Taylor Evan Fulks is a practicing Registered Nurse First Assistant, specializing in open heart surgery to pay the bills. She’s also a wife, a mother of two very challenging (in a good way) teenage daughters, and an ardent “nocturnal gardener” due to her ongoing battle with skin cancer. She resides in a quaint little town in Southern Ohio, along the banks of the Ohio River.
Time to chat with Taylor!
What is your latest book?
Hello everyone! I’m Taylor Evan Fulks, author of My Prison Without Bars: The Journey of a Damaged Woman to Someplace Normal. Whew! That’s quite a mouthful! My debut novel is based on a true story…my story. It’s a dark, disturbing and very graphic account of my life as a survivor (I really hate that term…I prefer warrior) of Child Sexual Abuse.
You have written about deeply traumatic experiences that affect millions of people yet are not always understood or discussed openly. How did you reach a place within yourself where you were able to share your past?
Actually, I didn’t set out to write this particular book at all. I wanted to be a romance writer. I’m a voracious reader! I’ve read over seven hundred books since 2007, so I flippantly reasoned, “How hard can it be?” I’m also a storyteller, though my audience is listening to me ramble on and watching me gesticulate with my hands (I’d explode if you tied them behind my back) rather than reading my words. I sat down to write a romance that had been percolating in my head but found I couldn’t write. I hadn’t lost my muse…I didn’t have one. All I could hear was a little girl inside my head, inside of me, begging for a voice. So, I finally listened.
In the beginning, I wrote about the abuse I endured, tentatively, innocuously, without detail or description, leaving it to the reader’s imagination as to the horror a child suffers at the hands of an abuser. I was completing chapter sixteen of my forty chapter novel when the Penn State, Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal broke into the national headlines. In the beginning, I was elated, thrilled with the stance the University and the NCAA took in regards to Joe Paterno’s culpability, stripping him of his awards and accolades. They even removed a statue of him from the University campus. I was thrilled with the arrest and prosecution of Jerry Sandusky, now a convicted pedophile.
I watched like a hawk for stories from the victims, some quite young. But all I saw were grossly edited snippets of interviews that minimized the severity and sometimes questioned the validity of the abuse. Then the day of reckoning came…a day that altered my life forever. I watched a group of students, administrators and staff from Penn State stand in front of a TV camera and cry foul! One middle-age man said right into the camera with unflinching eyes, “The punishment is too harsh for the crime!”
I have known rage in my life, feelings of anger so toxic it’s frightening, but I had never amassed and embraced this level of insanity. I was possessed! I didn’t think. I didn’t process or calculate what I was about to do. I just reacted.
I shredded the first eight chapters of my novel and sat down to begin again…this time, in graphic detail. I didn’t consciously think through the consequences of telling my story, at least the consequences to me personally. I did discuss it with my daughters, assuring them I wouldn’t publish if they were the least bit against it. Both girls came at me with a resounding “Go for it, Mom!”
Raw, blatant honesty became my mission statement!
The words poured out of me like a faucet with a busted valve. I wrote with rage and fury, letting the words and experiences flow from the depths of my soul. I wrote until my hand cramped and my fingers were numb…then I cried. I cried for myself and then for all the innocent children that are lost and have no voice. I cried in Shame…
For good or bad, I laid myself naked and exposed to the world (or at least to the few friends that I thought would actually read my book). I bared myself before the world to be judged, criticized and condemned. I left nothing to the imagination…I take the reader far beyond what is comfortable and far beyond what most would consider inappropriate.
This is as naked and exposed as I’ll ever be…
On your website, you say that you have always been struck dumb and quite frankly amazed, by the concealed and often guarded reporting of sexual abuse. Can you talk more about this?
It’s a sad truth. That which we fear, that which we don’t understand, we shun. Society and abusers hone and cultivate victims of child sexual abuse into becoming gatekeepers of secrecy. It’s a shameful, taboo subject that dates back to biblical times, yet we don’t talk about it. We don’t like things that push the envelope, cross boundaries or make us uncomfortable. We like neat and tidy.
