Nov 30

When Americans read the headlines about Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, and Chris Brown, domestic abuse seems more like a Hollywood plot than a real issue experience by “regular” people. But the number of non-celebrity people in the U.S. who are intimately familiar with the issue of domestic abuse tells a true and tragic story:

  • One in four women in the U.S. has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime, according to the Center for Disease Control.
  • According to a Harris Poll, 60% of Americans personally know someone who has experienced domestic abuse.
  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that women between the ages of 20-24 are most likely to be the victim of nonfatal intimate partner violence. One in three teenagers say they know someone who has been punched, kicked, choked, or physically hurt by their romantic partner.
  • More than 2 million people call domestic violence crisis lines or hot lines every year

Domestic abuse seems to be the issue that almost everybody knows about, but almost nobody talks about, unless it is the lead story on Entertainment Tonight.

Nobody knows this better than Tara Taylor Quinn, a best-selling author who writes about romance and true love for a living, and who is, ironically, a former victim of domestic abuse. When Tara was approached by HCI Books to be the author of a True Vows Reality-BasedTM Romance novel, she knew it was time to tell her own true love story.

In writing It Happened on Maple Street, Tara was revealing her personal experience with domestic abuse for the first time – not just to her romance fans, but also to her friends and family. She wrote It Happened on Maple Street partly to encourage other domestic abuse victims to tell their own stories, and partly to inspire others like herself to believe that true love is still possible.

In the blog post that follows, Tara Taylor Quinn reveals the series of events that caused her to finally break through deep denial in order to admit to herself that she was, in fact, a domestic abuse survivor. From this breakthrough, a happy-ever-after ending became possible in the real life of a romance author who focuses her attention every day on stories about love.

From Tara Taylor Quinn…

My first personal contact with domestic abuse was when my daughter joined the domestic violence advocacy group in law school. The group did fund raisers to help local shelters. I contributed.

The group made holiday stockings for the children housed in local shelters. I contributed.

My daughter was re-vamping an old and outdated resource list for victims of domestic violence. I listened to her lament. And when she became president of the advocacy group, I listened to a whole lot of things. I encouraged. I contributed. I applauded her choice to help. And I wondered why she chose domestic violence as her community service contribution. I wondered why I related to the choice so personally. I’d only witnessed domestic abuse once in my life and it wasn’t against me.

And then Tim Barney, my very first boyfriend, the first boy I’d ever kissed, came back into my life. He’d broken my heart twenty-seven years before. He claimed that I’d broken his. (You’ll have to read the book to find out who really broke who’s heart.)

One of the first questions Tim asked when he came back into my life was ‘what happened to you?’ The question wasn’t referring to the recent past, but to a time in 1980 – the last time we’d seen each other. I’d changed. Drastically. He wanted to know why. I immediately closed my mind to any images that surfaced from that year and the two years following. I sidestepped the question. He continued to ask. And then to push. I told him that was something I didn’t talk about. Ever.

Tim offered me the love I’d always wanted. But he required something that I didn’t give. All of me. He required that I look at all of me. That I deal with all of me. That I accept all of me. He required that I look at my past, talk about it. And when, in a hotel room alone with him, I did what he asked, when I looked back and spoke of things I’d become adept at avoiding, he required that I face the truth. I was a victim of abuse.

You see, in my mind, I didn’t have to be an abused partner because I bore no seeable physical bruises. I never had a black eye or a swollen mouth or cheek. I never had bruises around my neck or on my back or arms. I wasn’t one of ‘those’ women. I didn’t have to bear the stigma. The shame. What had happened to me wasn’t something that would stick with me forever. Or brand me. I’d had a two year incident and I’d moved on.

No, I was worse than the brave women who face abuse, call it what it is, and deal with it. I was a woman who’d turned my back on myself. I’d been hideously mistreated and I’d blown it all off – because, after all, it was all my fault. He told me I was to blame. Again and again.

He even went so far as to tell me that what he did to me was what I wanted. And while I knew, to the bottom of my soul that that last part was not true, I took the rest upon myself. I didn’t stand up for me. I didn’t defend me. After all, why had this happened to me while other women lived normal lives? I must have asked for it in some way, must have done something to single myself out.

