Some stories stick with you a long, long time. Twenty years ago, a friend named Rob recounted a horrifying scene that he had witnessed at a local country club. Rob was seated where he could observe a group of members who had been drinking heavily. One of them, a prominent local man, grabbed his wife by the crotch and announced to everyone, “See this? I bought and paid for it. None of you can afford it!”
Rob later learned that this man regularly beat his wife, but the local doctors “owed” him, so they patched her up and sent her home. All the best local attorneys were in his debt as well, so there was nowhere for this woman to turn.
I knew of this man and his wife. After all, they were regulars on the society pages. I’d seen the woman around town and I often admired her beautiful clothes and jewelry. Now I winced to think of the shame and pain that she lived with daily.
In Make, Take, Murder, I called this abused woman Cindy Gambrowski. In the first scene of the book, my protagonist Kiki Lowenstein is Dumpster-diving for her lost paycheck when she reaches into a pile of trash and pulls up Cindy’s severed leg. (And yes, Gambrowski is a bit of a pun, since “gam” is slang for an especially attractive female leg.)
To write accurately about Cindy’s life, I consulted with an expert on domestic violence. I also talked to a judge and an attorney to get the legalities right.
I tried to put myself in Cindy’s place. To the outside world, she has everything. But she’s living in a cruel cage, and her jailer is her husband. Knowing that abusers don’t stop, I wondered, “What might a woman risk to be free?”
Readers will quickly learn that Cindy isn’t the only abused woman in the book. Again, my domestic violence expert filled me in on what happens when a woman with kids tries to escape her persecutor. My expert also explained to me one of the common ways that an abuser often tracks down his family. I also learned about some of the psychological baggage that later marks the psyche of an abused woman.
Even though I outline, there are often surprises along the way. In this book, I decided to create WAR, the Women’s Above-ground Railroad, a fictitious organization that would assist women who needed to escape from abusers. My imagination conjured up a dedicated and secretive group of women who would help their frightened sisters adopt new identities in new towns.
Wow, was I ever shocked when my domestic abuse expert told me that such an organization really does exist!
When I finished the book, I felt so passionate about the cause that I donated a portion of my advance to Lydia’s House, which provides transitional housing for abused women and their children in the St. Louis area. I also included information about abuse in my acknowledgement section. It’s my hope that one of my readers might recognize the signs of an abusive relationship early enough that she can escape the sort of torture that Cindy Gambrowski endured.
Note: The “official” release date for Make, Take, Murder is May 8, but most bookstores already have their copies in stock. But before you visit, call and ask if they have their copies of Make, Take, Murder. Also…whenever possible, please put your money where your house is and buy locally.