From the Front Lines: Breaking Away From A Bully

It couldn’t be more ironic if we had been reading lines from a script.

Today’s early morning drive along Route 7 was pleasant enough, as I wound my way from Morgantown, W.Va., to Kingwood. It even included a serene interlude with an old friend at a Reedsville café. From there I continued driving east, to hear Judge Larry Miller sentence a man convicted of first-degree murder in a case of deadly domestic violence.

But before I could leave Kingwood and return home I had to file a police complaint–after I found myself facing a bully who wouldn’t back down.

* * *

I was sitting in the hallway outside Preston County Circuit Court when I saw her. I didn’t miss the cold glare in my direction, but I ignored it. Instead, I looked away and continued chatting with another reporter. Everyone was ushered into the courtroom not long after, where we sat through Denny Ervin’s hearing. I wanted to write about its outcome but instead I’ll direct you to two other worthwhile news reports.

And simply say this: Denny Ervin is an animal, and I have emails from his exes that prove it. Emails I’ve written about in earlier blogs. He carried out acts of terrorism that no one should have to endure, and a life sentence without mercy is too good for him.

But that’s all I’m saying about Denny because I’m writing about my personal experience with a different bully, and how I handled it.

I’m pretty sure Dr. Phil would approve.

At the hearing’s end, everyone filed out of the courtroom and I saw her. Standing there, with that same intimidating stare. Her body language was equally threatening, and I felt the need to step to the side just to avoid her. She tried to engage me, as I suspected she might, but I cut her off, using humor to try to defuse the situation.

“Hey, thanks for reading my column,” I said with a smile and a thumps-up sign.

My humor fell flat. She said something which in legal terms would probably qualify as an assault. I couldn’t say now what it was, but I do know it was a threat of some kind or other, designed to cow me into keeping silent about thirteen years of domestic terrorism that began when I was a teenage bride.

I looked her directly in the eye. “If you ever contact me again, I will go to the police.” I was speaking about her periodic and harassing Facebook messages—messages designed to scare me and assassinate my character. Full of comments such as, “you can’t rape the willing.”

Then I walked right past her.

* * *

In 1999 I drove my daughters to Ruby Memorial Hospital and waited there with them because their stepmother was having problems during her pregnancy. They were really worried about her and their unborn half-sibling, so I took them. I didn’t just do it for my daughters; I did it for her. I believed it was the humane thing to do, the right thing to do, and a simple act of kindness. I also thought it might engender some goodwill from a woman who has hated me since she married my children’s father. Hoped it might show her I wasn’t the evil witch my ex made me out to be, and that I had a heart.

I always did. Before he remarried, whenever my children grumbled about another one of their father’s girlfriends, I tried to encourage them to see the bright side: “Look at it this way. It’s just one more person to love you.” I did the same thing with his new wife. Besides, with a woman around, I believed they stood a better chance of being protected from his violence.

* * *

In the courthouse basement after the hearing I stood chatting with two reporters. By the time I left the building, she was there. Waiting for me. I knew that the minute I saw her. She made sure I couldn’t reach my car without passing her, because she intended to continue intimidating me, to issue more threats. I did the same thing I did throughout most of my first marriage: I turned the other cheek.

She followed me, her voice louder, trying to force me into an ugly confrontation. That’s when I did it. I wheeled around to face her.

And said the only thing I’ve wanted to since 1999, not long before she went to the hospital for prenatal problems. “You let that man abuse my children until social services got involved and removed them from your home.” I raised my arm and pointed directly at her. “You let him do that!”

“I wasn’t at home,” she said.

Disgusted, I turned to go. She tried to follow me, spewing whatever threats she felt compelled to utter. By then the crowd that had gathered outside the courthouse could hear her yelling. Everyone was watching us. Even a court bailiff had come outside to see if there was a problem.

This is why I told my story,
and why I won’t stop telling it.

“Stay away from me!” I said, headed for my car. She followed me, still chattering. I opened my door, stopped, and shut it. Turning around, I walked past her.

“Go ahead, go tell the police,” she taunted.

It was great advice.

* * *

My readers usually wonder what happened after Eddie and I divorced. Many have even written to ask me. It’s hard to talk about and even more difficult to write about because Eddie and his new wife cost me a lot. I left the best job I’d had up to that point, in May 1999, and traveled 3,000 miles to help my daughters after they were forced to leave their father’s home.

Those are a few of my losses. But my children lost even more.

I spent the intervening years with this woman taking issue with me and now, my memoir—which doesn’t give Eddie’s real name, and which took place years before she ever met him.

I’ve contemplated it, and this is what I believe: it must be really hard to stay married to a man whose first wife has accused him of such horrible atrocities, and has the evidence to prove it—in the form of his own words. If you have to live with that lie, trying to convince yourself he’s a good guy, then you have no choice but to hate the woman he spent thirteen years raping. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and it’s something abused women do to survive.

So really, I pity her. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let her bully me. Sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself. I will not be a doormat. For anyone—male or female.

* * *

I have three books, and will soon have four. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is being used in colleges and some high schools; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), due out in July 2013.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

An Open Letter to All the Boyfriends I Didn’t Have

Sometimes they’re angry and sometimes they’re sad. Many times they simply want to ask if I’m happy now. Or say they hope I am.

These are my readers, and they are men. They are the men who read my memoir, Sister of Silence. Not a few of them were once gangly teenage boys, on the verge of manhood but not quite there. We covertly passed around contraband—outlawed Raisinets and other candy—in class, chatted together on the school bus, or acted opposite each other in stage plays.

