Author Interviews

“BROTHERLY LOVE” by Tracy Price-Thompson

From writing about your brother’s death from AIDS at the age of thirty-four in Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, to shedding light on the death penalty as it relates to the race of the victim and that of the accused in Gather Together in My Name, you have delved into a broad range of unique and timely facets of the human experience in your writings. Why did you feel it was necessary to create Sister4Sister Empower Ourselves?

It has always been my mission to bring distinctive and quality literature to the reading public. I take great joy in writing about a variety of topics and across several different genres. I founded Sister4Sister Empower Ourselves as a way of blending my public service interests with creative projects that illustrate my artistic expression. The Empowerment Series is just one facet of my vision. Through S4S, I have developed mentoring programs for disadvantaged girls, created a Pathways to Success Program to help teens define their career goals and navigate life from high school, through college, and into the workforce, and I have worked within school districts to bring ethnic diversity programs to all students. The motto for Sister4Sister is: Want For Your Sister What You Want For Yourself. It is my firm belief that only when we reach out and offer each other sincere support and edification can we become empowered (and realized) as Black women.

Your contribution to My Blue Suede Shoes is called, “Brotherly Love.” How did you arrive at your decision to write about such a taboo topic?

As a social worker, I have been trained in, and exposed to, various forms of domestic abuse. I chose to write about the taboo topic of sibling incest because many people in our community are uncomfortable discussing the subject. Oftentimes, out of misguided loyalties, we prefer to keep quiet about the sexual abuse of our children by trusted family members, and it is this silence that allows the abuse to perpetuate. In my experiences with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, I have seen first-hand the damaging effects our silence has on our children. Sexually abused children often begin to exhibit self-destructive and anti-social behaviors; they develop low self-esteem, act out in school, or become depressed and withdrawn. They may also become hypersexual or promiscuous, or perpetuate the cycle of abuse on others. The bottom line is, our children deserve our protection. They deserve to hear us loudly rebuke and reject the horror of incest and sexual abuse. I’d like my story to initiate honest and healing dialogue, and to encourage our families to stop protecting loved ones who are sexual abusers, and to begin safeguarding the innocence of our children.

Many families are very reluctant to admit that the sexual abuse of a child has taken place in their midst. How prevalent is this problem? How can it be addressed?

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the sexual abuse of children is reported up to 80,000 times a year. However, the number of unreported instances is much higher as children are usually afraid to reveal what has happened. We can take steps to prevent sexual abuse by being vigilant and observant for the sake of our children, and by helping children understand at a very young age that they are in charge of their bodies. Children must be taught the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, and they must know there is a trusted adult for them to confide in without fear of recrimination or rejection. Although April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, our children need our protection every single day of the year. We must report all suspected instances of sexual abuse, and we must teach our children NOT to have blind loyalty or allegiance to any adult or authority figure. They have to be able to come to us for protection and security, and to rely on us to ensure the abuse stops.

Your main character, Regina Wilson, is a social worker that has been overwhelmed by the demands of her clients. Is this typical of those in her profession?

Social workers are passionate professionals who dedicate themselves to assisting the most needy and vulnerable amongst us. Like Regina in “Brotherly Love,” many of those who choose this helping profession as their life’s work, are often worn down by the enormity of dysfunctions their clients contend with on a daily basis. Thankfully, most social workers, though they may tire and falter on occasion, are benevolent individuals who are committed to public service. When attempting to help their clients navigate a stack of complex issues, professional social workers like Regina, usually manage to either climb the mountain, or find a way to walk around it.

Your character, Zana Williams, seems to have a difficult time acknowledging that she has been abused. Is it common for abused children to want to protect the very people that have hurt them?

Absolutely. Children who are close to their sexual abusers often feel very guilty about exposing their abuser to scrutiny and recrimination. Children are often frightened by their abusers, and may believe their silence is protecting other loved ones. They may also believe they have somehow invited or caused the abuse, and by acknowledging it, they are breaching or violating an important aspect in their relationship with their abuser by revealing their secrets.

What would you say are the most important things to remember about this collection?

The important thing to remember about My Blue Suede Shoes is that each story offers hope for healing and redemption. C.C. Smart, Zana Williams, Monique Worthington, and Charmaigne Carson are each faced with harrowing experiences of domestic abuse that have the potential to cause life-altering consequences. However, after being empowered by a unique pair of blue suede shoes, the characters are able to confront their problems and begin the process of healing. Mind you, it is not the shoes that are necessarily the catalyst for the healing change, rather, it is the giving of the shoes—from one woman to another—a gift from the helping hands of Black women who care about other women, that allows our characters to ultimately conquer their fears and walk away from domestic abuse.

