Robin York delves Deeper as she discusses her New Adult novel, revenge porn and the Harder sequel.
The theme of Deeper is one that I think I’m right in saying hasn’t been covered before – what made you choose to deal with it?
Anger, mostly! I think you’re right – as far as I know, Deeper is the only fictional treatment of revenge porn that I’m aware of. What happened was that I was doing some reading, thinking about writing a New Adult novel, when I happened to click a news link about revenge porn. Inadvertently, I began reading the comments, and they were so horrible — the worst kind of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, woman-hating bullshit. I thought, God, it’s 2013! How can people act like this?!
It didn’t take me more than a day to put the pieces together and realize I wanted to write a story about a heroine who was struggling with exactly these kinds of attitudes – and imposing them on herself. It seemed like such a good way to tell a coming-into-adulthood story, to look in a positive and thoughtful way at sexuality, romantic love, ambition, communication – all these things that are changing so much during the New Adult period of life.
Do you think enough’s being done to tackle internet-related harassment/revenge porn? What would you like to see change?
There’s a lot of movement in the United States right now at the state level, where a lot of lawmakers are trying to criminalize the act of sharing sexually explicit media without the permission of the persons pictured. I think this is wonderful, and I’d like to see it spread nationwide and even worldwide. In the UK, as in the US, revenge porn isn’t currently illegal and can only be prosecuted in some cases under civil laws. This state of affairs is completely unacceptable. I hope UK readers of Deeper will be inspired to support the efforts of groups like Ban Revenge Porn.
Some of the abuse Caroline suffers and some of the thoughts she has are quite unsettling but obviously true to the experience she goes through, were you ever worried about how readers would react?
My editor encouraged me to write the story I wanted to tell and not worry about what readers would think, so that’s what I did. Inevitably, a story like this is going to be hard to handle at times – harsh – but I wanted readers to sympathize with Caroline as I did, at every stage of her journey, and that meant being honest about exactly what she’s seeing people say about her – what she’s thinking – how it makes her feel. If we can’t handle knowing what’s being done to women, what’s permitted to be said about them in Internet spaces that are completely protected under our laws, how can we effect change?
Do you think authors have a duty to address big issues and why don’t more authors do so?
I don’t think authors have a duty to do anything but write the books that speak to them – to pursue emotional honesty in their work, write about what they find fascinating, show what they love and why, rail against what they hate.
I think it can be hard to balance wanting to make a political point of some kind against the concerns of narrative – particularly romance narrative – to tell specific human stories that have emotional resonance. I could never forget, writing Deeper, that I wasn’t writing a tract, but a novel, a story about a young woman and the young man she falls in love with.
Are there any other themes that you would like to explore or to see being explored?
Oh, lots! I guess I would say, in a general sort of way, that my interest is in humanity, and particularly in women. I’m very interested in the way we develop as humans, and in intersections between sexuality, love, and self-actualization. So most of my novels take up these themes in one way or another.
How was the experience of writing this book for you? What was the most difficult aspect of writing this novel?
You know, I always have trouble remembering after I’m done! I wrote Deeper fairly quickly, for me, and I think in many ways it was easier than a lot of my other stories. I remember getting a little muddled in the middle and needing some guidance. The hardest part was figuring out, at about the two-thirds point, that this wasn’t one novel but two, because West was going to need his own book to resolve all his issues.
Nate, who is responsible for the attack on Caroline, doesn’t really have much of a presence in the novel, was this a conscious decision to reflect the kind of cowardly and underhand characters behind these attacks?
I think it was more that this is, for me, completely Caroline’s story. What Nate did to her was never about Caroline. It was about Nate — a selfish act of someone who didn’t think about consequences, or didn’t care about consequences, because he’s so certain that his feelings, his experiences, matter more than hers. I didn’t think Nate deserved to be front-and-center in Caroline’s story. He’s in the rearview mirror, so to speak. What’s interesting to me is how she comes to terms with what he’s done.
The ending of the novel is harrowing, and you say so yourself in your author’s note. Did you always plan on a sequel or did you ever consider that this was the end of West and Caroline’s story?