If nothing else, I’d chosen him. That was my doing. My fault. I was a traitor to myself. I accepted the blame and never told a soul anything about those two years.

Until Tim. He sat with me. Held me. Cried with me. And he continues to stand with me, to force me to fight my demons rather than to give in to them. He gave me a couple of images – me in the middle of the road letting others drive over me. Or me, standing up, healthy and happy. Anytime I start to give in to the demons, he reminds me of the flat me in the middle of the road.

As life would have it, shortly after Tim’s re-advent into my life, Harlequin Books, my publisher since 1992, invited me to write a novella about the life and work of Sandra Ramos, founder of the nation’s first battered women’s shelter, Strengthen Our Sisters. And shortly after the publication of that anthology (proceeds of which went to Strengthen Our Sisters) I was asked to write a four book cross-over series for Harlequin Superromance and MIRA books.

The first one, The First Wife, (Harlequin Suprromance, 9/10) was the case of a wife having to testify against her bigamous husband. He was on trial for murdering wife number two. My heroine, a strong, confident, highly successful magazine editor, was being called by the prosecution to testify as a character witness against her then ex-husband. She didn’t understand why. He’d been unfaithful to her, but he’d never abused her. But there were these mysterious police reports. About accidents that had taken place at her marital residence.

A very close writer friend of mine read a part of the book, looked up at me, and said – this sounds like you. Her words shocked me. But I couldn’t deny them. They hung there, ugly and heavy…and true. I hadn’t made the connection.

Tim was standing right there when she made the proclamation and that’s when all that he’d been saying really hit home. I was a victim of domestic abuse. And I’d spent almost thirty years in denial.

It was only days later that HCI Books approached me with an invitation to write my own true love story. The story of the healing power of love. That story, It Happened On Maple Street, will be out in April, 2011. Maple Street is where I fell in love. And Maple Street is where I came back home to that love. I came home to a love that was so real and true it waited twenty-seven years for Tim and I to find it again.

It Happened On Maple Street is a book about life. And about the truth of love. Love is real. Everlasting. And strong enough to heal anything.

It Happened on Maple Street, the Reality-Based Romance novel based on the true love story of Tara Taylor Quinn is scheduled for release in April, 2011. Register for “Maple Street” updates and you may Win-A-Kindle.

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Personal Notes from Tara Taylor Quinn…

This post is brought to you as part of The Chapman Files International Blog Tour. Please join us in our fight against domestic abuse. We’re hosting a charity skate/walkathon on December 4th in Phoenix, Arizona. If you can join us, we’d love to have you. Tim and ttq are skating and we’re going to have a blast. If you aren’t going to be in the area, you can still sponsor us. Please. In our downed economy domestic abuse has risen and the monies to help have dwindled. To register for the skate, or to donate any amount to the cause, click www.predatorspeed.org/, or go to www.tarataylorquinn.com/ and click donate.

Don’t miss The Chapman File tour party on December 4th at http://www.eharlequin.com/! We’re giving away a KOBO e-reader and many other cool prizes! All you have to do to be entered to win is leave comments on this blog tour!

Next tour stop: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 – the Barbara White Daille Blog.  We hope to see you back here! The more blogs you visit with us, the more chances you have to win! Every time you comment your name is dropped in the bag for the prize drawings.

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Sep 02
Left to right, Meet Me in Manhattan real-life couple, Erika Fredell and Ted Skala, and author Judith Arnold

Left to right, Meet Me in Manhattan real-life couple, Erika Fredell and Ted Skala, and author Judith Arnold

According to the Nielsen ratings, 15 million watched The Bachelor propose and 11.5 million people watched The Bachelorette get proposed to. According to the Romance Writers of America, over 70 million Americans read romance novels and 29 million Americans read romance novels regularly. So, pairing a real-life love story with a successful romance author seems like it should create a kind of romance entertainment that has huge audience popularity. The True Vows series of “reality-based romance” novels that is being launched this Fall was born out of this line of reasoning.
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One of the first books in this new sub-genre of reality-based romance novels was created when an editor spotted a story in the wedding section of the New York Times. She matched the true love story of that New York couple, Erika Fredell and Ted Skala, with the popular romance author Judith Arnold, and the result was “Meet Me In Manhattan,” a true love story written in the style of a classic romance novel.

