WOMAN ENOUGH is about an exotic dancer who faces down social stigma and struggles with addiction as she fights for her right to dignity in a world that calls her a whore.
I have always been a writer. From the time I received my first diary at age eight, to the journals that followed every year after, to winning a short-story contest in seventh grade, to writing stories for friends to read, to writing clinical assessments in my job, to blogging, and to now finally publishing a book.
My love of writing is not surprising; my grandfather, Russ Waller, was a talented wordsmith and publisher who passed on the Waller writing genetics, employing all of his children at some point in their lives at the family newspaper decades ago in Iowa. My father, Steve spent the majority of his career doing the same as a columnist, editor, and owning a newspaper in Iowa thanks to guidance from my grandfather. My dad was a great resource through the years with AP English assignments and even editing my first manuscript (currently unpublished).
But I was never seen as a writer. I was the actress in the family; that is, if I could be seen at all out from underneath my mother’s unintentional shadow (also an actress/director). Even my grandfather would carry me into the house from the car calling me his “Princess”, which couldn’t be further from who I have been or who I am now. In high school, I was determined to be a successful professional actress, later enrolling in the theatre program at University of Vermont before switching my major to psychology (and switching schools). It was there that I really hit my stride.
I became passionate about psychology and social justice issues. It gave me life. Minnesota was my home but I “grew up” in college. A nontraditional student having taken a gap-year-or-two as I bounced around from one gig to the next, I went to school when I was ready to focus, and I’m so glad I did. Vermont treated me right. It healed me. It also birthed a new me… a me who was no longer held back from the distorted self-image learned from my environment. I broke free from who society had taught me to be, and because I dealt with my own suffering first, I was finally able to be present for others.
My degree brought a career as an addictions and assessment treatment counselor at an inpatient substance abuse center. Soon followed graduate school. At work I heard stories from resilient women; their challenges worthy of being heard. I was a counselor and always maintained professional boundaries, but in some of their experiences, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of belonging. Women have survived shared experiences. It was the first time I fully grasped what a great community we have in womanhood and how important it is to swap stories in order to break the cycle of shame passed on through the generations… just for being women.
When writing a book, authors have their own style. Some writers are plotters; outlining the story arc before writing it. Some writers are pantsers who “fly by the seat of their pants” not knowing how a story will unfold. I’ve tried both approaches but my preferred style is to write scenes as they come and then piece them together later like pieces of a puzzle. Called a “puzzler”, many of the scenes in WOMAN ENOUGH were written this way and saved in a file from 2014. I found a short story I wrote from that time, too and wanted to use in a novel, and it later became chapter two (was originally the opening chapter).
As I was piecing the manuscript together, the voice was very much a woman’s, who was edgy and dark but also likeable and searching. She was questioning everything around her including herself, which to me, represents great strength.
At the time I was writing it, Hillary Clinton was running for president. There was a lot of empowered woman energy to channel. Because of this, literary agents were asking for manuscripts with women in roles of doctors, lawyers, and scientists. All of which are books definitely needed but I thought of what books I like to read… stories about women who are getting by (or not- I’m a huge Sylvia Plath fan). Not women who are necessarily of the elite, but who are struggling every day yet persevering (I’ve also been deeply inspired by Anne Frank’s life ever since portraying her in a play at age twelve).
With that goal in mind, I began to thread together scenes I had written with a protagonist who is white, twenty-one, and struggling with addiction. I named her Rebecca. A former gymnast, she had everything: a scholarship to one of the best schools, from a middle-class family with parents still married (although they have their problems, too). Rebecca was perfect.
So I made her an exotic dancer. Because why not? Not because stripping would be her flaw, but because that would be her blessing. Since the dawn of time, women have carried around shame for being sexual. Of course, it’s fine for a woman to be objectified, but according to society, it’s not okay for a woman to actually feel sexual or to want to be sexual. Because that would be liberating. And we don’t want liberated women, now do we???
I made Rebecca empowered in her sexuality, something that exotic dancing taught her. She embraces her womanhood for the first time, makes great money, but also is subjected to shame because of it. She works hard to keep the job a secret from her family because of the stigma around working in the sex industry as being “dirty”.
For example, in the opening chapter, Rebecca aka Corrine, is on stage using her gymnast skills, new to dancing, into the music, and proud of the money she’s finally making. And then a man yells that she is a “whore” and she’s absolutely broken from it. In an instant, her pride is taken from her and she’s reduced to this trembling, anxious, sick-to-her-stomach little girl. I think many women have felt this at some point in our lives. I know I have.
I’d also like to say something about creativity. It’s not hard for me to let my imagination be free to explore and follow any ideas that swirl around in my head. Having been an actress for most of my life, I always found it easy to escape into the world of the character… a character that was written. Created. Someone made a character and I was putting them to life. That’s what I’ve done with Becca. I hope people can appreciate the creative energy put into making up a story and then releasing it for others to think about or talk about, and hopefully enjoy.
When I finished the first draft of this manuscript, I knew I had something powerful. Something that really spoke to my experience as a woman, and something other women could probably relate to. Then on the news, there was a scandal in New Zealand with a rugby team and an alleged sexual assault of a stripper. I was appalled at the lack of investigation. So I kept writing Rebecca’s story. Around that same time, in the USA, there was the case of the rapist swimmer from Stanford who got a short jail sentence due to his privilege of being white, wealthy, and male.
These ordeals were so similar to scenes I had written previously that I knew I had to keep telling Rebecca’s story. I continued on, revising and sending it off to readers. I met an agent at a conference who I really had a good feeling about. She was the first professional (aside from my developmental editor) I really got to talk to about this project and I have to confess… I cried. Yes, I cried while pitching an agent this story. That’s how much it means to me. I can tell you more about that at another time. Luckily, she was not an agent who gets uncomfortable around emotion. She was incredibly supportive of this story and continues to cheer me on as I follow my dream.
During my final revision this past year, allegations of rape and assault (among other things) against a Hollywood producer became public and the #metoo movement prompted more people to openly share their stories of abuses endured from men. The community of womanhood was fierce and we are now really starting to look out for one another.
I had to publish now. The timing is right.
So here it is.
WOMAN ENOUGH is your story. My story. Their story. Her story. While you may not agree with or relate to some of what Becca endures, I hope you might actually read it and feel like you belong.
(A note about the cover: Artwork by Chicago-based artist, Pamela G. Waller. Text design by Wellington artist James Ford. One of the perks of self-publishing is being able to have complete say over how I want the cover to look. For that reason, I honoured my childhood dream by keeping the word “by” in front of my name. The little girl in me is quite happy about it.)