Celebrating the forthcoming release of the new book, The Storyteller, today is Day 6 of the Book Giveaway! Each day for ten days (until October 7), I will post a question and response from the book’s Discussion Guide . Anyone who posts a response with h/her thoughts either on WordPress or Facebook (“Stories That Matter”) will be automatically entered to win a copy of the book when it is released! I will give away 3 copies.

Day 6’s Question:

What happened to Henry?

Discussion Guide

Providing a little background before I dive into this question: Henry is Dusty’s father. Somewhere around 2 years ago, I had this lovely, flowers-in-a-meadow type idea for a book that was millions of miles away from my other work. As I’ve said a lot, stories mean something to me. They literally helped not only get me through sexual abuse, but I strongly believe that without storytelling I would have resorted to self-harm that could have very easily graduated to suicide. I don’t know why, but God not only gave me writing but surrounded me with people who encouraged me to keep doing it, even when I wasn’t any good at it. This gift has helped me in so many ways. You cannot understand me if you don’t first understand how much a part of my life is in writing: it’s how I share things, it’s how I cry, it’s how I laugh and it has always been how I dream. So, somewhere around two years ago, I thought, storytelling! Let’s do a lovely book about oral storytellers!

I wanted it to include elements of a fairy tale, so I did a couple months’ worth of research into Hans Christian Andersen. Funny in hindsight how he was a troubled youth that grew into a troubled man who never felt like he fit in with anyone, even amongst his family or friends. Truth be told: I didn’t really like him but there’s a wonderful thing called creative license and I thought, that’s okay, we’ll turn this fellow into a fine hero. I tried for months to prod an actual storyline from my Andersen-inspired character named Henry; all I could get was this little boy would eventually grow up to become a traveling oral storyteller. No abuse. No childhood trauma destined to usurp a happy-ever-after. Just an old storyteller who wanted to pass on his gift to a protégé.

I should have known better.

Right about the hundred page mark, I got stuck. He’d told a few good tales in the vein of Ash, but it didn’t pull my heart. I wasn’t invested because I was forcing a story instead of letting it be told to me by a character. Curiously, though, a new character was hanging out in my head. It was curious because I have literally never worked on more than one book at a time. It was a girl, and the only thing I knew was that she was abused by a schizophrenic father who would eventually kill her mother. This was more like it. I didn’t particularly relish the idea of researching schizophrenia because I already knew a lot, but I loved having a character in my head again. Since I was stuck on the storytelling book, I researched schizophrenia and wrote the Prologue just because Dusty, the character who swelled my thoughts most of every day, demanded it. I wrote until I couldn’t handle Dusty without breaking down. I hated myself every time I started to feel sorry for him because I knew what he’d eventually become. When he and Dana had tender or happy moments, I’d retreat and refuse to write for days. I couldn’t handle the emotions and the questions he brought up (more on why coming up). I’d move back over to Henry, but Henry was at a stand-still; it was as if he were saying, my story is finished, it’s told and the more I tried to come up with a plot, the more I couldn’t piece together the puzzle. When not writing started to make it hard to breathe every day, I’d gather up my courage, cry a little and write Dusty and Dana. It was on one of these days that Dusty told a story I’d read before — in Henry’s book! Suddenly, Dusty said in my mind’s ear: He’s my dad. Same story. Wrong century, but same story.

I became so excited. It was confusing navigating how to blend the hundred pages of Henry’s 18th century story into this modern day one, but ideas tumbled over me in waves. This was what I am used to; characters vying for my attention, literally talking to me in my head, showing me competing scenes. It’s like a movie on fast forward — with one character narrating the whole thing. I often don’t realize clues are left that tie into a frame story until the editing stage when I reread the entire book; I don’t realize it because, if I did, I’d alter it. The mind is so unbelievably brilliant; it’s capable of protecting us and placing things where we’ll eventually find it, but not when doing so would overwhelm us. I was excited about the new story, but I was also weary. Dusty hurt my heart as did the questions he provoked and, for a long time, I was resolute about not releasing this book. I didn’t want to be at some speaking engagement and have someone look at me and say, My abuser was diagnosed with ____________. Does that mean he’s not at fault for what happened? Anyway, before falling down that rabbit hole, the point is: once I integrated Henry into this story, I pretty much forgot about him. He’s what you call a secondary character. He’s important… but I thought he was only important because of his impact on Cole’s life. Finally, I wrote the last word of the never-ending book. As I’d typed, I’d used the comments section of Word to jot down random questions as they came to me that might make good Book Club Discussions. I went back to review those and decide which I wanted to include in the Guide. This meant I was surfing through the book, right, and I come across the scene in which Cole tells Daphne what happened to him. She asks:

What happened to Henry?


What happened to Henry? I went, Hm. Crap, loose end not tied up there. Some writer you are. I made a mental note to stick in some random resolution and continued surfing through the questions. In a completely different part of the book, I saw this bone-chilling line from Dusty:

The second time my ole man chased me with a knife, I was bigger than he was. Stronger. And I was done running.


Dusty was seventeen the first time his father chased him around with a knife. Dusty didn’t give me a timeline, I don’t know how old he was the second time his father chased him with a knife; assuming it wasn’t long after this because the police never found Henry. Does he kill his father? The story never says. I never added that random resolution because a character didn’t tell me too and I’d learned my lesson when I’d tried to write Henry in his own book: I follow characters, not stories.

