I used to get asked about so many different things; why I am so driven, how I manage to have so many hobbies and take them all seriously, why I choose the music I do. It was a pretty long list of repetitive questions. Then my life changed because of one simple action—pushing the publish button. Now I am only asked one question: why would you write a romance novel about siblings in love?
I was drawn to an obscure 1970 counter culture film, The Buttercup Chain, solely because I love the genre. The film starts with identical twin sisters giving birth on the same day to soulmates—one a boy and the other a girl. Technically, the two children are cousins, but genetically they are half-siblings. (It is as close as the writer could get to an illegal situation while keeping it taboo.) The children are raised as siblings. While the girl is willing to embrace their connection, the boy is freaked. (We are now five minutes into a ninety-minute film.) The two spend a lot of time watching each other juggle lovers while their true emotions are tucked into the background of the film and are almost forgotten. In the end, she is willing to explore their feelings, but he cannot move forward with it. She leaves and he is heartbroken. We are never told why he will not face his feelings, but we can guess: society says their relationship is icky and wrong.
I was highly annoyed at how the film left me hanging, so I tracked down the obscure 1969 novel. (Not an easy task.) The novel had even less of the romantic tension. I questioned why both the novelist and the writer of the screenplay could not take the story where it needed to go. It was just a book, right? Is a book a threat to society? Actually, is any relationship? To me it was all ridiculous.
Driven by my vow to someday write a novel, I went for it—like really went for it—no cousins, no adoption, no circumstances that could justify the relationship as an indiscretion. As I did my research along the way, the most noteworthy things I learned were that romantic, consensual sibling incest is not a rarity (10-15% of collage age adults have had a relationship with a sibling), and the books that tackle the subject either contain justifying circumstances or are written for the sex appeal.
Then something incredible happened. I connected the plight of homosexuals to the plight of Lily and Donovan. Both types of relationships are based on love yet ostracized by society. The more I read the writings of homosexuals regarding their challenges, the more connections I saw. The message rang through clearer than ever—love is love. True love is rare. We struggle for years to find it. Some never do. Of those that luck out, how often is it with their soulmate—the one that helps them complete themselves? Sometimes it seems impossible to find someone to love, let alone your soulmate. If that is the case, of course true romantic love among siblings is rare. What are the odds of being born with your soulmate right next to you? Also, no wonder why the thought of a person’s brother or sister freaks them out. High chances are that it won’t be someone they are attracted to, let alone fall in love with, so of course it seems unnatural.
As romantics, we dream of the person we can share everything with. We exchange vows, some even prick fingers and share blood. What if you already shared something deeper with your soulmate on the most personal of all physical levels? Isn’t that beautiful? We are told no, and I found that reality sad. So I wrote, and I poured my heart into Lily and Donovan. Both of them are extensions of me. I wrote their story from Lily’s point of view in the present tense so I could live it with her—connect with her, laugh and cry with her. I found emotions and compassion I didn’t know I had, and I’m stronger for it.
Along the way I learned more about societies biases. Many say that consensual incest is illegal because of birth defects. Let’s challenge that for a second. The birth defect rate of products of siblings is 7-12% higher than that of two non-related individuals. Most women give birth in their late 20s to early 30s. According to babyzone.com, a woman between 30-34 has a 3% chance of birth defects. With siblings, that increases by 7-12%. A woman of 44 has a 35-45% percent of defects. So if we base the bias on birth defects, should we not sterilize women when they hit 40?
But here is what really chaps my hide about the birth defect argument (other than the fact that anti-sibling union laws predate our understanding of genetics). People are capable of making intelligent decisions. A person who happens to be in love with a sibling is no less intelligent than anyone else. Let’s give them the credit to make good decisions. Besides, since when do you have to be married, or even be in a relationship that everyone approves of, to have a child?
Let’s get more personal. My husband is half-Japanese. Not long ago our marriage was illegal because people thought interracial marriages were wrong. No one can control their birth circumstances. Society bans love based on the uncontrollable.
Now to the reason I sucked it up and published. I poured my heart into Love’s Forbidden Flower. What began as a project of angst turned into a civil rights piece that changed me. I never saw love like I do now. I was scared to death when I pushed that publish button. What if people hate this book? What will my friends and family say? Am I tough enough to take the backlash, especially from those who will pan this piece of my heart solely for the subject matter? The list of reasons not to publish went on and on. Then I thought to Lily. I know she exists. Donovan does too. I’ve read about them. They’ve lost their friends and family by coming out of shadows. They’ve served jail time for the crime of loving someone the world said they shouldn’t.
Then one really big thing smacked me in the face. When you really think about it, the true love of some is illegal because others think it is icky. There lies the real threat. If we ban marriages because of a person’s feelings of ickiness, then all marriages are threatened. Maybe by publishing I could get one person to see the world a little more openly. So, I grabbed Lily’s hand, and we pressed the publish button together, bringing her to life.
I’d like to thank everyone who has either reached out to me privately or has or publicly stated that their worldview has changed—that they see love more openly now. You made it all worth it. And as for the real Lilys and Donovans who have reached out to me, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.