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Take Five with Swati Avasthi, Author of SPLIT
Aug 3rd, 2011 by Liza Wiemer

An interview with award-winning YA author, Swati Avasthi

Enter to win a SIGNED copy of SPLIT by leaving your name and e-mail address under comments. If you follow this blog (it’s easy click on Google Follower) then you qualify for a another entry. Tweet it or post on Facebook and it is another one. Just let me know. Giveaway ends August 16th, 2011 at 8:00 PM CST. Good luck. 

 

Congrats to Andrea – winner of SPLIT!

On June 15, 2011 I had the privilege to spend part of the morning hanging out and talking with the incredibly gifted and warm Swati Avasthi. She was in Milwaukee to speak and sign books for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I read SPLIT and was blown away.  There is no doubt that Swati is in the elite category of brilliant authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, Cheryl Rainfield, and Jay Asher.

Swati and me, June 15th at the Southeast Wisconsin Book Festival

SPLIT is an extremely important must-read YA novel about child abuse and spousal abuse told from the point-of-view of the younger son, Jace–one of the most unforgettable male YA characters I have ever read. The story he narrates is raw, honest, heartbreaking, revealing. I am haunted (in a good way) by his experiences.

Ultimately, SPLIT is a novel about hope, a novel where the main character breaks free – makes the split – from the past and moves on to build a future. The title reveals many “key” moments, and is a metaphor for many situations presented in  the novel. Readers should ponder the meaning of the word and the different scenes that it represents.

Here’s my question and answer “Take Five with Swati Avasthi.”

1. The title of your book, SPLIT, represents many different situations presented in your novel. It’s a powerful metaphor and symbolizes so many aspects of Jace and Christian’s lives.  Were you conscious of this when you were writing the book or did it evolve? What would you like to see readers take from it?

Thanks.

Well… I wish I could say that I was brilliant enough to say I had planned it all, or even that the title evolved, but no.  The title was practically the last word I wrote for this novel.  My editor wisely told me that my former title, GRAVEDIGGERS, was too metaphorical and too paranormal-sounding for the content of SPLIT.  So, I went on a rather long title hunt — over 200 titles that my husband and I came up with and quickly disregarded.  After a couple of weeks of that, you start getting a little slap-happy.  So we started joking about how everything else I’ve had published (personal essay, short stories, flash fiction) were all one word, titled with the letter “S.”  And my husband got out the dictionary, opened it to the “S”s and handed it to me.

I submitted the title, along with 7 or 8 other titles to my editor, who took it to marketing.  They returned, saying that I could chose from two: SPLIT of WHAT WE LEAVE.  I chose SPLIT for a few reasons, but primarily because it has so many resonances within the work:  it seemed to capture the physical and emotional state of Jace and Christian in terms of abuse, their relationship, what they hope their mother will do, and how they have both left their own home.  And most of all, I liked how the one word felt more consistent with Jace’s voice.

SPOILERS, BEWARE 2. Jace is one of the most powerful male characters I have ever read in a YA novel. He’s taken a tremendous amount of abuse and then almost begs his girlfriend Lauren to report him after he physically hurts her. Clearly, he crossed a line. Does his actions make him an abuser? Is he on the same level as his father? What is important for readers to know?

As a society, I think we tend to paint abusers as “bad” and then wash our hands of them.  But, I think that this approach has some serious consequences.  First, I think that we don’t actually prevent further violence this way.  The victim may, thank goodness, go on and live a better life.  But in the meantime, the abuser is moving on to his/her next victim.  Second, I think that the abusers tend to get worse and worse.  Which is frightening.

I think of abuse as a spectrum — born of the same impulses, but different in degree.  Jace has the same impulses as his father and yes, he is an abuser, but his actions are very different in degree.

Jace does not demonstrate a lot of the controlling features that most abusers typically do:  he didn’t isolate Lauren from her friends, didn’t insult her, didn’t slowly erode her barriers about what was and wasn’t acceptable.  Most importantly, Jace blames himself for his actions — he takes responsibility for what he has done emotionally.   Which gives me hope for him.  He’s an abuser, to borrow a term from addiction rhetoric, but a recovering abuser.

