Dawn Schiller discusses The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes
Dawn Schiller is a survivor. That much is apparent in the title of her heartbreaking (and, at times, horrifying) new memoir, The Road Through Wonderland: Surviving John Holmes. Schiller became entangled with the then-32-year-old Holmes at the tender age of fifteen; she spent five years in an unhealthy relationship with the porn king, wherein he used drugs (and gave them to Schiller, too), beat her and forced her to sell her body on the streets. Her story was part of the 2003 James Cox film Wonderland, starring Kate Bosworth as Schiller and Val Kilmer as Holmes. Schiller goes much deeper in her memoir, now available in major bookstores nationwide; we caught up with her to ask about the process of writing the memoir and how she got to where she is today.
WW: Can you tell me about your reasons for writing The Road Through Wonderland?
DS: It really came after the filming of the movie Wonderland. The movie was well done, and I give kudos to James Cox, who, as the director, really tried to incorporate huge character arcs into a movie about a robbery. Kate Bosworth played me, and Val Kilmer played John. And in the end, there was a major issue that was not covered, and that was the abuse that John was responsible for with me. And it really wasn't clear how I got involved with John on a lot of levels, and it wasn't clear that he was very abusive and battered me. There was a part where I'd shared this with the actors, and James actually filmed a section where, after Kate was sold to Eddie Nash -- and they cut out a part, they filmed it -- where you can see after he sold me to Eddie, he did what John always did, beat me afterward and then bathed me in the bathtub. And they showed a silhouette of Val looming over Kate, which gave an indication of what was about to happen. But when I saw the final screening, they'd taken it out. That was a key element that I wish had stayed in the film, because I think it would have told the story of who he was and why I stayed in that situation. But they did cut it out, and I understood why, but it didn't sit well with me as far as being satisfied that my story was accurate.
I became friends with Val, who, throughout the filming, was creating all these photographic collages, and he asked me for a chronology for his artwork. And I sat down and did it for him. It turned into eleven pages. And he called me back and said, "This is your book; you need to write this. This is the story that people need to hear." So he inspired me. And my daughter -- another major inspiration for me to write the story was I really felt my story was not clear to people, still, and if anything ever happened to me, I didn't want my daughter to not know the truth. Even though it was ugly, I wanted her to know, from my own perspective, what I was going through. And as things progressed, I realized it was not only a story I wanted to tell about myself, but a lot of victims' stories. These kids who are battered -- their abusers or predators are not somebody with the name of John Holmes, and people won't listen to the story. And a lot of the time, their voices are unheard, and they're muted and invisible. And I really had the opportunity to speak out to others who are going through this and allow the public to see what kids are going through and what they're thinking when they have a not-so-healthy background, a background of abuse and neglect, like I did, and why they're so vulnerable to predators and the damage it might cause.