Cheryl is the author of four novellas. Her love affair with literature began at a young age with such iconic authors as Poe, Kafka, Lovecraft, and de Sade. Those deep, dark, penitent stories of suffering and enlightenment moved her to pursue her passion for writing.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Cheryl. “The Thin Wall” is quite an intriguing book and even controversial. To begin, will you tell us the basic setting and plot that the book opens with?
Cheryl: Thank you for having me, Tyler. The book opens with five friends enjoying a typical Friday night at the local pub. I chose this particular setting as it is a familiar and relatable comfort setting for most people. I can remember many a night enjoying the company of my own friends in the local pub. I wanted the reader to feel relaxed, as if they were part of the group, sharing a drink, and feeling included in the intimate conversation. In this opening scene, I can pull the reader into the dialog, introduce all of the characters, showcase some of their particular idiosyncrasies, and lay the foundation for the group dynamic. And it is this group dynamic that is extremely important to the story. All five have very different careers, aspirations, and struggles, but they are bonded to each other in a common perspective: They firmly believe “to each his own-between consenting adults of course.” And all of the characters struggle against what society deems normal. People their age should be settled down, married with children, proper jobs, proper homes, and all the other standards of normal society. But they believe that normal is a matter of opinion, especially when it comes to self-expression, as we have three artists among the group: a writer, a musician, and a painter.
Tyler: Before we discuss the book further, I understand you don’t consider the book as “erotica” although our reviewer here at Reader Views described it as such. Why would you argue “The Thin Wall” isn’t erotica?
Cheryl: While there is a great deal of sexual imagery within the story, the story is an intense character study, and the sex acts themselves are not described in graphic detail, as it is in mainstream erotica. I have read a great deal of erotica to know the difference. I prefer written sex to be portrayed as a fluid more emotional experience, leaving much of the body language, positions, and descriptions to the imagination. We all know the anatomy of a sex act, so I don’t feel the need to describe it ad infinitum. However, erotica fans want the graphic description and would be extremely disappointed if I were to categorize the book as mainstream erotica. So, I would say that this is a sensual, erotic tale, but not erotica as defined by the genre.
Tyler: The sexual activity in the book includes bondage and submission and even physically wounding people. Why?
Cheryl: When it comes to romantic and intimate relationships, we all have a little sado-masochist within us. We hurt the ones we love and allow ourselves to be hurt by them. In every romantic relationship there is blood shed on both sides — metaphorically speaking, of course. How often do you hear: I would bleed myself dry for you, or I would give my life for you? Bold statements: offering ourselves completely to those we love is in essence an offering to sacrifice ourselves. “Thin Wall” is a metaphor, portraying in a very real way how much we are willing to endure, to sacrifice, and to submit to the ones we love. This is also a story about the depth of trust. How much do we actually trust the ones we love? In this story, the level of trust goes beyond average reasoning; it’s a trust most people will never experience, will never allow themselves to experience.
Tyler: I find your mention of trust to be interesting in relation to sexual activity. How have the characters built up that trust with each other, and have any of the characters known trust to be betrayed and how have they dealt with it?
Cheryl: Actually, the trust between them has absolutely nothing to do with their sexual activity. This story is much deeper than a deviant romp in the sheets. Tom, Ioan, and Julian have issues with trust, which stem from childhood disappointment with their respective parents. Tom’s parents had certain expectations, which turned to bitterness when he couldn’t fulfill them in the way they wanted. Julian’s parents are of the wealthy aristocracy, living a life of excess splendor, which disgusts and repulses him. Julian was their genius progeny, and they continuously put him on display. And then there is Ioan, whose parents couldn’t understand the moodiness of his artwork; it frightened them, and so believing that he was mentally ill, they placed him on medication. If you cannot trust your parents to accept you, then whom can you trust? For most, the trust you seek lies with your friends. Julian and Ioan meet in secondary school; they complement each other and bond over their macabre musings. Ioan later meets Tom, and seeing him as only another tragic artist could, he saves Tom from a life of drug addiction. Laleana and Julian meet in college and are drawn to each other over the philosophies of the Marquis deSade — the philosophies, not the sex — although the sex is a part of it, but only a small part. Not to mention that Ioan is celibate. Julian brings Cecile into the mix for reasons unknown, which becomes apparent much later in the story. So, as children, they are all outcasts to a degree; betrayed by their parents, they seek refuge with each other. Misery loves company, and misery loves company who understands it.
Tyler: You have yourself described “The Thin Wall” as a coming of age story, yet the characters are in their late thirties. What is significant about the characters’ ages in relation to their sexual awakenings? Do you see sexual activity as a learning experience no matter what age a person is?
