(The following is a guest post by author Laney Wylde about the development of the antiheroine Sawyer in her forthcoming book, Never Touched.)
“Can we take a break from watching sex crimes?”
I cut my eyes over to my husband as the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit theme song pounds through the signature BUM BUM. Apparently, he finds the show “depressing” and doesn’t “want to watch the same season for the third time” and “the way you talk about Barba doesn’t reassure me that you’re not going to leave me for a Latino.” (E, you have no reason to worry unless I actually meet a real-life, Cuban, Manhattan ADA who wears three-piece suits and evokes a defendant to choke him with his own belt in the middle of court to secure a conviction.)
What I haven’t yet been able to convince my husband of is the fact that SVU quenches my thirst for justice. That’s what those “especially heinous” crimes deserve and often get from New York’s finest…and Barba.
In my favorite episode of SVU, Barba finds a loophole in the New York State law which gives the victim he’s fighting for tons more justice than most he represents.
And, boy, is that woman entitled to every ounce.
In the last scene of this SVU episode, said survivor is actually smiling and hopeful. And, as most episodes of SVU are, this was based on a true story. So, I Googled it and found a New York Times article about the two real-life victims Barba couldn’t get justice for.
If only their stories ended with smiles.
In the article, these women describe what each day is like as a survivor, the severe limitations their assailants shackled them with despite their talent, intelligence, and effort, and how no amount of justice the courts can give them will make any of it go away.
None of it will ever go away.
For a lot of us, trauma’s that etching an event carved under our skin. We’re all familiar with it to some degree. We watch the nightmares and we wake up. We take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, peel off the shirt clinging to our sweaty backs. We remind ourselves that it’s over. We fear it’ll happen again, but, for now, it’s over. We try to fall back to sleep.
These girls wake up, take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, see the rest of the world watching their nightmares. Years later. On repeat. With relish.
Now, I must confess that these resilient women were not initially on my mind when I sketched Sawyer. One of my friends still entreats me to title it after its initial three-word premise:
Stripper Math Genius.
Yes. I actually thought, “Hey, what if a stripper was good at math?” (to which my husband replied, “Is this your secret life?”).
But, after reading that NYT article and researching all I could, I took a terrifying step and scribbled a kind of trauma into Sawyer’s past that I had no experience with, no right to write about, praying that I’d tread carefully enough that those anonymous women in that article could read Sawyer and not want to punch me in the teeth.
I know, horribly presumptuous.
Let me be clear, I don’t know those women, but I know Sawyer. I know because I got everything about her wrong for weeks. But then she got her voice, and, holy balls, was it loud. So loud that I had to tear up the entire storyline I had spent hundreds of hours writing for her and start from page one. Once I did that, I learned just what she sounds like.
“My soul is crooked and dark, depraved and destined for hell.”
Ah, that’s my Sawyer.
Turns out, she is witty and socially inept, bookish and sexy, badass and scared shitless, and…
…didn’t love the guy I had destined for her.
Yeah, that was a tough one for me to wrap my heart around. Never Touched was supposed to be about Sawyer and Guy A. Even when I was onto my fourth or fifth working title, Sawyer still ended up with Guy A. I kept working and reworking and re-imagining the final chapter and realized I had it all wrong.
I had her all wrong.
I was trying to construct her story when in reality, all I could do was write what happened. I couldn’t dictate the choices she made, just record the results of them. And she wouldn’t choose Guy A.
Enter Guy B.
Guy B was already there, sure, but he was supposed to be a transient figure. He walked in, left his mark on her, and exited stage right. But Sawyer wouldn’t have any of that. She fell stupid in love with him. And, much like love in real life, it screwed up everything.
But that’s also when I realized that Sawyer’s story isn’t a love story, though there’s one (or two) in it. Hers is a quest for security, a safety she knows doesn’t exist for people like her, and until I understood that, I wouldn’t get why she did all the logic-defying things she itched to do. Or resorted to doing.
So I stopped judging her. I stopped trying to fix her. Instead, I stood in awe of her. Then I gave space on the page for her thoughts, no matter how ugly.
And I’m going to ask you to do the same.
Because maybe you also have nightmares. Maybe you ache, too. Maybe your thoughts darken when you realize the justice you never got, never will get.
And, I’m betting you didn’t get Barba to plead your case either.
Laney Wylde’s Bio:
Boy-mom, doctor’s wife, Christ-follower, mathematician, squishy powerlifter, lover of 30 Rock.
Most recently, writer.
I hope you’ll enjoy my debut, Never Touched, out November 12, and available for preorder!
You can visit Laney’s blog by clicking here.