Neliza Drew – A BOLO Books Guest Post

From the Booking Desk:

When the likes of Erin Mitchell, Josh Stallings, Hilary Davidson, and Thomas Pluck are raving about an author or book, it behooves one to investigate. This is how I first discovered Neliza Drew and her new novel.

Immediately taken with Neliza’s online honesty and straight-forward nature, I invited her to guest post here on BOLO Books so you all could discover her as well.

Read on to hear Neliza Drew discussing Davis Groves, the lead character in her new book, All the Bridges Burning.

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Neliza Drew on Davis Groves

In the 1990s, I used the Hotmail address DavisGroves. Technically, I still have it, but I don’t open it, don’t read it, and if you send mail to it, it’ll never be read. Davis first appeared in a short story I wrote sometime in the mid-90s, and back then she was kind of a wish-fulfillment character because I wanted a younger female protagonist who wasn’t necessarily a PI and who wasn’t so upstanding. The story was terrible, but the character got stuck in my brain and refused to let go. Since, a lot more complicated women have graced pages. Still, once Davis started talking to me, she wouldn’t shut up just because better characters existed. She just needed to be rewritten.

Aside from a few surface similarities, Davis and I have little in common, though I started martial arts in part so I could write better fight scenes. Somehow along the way I became a second-degree black belt and started teaching karate and gung fu four days a week. Her sharp-shooting she got from my dad. He used to compete years ago, and into his 70s he did cowboy shoots, but I do well to hit the “broadside of a barn,” as he’d say.

A lot of Davis’s background, her family life, and her past grew out of the seven-and-a-half years I spent teaching English and math at a regional detention center in South Florida and as the result of research I did on juvenile justice while getting a master of science in criminology. Her family and past is part organic in the way it grew naturally out of the stories I’d heard, the students I’d worked with, and part purposefully social commentary. I’m not sure anymore if even I know where the dividing line is.

I knew she couldn’t remain stationary, that to live in one place with the way her family worked was to get “caught up” and sucked into the prison pipeline and her odds of escaping were too low. I’d witnessed time and again the will to do better against the odds of expectations, assumptions, and recidivism statistics. Known associates –whether best friend or a pimp – became traps. The only way her sisters and Davis could stay together was to stay moving, one step ahead of the law and social services as often as possible and slipping away as soon as a catch-and-release program pulled out the hook.

Some justice department estimates suggest more than eighty percent of girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced sexual abuse, and during the years I taught the girls very few days went by that at least half my students hadn’t been involved in trafficking or prostitution. Davis’s background was practically inevitable, but her reactions to it were very much drawn from girls I taught and their combination of apathy, acceptance, bravado, and hurt.

While teaching, I heard so many heart-breaking stories, often wielded as a weapon, intended to inflict hurt or showcase strength. Stories of checking between mom’s toes for signs of drug use; of parents “renting” their daughters; of children beaten with belts and curling irons and fists; of stealing from johns. And I hope I’ve done them justice, given voice to the kind of resiliency I witnessed.

I knew several teachers who worked in correctional education (in and around the justice system) for nearly their whole career. Twenty or thirty years of students in jumpsuits. Some had hardened themselves, repeating the bad deeds and crimes to keep their charges from seeming too human. Some had become so mushy and sensitive students could manipulate them easier than clay. The best became as the best cops, a subtle balance of humanity and bullshit detection.

Still, those stories stuck with me after I left, those faces and emotions clung to little folds in my brain. They needed a home. They came to live in Davis, who needed a backstory, who was strong enough – or thought she was – to contain just some of the pain possible in the world.

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Jacket Copy:

Sisters bound by tragedy. Davis Groves grew up in a volatile environment. With a dead father and an addict mother, Davis learned early to do whatever it took to survive: fight, lie, steal…even sell her body for money to get by. Above all, she knew it was her job to protect her sisters —always. Now, she’s settled into a somewhat normal life away from her family, complete with a respectable job, apartment and boyfriend. Her demons have been put to rest, mostly, her old obligations abandoned. So when her mother calls for help, Davis is all too willing to ignore her…until she says Davis’s little sister has been arrested for murder. There’s no question Davis will go back, that she’ll try to save her sister any way she can. It’s what she was trained to do. As she investigates, the events surrounding her sister’s arrest begin to unravel, the past Davis thought she’d buried and her sister’s present collide, and Davis is forced to question if she can ever forgive herself for leaving her sister behind. She may not live long enough to try.

From the Booking Desk:

After that, I’m sure I’ll run into several of you in the bookstore queue (online or otherwise) as we rush out to get ourselves a copy of All the Bridges Burning. See you there!