None of them were my boyfriend, not for lack of trying. Nor did a single boy ever cross the line so as to honestly claim some kind of physical contact. I was all prim and proper, and that wasn’t in my nature.

Well, one boy did try. He was that ornery—albeit very cute—kid I passed every day in the school bus aisle my senior year. He pinched my backside, probably because he wanted to know if all the rumors were true about the “snow queen” with the long blonde hair.

We’ll call him Norm. I still remember it. I didn’t even think. I just reacted. The slap that was heard around the school actually came from my hand making contact with his cheek, and brought us instant celebrity. Norm’s daring antic and my no-nonsense response made for great hallway, locker room, and even, years later, high school reunion fodder.

While I gave Norm the evil eye for the rest of the year, by the time I graduated, he was forgiven. I realized he meant no harm. We’ve rarely seen each other since high school, but that adolescent episode never fails to entertain all our friends when we do, and it’s accompanied by good-natured teasing and lots of laughter every time.

The biggest reason those high school guys never tried to touch me, never came close to being my beau, however, is because I was taken. Not by a boyfriend, although at the time I thought he qualified—but by the family friend who made sure no one else could have me. He wasn’t some pimply-faced youth; he was an adult.

This most recent inquiry didn’t come to me via email or Facebook. It was from someone parked somewhere in New York state, and when my phone vibrated, I found his text message while parked in my car outside a local deli last week.

I just finished your book. I have a lot of feelings, but I am happy that you were able to gain control of your life. I hope the rest of it makes up for some of the horrors that you had to endure.

At first, I thought it was a random female reader—until I realized I hadn’t updated the contact list on my new iPhone. Then I realized: it was Roger Castle, the fellow who was practically a neighbor back then, but who really had a major crush on my sister, Lisa. Not me.

I had given him a copy of my book over lunch recently, when he, my husband, and I chatted about our native Preston County, our weird-yet-shared connection to county surveyors there, our families and . . . the proper way to barbecue. Turns out, Roger is quite the grill master, and his homemade sauce is the best I’ve ever tasted. (He also said it was fine to share his comments with my readers.)

I could tell Roger was troubled and needed to tell me why. So I called him, and as my carryout dinner grew cold, I listened. He began by saying he was surrounded by a very large group of men, barbecuing and doing the outdoor things men do, and he couldn’t put my book down until he turned the last page.

Roger told me he couldn’t understand how I had survived everything I did, and what was particularly troubling to me, at least, is how he seemed to blame himself.  And wished he could have helped me, all those years ago.

They always apologize, these men who write. For not knowing the sins of one of their own, for not seeing the signs, for not being able to protect me or stop the abuse. Sometimes, they tell me they would have beat up my boyfriend, who later became my ex-husband, if they had known. If only they could have. These words bring tears to my eyes and fill me with comfort. They provide a small measure of solace in a very large way.

And sometimes, they leave me wishing for the way things weren’t. For that boyfriend who would have acted like I was the center of his world, who could have treated me with love and kindness, who should have been more concerned about my health and happiness than his own sexual gratification.

I know good men still exist. The words men like Roger and others write confirm this. But none of those men were my boyfriend. Yes, I had a few crushes, only one of which went even to the point of a chaste kiss. But once I was molested at age thirteen, by the man who claimed me as his property, there was no other boy. No other boyfriend.

I now realize there were many boys I smiled at or even spoke to every day in school who wanted a chance to be my beau, if only I wasn’t already taken. This is what I would tell them: it wasn’t your fault, any more than it was mine. If I couldn’t see what was happening to me, couldn’t comprehend it until years later, how could you? That was a job for the adults in our lives, not one that we as immature teenagers were equipped to handle.

So please, let yourself off the hook. Forgive yourself, for you did nothing wrong. Neither did I. That is our common bond, one we could all do well to remember.

Life has a way of working itself out and if what happened to me hadn’t, I would not be where I am right now, speaking up and warning other women not waste a single breath being a doormat for any man who is so selfish he cannot love himself, much less anyone else. Life is too short, and there are plenty of good men out there. I know this, because they write to me. Or their wives do, telling me wonderful things about them.

All you have to do is open your eyes and look for them, because sometimes they’re sitting right beside you wanting more than anything to be your boyfriend. These are the men who will protect you and fight for you—not with you. They really will.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Surviving, Not Just Graduation, But Life

Thirty-four years ago this year I marched down a grassy ball field in Masontown, West Virginia, pinkie finger intertwined with that of Mike Sheets, my fellow classmate. We marched to “Pomp and Circumstance,” the same tune thousands of other graduates will march to this month and even next, as American commencements continue into June.

May is a month marked by graduation speeches: from pre-K to high school to college, guest speakers have tried to choose the perfect words for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. They’ve probably sought words that are dignified yet celebratory, serious yet not so weighty as to feel like an anchor. Much of what they say will be lost on the graduates, whose heads will be full of plans for the future, whose minds will be on changing the world or whose thoughts will be anticipating that other equally important tradition: the graduation party. (Or, of more immediate concern, how to keep their mortarboard from sliding off, or the tassel from hanging down into their eyes.)

“You expect me to believe that Mike???”
Photo credit: As appeared in the
1980 edition of the Panther Press.