Cheryl: The coming of age part has nothing to do with sexual awakening; these characters took to their particular sexual proclivities in their late teens and twenties, as most young adults do. The teens and twenties are often classified as the coming of age years, but I disagree. I believe the real coming of age happens as we approach mid-life. At mid-life we have acquired, through struggle, the wisdom, experience, and more importantly, the perspective to step back and evaluate our lives: where we have been, where we want to go, what we want to accomplish — our real strengths and weaknesses — and what our needs truly are. Laleana has reached that moment of self-awareness, and she has discovered that her real needs are not being fulfilled, yet she struggles with her fear of letting go of the comfortable and predictable life she has. But she must let go in order to move forward into the unknown. This is an innate human quality: fear of the unknown. Why do we fear the unknown? Well, we fear failure.
Tyler: Would you say that teenagers and twenty-somethings tend to see sex as fun, while thirty-somethings take it more seriously-they start to find meaning in it-can the coming of age idea work in that manner?
Cheryl: Of course, although I really don’t think teenagers see sex as fun. It might seem that way from the outside, but what is actually happening with teenage sex is much more complex, and it carries well into the twenty-something years. This is the age of self-discovery, where the young adult is attempting to understand their own sexual desires, as well as breaking the sexual barriers that have been set by their parents and society. I have always said: How a person feels about their sexuality is how they feel about themselves as a whole person. Sexual repression, and on the opposite end sexual aggression, are tendencies formed very early in childhood. Is it naughty or natural, damning or enlightening. These themes will be addressed with a vengeance in early adulthood. Hopefully, a mature healthy attitude forms by the time we are in our thirties, and then for some, we can look more deeply at the emotional meanings intertwined with the coupling of two people. We leave the base need behind, or as I say in “Thin Wall”: We see beyond the flesh.
Tyler: Well said, Cheryl. In the book description you sent Reader Views, you mentioned that the book also includes codependency. Many people don’t seem to know what the difference is between love and codependency. Can you separate the two for us and tell us how codependency versus love is treated in “The Thin Wall”?
Cheryl: The easiest way to describe codependency is: Codependent people have a greater tendency to enter into relationships with people who are emotionally unavailable or needy. The codependent tries to control a relationship without directly identifying and addressing his or her own needs and desires. This invariably means that codependents set themselves up for continued lack of fulfillment. Codependents always feel that they are acting in another person’s best interest, making it difficult for them to see the controlling nature of their own behavior. When you look closely at Laleana and Julian’s relationship you can see the manifestation of codependency. The feeling of sexual abnormality is their common link. But Laleana’s emotional romantic needs are beyond her reach, so she thinks. With Julian, who is emotionally unavailable, she reinforces her belief that the love she desires is not real, thus alleviating the shame she feels for settling for less than she wants and deserves. Laleana is not submissive, and although it may appear that she submits to Julian’s whims, it really is a subtle form of control: the masochist is always in control, and she continually makes justifications for Julian’s outbursts and his rude and erratic behavior. She loves him because she needs him; that is codependence versus her needing him because she loves him. And as a group, they all reinforce each other’s motivations, producing feelings of acceptance and love. Even in Tom and Cecile’s relationship it is not difficult to see why they would be drawn to one another. Tom is a classic free spirit and Cecile is a depressive obsessive-compulsive. And this is what characterizes true love versus codependent love. With true love, we not only seek to mirror ourselves — our light and our darkness — but we seek to understand ourselves through the differences in others.
Tyler: Do you think codependency is displaying itself in the characters by their accepting sex when they really are looking for love? Are they using sex as a replacement or fooling themselves that sex is love?
Cheryl: Not at all, like I mentioned previously, this story isn’t about the sex. For instance, the main character Ioan is celibate. It’s not sex he seeks but acceptance and someone to love him for who he is. Julian and Laleana paired off as young adults. They are not emotionally compatible, yet they stay together because it’s comfortable, safe, and there is a certainty to their relationship. The way they act towards each other has become instinctual. They don’t have to think about the relationship; it’s easy. Tom and Cecile are complete opposites, yet they complement and temper each other’s severe personalities. And none of them confuses sex with love. I took the sex to the extreme in this story to show the depth of their friendship and trust.
Tyler: We should also make it clear that the characters in the book are close friends and they feel safe with each other in their sexual activities, which is quite a departure from your inspiration, the Marquis de Sade, whose characters torture and even create fear in their sexual victims. Why did you choose to have the sexual activities occur among friends rather than strangers? Do you feel that makes the book more acceptable to readers?
Cheryl: Not at all a departure. The Marquis deSade is best known for his pornographic works of torture and depravity: “Justine” and “Philosophy in the Bedroom.” He used sex as a weapon against the hypocrisy of governmental, religious, and societal dogmas. Those two books aside, deSade also brought into creation some of the most inspiring and beautiful love stories ever written-no sex, and very little violence, except for the occasional robber baron. These are true stories of triumph, spirit over will and love over all. The reason why I chose friends, well, simply because no one can torture a person to the extent a loved one can. We cast a blind eye to the faults of our loved ones, and it is the ultimate in acceptance — the ultimate submission.
