A Discussion of Rape

Beautiful Monster, the novel I co-authored with my friend and writing partner Jared, has some very graphic moments in it. Sterling Bronson, one of the main characters, is a serial killer and serial rapist. There is no other way to describe him and what he does. He stalks women, seduces them, and then does them serious harm, even murdering them. It is not a subject that Jared and I took lightly, nor did we treat the subject disrespectfully – or at least we worked very hard not to. However . . .

Earlier this evening, a woman commented to me privately that having started the book, she would not be finishing it as we had so thoughtlessly treated the subject of sexual assault so light-heartedly. She said – and this is a direct quote – “You act as if rape is a sexual fantasy that all women want. You fit right in with that guy from Missouri who said that legitimate rape is different from other kinds of rape.”

A jaw dropping moment, to be certain.

I didn’t ask this woman to read the book. In fact, I didn’t even know she had picked up/downloaded a copy. In my opinion, she completely missed the point of what we tried to do in the book, and she absolutely missed the point of my character, Brenna Carlson. So, let me set some things straight for this woman, and for anyone else who thinks we mishandled the subject:

First – at the age of 22 I had the unfortunate experience of being sexually assaulted. That’s all I’m going to say about it as it pertains to me. What I will say is that this horrific experience informed my writing, but more than that, the writing opened an honest discussion between people important to my life and me. As Jared and I wrote, we worked diligently to ensure that we did not make Sterling into a romantic character. He is a sympathetic character, a believable human being. A severely fractured and damaged human being, there is no doubt, but realistic and true to the pathology of those who behave this way in the “real world.”  Jared conveyed this character in such a way that he is both sympathetic and detestable, and that is how many of these men are in our society. They are charming, but vain. They are caring, but manipulative. They exude love, but they have no idea what it means to love. In short, they are beautiful monsters – hollow shells like cicadas leave behind in the summer.

Second – for my part, I made certain that my character neither wanted nor enjoyed the experiences that Sterling put her through. There is no fantasy in real rape. It is vicious, it is ugly, and there is nothing sexual about it. To the perpetrator, it is about the violence, not the sex.While what happens to my character is not the same experience that I endured, the emotional truth is still there, and I believe this is where some readers are getting hung up.  I don’t know that the woman I spoke with even got far enough into the story to discover this aspect, but it is there – the terror, the degradation, and the evil that accompanies this crime. There were times that going back to this mind-set nearly caused me to stop writing. Digging into those dark memories to dredge up feelings I thought I’d long since dealt with was an exercise in “dancing with crazy” that I wasn’t sure I could survive. But I was blessed to have a co-author who is also one of my best friends, and his support was vital.

I was also blessed to have supportive family who – though they didn’t really know what was going on – encouraged me to remain true to myself and my sincere belief in this story.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT – TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW CRUCIAL INFORMATION IN THE BOOK!

Okay – you’ve been warned.

In the end, Brenna survives her ordeal. She tries to get back to normal, but there is no normal anymore. From experience, I know that survivors have to find a new definition of normal, and they learn over time that normal has a way of shifting like sand in the desert; with one step, you put your foot down on firm ground, but with the next, you begin sliding downward without warning. But many women survive this – not unscarred, mind you – but they recover and begin to rebuild a new understanding of themselves and the world around them. Each one handles it differently, and I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a right way to do this. There are definitely some wrong ways, but we won’t go into that here.

Beautiful Monster is not an easy book to read. It wasn’t an easy book to write for either Jared or me. But I am proud of this book for so many reasons, and I know that Jared is as well (sorry, J, don’t mean to speak for you). It is horrifying in places, suspenseful in others, and even humorous at times. It is a very narrow slice of life, but it is a reality for some unfortunate women, and I will say very honestly that with this book, I finally feel I have vindication and compensation for my pain.

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10 thoughts on “A Discussion of Rape

  1. Linda L. Bennett says:

    I believe you are a brave spirit, Kim. The woman that commented has lost herself in her world of normal.