I don’t know what I would say if I were giving a graduation speech, but I can tell you what I was thinking and doing thirty-four years ago. I was not, despite what my yearbook claims, expressing disbelief in what Mike was saying. I was not wondering when a West Preston High administrator would call my name for some academic award or even what party I would be going to after commencement ended, since I knew I would be celebrating with my family.

I was thinking about whether I could safely make it across the field without tripping in my four-inch high heels. I was also terrified that someone, anyone, in the audience, or one my classmates, would discover I was hiding a baby bump under my gown. I realized, too, how odd it was to be graduating a year early, while many of my childhood friends were still trapped, destined to spend another year in high school.

I was also angry that my fiancé wasn’t there to witness my accomplishment: his claim about working overtime should have been a red flag flapping right in front of my face, a brief glimpse into the next ten years of my life. I know I felt no small measure of trepidation, since my wedding day was one week away. Finally, I was thinking about how grown up I was, and how I could handle anything, as evidenced by the small bit of grease staining my cuticle—a testament to the flat tire I changed all by myself before commencement began.

Much of my thoughts were wrong, though. This is why, and here’s what I’ve learned since then: Don’t waste more than a few minutes of your time on anyone who won’t do the same for you in return. Better yet, when it comes to relationships designed with permanency in mind, such as those in marriage or business, if that person doesn’t first give to you, at least fifty-percent of the time, ditch them before you spend half your life being the giver, while silently resenting how much your partner is taking. If someone you love repeatedly disappoints you now, while you’re dressing for tonight’s graduation, they’re going to continue doing that very selfish behavior as long as you let them.

I’ve also learned this: money does not buy happiness. It buys things and stuff, which might make you wonder why people want to spend time with you, if they really love you—or if they only love what you can do for them. Also, buying things and stuff might give you temporary pleasure, but it won’t reach your heart or touch your soul. So give back, and give more than you take. It’s not thinking ’what do I get?’ but ‘what can I give?’ that will make you content. You see, the Golden Rule really is true: there is more happiness in giving than receiving.

I’ve learned that everyone—every single one of us—has a dirty little secret we’d rather keep hidden, so you are not alone. Chances are, if your secret is no worse than being pregnant at sixteen or getting pie-eyed on your father’s homemade wine, it isn’t going to cause anyone to hate you, or even think of less of you. Keeping secrets somehow makes us believe we’re the only one who could be guilty of such “brazen” behavior, but guess what? Once you open up and tell the world, you’ll find out how to deal with your own problem, whatever it is—because most of us have not only already been there—we’ve got a solution, too.

Finally, I learned that things are rarely as they seem. For instance, the title “Pomp and Circumstance” came from a speech in Othello. So yes, we have Shakespeare to thank for this great song. No, seriously, we can thank another British composer, instead. Edward Elgar composed “March No. 1” in 1901 as part of six commissioned pieces, and chose to use the Bard’s words for the title of this beautiful piece.

An aside: Elgar didn’t pen the words for his tune; Arthur C. Benson did, in what has became known as “Land of Hope and Glory,” the song that Wikipedia says most Brits would choose as their national anthem, if they could.  The song that has become such an important part of American graduation exercises got its start here in 1905, when Yale University awarded Elgar an honorary doctorate in music.

Now, back to matters at hand: Ironically, Othello was convinced his wife, Desdemona, had cheated on him. Nothing could dissuade him of this false idea, which ultimately led to his downfall. The point is, though, he was tricked by something that seemed to be true, when it was nothing of the kind.

Whether through self-deception—believing you’re an adult at eighteen, and you know not just all the answers but all the questions, too—or another person’s deceit, it’s good not to take yourself too seriously. If you do, life is going to come along and hit you upside the noggin with a frying pan, hard enough to make you wish you were a child again. So be humble and know your limitations. Be willing to accept other people’s advice, when the person is trustworthy and has your best interests at heart.

Quite often, those people share your genes. I call them your parents. Or people who have taken care of you as if they were your parents, in case you’re an orphan of sorts, like so many of today’s youth. Listen to them, because they’ve spent a lifetime learning from their mistakes just so you don’t have to waste yours repeating them.

I also learned, pretty quickly, that a grassy ball field isn’t the best place for spikes. At least, not of the four-inch variety designed to make a woman’s legs look long and lean. First off, you’re going to look wobbly. Worse, you’re going to twist an ankle and perhaps take your pinkie-linking classmate with you. Besides, no one’s going to see your legs under that robe anyway. So stick to some low wedges or better yet, a sensible pair of flats.

Ultimately, I think that’s what my message to today’s graduates is: Yes, do go out there and grab life with both hands, make a dent in the world, even, but do it with a measure of sense about you. That way, you’ll still be around to enjoy life thirty-four years later.

* * *

If she was still alive, Skylar Neese would be graduating from University High School tonight.  I’m sure I’ll be joining many Morgantown residents in saluting the woman she would have become, had she not been killed long before she had a chance to reach her potential as a giver, not a taker. My congratulations go out to all of her friends, and every graduate who has successfully made it this far in life.

 * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Reflections On Female Sexuality Strike a Chord

One of the best rewards for writing—since it’s rarely the money—are the letters and emails I receive, like the following. Each one always contains some nugget of wisdom, and this one—from a Southern belle of just 76—contains many. It reminds us that for most women, life today is much better than it was decades ago. And we’re more honest in how we live it. Of course, there are still women out there who struggle with these problems, which is why I’m sharing this letter with my readers. I’ve reprinted it in its original form, after making sure the writer had no objection to me doing so. —Daleen

An amaryllis, also known as a naked lady

I just finished your book, which moved me profoundly and stirred up some long-repressed memories of my own. I am 76 years old and have been a lifelong observer of the plights of women as they try to reconcile their personal religious training and hormonal urges with what they are ‘told’ they OUGHT to be feeling by standards set in romantic or erotic literature and what is depicted in films with the reality of their marital lives.

I daresay that, at least for the majority of women of my generation, our lives were more sacrificed than lived. Females wanted love, so they bartered the promise of sex; and males wanted sex, so they bartered the promise of love. Having food, shelter, and protection from all the threats society proclaimed women were helpless to address themselves was a major component of accepting the proposal of marriage.

I remember a conversation I once had with my paternal grandmother when she was in her early 80’s and I had come to visit her, and to tell her that I had just learned that I was pregnant with my 3rd child. I thought she would be overjoyed at the news; but instead, she seemed dismayed. Since she was a staid and dignified person, I was startled when she suddenly wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close. I’ll never forget her words, as she crushed me to her starched bosom:

“Never mind, Dear ….. when men get in their 40’s, we don’t have to put up with it much anymore.”

Too stunned to reply, I watched her prepare tea, and as she concentrated on pouring it into two china cups, she casually commented, “Have you ever had a climax, Dear?” I had never discussed sex with even my closest lady friends, since in my religion any reference to a subject related to “impure thought” was a mortal sin; much less with my elegant, proper grandmother. But since she had asked, I felt honor-bound to respond; so I hesitantly admitted that, yes, on occasion, I actually had experienced a “climax.”

Her face took on a sad, wistful look. “so then, they ARE real…” she stated, as if to herself. I learned over tea with her that afternoon that neither she, nor any women friends or relatives of her acquaintance, had ever had an orgasm. During their entire married unions, they had always “pretended,” for the sake of their husbands’ egos; lest he think his wife considered him an inadequate lover. Because they had read romantic literature and they had seen movies where the heroines spontaneously thrilled and throbbed at a man’s first thrust; yet had not themselves experienced anything remotely like that (and, in fact, found intercourse to be uncomfortable, often painful and embarrassingly messy — albeit mandatory), they kept to themselves a terrible guilt; assuming themselves to be “frigid.”

Sex, for generations of women, was something they did in order to make someone else happy. Far from giving them(selves) physical or emotional pleasure, sex was the price they paid in order not to be abandoned to a society where unmarried women were objects of pity and ridicule, and where their options were limited to becoming teachers, nurses, or librarians….. inevitably destined to become the live-in caretakers of aging parents or siblings.

It was the only time my grandmother and I ever spoke of such things. But I’ve remembered that afternoon conversation very often through my life; especially her concluding comment, which was: “Sometimes I think there is no such thing as a ‘frigid woman;’ there are only clumsy men.”

Editor’s note: Award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of Full Bone Moon) and I are writing the book about Skylar Neese’s murder, which will be published by BenBella Books in Fall 2014.

It’s Official: My TEDx talk, “Silence Isn’t Golden—It’s Red,” is Live!

That just about says it all. But it certainly doesn’t tell the backstory.

I think I’ve been speaking in public since I was about ten. Rarely do I get nervous. My TED talk was different. Maybe that’s because you know the status given to TED talks. Okay, so this wasn’t for the TED conference, but for a mini-TED, or TEDx, as the college-related events are known. Still, the people who speak at these events have set the bar really high.

That could explain why I was nervous and afraid I would forget my “lines” when I got on stage. But I didn’t, and this is probably why. When I got the invitation, it was mid-February. I had another speaking engagement a month away. The two events were nothing alike, although there turned out to be some overlap in the topic. Still, I began brainstorming right away.

Without spoiling it for you, let me just say the invitation came because of my story, as told in my memoir, Sister of Silence. Because of the way I try to get people to realize we must act differently. Steve Garguilo heard that story and suggested I speak at the TEDx Connecticut event. Steve was a huge help throughout, even though he’s several time zones away in Switzerland. He helped me to focus, and urged me to let my talk reflect what I’m passionate about. As a result, this is not like any talk I’ve given before, so I hope you’ll watch it at YouTube. (And please rate it or comment afterward.)

Aditya “Adi” Harnal did a great job leading Team TEDx Connecticut College.

This talk really did take a village. A fellow writer friend, Diane Tarantini, was among those villagers. She helped a lot, and read every revision. By the time I left for the Hawaii conference in March, I thought I had it nailed. Even while I was gone, I continued revising. By the time I returned, TEDx Connecticut College was three weeks away. Diane suggested we do a dry run with some other writers. I practiced daily at home until then, with an audience of one. I thought it was good enough. But this was a TED talk, so good enough wasn’t going to cut it. Sure enough, the dry run showed my weak spots. A local arts spot donated space to practice and writers Diane, Dorothy Ours, Buddy Guthrie, and Ted Webb gathered round to listen. (My husband was the only non-writer among us.)

Their feedback was invaluable to what turned out to be one of the best talks I believe I’ve ever given. Which goes to show the importance of not isolating yourself, when you’re working on a creative project. Or of being so afraid of falling on your face, you don’t even let anyone else hear your ideas. Feedback is crucial, and lets you walk away with a work product that’s as good as it gets.

