Meg Tilly's Gemma

16 April 2010
I recently read the book Gemma by Meg Tilly. I had no idea before this that Meg Tilly was an author. All I knew was that she is in one of my favorite movies of all time. Well, it turns out she is a fabulous author! Gemma is the story of one young girl's horrific experience with sexual abuse. It is incredibly well written and moved me to tears more than once. Sexual abuse is a subject that hits home with me for several reasons. This book actually changed my life, but that is a subject for another post. Anyway, Gemma is a great book and I urge you to checkit out!

Meg was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the novel and herself. Thank you so much Meg for letting me share this with my readers. It was great getting to work with you!

Who is the audience for Gemma?

I feel the audience for Gemma is anyone who has the guts to read this book. Some people will read it because they have a personal connection to this material, something in the book will resonate with them and in reading it, they won’t feel so alone when wrestling with their own memories. Other people will read it because they like books that take them out of their comfort zone and expand and challenge their way of thinking. And then there are those, who might not be interested in picking up this book, but I pray that they do. These are the people that have sailed through life, unscathed, untouched, by the challenges of rape, sexual abuse and domination, the ones who have had a wonderful, lucky, blessed childhood and life. And I am truly glad that some people do get to experience that sort of safety growing up. I have found that some of those people can be very empathetic and caring, but there are others, who, for lack of experience and understanding, can be quite judgmental when a Jaycee or an Elizabeth or Shaun are lucky enough to survive challenging situations, are brave enough to tough it out, smart enough to find a way to cope with what would break a less strong person. It is my hope that these people will read Gemma, and come away with more understanding and compassion about this type of situation. And maybe that understanding would bleed over into other aspects of their life and they would find themselves seeing and walking through the world in a different way than before.

The language and scenes in Gemma can be quite graphic. What made you
decide to write this way?

Hazen Wood is a violent pedophile, a sexual obsessive. To present his thoughts and language in any other manner would not only be a disservice to the reader, but it would also be unfair to approximate 150 million girls and 73 million boys that are sexually assaulted worldwide every year. This has been my experience with how these men think and speak. It was very important for me not to whitewash and tamp him down.

Gemma Travel, the way Gemma imagined beautiful places to visit even
when her circumstances were so awful, really struck a chord with me.
Is this something you did as a child?

Gemma Travel is something that I devised when I was growing up. It helped a lot.

At times I felt I was reading someone's diary, like this was something
too personal for me to be reading. Is Gemma's story based on your own
life experiences?

I was never thrown in the trunk of a car and kidnapped. There is, however, a lot of me in this book, both in Gemma and in Cindy. It’s like Cindy is the grown up me talking to the young me. My family had a veritable parade of pedophiles tramping through our lives growing up.

I think this is a very brave book. Brave because you wrote about such
a sensitive subject and brave because of Gemma's character. What do
you hope people gain from reading it?

Thank you. It was a difficult book to write. I had terrible nightmares leading up to and during the release of it. It’s like if I could have, I wouldn’t have chosen to write it, but the book chose me, and demanded to be out in the world, so I did everything in my power to make that happen, even though I was terrified.

My wish for this book is for it to serve as a balm, a voice for those of us who have not been able to speak the words that are suffocating us. For people who have been through this kind of thing to realize, in reading Gemma’s story, that there really wasn’t much else she could have done. She was a child. She was physically and mentally overpowered and abused by people who were bigger and stronger than her. And in reading her story, maybe people will be able to see their own personal story in a different light and realize that it wasn’t their fault. That it is not their shame to carry. It belongs in the laps of the pedophiles who perpetrate this type of violence on children.

I would like pedophiles to read it and see more clearly, that not only are the stories and litanies they tell themselves to justify what they are doing wrong. I also want them to see and remember the Gemma in themselves, and realize the cost to what they are doing and to seek help. Many pedophiles were sexually assaulted as children and I believe that in a mixed-up way, they subconsciously do this kind of thing to try to seize back the power that was taken from them as a child.

The reaction of Gemma's mother literally took my breath away. Do you
think her reaction was typical for such a situation?

Unfortunately, I do.

Both Buddy and Hazen use fear to keep Gemma quiet. Fear is a powerful
motivator. Almost 20 years later, I am still afraid to tell anyone
just exactly what abuse I suffered. Do you think it's hard for someone
who has not dealt with sexual abuse to understand why victims don't
just tell someone what is going on?

I do believe it is hard for people who haven’t experienced this to understand the scope and power of the tools these men use to silence and control children. I was forty-five before I was able to come forward with the truth. Forty-five! I had been successful in the world, had raised three children, was in a loving relationship, and STILL I was terrified to say the words out loud, admit it to the world.

My heart hurt when I read that these issues have touched your life as well. I wish that you had had the kind of childhood we both dreamed of.

What advice do you have for your readers who are victims of sexual abuse?

Everyone’s situation is different, and needs to be approached as such. I wish I knew the right answer to this question. I wish there was an easy one-size-fits-all solution. The main thing is, I want my readers who have been/or are victims of sexual abuse to know that they are not alone. That there are WAY more of us out there than even the mind-boggling, heart breaking numbers of the statistics show. That the shame and sick dirty feeling inside is not ours to carry. It belongs in the laps of the men (and sometimes women) who perpetrate this kind of violence on children. I also believe that some of the blame belongs to our justice system that gives these abusers a slap on the wrist and send them back out to abuse again. Did you know that the average pedophile will abuse 360 times in his lifetime?

What led you to start writing?

I was 30 years old. My children were 3 and 5, straddling the age that I was when my stepfather came into my life. And I found, looking into my own children’s faces, that suddenly it was impossible to keep the family lies stuffed down my throat any longer. They needed to come out in one form or another or I would choke on them. So I picked up a pen and started to write. It began as short stories, but ultimately became my first published novel, Singing Songs, which I sold through Dutton/Penguin as 100% fiction, when in truth; it was my memories of growing up.

I've read that you stopped acting to raise your children. Now that they are grown, would you ever go back to acting?

Six months ago, I would have laughed when you asked this question and said absolutely not. However, since that time, a friend of mine was acting and directing an episode of Caprica and asked if I would do a cameo. It was to shoot 2 days after my youngest child was to leave home. I said, okay, why not? We shot the episode and it was so much fun. So, yes, I could see myself doing a little snippet here, a tiny dab there. I can’t see going back to it full-time though, as I enjoy my present life and the freedom I have WAY too much!

Again, huge thanks to Meg Tilly for taking the time to answer my question. I am glad to share Gemma with my readers.


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1 comment:

lynette355 said...

First I am jealous of you! Talking to Meg....Wow. My fav movie was Agnus of God. She did such a wonderful job in her role.
Now on to Gemma.
I loved reading that. Now as a S.A.V. myself I understand that it can hit home for many. I have healed so much since that time that I do not associate with it as strongly as you did. But I do love that the message of the guilt it carries for the child is overwhelming. And the accompanying message of it is not their doing too! Thanks Meg!