In many ways this week’s blog will be a continuation of last week’s, but it also contains a major spoiler alert. If any of my blog readers have never read Until Proven Guilty, Beaumont #1, you need to stop reading now. For everyone else? You’re good to go.
I wrote UPG, as I refer to it, in the latter part of 1982 and early 1983. It was published in June of 1985, the year I turned 41. In the book, homicide cop J.P. Beaumont crosses paths with a woman named Anne Corley. She’s rich, smart, and dangerous. Only at the end of the book does he discover that she’s a one-woman vigilante posse determined to meet out her own kind of justice to pedophiles.
As I said, the book came out in 1985. Four years later I learned that Juanita High School in Kirkland had started a “Reading for Pleasure” program. Every day the school shut down for twenty minutes while everyone there—kids, teachers, and staff—including cafeteria workers and custodians—were expected to read for FUN. Not required homework reading; not work-related reading—reading something for pure enjoyment.
As a provider of reading for fun, I wanted to back this program, so I called the school and spoke the principal telling him who I was and what I did and saying that, on October 27, I wanted to give myself Juanita High School for my 45th birthday. I said that on that day I wanted to come to the school and do an hour-long assembly in front of all 1600 students and that I would do it for free. His first question was: Who are you again? He went on to say that the school had a very nice auditorium that held 400 students at a time. Wouldn’t I rather speak there?
I said, “No, I want to do one assembly not four. I want to speak to the entire school on October 27, and I’ll do it for free.”
“Let me get back to you,” he said. A week or so later, he called to say fine, but then, the day after that he changed his mind: “That’s the day the shop teachers have their pumpkin carving contest, so it’s a no go.” The next day he called again. It turned out some of the shop teachers were big fans of mine, and they were willing to move the date of the pumpkin carving contest. So we set it up. I was due to be there about mid morning—during the reading for pleasure time slot.
The night before my daughter took me aside and told me, “Mom, tomorrow when you go to Juanita High, wear a long skirt.” So I did—a flared wool skirt with tall boots. I’m glad I took her advice because she knew something I didn’t. “One of the shop teachers who was a fan had read UPG and knew Anne Corley drove a Guard’s Red Porsche. In honor of the event, the shop teacher borrowed a friend’s Porche and drove me into the gym homecoming queen style, handed me out of that very low car, and gave me a bouquet of flowers. That was the lightning-bolt moment when it came home to me that it’s really pretty wonderful to be a late bloomer!
I gave my talk. Gyms are notoriously tough places to do talks because the audience is on either side of the room seated on bleachers, but I spoke and they listened. At the end of my talk, one of the kids stood up and asked, “Where did Anne Corley come from?” And that’s when I was hit by yet another lightning-bolt moment.
In last week’s blog, I recounted what happened to me as a child at the hands of my paternal grandfather. In my late twenties I had told my father about it and in the early eighties I had discussed the situation with a few women friends. But I had never spoken out in public about it—not until then. But that young man’s question crystallized something in my head and and heart. Years after creating the character, I suddenly realized that Anne Corley was me—my alter ego going out into the world and wreaking vengeance on SOBs who might otherwise get away with preying on little kids.
But that morning I told the story in public—what had happened, when it happened, and how—in front of an audience of 1600 high school students. Afterwards, when I was signing books a young woman, a freshman most likely, came up to the table and said, “The same thing happened to me. What should I do?”
I pointed her to the nearest counselor and said, “Go talk to her. Tell her.”
Harvey Weinstein was found guilty this week, but only because some of the up and coming movie stars he victimized were finally willing and able to come forward. Is he in jail? No, my understanding is he’s faking illness and lounging around in a hospital room somewhere, wearing PJs and watching TV. I want the man under lock and key.
As for Anne Corley? I wasn’t at all conscious of what I was doing when I created that character. She grew out of my heart and my soul, but I wrote her for all the rest of us—the ones who weren’t rich and famous and could call our abusers out or see them punished.
I know there are more than a few of you who are reading this, and you know what? Anne Corley’s for you!