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An author’s resume!

One of the things that has been standard in publishing for years is the author’s resume. Sure, we call it the author’s biography, but so frequently it turns into a list of every random job the author has ever worked. Safecracker! Chicken sexer! Hypnotist! Roller Skate Dancer! Gondolier! Lion Tamer! The weirder the better seems to be the goal when you’re writing copy for the back flap of your book.

When I first had to write an author bio, on the release of my first novel, Last Will, I was stumped. People offered the usual advice: all those weird jobs I had. Sex educator! Topless waitress (for a night)! Receptionist at a nuclear power plant! Architectural slide archivist! Nobody suggested that I should trumpet to the world my two stints as a custodian. (Once at a church. Once at a daycare.) Nor my time toiling in the salt mines of university adjunct teaching or the clerical fields.

My solution was to just skip over the random jobs portion of my bio and fill up space with such witty gems as “Bryn Greenwood lives in Kansas, which is as flat as you imagine but slightly more charming.” I’m a novelist, okay, not a biographer.

When my second novel, Lie Lay Lain, was published, it suddenly mattered that I had worked as a church secretary for three years. It gave me pew cred, so to speak, to be writing a book about a church secretary. Rarely, though, do I see authors celebrating the completely normal, menial jobs that they did before they became somebody who had a bio on the back of a book. That makes me a little sad, especially after what I witnessed this morning.

As I was arriving on campus for my quotidienne office manager job, I saw a young woman using a weedwhacker to trim around a faculty parking lot. She paused at one point and pulled a piece of paper and a pencil out of her pocket. With the weedwhacker still running, she furtively scribbled on her paper. Every few seconds her head bobbed up and she scanned the horizon to be sure her boss on the grounds crew didn’t catch her. As I passed, the paper and pencil went back into the pocket, and she returned to whacking weeds.

I imagined her as a poet, capturing some passing observation on spring, but she might just as likely have been a prose writer or, like my custodian friend who scribbles on the job, a screenwriter. Either way, it made me sad to think of young writers reading authors’ bios and finding them devoid of those boring, plain old jobs. Writers don’t only spring forth from the lucrative careers of lion taming or burlesque dancing or mortuary aesthetics. They also spring forth from secretarial work, child care, burger flipping, and unemployment.

In other news, my publisher is running a sale. The Kindle editions of both my novels are only 99¢ until May 10th! Click on the pic to go buy.

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After allegations of neglect, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families started monitoring Jeremiah Oliver’s family, with monthly visits to check on the welfare of Jeremiah and his two siblings. Or at any rate, they were supposed to be monthly visits. When Jeremiah was finally reported missing in December, the visits from DCF had been irregular for more than eight months. In fact, in June of 2013, the last case worker to visit with the family was told that Jeremiah had gone to live with his grandmother in Florida.

You might think that such a change in the life of a young child being monitored by the state’s child welfare agency would spark some sort of follow up. It didn’t. No one from DCF investigated the claim that Jeremiah had moved to Florida, and they didn’t return to the Oliver family until November, for what they said would be their last visit. In December, Jeremiah’s 7-year-old sister confided in someone at school that she was being abused at home, and her little brother had been missing for a long time.

Jeremiah, lost and found

Jeremiah, lost and found

He isn’t missing anymore. On Friday, his body was found next to a highway, wrapped in a blanket, stuffed in a duffel bag. The police are proceeding on the assumption that he was murdered, and charges have been filed against his mother and her boyfriend. This would all be horrible enough, but to my way of thinking, it is rendered more monstrous by the failure of a system that should have protected Jeremiah. The DCF was aware that he was at risk of abuse and neglect. They were supposed to be checking on his welfare, but didn’t. They were supposed to be alert to signs of danger, and yet they accepted a threadbare excuse for his absence. As though the fire department had received a report of someone playing with matches and gasoline on the front porch of a house, and then failed to respond appropriately until the house burned to the ground.

This news torments, and I find myself unable to stop imagining the series of events that brought Jeremiah to that strip of grass by a road, the horrible choices of the adults in his life that acquainted him with that duffel bag. They are the same thoughts that tormented me, when I first heard about Rilya Wilson.

Rilya was born to a homeless drug addict who could not care for her. As a result, she was removed from her mother’s care and put into a foster home. In 2002, a newly assigned case worker with Florida’s Department of Children and Families arrived at Rilya’s foster home for a monthly visit. It was the first visit from DCF in fifteen months, because the previous case worker had been falsifying paperwork instead of actually visiting Rilya. Confronted with Rilya’s absence, the foster mother claimed that a different case worker had taken Rilya away for a medical examination, nearly two years before.

Twelve years later, Rilya is still in the wind. I know that many people who read Lie Lay Lain are frustrated by the lack of resolution for Shanti, the little girl missing out of foster care in the novel. I feel for them, because it’s a terrible thing, not knowing. We may never know exactly what became of Rilya, and if nothing else, I wanted to be true to that pain and emptiness in Lie Lay Lain. I wanted to acknowledge that she is lost and may never be found.

The case worker who failed to visit Rilya for those two years was given 5 years of probation. It seems like a slim sort of justice for someone who was supposed to be checking on Rilya’s safety and well-being. The case workers overseeing Jeremiah Oliver’s family have already been fired, and they are likely to face criminal charges. In Florida, Rilya’s disappearance caused a massive shift in how children are monitored by DCF. Case workers now have to document their visits through photographs and using GPS monitors. This is all a good thing for foster children in Florida, but for at-risk children in other states, there has been no great shift.

In Massachusetts, there are possibly hundreds of children missing out of foster care. And that’s just in one state, and it doesn’t take into consideration the children who remain with their families, but are being monitored by child welfare agencies.

As a nation, I marvel that we will expend vast sums of money to imprison non-violent offenders, but the care of children ranks so lowly that we think nothing of overworking and underpaying case workers. We can implement facial recognition software in hopes of catching criminals, but we can’t bring that same technology to bear to help identify and locate children. We can compile and sift through massive quantities of internet traffic and phone records, in the name of the war on terrorism, but we’re willing to let thousands of children slip through the cracks to their deaths, because it’s just too hard to keep track of them.

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Actually, two people have officially already won copies of Lie Lay Lain. Judy and Sharon, check your email for your official notice.

The rest of you, there’s still time to enter to win a copy over on Goodreads. That contest is running until April 27th.

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LieLayLain_Cover.fh11It’s official: my second novel, Lie Lay Lain, is out in the world today. The book is about a special events planner who witnesses a hit-and-run, and makes an impossible promise, a church secretary who turns her life upside down to make a lie true, a paramedic whose whole life is a lie, and a child no one will admit is missing. In short, it’s about so much that I find myself practically rewriting the book every time I try to describe what it’s about.

In honor of its release, I’m giving away a few copies.

First of all, if you drop by Goodreads, you can enter to win one of two copies. You just have to click to enter by April 27th.

If you’re not into Goodreads, you can enter to win right here. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, and I’ll choose two winners at random on April 8th. If you’re not sure what to comment, I’m taking questions about what it’s really like to be a church secretary.

*I hope that Lie Lay Lain will turn out to be my sophomoric effort from a strictly numerical standpoint, as my second book, and not in the sense of ill-informed or lacking maturity.

 

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I grew up in a small town, one where almost everyone went to church. From the mayor to my eighth grade English teacher to the sad, old, homeless drunk we called Uncle Stanley. In fact, the only person I knew who never went to church was my granddad, who was living proof that there are atheists in foxholes. With the exception of my granddad, my whole family went to church, twice every Sunday, and most Wednesday nights. Whether we wanted to or not. No one in my family was particularly devout, and outside of church we did not pay much lip service to God or the Bible. The only meal we prayed at was Sunday dinner, and then only if eaten at home. In our world view, only “odd birds” prayed in restaurants. In more ways than one, church was less a religious institution and more of a social club.

