We have a special, special treat for you today, Savvy Readers! Mallory Tater, the author of the upcoming novel The Birth Yard, has written a special inside look into her writing process and how she came to write her gripping, unputdownable new novel. The Birth Yard is the story of a young woman’s rebellion against the rules that control her body, perfect for readers of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Girls. Read on to find out more about this stunning novel!
How I Wrote It – The Birth Yard
I decided to write my novel The Birth Yard on a stifling day in July 2016 when my partner and I took a drive to the beach.
This was shortly after the president of Turkey likened a childless woman to “half a person”. It was just before we heard the soon-to-be president of the United States brag about to doing anything he wanted to women including grabbing them “by the pussy.” It was the same week that Statistics Canada informed us that less than one-fifth of all leadership roles in Canada are held by women.
That day in July I had just graduated with my Master’s degree and had finally healed physically and emotionally from anorexia, but was still feeling terrified to exist inside my body. With the rising profiles of organized right-wing groups and misogynistic online communities like Incels and Proud Boys, everything felt vulnerable, everything felt surreal.
On our way to the beach, I suddenly felt cramping and a dampness on my underwear. I’d gotten my period. It was four days early and it caught me off guard. We drove to the grocery store for tampons. They cost more than the cash I had on me. If men had periods, I vented to my partner as we made our way back home, you know tampons would show up FREE on every doorstep. MONTHLY. Then I said something along the lines of I can’t believe men don’t control our periods too. They want to control everything else.
That thought would not leave my head. So, I wrote. I wrote what started as a short story set right now, not in the future, about an eighteen- year-old girl named Sable whose period was being controlled by her community. Then the community got darker, more expansive, more controlling. Sable’s world soon had all the characteristics of a cult—isolated living, a charismatic leader, and extreme groupthink. The Den is fictional, but not entirely dissimilar to real-life cults in modern history like The Branch Davidians and Children of God, and it mirrors more closely the backroom dealings and discrimination of our current mainstream political and social climate than anyone would like to admit.
Sable represents all of the courage and kindness I wish I possessed. But like me, she doubts herself. Like me, she enjoys learning, she sometimes loathes her appearance, and she loves her friends. Sable has only ever known a segregated environment where her education is restricted and her body isn’t her own. In The Den, there is no reproductive choice. It is a place that holds radical beliefs in female hysteria, male supremacy, and totalitarian fertility control. In The Den, anyone who defies the leader’s laws is subject to punishment as severe as death. He also decides when and with whom each girl will conceive and bear a child.
This past May, Alabama’s governor signed a bill that punishes doctors who perform abortions with life in prison. This law took effect this past November. Georgia’s Governor signed the heartbeat bill, which bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. This means many women, before they even know they are pregnant, will have no choice but to continue their pregnancies to full-term. Georgia is the fourth state to pass this law and though it was thankfully temporarily blocked in court, there’s no telling if and when it could take effect.
Yes, The Den is shocking, a place of horror, a place of toxic masculinity, but is our world much different? If our mainstream society is capable of such harmful beliefs and practices, how are we different from an isolated, radical cult? It’s gut-wrenching to think that eighteen-year-old girls (and boys, for that matter) in our current society will grow up with the same internalized misogyny that teaches us that a woman’s body is not her own and that abuse and harm are commonplace, normalized.
“Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part.”
I wish this quote was something my fictional cult leader, Feles, said. I wish I had written it in his voice to show how outrageous and appalling gender violence is. How dangerous for our young people, for everyone. But these are not Feles’ words. This is a quote from the current President of the United States on how women are hysterical, manipulative, and lesser.
The Den shares many of the harmful sanctions our governments also rely on to maintain power—a disregard for the environment, harsh judicial punishment, lack of education based on socioeconomic landscape, control of women’s fertility and normalized domestic violence.
The ‘#MeToo’ movement emerged when I was in the throes of writing The Birth Yard. Every day, courageous women were coming forward, fighting back and demanding that misogynistic harassment and violence end and that justice be served.
At the same time, fictional Sable—in her own way—was trying to understand her and her friends’ emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. She had known violence and hurt because of her gender her entire life, and she too, began to hope for change. All at once, the women in my novel and the women in my own life were all asking for change.
I wish that the abuse and fear women face every day in their lives, what inspired me to write The Birth Yard, was fictional, that all of the depictions within the text came from the sky, a far-fetched fabrication. I will always wish this.
But like Sable, I turn my head to the world around me, this now, this time, and say “It’s my body. It’s my fucking rules.”
Mallory Tater‘s amazing, moving, and unputdownable novel, The Birth Yard, goes on sale on March 3rd, 2020. We can’t wait for you all to read it!