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August 2, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Christa Desir

Kate Hart
headshot of Christa Desir
2016 has been a big year for Christa Desir, book-wise: In January, Simon Pulse released her third novel, Other Broken Things. In February, she was part of The V-Word, an anthology looking at virginity and the loss thereof, and in May, she and co-author Jolene Perry celebrated the release of their novel Love Blind.

I've always admired Christa's willingness to take on tough topics -- and not just in fiction. From her work with rape victims and incarcerated women, to her willingness to share the ups and down of publishing, speak up on issues of injustice, and share her own story as a survivor, Christa's combination of vulnerability, determination, and bravery make her a truly badass lady. (Make sure to scroll down for a chance to win ALL of her books!)

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Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Christa: I’ve had a million jobs in my life, starting at the age of 11 when I made tiny piecemeal napkin rings using a hot glue gun and fake tree sprigs. Probably there are few jobs I haven’t done: I taught kickboxing, I negotiated talent for the Marlboro cowboys, I was a receptionist in a dentist’s office, I edited erotic romance novels, I was a CFO for a small music company, I stage managed plays at a community theatre, I wrote free-standing inserts for Summer’s Eve douches. I get restless and like to try new things constantly. Mostly, I like to help out people who need it which is where many of my jobs came from. I’ve always written in one form or another, but writing novels is relatively new to me. I started late (about 6 years ago) and fell in love with this type of writing. My passion has always been working with rape survivors. I’ve done that longer than probably anything else in my life. I started volunteering for Rape Victim Advocates in hospital ERs when I was 22. I’ve done advocacy for survivors in one way or another for almost 20 years. My debut novel, FAULT LINE, came out of a writing workshop for rape survivors and half the proceeds from that novel go back into supporting future workshops.


Christa Desir in roller derby gearKate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Christa: I co-host a podcast with Carrie Mesrobian about sex in YA books. Demystifying and reclaiming sex has always been an interest of mine. I would say that the podcast probably makes me think about the topic more in my own writing, but it’s hard to say which came first there.

Additionally, my advocacy and politics have always influenced my writing. It’s hard to separate the two. I tend to include “helpers” in my books, even if the helpers don’t end up solving any problems. I want them there. I want teenagers to know they’re there.

Until very recently, I also did roller derby which was a more creative outlet than you might suspect and helped me channel a lot of stuff into my writing that I otherwise might not have. When you surround yourself with badass strong women in gold sequence shorts who are constantly cheering you on or trash talking about your crappy t-stops, it sort of reminds you that you’re amazing to be doing this crazy thing at 42. It became easier for me to write female characters who really believed in themselves.


Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Christa: Feeling like I don’t deserve to be invited to the table. Not just in writing, but in life. I am quite aware of my own flaws and that self-actualization sadly doesn’t translate as well into an awareness of the things I do well. I apologize too much. I often think I’m unworthy of any sort of esteem. I have excellent taste in people and books, and it is difficult to be surrounded by greatness when you mostly feel like you should be back down in the minors getting water for everyone.


Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Christa: I have a book that I love more than anything (OTHER BROKEN THINGS). I’m unapologetic about how much I love it because it’s incredibly personal to me. Even now, I read it and love it and wish more people would read it because it got sort of lost in the shuffle. I got a Kirkus review for it that said it had “a lot of potential but only achieved mediocrity.” I cried in the car for four hours on my way home from my inlaws after I read that. I asked my editor to stop sending me any reviews. I’ve had lots of shitty reviews, but that one hurt the most because it fed into my fear that this part of me is really not all that great. Not the writing part of me, but the human part of me. The part that put all my heart into something and presented it to the world only for the world to say “mediocre!”


cover of BLEED LIKE ME by C.Desir cover of FAULT LINE by C. Desir cover of LOVE BLIND by C. Desir and Jolene Perry cover of OTHER BROKEN THINGS by C. Desir



Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Christa: I’m proud of the letters my readers send me. Most of those who write me are not big readers and they tell me that they hadn’t read in a long time until my book. I love this. I want us all to be in the business of cultivating more readers. Publishing needs more readers before they need more books. If my brand becomes “writes books for kids who don’t read” then I would be super pleased with my life.



Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Christa: I was raped when I was 6, but didn’t tell anyone about it until I was 15. My feminism roared to life my senior year of high school. I was pretty done with the way you always had to pretend to be something else if you wanted to have someone fall in love with you. I think I wasted a lot of years trying to get someone to fall in love with me because I thought it would make me happy. I was unprotected as a child and had bought into the whole notion that if I could just be better in some vague way, then I’d be more lovable. But by my senior year, when I’d had lots of sex and no real love, I figured out that I wasn’t going to find love until I started to really like myself. So I surrounded myself with women who built me up instead of tearing me down. I got deep into the politics of sexual assault and consent and how to reclaim your own sexual agency. I found my voice slowly over time, volunteering in domestic violence and then in sexual assault and then becoming involved with incarcerated teen girls (whose rate of sexual abuse is staggering).



boxes of books to be donated to Cook County Juvenile Center
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Christa: I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking through the Voices and Faces Project. But at the end of the day, the best work I’ve ever done is when I’m out in the field. Some people are better at public policy and working towards female empowerment on a macro level. For me, I’m better in crisis situations or in one-on-one direct service. Everyone has a role to play in dismantling the patriarchy. Mine happens to be in making connections on a personal level. For example, I have lunches or book club with the incarcerated teen girls at Cook County and we talk about sexual violence and what consent really looks like. It’s eye opening to hear about it from their perspective because it’s not like they’re all enlightened feminists who have a solid sense of self. They’re mostly unprotected with very few resources. So even explaining that sex doesn’t have to be transactional on any level (and by transactional, I mean that girls don’t owe guys sex just because they did something nice for them) is a pretty intense conversation. Similarly, talking with high school students about writing testimony and using my story to change how people view rape has opened a lot of doors. I’m not shy about my story and made a decision a long time ago to never be muzzled by what happened to me. I want that for other girls and feel like we can all model that.

The other way I encourage women to support other women is to endeavor not to fall into comparison and competition. Women are works of art, masterpieces in their own right, so treating them like mirrors in which we compare ourselves only perpetuates unnecessary insecurity and self-loathing. I try hard to approach most things in life with a “mercy before judgment” motto because God knows I’ve needed plenty of mercy in my fuck-ups. I’m doubly conscious of that when it comes to women. We’re criticized enough; we don’t need to go after each other.

Above all, listen. To me, the path to empathy has always been in listening to the experiences of others. Particularly when it comes to intersectional feminism and stepping aside for marginalized women to take the stage in feminist circles.


Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Christa: Read, listen, observe the world, think, be curious, trust your instincts, don’t follow a crowd, learn as much as you can about as many things as you can, be gracious, allow for anger when it’s warranted, don’t apologize for taking up the space you deserve, but recognize that compassion and forgiveness are valuable qualities and integral to building bridges to understanding. And wake up every day knowing what matters to you and working to achieve that.


GIVEAWAY

Win a copy of ALL of Christa's books!
(US only)

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Christa Desir writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include FAULT LINE, BLEED LIKE ME, OTHER BROKEN THINGS, and LOVE BLIND. She lives with her husband, three children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside of Chicago. She has been working as a rape victim activist for nearly twenty years, both in hospital ERs as an advocate and as a public speaker. She is a founding member of the Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit organization for rape survivors that conducts an international survivor-based testimonial writing workshop, including working with incarcerated teens. She also works at an independent bookstore.

website  //  voices and faces  //  twitter  


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2 comments:

  1. Excellent interview! Christa is wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I appreciate Christa's honesty, and her passion to be as authentic as possible. Her books are incredible, all of them.

    ReplyDelete

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