We are so pleased to welcome Laura Jensen Walker back to Chicks on the Case! Today, we’re taking a departure from our typical lighthearted posts as Laura shares her journey from memory to memoir about trauma, secrets, and healing. We’re so incredibly grateful that Laura is sharing her experiences with us and the world. ❤
Writing the Hard Stuff
Thanks to Ellen and the Chicks for having me back again!
I became a member of the mystery-writing community at the beginning of the pandemic with my cozy debut, the Agatha-nominated MURDER MOST SWEET. Two more cozies followed in 2021. My latest book—the book of my soul—is not a mystery (and definitely not cozy.)
GOOD GIRL: A Memoir of Overcoming Rape, Breast Cancer & Fundamentalism is the hardest book I’ve ever written. This book of my soul has been a long time coming. It started as a spiritual memoir nearly a decade ago after I’d left fundamentalist Christianity and found my home in the inclusive Episcopal church. Since then, it’s been through several iterations.
I hadn’t intended to write about the sexual assault that happened in my teens. (And I certainly hadn’t intended to use the word “rape” in a book title—to announce this private trauma to the whole world.) But things change. We change. Grow. And heal. Eventually. Hopefully.
My publishing career began with my first non-fiction humor book for the Christian market, DATED JEKYLL, MARRIED HYDE. I wrote several more humor books over the next few years and one day, my editor—who had become a good friend and knew me well—suggested I write a “focused memoir” about my assault and its impact. I was hesitant. Did I really want my private trauma out there? My editor believed such a book could really help other women.
Finally, I screwed up my courage and wrote a book proposal and a couple chapters, then sent it to my agent and my editor—nearly twenty years ago. Upon reading it, my agent gently asked if I was sure I wanted to do this. He said once the book was published, I would forever be known as “the woman who was raped.” The pub board at the Christian publishing house said the same thing when my editor presented it. They were taken aback and disturbed by what had happened to me, their funny author whom they had a good relationship with and really liked. (I really liked them too—we got along great and they had treated me well.) They were concerned for me (and perhaps my brand?) that publication of this trauma would ever after label me as “the woman who was raped.” Did I really want that out there in the world for everyone to see?
No, of course not! I didn’t want people to identify me that way. To brand me. Judge me. Lose respect for me. Shame me. I already had enough shame over my terrible secret. Better to keep it hidden as it had been for years. Perhaps one day I’d weave that traumatic incident into a novel, but that would be fiction. Not real life. My secret would remain safe.
But secrets can do damage.
A decade later when I first wrote my “spiritual memoir,” I included a sentence about my sexual assault, then moved on to the rest of the story. An editor friend upon reading an early version (the same editor who suggested the “focused memoir” years earlier) really liked the book but wondered if I might not want to examine the impact the rape had had on me and how it had colored my life. Behavior. Relationships.
Nope. I’d gotten over that trauma and moved on. It was a part of my past, not my present. I ignored her suggestion, finished the memoir and my agent began pitching it to publishers. That memoir was rejected again and again— “too Christian” for New York (ABA—American Booksellers Association) and too critical of my evangelical experience for Christian publishers (CBA—Christian Booksellers Association.) My agent told me I had a choice. I could soften and sanitize the book to make it palatable to CBA, or I could stop censoring myself (as I’d had to do throughout my Christian publishing career) and go big and bold. I chose the latter. More rejections. NY publishers “loved” the writing but turned it down due to my lack of platform—50K or more social media followers. Sigh.
I set the memoir aside. A few years later, after hearing woman after woman come forward to bravely share their #MeToo stories, I realized I hadn’t “gotten over” my rape and moved on as I’d thought. I began the difficult, painful process of honestly examining what had happened to me when I was a “good girl” and how I’d reacted over the years to that assault on my body, my psyche, my whole being, as a result. And then I picked up my pen and began writing. Bringing my secret to the light. Sharing it with the world. And healing in the process. No more shame. No more fear. No concerns about what people will think. Not at this age. Finally, I wrote the book I was meant to write all along. The book of my soul. The best book I’ve ever written.
About Good Girl
Laura Jensen Walker was always a good girl. Growing up in the Midwest in the 1960s, she was a polite, straight-A student who respected her elders, went to church on Sunday, and never gave her parents any trouble. Bookworm Laura was the poster child for good girls everywhere. Until one fateful night in a college fraternity house. This is the journey of a “good-girl-gone-bad-gone-good-again” and her search for belonging and acceptance, with funny and not-so-funny detours through boot camp, Britain, book-burning, breast cancer, and born-again evangelicals. Ultimately, it’s a story of resilience. Victory. And healing.
Former journalist Laura Jensen Walker is the award-winning author of more than 20 books, both fiction and non-fiction, including Good Girl, Thanks for the Mammogram! and the Agatha-nominated Murder Most Sweet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.