SPOILERS BEWARE 3. Jace goes through tremendous growth, yet even in the end we’re unsure where his life ends up. If you could continue his story, where do you think he’d be today? What kind of person would he be?

I love this question.  Thanks for asking it.

In my view, Jace finishes high school, never dating Dakota, and goes to Stanford (something that was a strong dream of his all they way through draft 5).  Every holiday, he returns to his home in Albuquerque with Christian and Mirriam.  Each year he and Christian meet up in Somewhere, USA  to run a Destination Marathon together, step for step.  In his senior year of college, he brings a girlfriend home with him to join them in their ritual Thanksgiving dinner  (half mushroom, half pepperoni pizza), having never raised his fists to any woman or anyone again.

In my view, that Jace knows he has to work everyday to control his temper is what keeps his fists down.

SPOILERS BEWARE 4. In SPLIT no one reports the abuse. What’s your advice to readers if they find themselves in a similar situation to Jace and Christian?

First and foremost, get safe.  Whatever that means and whatever it takes.  I do believe that Orders of Protection/Restraining Orders are surprisingly effective. There are some very good organizations out there to help.  To find one in your area, call 800 799-SAFE (TTY: 800-787-3224) or go to www.ncadv.org.  For dating violence, try: 866- 361-9474 (TTY: 866-361-8474).  But do call or click from a safe phone or computer (Remember that computer histories can be tracked, so the library can be good for that.)

Beyond that, I tend to focus on is putting the power back into the victim’s hands.  I think part of recovery is learning to trust yourself again and learning to make decisions about what is best for you.  So, I’m not one to give advice in these situations.  Instead, I’m one to listen and support whatever decision feels right to the victim.

5. Toward the end of SPLIT Jace comes clean about his past to Dakota, a girl he’s hoping to get more involved with. Why do you feel it was important for him to be honest with her, to take the risk of losing her by sharing his history?

It was an important move narratively.  Since abuse is so frequently enabled through silence, his confession was about speaking.  More specifically, Jace does need to stop all controlling behavior, if he has a chance at becoming someone other than his father.  And so, his confession to Dakota was about relinquishing that control; it was about the ability to be vulnerable and leave the decision in her hands.

To learn more about Swati, please go to her website: http://swatiavasthi.blogspot.com/

Do You Give Away Your Personal Power? TAKE IT BACK!
Feb 22nd, 2010 by Liza Wiemer

WHO CONTROLS YOUR LIFE?

Oh no, Mr. Bill! Who's intimidating you?

Dear Liza,

Love your blog.  I have a story I need to share with you.  I know a beautiful, confident, bright college student who has always been well-liked, dated guys she wanted to, and had a close circle of friends.  She had and has a lot going for her.  

After high school, she moved out-of-state for college and everything changed.  She met a guy that she fell head-over-heels for and after a few months things started going downhill.  He started to control her life – who she saw, who she talked to, where she went, and he called her cell-phone a million times a day to check up on her.  He even moved into her apartment.  He used her car and stopped working. 

Pretty soon she lost all sense of herself.  This once confident girl has no longer saw how special she was and is.  I am telling you this happened very quickly, surprised her parents, and all of her friends.  No one would have ever thought she would become prey to an abusive boyfriend, but it happened. 

She has had a happy ending.  She was able to get him to leave her apartment, and they gradually broke up.  It wasn’t easy.  Fortunately, she was able to come out of this experience with next to no physical scars – emotionally it was a lot harder. 
Just wanted to share this with you, since others can definitely learn from it.

Best, BH  

This story is a very important one, not just because this scenario happens every day, but also because it epitomizes a key problem for a lot of us.  Nearly everyday I interact with people who are struggling with feeling out-of-control, vulnerable, or victimized.  I’ve experienced it too.  Getting out of these situations are not easy, but it can – no – it must be done!

Who or what is consuming your life?  Are your thoughts, conversations, and emotional wellbeing focused on negative interactions?  If yes, you have little or no control over your personal power. 