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11It’s that ethos that informs much of Lie Lay Lain, my second novel, which will be released on April 1. By chance, when I started writing the book, I was working as a church secretary. Not through any great religious zeal, or any notion that working for a church was a higher calling. I needed a job, they needed a secretary, and I was savvy and polite enough to keep my own opinions on religion to myself. There’s no doubt, however, that the book absorbed some of my experiences and observations as a church secretary.

The primary observation that soaked into Lie Lay Lain and its characters is that people who go to church are regular people. I knew that from my childhood, but after 20 years of adulthood, in which I stayed far away from church and religion, I had started to believe the messages about Christians that are so often promoted in the media. The primary message is that Christians are wholesome, inspirational people who obey the Bible and rise above the bad things that happen to them. The message is rarely that Christians are just regular people. When we look at the books and the movies that are promoted as Christian entertainment, so often the product being offered is sanitized. Remove the swear words, the sex, any suggestion at all that Christians are inclined to misbehave just as often as non-Christians. The industries that produce these products sweep the dirt of humanity under the rug and declare their products safe for Christian consumption. Consistent with Christian values.

On the reverse, you can’t help but notice that when a movie or book is proffered as a mainstream entertainment product, spiritual and religious elements are stripped away. Tell me, how often do you read a mainstream book or see a mainstream movie or TV show in which the characters go to church, and it’s not for a wedding or a funeral? If you believe in the mainstream message, average people don’t go to church. They don’t pray. They don’t have crises of faith. Despite this message, we know they do. We know people of all walks of life, who are not puritanical or devout or zealous, yet who value their religion. One of my raunchiest, most irreverently funny friends goes to church every week. She wears a set of rings with Bible verses on them.

As I start to see reactions from readers to Lie Lay Lain, I hear echoes of the responses that I got from agents and editors when I first started looking for a home for the book. People are puzzled to find a book in which mundane life intersects with religious life. More than a few people suggested that I’d find it a lot easier to sell the book if I could strip out either the divine or the profane. If you took out the sex and the swearing, you could sell this as Christian fiction. Or more ominously, If you took out all the church stuff, you’d have a better chance at selling this. A book that has both—sincere prayer and enthusiastic fornication—is an alien concept to many people.

This fact leads me to wonder about how far we’ve gone to segregate things into their “appropriate” niche. If a novel has Christians in it, it must be Christian fiction. You’ll find the same trend repeated throughout your average bookstore. If a novel has a person of color on the cover, it must be African-American fiction. Shelve it over there. If a novel is about gay people, put it over in the LGBTQ section.

The reason behind this pernicious niching is marketing. If we shelve the books in their niche areas, we can help people find the exact kind of books they are most interested in reading, thereby selling more books. It seems to me that in many ways we are walling up certain books and movies into their own entertainment ghettos, and that’s a bad thing. If a reader has to ferret out the tiny African-American section of their local bookstore to even have a chance of stumbling over a novel about people of color, that narrows their view of the world. If all the books you can find about Christians are Christian Fiction, you’re going to develop a skewed perspective about what it means to be Christian.

What I’m saying is, Let’s start seeing other people. Take a chance on something outside your niche. Take a risk with something that doesn’t fit neatly into a box.

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You’ve seen the movie posters that say Based on a True Story. The smallest amount of research often reveals that the movie is only very loosely based on the vague outline of an actual event that occurred. It’s the way of things. Fiction illuminates the human experience in a way that documentary cannot always do, and so even the best fictionalization of a true story has to take certain liberties to craft a meaningful narrative.