“Meet Me In Manhattan,” is Judith Arnold’s 87th published romance novel. Arnold is not only well-acquainted with the romance genre, she is also a fictional writer with an inside view of the publishing industry. Here is what Judith Arnold (a/k/a Barbara Keiler) had to say about the birth of reality-based romance novels, the romance genre, and the relevance of reading books in a world of electronic entertainment.

QUESTION: What was your initial reaction when you were approached about writing a “reality-based” romance novel?

ANSWER: My first reaction was: Can I do this? Can I write a romance based on actual people? My second reaction was: Sure, I can do this! It sounded like a lot of fun, and I thought—wrongly, as it turned out—that writing a book based on the experiences of a real couple would be easy. It was a lot of fun, but quite a challenge, too.

QUESTION: What is the biggest difference between writing a romance novel based on a real story and writing one that is completely fictional?

ANSWER: When you’re writing a romance based on a real story, you’ve got to deal with those pesky little things called facts. With Meet Me In Manhattan, I did resort to fictional techniques, inventing characters and scenes and rearranging incidents and conversations to make the story work. Real life doesn’t always follow a dramatic arc. It doesn’t always have turning points, sparkling dialogue, all those fictional devices novelists use to make their story hold the reader’s interest. Fortunately, Ted and Erika, the couple at the center of my book, are smart, interesting, appealing people, and the story of how they wound up together is wonderfully emotional and satisfying. I fictionalized some elements, but I tried whenever possible to stick to the facts of their story.

I guess the biggest difference is that when you’re writing fiction, you invent whatever you need to make the story succeed. When you’re writing fiction based on reality, you invent whatever you need to make the story succeed, but you try to do it as little as possible.

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QUESTION: When, how and why did you first start writing romance novels?

ANSWER: I’ve been a writer all my life. In college my focus switched from fiction to drama, and I went on to get a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis on drama. My plays were produced at regional theaters around the nation. But during the ten years I worked as a playwright, I still wrote fiction.

Eventually I burned out on theater and decided to return to my first love: novel writing. I wrote several serious and depressing literary novels, but no one wanted to publish them. So I decided to research romance fiction to see if I could write that. I read four romance novels and loved them.

I loved that they were about women—strong women who struggled and strove and wound up having it all. I also loved that they were about people who figured out ways to overcome conflict. Romance novels were about peace, love, human connection—values that really matter to me. So I decided to try writing them. Less than a year after I started reading romance novels, I’d sold my first romance novel.

QUESTION: How did you come up with the pen name “Judith Arnold?”

ANSWER: Judith and Arnold are my parents’ names.

QUESTION: In the age of internet transparency, people are aware that Judith Arnold is a pen name. Why do you continue to write with it? Have you or do you think you’ll ever write a book using your real name?

ANSWER: I continue to write as Judith Arnold because, after so many years and so many books, that’s the name readers recognize and look for. Also, I like to continue honoring my parents by putting their names on my book covers. I write projects that aren’t romance novels under my own name. But romance readers know Judith Arnold.

QUESTION: These days people have less time to read books, and a seemingly shorter attention span. Do you think books in general and romance novels in particular are becoming obsolete?

ANSWER: People need stories. They hungered for stories before books existed, and they hunger for stories today. Narrative stories help us to make sense of the world. They educate, enlighten and entertain us. I can’t imagine stories ever becoming obsolete.

That’s not to say that the medium through which we receive those stories can’t or won’t change. Some people satisfy their yearning for stories by watching TV or movies. Others prefer their stories in words, as books, whether they read them or listen to audio versions.

