BY NHIEN NGUYEN
Examiner Editor

When times got rough for young Meg Tilly, she climbed up apple trees, seeking solace in the woods, meadows and nature.

It was natural then for Tilly to use the Pacific Northwest as settings in her writing and settle in a region where nature can readily soothe her soul.

The actress-turned-writer lives in Vancouver, B.C., where she says she loves the rain and the change of seasons. She visits Seattle this month to read from her new novel, “Gemma.”

Tilly, best known for her movie roles in “The Big Chill” and “Agnes of God,” explores a topic close to heart in “Gemma,” a story about child molestation and sexual abuse. She presents both sides of the issue, allowing readers to not only hear the voice of the adult predator, but that of his young victim as well.

After leaving Hollywood for more than a decade, Tilly, 46, has shed her usual private self and speaks publicly about the trauma of her childhood: physical and sexual abuse by relatives, including two stepfathers.

Often in the spotlight, Tilly, sister to Jennifer Tilly, believed that she had to “present the picture-perfect life” to the public. She wondered how people would react if they knew the truth about her past physical and sexual trauma.

“We’re really supposed to keep it like our dirty secret,” Tilly said, who later felt compelled to write about the topic.

Though Tilly has a famous name to sell books, publishing companies did not want to pick up “Gemma” because of its difficult and graphic subject matter.

Tilly persevered with “Gemma,” not only because she wanted to stay true to her creative voice, but also because she wanted to combat Hollywood’s sensationalization of the topic.

With “Gemma,” where readers follow the kidnapping and ensuing sexual abuse of 12-year-old Gemma by her mother’s boyfriend, Tilly wanted to show the real consequences of sexual abuse.

As the number of cases of child sexual abuse rise in alarming numbers, Tilly does not pretend to have an answer to the problem, nor know how communities, including the Asian American community, begin to address the issue. Tilly, whose father was Chinese-American, did not grow up with the cultural influence, as her mother divorced him when she was three years old.

Tilly can only hope that the problem can be addressed with each person, individually, before whole communities can be healed.

Tilly is now content to have the opportunity to raise her children in a nice, safe environment and have time to pursue her writing career. She gets up at 6:45 a.m., makes hot breakfast for her son, puts on a pot of green tea, and writes — at the same time as her writer-husband Don — from 8 a.m. to lunch.

Tilly’s rule is to write a minimum of four times a week. She says, “I don’t feel complete if I haven’t gone to the page.”

Meg Tilly reads on Oct. 21 at Elliott Bay Book Company and Oct. 22 at Village Books in Bellingham.
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