Whenever I’m out and about discussing books with people, I often get asked about content, and whether anything is or should be “off topic” for young adults. To this I usually say something along the lines of, “Intense issues are in young adult books because young adults are dealing with intense issues.” Whether it’s cutting, or anorexia, or suicide, or drugs, or sexual violence . . . real teens are facing these issues, and therefore I fiercely believe they should have books that help them navigate those rough waters
Which is why I’m so glad to be sharing Christa Desir’s debut novel, Fault Line. This is a book that will most certainly make you flinch, but more importantly will make you want to talk. I had the honor and pleasure of talking with Christa about this daring and important book, but first here’s the summary:
Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl—sarcastic, free-spirited Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him, too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.
But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.
Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?
Ben wants to help Ani, but the more she pushes him away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves in this powerful, gut-wrenching debut novel.
Christa was also kind enough to sign a copy of the ARC I received months ago (and read voraciously in one sitting), and I’d love to pass it on to one of you. Please tweet “Talk about fault and FAULT LINE with @ChristaDesir and @TerraMcVoy at www.terraelan.com” to be entered to win. Closes at midnight Friday 10/18/2013.
Please note that there is some (non-graphic) talk about rape in this interview, for those who may need a trigger warning.
But let’s hear what Christa had to say:
TEM: From the things I get exposed to, rape seems a primarily girl-oriented issue, but in Fault Line you chose a male narrator. Can you just . . . talk about that?
CD: Yes, I did this because I really feel like the way to change is to start engaging boys and men in the issue. So many of them want to help but don’t know what to do. I feel like systematically dismantling rape culture is all of our responsibilities and men can do a lot. For me, the men in my life have been amazing and supportive. I think most guys are good guys or at least have good intentions. And I wanted to write a book where guys could read it and say, “Yeah, I’d be like him. I’d feel like that.” Ben does some really dumb things in the book, but his intentions are to help. I think most guys have that intention. I also wanted to explore the fact that rape has a huge impact on more than just the survivor. This is something that everyone around a survivor struggles with as well. So it was Ben’s story I wanted to tell the most.
TEM: You begin Fault Line with an incredibly grim scene, and the bulk of the book explains what has happened to led up to it. Why did you decide to go with this narrative arc?
CD: Well, to be honest, I thought if I started with the love story, boys would stop reading. I very much want boys and girls to read this book and I started from that scene because I thought it would force guys to power through mustard-y kisses to figure out how Ben and Ani ended up there. I know what all of us are up against when it comes to engaging teens in reading, particularly reluctant readers. So my choice was very much a bold move to say, “This is what you’re going to get; I’m not sugar coating this for you”. And thankfully my agent and editors were right there with me.
TEM: What’s heartbreakingly wonderful about Fault Line is that, in spite of the tragedy at its center, it is also a great romance between Ben and Ani. How was it, writing these lovely scenes, when you knew what was ultimately going to happen to both of them?
CD: I felt that we needed the romance so that we really knew the cost, what they’d lose. I wanted everyone to love them as a couple so that they understood that something like this could impact you in a very drastic way. And I desperately wanted a reason for Ben to stay. Because guys often don’t.
TEM: Secondary characters are always so interesting to me, and I thought that Kevin and Kate were particularly moving as they both struggled to deal with what happened to Ani. I know this isn’t really a question, but can you talk about them as characters, and the challenges of supporting people in this kind of situation?
CD: I liked both of them because I think that they also had really good intentions that were so different from Ben’s. I think people react in so many different ways to sexual violence, particularly when it’s a friend. And I wanted Kevin to be able to see something that Ben couldn’t, even in all his BS bravado, he knew that this wasn’t Ben’s problem to fix. I also felt like I wanted Kate because I wanted us to think critically of the role of bystanders. There’s a lot of focus on bystander involvement. Lots of curriculum is now based on being an “active bystander” so you don’t just let things happen. But the thing is, that’s so easy for adults to say from an outside place, from this strong moral foundation that is solidly grounded. But I remembered how hard it was for me as a teen to stand up for myself, let alone anyone else. How I desperately wanted to fit in. How I never wanted to be the buzz kill of any situation. It is hard to be the one who is willing to step in and intervene. Particularly in Kate’s case when Ani so adamantly didn’t want Kate’s help. I once had a teen say to me, “Yeah, I have to play the ‘hate me now, thank me later’ game a lot. It’s hard, but I do it. But it doesn’t always make me the easiest friend or the guy you want to come along.” This is so very telling for anyone witnessing this sort of thing.
TEM: You recently helped raise $6000 for a writing workshop for rape survivors. Can you tell us about the project and its importance to you?
My book came out of my participation in the first survivor testimonial writing workshop. It is an incredible two days of reading and writing. It is about sharing stories and healing and getting political and engaging in change for this issue. I sat in a room with formidable incredible women who had harrowing stories that stole my breath and had all managed to find a place to survive. And this workshop ended up connecting us all in ways that only shared trauma could. It’s not counseling. It’s finding your voice and telling your story in your words. Learning how powerful testimony can be. Fault Line isn’t my story, but it held universal truths about survivors. So when I wrote this book, I decided to donate half my proceeds back to the organization (The Voices and Faces Project) so that more survivors could have writing workshops. And then I had 2 friends who wanted to help and get involved too, so I went even further. We did an IndieGoGo campaign to have a workshop in NY in February 2014. I will say that we raised a lot of this money because of the writing community. I have gotten buckets of support in doing this from all avenues (agents, editors, friends, etc). It has been huge and made me so grateful to be in this community.