Take the tragic story of Steven Stayner. They made a TV movie about his amazing survival and escape from 7 years of abuse at the hands of the pedophile who abducted him. It was a mostly true adaptation with Steven serving as an advisor. The narrative arc is Steven’s bravery and heroism in finally fleeing his captor in order to save another child from the same fate. Nine years later he died in a random traffic accident, and a decade after his death, his older brother was revealed to be a serial killer. That’s how real life refuses to follow good storytelling practices.

On the other hand, books and media are often touted as Based on a True Story, when at most, they’ve brushed shoulders with a true story on a crowded bus. When fiction is so often necessary to craft a satisfactory arc, what is the attraction of claiming a story is true when it’s at most inspired by actual events? That’s where marketing comes into play. Just as reality TV has become an unholy hot property, so has the “true story” imprimatur become a sales tactic for publishers.

No surprise then that writers respond to readers’ lust for true stories by producing books that they claim are memoirs but are in fact mostly fiction. James Frey was famously outed and publicly shamed for selling his novel as a memoir. People sued and had their money refunded, such was the depth of their sense of betrayal on learning that Frey’s book wasn’t absolute truth. Or even partial truth. I wish I knew someone who’d applied to have their book purchase refunded, because I’d love to hear why.

I consider this now as I continue to try to find a publishing home for a novel that borrows a great deal of inspiration from my own life. Several people have suggested that I might be more likely to sell the book if I played up the autobiographical aspects of it. The thinking seems to be that publishers and readers might be too uncomfortable to read fictional accounts of drug-dealing fathers and romantic relationships between little girls and dangerous men. However, under the broad cloak of Based on a True Story, people would be okay with such uneasy subjects.

For example, informal polling suggests that people who might cringe at reading those old incest classics of V.C. Andrews would feel comfortable reading a “true story” of incest. As a result, readers will snap up books that are touted as based on real events instead of being “merely” fiction. If it’s a true story, you’re reading for edification. If it’s fiction, you’re reading for titillation. Do you agree with that? Are you more likely to read a non-fiction book that has the same basic premise as a novel? Why is that?

I’ve recently discovered that readers are even eager to suss out a novel’s minor details that are drawn from a writer’s life. When people learn that I used to work as a church secretary, they want to know if Olivia, a character in Lie Lay Lain, is me. The answer is no, but certainly a number of the details about Olivia’s experience as a church secretary were inspired by things that happened to me. Conversely, many of my true church stories had to be left out, because they were simply too outrageous for a novel.

It’s the same case with the book I’m still trying to sell. Was my father a drug dealer? Yes. Did he look like Bo Duke and end up murdered? No, he’s alive and mostly reformed in Texas. Was I in a romantic relationship with a much older man when I was just a child? Yes. Did we end up married? No. You see, how stories are woven out of true facts and fiction?

So how true is Based on a True Story? It depends, I suppose on what sort of truth you’re looking for. My guess is that nearly every novel contains a certain amount of true story. All of my novels hold snapshots of my life. Images of things I’ve seen. Snippets of conversation. Parts of people I’ve known. Parts of myself even. That is true.

Also, the offer still stands. If you purchase an advance copy of Lie Lay Lain direct from Stairway Press in December, I will personally send you a guaranteed homemade (but not necessarily guaranteed pretty) holiday card and a signed book plate.

Stairway-Press-2013-Holiday-Promo-AD

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I have never sent a holiday card in my life. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Or Chanukah. Or Kwanzaa. As a result of my holiday abstention, I have never sent holiday cards.

But this year, just for you, I am sending holiday cards. My publisher, Stairway Press, is running a promotion during December that allows you to order a book and receive a personal holiday card from certain authors on their list. For whatever crazy reason, I’ve agreed to take part and send my very first holiday cards. The purchase can be for you or for someone else, but I will personally be sending holiday cards to anyone who purchases a copy of Last Will or an advance copy of Lie Lay Lain from my publisher’s website. Other participating authors are shown here.

