This week, we welcome author Laura Wiess, author of the recently released and already highly acclaimed Such a Pretty Girl (MTV Books, 2007,) an unflinchingly honest portrayal of sexual abuse, summed up in a starred Kirkus review as “Tough, darkly humorous, yet achingly vulnerable. A nail-biter of an ending." Author Luanne Rice says of the novel “Brilliance comes in a small package." But it is nurtured by a great heart. We think you’ll agree as you take a few minutes to meet Laura here at the Café.
Melissa W: Such a Pretty Girl is evoking powerful responses from readers and reviewers. Tell us a little about the story:
Laura W: Meredith Shale’s father is a pedophile. Thanks in large part to her white-knuckle testimony when she was twelve, he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for molesting her and other kids in the community. Meredith though she had time to grow up, move out and start a life of her own before her father was released.
Instead, at fifteen, Meredith’s time has run out. Her father’s being released after serving only three years in prison. Her mother still loves him, insists the rape was a mistake and that he’s learned his lesson, and is bringing him home. Terrified and desperate, Meredith is determined not to let him hurt her or anyone else, ever again.
Such a Pretty Girl begins on Friday, with Meredith’s father’s homecoming, and pretty much ends on the following Monday. What happens over that long weekend is a nightmare no one, especially a kid, should ever have to endure.
Melissa W: Your story involves a powerful and painful subject matter. What kind of research did you have to do for this story?
Laura W: The most intense research I did was speaking with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, who very generously shared their personal stories, and watching James Ronald Whitney’s documentary Just Melvin: Just Evil which I highly recommend to anyone adamant that no parent would ever leave their child in harm’s way, or who would dismiss the life-altering after effects of childhood sexual abuse.
I also spoke with law enforcement, researched Megan’s Law, sex offender registries, recidivism rates, pedophilia, incest, crossover offending (molesting both boys and girls, instead of just one sex), sentencing, read firsthand accounts, and more.
I’ve received a lot of emails from adult abuse survivors since the book came out in January, saying things like, ‘Wow, I felt just like Meredith did,’ or ‘That’s exactly what happened to me.’ These readers go on to share moments from their childhood abuse and while these stories are very private, I will say that at least 90% of them say they did tell an adult, usually their mothers, only to be hushed, shushed and still expected to function within the family unit alongside the abuser, as if nothing had happened, or was continuing to happen. I’m not kidding. I wish I was.
Melissa W: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book? (I have my favorite. We’ll compare notes!)
Laura W: Definitely the climax chapter. My adrenalin spikes just thinking about it. My favorite line is the last line in that same chapter. I was feeling it all as I was writing, sitting there desperate, crying, frantic, not knowing what was going to happen, and when we got right to the edge (don’t want to say what, and ruin it) there was this incredibly pure moment where time stopped – truly – and I knew what came next, and it was just overwhelming. That last line still sends chills up my spine whenever I think of it.
Melissa W: Yes! That was my favorite, too. Terrifying, courageous and utterly satisfying. Was there any part of the story that you struggled with or avoided writing?
Laura W: When Meredith first brought me her story, I actually considered changing her abuser from her father to her stepfather, or even making him her mother’s boyfriend. I didn’t know if I could stretch far or deep enough to do Meredith’s circumstances justice. In addition, walking with her through the nightmare of sexual abuse by an outsider was terrifying enough, but having to be there – fully there – when one of the two people in the world who were supposed to love and protect her above all else betrayed her, well, I knew that was really going to be raw and rough.
The thing is, if I’d turned away and rewrote her history to make it easier for me as an author, I would have done what every other adult in her life did, and that was unthinkable. Once I listened to survivor stories, heard how many kids were silenced so as not to ‘upset the family’ and desperately wished it had been otherwise, well, it was a done deal, with no going back.
Childhood sexual abuse happens. The kids are not the ones who ‘upset the family’; the adult predator has already done that by his/her deliberate, chosen act. Ignoring sexual abuse will not make it stop. On the contrary; it only smooths the path for the abuser to continue unchallenged.
Melissa W: Your commitment to the hard truth of Meredith’s situation is evident in every word of this novel. I’m sure everyone who has read it is wondering what you are working on now.
Laura W: I just received my editor’s notes on my next MTV book tentatively titled Leftovers, which is the story of what causes two good-hearted girls to commit an unforgivable act in the name of love, and justice. I’m very much looking forward to digging in and working on revisions.
And thanks so much to you, Marlene and Mary for hosting me, and for making the Cafe such an inviting place to hang out. It's been a real pleasure.
Melissa W: You’re welcome any time. Thank you for creating such a fabulous book!
~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions, fire away! Laura will answer as many as she possibly can. Congrats and confetti are always welcome, too!