I was introduced to Shame at a very young age…I believe I was six at the time. Shame was that little voice in my head telling me that what was happening to me was wrong. Because you see, abusers seclude their victims, putting them in solitary confinement with no connection to the norms of society or the ways of the outside world. Children learn what they live. Had I not met Shame, not been introduced to the “wrongness” of the life I lived, the cycle would have probably continued with me…for without Shame, we know no better.
Child Sexual Abuse is Shameful in the minds of most people in society. It’s something very hard to wrap your mind around. The mind is a compensatory organ, a flesh and blood computer if you will, allowing a plethora of knowledge and feeling to flow through its pathways…yet, always filtering and camouflaging some things, buffering and blocking others, and shutting off completely when it’s unable to handle or compute. In other words, it makes sure the soul can handle the download of images (real or perceived) and information. And therein lays the problem with Child Sexual Abuse. We hear those three words and our minds will only allow us to imagine so far before we filter, buffer, block, or completely shut off the things too unpleasant to handle. My mission became clear…I had to take the reader to that dark, dismal, shameful place no one ever talks about, and with written words…make them feel.
I know a place so dark that the only light is the knowledge I survived last night. I know a place so shameful, that the only hope in my life is surviving tonight, and the next night, and the next…
Was I too descriptive? Probably. Was I too graphic? Definitely! But I saw no other way to lead readers through my journey…the journey of a lost and forgotten child that had no voice, no protector, no way out. I do not apologize for the subject matter or the way I wrote it (I hate to sound arrogant…I’m not, I swear). My job as a writer in this instance is to provide you the reader, a literary video clip for your mind to grasp and ultimately making you feel. If you come away from my book with an inkling of what it’s like to have no choices, no freedom and no safety as a defenseless child, well then…I’ve done my job. By the same token, I also believe in full disclosure. To the horror and angst of my editor, I put a “Note from the Author” missive on the first page of my book warning readers of the descriptive and graphic nature. My editor said it would kill my sales. Maybe so…but I can sleep soundly at night.
What kind of feedback have you received after writing My Prison Without Bars?
My novel to date has done very well. On Amazon it has over 120~ 5 star reviews and is ranked in the Top 25 in two categories for twenty weeks. On Goodreads my book maintains a 4.5 rating. All of this is fantastic and quite shocking to me. But the greatest blessings in all of this are the emails, Twitter messages, and Facebook messages I’ve received from people wanting to share their horror stories, some of whom have never told a soul. The honesty and trust these wonderful readers have bestowed upon me is far greater and more humbling than any 5-star reviews I’ve gotten thus far.
My community and my colleagues have embraced me with so much love and support. It’s funny, I was so afraid I would have to hang my head in shame, eyes downcast after everyone read my book…I work in the operating room with a mask on my face…only my eyes showing. I pondered how in the world I was going to pull that one off.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
Ah well…let’s just say that traditional publishers are not ready for edgy, controversial or taboo topics. I contacted five publishing houses (three big ones and two smaller houses) that were taking open submissions. I even contacted TWCS~ The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, original publisher of The Fifty Shades Trilogy. I wasn’t even given the chance to submit. The submission requirements for all these Houses declined my topic, listing it with subjects like Child Porn, bestiality, and necrophilia. This made me furious, but it also galvanized me to get my book out there.
I spent two months researching self-publishing and my options. I went with Amazon’s Createspace and I’m very proud of the product I’ve published.
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
It’s ironic you ask this question. When I started my book I used a speech recognition program to type my MS. I’m not a typist…I do open heart surgery. Anyway, you have to verbalize everything; punctuation, paragraphs, quotations etc… I could never get a feel for the ebb and flow of my writing. Was it a good story? Did it read like a novel, or like a book report?
