Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Of Genesis: Ethical Issue?

When Genesis represents her former roommate in a divorce case, against the man who secretly preyed on her twenty years earlier, is there a conflict of interest? Should she disclose the predation to her client, something she's hidden from everyone in her life, and that she's struggled to forget herself, as so many survivors of sexual abuse have tried?

As an ethical matter, I would disclose any past involvement with an opposing spouse to a potential client, no matter how long ago it happened. Here's an excellent blog post I found, when researching the duty of a lawyer to disclose an affair with opposing counsel or the opposing spouse:

Because child sex abuse is so fraught with an even wider net of complications, I believe that where an attorney survivor of sexual abuse by the opposing spouse wants to bury her past by not disclosing what happened, she should simply decline the representation.

Pontificating about ethics, when you're not the one in the trenches, is so easy.

My New Novel: Book Of Genesis

Oops, I just realized that I haven't provided any specifics about the plot of Book Of Genesis...

Here's my preliminary blurb:

Genesis Platt, a divorce lawyer, survived a predatory relationship in prep school. Two decades later, she represents her estranged roommate (Blaire Abbott), who married the predator (Connor Sanchez) without knowing what had happened between Connor and Genesis. The case promises to be complicated, since Connor has frittered away millions of Blaire’s dollars. 

When Connor claims he’s a gambling addict who’s being extorted and attacked by his bookies, Genesis discovers the real reason for his problems: He’s preyed on other girls at the school for decades, even through the present, and some of his victims are out for revenge.

Prep School Sex Abuse: What Can Be Done?

Back in the 1970's, sexual predation at my boarding school occurred regularly. Although the administration knew about it, and certainly had received complaints over the years about teachers who had engaged in improper, if not illegal, sexual relationships with numerous students, the students went unheeded - even blamed - while the predators went unpunished.

To this day, the school's attitude is essentially, 'Aw, come on, it was the seventies.' The school has taken no efforts to reach out to alienated survivors struggling with the traumatic after-effects of abuse that have haunted them through the decades. The school's current manual has utterly insufficient standards and practices for reporting abuse, counseling or investigating reported incidents, or  for avoiding abuse in the future.

This, despite the highly publicized abuse scandal at Horace Mann, and the intensive efforts of a dedicated group of Horace Mann survivors and supporters that funded their own investigation after their school (like mine and countless other elite private high schools) continued to ignore the sordid taint on their illustrious legacy.

A high respected jurist, Leslie Crocker Snyder, the investigator retained by the Horace Mann Action Coalition, ultimately issued a scathing report on the Horace Mann events that also contained a detailed list of recommendations to address as well as avoid future abuse at private schools that can be read here:

I forwarded the report to my alma mater's current administration, via the Chair of the Board of Trustees, who happened to be one of my fellow '70s alums.

The result?

Silence. Even from the vast majority of my fellow alums who, like me, are not survivors of such abuse but have known about it 'through the grapevine,' or through the personal confidences of our survivor friends who can't or won't come forward for reasons of their own.

We must respect the wishes of our survivor friends, but for God's sake we should support them!

There are three things all of us -- survivors and non-survivors alike-- can do.

First, and at the very least, pressure the school to acknowledge the past as more than 'oh, it was the seventies, when standards were relaxed, the curriculum was free-wheeling, and the student body was sub-par' (I'm accurately paraphrasing the words of our associate head emeriti, who is not only blinded by her enthusiasm for the school, but dissing many recent and current members of Board of Trustees, plus thousands of brilliant women who are generous alums).

Second,  lobby the school to adopt Judge Snyder's recommendations for screening, investigaring, reporting, and counseling.

And finally, join the effort to end New York's disgracefully short statute of limitations on claims by child sex abuse survivors. Our statute ranks as one of the worst four in the country. It's long past time for us to pry our state from the clutches of religious and insurance-industry interest groups, in order to provide redress for survivors.

Evolution of Book Of Genesis: Part 2

During the spring of 2014, I told a few fellow alums of my plans for writing a novel about a divorce lawyer who had survived teacher predation at her elite, all girls' prep school. My plans were not well received, to put it mildly. One woman called my home, insisting that I not write this book. Several others told me the book would upset a lot of alums, and that it would definitely piss off the school. I was told to expect to lose friends and acquaintances from our alum community if I proceeded.

One of my colleagues, however, mentioned the widespread sexual abuses at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, that had been exposed in The New York Times. I'm ashamed to admit that I had no knowledge of the Horace Mann scandals, and that I'd had no idea that prep school predation had occurred at any school other than my own.