My husband and I boarded the Amtrak in Cumberland for an entire day’s ride to New London, CT. That gave me time to edit and rehearse some more, as well as a chance to relax. (Which I really needed, since I’d been working nonstop on my talk for what by then felt like months.) From the minute we arrived, students on the TEDx Connecticut College team became like the apostle Paul: they were literally whatever I needed. Chauffeur, host, midnight-errand-runner-extraordinaire, cheerleader, coach. You name it, they became it. Aditya, Amy, Ryan, Gabriella, Morgan, Benedikt, and others I’m sure I’ve forgotten, were all wonderful.

We arrived late Thursday for Friday’s rehearsal. That’s when I did forget part of my talk. But what’s most interesting is this: I was telling a story and when I became that character, the minute I opened my mouth, out came this southern accent that I never even thought to incorporate into the talk. It wasn’t something I planned to do; it just happened. All of a sudden, it’s like I grew up in Texas, not central West Virginia. Because here, people don’t have that much of an accent. Certainly not like our southern neighbors.

The day of the event, I walked into the auditorium to see a beautiful TEDx stage. Everything was in place. Team TEDx had outdone themselves. I was torn between wanting to hear the other speakers and wanting to wanting to polish my words again and agin. But I forced myself to relax and enjoy everyone else. Until lunch, when I grabbed a few bites and then went to practice. The next thing I knew, the tech crew was fitting me for a mic and a minute later, I was on stage. I don’t even remember what I said. I just know it went better than I expected—even for my high standards.

I didn’t learn until after we arrived in New London that many of the TEDx team were graduating seniors. That means they had one month left to finish their schoolwork and prepare for graduation. Which made what they did, and the level of attention they gave to all the speakers (and in some cases, the speaker’s spouse or other family member), even more impressive. It’s obvious these are young people with an exceptional work ethic, who take pride in what they do.

That’s because that’s what TED is all about: sharing ideas and striving for the best. So when the event ended, Aditya told us we could mull over our theme and even change it, before the video went live. Which is what I did, but only after putting out a call for ideas. Originally it was “We Must Act on Red Flags” but at the brilliant suggestion of Diane, it became “Silence Isn’t Golden—It’s Red.”

As it turns out, especially in view of the Cleveland story that broke last week, that’s the perfect title for my talk.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

My Advice to Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus

It isn’t going to be easy and every day will be a struggle. Maybe not a physical fight to survive but certainly a psychological one. Some days you will do battle just to be happy. From time to time you will even look back and think dying would have been easier. In spite of that, you can do it!

That’s what I want to tell the courageous and heroic Cleveland women, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus. They were held hostage for the same length of time I was: 10 years, give or take. While there are major differences between our captivity, there are some similarities.

Like I said in my TEDx talk, “Silence Isn’t Golden—It’s Red,” last month: Three years of molestation led to my pregnancy at age 16. The blame, shame, and guilt I had known since eighth grade dogged my every step so I did the only thing I could: I married “Eddie.” By the time I learned he was doing the same thing to other 13-year-old girls, it was too late—I was his wife. When I left Eddie in 1990, three more children were the result of so many rapes I can’t begin to tally them all.

Rehearsing my TEDx talk at Connecticut College in April 2013.

This is where some major differences come in: Ariel Castro, who apparently wanted Amanda Berry’s unborn child to live, wanted Knight’s unborn children to die. So he starved her and punched her in the stomach until she miscarried—at least five times.

My ex was nothing like that. He was not brutal. He is damaged, yes. He is mean, yes. He is a child molester, yes. But Eddie wanted my pregnancies—because they verified his virility. Even if he doubted it himself, they were proof he was a man.

Nor did Eddie imprison me in chains or hold me hostage in our basement,  as Castro did with the three teens he abducted. My chains, though, were equally strong and every bit as effective.

But through it all I had something those teens did not: access to libraries, where I dug and dug until I found answers to my questions. Until I located a magazine article or a book that told me what I needed to know, to prepare me for my escape. To help me know how to survive, once I did get free.

I can only begin to imagine the years and years of work ahead for Berry, Knight and DeJesus to have happy, pain-free lives. The truth is, it won’t be free of pain. There will always be reminders. Sometimes they will come in the form of other victims’ stories, stories like this one. Then you will begin to feel ill—just a general sense of malaise, nothing specific. And you will get a fever blister the size of a nickel—from the stress of reading article after article.

Today I surround myself with reminders of what I’ve accomplished since then. Numerous writing awards hang on my office walls. Signs and pictures and Post-it notes, all remind me where I’ve come from. Who I am. Where I’m going. These positive, external tools give me a boost on an occasional bad day. They are visual cues to keep fighting. To survive, to thrive.

Sometimes they come in the form of an email, like one I received a few weeks ago. “You are saving lives,” was all a reader wrote.

As I told a TEDx audience in April, acting on the red flags around you means you can save someone else’s life. I was referring to the red flags we all need to watch for, to help protect children from sexual abuse. But red flags show up in many situations, especially in ones like this one. Where 10 years of repeated rapes and imprisonment make you long to die. That’s where you need to see the red flags in yourself.

So to Berry, Knight and DeJesus, I want to say this: For now the someone you need to save, day after day, is you.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Cleveland Case Shocks World, Shows Dire Need for Amber Alert Changes

Ohio isn’t the only place full of stunned people today. The world joins them after learning that three missing girls—each gone for about 10 years—were found alive in a Cleveland neighborhood Monday.