Eventually, the story shifts from being heavily focused on Dana and Dusty to Daphne and Cole. When this happened, a huge boulder lifted from my heart; I could breathe again. My father was prescribed lithium after two different psychiatrists diagnosed him as sociopathic; he refused to take the medication. He was also diagnosed as bipolar: to my knowledge, he did not take recommended medication for that, either. With the two of those diagnoses, though, a hidden question in my heart has always been there, a question I’ve ignored because I didn’t have an answer. What role did those diagnoses play in behavior? When I was in high school, 12th grade Dr. Estes’s class, I had to read Macbeth and I had to write a paper whose topic was something about whether or not Macbeth was a tragedy of fate or character. I don’t remember what evidence I gave and I couldn’t quote you much of that play today, but my thesis was that Macbeth was his own person and, though he might have been influenced by the three witches and by his evil wife, ultimately, he forfeited his moral compass by allowing sinful traits like ambition and jealousy and pride free reign. I found myself in dire need of an authoritative answer to this because it was hurting my heart. So, not thinking I would find anything, I Googled to see whether the APA considered, even in its appendix, rape as a symptom of a mental disorder. The DSM-V, which is the leading “Bible” for diagnosing mental disorders, unequivocally rejects the idea that rape is a mental illness as of 2013. This article made me cry because the American Association of Psychiatry believes that rapists are “simply criminals.” This doesn’t mean they might not have other unrelated mental disorders but those mental disorders do not contribute to their decision to rape.

Full transparency: I’m not sure what happened to Henry. Dusty seems to insinuate he killed him in what could conceivably be argued was self-defense (if Henry really was chasing him with a knife). That being said, Dusty has schizophrenia and routinely talks to Black Owl. Black Owl is Death. So it’s also reasonable to distrust absolutely everything Dusty says without solid proof. I don’t know what happened to Henry. But here’s a memory I’ve been unable to forget even after 33 years or so. Small enough that I don’t remember where we were, only that we were living near the ocean: I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. It was daytime, I know this because when he came into the room, I could see outside the window and I remember it was bright and sunny. My mother must have gone to the grocery store. I was an introvert; if given the choice to stay home, I did. For a long time, I blamed myself for that because the only way to be completely safe was to avoid staying home if he was the only one there. I see him coming into the room because I remember how tall he looked from where I sat; I don’t remember what he said, but he smiled and sat down beside me. I started shaking and when he told me to give him a kiss, I didn’t move. That act of disobedience felt like the reason for everything that came next; if I’d just given him a kiss, would he have really pulled me onto his lap, would he have really bit me or tore me in two again, leaving me shaking and crying? The physical sensations of what happens during rape aren’t often talked about. I can’t talk about it. But the chaos that shakes your brain feels like a war; when your stomach drops and a heatwave of shame pours over your body from head to toe while you feel someone whose strength you have zero chance of overcoming biting or pinching or slapping your skin, you can’t really think at all. It feels like you’re in a vortex and all around you are massive trains whose sound drowns out reality. It is excruciatingly frightening to not understand physical sensations; when pain reaches a pinnacle and you have to breathe but you can’t because the weight pulling you down or trapping you is crushing your lungs, there is let me get out of this. There’s instinct, but my eight year old’s instinct was to obey, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t understand the directions. It’s a vicious cycle and, when it stops, and the room fills with air again, when the roaring of the trains fade, and I slid back into conscious thought, all I could do was see the red hand marks on my skin and wonder where my sister and mother were.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to Henry and, really, it doesn’t matter. He destroyed lives, and he attacked his son. So, I don’t really care what happened to Henry. When trying to decide what happened to Dusty, though, I cried and I shook and I stopped writing for awhile. Because he had schizophrenia and he saw and heard and believed things that simply were not part of reality; how can you punish someone for doing something if they truly believed they were protecting themselves as Dusty did? How can there be justice if there is also mental illness at play? This wasn’t just a book for me, I really wrestled with it. It was not about adding a twist or giving my readers a sense of satisfaction. I wanted to do what was right, and I had no idea what that was. Part of the reason I didn’t know what the right thing would be was because I’ve harbored thoughts like it was my fault because I didn’t kiss him when he told me to and no one would want to choose me if they knew who I really was and It takes two to tango; I could have told, and I didn’t, so I don’t have the right to complain and I wasn’t part of the Holocaust, I was never in Darfur, never had to worry about an education, so this is nothing, and it doesn’t matter my whole life. These thoughts are a direct result of lies I was deliberately taught to believe and, even though I can say they’re lies, when friends say, Lets do lunch I automatically think, They’re just being nice, they don’t mean it or I have to pep talk myself into it: What would a normal woman wear? What is the right thing to order to eat? What should I ask or talk about? and then the self-doubts start that make me feel like an overgrown toddler next to a composed, successful, smart person. Sure, some of this is just Tiffini being Tiffini. Sure, some of it is because I’ve only had “lunch” with a friend, like, maybe once a year, if that? But also some of it is because when I look in the mirror I see what he told me he saw; if I was that then, logic says I’m a lot worse now because I’m grown and have made my share of mistakes. My point is that, in trying to be fair and in trying to separate someone’s mental health from their behaviors, I will not forget that a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl’s life was changed by a choice she did not make. What she lost cannot ever be regained. That is what happened to Daphne, whether the book shows it well or not.

Lives are too fragile to be unkind. Regardless of when or if an abused child tells, regardless of whether that abused child is supported and shown love or not, regardless of whether h/she chooses constructive or destructive coping mechanisms, regardless of what happens afterward, the moment a child is violated is a defining moment in her life and sets her on a lifelong course of healing. It forces her to grow up and it has the ability to forever alter the way she sees herself. In essence, sexually abusing a child is repeatedly hurting her multiple times over the course of her life because while the abuser may move on, she finds triggers in unexpected places. Haven tells the story of how pieces of you are never the same.

Ultimately, it’s what happened to Daphne that I care most about.