I feel swimmy, high, adrenaline on full tilt, though I haven’t consumed a drop of alcohol. “We need to subdue him first,” I hear myself say. “Can’t just slap a hand on his face and hope it knocks him out.”
Marly nods, though she is too encumbered to move quickly, and me—there’s no guarantee of what I can do.
“I have pepper spray,” she fidgets with her purse as though she’s about to withdraw it. “And it’s not like we have to break in, Grace. He’ll let us in, when he sees it’s me. Think I’m coming to talk.”
“Okay, then,” I say, before I lose my nerve. And we get in her car and drive.
We park and walk four residential blocks. The streets are lit by yellow halogen lamps, but there’s also a nearly-full moon. Its bold light makes me feel bolstered, sanctioned. Marly points to his condo, one square box among many in a beige world of homogenous residences.
“This could have been my life,” Marly whispers, her face a portrait of disgust. “I should be in that kitchen right now making dinner, then go spread my legs for him. I can’t believe he thought he could get away with what he did to me.”
The guilt surges through me again. If only I hadn’t healed away the evidence. But we didn’t know. Nobody could have known.
“Let’s do it soon, before I chicken out.” My palms have begun to ache with heat.
“Damn straight,” she agrees, and the toss of her hair is so familiar it’s like we’re fifteen again.
Simultaneously, we take a deep breath.
Marly repeats her lines, “I’ll say we’re here to talk—that I brought you as my friend and witness. That will put him on his best behavior. And you?”
I choke a little on my own saliva, cough, and answer, “I’ll ask for a glass of water, say I got too much sun today. He’ll take one look at me and have a hard time refusing, right?”
Marly pats her purse. “Let’s go.” She’s always one step ahead of me.
Forged in Grace by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
Publication date: February, 2013
Genre: Psychological Suspense (Adult w/ YA and NA crossover appeal)
Grace Jensen survived a horrific fire at age 15. The flames changed her: badly scarred in body and mind, Grace developed an ability to feel other people’s pain. Unable to bear human touch, she has made a small life for herself in Northern California, living with her hoarder mother, tending wounded animals, and falling a little in love with her former doctor. Her safe world explodes when the magnetic Marly Kennet reappears in town; Grace falls right back into the dynamic of their complicated friendship. Marly is the holder of many secrets, including one that has haunted Grace for over a decade: what really happened the night of the fire?
When Marly exhorts Grace to join her in Las Vegas, to make up for the years they have been lost to each other, Grace takes a leap of faith and goes. Although Marly is not entirely honest about her intentions, neither woman anticipates that enlarging Grace’s world will magnify her ability to sense the suffering of others—or that she will begin to heal wounds by swallowing her own pain and laying her hands on the afflicted.
This gift soon turns darker when the truth of Marly’s life—and the real reason she ended her friendship with Grace—pushes the boundaries of loyalty and exposes both women to danger.
BLOG POST: Girls, a Love Story
By Jordan E. Rosenfeld
Author of Forged in Grace
When I first began writing FORGED IN GRACE, or rather, when the character of Marly whispered in my ear while I stoked a fire in a little cabin overlooking a wild river, I knew right away this would be a story about female friends. I didn’t know it would be a dark exploration, but when all was said and done, I continue to think of this novel as a “dark love story of friendship.” That is to say, it’s a story that celebrates the powerful bonds that young girls forge with one another as they act as surrogates to each other for the mature relationships that will come down the road.
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of friends in my life, but as a girl, I only had one best friend, Sacha. The tried-and-true bestie who was part sister, part romantic stand-in, part keeper of secrets. She could make me feel good or break my heart all in the same day. She was an athlete to my bookworm, daring and brave where I was timid. She came from a loud family with brothers and two European parents. I was a latch-key kid from a “broken” home with two hippie parents.
Like Grace does Marly in the novel, I adored and was slightly in awe of Sacha. She bounced back from sleights while I wilted. She took the world head on, while I crept at it from the shadows. We fought, sometimes for days, but always came back together. Not until high school—though Sacha was a year older than I was—did a wedge come between us, and that wedge was, natch, another girl, named Shawna. A prettier, more sophisticated, worldly girl than me who didn’t use “too big” words and needed to wear a bra. Quickly I became replaced. It was a theme that would repeat in my life as part of the messy geometry of friendship. A theme that seems to happen to so many girls, teaching the painful lesson of jealousy and self-esteem, of loyalty and betrayal.
In FORGED IN GRACE, Grace has an unhealthy bond with the bold, beautiful Marly. Grace wants what Marly seems to have. And yet Marly is all pretense and façade. Her external world hides the darkness she keeps tucked away. What Grace thinks she wants, Marly may not actually have, and vice versa. And it’s up to Grace to realize her own talents and power in order to come to see the friendship for what it was, and is. A lesson many girls can use.
Many of my favorite books and movies about dark female friendships touch upon an overt or indirect sexuality between the girls. As an adult I can see now that most of these friendships are not, explicitly, sexual—barring those that really are, of course, and that’s not what I’m talking about in this piece—but rather girls, with their fluid and often early developed emotional lives, need to start exercising these feelings before the boys get around to it. They test them on each other, for better or worse. They project things onto one another that will someday be meant for their mates. In the best of scenarios, they forge life-long friendships; in others, jealousy and competition draw them apart.
