I’m honored to host award-winning author and all around cool chick, Julia Park Tracey, today. What I love about social media is the amazing people I’ve met, including Julia. Her talent and story will touch you.
How My Sexual Assault Became Part of My Nove
By Julia Park Tracey
They say to write what you know. So I did.
When I wrote my novel, Tongues of Angels, part of which features a young woman seeking the solace of religion to soothe her anguish, I wasn’t just pulling these details out of thin air. I told Jessica’s story by telling my own. In Tongues of Angels, Jessica was going to college in San Francisco (so was I) when she invited a fellow student to her apartment to study (so did I). Her casual study session turned into a brutal sexual assault from behind, so that she couldn’t see him, but was left terrified of anyone coming from beyond her peripheral vision.
That was my experience, too.
I was sure he just wanted to talk about his kenisiology project, as I was dishing about my journalism classes. Somehow, as I moved around the apartment getting soft drinks and snacks, he seemed always to be standing right behind me, until suddenly he had me pinned on the bed and was beating me, gratifying himself over me. Afterward, as I lay there sobbing and trying to pull my clothing on, to cover myself, he assured me I had misunderstood, that I should have expected it, that it was clearly my own stupidity that had caused this drama. His blue eyes stood out against his tan, and to this day, when I see that particular combination in a man’s face, I feel sick to my stomach.
Like Jessica in the novel, I didn’t call the police. I tried to wash away the stain by pretending it hadn’t happened. I moved from my apartment into a house with friends. I didn’t go out at night if I could help it. I made choices afterward that affected my whole life. One of those choices, within the year, was to start going to a nearby Catholic Church. I wasn’t Catholic. But as Jessica says in Tongues of Angels, “Surely a church with a bloody Jesus on a cross could understand her anguish. Surely there was a place for her there.”
Jessica startles when approached from behind. She cocoons herself in her apartment with hand-stitched quilts and crocheted afghans, away from the social life of a twenty-something. She battens herself in with domestic chores and a slavish devotion to church to keep the memories away. I did the same. So when I describe Jessica as nervous as a rabbit, or jumping into fight-or-flight, I am describing my own experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, a state of almost crippling anxiety that I lived with for two decades. I held that fear and anger inside until just a few years ago, when deep therapy helped quell the demons.
Aside from writing Jessica into this contemporary tale of Catholic angst and ambiguity, I have never written about that night.
Tongues of Angels isn’t just about Jessica and her PTSD. The story revolves around a young Catholic priest who falls in love with Jessica and has to decide if he will stay a priest or leave to marry her. It’s a love story – and a story of faith, hope and recovery, but it’s wrapped in politics, dogma and a sassy choir of gossiping priests who lay roadblocks in their way. Most of those stories are also grounded in reality, founded on the tales I heard from my priest friends after joining the Catholic Church, and then marrying one of the priests who – like Rob Souza – left the priesthood to marry me. All of these details are true in the one way that Earnest Hemingway recommended that we write – they are emotionally true, and that’s why they feel so authentic.
Maybe the advice to “write what you know” is trite, or hackneyed. Maybe it leaves less room for imagination than you’d like. But there’s one thing writing what you know definitely brings: release. So, as an author and a writing mentor, I do advise my students to write what they know. Sharing an authentic story, being vulnerable on the page, opening that metaphoric vein, can be the best writing you ever did.
Julia Park Tracey is the author of Tongues of Angels: A Novel, available on Amazon from Indie-Visible Ink. Follow Julia on GoodReads, Twitter @juliaparktracey and on Facebook/juliaparktraceyauthor. You can also find her at www.juliaparktracey.com.
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Janie Junebug saysJuly 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm
I think writing what we know makes our writing better and more authentic. Some of the tragedies I’ve experienced have led to some of the best poems I’ve written.
RachelintheOC saysJuly 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm
Thank you for reading and sharing that, Janie. Nobody’s life is perfect — tragedies will come and go. Sharing them bonds us like nothing else I’ve seen.
Sharon Lamb saysJuly 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm
After reading Julia’s post I cannot wait to read her book. Her story within the pages of her book struck such a cord with me. Congratulations Julia. Bravo to you for putting yourself “out there.” Will look for it on Amazon ASAP. Much love. xoxo Thank you, too Rachel, for hosting such amazing authors on your site. You rock. =)
RachelintheOC saysJuly 23, 2013 at 8:30 pm
Thanks so much, Sharon for reading, commenting, and your kind words. I’m thrilled Julia felt comfortable enough to share her story here. That, above all, is most important.
Louisa saysJuly 23, 2013 at 7:02 am
Wow, excellent post, very brave! I admire you for being honest and, as another commenter said, for putting yourself out there. I would also like to read this book!
Cindy Brown saysJuly 23, 2013 at 11:45 am
I think it’s great that you’re integrating personal experience in your writing. That makes it more realistic. I do this also, except I usually use my actual self since I write non-fiction. Still, I was shocked at how some emotion from past events came up as I wrote my own guest post for Rachel on rape. I sympathize. Although my rapes were not brutal, they were paralyzing and I also had terrible problems, until finding God and great therapy. All is well and I now am happy to share my story with others. It’s no longer to help me, it’s to help others know they’re not alone, there is hope, etc. Hugs to you, survivor!
RachelintheOC saysJuly 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm
It’s so important for survivors to share our stories. Thank you for sharing yours, Cindy. I’m thrilled to have Julia here to share hers also. She’s SO talented and has much to share with others.
Frances Caballo saysJuly 24, 2013 at 9:39 am
Julia, how brave you are to write your story, even in a work of fiction. I still haven’t figured out how to tell my own story of sexual assault, rape, etc. I recently wrote a short story that vaguely alluded to it but that’s as far as I can go. Rachel: Thank you for being so open about your past. I admire you for that and hope that one day I can step forward as well without feeling so afraid. I will keep reading this blog. I’m so glad we’ve connected!
Gina Stoneheart saysJuly 29, 2013 at 5:02 am
Thank you for sharing your brave story with us Julia. I can’t imagine how hard was to write your story; especially when it entails so much authenticity and reflecting on your own life and experience. I’m finding it hard to write my story because most of it seems so crazy and unreal that most readers would think everything stemmed from my imagination. But you are right; writing what you know definitely provides a release and it feels better to share it with others, especially if our stories can help others cope with problems or change what is wrong in their lives. And Rachel, thank you for posting such a wonderful article and author with us. I’m new to the blogging world but will be following you, thanks!
RachelintheOC saysAugust 4, 2013 at 6:42 pm
Thanks for your kind comments and for reading also! Julia is an inspiration for all of us and a terrific writer. Sharing these stories is important to me because all of us deserve to be heard and to tell our stories, our way.
Veronica Park saysAugust 4, 2013 at 12:14 pm
Thank you SO much for posting this. I recently struggled with whether or not I should write about something in my past, wondering whether or not being “too close” to the issue made my writing about it seem overdramatic or hard to relate to. Now I realize, maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re being honest and true to your own experience. I’m rushing to buy this book as we speak.
RachelintheOC saysAugust 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm
Thanks for reading and commenting, Veronica. Julia is such an inspiration — I’m thrilled she agreed to guest here for me!
Joan Price saysAugust 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm
Julia, you’re showing such beautiful courage here. Thank you.
> Sharing an authentic story, being vulnerable on the page, opening that metaphoric vein, can be the best writing you ever did.
You’re absolutely right, and thank you for doing that here.
Frances Caballo saysAugust 19, 2013 at 11:35 am
Joan, It’s great to see you here!