“Ashley’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, a true testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Written with elegance and fearless honesty, this book is a shot of hope, and quite simply a must-read for anyone who’s suffered abuse.”
—Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List, a 2010 American Library Association “Best Books for Young Adults”
“The grittiest, most uncompromising story I’ve ever read about a mother and daughter. You’ve got to meet Ashley Asher, a teen heroine for our tough times.”—Robert Lipsyte, author of The Contender and recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, American Library Association
Read this interview excerpt for Beth’s insights into the creation of COURAGE IN PATIENCE and the process of recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse:
Question: You went through six years of intensive therapy to help you recover from being abused as a child. A lot of people, young adults and adults alike, find starting therapy a very frightening and uncomfortable experience. What advice would you give someone who is thinking about starting therapy for the first time?
Answer: The six years of therapy I went through were with a clinical psychologist whom I clicked with at the same time that circumstances in my life came together in a way that I had a strong support system in my husband and then-teenage daughters.
I had been in and out of therapy many times since my early twenties, but I never had the support system in place to withstand what I had to do in order to get well: face the truth about my stepfather sexually abusing me and my mother not protecting me. This involved breaking with my family of origin completely—basically, when I insisted on no more playing “Let’s Pretend,” it was made clear to me in a variety of ways that I had done something so wrong (in their eyes) that they wanted nothing to do with me anymore. It was very, very difficult because my mother was an amazing grandmother to my kids, and they lost her in the process.
Recovery from childhood sexual abuse is very, very difficult. My therapist compared it to a barefoot walk from Texas to Alaska and back, with all the weather along the way. I would agree with that assessment; in fact, I used that comparison in my Patience books, Courage in Patience and Hope in Patience. I strongly believe that people who have been sexually abused and are seeking to heal from it and reclaim their lives need the guidance of an experienced mental health professional. If the first therapist (or second, or third) does not seem to be helping, keep going until you find one you click with. Don’t give up, because you are worth the fight to reclaim your life.
Outside of the therapist’s office, you need a strong support system of people who are aware of what you are going through, who will be safe for you to be vulnerable, and will give you emotional shelter when you need it.
And—be prepared to be completely honest with yourself and others in your life. It’s the only way to heal and find out how strong you are.
This week only: 9/19 through 9/23, the COURAGE IN PATIENCE e-book is FREE on Amazon!
Read the book that author Beth Fehlbaum originally wrote as “a therapeutic assignment.” Check out this interview:
How has being a Texan influenced your writing?
Texas—especially rural towns—has a huge influence on my writing. In The Patience Trilogy, Ashley Asher is transplanted from an affluent Dallas suburb to tiny Patience, Texas, and a country town of about 2,000 people.
This mirrors my experience of 2003, when my family moved from a Dallas suburb to a small country town on the edge of East Texas. The pace is slower, the people are often more open and approachable, and, of course, these elements reveal charming eccentricities that make for great storytelling.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
Edgy YA fiction chose me. I initially wrote the first draft of Courage in Patience as a therapeutic assignment. I was in recovery for trauma from childhood sexual abuse and learning to manage having Post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the experiences I had from the age of 8.
I was writing poems and short stories as a way of processing my grief and rage, and the only person I showed them to was my psychologist. He suggested that I try writing a novel. It took about four months of stopping/starting and always sending up stuck in asking, “Why?. . .Why did this happen to me?. . .Why did my mother ignore my outcry at age 14?. . .”
Finally, I gave myself permission to imagine the recovery process as someone else’s. That’s when the story began.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The main character, Ashley, experiences a horrific attack at the hands of her stepfather. Throughout the series, she has been unable to remember exactly what happened, because she blacked out. In the last book, Truth in Patience, she is triggered by something and remembers the incident in a visceral way. That was difficult for me to write, but I will say this: the growth and healing I experienced between writing Book 1, Courage in Patience, through Book 2, Hope in Patience, then in Book 3, Truth in Patience, enabled me to be able to address Ashley’s remembering in a way that I could handle it with grace and in a gentle way with myself.
I wrote The Patience Trilogy over the period of six years that it took me to go from a frozen-by-trauma eight year old in my mind to becoming an adult in the way I cope with the world.
What literary character is most like you?
Ashley Asher is basically me as a traumatized child/teen, and her stepmother, Beverly, is me as my adult “teacher self.”
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
Chris Crutcher’s commitment to authenticity and truth telling are the reason I am the sort of writer I am. I happened to find his novel, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, on my gone-away-to-college daughter’s bookshelf, and I read it from cover-to-cover in a matter of hours. That book changed my life, because after reading it, I knew there are stories inside of me that might help others.
I love Sherman Alexie for his honesty and no-holds-barred expressions of emotion, and Jennifer Brown’s ability to pull me into story is so keen that I find it difficult to adequately describe it.
What is something you want to accomplish before you die?
I worked so hard to overcome the first 38 years of my life in a highly dysfunctional family and claim my life as my own. Therefore, when I die, I want to leave a legacy of mentally healthy family members who have boundaries in place and are aware of their self-worth.
Ashley Nicole Asher’s life changes forever on the night her mother, Cheryl, meets Charlie Baker. Within a year of her mother’s marriage to Charlie, typical eight-year-old Ashley’s life becomes a nightmare of sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Bundling her body in blankets and sleeping in her closet to try to avoid Charlie’s nighttime assaults, she is driven by rage at age 14 to tell her mother, in spite of the threats Charlie has used to keep Ashley silent. Believing that telling will make Charlie go away, instead it reveals to Ashley where she lies on her mother’s list of priorities.
“We’re just going to move on now,” Cheryl tells Ashley. “Go to your room.”
Ashley’s psyche splinters into shards of glass, and she desperately tries to figure a way out, while at the same time battling numbness and an inability to remember what happened when she blacked out after Charlie tackled her. She knew that when she awoke her clothes were disheveled and the lower half of her body was covered in bright red blood– but she has only a blank spot in the “video” of her memory.
When Ashley’s friend, Lisa, sees a note from Cheryl telling Ashley that Charlie would never “do those things to her,” and insisting that she apologize for accusing him of molesting her, Lisa forces dazed Ashley to make an outcry to her teacher, Mrs. Chapman.
By the end of the day, Ashley’s father, David, who has not seen Ashley since she was three months old, is standing in the offices of Child and Family Services. He brings her home to the small East Texas town of Patience, where he lives with his wife, Beverly, their son, Ben, and works with his brother, Frank.
Through the summer school English class/ Quest for Truth taught by Beverly, an “outside-the-box” high school English teacher whose passion for teaching comes second only to her insistence upon authenticity, Ashley comes to know people who are confronted with challenges they must face head-on. The choices they make will not be easy—but they will be life altering. Will Ashley have the inner-fortitude to survive the journey to recovery and the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Will Ashley find her voice, speak up for herself, and break the bondage of her abusive past?