Cynthia Hamilton


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Cynthia Hamilton

The Story Behind the Story: Jennifer Irwin “A Dress the Color of the Sky”

It would be hard for me to think of a book that affected me on a personal level as much as Jennifer Irwin’s “A Dress the Color of the Sky”. Not only is it about as perfect as book can be in terms of narrative, flow, descriptions and overall story, it reflects a side of society that lurks just below a seemingly placid surface, a vile treachery that somehow manages to exist in every walk of life. Prue’s story is so raw, honest and haunting, it’s impossible to not feel her pain while those closest to her systematically use and abuse her.

But before you get the impression this book is a downer, I can assure you it’s not. In fact, it comes at the reader like a hurricane, flying in the face of decorum while Prue struggles to kick her addiction to sex, her only perceived vehicle to love and affection. As she checks herself into a clinic in Arizona, she takes the first step in reclaiming her marriage and hopefully the self-respect that was taken from her at very young age.

It is my very great pleasure to give you Jennifer Irwin:

I came up with the idea to write A Dress the Color of the Sky when I was in the midst of a divorce from the man I had been married to for nineteen years. There was a tremendous sense of failure brewing inside of me. I yearned for an outlet to deal with the pain of my situation, and coming to grips with the fact that I had failed at the most important commitment of my life.

The combination of the pain of my marriage and my fascination with the details of people’s lives created the perfect storm for me to write my debut novel. I was curious as to why some women choose the right partner and stay married forever, and some don’t. I wondered if there was a correlation between my childhood and the image I had painted in my mind as the perfect partner for me. There was no doubt that my idea of what a husband, and father looked like was skewed. My mother had been married three times, my father, four. By husband number three, it became apparent that my mother’s man picker was broken. One of the men she married was extremely abusive which caused me severe childhood trauma. Another factor also came into play. I am the child of an alcoholic, drug addict. Although my mother was my primary caregiver, my birth father’s addiction took its toll on me during my childhood.

When I was dating my now ex-husband, I had been given the signs that he may have a drinking problem. At one point, due to a variety of circumstances, I took a stand on my happiness and broke up with him. He begged me to take him back and swore off alcohol. With a promise of sobriety, and the innocence of young love, I accepted his promise. My gut told me to call off the wedding after a drunken incident at his bachelor party. There we were at the town hall, my heart screaming not to marry him but when he got on his knees and begged for forgiveness along with the pressure of calling off a wedding at the last minute, I succumbed. We toasted with sparkling water on our wedding day and lived in blissful denial for the first nine years. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that my ex-husband began drinking again but he did. The co-dependent child inside of me reared her ugly head. I came up with a plethora of rules with regard to his drinking, no shots, no hard liquor, the list went on. All of these concepts failed of course. The saddest part of this story for me is that I truly loved my ex-husband but the truth I had to come to grips with was that he never loved me.

So, how did all of this help me write a multi-award winning debut novel that is an Amazon bestseller with near perfect reviews? I spilled my soul onto the pages. What began as a story to heal myself, turned into a venue for me to address many questions and curiosities surrounding me. I had been teaching Pilates for years which helped me learn about various types of women on an intimate level. When Fifty Shades came out, I was fascinated by how the book stimulated so many marriages. I felt as though women had been pegged as not as sexual as men. I witnessed many times what happens when a sexually repressed woman is freed from the chains that bound her. We’ve all heard about the wild years some women have following a divorce. What I concluded was that women are sexual, they’re just more complicated with regards to what turns them on. While my clients got excited about Fifty Shades of Gray (a book I personally could not finish), a variety of men were coming forward as self-proclaimed sex addicts. I pondered as to why there weren’t any women coming forward with the same diagnosis.

After a year of working on my manuscript, I sent my oldest son off to college. There had been quite a few things in the news about the rise in incidents of date rape on college campuses. I wondered about our society and where we were going wrong. Why was a drunk girl raped instead of being taken care of? What could we do about the binge drinking problem and the breakdown of the tried and true buddy system? These were minor factors in my book but something I wanted to address. I take the role of being a mother to three sons very seriously. It is important to me that they deeply respect women. After all, they were primarily raised by me. A few years into writing Dress, the Sandusky trial was all over the news. I struggled with why we hadn’t better protected these kids, and then the gymnasts who had been sexually assaulted by their trusted team physician. All of this forced me to take a deep look at my childhood. There was a part of me that was still wounded from the traumatic incidents that had occurred. I knew that if I didn’t dig deep, seek help, read books, and face my demons, that I would end up in yet another unhealthy relationship.

What I found since releasing Dress is that I’m not alone. Shortly after my book was released, Kelly Oxford tweeted her sexual assault story. She opened up the lines of communication for other women to share their traumatic stories. There was an unparalleled response to her tweet. A woman tweeted every second, millions of women shared their stories, some opened up Twitter accounts to do so. I read through the feed for a few hours until I couldn’t take it anymore. What I learned is that it doesn’t matter what type of trauma you have endured, what matters is how it made you feel, how it affects your sense of self, and how it ruined your chances of engaging in healthy, loving relationships.

I’m not a therapist, nor am I an addiction specialist but I did a lot of research to write this book. I’ll save that for another story but some of my research was on a personal level. Some was to learn more about how others have dealt with healing from their trauma whatever it may be. Since releasing my book, I have received an outpouring of private messages from my readers both male and female. They have shared with me that my book has changed them, helped them, and given them hope. What started as something that I wrote to help me heal, turned out to be a story that seemingly has helped many others.

Where to find Jennifer: