For What It's Worth

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Before the Split Blog Tour: Guest Post by Swati Avasthi - A Place Called Character

I'm thrilled to have author Swati Avasthi stop by today as part of her Before the Split Blog Tour. Please read her guest post about writing an issue driven novel and take the time to leave a comment. Swati will be donating $1 for every comment on the tour up to $250.00 to the Family Violence Prevention Fund. If she reaches her cap of $250.00, she will double that donation to a total of $500.00!!

To help Swati  reach her goal, I will match her donation up to $50.00 for comments left on this post. So please help spread the word and get as many comments as possible to raise money for this worthy cause.

Each comment also enters you for a chance to win a copy of Split. I will announce the winner at the end of the tour November 2nd! **International Entries OK**

A Place Called Character
by Swati Avasthi

See, there are these things called issues and there are these things called novels and, according to
plenty of people, the two should never go together. Otherwise you are treading into after-school-
special zone. No one wants preaching disguised as fiction.

That was drilled into me. If not through conversations and lessons, then through my own
experiences while I winced, embarrassed for writers who would blatantly hammer in the moral
of the story. And the morals were always so self-evident: If Ugh hit wife, then Ugh baaad. No
hit wife, Ugh.

And yet, both as a writer and as a reader, I found myself drawn to issue narratives, pulled to the
serious and heavy one-word title books: Speak, Godless, Twisted. They would jump out at me
and I’d devour them. Plenty, plenty, plenty of writers have written great issue novels. Look at
Chris Crutcher or Jay Asher or Laurie Halse Anderson.

But I was still afraid to write them, especially afraid because I came to Split with a history of
working with survivors of domestic violence. (I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic for
three years and spoke to thousands of survivors.) I came to Split after giving lectures about the
cycle of abuse; I came to Split with statistics that clattered around in my head, and stories that I
couldn’t shake loose from my brain. So, I was worried that if I wrote about domestic violence, I
would pull out the soapbox that kills a good story.

But, to get onto a soapbox, you must have answers. And I only had questions: what would it
be like to grow up watching your dad hit your mom? What if you loved your dad anyway and
looked up to him the way that every kid does?

I had left the clinic almost ten years before I sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer and
a 16-year-old boy in my head. The deeper I dug the more muddled I became, uncovering more
questions. But somehow, I didn’t feel like I was the one asking the questions anymore. My
narrator, Jace, was. And the nature of the questions were slightly altered and the stakes much
higher. Instead of “What would happen if you loved your dad anyway?” my questions became
more specific and were asked in Jace’s voice: “Why, in the name of all that is holy, do I still
admire my creep-of-a-father? WTF is wrong with me?”

I had no more worries about my soapbox. All I worried about was whether I could get my story
right and what would happen to Jace. The challenge became not to flinch when the story got
hard, how to be honest now matter what. The story stole the soapbox’s spot.

Much later, after the ARC came out but before the novel was printed and we were deep into
copyedits, a friend read the book and commented that she was upset with something I’d written
– something minor, but valid – about culture. And I suddenly was so tempted to use Jace as a
mouthpiece. I struggled for two days, trying to find a way to make the idea work. My friend
was astonished and wondered why I could “make Jace” argue with Mirriam about issues, but
couldn’t find a way to “make him say this.” I told her I could never “make Jace say” anything.

About a year after I wrote Split, a colleague of mine was working on an issue novel. In her fear
that she would preach, her novel ended up saying nothing and she asked, “how do you write an
issue novel without preaching?”

So, I could tell her: See, there are things called issues and these things called novels. And they
should go together right through the juncture of a place called character.

Thank you Swati! Split is proof that you can write a novel that is both about an important issue and still be interesting. I will be re-posting my review for Split tomorrow HERE

Two other book I've reviewed that are "issue" oriented and have meant a lot to me are Speak by
Laurie Halse Anderson and Willow by Julia Hoban. Click on the titles to read my reviews.



*Follow the Before the Split Blog Tour*
 To honor National Domestic Violence Awareness month, author Swati Avasthi is combining a blog tour for her debut novel, Split, with a fundraiser for Family Violence Prevention Fund.  She’ll be on twenty-six blogs with contests, cut scenes, and guest posts about Split and will donate $1/comment with a goal and cap of $250.  If she receives 250 comments, she’ll double her donation.  She has a lot of fund raising help from more than 40 agents, editors and authors who have donated personalized books, memberships, and critiques for an online auction.  Follow the tour, get stuff you want, and help out a great cause all at once. 

Go to The Teen {Book} Scene for complete details.

