Many readers will wonder why I chose to write Between These Walls. As an author, I believe you need to follow your heart and do what God plants in you to do. Several factors came into play. Perhaps the simplest way to shed light on the why-behind-the-what is to use the Author's Note from the opening pages of the new novel. I've provided the full text below.
Click here for more book details—including that Author's Note.
Love you all. Thanks for reading and for the kind words!
Readers ask why I choose particular storylines for my novels. Many stories are worth telling, but I’ve discovered the best stories result from characters who come to me when I’m not looking for them.
Such was the case with Hunter Carlisle and Between These Walls.
Early in 2011, I had almost wrapped up the first draft of my third novel. One afternoon, when I went for a walk, a character arose within me: a middle-school kid who was a Christian but harbored an attraction to the same gender. I pondered facets of this character’s circumstances as I walked. His fears, his feelings of guilt, the hits to his self-esteem—everything about his struggle grabbed my heart.
At that point, I wouldn’t have had the courage to write a book about him. But when characters arise from within, I believe it is God’s way of telling me individuals share the character’s struggle and need a book written for them right now. A novel about homosexuality, however, would test the boundaries of my comfort zone. Though I hate to admit it, I worried about what others might think. So I tucked the idea, safe and silent, in the back of my brain.
But as the ancient prophet Jonah discovered, you can’t hide from God. He’ll find you.
One year later, the concept remained unexplored—until a feature story caught my attention on the television news. The nationally syndicated story revolved around the plight of a high school student on the verge of suicide. This student, about fifteen years old, had endured a continual onslaught of bullying.
The bullying occurred for one reason: The kid was gay.
After enduring all the emotional damage he could handle, this kid reached his breaking point. Desperate and exhausted, wrought with pain, he posted a video online. Too hurt to speak—I imagine the bullying included poking fun at the way he spoke—the kid had written his words in black marker on sheets of paper. So here sat a blond-haired kid who looked like an average high school freshman, wiping tears from his eyes, making a desperate plea for somebody to hear him, for someone to care … for someone to offer him hope.
My heart broke for him. I know nothing about that student. The reporter didn’t mention his name. She didn’t mention his city or state. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. But I couldn’t erase the sight from my memory.
Anger arose in me. My immediate gut response was, Never again. Not on my watch. Not if I can help it.
Allow me to explain: A close family member of mine ended his life at sixteen years old. I was thirteen at the time. If you’ve never experienced such an event, trust me when I say it changes you forever. It changes your perception of life and people. From that point on, you view life with the awareness that many people appear happy but live in pain. You look into some people’s eyes and wonder if their happiness is a charade. You wonder which individuals feel they don’t matter. While others might assume few individuals consider suicide, you know better.
As I pondered the news story about that high school student, I thought, Nobody that age should know what it’s like to feel that kind of pain.
Never again. Not on my watch.
At that point, I knew I needed to pursue the book topic and pursue it immediately. So my third novel, still in its first draft, returned to the back burner, where it has resided off and on for eight years. I began work on my fourth novel, Between These Walls, which you now hold in your hands.
My novels aren’t geared toward the Young Adult genre, and I wanted to make the book accessible to as many individuals as possible. So I took my initial character idea—the middle-school kid—and doubled his age, which brought him into early adulthood. To capture the struggles and vulnerability of his teenage years, I could weave some of his memories into the fabric of the story.
I don’t have quantitative data to back up my hunch, but I’ve long believed more people deal with same-sex attraction than we assume. I believe many simply hide it well or have a simultaneous attraction to the opposite gender, which enables them to live a “typical” life without raising suspicions. Therefore, I constructed Hunter as a character who finds himself attracted to both genders—technically, a bisexual male—with a stronger attraction toward males. This characteristic would allow him to remain in hiding for years. In fact, I chose the name Hunter to call to mind a hunter-gatherer image, the classic male stereotype—and the last place we might expect to find a gay male. His name symbolizes his attributes and interests, yet belies his deepest secret.
Regardless of whether the reader has experienced Hunter’s battles, I attempted to tell his story in such a manner that the reader can find points of commonality with him. So, as a reader, you might not have experienced homosexual feelings, but you might hold another secret that torments you. A dark secret you never want revealed. You might relate to Hunter’s fears or guilt. In that respect, perhaps Hunter’s story is your story, too.
Between These Walls is not a political statement or a judgment of church bodies. It is not an attempt to interpret Scripture or resolve an argument. My purpose was to put the reader into the shoes of one character, to experience his emotions and inner fire—a story behind the story.
As you read this novel, I hope you know you are loved.
For the media: Publicity campaign begins November 18. Publicist: Maryglenn McCombs, Nashville, TN.
Today's Playlist: "He Knows My Name" by Francesca Battistelli