Stairway-Press-2013-Holiday-Promo-AD

If you’re interested in getting a book and a card for yourself or for some other reader near and dear to you, just pop over to the Stairway Press book store page. And then use care when checking your mail…

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I always struggle with what to do to commemorate Veterans Day. I’ve never understood the whole “big sale” concept as a fitting way to honor military veterans, but I often feel anger and frustration when I attend the more traditional Veterans Day events. As a society, we like veterans neatly wrapped up in faded photographs (in the case of those who have died) or in crisp, but somehow archaic uniforms. We want to see them at parades and speeches and the openings of war memorials. We do not like to see them in mugshots or sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. Yet a disproportionate number of veterans become homeless or end up in prison.

This dilemma returns to me today, because I just received the final full cover for Lie Lay Lain. I had seen the front cover, but the back cover came as a surprise to me. There in shadow is the image of a paramedic. All of which has what to do with Veterans Day?

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11

Beyond my two point of view characters, Jennifer and Olivia, the third main character of the book is Rindell James, a paramedic and a Marine Corps veteran. The character developed out of me asking the question we all ought to ask ourselves: what becomes of our veterans?

In Lie Lay Lain, Rindell is still carrying the baggage of two tours of duty in Iraq, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a drug addiction that was born out of a combat injury. Throughout much of the book he is just a few missteps away from homelessness or tumbling back into drug use. These elements of his character are not things I cherry picked or over-dramatized to heighten tension in the novel. They are part of the everyday lives of many veterans. You don’t have to go far or look hard to find veterans who are suffering from combat injuries or PTSD, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Combat injuries can lead to lifelong pain and in the pursuit of relief, many veterans become addicted to a variety of drugs. The psychological wounds of combat can also lead to self-medication with legal and illegal drugs, as well as alcohol. Combine pain, stress, addiction, and emotional troubles, and it’s not surprising that veterans disproportionately become homeless, unemployed, or incarcerated.

What is surprising is America’s somewhat cavalier attitude toward the lifelong fallout of going to war. People seem eager to thank veterans for their service, and they occasionally want to buy dinner for them, or contribute to adapting a home for a disabled vet. We do not, however, seem to have a united front on the absolute necessity of providing all veterans with the services necessary to keep them healthy and contributing members of our society.

Instead of thinking about veterans on one special day a year, we need to think about them more often, and more openly discuss the obstacles they face. We can do this by being more involved with local veterans groups, by being informed about veterans issues, or by communicating to our elected officials that veterans are important to us.

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Oy. It’s been one of those months. Finishing edits on Lie Lay Lain. Having my job at work changed. Dog knee surgery. An endless series of bad hair days. (You would be amazed how much time I waste trying to get a comb through my hair.)

Today, I finally stole five minutes at work (shh) to pull my randomly selected winners for my book giveaway. Signed copies of Last Will are going to J.E., who inherited a match safe, which may or may not have sunk on a banana boat in 1914, and to Steph, who inherited her babushka’s babushka. I’ve sent off emails to the winners, and the books will be in the mail as soon as I hear back.

In other news, the cover for Lie Lay Lain has been finalized! It has been a process, not least of which because the book isn’t easy to sum up in words, let alone imagery. And that’s allowing for the conversion rate of 1,000 word/picture. After trying and discarding a number of ideas from the very patient people at Stairway Press, I started trolling the internet for the perfect image. Deviantart.com is a treasure trove. I found a photograph there, and the photographer (Jimmy Fashner) was willing to license his picture for the book cover. A whole lot of back-and-forthing with Stairway Press later, and we have a cover we all like.

LieLayLain_Cover.fh11

About the book…

Jennifer has a great job and a go-getter fiancé. She’s on track for success, until she witnesses a fatal hit-and-run. Mistaking Jennifer for someone else, the dying victim extracts an impossible promise. Jennifer’s fiancé wants her to forget the whole incident, but when she closes her eyes, she can still see the bloody face of the woman who asked for her help.