Are you sitting down, ‘cause I have EARTH SHATTERING NEWS! Lol! You’re a human being, not an alien, not an angel, not perrrfect!  We’re here on earth to grow, to make a difference, to change our lives for the better, and help others.

Don’t give away your personal power. 

Don’t give away your personal power.

Don’t give away your personal power.

Here’s the thing.  The minute we start seeing ourselves as less than someone else, when we live in fear, or when we are overtly critical of others, we give away our personal power.  Someone else consumes our thoughts, emotions, energy – and the direction we ultimately take in life can be deeply influenced by our perceptions.

Scenario 1 – You have a friend who is critical of almost everything you do – what you wear, who you date, where you go…  All of a sudden you can’t make any decisions unless that person approves of your choice. 

Scenario 2 – You have spent half of your life arguing with your brother/sister and the other half not speaking with him/her.  You hate him/her, you’re sick of him/her, s/he’s just mean, mean, mean.  Well, maybe you luv him/her, because after all, s/he is your brother/sister.  But, s/he’s destroyed your life, hasn’t cared about you, forgotten your birthday, been totally insensitive to your needs, and s/he’s a selfish, rotten brat!  Oh, and the whole world is going to know it too!

Scenario 3 – Pressure – you feel pressured to have sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend or hook up without any commitment to any relationship/friendship. 

Scenario 4 – You live in fear, stuck with whatever you’re doing because you would rather not take any risks of changing.  After all, you might make a bad choice, worse than the already bad scenario you’re in now.  You hate your job or school, but why change if the next one might be worse?  You’ve got an abusive boy/girlfriend, but no else will love you, right? Fear keeps you stuck in dead-end relationships.

Scenario 5 – Abuse – you’ve been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused and the painful experiences consume your life.  Does s/he deserve your nearly endless energy/emotions/thoughts directed toward him or her?

TAKE YOUR PERSONAL POWER BACK.  We’re human beings.  Unfortunately, not everything in life is going to be perfect.  As I said, if it were perfect, then we would be angels. 

WE DO HAVE PURPOSE AND MEANING in our lives.  I am a firm believer in using whatever God-given talents we have to make this world a better place.  No one is meant to be the same as another.  Do we want to be a force for good or for… – No, I don’t even want to think about it. 

NO VALUE TO YOUR LIFE?

One of the saddest things that a person could say is that s/he has no value, no meaning, or purpose in his/her life.  I hear it more often than you could ever imagine.  Perhaps it’s because we are looking for something so grandiose that we lose focus of the small things that make a difference?  I’ll never forget standing in line at the grocery store before a major holiday.  The lines had to be fifteen people deep when I noticed a woman struggling to unload her cart.  A baby was sleeping in her arms and a toddler was fidgety and whining.  I walked from the back of the line to the front and offered my help.  The look of gratitude in her eyes and the relief I saw on her face were unforgettable.  As I zigzagged back to my cart several people said that they thought about helping her too.  (Obviously, they didn’t.)  It was a simple act, but it had value for me, and hopefully for the woman, too.  We can all do these simple acts of kindness. 

What are your talents?  How are you using your skills to make our world better? 

When you are in control of your personal power and use it for good, a spark of light shines in the darkness.

So, who have you given your personal power to?  How has it affected you?  How are you going reclaim it? 

Maybe you need to say, “No, I don’t want that drink.”  Or, “I want to go home (even tell the person you’re not feeling well – believe me, you’re not lying – cause you’ll feel a lot worse if you do something you don’t want to do!)

Maybe you need to say, “Yes, I am breaking up with you!”  “Yes, I can work one night this week and on Sunday, but I am trying to get into college so I need time to study.”

What words do you need to practice, say, and follow through on?

Perhaps? “I’m tired of being angry all the time.”  “I am not going to spend another minute thinking about how so-and-so hurt me.”  “I am in control of my life and with whom I interact.”  “I will no longer associate with so-and-so.”

These are just a few suggestions.  I know it’s not easy.  If you find yourself struggling, please speak to a trusted teacher, minister, counselor, or professional.  It’s time to take back your personal power!

Hope this helps! 🙂 Liza

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