I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable when it comes to issues involving social justice. That hasn’t always been the case. As a teenager, there was a lot I didn’t know and many opinions I held that I now rebuke. Kate Hart’s After the Fall deals with that tricky period between knowing and not, that many of us tend to forget we went through. If you’re looking for an immersive contemporary that captures the messy necessity of that very period, this is the book for you.
In After the Fall, Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt… and his slacker brother, Andrew. Matt doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.
I’d love to hear about the process of getting the words for After the Fall on the page. Did you writing happen in a cafe? A library? At home and squeezed between work? Pantser or planner?
I wrote the first draft of this book in six weeks… almost seven years ago. There have been a lot of rewrites and revisions since then, which took place almost entirely at home between freelance jobs, family business duties, and writing other manuscripts. However, the book’s biggest revision was finished on a camping trip, where the lack of wifi was helpful until it came time to email the draft to my editor. I ended up sending it from a Lowe’s parking lot in Oklahoma.
In the beginning of After the Fall , your characters are not educated on matters such as sexual assault. As the novel progresses, the reader witnesses an education in action, with the characters expanding their worldview on assault, how to be a ‘good guy,’ and what consent means. What drove you to write the story of teens evolving in such a way, rather than one where on page-one they know these things?
By the time I rewrote After the Fall in 2013, rape culture terminology was entering the mainstream, and I had done some supplementary research (and spent a lot of time on Tumblr). But when I wrote the first draft in 2010, I was trying to articulate the ideas to myself without a solid vocabulary on the topic – and that was at age thirty. I certainly didn’t have a framework to process assault when it happened to me in high school. So the characters’ evolving understanding was a natural development of my own, just sped up a few decades.
One of the perspectives in After the Fall is that of Matt, who is well-intentioned but not necessarily adept at bring those intentions into fruition. At times, his personality touches on the ‘nice guy’ who wants to respect women, while avoiding the actual application of consent. Can you speak to why you found it important to include the perspective of a character on the ‘other side’ who struggled with the application of feminist ideas?
I think this is a trap we all fall into, whether with sexism or racism or homophobia or any other prejudice our society ingrains in us. It’s easy to spout ideals, but it’s harder to see where you yourself are perpetuating the very things you abhor. Matt’s attitudes are shared by people of all genders, and I think his POV reminds the reader that even “good” feminists find themselves slut shaming and second guessing assault stories when that alternative benefits us and our worldview.
As a low-income assault survivor yourself, what would you hope a young reader who has also survived assault would ultimately take away from After the Fall?
Well, to be honest, by the time I was in high school, my family had reached middle class, so I don’t want to claim to speak for folks who grew up in actual poverty. But there were certainly times as a kid when my mom had to borrow toilet paper from the neighbors so we could make it to pay day. Growing up with financial uncertainty gave me a chip on my shoulder that I’ve never lost, which has been both a burden and a blessing. It’s made me work harder. But sometimes you can’t help resenting the extra work, especially when people are constantly telling you how grateful you should be to have the work at all.
My self-worth has always been tied up in that work and perceptions of its success, which are unavoidably also tied up in money, and adding assault to the mix made it almost impossible for me to see my own value for a long time. So I guess my hope is that readers who identify with Raychel will come away a little more convinced that they alone determine their own worth – and that they’re worthy of any opportunities that come their way, even if those opportunities don’t take the shape they’re hoping for. You don’t need the shiniest ladder out of a bad situation, you just need a solid one pointing in the right direction, and the will to climb it.