Swati is hosting an auction at:

Please visit to bid on items ranging from critiques, to signed books, ARC's and more.

All proceeds got to  the the Family Violence Prevention Fund

 Featured items: 

Janet Fox, author of Faithful and the upcoming sequel Forgiven, donated a critique of 10 pages of your YA or MG novel. Additionally, she's going to throw some swag for her novels in your envelope!
Janet S. Fox is a writer, mom, and former high school English teacher. Janet became a children's author in the mid-90s. Her son's learning differences led her to develop ideas described in her book for Free Spirit Publishing, GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (2006). Her other published work for children includes fiction (Spider Magazine) and science non-fiction (Highlights for Children). Her young adult novel FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin), debuts in spring 2010, followed by a companion novel, FORGIVEN, in 2011. She is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been a Regional Advisor for the SCBWI. Janet lives with her husband and their college-age son in the mountains of Montana. The family loves dogs and currently is ruled by an elderly Basset hound.

Start bidding on a critique by author Janet Fox HERE!


Author Nancy Werlin donated a signed, personalized Extraordinary.

Extraordinary: Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on Phoebe, but a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself. Soon she'll discover the shocking truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe's ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn't been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?
To learn more about Nancy, visit her at

Start bidding on Extraordinary HERE!


  1. Amen. And, young adults (and adults) need vehicles for discussion. Maybe they're dealing with something similar to an issue and don't know how to talk about it. Or, maybe they've never even heard of an issue and could fall prey to an abuser. Either way, books are a conduit for conversations and realizations.

    Love everything about this!

    mrsderaps @ hotmail . com

  2. Hi
    Can there be International bidders for the book or is open to only US and Canada?

  3. Wonderful interview! I'll admit to avoiding "issues" books in the past because of a few bad experiences, but truly good fiction should always be reaching for something deeper. Thank you for being willing to go to the difficult places!

  4. Very interesting post! I must say that there are times when I avoid issue books because I know they'll be hard to read, especially when I want nothing more than to lose myself in fiction ... but there are times when I need something *more* and I pick up one of these books and remember WHY they're so invaluable ... I might want to avoid issues, but there's people out there who don't have the choice, for whom something as small as a book can make a huge difference, can be a life-line.

  5. Interesting and informative - thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  6. My daughter is very much into issues at the moment. Sometimes they make her cry but more often they encourage her ask me questions so she learns about issues she hasn't previously encountered and our discussions help her form her own opinions on this matters.

  7. Fabulous post! I think anyway we can bring awareness to issues that will help impact the way people look at things or encourage them to be proactive about making a difference is great!

  8. When I was a kid, there weren't such a things as child abuse, or abusive homes. Children and women were property. What happened in the home was private.
    Growing up in an abusive house wasn't easy. But you loved your parents because you don't know any better.
    This book sounds very interesting, I think I would have a hard time reading it, but I would. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to write it.
    Thank you for donating to the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

  9. If the story is told in an interesting and compelling way, the message is conveyed, regardless of the subject matter. Hopefully, it leads to discussion of tough issues and support to those affected.

  10. Awesome guest post, i can't wait to read her novel !!

  11. Very interesting post. It's nice to see someone writing about things they believe in regardless of the touchy subject.

  12. Wonderful post and wonderful cause! I hope you get double the comments you need at least!

  13. Nice interview. I think its important to get issues out there for people of all ages to discuss and be made more aware of whether its in fiction or non-fiction books. Can't say I've read an 'issue' book but probably will some day.

  14. This is an excellent cause. I might have to go pick a copy of Split.

  15. I love issue books like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Domestic violence is a major issue. Split is on my to read list.

  16. I'm glad that there are issue books out there, because not everyone has a safe place to talk with someone regarding when bad things are happening.

    I need to read split. Great interview

  17. Although I have to admit, I prefer to read for escapism I know literature like this is important to bring issues out in the open.

  18. Karen, Swati & Family Violence Prevention Fund Thank you for bringing light to this issue. Great interview!

  19. I taught my daughter to write me a note if she was uncomfortable about a topic. Whether it was embarrassing or some normal teen anger problem. It helped so much to keep the convos flowing. Everyone needs a way to find help, whatever that encompasses. Thank You to all with a public forum who are bringing light to this problem.

  20. The truth is that people are complicated, and we all have lovable and not-so-lovable parts. Novels can capture those subtleties, as Swati so correctly points out!

  21. Great post! Love this book. One of the top of the year. Good luck with the match!

  22. Perhaps writing about issues will make it easier for young people to talk about them. What a difference this could make. Excellent post.

