In a co-author project titled The Merciful Scar (Thomas Nelson), Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue teamed up to tell a timely and provocative story of a young girl struggling with an addition to self-injury. Nancy talked to us about their creative collaboration and the experience of writing about such a painful topic.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT ISSUE FOR THE
TOPIC OF THIS BOOK?
When Rebecca and I decided to write fiction for
the New Adult audience, I asked her what issues came up most often in her work
with the young women in this age group. She immediately came back with
self-injury as one of them. I hadn’t gotten far into my research before I
realized what a deep-seated and pervasive problem self-harm is, which validated
some guidance toward healing as a felt need. But what really solidified it for
me was that when I asked on my teen blog for anyone who would like to help me
with the project from the standpoint of personal experience, 6 of the 20 or so
regulars on the blog contacted me. All of them had experience with purposely
hurting themselves. My other two interviews were with women over fifty who,
though they no longer practiced cutting, still struggled with the urge from
time to time. All 8 of them bore not only physical scars but emotional ones as
well. We didn’t need any more encouragement for the writing this book than
WHAT DO YOU THINK READERS WILL SEE IN KRISTEN'S
We hope they’ll see several things. (A) That
self-injury is not a suicidal behavior nor is it evidence that a young woman
(or guy) is mentally ill or trying to get attention or is just “weird.” We want
understanding about self-harm: these are people who are suffering from deep
inner pain they can’t seem to release in any other way, and the physical pain
makes more sense to them than the angst they can’t even name. (B) That if they
struggle with any kind of behavior that attempts to control pain – PTSD, an
eating disorder, self-injury, drug addiction, alcohol abuse – there is help.
(C) That no matter what we face in our lives, we can and need to be still and
hear the still small voice of God.
The scene where Kristen wakes up in the hospital
is brutal. She feels confused, betrayed, and misunderstood. It's such
heart-wrenching part of the book. What was it like to get inside of Kristen's
despair and write about it?
I love that you know that it IS necessary to get
inside the character’s despair. It was painful because I was echoing the
thoughts and feelings and experiences of young women I care about. I drew on
some scenarios a health care professional shared with me (heart-breaking in
itself) and from my own experience in the past with depression and an eating
disorder, back when those things were as poorly understood as self-injury is
now. I think that was the scene where I really bonded with
WHAT SORT OF RESEARCH DID YOU CONDUCT IN ORDER TO
GET INSIDE THE MIND OF SOMEONE WHO CUTS?
As I’ve said, in addition to some great books
which are listed in the acknowledgements I interviewed 8 women (16 to 50) by
phone or in person. They were so transparent and so brave. That experience made
me want to get it right, you know?
Why do you feel self-harm is such a prevalent
issue for girls? It seems every girl in her twenties has known or knows someone
with this struggle.
I think the first thing to realize is that this
behavior has been going on for decades and I’m not sure it’s more prevalent –
it’s just more publicized. Then of course when something becomes public, girls
who are struggling may think, “That sounds so good to me right now.” I don’t
think it’s the power of suggestion so much as the power of “solution”, at least
in their minds. Since self-injury usually arises from deep emotional pain, I
think we have to look there for the specific reasons: more pressure to be
perfect, more awareness of universal pain because of social media, less support
from society to be genuine, a recession that has led to more anger in adults,
which leads to more abuse. But I think most of all it’s a lack of the sense
that God is here and loves them. In several of the girls I talked to there was
a feeling that they had somehow failed God because they couldn’t adhere to an
ultra-conservative set of expectations. In terms of why SI [self-injury] is
more commonly practiced by girls than boys, studies have shown (I can’t quote
them; sorry) that boys usually internalize less and have more outlets for
expressing anger. It’s more “okay” for them to “go off” than it is for girls,
HOW DID THIS BOOK CHANGE YOU THROUGH THE PROCESS
OF WRITING IT?
Another great question. Obviously I have a far
deeper understanding of self-injury and it has made me even more compassionate
about the plight of all New Women (girls in the New Adult audience) and the
world they face. Going even deeper than that, spending time with the passage
from Isaiah was profound, and I actually spend more time in Centering Prayer than
I did before writing The Merciful Scar. And of course, my week at the sheep
ranch in Montana was amazing and brought me closer to God’s creation. You can’t
bottle-feed a struggling lamb (they named her “Little Nancy”) for that long,
watch her become healthy, and not be changed in some way you can’t name. Most
of all, I want to embody the wisdom God gave me for Sister Frankie. I want to
be her when I grow up!
HOW WAS IT WRITING THIS AS A CO-AUTHOR PROJECT?
WHAT DID EACH AUTHOR BRING TO THE TABLE?
As I’ve mentioned, Rebecca came up with the ideas
the books (there are three of them, actually) are centered around. Then I came
up with the basic story concept and what we call a “skinny draft”; she reviewed
it carefully and made superb suggestions that I incorporated. Then as I wrote,
I sent her chunks to review which she did beautifully. Let me just say
that Rebecca St. James is the real deal. I think we wonder that sometimes about
Christian celebrities: is this genuine, what’s she like when she isn’t on
stage, that kind of thing. Rebecca is as beautiful on the inside as she is on
the outside – which is saying something! – and Christ shines from her in an
almost unearthly way. While Rebecca’s main job in our partnership is to
get the word out about the book, I think her more important role has been
prayer, encouragement, spiritual support. I count on her honesty and integrity,
as well as her love for young women and for God. It really is an honor to work
with her. Must be a God-thing.