As both a nurse and a writer, I have always thought that we best educate by entertaining, and in Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor’s award-winning novel, Death By The River (Oct 2, 2018/Vesuvian Books) they have done just that.
In this story, high school senior Dawn (as many other girls her age), is determined to stay with Beau, the antagonist, because he’s rich, popular, and the star quarterback. She doesn’t want to believe her sister’s nagging suspicions and won’t listen to her warnings. After all, he’s a great catch. Beau’s family is aware of his problem and using their money and power, they protect their secret. But can they continue to hide it?
To many, this young adult thriller is outwardly about a psychotic teenager and the terror he brings to the small town, where his victims are intimidated into silence. But it’s also a story about survival, and the subtext shows what a good relationship looks like while warning how to identify the signs of a toxic relationship. Like most sociopaths and psychopaths, Beau is charming and intelligent, and even though he’s emotionally detached, he knows how to manipulate people into thinking he’s the proverbial golden boy.
When one of Beau’s rape victims finally talks about her experience, it echoes to what is happening in our society. “As he was beating and raping me, I kept asking myself why? Was it how I looked? Something I said or did?” Still today, we witness victims turn the blame on themselves because that is what many in society do.
Alexandrea says things have changed little since she was in school as teens were not—and still not—taught about dating violence or offered education or counseling on sexual assault. There were only whispers in the hall of such atrocities.
A friend of hers in school was a popular, pretty cheerleader who always dressed in the most recent fashions. “Lady L” was excited about being asked out on a date by a rich, popular boy from a nearby campus. Soon after their date a drastic change occurred. Her friend withdrew from all activities, stopped cheering, stopped her Bible studies, and stopped caring about her appearance. School friends and teachers took note, but no one understand what was going on.
Alexandrea learned her friend had been raped 35 years later when “Lady L” finally told her parents, her husband, and her grown children. She had felt shame, blame, and guilt (none of which was her fault) and hadn’t wanted to tell anyone until now because she feared reprisals, humiliation, and peer pressure. “Besides no one would have listened or believed me.” How many victims are brainwashed into thinking that even now?
Alexandrea says, “If I had read a book like Death by the River back then, I think I would have understood, listened, and known how to support my friend. Talking about the events helps the healing process.” The rapist apparently had a reputation for drugging and assaulting his dates, but no one had warned “Lady L.” He never paid for his crimes, and his wife and children have no idea of his past.
“I wanted this story to be an accurate portrayal of what can and does happen. I wanted to show the two sisters with good and bad relationships.” Asked about the graphic violence and abuse in the book, this nurse-educator gave a short laugh. “Yeah, even my agent and editor had questioned that. Lucas and I don’t approve of violence for violence sake in a story, but if it’s an integral part of the plot, and reflects realism with the characters, then it’s needed. I felt I had to show the progression as Beau went from bullying others to far worse. Because of his good looks, his family reputation and money, he gets away with that and so the danger increases as he escalates to rape and beyond. No one is immune to violence and, no, I don’t think that stories like these make kids more violent. No one ever said that about the Dracula or Frankenstein books or movies. Stories don’t cause violence. They depict violence, which causes fear. And, hopefully, fear leads to change.” She does warn that readers should be at least sixteen-years-old to read this. “This is a truthful depiction. Work in emergency at a hospital for a few days and see what people really do to each other. It will change your perspective on violence.”
Her favorite part of the writing was the relationship between the father and son … and exposing the father’s own anger problems. While he didn’t go as far as Beau, a toxic home environment can exasperate mental illness.
Death by the River was born from a nightmare Lucas Astor had. After Alexandrea teamed up with him on the multi-award-winning Magnus Blackwell series, their agent felt her experience as a nurse with victims of sexual assault could breathe life into the characters who suffer at the hands of the psychologically twisted Beau Devereaux. Alexandrea’s understanding of mental health issues also brought to life Beau’s decline into depravity.
To aspiring writers, Alexandrea says, “Persistence is the key. Writing is a muscle and must be used and developed. You can’t improve in your writing until you find your voice, which might take some time, and will grow with each story you write. Be open to learning from everyone.”
Future books coming out by Alexandrea include REALM—an historically accurate Young Adult novel about the Persian wife of Alexander the Great, Roxana (who’s mostly ignored by history,) as well as more installments of the Magnus Blackwell series with Lucas Astor, and their sci-fi/thriller, The Chimera Effect. It was this last book that garnered the attention of Boilermaker Entertainment. It is currently in development for a TV series.
The author of over twenty-seven novels, Alexandrea Weis grew up in New Orleans as the daughter of a motion picture director, Jack Weis, who introduced her to story and structure as they took coffee with their neighbor Tennessee Williams. Alexandrea is a licensed wildlife rehabber, and she and her husband rescue orphaned and injured animals.
Lucas Astor prefers to stay out of the spotlight as he writes his books and dark poetry. His penchant is for telling stories of the darkness in the human psyche and the evil that exists behind the fake smile.
Death by the River is a must read for all teens—and adults, too. It kept me turning the pages. It will not only entertain but will educate, as well. I can’t wait for the movie!