Tyler: Cheryl, the Marquis de Sade is notorious for his sexual deviance. Yet earlier, you said Laleana and Julian are drawn to each other over the philosophies of the Marquis de Sade. Will you tell us a little bit about his philosophies, which readers may be less familiar with. Are those philosophies important to “Thin Wall”?
Cheryl: Notorious? Yes, but how much of it is actually true. To the powers of the time, de Sade was a dangerous man, for he shocked people into thinking, and he blatantly exposed the hypocrisy of French Society at that time. He spent half his life in prison for blasphemy, not for debauchery. He never did most of the things he wrote about. Now, “Philosophy in the Bedroom” is probably the most concise collection of his beliefs on nature, religion, and government in respect to controlling human behavior. He didn’t believe in control; he was a philosopher of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion, or law, with the pursuit of personal pleasure being the highest principle: Freedom and the pursuit of Happiness, especially for women as well as men. This is this philosophy that Julian and Laleana are attracted to, though I do not mention it directly. I am not talking anarchy here, but simply to live a life free from societal and religious dogmas, that is what all the characters in this story seek. They seek to live by their own personal law abiding belief systems, not the systems imposed by others.
Tyler: At the end of “The Thin Wall” the main character, Laleana, becomes a writer. What is significant about her writing?
Cheryl: During the story, Laleana expresses her deepest feelings on literature and art. She loves the word with a passion, yet her fear of inadequacy prevents her from taking up her own pen. Her fear is mirrored in Ioan who burns his paintings for fear people might think he is disturbed. I wanted to show her awakening, her releasing of that fear. “Thin Wall” is written in a limited narrative style, Laleana being the point of view. I wanted to tell her tale from her point of view under the guise of a third-person narrative. I can only hope that people realize that she was writing about herself.
Tyler: Cheryl, why did you choose the title “The Thin Wall”?
Cheryl: Those who feel differently, express themselves differently, and advocate breaking free of societal norms are often viewed as outcasts — eccentrics, mentally disturbed, weird, a bit off — oddities. That makes one feel as if they are always with their back against a wall, presenting the upstanding citizen face to the public, while feeling forced to hide their true selves. It’s a thin wall because these barriers can be broken. Tolerance is a dirty word because we should be teaching acceptance. Everyone has little idiosyncratic fetishes: What is the difference between a food we crave and a sexual fetish? Not much, only one is more socially acceptable than the other. Why? Because in this age of enlightenment, sex is still taboo.
This is the reason why I chose to have Laleana on the cover with her back to the reader, literally exposing her shadow: the knife in her hand symbolizes that she is in control, and the noose around her neck symbolizes submission, but it is loose around her neck also symbolizing that submission is her choice. [This is reference to the original 2009 cover art.]
Tyler: Cheryl, why did you write this book?
Cheryl: This book is a case study in human self-awareness. I believe everyone has the capacity for that. It’s also a book about acceptance, love, and true unconditional friendship. Humans will always seek the comfort of others — others likeminded. We don’t want to feel alone; we simply can’t survive alone. And in many cases, when our families have betrayed us, our friendships are the ones we cling to for dear life.
Tyler: Without giving away the ending, what is the message you want to present in “The Thin Wall”? What benefit or knowledge will the reader have gained after reading the book?
Cheryl: Everyone should be true to themselves. And true friendship lies with those who accept you, no matter what your career, your marital status, your finances, your religious beliefs, or your sexual preferences (providing it’s between consenting adults). Society’s view of normal is nothing more than opinion and conjecture. Your own opinion of yourself is the only one that matters. Like Tom says: “If it feels true then do it. Take the risk.” He was speaking of his career in that statement, but it means so much more in the context of the story. But in the end, “Thin” Wall is a tried and true hopelessly romantic love story. Laleana does find the love she has always believed in, the love that is right for her. I have been accused of being a hopeless romantic.
Tyler: Do you feel concern about the reception of the book because of the subject matter, and why did you decide to publish the book despite what reaction you might receive because of the subject matter?
Cheryl: I try not to worry about such things. Authors should endeavor to write truth, and they should write it the way they feel it. Some readers will see the greater depth of the work, and some will find it a fascinating dark love story with lots of sex. Some will completely hate it for whatever reason of their choosing. Either way, each reader will get what they want out of the story, or not. As long as they get something, an author can’t complain.
Tyler: I assume some people will be repulsed by the book’s subject matter, and you may even meet people who think the book is immoral and should be censored. How would you respond to such people?
Cheryl: A response would really serve no purpose.