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Weaving Real Issues into Your Writing

When trying to describe the themes of my novels I came up with "stories of success through struggle" because that's been my own journey. Most of the time my fiction isn't trying to change the world, I write to entertain. But every now and then I weave in elements that are based in reality because our jobs as writers is to convey very real emotion, so we don't shy away from hot button topics.

Domestic abuse runs rampant in today’s society. The statistics are staggering and those are just the reported cases. I’ve not been a victim of physical abuse but I grew up with it around me. As a child I didn’t know what to do about it. As a strong woman I fight and I used my words to do so.

I'm a big fan of actress Evan Rachel Woods. She's done great work in The Wrestler, True Blood, and Westworld. Probably her best work has been getting The Phoenix Act passed, a bill that supports domestic abuse survivors. I was listening to Evan tell her story in front of congress and I'll probably never get it out of my mind now. She went into a lot of detail and I commend her for her bravery.

There are many tactics of abuse that are just as horrible, if not worse, than the physical. A lot of emotional scars are left behind by abusive relationships. I knew someone who was so beaten down by their spouse that over the years it had become something of a “Stockholm Syndrome” scenario where the victim is under so much strain that befriending, or loving, the captor becomes the only way to cope with the situation.

This is something I touched on in my suspense novel Sins and Virtues. My female lead, Sam Mitchell, has been through years of abuse at the hands of her husband, so much so that it has changed her as a person.  I paint her with a brush of a woman trying to piece back together her life after terrible circumstances. Her human frailties are exposed in a raw way as I peel back the layers of Sam and open up those emotional wounds that run so deep.

When writing her I found her to be overwhelmed and exhausted from carrying around this turmoil for so many years. I’ve known that energy drain myself.

But there is a lesson in all experiences. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…eventually. In Sins and Virtues there is a line that reads: “I don’t place blame and I try not to judge. You are resentful of things that we are all guilty of doing. Everyone wants to be accepted of their sins as well as their virtues. You cannot blame people for seeking compassion; it’s one of the most beautiful of human emotions I have ever come across. People are going to think whatever they want, and ultimately do whatever they want, but nobody should pass judgment on another human life. I know people disappoint, but you have to realize that we are all just doing the best we can with what we’re presented.”

As of this writing I'm working on the sequel to my superhero/urban fantasy series titled Kourage. Part of the story deals in human trafficking, particularly where it comes to the exploitation of children. This is a tricky topic to write about and I found myself feeling a little sick in my stomach after writing a few of the chapters. But its an important part of the story and its an important topic to explore. These days I see writers get concerned over the story matter they want to produce and while I can understand being sensitive when tackling these topics I still feel they need to be explored.

You cannot censor art. Imagine if the authors of the past were censored because people were too sensitive, we wouldn't have the classic works of art we have today. My advice is to write what's in your heart. You have a story to tell for a reason. Don't wait for permission to tell it.

If Evan Rachel Woods waited for permission to tell her story then The Phoenix Act wouldn't have been passed. Think about the change you could have upon the world.


 “Are there any other weapons in this house?”

“No.” His answer was blunt and spoken too fast. She nudged him with her knee so that he would look up at her. When he didn’t budge she had to squat before him to take in his eyes.

“If you’re lying to me I’ll blow your nuts off, dig it?”

“Did you just wake up this morning and decide to ruin a man’s life?”

“I’m a woman, it’s what we live for.”

“You’re just an angry little girl, aren’t you?”

His defiance of her was shocking. She turned her attentions now to the knife. Taking it from atop the mantle she twisted it in her grip.

“I should gash out your eyes for that remark.”

“I have no doubt that you would.”

“Then don’t speak again.”

“It’s just that for whatever reason I was feeling a certain amount of compassion for you.” He’d been avoiding her gaze as if searching for some kind of revelation at the back of his mind. Now he turned back to her and it made Sam jump. “I feel like a fool. You’re nothing but a criminal. You don’t deserve compassion.”

He’d gotten her juice up and she was going to let him know about it. A swift back hand brought quick crimson to his lips.

“You don’t know the first thing about me,” she shouted. “You sit here in this fancy cabin living the most mundane existence I’ve ever seen and you dare to pass judgment on me? You don’t know shit, buddy.”

“And you don’t know shit about me either.”

His tone matched her aggression. She was taken aback by his forward attitude but only for the moment. Standing with the knife in hand, shouting her aggressions, Sam flashed back to the last hour with Tom. She’d blocked it from her memory for the longest time. It had returned to her only sporadically in prison. Now she saw it all.

He’d been hateful that day, on a rampage about something useless. He was her enemy and her lover all in one and he was dragging her by the hair up and down the halls of their studio apartment.

At that point Sam realized it was either going to be her life or his, someone was going to have no future. After Tom had barrel rolled her into the refrigerator, shouting something about making dinner, Sam had rose on shaky legs and moved quickly from the room. Tom was close behind her; she wanted him to be. She’d lead him to the bedroom, moving just paces faster than he as he screamed obscenities and closed the gap.

Her heart had been pounding, but her mind seemed calm and serene, as if the moment she made her decision the whole spectrum of the world fell into place. The box of blades was stashed in a secret lock box behind the headboard of the bed. Sam had just finished polishing her babies about a half-hour before, so the lock was disengaged. She had selected her favorite, a twelve-inch masterpiece with serrated teeth and a polished black handle, then waited patiently with it behind her back.

Tom came for her with a head full of rage and Jack Daniels over ice. When he’d caught up to her, he slowed his pace but still moved in long strides. He had been intent on sending her to the emergency room this time, or even much worse, she could see it in his eyes. But when he reached out, she had a surprise waiting for him.

The first cut ran lengthwise across his extended arm and lacerated not only his tanned flesh but also his very best button down shirt. His reaction was precious as he jolted backwards in shock, but it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the priceless expression on his face when she’d impaled him. It was ironic that the one act that freed her from his control had actually taken her freedom.

Now, standing over Ben, she began to dwell in the anguish of it. Before she knew what was happening, she brought the knife downward in a hard and swift arc.

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"Original Cyn" Cynthia Vespia writes fantasy novels with edge. This blog is dedicated to all things fantasy and my author journey.


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