I don’t think we’ll ever see a time when people don’t want romance stories. Stories about people overcoming challenges, resolving conflicts and achieving a happy, love-filled ending satisfy a deep desire within readers. I’ve donated my books to battered women’s shelters and heard that even those residents—women who have had the worst possible experiences in their marriages and romantic partnerships—still want to read about true love, about people opening their hearts and learning to trust and rely on one another.

Books are a medium, and I believe some people will always enjoy receiving their stories in that medium. Paper books may eventually become obsolete, replaced by e-readers, but I think many people prefer to receive their stories in word form rather than in a visual medium like film or video. It’s true that books have to compete with other entertainment media for people’s time, but I don’t think they’ll ever be obsolete.

QUESTION: If you didn’t write romance novels for a living, what would you like to do?

ANSWER: Be a rock star.

QUESTION: In your 27-year career, how has the fictional romance genre evolved?

ANSWER: Twenty-seven years ago, vampire romances didn’t exist! Seriously, tastes change. Subgenres come and go. Before True Vows, nobody had ever published Reality Based Romances ™.

When I first started selling, publishers were a bit more open-minded. The economy was booming, and publishers were willing to take chances on a wider variety of stories. Now, I think the publishers are a little more cautious. They want every book to be a sure thing; they aren’t as willing to let authors experiment. They are more risk averse, and the result is that there’s less variety in the books being published.

QUESTION: “Meet Me In Manhattan” is your 87th novel. After writing and publishing so many romance novels, is it difficult coming up with new and fresh ideas?

ANSWER: I’m not sure it’s difficult to come up with new and fresh ideas, but I think the subjects that interest me and the themes I want to explore through my writing have changed. I still love writing romances, but I’m also interested in writing about the challenges and opportunities women face at different stages of their lives. Whether or not I’m writing romances, though, I’m always writing about characters and their relationships. To me, connecting with other people is the essence of life. I never have any trouble coming up with new ideas for stories featuring characters who learn about who they are through their relationships with others.

QUESTION: Are your fictional characters influenced by people that you know or are they completely fabricated?

ANSWER: My husband is convinced that every romance hero I’ve ever written was modeled after him! My characters are fabricated, but everything I write arises from my life, my observations, my interactions with the world. I may not consciously model a character after someone I know, but I’m sure there’s a subconscious influence. I take bits and pieces from my encounters with people and those bits and pieces somehow wind up in my characters.

QUESTION: Which of the characters in your novels do you think is most like you?

ANSWER: All my heroines, of course! My heroines are smart, determined, willing to work hard and eager to do the right thing. They have senses of humor. They are definitely not perfect. They aren’t necessarily model-pretty. But they’re sensible and spirited and generous. I’d like to think I am, too.

QUESTION: Are you planning on writing any more reality-based romances in the future?

ANSWER: If HCI Books asks me to write more books for True Vows, I’d love to.

More About Meet Me In Manhattan by Judith Arnold:

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Mar 15

Keeping their status as the enactors of cutting edge legislation, the state of California is pushing to become the first state to create an animal abuse registry that would contain the names of people who have been convicted of animal abuse. Similar to the sex offender registry, this proposed legislation would seek to protect future victimization by limiting the access that animal abusers have to those they might seek to harm.

If the goal of this legislation is to prevent abusive behavior towards pets, then 35 million dog owners may deserve to have a place on a pet abuse registry. That’s the estimated number of dogs in America that are being overfed into a state of obesity and eventual death, according to the statistics of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

“We are killing our dogs by making them fat,” according to Dr. Ernie Ward, a 20-year veterinarian, the founder of APOP, and the author of the dog obesity book, “Chow Hounds.” Although the motivation behind overfeeding a dog and putting it into a dog fighting ring are very different, the outcomes for both are the same – the dog’s health and well-being are put at risk, and death is a real possibility.

One of the reasons that dog obesity is out of control, according to Dr. Ward, is a lack of awareness that there is a problem. Millions of people have forgotten what a normal weight dog looks like. “Owners who think their dogs are ‘fluffy,’ are stuck in the fat gap,” says Dr. Ward. But just because we think our dogs look “normal,” doesn’t mean that they are.