  23. Good job Karen & thanks for using your blog to support a great cause.. Hope you hit your goal.

  24. I comment, therefore you know I stopped by!

  25. Nice post. Thanks for publishing it! :)

  26. Great interview and awesome post. Now, if you'll excuse me Karen, I'm going to go outbid you on something. :)

  27. "The challenge became not to flinch when the story got hard, how to be honest no matter what." I love this line. Such a good reminder that writing a book is never easy and writing a book about an issue probably has even more to flinch at! And i love that final statement that issue and novel meet right at "the juncture of a place called character." That makes so much sense to me! I am learning so much!

  28. Great post and the book looks like a keeper.

  29. Domestic violence is one of the most nerve-wracking themes in the world for me, just the thought that are countless people who go through it everyday, and that most of the times they get so consumed by fear and shame, they do nothing about's just...just...there are no words.

    This is a great thing you're doing Karen, I'll spread the word.

  30. It's wonderful of you to go that extra step and be willing to donate money of your own as well as support this book. Great post Karen.

  31. Domestic violence is such a big problem and a very important issue Glad this author wrote about it and hope you get lots and lots of comments on here to reach your goal for the charity.

    I love Jodi Picoult's books about hot issues. She presents them through her characters too but often leaves the reader sort of hanging in the end. No "preaching" at all.

  32. I like the way she writes. I will definitely try to read her book. Thanks Karen.

  33. Great interview and such topic needs to spoken more with teens.

  34. "So, I could tell her: See, there are things called issues and these things called novels. And they should go together right through the juncture of a place called character."

    That last line is so spot-on! Great guest post :)

  35. An amazing book, with a context that needs more recognition.

  36. It's sad that teens need, really need books with issues but it's good they have them. Well written books seem so real, teens feel as if they have someone with whom they can identify.

  37. First off, I think its terrible that we should have issues like these. And to me abuse of any kind should never be tolerated. I am glad there are still people who get involved. it gives me hope.

  38. Swami what an awesome interview. There need to be more books and articles like this to draw attention to family violence. What you are doing is wonderful

  39. How wonderful to see so many comments. Great post, Swathi. It's so hard to write about an issue without falling into the trap you described that I worry many good authors will simply avoid the big issues. And we need issue books (or what they used to call problem novels). I think the trick is for the author to stay in hiding. Which is done just about the way you said in your excellent post.

  40. Excellent work with a very tough issue. I love your thoughts on honest writing, Swati. Split is tough book to read and even harder to put down!

  41. Thanks for the insight into an important topic.


  42. I loved that guest post. I'm so glad that there are people who aren't afraid of taking risks.

  43. Awesome post, thanks Ms. Avasthi! I haven't read many (or possibly any) 'issue centric' novels, but I'm completely with you on character driven stories. It's definitely evident when an author puts words into a character's mouth without their say-so. Readers (especially teen readers) want to discover things alongside the characters, not be told them outright. Thank you for your continued work and insights.

  44. Great post! I would love to read Split, it sound incredibly interesting and definitely something I would enjoy. I love books with a message or ones that address a controversial issue. Its wonderful that there are authors like you willing to put themselves out there for the things they feel strongly about. And on top of that, to stay true to the character. Thumbs up!

  45. Hi, this is such a great tour & post! Glad that there are so many people here. :)

  46. so great that you are apart of this tour , such an important topic. I need to read split still.Bad book blogger.

  47. What a great post! I can't say that I've read a lot of issues but I don't avoid them either. I think for young adults, they offer an outlet and insight into a situation that they may be experiencing or are curious about. Sure, they're fictional but I think for a young mind that might be having "issues" fiction is a safe way to just deal. It's serious but not too serious. Thank you for your insight.

  48. Really fantastic post, it's important that we have books that deal with difficult issues, they help not only inform others, but also can provide comfort for those sharing a similar experience. Thanks so much for sharing:)

  49. Great post, novels with real life problems are important to read/have out in the world.

  50. I love all the generosity on this tour, bringing attention to serious issues.

  51. THANK YOU everyone for helping me reach my goal of 50 comments!! I knew I could count on you guys!!

    I made my $50 donation and I hope you continue to follow Swati's tour and help her reach her goal of 250 comments.

    oh yeah - Please read SPLIT! Fanatastic book.

  52. I love issue novels, and have not yet found one which I thought was preachy. I think if the story hooks you you probably wouldn't even notice it becoming preachy

  53. SPLIT is awesome.

  54. Swati really practices what she preaches about character. I was on the edge of my seat worrying about what would happen to her young protagonist.

  55. Thank you for such an interesting post on a really good topic. I loved the book, and am really enjoying going through the tour and revisiting it.