As an adult, lucky to have a circle of dear, trusted women friends with whom I can talk honestly and show my dark and messy sides, I now look back on the friends of my youth with a clearer eye. It was my girlfriends upon whom I first tested the strategies of what would someday become my grown-up relationships at slumber parties where we whispered to the night sky our deepest desires and fears. Like Grace, those early friendships are important artifacts that reveal precious information to me about myself.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld learned early on that people prefer a storyteller to a know-it-all. She channeled any Hermione-esque tendencies into a career as a writing coach, editor and freelance journalist and saves the Tall Tales for her novels. She earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and is the author of the books, Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books) and Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life with Rebecca Lawton (BeijaFlor Books). Jordan’s essays and articles have appeared in such publications asAlterNet.org
, Publisher’s Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The St. Petersburg Times, The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazine. Her book commentaries have appeared on The California Report, a news-magazine produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio. She lives in Northern California with her Batman-obsessed son and Psychologist husband. www.jordanrosenfeld.net
Interview Questions for Jordan E. Rosenfeld about her novel FORGED IN GRACE (i.v. ink, 2013)
Q: You lean towards the dark and moody. Ever think of writing a comedy?
Yes, all the time. My personality actually leans toward the comic. Yet me trying to write comedy is like Jack Black doing serious movies. Doesn't work so well.
Q: Your novel portrays a bond between girls that is less than healthy. Why?
It's not that I believe all female friendships are negative, it's that the unhealthy ones leave more to scour for a novel, and most of us have a few scars from those early friendships as we tested out our future relationship strategies upon each other.
Q: You have an erratic writing process, care to share?
Yes, I write this elaborate outline, sketching out the characters and their problems, and then proceed to completely depart from it. Somehow I take comfort in an outline, no matter that I rarely stick to it. I need to pretend I know where I'm going.
Q: After "finishing" a version of this novel once titled "Little Alien"--you then hired an editor, and gutted some 375 pages down to a mere 119, before writing your way back to its current state. Why put yourself through this torture?
The novel just wasn't working. It was masking its flaws under fancy plot twists and implausible characters. Because of its partial Las Vegas setting, I thought I could get away with some big flights of fancy. Ultimately I came to see that it's a novel about two girls/women and their personal secrets/power. Coming back to that focus allowed me to access the real story I wanted to tell.
Q: Let's just get this out of the way: Your character heals people. So is it magic, or is it the Memorex (sorry, 80s throwback!): Sigh. I guess that's a question each reader has to answer for herself. There are real cases of people healing others, and an entire industry that professes to be able to do so now--is acupuncture, Reiki, therapeutic touch and more, magic?
On the one hand, I think you can take the healing gift as a metaphor; on the other, you can choose to see it as real. What's most important is how the "healing" works in Grace and what it does for her story.
Q: You were raised in Northern California by hippies. How did that influence your work?
My parents were New Yorkers drawn to the wild, free spirit of California in the early 70s, raised on a healthy diet of 60s civil rights activism. Their best friends were astrologers, artists, Reiki practitioners and massage therapists among other things (Yes, I speak New Age). I think that my upbringing left me open at the edges. I wasn't raised in a religion, so there was a lot of seeking and exploration without anyone telling me if I was doing it right or wrong. While that may also come with its own set of problems, it left me interested in that edge of life that we can't fully explain, which turns up in all of my writing: healing powers, prophetic dreams, the creative spark that exists in artists... And I was an avid reader, and an only child until I was 14, which may have had more to do with my writing aesthetic than anything.
Q: What's the question you least like answering, and why?
Easy: "Do your characters come from people you know?" It's a valid question, but the artiste in me laughs because I never consciously set out to model my characters after anyone--they come out of me as themselves, like children, and any resemblance to living people will be denied.
Q: Give a writer some advice, will ya?
Say yes to all opportunities, creative and literal, unless they ask you to send your bank account to a foreigner living abroad.
Q: Is there a piece of advice you'd wish you'd known sooner?
Not really--writing is one of those crafts where it's better not to know the work ahead of you before you set out.
Q: Whose career do you covet?
Joyce Carol Oates, Jodi Picoult... I think of myself as their love child, with a little Alice Hoffman thrown in.
Q: What is the biggest leap of faith you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
JR: I was going to say quitting my job to work for myself as a freelance writer over ten years ago, which worked out fabulously, but as I sit here thinking about it, the greater leap of faith was having my son. I was 33 when I got pregnant, and my husband and I had been together already for 12 years--that’s a long time to get extremely settled in a lifestyle. My son’s birth rocked everything, changed me, and did that strange thing where your heart busts out of your chest and lives on your forehead forever after, where it is no longer safe from sappy commercials, stories about kidnappings, or light jazz. Now, he’s four and a half and I sort of feel like I’m getting used to this motherhood gig.
