When a small-town’s most attractive, ambitious and conservative girl graduate goes missing from her big city college campus, her Bible study girlfriends from high school back home step up to find their beloved friend and sister. Of course, the small-town folk are not at fault, are they? They only want to help, right?
As Amos Tversky and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman demonstrate in The Undoing Project (authored by Michael Lewis), impression and bias are flawed, and we don't see the monsters among us until it is too late.
Legal Grounds unpacks that dilemma in a small-town vs. urban interplay. #MeToo and #ChurchToo factor in. It’s a challenge illustrated in a story, all too real in Average America.
Within the framework of the small-town story is the town coffeeshop book club – Bonfire Books – reading a powerful novella. Out from the Jaws of the Dragon exposes a hidden undercurrent of violation of the most vulnerable in their safest places with their most trusted human connections. The book club provides an avenue of discussion among the main characters as their small-town mystery unfolds.
Small communities and families and faith friends are relied upon as safe havens. Aren’t they? Safe? The questions.
Two lawyers, many lattes, a perfect town, and a mystery.
How does a story spark and then light up the imagination? Reading about girls of history around the world inspired me: Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, Spring Moon. My girl life in the 'burbs was out in the meadows or inside with a book, with my BFF at the skating rink in winter and in the pool in the summer.
Girls had few chances to speak but opportunity to observe and take notes those days. @Gladwell says his mother is a great storyteller, yet "not one to regale the room”, (https://youtu.be/ehlhrqSWPbo). In her time, a Jamaican woman in Canada doubtfully would regale the room. She became a writer.
Notes grew from writing down the action that was never voiced in our enclave: drunken dads and promiscuous moms (vice versa), boys in forts poring over porn, handsy uncles, gossipy Hollywood-ites at swimming pools in swim outfits showing off matching heels and fancy hairdos, never to take a dip.
Later, there was the lovely college student with her religion professor, hanging out at the campus bar after classes, then leaving together. He was a family man. On and on, the idiosyncrasies in society of those who make it righteously, but live a shadowy hypocritical debauchery just under the radar.
This felt normal, really. However, what was troubling as a grown-up was a disturbing criminal depravity that apparently many knew, but no one acknowledged. Beneath the guise of religion or “Jesus loves me” was an undeniable underbelly of the powerful preying on the vulnerable.
Eventually, it was so disturbing that I pieced together alleged anecdotes and described a compilation, a narrative of sorts, with the idea that if we can’t talk openly, maybe we can consider what is happening and what to do, via the safe pages in a book. #ChildrenToo and even #ChurchToo appeared on the page.
I called a literary attorney who said the story was realistic and important, but I needed to hire an editor. The editor, with a red pen crossing out paragraphs, and scrawling elsewhere “more needed”, transformed cautious notes into a novel that whispered the unspeakable.
Fiction integrates observations with daily news. #MeToo arrived, followed by #ChurchToo: my genre. God loves us, I saw, but He isn't part of a scheme of using authority to plunder the vulnerable. God doesn't play the deadly game of destroying the lives of children and youth, a creepy power grab with religious license.
Stories should not put victims under a microscope. They had already been exposed in a cage with a wolf predator. Their reporting meant reliving and risking responses such as “Lying slut!” How victims dressed was insinuated, as well as how they felt. “You must have enjoyed that…” shamed, instead of "How can we help?"
The stories should ring true without putting lives before predators, predator enablers, labelers (“forever doomed, damaged”), or some helpers that use victimization for endless capital growth. Trauma meant eternally damaged and co-dependent, which rippled down through generations, some "helpers" would say to their clients.
Novelists use stories for social discourse & change. Dickens shed light on debtors’ prisons and children. Anna Sewell inspired kindness for man and beast. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery transformed adoption from servitude to loving a child. These informed my writing.
My professional network of friends critiqued my manuscript: from medicine, education, religion, law, science, business, etc. They had witnessed some of what they read in the novel. They made suggestions for clarification. The novel was tweaked & ready for publication.
After his read of Legal Grounds, the books editor of our local newspaper told me, “Be encouraged as more of these types of novels-as-witnesses are published. Those writers are not your competition. You are a cohort that stands together to inform. This happens. What will we do?”
Dear readers & writers, what have you observed, heard, experienced, & read? Pray tell, what eye-openers have you to reveal in the safe pages of a book? What we see and do not say. That's a novel, that's a book. #ReadingCommunity #WritingCommunity