Time to Speak Up
I write stories to not only help give voice to the pain of my past, but to give hope to others. In growing up, my mother dealt with domestic abuse, a husband that cheated on her, abandoned his family, and who was more interested in alcohol and drugs than in raising children.
I have memories of my father yelling and throwing things and to my core is a deep memory of fear. This is not normal. I would drive my big wheel down the block and I couldn't get the thought out of my head. This is not normal.
Now decades later I'm a father of two wonderful children and I write novels about women who struggle against authority and their own lack of self-esteem. My heroines take risks and uncover the power within themselves and I am not ashamed to speak up any longer.
For many years, I struggled with shame about my upbringing and my only escape was through education and creativity. I made up my own worlds and pulled myself up by learning. I worked hard along with the millions of others like me who grew up in a dysfunctional family home.
Dorothea, Cinderella, Sabrina, Phoebe--these are some of the women I have written to explore the beauty of speaking up and taking powerful roles in their worlds. These women stand up to become leaders and save the day. The stories I write show women learn about their power and how they overcome their own issues and problems. Like life, there usually isn't a simple answer to succeeding and making it in this world.
I have more tales of failure and struggles than I have time to recount. But through it all, I still take a step toward the light. Doesn't matter if I fall, screw up, make a major mistake or want to give up and throw my work to the wind, I still get up. I've been thinking about all of struggles I've lived through and a piece of my past crashed with the present.
Recently my wife and I have been watching The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu and it's a difficult show to sit through. Back in graduate school, I wrote my Master's thesis on Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid's Tale) and now it's twenty-two years later and I find it odd watching the series on TV because of some of the parallels I'm seeing in the world with a fictional TV show.
Most of my life I have been silent. I've seen the destruction that violence and substance abuse can have on a family and those scars run deep within me. I used my imagination to dream up books that play out the fantasies of how I survived those times. But now I watch The Handmaid's Tale and cringe, knowing that Atwood wrote the book decades ago and based the events off of actual circumstances that women have experienced in different countries throughout the world. But the reality is that although Gilead doesn't exist in the real world, echoes of it do.
Last week I learned that here in the United States, girls (as young as 11) are forced to marry often older men. Meanwhile, it's no secret that women suffer genital mutilation in other countries even today in 2017.
It would be easy for me to turn a blind eye because I'm a man. I could simply pretend not to see the problems in our country and our world. But I remember the pain my mother went through, the challenges she overcame and how she struggled to raise my brother and me. What hits so close to home for me is that now I have a daughter and I have a choice.
I wrote Lost: Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries for my daughter. When she's older, I hope she reads my book and finds strength in knowing that Cinderella didn't need the prince to be rescued. She learns of her own power and how she can save herself.
When I wrote Found (book 3 in the series), I asked both my daughter and son to draw pictures of the characters. I used those pictures on a white board when plotting the series out. Here's a picture of the Silver Fox that my daughter made when she was six years old:
I see my daughter growing and the world around us is filled with challenges. The Handmaid's Tale might be a fantasy series, but again, it's based off of situations that women have had to endure from different parts of the world.
I learned recently that in my home state of Pennsylvania that we rank 39th in the country for women in the state legislature. In Pennsylvania, we have no women as members of Congress and we've never had a a women Senator. Never. Since 1789, there have only been 50 women Senators. That's it.
Why is that? How do women feel about that? When women are paid $.79 for every $1 a man makes, what does that say about our society? Why are we silent?
You might scratch your head and think: "Why does Ron care? He's a man!"
I see my mother's eyes in my daughter's. I remember the hardship my mother faced in her life and want our daughter to have opportunities that her great grandmother and grandmother never had.
Even now in our country the fate of women's health care is being decided by a roomful of men. I watch The Handmaid's Tale and see an imaginary world where men rule over their wives, but then I wonder--could that every happen in real life?
When I read that rape and domestic violence could be pre-existing conditions under the proposed new health care bill, I thought I was reading a fictional novel. Surely this couldn't be the United States of America...
I started writing my books to escape the chaos and dysfunction of my family life. I used my imagination as a way to shield myself from the pain and misery of my world. But now I'm older and I realize that I also write because I have a voice. I am the child of a divorced family and my experiences have shaped me to be who I am today.
When I read Ben Carson's "poverty is a state of mind" quote, I shook my head in disgust. My father did not pay child support to my mother to help raise my brother and me. At times my mother needed to turn to welfare to help feed us and her parents took us in when we had no home. Ben Carson's belief that people just need to have a positive attitude to lift themselves up and out of their troubles is pure fantasy.
I am the child of having benefited from welfare and can tell you that if not for state and federal support I don't know how I would have ever made it through college and then graduate school.
For the millions of women across our beautiful country, I'm glad to see that they are no longer remaining silent. Many women are standing up to fight for equal pay, better health care, but also they are running for office.
This all gives me hope that my daughter will have a better chance at equal pay and fair treatment than her mom. So when I sit back and watch Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, I wanted to share with you that I am no longer remaining silent. I write my books for entertainment, but also to show strong heroines who overcome their chains to become powerful in their own right.
Last week I finished the first draft of the next book in the Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries series. I'm taking a break from that book so that I can switch to rewriting a book in a brand new series. I'll share more on that later this summer. It's a story about a young woman who leaves her home to save her brother on the open sea...
And as I write these books, I draw from my memories, my past and my hurt. I share this all with you because I wanted you to see who I truly am. I know that some will tune me out and unsubscribe for what I've written, but I cannot stay silent any longer. I must write. My stories need to be told.
Do you want to do something?
Here are some suggestions:
- Find a charity of your choice and donate money or time to help them. The charity I've been supporting for years is Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.
- Vote (seems simple but it always astonishes me how few people actually vote).
- Read books. Lots of them. Haven't read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale? Check it out. Haven't read Alice Walker's The Color Purple? Get it and make it the next book you read.
- Read my book on Memory and the Quest for Self: A Jungian Reading of Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood. See why Atwood's and Walker's works affected me so much and learn how their characters tell their stories of past trauma to find a path toward healing. (Can't afford a copy? Email me and I'll send you a .mobi version.)
But most of all. Please, get involved. Help.
Ron Vitale is a fantasy, science fiction and nonfiction author. He's written the Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries series, the Witch's Coven series and just released book one in the Jovian Gate Chronicles. His first nonfiction book, How to Be a Successful Author While Working Full-Time: The Secret to Work/Life Balance is now available. When not writing, Ron loves spending time with his kids even when they beat him in Kittens in a Blender.