I knew before I got to the end of Deeper that there would be a sequel, for sure. I was contracted with my publisher from the start to write two New Adult novels, but we didn’t know which two they would be. I thought perhaps Caroline and West would have a book, and then I’d give Bridget and Krishna a novel. But the closer I got to the end, the more obvious it was that I was in this story for a longer haul, because I had a lot of work to do to get West to a place where he was ready for a happy ending with Caroline.
What can we expect in the sequel, Harder?
Well, what I just said there.
Harder is, archetypally, a redemption novel – which is to say, it’s about West, in very bad circumstances, the very worst possible circumstances for him, and walking with him through the journey he needs to take to escape those circumstances once and for all, and then adjust to the life he finds on the other side. It’s a love story, a happy ending story, and a story about living with burdens that are greater than you ever meant to take on – but can’t, won’t, put down.
And finally what message do you want readers to take from Deeper?
I hope readers will come away from the novel with a sense of how harmful revenge porn and attacks like it can be. These kinds of messages that we spew at young women that are designed to make them ashamed of their sexual behavior, of their bodies, of themselves, their dreams – they’re so toxic, and I think often unquestioned. When it comes to revenge porn, there’s so much talk about what the targets should have done differently, as though it’s the target rather than the perpetrator who’s at fault. I like to think readers who fall for West and Caroline won’t be able to help seeing these messages as for what they are, and will support changing the status quo to create a more healthy environment for women.
When Caroline Piasecki’s ex-boyfriend posts their sex pictures on the internet, it destroys her reputation as a nice college girl. Suddenly her once-promising future doesn’t look so bright. Caroline tries to make the pictures disappear, hoping time will bury her shame. Then a guy she barely knows rises to her defense and punches her ex to the ground.
West Leavitt is the last person Caroline needs in her life. Everyone knows he’s shady. Still, Caroline is drawn to his confidence and swagger—even after promising her dad she’ll keep her distance. On late, sleepless nights, Caroline starts wandering into the bakery where West works.
They hang out, they talk, they listen. Though Caroline and West tell each other they’re “just friends,” their feelings intensify until it becomes impossible to pretend. The more complicated her relationship with West gets, the harder Caroline has to struggle to discover what she wants for herself—and the easier it becomes to find the courage she needs to fight back against the people who would judge her.
When all seems lost, sometimes the only place to go is deeper.
I towel-dried my hair and stood up to lob the damp towel into my laundry basket in the closet. Missed. By the time I’d picked it up and put it where it belonged, another message had popped up on my phone, this time with a link.
You need to see this, it said.
And then, immediately after, I’m so sorry.
I clicked the link.
I think part of me knew even then. Because the thing about being a good girl is, you spend your whole life developing a finely honed radar for detecting anything that could potentially cause people to love you less.
Girls like me—or, I guess, girls like the one I was last August—we eat approval. We live for it. So when we do something dumb—or, say, when we do something really monumentally idiotic—we know.
The screen filled up with a picture of me, topless, with Nate’s dick in my mouth.
I looked, and I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes.
I could actually feel it—the solid ground of my life, cracking open.
It sounds too Drama Llama when I put it like that, I know, but I can’t think of another way to describe it. One minute, I was on solid footing—a nineteen-year-old overachieving politics geek, on track to go to law school and take the world by storm—and the next, my feet had lost purchase on the floor. I sagged against the desk. I couldn’t get enough air.
The shock of it didn’t take any time at all to sink in. It sunk in immediately, traveling some kind of shortcut path from my eyes to the area of my brain that had made a quiet, private list of the consequences of those photos the second Nate took them.
Everyone will see you, mock you, hate you.
You won’t get into law school.
Robin York is the author of Deeper. She grew up at a college, went to college, signed on for some more college, and then married a university professor. She still isn’t sure why it didn’t occur to her to write New Adult sooner. Writing as Ruthie Knox, she is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance, including RITA-nominated About Last Night and Room at the Inn. She moonlights as a mother, makes killer salted caramels, and sorts out thorny plot problems while running, hiking, or riding her bike.