In CURSEBUSTERS, Reeno gets sent to a school with a “remedial unit” that seems kind of harsh. But you should see a real Bad Girl School! I learned the hard way– narrowly avoided getting sent to one (my mom was always threatening)– but there was a time there when it seemed like all the kids I knew were getting hauled off to Utah or some place .
And then a kid really close to me–let’s say it was my next door neighbor, Serena–started to unravel. First, her mom found pot in her backpack. Then the cops brought her home drunk. Next came cutting school, staying out all night, disappearing for days, once opening a car door on a freeway and threatening to jump. And she was thin and sallow–visibly strung out.
By that time she’d been through counseling, Twelve-Step programs, you name it. Quite frankly, we all feared for her life. Hence, Bad Girl School. Like the one in the book, you got everything taken away the minute you arrived–from TV and the Internet to make-up and even mirrors. Not to mention salt, pepper, and ketchup. (The idea being that you had to earn your privileges by getting what I call good girl points–grades, making your bed, etc.) And you couldn’t speak unless spoken to!
The weird thing was, it was an unexpectedly nice place. The rules were harsh as barbed wire, but the teachers and counselors were all warm and fuzzy and really, really nice–this place was in Mexico, and they were young, sweet Mexican women. Serena cried for two weeks. They all do. And then, like Reeno in the book but with considerably less attitude, she got down to work.
They also had these amazing inspirational weekends when hot-shot group leaders would come in and dare the kids to be great, though maybe not using those particular words. Serena had never been a happy kid. And for whatever reason, she had no confidence in herself; no real hope. But after a year at Bad Girl School, she felt like she could conquer anything. And she has. She’s doing just great now–seven years later. She says it wasn’t something she’d want to do over again, but it did change her life.
So here was the writing challenge all that presented: If the kids couldn’t speak, and they were watched day and night, how was Reeno going to have an adventure? Well first, enter A.B. the telepathic cat. And then in about the eighth draft, a simple but book-saving idea– lighten up on the rules! Let the kids talk and have real friends! Why didn’t I think of that on the first draft?