BIDDEFORD, Maine — Advice often given to aspiring writers is to simply “write what you know.” That’s easier said than done, especially when what you’ve known is isolation, abuse, and survival.
But that’s exactly what first-time author and Biddeford native Rebekah Lowell has done in her novel “The Road to After.”
At the Biddeford Public Library where Rebekah works part-time, she is surrounded by books, not a bad place to be for a writer. The stories on the shelves in the children's room have particular meaning to Lowell, in part, because they've been a source of comfort, even an escape, during the most challenging years of her life. They've also given her the confidence to build a new one.
"Courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing the hard thing even though you feel the fear," Lowell said.
Her new life began more than six years ago when after more than a decade she took her two young daughters and left an abusive marriage where she was isolated from friends and family and experienced extreme intimidation and abuse.
The Road To After is a novel in verse that chronicles a mother and her daughters as they escape from an abusive father and husband and the long road of healing they face. It's written from the point of view of the main character, Lacey, who is eleven years old.
"As dangerous as [Lacey's] life was, predictability almost feels safer than freedom," Lowell said.
Lacey and her mother and sister slowly begin to heal. It's a long road, one with many ups and downs, but one tethered to the natural world which is something that has helped Lowell and her daughters.
Lowell started forming her first story when she was living at a women's shelter Caring Unlimited. It took six years of writing, drawing, and revising for Lowell to finish her novel. With every word written, each new sketch, she slowly began to recover.
While the book deals with heavy themes, it lacks the graphic details of abuse, which is one of the reasons Lowell says it's recommended for readers starting in fifth grade.
"We give kids less credit than they deserve, and kids are smart, and kids deal with tough stuff. And I feel like they need books on tough stuff in order to process it," Lowell said. "If a child hasn't had this reality, which I hope they haven't, it helps them grow empathy for those who have and maybe reach a hand out to someone who is suffering."
Lowell's novel is dedicated to her daughters, who she wrote, gave her "the strength to take the first step."
With their permission, Lowell wrote the book without a pen name. Along the way, she shared with her daughters the writing, revising, and art as she worked. She said it has taken courage she didn't know she possessed to share some of her own past.
"I lived in fear for so long. I may feel afraid, but I don’t want to let fear control my life," Lowell said.
Nowadays, Lowell has the support of family and close friends. She homeschools her daughters, teaches nature journaling and workshops, and raises monarchs.
She is also a board member for Caring Unlimited, where she works to help other women get out of abusive relationships and start new lives. She also continues to write. Her first picture book called “Catching Flight” will be in March 2023, and she is already working on her second novel.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call 1-800-799 SAFE. It's a 24-hour hotline.