“BREAKING IT DOWN” by Desiree Cooper

Your story, “Breakin’ it Down,” is about child abuse. What is the genesis of your story?

As a journalist, I have researched and written many stories about domestic violence and child abuse. One of the themes that kept resurfacing was how many girls are put at risk and/or abandoned by their mothers. In America, we have this Madonna/Child image of motherhood, but I have seen that idea turned on its head. Instead of protecting their children, some mothers feel very threatened by them. I wanted to illuminate that dynamic.

It’s more common for men to abuse children, isn’t it?

It depends on what you mean by “abuse.” When it comes to sexual abuse, perpetrators come from different age groups, genders, races and socio- economic backgrounds. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, women do sexually abuse children, although not as frequently as men. Older teens comprise as many as one-third of the offenders.
One common denominator is that children frequently know and trust their abusers. In fact, a 2009 Child Maltreatment Study published by the Department of Health and Human Services found that 80.9 percent of child abusers were parents, and 6.3 percent were relatives other than parents.

How does socio-economic class affect the issue of child abuse?

Child abuse happens in all walks of life. I purposely chose a woman of means as my abuser. I wanted to illustrate that money and status don’t matter. Abuse is an emotional power issue. Ultimately, it has to do with the abuser’s fear and insecurity. In my story, the main character, CC Smart, has it all: status as a high-profile talk show host, an adoring viewership, access to power and a ritzy lifestyle. But the whole time she’s functioning in that world, there’s a darker world inside of her—a little girl who feels abandoned, vulnerable and afraid. No matter how much power she gains, it’s never enough to quiet that terrified voice inside.

What do you hope readers learn from your story?

Two things. I hope that some women recognize themselves and get help. I think many women can relate to blowing a fuse at some point while trying to raise their children. There’s a bully inside all of us that needs to be addressed. But CC’s story is a cautionary tale about what happens when that bully doesn’t get addressed, and a mother’s anger is out of control.

Secondly, I hope that people realize what’s at stake when child abuse goes unreported. In CC’s story, many people suspected the abuse, but no one stepped in to help her daughter. The child nearly died because of it. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, four children die from abuse or neglect every day in America.

“THE WRONG SIDE OF MR. RIGHT” by Elizabeth Atkins

What inspired you to write this story?

Every woman has been conditioned since childhood to find her “happily ever after” after being swept away into an idyllic life with her own Prince Charming.  That’s a fairy tale, but it’s so deeply ingrained in our minds and hearts – along with the profound yearning for the big white wedding and visions of domestic bliss behind a white picket fence – that it’s tremendously tempting to overlook a man’s “flaws” during the romance and excitement of courtship.  Unfortunately, those “flaws” – such as a bad temper, a controlling personality, and his belittling, critical comments — can be the warning signs of an abusive personality.  An abusive personality that doesn’t reveal itself in all its ugly entirety until the woman has already said “I do.”

So this story is a warning to women to pay attention to Mr. Right’s behavior and get away from him if you fear he might be Mr. Wrong!

Have you ever been abused in a romantic relationship?

No, but I have been on “first dates” with men who exhibited some of the warning signs of abusers.  “Run!” my intuition shouted as they tried to tell me what to order in a restaurant, ridiculed my appearance, treated the wait staff in a domineering, hostile manner or made “jokes” about slapping women.

No second date followed, because I listened to my intuition.  A woman may view the above behaviors as harmless, but once the abuse escalates, she can look back and see these were giant red flags that the dude was bad news all along.  Period.

Why didn’t Charmaigne just tell Marcus she wanted out of the relationship?

News reports about murdered women are constantly revealing that her boyfriend or husband killed her after she broke off the relationship or announced she was divorcing him.  Bluntly telling an abusive man that you’re leaving can be extremely dangerous, even life-threatening.  An abuser wants to control, and killing a woman is the ultimate control over her.

So it’s better to strategize an escape, with a solid Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, and wait until a safe time to leave and retreat to a secure place.

Why did you make Charmaigne a successful lawyer?

I wanted to show that even an educated, professional woman with her own accomplishments and financial security is vulnerable to being lured into a relationship and even marriage with an abusive man.  All women, regardless of education, wealth or status, crave love from a “good” man – especially if he’s handsome, charming, wealthy and respected by society like Marcus.  And that makes all women possible prey for abusers.

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