Q: : Grace can heal others but not herself – something I think a lot of people can relate to in a metaphorical sense. Why do we have such a hard time letting go of our own struggles and hurts even as we encourage others to do so?
JR: Yes, you’ve tapped into one of the major themes of this novel. One of the things Grace and I share in common is what I’ve come to call “extreme empathy”--sometimes I identify so strongly with the pain of others that I can’t figure out where my own begins/ends. I think it’s difficult to let go of our own struggles because they’re adaptive, they were our coping mechanisms as children and as adults we still get something out of them. Until we learn new strategies, we’re screwed.
Q: If you could steal another author’s muse, whose would you take?
JR: Joyce Carol Oates’! That woman is prolific and takes on all manner of dark, complex and interesting subjects that appeal to me. When she retires, she can fed-ex her muse to me.
Q: How much of your personality traits do you put in your characters when you write? Do you put yourself in them at all?
There is no conscious effort to imbue my characters with me, but like any child, they carry facets of me, or they hold opinions/feelings of mine, though I try really hard to make sure they are behaving in ways that are true to THEIR characters, not mine. Others who know me will always read into my characters more than is probably ever intended.
Q: Tapping into what SN said about letting go of struggles and and hurts, how important do you think healing is for a persons emotional growth and interaction with the world? Can a person offer emotional help/support if they are not healed themselves?
Well, to sound somewhat pompously metaphysial, II think that’s sort of the point--to start out unfinished, “broken” even, messy, unformed and journey toward wholeness and healing. We heal in many different ways, and I have had some pretty inexplicable and life-altering healing experiences, as well as some normal, mundane ones. I think anything that helps us really be alive with all of our senses and appreciate that life, is a form of healing. I think that yes you don’t have to be some bastion of perfect health to be available to others; some very wounded people have insight and wisdom to share. But, I’d prefer to be as “healed” or “whole” as is possible, yes. I like to feel good, to feel happy.
Q: You are an original founder of indie-visible. How did the idea to form a writing collective of indie authors occur and grow to where it is now?
It was born out of a literary loneliness coupled with dissatisfaction with mainstream publishing, which seems to be growing ever narrower. Since moving to a new town nearly seven years ago I lost my huge in-person literary community. I felt amputated, and I’ve learned that I’m someone who needs to be part of something creative and collaborative to feel happy. I had met Chelsea Starling through a student of mine, we quickly became friends, and when I was discussing these things with her, it became clear we had two similar visions that needed marrying. Where it is now is a result of the passion of some highly creative, amazing people. And frankly where i.v. is now is just the beginning of an exciting new stage yet to come!
Q: You’re very physically active - do you think there is a link between a fit body and a fit mind?
JR: Well for me there’s a link between MOOD and body. I’m a MUCH nicer person when I exercise--and I definitely notice my mind gets clearer and burdens slough away when I go exercise, especially if I’m stressed. What is “fit” for one person is different for another. I take classes with marathon runners, and 80 year old women! I began exercising as a harried, exhausted, unfit mother when my son was 2. I had not slept a full night or exercised much in two years! I did it to start feeling better mentally. I can’t ever set the goal of “become fit” or “lose weight” because those goals have implicit self-judgment in them; instead, when exercise was making my mind and heart feel noticeably better, and I had fun in these dance classes, iit was the beginning of an addiction.
Q: When someone asks to hear about what you’re writing, what do you say?
JR: I think I am guilty of the heavy sigh or groan. I only like talking about my writing when I know I’m not boring someone, which is hard to know.
Q: An early title of this novel was Little Alien, referring to Grace’s sense of being different and possibly even invoking her shame about her appearance. What led you to change the title?
I think in earlier drafts, as I was getting to know Grace I was exploring her through the lens of her alienation, her isolation because I couldn’t yet understand what being a burn survivor was like (indeed, I called her a burn “victim” then). But after talking with some burn survivors, and eventually casting off some superfluous and unnecessary fanciful plot twists, in the last big revision I came to see that there was far more material to probe in her coming back to the world, in the dark landscape of her friendship with her wild friend, and in actively connecting with people; so Little Alien no longer felt right. This is a book about Grace coming into her right to be alive, her power.
Q: Did anyone in your life in particular inspire your characterization of Grace’s mother?
I think Grace’s hoarding Ma is a personification of my own cluttered mind! But really, I’m fascinated by hoarding because a part of me understands it and has minor tendencies of my own toward holding on for emotional reasons, and not “seeing” what others would call a disaster around me. And as I’m married to a psychologist I get to have lots of interesting conversations with a professional. Most important, for the story I wanted Grace to experience, on every level possible, an emergence from the small, the cramped, and the dark--her mother being a hoarder made so much sense for the story as I revised it.
Q: You’ve written several novels. What moved this one to the top of your queue for publication?
In many ways this book felt like it was the closest to “done”--which turned out to be quite a joke played by my ego, as I wound up putting more work into this novel than any of the other 8 I’ve written. And of those 8 novels, all but two will likely remain shelved. They are my “miles of canvas” as an artist once told me about her process to getting a good painting done.