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October 21, 2020

Swimmers and Abuse: A Cold and Quiet Place #NewFiction #YAFiction

by Alison DeLuca

Sometimes the deepest scars can be invisible.

I did a lot of research about competitive swimming and emotional abuse as I wrote A Cold and Quiet Place. This Young Adult novel is about a young swimmer who suffers horrible emotional abuse from her boyfriend, who is also a swimmer. 

As Lily chases her Olympic dream at a prestigious boarding school, she meets Tyler. He's athletic, gorgeous, and seems to understand her. Lily thinks she's found the perfect boyfriend. 

But his support turns into something dark and very disturbing. As I wrote about Tyler, I kept two words on my notepad: 

Emotional abuse is both twisted and slippery. It's extremely difficult to define as it happens, since there are no bruises. Hence my tagline about invisible scars. 

Lily discovers that anything she says to Tyler gets twisted into a demand or an insult or both. If she doesn't text him back right away, he punishes her by making her text and call continuously for days until he finally answers back. 

Abusers like to isolate their victims, since it makes the abuse easier to enact. In A Cold and Quiet Place, Tyler forces Lily to abandon her friends, making him her only source of interaction. It's a terrifying situation that is playing out right now for thousands - maybe millions - of abuse victims. They feel, as Lily feels, that there is no escape.

So why base this novel about emotional abuse on the world of swimming?

Competitive swimming is a fascinating sport. Those athletes fight themselves every day by getting up at ungodly hours to jump into a freezing pool, summer and winter. There are no cheering crowds, only a coach and a timekeeper. 

As I researched the sport, I realized that swimmers are conditioned to survive situations most of us couldn't bear. "Pain is temporary," I overheard one coach say at a meet, "but victory is forever." 

Lily is excellent at overcoming pain. This makes her a strong athlete and, sadly, the perfect candidate for emotional abuse. In the book, I mixed this with the isolation that comes from attending boarding school, as well as confronting social media bullies amidst the usual trials of being fifteen.

My research into emotional abuse uncovered the youth of many victims, kids who were just trying to navigate class and friendship and hormones. Their mental health suffered at a time when they needed it the most. 

I tried to reflect all of this in my novel about Lily: a girl who just wants friends and a nice boyfriend as well as realizing her most precious Olympic dreams. All of that is jeopardized when Tyler chooses her as his target. 

I also tried to give him a bit of a backstory - why was Tyler like this? Why was power so important that he spent all his time making his girlfriend feel weak? Was it the way his dad treated him or just a trick of genetics? 

Twisted. For some reason, Tyler (and other abusers) are twisted into people who crave power so much they destroy the ones they love to get it.

And - slippery. Emotional abuse can be difficult to define, so much so that the victims wonder (as Lily wonders in the book) is this really happening? Am I making this up? Is this all in my imagination, and am I the one who is to blame?

No wonder, then, those victims go through mental trauma - especially the younger ones.

In the end, A Cold and Quiet Place is not a love story. Or perhaps it is, but it is Lily's love for herself, for her family, and for those true friends who stick around during the very worst of times. 

A Cold and Quiet Place will be published in print on Halloween, 2020, with Kindle and audiobook to follow. You can find out more and sign up to read it here.

Buy A Cold and Quiet Place at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently, she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey. Connect with Alison on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest, and her blog.

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