Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Researching Domestic Violence

If you are writing about domestic violence, where do you find resources to help with your research?

The following websites discuss abuse and provide links to online resources.

Then there these print sources mentioned in the October 15 blog post:

  • Steiner, Leslie Morgan. Crazy Love. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009
  • Weisman, Larua Madeline, ed. Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. USA: Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013.

 Of course there are many other resources, but these provide a start.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing Realistic Fiction about Domestic Abuse

Kathryn Page Camp

I’ve never experienced domestic abuse or gender violence, so why am I writing a blog on the subject? Partly because it’s this month’s theme and we were short of volunteers to write the posts. But there is more to it than that.

As writers, we are not limited by our personal experiences, and we often write fiction about issues we have never faced. Any good writer can tackle an initially unfamiliar subject after reading up on the matter, talking to someone who knows, or doing both. Because of the time limitations, I concentrated on the second method and asked a good friend who has experienced domestic violence first hand.

My friend and I met on a writer’s loop several years ago. She was using a pseudonym, and it was more than just a pen name. She was trying to disguise her identity to make it harder for her ex-husband to track her down. She eventually went back to her own name, and that’s when I learned her history.

In preparation for this blog post, I e-mailed my friend and asked if she could recommend some memoirs or realistic fiction for me to read. Here is her response:

I can’t recommend a good memoir or fiction on domestic violence. I read two that were free downloads, and both were disappointing because the women got out of an abusive relationship and went into a normal one and everything was happy and perfect, very unrealistic. Some women either struggle for a long time with their own short comings and failures or jump right into another abusive relationship. Why? We think we deserve it. And we believe we don’t deserve to be in a happy, normal relationship.

In a subsequent e-mail, my friend described her initial experience with the healing process.

After twelve years of being married to an abuser, I left and was directed to a support group.

All of the group members spoke negatively of men, as if there were no decent ones left on earth. Several members were under the care of a doctor for various conditions, including depression and insomnia, and needed medications for them. Years of low self-esteem had disabled them. A couple were on welfare. Some were overweight, dressed in sloppy clothes, used no makeup and didn’t even comb their hair, as if they didn’t care what they looked like.

One of the members was still working through healing thirty years after being free of her abuser. She had forgiven him but kept talking about needing more time to heal. How long does it take to get over something like that? Genuine healing takes time and is different for each person.

Does that mean things will never get better? Of course not. As far as I can tell, my friend is now relatively well-adjusted. She explains it this way:

But I changed counselors. My new one used encouragement. She pointed out all my good traits and the strong characteristics I still had. She doled out positive reinforcement but also helped me get a good job, a place to live and even a supportive church. Other people reassured me that I could have my own dreams, pursue them and reach them. I became so busy focusing on what I could do and what I could become that my past kind of faded over time.

Even so, she has not remarried and plans to spend her remaining years as a single woman. I have another friend who has what appears to be a happy second marriage, but it didn’t happen until she had been divorced for a number of years. The healing process for both women took a long time, and some scars remain.

So if you are writing a novel about domestic abuse, research the subject and make the story true-to-life. This includes the ending. It’s okay to end with hope or to have your character take the first steps along the road to healing. But don’t create a Shangri-La.

Instead, talk to someone who knows. Then make it realistic.


The picture at the head of this blog is an etching by Richard Newman, first published in July 1795. It shows that spousal abuse isn’t new, nor is the husband always the abuser. In the second panel, a husband begs for mercy while the wife threatens him with a switch from a bush or tree.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Anatomy of Abuse in Prose and Poetry

