So often, with Innovative Editing’s Author of the Month program, I get to spread the word about really fun reads.
Other times, it’s much more centered on raising awareness about serious past, present or future issues. That’s certainly the case with Charlie’s Secret: Inspired by a True Story, a novel by C.L. Heckman that’s bound to hit close to home for many readers.
Yet I’m recommending it anyway, and not just because it grabbed my attention right from the start. Charlie’s Secret is filled with insights and encouragements that need to be shared, from what abuse means to the hope that is in fact out there even when things seem their worse.
If you have your own story you’d like to share – fiction or nonfiction, serious or lighthearted – I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at JDiLouie@InnovativeEditing.com or simply by clicking here.
For published authors, that will put you in the running for your own Author of the Month feature. For not-yet-published writers, we can work on getting you to that point by giving you the “write” mindset to adopt and tools to utilize.
Never forget that good things can happen when you have the courage to try.
May’s Author of the Month: C. L. Heckman
Featured Title: Charlie’s Secret: Inspired by a True Story
Genre: YA Fiction
Age Appropriate: 17+
Bio: C. L. Heckman is a mother of two who was born and raised in a small town on the outskirts of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. As a child and teenager, she spent most of her time riding, showing, and caring for her beloved Arabian horses. She dreamed of following her passion into adulthood, but life had other ideas.
After becoming a certified bartender and working in that profession for almost a decade, she started a family and become a mother. It wasn’t until just five years ago that she decided to try her hand at writing; and in 2014, she published her first novel, Charlie’s Secret: Inspired by a True Story.
Jeannette: I know this was a very personal story for you to write, fiction though it is. Can you tell Innovative Editing readers what it’s about?
CL: Absolutely! Charlie’s Secret is about a young girl named Sam who is growing up in a physically, emotionally, and mentally abusive home. She struggles with trying to keep the secrets of her family issues while also trying to maintain a relatively normal life at school.
Because of the years of abuse, Sam has trouble standing up for herself among friends and family, and has very little self-esteem. Once in a while, you’ll also get a glimpse of some subliminal anger issues boiling inside her, ready to explode.
Throughout the book, her patience and will are tested several times. It’s the constant battle of loving your abuser and hoping they will change vs. standing up for yourself against them.
In short, Sam is a character your heart will absolutely break for. I think readers will connect with her even if they’ve never been in an abusive relationship. Sam has her flaws: That much is clear. She’s incredibly realistic, and that’s part of why fans love her so much.
Charlie’s Secret shows the real picture of abuse and how hard it is to break the cycle. I feel that it’s a novel everyone should read because it’s something no one wants to talk about. But that’s the problem – we need to talk about it.
Jeannette: I want to get back to the book, of course, but considering everything that you just shared there, I’d like to ask a different question first. What advice would you give to real-life teenagers caught up in similar situations?
CL: I think my best advice would be to find a strong support system outside of home. Whether it’s a group of friends, extended family, or coworkers, you will need their help when you finally have the strength to leave. I know trust is difficult, but there are people that you really can confide in safely.
Often, victims feel alone. But, unfortunately, that’s just not true. There are a lot of us out there. So find a support group where you can safely voice your story. It will help.
Don’t let your abuser define your life.
Jeannette: That last line was both very beautiful and, I’m imagining, very difficult. It also rather leads right into my next question.
Toward the end of Charlie’s Secret, after a rather critical event, your protagonist goes back and forth several times between making a decision to be strong and then falling apart.
Is that kind of emotional uncertainty normal for victims of abuse?
CL: I’m not sure if it’s normal for everyone, but it’s definitely my life story. Growing up in a mentally abusive home, you’re taught to believe that your reality isn’t real; and because of this, you question every decision you make.
Uncertainty, or lack of confidence or esteem, is the way that your abuser keeps control over you. Once it’s ingrained, it’s a very hard habit to break.
Also, Sam was battling with loving someone for who they used to be and hating that same person for who they had become. Trusting anyone or anything after that trust has been broken by the people who were supposed to protect you? It’s nearly impossible.
Jeannette: Speaking of impossible, how difficult was it writing this book. And do you think it was worth it in the end?
CL: Writing it wasn’t too bad. It was publishing it that was absolutely terrifying. In fact, I almost didn’t. Two weeks before publication, I halted everything and decided it was too risky to move forward. There was no way I was brave enough to bare my past like that.
I didn’t know if I was going to be able to handle the criticism from strangers or my family. I didn’t think I was strong enough to move forward. However, I ultimately realized that I had gotten that far, and I didn’t want my fear to hold me back in moving forward. So I took a leap of faith, and I’m still coming down.
Even though it’s a fictional story, it is inspired by my childhood. And it’s allowed me to meet so many other victims across the world, which is exactly why I wrote it.
Being a victim of abuse is a very lonely place to be. I wanted this book to bring people together, and so far it has. If I had to do it all over again, I would – no matter how emotionally draining it was.
Jeannette: I admire your courage. Genuinely and sincerely. And you’re all too right about there being “so many other victims around the world.” Sometimes it amazes and depresses me how many people I know or work with who have been significantly abused in their lives, including some people I love most.
So this next question is for all of them in case they ever decide to write their own stories down… When you set out to write it, did you have a set schedule for when you wrote or did you let it come out as naturally as possible?
CL: I didn’t! I was a total newbie to the writing scene, and I had no clue what I was doing. I knew the story in my head, but I had never written a book before, and I didn’t have much guidance. I decided to just put pen to paper, or finger to phone, and let it write itself.
Then again, I’m not a very organized person when it comes to writing my books. I’ve gotten a little better at planning with my more recent ones, but Charlie’s Secret I mostly wrote on my phone at night before bed.
Once the rough draft was written, I transferred it to my computer where I did the major edits. It was a learning process, for sure. However, again, in the end, this book basically wrote itself.
Jeannette: You have a number of books out at this point. Do you have plans to write any more going forward?
CL: I definitely have some ideas. I started writing the prequel to Charlie’s Secret last year – it will be the mother’s childhood story and hopefully offer some answers to reader’s questions about how she got to become the person she is.
I hit a block though and ended up working on my teen romance novel, The Hemlock Girl, that I recently published, instead. But I’m hoping I can get back to work on the prequel soon. It’s definitely a story that needs closure.
Jeannette: Well, I’m very happy to hear that you’re still writing. Considering all the people you’ve reached so far, you clearly have a gift that should continue to be explored.
I’ve only got room for one more question before we get to your VIP links, so let’s end on a lighter note for an otherwise very serious, very important conversation...
What is your absolutely ideal writing setting? As in, if you could be writing anywhere in the world, whether it’s your living room couch or a café in Paris, where would it be?
CL: Anywhere by water. When I was a kid, the pond behind our house was my place of safety. Even today, the water has this amazing ability to calm me, even during life’s hardest struggles. Whether it’s a pond, a stream, or the ocean, it’s my favorite place in the world to be.
If I had to narrow it down from there, there’s a pier on the bay off the coast of New Jersey that would be my ideal location. I used to go crabbing there when I was a kid, and it’s one of my favorite memories growing up.
Jeannette: I love how fast you and assured that answer was: “Anywhere by the water.” You have me wanting to stare off into the ocean myself now.
And let me just say thank you so much for this honest conversation. I’m sure there are people in the Innovative Editing audience who can truly benefit from it.
With that in mind, here are two excellent ways to follow C.L. Heckman and one way to get in touch with her.
Charlie’s Secret itself can be purchased in print or Kindle copies right here. It’s bound to give readers insight into the epidemic of abuse, not to mention hope for what can emerge out of it anyway.