  2. voodoomother says:

    I found the book a difficult read. I read it and will read it again. I read it the first time through in 2 evenings and have started on it for the second time, reading much slower. The person who messaged you must have some sort of idea that violent sex does have a following, they build entire communities for it! Brenna was not one of those people, and I thought you guys did a good job of separating her from that illusion. Yes, the subject matter is difficult and graphic, having said that, at no time did I feel like any aspect of it was taken lightly. I found it well written, certainly very interesting, and thought provoking. And I kind of liked that Brenna was a social work therapist. That had a subtle parralel line I think. Can’t wait for your other books to come out! Please please please don’t forget to tell me so I can get my hands on them.

  3. Kim Justesen says:

    Linda – thanks for your support.

  4. Kim Justesen says:

    Liz – thanks for understanding. Your opinion is more valid than many I’m sure I’ll get.

  5. Quentin says:

    When someone triggers my memories they jump alive and I go off on tangents quite unrelated to the topic. Perhaps your writing triggered traumatic memories in her, so while her complaint made perfect sense to her, it may have sounded confused to others not familiar with whatever she was dealing with.

  6. I knew, even before we had written the first chapter of this book, that we were going to offend people. I even remember asking you if you were willing to be crucified for this. So far, all of the comments I have received about the book have been positive, but the bad ones will start flooding in.

    There will be people who will assume that the authors of this book wrote it with no thought. They won’t take into account that both authors were writing about a subject they each understood well.

    As for any kind of rape fantasy in this book…that’s just way off-base. First, we were both adamant that the rape in this story be truthful and non-sexual. Second, it is part of our publisher’s criteria that we not write any kind of sexual assualt for the purposes of titillation, so even if we had wanted to do that, this book wouldn’t have gotten published by them if we had.

    I don’t believe that Beautiful Monster was written irresponsibly, and I have warned everyone I know that this is not a light-hearted story without some heavily offensive and disturbing content. Beyond that, there’s nothing we can do.

    There will be more hate-mail, no doubt. I plan on ignoring it. Anyone who reads this book in its entirety will understand where we were going with it. I trust the intelligence and judgment of readers on that. To skim the book, or to flip through it, sure…you’re not going to understand.

    And one last thing, Mimi…at the risk of sounding parental…you don’t need to explain yourself. Neither of us do. We wrote a story that mattered to us…a story we felt needed to be told. If someone doesn’t like the content, they don’t need to read it. Understand, though, that people will make assumptions. It’s our nature to do so. Let them. And don’t feel like you need to defend or explain anything to anyone.

  7. Linda Anderson says:

    Great Blog!!! While I don’t understand the person’s assumptions, Jared is right, neither of you need to explain yourselves. It is written about a very sensitive subject, but it is a very REAL subject. There are many men out there with these problems. If anything, I think it makes the reader realize how deceiving people can be. The main character was deeply disturbed, & “the perfect Beautiful Monster.” I loved the book, things like this happen in everyday life. It is not pleasant, but it does happen. I am very proud of these authors, they did a wonderful job!!!

  8. Kim Justesen says:

    Thanks everyone for your support. I just wish this person would finish reading the book. I think so much of her concern is dealt with long before the end of the story, and that isn’t really the focus of the book anyway!

    Your kind words really do make a difference. Sincerely!

  9. Annie Bradley says:

    You explained the book in a way that I would have: horrifying, suspenseful, and humorous. I loved Sterling in the beginning but towards the end he definitely was frightening! I felt the terror Brenna felt and I could never imagine experiencing something like that! I was warned by Jared before I read the book which was kind of nice because I was a little surprised when he said rape was involved. But it all makes sense. I understood Sterling and why he did what he did and it honestly made me sad because I know there are people out there that are really like that. And sadly, that means victims like Brenna as well… I think you both did an excellent job with this book and I didn’t feel you took the subject lightly at all.

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