*pausing to let you guess what they are . . . *
Yep. I mentioned the Lord and I made my heroine seventeen: apparently big no-no’s when you decide to write a book about a student/teacher romance.
I find it interesting that this book (out of every other book I’ve written so far) has been so polarizing. I mean, I wrote a gang rape scene in Going Under. The whole premise of that book was about a girl so guilt-ridden that she concocts an asinine plan to set herself up as a “rape victim” for revenge. I put “rape victim” in quotations because you cannot actually set yourself up to be raped. Rape is something which occurs completely out of the victim’s control. Nevertheless, that was Going Under, and no one attacked my character for it. My editor was scared to death for me. She sat on pins and needles during its debut, thinking that book would end my writing career. It didn’t. It put me on the map.
Before that I wrote Hoodie. Yeah. A little white girl put on the persona of an 18-year-old black boy, spoke through him, acted like him, and used the “n” word prolifically throughout the story. No one attacked my character for that. Only one snarky comment about how I must have learned everything about black culture through rap videos. This person had no idea that I grew up with two black best friends, but whatevs. My point? No anger. (Well, except over the ending.) Oh, and I almost forgot: Anton was a legal adult when he had sex with Emma, who was still seventeen.
But a love story set in high school? How dare I write such a thing!! Am I the first to write a student/teacher love story set in high school? No. Am I the first to write a love story with a heroine who starts out at seventeen and a hero who is much older? No. Am I the first to infuse spirituality in a story like this? Maybe. I know that’s a bone of contention: I must have an agenda, I’m shoving Christianity down people’s throats. Cadence is doing none of those things in the story. She’s grappling with her private faith, and the reader gets to hear that. I made her Christianity an important part of her personal identity on purpose. I wanted my story to be layered. I didn’t want Good to be all about “What if we get caught?!” That’s exciting, but that’s been done. A lot. I wanted a heroine who not only worries about getting caught, but worries about what a relationship like that will do to her soul. I wanted her to struggle with her faith, to question it, because that’s how readers can see her growth.
And as far as the age thing goes, I made sure to do two things:
1. Set my story in Georgia, where the age of consent is sixteen.
I’m not a completely self-destructive author, but those above-mentioned caveats seem to make no difference with a story like this. I wonder had I tagged this story “erotica” if the sentiments would be different. I bet they would. I bet everything about the story would be okay. Well, except for the Christianity part. That doesn’t quite “fit” in the erotica genre. OR, I could have set this story in college where Cadence is still eighteen and Mark still twenty-eight, and that would have been fine as well. I wonder, are college freshmen so very different from high school seniors?
I have to make a choice as an author: write from the heart or write what I know will sell. Sometimes authors can do both, but that’s a lucky coincidence. I could have taken the easy way out and set this story in college. I could have started Cadence out at eighteen. I could have told the story from alternating points of view so that the reader knows everything about Mark’s motives from Book 1 in the series. I did none of those things because that wasn’t the story. It would have been wrong. And it would have made me a hack. A liar.
So there you have it. That’s the story. Readers don’t have to like it. They don’t have to like Cadence, her faith, her man. They don’t have to like me. (But they cannot call me a “Sex Pervert” on Amazon reviews.) My hope, however, is that readers like themselves—enough to read this story in the context and spirit in which it’s intended. It’s a fictional story of a young girl who falls in love with an older man. A girl who grapples with her faith. A girl who grows and changes and experiences. A girl who questions what it means to be good.