Monday, November 3, 2014

The Tithe by Elle Hill Politically Personal Characters & Giveaway

Every seven years, the towns sacrifice their sick and disabled. No one has ever survived the angels’ harvest. Until now.

“Every seven years, seven persons from each of the ten towns must go into the desert, where they will enter into the realm of Elovah, their God.”

No one knows exactly what happens to these seventy Tithes, but everyone knows who: the “unworkables,” those with differing physical and mental capacities. Joshua Barstow, raised for twenty years among her town’s holy women, is one of these seventy Tithes. She is joined by the effervescent Lynna, the scholarly Avery, and the amoral Blue, a man who has spent most of his life in total solitude.

Each night, an angel swoops down to take one of their numbers. Each night, that is, except the first, when the angel touches Josh… and leaves her. What is so special about Josh? She doesn’t feel special; she feels like a woman trying to survive while finally learning the meanings of friendship, community, and love.

How funny that she had to be sacrificed to find reasons to live.

Politically Personal Characters
By Elle Hill

The Tithe’s dedication reads “To all people with differing physical and mental appearances and capacities. We deserve a story in which we’re the heroes.”

Truth is, I’m tired of reading about characters who don’t look and think like my loved ones and me. Since I’m a writer and the god of my own, tiny, made-up universes (it’s good to be queen!), I realized I have the power to, as the way-overused quote says, be the change I want to see in the world. As a result, The Tithe is fundamentally a story about what it means to be “normal” and who bears the brunt of this distinction.

Joshua Barstow is our story’s shero and main character. She’s a twenty-year-old woman raised by the town’s imrabi, or holy women. She served as their “library caretaker” for six years before being sacrificed as a Tithe. She’s fiercely smart, inquisitive, and prickly. She’s never before experienced friendship, intimacy, or much of anything beyond pity or respect for her mad librarian skills. Her character arc includes coming to terms with her disability, Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome, which causes her constant foot and leg pain and makes walking difficult. Like all the Tithes, she knows she has little time left before the angels harvest her, and she uses it to explore friendship, romance, and what it means to belong.

In this novel, the heroes are people with differing physical and cognitive abilities. They’re social scapegoats, those burdened with the sins of their peers and sacrificed to maintain the desert towns’ fragile “utopia.” And while I can neither confirm nor deny them, rumors abound that The Tithe contains a subtle message about how contemporary Westerners treat people of various dis/abilities. Ahem.

Several years ago, when I first started writing, everyone advised me to avoid politics and make my novels as bland as rice pudding. I have my PhD in sociology, wrote my dissertation on the politics of fat, and have published and performed pretty punch-packing political poetry. Erasing politics from my creative endeavors didn’t come naturally to me, but I somehow managed.

I’ve since recovered. For The Tithe, I figured if I was writing a fundamentally sociological novel that explores social mores, governmental structures, and religious institutions, there was no way I could divorce myself from my politics. And you know what? Letting myself explore this universe – its version of utopia, its familial structures, the discrimination against its most fragile citizens, its policing of sexuality and reproduction, the very nature of religious belief systems -- was absolutely the best part of writing this novel.

Joshua Barstow is a fully-fleshed, complicated character all her own. She’s curmudgeonly, sensitive, compassionate, and introverted. She’s the Tithes’ ultimate spiritual leader. Josh is someone who snaps at someone to stop treating her like an invalid and then throws herself in front of danger to save them. As rich as she is as a person, she also serves a political purpose -- mine. Josh has Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome and, in spite of being the best library caretaker the imrabi have ever known, is sacrificed for the “good” of the town. She is a breathing, complex character and a vehicle through whom I explore the politics of disabilities and the effects of a utopian theocracy.

As the feminists are wont to say, the personal is always political, right?

“I don’t want to die.” The words surprised her, spinning so artlessly from her lips.

“I don’t want you to die,” Blue agreed.

“What about you?” Josh whispered.

He didn’t respond for a long moment. “It doesn’t much matter, I guess.”

“Of course it matters!”                      

“If you say so,” he said.

“Blue,” she began, and then stopped. “Blue, why? Aren’t you scared?”

His blue eyes remained completely empty. Had his mouth not moved, she might think him a statue. “No.”


“Because I don’t matter. I’ve spent my life existing. Sometimes I think the best thing humanity does is provide sustenance for bacteria and other symbiotes. And then there was here. And you, Joshua Barstow.”

“I’m not special,” she insisted.

“You exist so grandly, so loudly, I can feel you. The air trembles around you. You walk through a room and atoms collide. Everyone here can feel the greatness of your being. They may love you or despise you or want you to lead them, but everyone notices you.”

She exhaled a startled breath. Blue, her friend, her bodyguard, her socially-backward philosopher. Her hand moved to his hair, smoothing through its knots. When her voice returned, she told him, “You matter, Blue.”

“I don’t,” he said gently, as if imparting an uncomfortable truth to a child.

“You matter a lot to me,” she carefully enunciated, unsnarling a particularly knotted tangle.

“Well, then.”

AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Born in Idaho during the height of disco, Elle Hill now chicken-pecks at the keyboard while rocking out to Donna Summer and KC and the Sunshine Band. She worked in Idaho for several years as a secretary and journalist before moving to California and selling her soul to academia. After receiving her PhD in Sociology, Elle Hill became a not-so-mild-mannered college instructor by night and a community activist during the remainder of her waking hours. Always a journalist and writer at heart, one of her favorite pastimes includes publishing commentary on the political and social state of the world; some of her thoughts are posted on her blog at

Elle welcomes visitors to her website at She also urges everyone to become a superhero and adopt their next non-human companion from a local animal shelter.

Twitter: @ellehillauthor

Purchasing the book:

Elle will be awarding a $50 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: 
a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What a fabulous guest post! Thanks so much for sharing :) Really illuminating :D

    1. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm! I'm pleased the post spoke to you. :)

  3. Intense blurb and excerpt!

    Trix, vitajex(at)Aol(Dot)com

    1. I never mind my work being paired with words like "intense." Thanks, Trix!

  4. Enormous thanks for letting me speak my mind today, BAOS! :)

  5. This is a very touching and sensitive excerpt.

    1. Thank you! I'm so pleased you liked the excerpt!

  6. Replies
    1. I wish I could take any credit for that, but alas. Still, many thanks! :)