Before I outline why we’re so happy and simultaneously repelled, let me just say this to the three girls who have now become women, in a manner no child ought to. You aren’t alone. Not by a long shot. And you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your value doesn’t come from what has been done to you—it comes from who you are inside. That’s not an easy lesson to learn after 10 years in captivity, but it’s the single most valuable lesson that will determine how your future unfolds.

Skylar Neese

For the rest of us, those of us who have lived beside or walked down the street past boarded-up houses where we wondered about the sanity of the person inside, please remember this: the next time you hear cries for help or think your eyes are playing tricks on you, do your civic duty like the good folks in Cleveland did. Call 911. If they don’t respond, keep calling.

Don’t ignore that little voice inside you that says something is wrong. It’s called intuition and it’s there for a reason—to warn you when danger is nearby. When the police do show up, don’t just stay inside and hide behind the curtains, either. Step outside and tell them exactly what you know. Being dispatched to a call by a 911 operator is much different than looking into the eyes of someone who has seen humans being treated worse than animals.

Thankfully, there are many wonderful and incredible highlights to this story. Among them, a courageous Amanda Berry (no relation to me that I know of) has enough presence of mind and fortitude to scream for help. A Good Samaritan then helps Berry claw her way to freedom. He does this by kicking down the door to the house where she, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have been held hostage in cruel and inhumane conditions.

A little girl, obviously the offspring of one of the kidnapped and raped women, comes out with Berry. She, too, has been held against her will, making for a fourth kidnap victim. We learned she was at least permitted to leave her temporary prison at 2210 Seymour Avenue, going to the park with one of her captors on occasion. We’ve since learned this child is Berry’s daughter, born six years ago. You don’t have to be a math major to figure that one out. (In another ironic twist, to me at least, the little girl’s name is Jocelyn—and the name of one of my daughters.)

What is most appalling to me is what these men—these animals who comprise the brothers Castro—did to these three women’s unborn babies. They said they were beaten so badly that five other conceptions ended in miscarriage. That in itself is bad enough. But going without medical care after a miscarriage can lead to infection or worse, hemorrhage. Equally troubling—and because of my past experience, this is my biggest concern—is the psychological damage these women have suffered.

Then there is Charles Ramsey, the Good Samitarian whose heroism and candor have earned him a spot on every early morning news show in America. Somebody get that man a limo and a tux—since he clearly knows what to do when he sees evidence that simply doesn’t look right.

Unlike the Cleveland police, who summarily dismissed, ignored or simply didn’t respond to repeated calls for help about the strange happenings inside this domestic prison. Happenings like nude women on dog leashes, crawling in the dirt on all fours outside in Castro’s backyard. That’s the most grievous evidence they overlooked, but it certainly isn’t the only thing. The neighbors who reported that, though, said Cleveland cops didn’t even bother showing up to investigate. (Although police did show up at the bus driver’s house on other occasions when they were called. If you can call knocking on the front door and walking around the side of the house an investigation.)

Then there is the as-yet-underreported piece of this story: the Amber Alert that didn’t happen. At least not for Gina. According to the Associated Press, because no one saw her being abducted in 2004, the police wouldn’t issue the alert. (Gina simply didn’t come home from school.) The girl’s father, Felix DeJesus, was told “the alerts must be reserved for cases in which danger is imminent and the public can be of help in locating the suspect and child.”

Felix DeJesus has since said people “will listen even if the alerts become routine.” And of course they will. When a child goes missing, the world stops. Everyone who isn’t psychotic knows what a missing child means—and why it’s crucial to drop everything and begin looking.

“The Amber Alert should work for any missing child,” Felix DeJesus said in 2006. That’s regardless of why they’re missing.

Sadly, Gina is not alone. Right here in Morgantown, W.Va., we have a family who wasn’t so fortunate when their daughter came up missing last July. Skylar Neese’s body was found in January. Last week two of her closest friends, girls who are Skylar’s age—she was 16 when she disappeared—were charged with fatally stabbing her.

Ever since their daughter disappeared, Skylar’s parents have fought to see the bill they got passed during this year’s session of the State Legislature become law. Skylar’s Law would force West Virginia police to report possible abductions here early on—using an Amber Alert to do so.

This is how the bill currently reads: “Skylar’s Law will require law enforcement agencies to report a suspected abduction or missing child to the Amber Alert authorities in the initial stages of investigation to facilitate their safe return.”

Now all Dave and Mary Neese are waiting for is Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s signature. And in cases where the last thing on a child’s mind is to run away, it’s clear this proposed law could make a huge difference when that child goes missing.

It’s the difference between coming home alive and well—or returning scarred from 10 years of sadistic violence you’ll never forget. 

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Black Friday through Cyber Monday Special

I want to let you know I’ve heard you, loud and clear. Today I responded to your comments about Sister of Silence, by way of uploading the revised version of my e-book. Which you can get free, in just one more day.

Tomorrow night, at 12 a.m. Friday, Nov. 23—just a few hours after your Thanksgiving dinner dishes are cleared away—Sister of Silence will be free for 5 days. (Which means it might just surpass the #2 spot it held in May, right next to Fifty Shades Darker.) That’s because I’ve simply not had the time to use the free days KDP Select gives me, in return for giving it exclusive rights to sell my e-book for each 90-day period. If I don’t use them now, I lose them next week.