Most commonly, the definition of pet obesity is an animal weighing 30% over its ideal body weight, according to breed standards. Because there are so many mixed breed dogs in the world, it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly what that ideal weight is. The easiest way to determine if your dog is overweight, according to Dr. Ward, is to look at its appearance objectively, instead of looking at it with a cuteness bias. If you can’t feel your dog’s ribs or see a defined waistline, your dog is overweight. And just like it is for humans, rolls of belly fat and back fat are not “normal,” they’re just plain fat.

The fact that human obesity and dog obesity are both on the rise in the U.S. is not a coincidence. A recent Amsterdam study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that overweight owners tend to have overweight dogs. That study concluded that this is not coincidental, but rather causal. When pet owners aren’t getting enough exercise to control their own weight, chances are, their dogs are not getting enough exercise either. The lack of physical activity contributes to the obesity of both man and man’s best friend.

But just as lack of exercise is not the only culprit behind the obesity of 70 million Americans, it’s not the only cause of dog obesity either. A lack of nutritious food and an abundance of empty calories are problematic for both overweight owners and paunchy pups.

As far back as 1997 the effect of sugar and fat on animal weight was known. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology showed the effect that the contents of animal diets can have.

Researchers bred obesity-prone and obesity-resistant rats and compared the behaviors of the two groups when offered an identical diet. When fed a high fat diet, the obesity-resistant rats ate much less of the food offered to them. The obesity-prone rats tended to eat everything that was offered to them.

When the two groups of rats were fed a diet that was both high in fat and high in sugar, the consumption of food in both groups was the same – all the rats ate excessively and all of the rats became obese. The conclusion? The combination of high fat and high sugar is so addictive that it overrides an animal’s natural appetite regulation system.

Fast forward thirteen years and the commercial dog foods that millions of dog owners are feeding their beloved pooches are spiked with… what else? Sugar and fat! (A generous portion of salt is thrown into all the “best” brands of dog foods as well, in order to make the trifecta of addictive ingredients complete). Dog food manufacturers that label their fatty-sugary-salty pet foods as “healthy,” are not nearly as concerned about Fido’s fitness as they are about Mommy’s money.

Dog owners tend to repurchase the dog food brands that their furry friends seem to like the best. And as the rats in the 1997 research study proved, animals will always show a definite preference for the food that is the most addictive. Fido begs, mommy buys, and the cycle of addictive eating that leads to pet obesity continues.

Unfortunately, the most dangerous part of today’s doggy diet is not even the fat, sugar, and salt-laced food they’re overeating at mealtimes, according to Dr. Ward. The worst thing that owners are feeding their pets these days are those innocent looking in-between meal treats. Those cute little puffed, baked, bone-shaped biscuits, chews, and cookies are so high in salt, fat, and sugar and so highly addictive that Dr. Ward refers to them as “kibble crack.”

Just as with humans, sugar is addicting to dogs and causes not only an insatiable craving for more sugar, but also a compulsive craving for food in general. The relentless begging your dog starts every time a human being is in the vicinity of the treat cabinet is not just annoying. If equated to the type of frantic behavior that a drug addict exhibits when they are desperate for their next fix, Fido’s begging is not so much annoying as it is alarming. And continuing to supply our pets with “kibble crack” is equivalent to being the supplier for a loved one’s drug habit.

Obesity stops being cute or funny in man’s best friend at the point when it starts to adversely affect their health. Obese dogs have a higher risk for osteoarthritis, insulin resistance, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, according to an annual survey conducted by APOP.

“Sadly we’re raising the first generation of dogs that likely won’t live as long as their parents,” Dr. Ward writes in his “Chow Hounds” book.

In a nation where animals are considered to be so much a member of the family that doggy day care, puppy play dates, canine car seats, and pet health insurance are standard, it is incomprehensible that Americans are literally feeding their pets to death. It is Dr. Ward’s belief that with a little bit of education and a few simple changes the obesity epidemic in American house pets can be reversed. America’s pet owners can easily find different and more healthy ways to express their love for their “canine kids” without turning them into “Chow Hounds.”

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