorce. I left before anything turned physical (and I'm not saying that it would have, but the possibility was there). However, the verbal lashings might as well have left welts. Physical damage consisted of a twenty-five-pound weight loss, gallbladder surgery, two years of PTSD, and three years of anti-depressants. We write what we know, and to increase Slade’s tension and expand her obstacles, I tapped into old feelings, both physical and psychological--the nightmares, the looking over one’s shoulder, the tentative glances in a rearview mirror, the hang-up phone calls.
Some nights, my scenes became too hard to write. My critique group knew that portions of Lowcountry Bribe were autobiographical, but not which parts. So when a scene wasn’t deep enough, they’d ask if it was fact or fiction, then politely ask if the moment hit too close to home.
Many times it did come too close, throwing up a temporary writer’s block.
After years of edits, however, I reached the end. And over the next couple of years, I landed an agent and a publishing contract for the series. As I signed my name on the paper, giving Bell Bridge Books rights for Lowcountry Bribe, trepidation set in on two fronts. First, had I painted Slade in a realistic light when it came to the threats and abuse? Had I given enough justice to those in real life going through such dark times? Second, how would I handle it when people started suspecting Slade was me?
Slade endured physical abuse, including a near-rape. Thank God my life was not that severe, but suddenly I worried that I hadn’t the right to depict someone in an abusive relationship when I hadn’t been knocked around.
Then the reviews started coming in. Some immediately recognized the cycle of abuse and the triggers it takes to break free.
It seemed very real to life. For survivors of sexual assault there are some passages that could act as triggers. We get to witness her break out of the repressive shell even today's women are so often locked within, moving from reluctant victim to taking charge, and doing it quickly, albeit not necessarily smoothly, in order to save herself and her children. Well worth the read.
But this one made me cry, telling me that I’d done my job properly:
The entire novel had me hog-tied emotionally as I recognized this character and knew her to be a composite of real women I have known in my forty years as an advocate/counselor and nurse. I recognize these women who daily face their marriage, motherhood, job, regrets, and extenuating circumstances such as abuse, and rape/sexual assault. This book is tough for many to read if you graft Slade into your consciousness and find her as believable as I know her to be. But the truth is, it is one of the most realistic portrayals of millions of women who are living their lives in subjection until suddenly, a trigger is pulled. The trigger may be about the children, one's personal belief system or some traumatic personal event, but into every woman's life comes that moment of truth where she either flails, fails or excels. Slade does the latter. This incredible novel has so many believable and intricate portrayals of true to life characters, each so intimately described that you know them and who they are in your own life. C. Hope Clark has been blessed with firsthand knowledge so profound that she can translate it with purity and honesty that allows the reader to be there and participate. I dare say any victim of domestic violence and rape/sexual assault will find this novel filled with events so real you can taste, smell, and feel the pain of each trauma as it occurs. If Carolina Slade grows in the next books of the series, as realistically as she was born into print the author is going to have an unprecedented series that all women should read: and in particular, victims/survivors. Not every woman is a 'super-shero' but I guarantee you, every woman can relate to Carolina Slade.
Domestic abuse isn’t simple and is frequently hidden behind locked doors. In my writing group, some of the men didn’t understand why Slade didn’t just go to the police from the outset. They thought her behavior unreasonable at times. But the women got it. I’ll ever be happy I wrote this book the way I did.
C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series from Bell Bridge Books. Lowcountry Bribe (2012), Tidewater Murder (2013) and Palmetto Poison (2014). She is also editor of FundsforWriters.com , a newsletter service that reaches 45,000 writers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com
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Please come back Thursday when author Maggie Toussaint
will continue the theme of fiction's role in raising awareness
about domestic violence.