TEM: In the version I read before its release, the ending of Fault Line is so abrupt (even though we see it coming) and so devastating. What do you imagine for Ben and Ani beyond the pages of this book?
CD: What’s funny about this is that it is less abrupt in the final book. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on people wondering about the abruptness of the ending in the ARC. And I had a very good writer friend help me figure out what was wrong. I wanted it to be open-ended. I wanted readers to understand that rape isn’t solved for anyone, that it doesn’t just go away. And I wanted readers left teetering a little on the edge of “I’m not sure this is going to be okay” because the reality is that healing from rape is a lifelong process and there are still days in my life now 30 years later where I wonder if it’s all going to be okay. I really felt like Ben’s arc finished in that last scene. But my friend pointed out that the ending in the ARC didn’t fulfill its responsibility in terms of Ben’s emotional arc. So I added a little bit more. And now I think it’s better. It’s still open, but less abrupt. Readers hopefully have a better pulse on his emotional landscape with the new ending. (This should also teach bloggers that you can’t judge a book by its ARC). And maybe one day, I’ll send you the seven epilogues for this book that ended up in the trash bin.
TEM: Fault Line is not necessarily what you would call a “commercial” book, but it’s also so important. How does it feel, debuting in such a way?
CD: It feels deeply personal. But I imagine every book does to every author. Because there’s something of all of us in everything we write. For me, it’s a bit tricky because I am “out” as a survivor and advocate. This puts me in a place where people disclose to me because I am a sister to them and I will listen and I will believe. That is tricky for a debut when you have all the other “debut” stuff going on. And yet, that keeps me grounded. That reminds me that I’m an activist before all, that I wrote this book for teenagers and adults who need it and maybe won’t feel so alone. And I wrote it to start a conversation. I have beautiful and terrible reviews. This I expected. It’s a very polarizing book. But I honestly have an army of people around me who want this book in the world and that has been the greatest gift.
TEM: Sofia comes in late in the game as a survivor voice and also a support to Ben. Can you talk about her character, and maybe where she came from in terms of the work that you yourself have done in this realm?
CD: Sofia is the voice of possible. She is what Ben wants for Ani. And I wanted that in there so we all could feel that there is a way out. That you can integrate something horrible into who you are and turn it into something beautiful. (SPOILER) I knew I wasn’t going to do this for Ani so I felt like we needed Sofia. Because the reality is that sometimes we lose rape victims, but sometimes we don’t. And that is just as important, if not more so. Sofia is every woman who sat in that survivor writing workshop with me. And Ani is every woman who couldn’t.
TEM: Your Day Job Identity is as an editor. What’s it like straddling life as a writer and life as someone who helps other people be better writers?
CD: I love it. It makes me a better writer, but I also deeply love partnering with authors to make their work awesome. It is so incredibly gratifying watching their success. It feels a bit like my own and I just love that part. I also am a caretaker by nature and there is a lot of caretaking involved in editing.
TEM: The word “fault” appears many times in Fault Line, including, of course, the title. Anything you want to say about the word’s malleability and/or significance?
CD: I did because I hate the word. I think culpability is such a tricky thing for survivors. We are the first to blame ourselves, you know. We find all the things we did wrong so that this happened to us. Part of that is because this is how we were raised. (What were you wearing? What were you drinking? Who were you hanging out with?) But I had this terrible thing happen to me when I was five and I blamed myself and didn’t disclose for ten years. I was five. It’s almost absurd that I thought it was my fault, but I did. So now I hate that word. And I love how often it’s used in the book and I love it on the title because it makes people really look at how we feel about difficult things. Particularly the murkiness of sexual assault that isn’t “clean” or “simple”. I had this great friend read the book and say that she loved it because she was so uncomfortable with herself as a feminist afterwards. Because she really did have to decide if Ani afterwards was culpable, not for the assault but for her behavior. And it made my friend exam how long we allow trauma to excuse things. And I loved that so much of this came up, because the bottom line is everyone played a part in where that story ended up.
TEM: What do you most hope readers of Fault Line will come away with?
CD: Conversation. Always. I want this book to make people go, “Dude, you have to read this so we can TALK about it, because OMG.” I want the polarizing view points. I want people to hate it and love it and work through the tough stuff so that they can honestly consider where they stand in this. Of course we’re against rape, but how much responsibility does Ben have? Kate? Kevin? Ani? Ani’s mom? These are big questions. I want the gloves to come off and people to be honest. Because that’s when we’ll start realizing that we need to help teens understand what rape is, when consent needs to happen, when they need to step in, what their responsibility is, etc.
TEM: What are the best resources you’ve found in your work for victims of rape and the people who want to help them?
CD I have them in the back of my book!! There’s a huge list. It’s also on my blog (so are other resources for that matter). But before every presentation that I ever give, I have teens save the number for RAINN in their phones (1-800-656-HOPE). Because at the very least, if something happens to them or one of their friends, they’ll have a hotline number on hand to call to figure out how to get help.
Thank you so much, Christa, for this discussion and for Fault Line. Remember, Tweet “Talk about fault and FAULT LINE with @TerraMcVoy and Christa at @ChristaDesir at www.terraelan.com”) to be entered to win a signed copy of the ARC. Closes midnight 10/18/2013.