Janine Harrison
As you may or may not already be aware, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Indiana Writers’ Consortium is devoting October’s blog posts to writing about this important topic.  Adrienne Rich states in her work, Arts of the Possible, “When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.”  Considering the fact that 20 to 25 percent of women will experience some form of gender violence in their lifetimes, a statistic that has not changed in over two decades’ time, it is imperative that physically and sexually abused women see this dysfunctional world represented on paper, so that they may feel less alone, to assist in the processing of their own abuse, and to find or strengthen their own voices, voices to be added to this conversation.  The question that victims of abuse may find daunting while attempting to write about such experiences is:  How do I approach the subject?  In the following paragraphs, I will begin to answer this question by analyzing abuse prose and poetry excerpts.
In her memoir, Crazy Love, Leslie Morgan Steiner addresses abuse directly.  In a scene that takes place shortly before she marries her abuser, Conor, and marks the first instance of abuse, she writes:
     He grabbed my shoulder and turned my body to face his.  His skin was stretched tight across his cheeks.
     My heart seized as if I’d stumbled upon a snake on the path behind our house.  I saw a pink blur of his hand as he slapped me hard across the face.  My skin stung as my teeth cut through the soft, wet flesh of my mouth.  My head jerked back.  Conor grabbed my throat, pushed me against the wall, and tightened his grip.  He shook my whole body back and forth.
     Don’t.  Scream.  Like.  That,” he spit through clenched teeth.  With every word my head hit the office wall, my neck bending like a Gumby doll.
     I couldn’t take my eyes off his face.  I could smell his shaving cream but could not breathe.
While Steiner is able to illustrate the abuse that she endured directly, I recently learned, however, that only a small percentage of victims of abuse are able to confront it “head on” upon the page.  What other approaches exist that can still honestly and effectively address the issue while still allowing writers to face their experiences in a manner perhaps less anguishing?   
In her Wounds of Passion:  a writing life, bell hooks chooses to use third-person point of view (POV) to depict difficult memories:  “She remembers somebody big hurting her body, being lost and nobody finding her but the bad man, who brings her home.  She remembers that he wears the color blue, that he tells her not to tell anybody.  She remembers the fear.  Not much else.”  In the preface, hooks discusses her POV choice, stating, “I move back and forth between first person narration and third person.  I conceptualize the third person voice as that part of myself that is an observer—that bears witness.  At times I also use the third person as an attempt to distance myself from the pain.  The inclusion of the third person narrator who has both critical insight and an almost psychoanalytic power that enables critical reflection on events described is an act of mediation.”  I would also argue that many writers, by nature, live in part in the moment and in part as observers, as witnesses, in our daily lives, and that by virtue of this natural state, when we experience abuse, we are even more so divided, becoming, in effect, nearly two individuals.  Abuse or memory of abuse can be virtually an out-of-body experience.  It seems fair, then—organic—to also represent it thusly in print form. 
In the poetry anthology, Women Write Resistance:  poets resist gender violence, edited by Laura Madeline Wiseman, approaches to such discussion are varied.  In “Common Law,” by Grace Bauer, for example, she never mentions abuse, choosing to discuss instead the reasons the abused woman stayed:
Because he wasn’t always bad.
Then because he was all you had.
Then because of the baby.
Because he said sorry.  And never again.
Because your mother said maybe if you tried
a little harder.  Because your father said nothing.
Because you knew the neighbors were talking
And you wanted to prove them wrong.
Though they were right.
Thought they never called the cops.
Even so, abuse is at the work’s core all the while.  Please also note Bauer’s use of second-person point of view, which simultaneously places the reader in the role of the abuser and allows the poet additional emotional distance from the subject.
Similarly, Mary Stone Dockery refers to gender violence only in the title of her prose poem, “After the Rape”; she uses second-person point of view as well.  Interesting, too, is her use of extended metaphor—of a wasp that has landed on the persona to discuss the rapist and the repercussions of having been violated.  Dockery begins, “You wore the same jeans for a week without washing them.  You couldn’t find a good reason to undress and your nude legs, wet twigs, threatened to snap beneath the weight of your bend.” The woman eventually kills the wasp.  The poet then shows the consequences of rape in her final line, “When you tossed the wasp out the window, you imagined that it disintegrated mid-air, but instead it fell to concrete and you walked by it for many days after, aware of its rot.” Her use of metaphor not only allows for psychological distance from the material but also a fresh and vivid approach to addressing it.
Gender violence persists as a global issue.  This means that we must add new voices, fresh voices, to this discussion, to not only help those who have been affected by it, but also to argue that confronting the issue is still necessary—that domestic and sexual abuse still has us firmly within the grasp of its two strong hands.  While I have only explored a few possibilities here, there are many creative approaches for addressing the subject that allow for the writing experience to be emotionally bearable.  Whether as abused or witness, please be brave and add your voice.  We must fight back.
Works Cited
Bauer, Grace.  “Common Law.”  Women Write Resistance:  Poets Resist Gender Violence.  Ed.  Laura Madeline Wiseman.  USA:  Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013.  24.  Print.
Dockery, Mary Stone.  “After the Rape.”  Women Write Resistance:  Poets Resist Gender Violence.  Ed.  Laura Madeline Wiseman.  USA:  Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013.  49.  Print.
hooks, bell.  Wounds of Passion:  a writing life.  New York:  Henry Holt, 1997.  Print.
Rich, Adrienne.  Arts of the Possible.  New York:  W.W. Norton, 2001.  Print. 
Steiner, Leslie Morgan.  Crazy Love.  New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009.  Print.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Importance of Finding Your Voice & Poets Who Have Already Found It

Kayla Greenwell
Since 1981, the United States has acknowledged October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, yet domestic and gender violence are still some of the largest unsolved social issues of our time. Twenty-five percent of women will face domestic violence in their lifetime and twenty percent of women will fall victim to other forms of gender violence, such as sexual abuse and rape.  If you take the time to do some math, twenty percent of the female population of America is approximately thirty-one million, according to our most recent census. That means at least thirty-one million women are affected by some form of gender violence in their lifetime. Still, with so many females marred by these horrific crimes, these issues are rarely discussed.   It seems so straight forward it’s silly, but in reality we don’t talk about these things. Only 40% of rapes are ever reported.
Breaking this habit of silence and talking about these issues is the first step in dismantling a society that universally condones gender violence. It’s not easy, but it is necessary for survivors and supporters (both male and female!) to step up and fight these issues.
So how do we find the right routes for our voices to take? How can we be heard? I think we should pick up on what the writers of the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence are putting down. Over 100 women American poets challenge the current narrative on gender violence and use their experiences to help bring to light the issues that many other women face but let their fear and shame choke their voices.  The synopsis of the book states that, “The critical introduction frames the intellectual work behind the building of the anthology by describing how poets break silence, disrupt narratives, and use strategic anger to resist for change. Poetry of resistance distinguishes itself by a persuasive rhetoric that asks readers to act.”  Do you see what can be achieved by doing this?  
They are writing about their experiences and using poetry as a platform for social change.  They are not just sharing their experiences, but challenging us to change our lives so that these experiences will never be repeated.  They know that they do not just speak for themselves but for the thirty-one million women in America who have or will experience some form of gender violence—whether it be domestic or otherwise. 
In an overwhelmingly busy world, sometimes we forget that our words are powerful.  We can use our writing as a platform to let the world know that gender violence is unacceptable, and we are done staying quiet. So pick up a pen, and challenge our current world. Change our narrative.  Speak loudly and, if you are afraid, remember those who cannot lend their voice. Together with our words we can do anything.