So, I asked four of my closest friends at work to proofread my MS a chapter at a time as I completed them. They were very positive and encouraged me to continue. Then Penn State occurred and subsequently my rewrite. I brought those pages in, handed them to the girls and promptly walked away. I came back to the locker room an hour later and was blown away. All four women were in tears, looking at me with what can only be described as “awe.” The scene is permanently etched in my mind. The initial encouragement to write my story changed to vehement demands to finish it and publish. I sat down next to them and we all cried.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
First of all, I don’t believe ANY BOOK should receive a review lower than a 3 star rating. The sheer effort to write, edit, format, publish and market the book should warrant 3 stars.
I could give the pat answer~ Ignore it, but we all know as authors, we don’t. I’ve had three 1 star reviews so far (knock on wood), one on Amazon and two on Goodreads. All three were vicious and hurtful, telling the world that what I wrote couldn’t have happened. Between Amazon and Goodreads I have over 200~ 4 and 5 star reviews. I choose to go with the majority.
The world is full of “not very nice” people whether they’re a reader giving a bad review, or a co-worker that you’d love to throttle. My advice is to allow yourself to feel the hurt for a day, two if need be, then dust off and seek the positive. You can’t please everyone…
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
You can judge my book by its cover…that was my intention when I designed it. I wanted no doubt that the reader could tell exactly what they were about to read.
I entered a cover contest on a rather large and popular blog. I waited anxiously for two months for the results. I came in second to last out of sixty-four entries and the judges posted a comment next to my cover that said, “This is disturbing and really very ‘creepy.’” Well, to say I was crushed is a gross understatement! For two days I was undesirable to live with. Then, the little girl inside of me said, “You won dummy! That’s what we were going for…”
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
I wish I had known the power of healing is in the TELLING! I’ve lived in shame and secrecy for four decades believing I wasn’t worthy of love, of acceptance or anything better. I lived in a state of suppressed rage…for my abuser, for my faults and mostly toward my mother. In telling my story, I have found acceptance, not necessarily from others, but acceptance of me, by me. My life is what it is. My past is just that…my past. I don’t live there anymore. It’s time to move on.
Care to brag about your family?
Ah…my favorite topic! I’ve been blessed with two of the loveliest daughters a mother could ask for. My oldest daughter is twenty-one and entering her first year of nursing school at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. She’s my worrier, my pleaser and very much a “momma’s girl.”
My youngest daughter is seventeen and my social butterfly. She actually set me up with social media. She found it amusing when she set me up on Twitter, without instructions I might add, and told me to have at it! She and eleven of her friends (ages 18 and under) were my first followers. She got a kick out of watching me thank myself for the follow and thank myself for the retweet for the first three weeks I was on twitter. I got a kick out of confiscating her car keys and keeping them for the next three weeks after I finally figured out what I was doing wrong.
She will be starting her senior year of high school this fall and hopes to get a scholarship to a Division 1 college to play softball. She has a 64 mph fastball and a curveball that breaks 9 inches off the plate. She is definitely a “daddy’s girl.”
What music soothes your soul?
This will sound odd, but I love Classic Rock! The louder the better! If you can’t feel it rattle your bones, it’s not loud enough, and not worth listening to. Both my girls were raised listening to it. They prefer Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac to the noise that’s on the radio nowadays. It takes me to a good place in my head…it drowns out bad thoughts and stirs as much as it soothes my soul.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
My favorite movie would have to be Braveheart with Mel Gibson. I know, I know, it’s so GRAPHIC! I love things, stories, and people that push the boundaries. I lived so many years with my feelings sequestered that now, I’m all about passion. I want things to make me feel, make me ponder long after it’s over and take my breath away! This movie does all of these for me.
My favorite book, hands down, is the Outlander Series (eight books) by Diana Gabaldon. In my opinion, it is the greatest love story ever written. I reread all eight books once a year. It’s time travel, historical fiction and a delicious love story all in one. I highly recommend it! I rate it 10 stars!
Well, I believe my time is up. I want to thank Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau for graciously allowing me to guest blog today. I’m truly honored and humbled.
I’m proud to say the little girl inside my book (inside of me) is fine…I protect her now. She’s finally found her voice…
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