Your comments about a few errors in my book were duly noted, and those errors are now gone. So is any confusion over what happens at the end of the book, and for my very sensitive readers, I’ve added some comments in my ‘Dear Reader’ letter that should help you understand why I wrote SOS the way I did. I hope I’ve also cleared up any questions about the journals that went up in smoke, and whether Eddie and I actually divorced. (We did.)

Beyond that, I’ve added an epilogue, so you will know how things turned out for my four children and myself. As much as I could, without giving away the details of the sequel.

Yes, there is going to be a sequel. I have been fighting with myself for at least two years, about where it should begin in the story of my life and what details (more specifically, who) it should include. Last week I dusted off the sequel I began writing several years ago, which I’d almost decided not to use, and found I had 20,000 words. Not too shabby—if it was nonfiction, I’d be almost halfway to my NaNoWriMo goal this month. (Which I’m clearly not going to meet this year. Again.)

That’s when I realized something. Given the dark days that filled my life, which you followed me on in SOS, it would be natural to wonder how I turned out to be as healthy as I am today. Especially when so many survivors of abuse do not. So the sequel is more of a love story, if you will. That’s all I can say for now, but please do download SOS while it’s free and read the excerpt there yourself.

To get the free version, all you need to do is go to Amazon and click the “Buy Now” button. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a Kindle e-reader, because Amazon has a free app you can download. It lets you read Sister of Silence on your smartphone, your tablet or your computer, for free.

I’m proud that this book, my book, is not just being used in colleges and universities, but that it’s being read, again and again, in some cases, by women just like me. (And many men, too, as it turns out.) I’m happy it’s helping other women find their voices, and that it resonates with them. It brings me joy to know I’m helping other people. It also makes me feel good to know that my written words have given hours of pleasure to so many readers.

Recently, I met some wonderful writers who stressed the importance of keeping your readers happy. I don’t know that I’ve done that because—let’s face it—I’ve been promising to get Lethal Silence finished in 2012 and the year is almost gone, with no sign of that book being finished anytime soon. I think that’s because the rest of my story needs to be told first. At least that’s what I think my readers want. And deserve. So Lethal Silence will remain on the back burner for now, so I can finish the SOS sequel. I don’t want to tell you my deadline—but I do have one. That will help me finish it as soon as possible, for you to read.

I just hope it gives as much to so many of you, as Sister of Silencehas. Now I must get back to my writing. The minutes are ticking away.

Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Free E-book Promotion, or How My Book Went to #2 Beside E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades Darker” in 3 Days



Actually, Sister of Silence sat in the #3 free spot on Kindle for most of the second day—right next to E.L. James’ third book in the best-selling trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, before climbing one more notch to #2, where it sat beside Fifty Shades Darker.

Which is why I’m asking: Readers, can you help me get it to #1? In just over 48 hours, the Sister of Silence e-book (which is also available in paperback for traditional book lovers like me) will be free. Again. This time I’m hoping we can send it straight to the top. And I’m pretty sure we can at least equal the 33,703 downloads that occurred in late May. Except this time, we only have two days.

That’s why I’m asking everyone I know, and who knows me, to please download the e-book if you haven’t already. And ask your friends to do the same: send them an email with the link, post it on your Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler or even Pinterest pages, and let’s see what can happen with such a concerted effort.

Last time, even the number of Amazon reviews increased: there are currently 75 reviews, with an average of 4.5 stars. Prior to the May giveaway, there were 47. Now there are 28 more! I’m hoping the same thing happens this time, because reviews are key to selling books for authors like me.

A quick word about the Fifty Shades trilogy. Last week I was writing (on speculation they would accept it) a piece for The Daily Beast about the books and what I think their incredible popularity says. It initially looked like the Beast was going to take the piece, but then the editors nixed it. At the time my book (also about sexuality, among other things) was sitting beside two of E.L. James’ books, I had no clue about their similar connection. Otherwise, I would have included something about it in the blog I posted just after the free promo ended.

Since then I’ve done my research. So I now realize the significance of that ranking. (At the time, as I commented on Facebook, I thought it rather ironic since Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book, is about a fictional woman who wants to be dominated; mine is about a real woman who wants anything but.)

Not coincidentally, the first promo occurred Memorial Day weekend, as a tribute to the women and children who end up as prisoners of war—the domestic kind—in their own homes. That’s domestic terrorism at its worst.

The promo I’m asking you to participate in this time is different. It starts at 12 a.m. July 24 because that’s Amelia Earhart Day. While many readers know my book is about overcoming abuse and empowerment, people who haven’t read it yet won’t know it’s also about the huge role aviation played in my life.

While one Sister of Silence reader remembered that my dad promised to teach me to fly but then didn’t, that isn’t the most important aviation element: it’s that the lure of flying was so strong, the desire to reach that goal so intense, that I eventually accomplished it myself. That isn’t in the book, of course, but reading between the lines, the reader might realize that that’s exactly what I would go on to do.

A male friend told me he believes the Shades of Grey trilogy ultimately finds its fictional heroine, Anastasia Steele, “progressively empowered.” Perhaps that’s something these two books have in common—a progressively empowered heroine—and the deeper reason Sister of Silence found a spot beside Fifty Shades Darker.

I’m happy to give readers something more than fantasy and an unrealistic view of female empowerment. And personally, I’d take a real-life empowered heroine over a fictional one any day.

* * * *

Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

If you want to read more than 70 reviews, go to Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.