Olivia is in a rut. Burdened with caring for her brain-damaged brother and already feeling like a spinster at 27, she’s desperate to escape. In a moment of weakness, she tells a lie that draws an unsuspecting paramedic into her life. As she struggles to expiate the lie, a horrible act of violence will test her resolve to be honest.

Where Jennifer’s promise and Olivia’s lie intersect, their lives begin to unravel.

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I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve officially signed a contract with Stairway Press to publish my next novel, Lie Lay Lain. Although we haven’t committed to a release date yet, I do expect it to be some time this year.

Considering how slowly publishing tends to move, this book is something of an oddity. My first novel, Last Will, took about three years to write and more than ten to sell. In a turn about, Lie Lay Lain took nine years to write and was sold in less than a year.

I don’t yet have a cover to reveal, but in honor of the signed contract, here’s an excerpt from the book.

***

The church’s Youth Director had an aura of cool that Olivia envied. She knew it influenced her, although she wanted to resist it. Marnie had always been one of the cool kids, Christian or otherwise, and when she tossed her hair back and clasped her hands over her modest cleavage and gold cross necklace, Olivia fell for it all over again.

“I have a huge favor to ask you,” Marnie said. She didn’t say it the way Olivia would have, like a supplicant. She said it with the same inflection she would have used to say, “I have a huge present for you.”

“How huge?” Olivia saved and closed the spreadsheet she’d been working on.

“I need another counselor to go on the Double Cross overnight.”

It was the sort of opportunity Olivia had once been eager for: participating in the youth ministry, making a difference in the kids’ lives, building the future of the church. Once upon a time, she’d been eager to live out all the public relations lingo Marnie used to recruit volunteer chaperones. Then Marnie shut her out, first telling Olivia she was too young to be a counselor and then four years later that she was too old. In short, Marnie didn’t want Olivia to be part of “the gang.” It felt like high school all over again.

Except now, Marnie needed her.

“I can’t. I’ve got plans with a friend.” Olivia reveled in knowing it wasn’t an excuse or a lie. She was supposed to see Rindell that night and she’d already promised Jennifer she’d go with her up to Anastasia State Park on Saturday, to help her find that little girl’s aunt. Olivia had a full weekend that didn’t include work or quilts.

Marnie didn’t even blink. “You could always reschedule with your friend. Double Cross only comes once a year and you can’t reschedule something special like that.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t.” Olivia didn’t care if her bulldog was showing. Marnie’s opportunism was so distasteful now that she could see the underbelly of it.

Two hours later, Marnie sent in the big guns. Pastor Lou poked his head into Olivia’s cubicle, peering at her over the top of his glasses.

“I hate to put you on the spot, Olivia, but I’d like to ask you to do something for me.”

“Double Cross?”

“The difficulty,” Pastor Lou said, in the same voice he used to cajole the deacons board, “is that there’s no time for us to clear someone through the volunteer protocols. You, however, have already been through it, and you’re already on the insurance for the van.”

Olivia didn’t repeat what she’d said to Marnie, that she already had plans. She didn’t mention that she felt pressed into service, taken advantage of, taken for granted.

She said, “Okay, but I have to pack.”

At the hotel in Orlando, the other counselors and youths trundled their luggage down to their rooms. Olivia followed and discovered the full horror of what she’d been strong-armed into. She would be sharing a room with three teenage girls she barely knew. The adjoining suite held three more girls and another chaperone, Amy, one of the cool kids from the Young Couples Bible Study Group.

“We’re in for an adventure,” Amy said chummily, touching up her make-up.

“Yeah.” Olivia wasn’t surprised when they reached the concert venue that she was made to play the adult while Amy went off to chat with Marnie. Olivia was stuck doling out dinner money, corralling teenagers, and being asked, “Will you keep my lip gloss/cell phone/hairbrush/wallet in your purse?”