Since then, I've read Amos Kamil's articles in both the NYT and The New Yorker, along with stories in The Wall Street Journal and scores of other reports about abuses at other American prep schools. 

Those schools include, in no particular order: Yeshiva, Poly Prep, Carolina Friends, Deerfield, Hackley, Woodward, Green Meadow Waldorf, The International School, St. Paul's, The Potomac School, Indian Mountain, Williston Northampton, Marlborough School, Solebury School, St. Francis Prep, Fessenden School, The American School in Japan,  Hotchkiss, and most recently, St. George's School... the list of private secondary schools with predator teachers amongst their midst doesn't stop with the latest sordid revelation. It just keeps growing.

As for my own alma mater? Silence, to this day. Except for the ponderous tome extolling the proud legacy of our indomitable founder, in which the emeritus assistant head of school unapologetically avers that the sexual abuses of students during my era by "a few" misguided teachers was an anomaly brought about by the subpar quality of the student body (not even kidding) and the permissiveness of the seventies.  

To which I say: Bullshit.

Evolution of Book Of Genesis: Part I

Book Of Genesis is a novel inspired by true events that occurred not only at my own alma mater, but at many other boarding schools in the northeastern United States, between the late 1960's and the mid 1990's. 

In private secondary schools, certain faculty members abused their positions of trust and authority to prey on vulnerable students. The schools turned a blind eye to known or suspected sexual abusers, blaming the students, or blaming the leniency of the times -- but always protecting the reputation of the school above all else.

Rumors of  'affairs' involving a few teachers and students at my own school were whispered behind cupped palms during my student days. Gossip within the bubble of our small community in upstate New York was to be expected; it was only after I was a twenty-plus-year alum that I learned how many students had been preyed upon during my three-year tenure at the school, that some of the perps had been highly-respected teachers (a few even had endowed chairs named after them), and how searing the survivors' experiences had been during school and the ensuing decades. 

I hadn't understood why so many of my most beloved friends from school had simply vanished, whereabouts unknown to anyone -- even Google. Several had chosen to remain in touch with only one or two select friends, retaining outsized levels of bitterness and anger from their prep school days that far exceeded my own lingering feelings of adolescent alienation. 

Maybe predation was the cause of their self-imposed isolation from the rest of us; maybe not.

All I knew was that, although I had escaped the attention of those predators when I was a student, others hadn't been so lucky, and that I owed it to them to write this story.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Story Structure Blues

Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted here.

Not like I've had nothing to say, mind you. But when Client Relations didn't sell in the early spring of 2014 (sixteen publishers' rejections in five weeks was enough for my agent to pull it from the market), I was pretty demoralized. Five years of work up in smoke.

My agent's advice? Write another book and make it a bestseller.

No problem.

I ruminated. I shopped online for things I didn't need. I played games on my iPad. I walked the dog.

And as for book two? I posted in September 2014 that I was writing a story about prep school predation, and that I'd drafted ten chapters already.

After that, well I came up with more plotting ideas, then wrapped myself around a flagpole for months about the right story structure. Then I chugged away, still indecisive about whether to write the story chronologically, whether to bookend the present events with extensive flashbacks, or whether (like Client Relations) to sprinkle small flashbacks into the present day plot line.

I'm still struggling with this, since the predator's 'grooming' and actual abuse are so critical to the story. I got smacked upside the head in some writing groups - really hard, the most recent time around. And now I've solidified my thoughts for the umpteenth time. So I'm writing again.

So what if it's a year or more later and I'm still working on the first third of my book?


Monday, December 1, 2014

Research Versus Writing

When I used to play a lot of music, late night hours were always my favorite. A couple of decades later, I haven't changed. The only difference is, I've swapped one kind of keyboard for another.

I'm working on Genesis, like I last posted back in September. I've written the first ten chapters, workshopping it online, and hoping to move quicker so I have a full working draft finished by next summer - wow, that would be nice.

I get sidetracked by research, of course. I've been called a 'voracious researcher,' a 'relentless researcher,' a 'tireless researcher.' I don't know if those are actually compliments, or insults, to be honest. I admit, I research every teeny tiny detail to death.

Some people tell writers not to research before they write; to get their ideas down on paper, and fact-check everything later. Because research is so distracting, it detracts from the creative process.

They may well be correct, but hell, I'm a lawyer. Trained to research first and foremost, before describing a single fact or event.

So I'm ignoring that advice. Which may explain why, after four months, I'm just starting to write chapter eleven!