Advocating for Social Change: When Words Move People



When I was a teen my father hated that I wouldn’t remove my nose from the book I had in my hand long enough to see the sights on our summer vacations. (Well, I did, but only to appease him or to see something worth seeing.)
He was fond of telling me I should be reading some other, classic author, rather than the current Harlequin romance writer’s book I was racing through. (Janet Daily comes to mind.) In particular, he shook his head in dismay when I wouldn’t pick up The Good Earth.
I think that’s the real reason I’ve never read Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. (Which is something I’m actually embarrassed to admit.) Whether you’re 13 or 16, when your father harps about something enough, you’re not going to want to do it.
Since that time, I’ve longed to read the book, and it’s been on my list of books I must read for probably 20 years. I finally bought my own copy Saturday, after winning the very first “Pearl S. Buck Award, Writing for Social Change” award in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. (There were only 18 entries, which greatly increased the odds of winning for anyone who entered, but I imagine next year that number will triple.)
So what does this award mean to me? Honestly, it’s the most prestigious one to date, since Buck didn’t just win a Pulitzer. She’s one of only two American women to win a Nobel Prize for literature. (Toni Morrison is the other one.) That rather sums up what it means—but only from a professional aspect.
Because what it means to me personally is another matter entirely. That’s because of my parents—both of whom read The Good Earth. It reminds me of their steadfast efforts to ensure all five of their children were readers, and parents who tried to see the differences in other people and other cultures.
Too, if your writing is being compared to Pearl Buck’s in a favorable way, that’s huge. As Dr. Edwina Pendarvis, a professor emeritus at Marshall University, said yesterday morning, Buck was a wonderful advocate for women and children. I think being an advocate is more important than being a writer, but I love that my writing is viewed as advocating for them!
Dr. Pendarvis and I were strangers before this weekend, and we only met then because she and Jolie Lewis taught an amazing workshop about Buck at the conference. (Lewis is on the board of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, which helped sponsor the award.) All contest entries were judged blindly, and I’d be surprised if Dr. Pendarvis had even read my work prior to my entry.
But that she chose to bestow this honor upon Lethal Silence, a book that looks at social factors that significantly impact the lives of women and children, is the creme de creme of honors. Especially when she said Lethal Silence is important because it will make people see things differently.
Even things they don’t want to see.
* * * *
The writing world in West Virginia is a close-knit one. It’s full of writers who are unassuming and who sing the praises of others louder than their own. I first attended the WVW conference in Ripley more than 20 years ago. Time and circumstances prevented me from going back until a few years ago. But when I attended last year, I decided to make it an annual event. Stellar literary agents and big-name publishing houses don’t usually grace us with their presence, but they really should.
That’s because West Virginia has some of the best writers in the country, if not the world. Look at Pearl Buck. Or Irene McKinney. Or Lee Maynard. Or Homer Hickham. (And those are just the ones you’re heard about. There are many more you haven’t. Yet.)
I’ve attended other, more prestigious conferences: Imagination in Cleveland, Backspace in New York City. (The year I went to Imagination I met Alice Sebold; she was a keynote speaker. Backspace was held in the Algonquin, famous for such big literary names as Gertrude Stein, Maya Angelou and William Faulkner.)
But none of these conferences came close to what WVW offers. And it isn’t just the rural, scenic setting that writers crave, because it provides the peacefulness we all need to write. It’s because we aren’t New Yorkers, and we don’t write because we care about the praise and the honor and the glory. If that happens it’s nice, but what’s really wonderful is that we care about the written word much more than the glory. And we care about each other.
* * * *
Tamarack was as much fun yesterday as it was last month. (Has it really only been one? It feels more like three.) I met teens from Wisconsin who were on a mission trip to West Virginia—none of whom even own an e-reader. (Thank you for restoring my faith in youth; now I know there’s hope!) I met a lady trucker from Mississippi who gave up her own company and then went on the road as an employee so she can spend her weekends with her 10 grandchildren.
I met a college student who just returned from an exotic trip, and who was carrying around some beautiful plants from the farmer’s market. She offered to watch my books so I could to grab some myself, since the farmers were closing up. (That’s how I came to have the hottest pepper plant in the world, so they say. It’s a ghost pepper.)
I met so many people I can’t remember them all, and I really cannot say how many books I sold. I’m guessing the kind folks at Tamarack placed 12 books on the table before my arrival, and I had to get six more before I left, since we were down to three books by 4 p.m. and I still had an hour to go.
* * * *
This just in: I’m going to join The Broads, who are actually Christine Eas and Molly Dedham. The show is live, and they invited me on the air for Christine’s “Survivor Series,” which is featured the second Tuesday of each month. We’ll also talk about the Sandusky sex abuse case. I was supposed to call them after they got a copy of my book more than a month ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. So happy they reached out to me!
Broadminded is a Sirius XM program, and they like to say it’s “refreshing radio,” which it is! (Channel 107, 9 a.m. ET.)
* * * *
Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.
Editor’s note: Berry has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, and wrote about Wanda Toppins’ murder in her book, after reporting on the case in 1991 when she worked for The Preston County Journal. Wanda was another Preston County woman who died needlessly, and who Berry wrote about in Sister of Silence.
To read the Sister of Silence e-book (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.
Berry’s an award-winning author, editor and journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry was one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”
If you want to read dozens of other five-star reviews, check out this title on Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel. For a mock up of the SOS t-shirt readers are demanding, check out Berry’s Facebook page.