The music was nothing like the Christian bands of Olivia’s youth, but she preferred the unintelligible lyrics to the MC’s strident voice between bands.

“Give it up for Jesus!” he screeched, encouraging the kids to yell as loudly as they could. “You wanna know who the coolest guy in the world is? It’s Jesus. He’s your best friend, your study partner. He’s the man. Who da man?”

The answer came back in chorus: “Jesus is da man!”

It was all more slickly polished than it had been in Olivia’s day, and she covered her ears to make it bearable. From somewhere in her purse a cell phone vibrated. As she reached into the bag, searching for a phone that was probably not hers, she glanced up and saw two teenagers pressed together against a wall. They were wrapped around each other, kissing feverishly. The boy was a stranger. Or at least Olivia didn’t recognize the back of his floppy blond hair or his sagging jeans, but the girl was one of her own. Erica, in a tiny pink camisole that barely contained her breasts.

“Oh crap,” Olivia said out loud in the din of screaming guitars and teenagers. Her first ever outing as a youth group chaperone and she’d lost a sheep to the wolves.

Her first instinct was to wait for a more experienced counselor to intervene. Her second instinct was to march smartly over to the girl and give her a stern talking to—no, that was more of a fantasy than an instinct. Olivia did in fact take two steps toward the girl, but came up short when the contents of the “stern talking to” failed to materialize.

Her third instinct was to scurry through the crowd and tell Marnie. She found the youth director dancing in the middle of a circle of kids from Church of the Palms. At first Marnie smiled and waved obliviously. Only after Olivia made multiple gestures to her did she approach, frowning.

Leaning close, Olivia shouted into Marnie’s ear, “There’s a problem.”

“What kind of problem?”

“One of the girls is making out with some guy.”

Marnie was all responsible adult then. She followed Olivia back through the crowds, and promptly went into action. With a flurry of gestures and words Olivia couldn’t hear, Marnie separated Erica from the boy and herded her toward the Church of the Palms crowd. She did it without a single glance at Olivia, leaving her alone on the fringe of the crowd with her vibrating purse.

Back at the hotel, Olivia had plenty of time to repent not following her second instinct/fantasy. Marnie and Amy shut all six girls up in one suite with another chaperone and then they rounded on Olivia.

“How long was it going on before you came to get me?” Marnie said.

“I don’t know. I came and got you as soon as I saw it.” Olivia was as stupidly surprised at the contempt in the question as she had been in high school, facing down the random viciousness of cheerleaders.

“Why didn’t you intervene?”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Olivia said.

“How about ‘stop’?”

“We covered this last week,” Amy said. “We talked about abstinence in group last week.”

“I’m not a regular counselor. I don’t go to group.” Olivia hated how plaintive she sounded.

“Well, you can’t let them go off by themselves. You have to stay close to them,” Amy said.

“I can’t believe you didn’t reach out to Selena.” Marnie shook her head in disappointment.

Selena. Not Erica.

“I don’t know her,” Olivia said.

“You should have done something.” Marnie and Amy shook their heads in unison. That robotic self-satisfaction finally roused Olivia to anger.

“You asked me to do this as a favor!”

Marnie was silent for a moment and then in a low, sneaky voice, she said, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

She breezed back through the adjoining suite door and, on the other side, she said, “Everybody gather around. We need to talk about something that happened tonight.”

Olivia and Amy stood in the doorway, watching as Marnie wove her web around a teary-eyed Selena. In a few minutes they were all hugging and crying and saying, “We love you, Selena. We want you to love yourself. We want you to respect yourself.”

In Olivia’s ear, Amy whispered, “Isn’t she amazing? She’s so good with them. It makes me so happy to think she’ll protect them from the mistake I made.”

When Olivia glanced at her, Amy looked away, maybe regretting the confession. She separated herself from Olivia and fell into the arms of the crying, praying monster of teenage girls. Olivia stayed where she was, watching the circle she hadn’t been invited into and never would be.

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