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#At first glance, first-time novelist L.J. Harris’ Between the Lies seems like another Terry McMillan knockoff. You know, the formulaic scenario where an attractive sister finds out way after the fact that her charismatic, adoring, but oh-so-slick lover has been sleeping with another woman while she’s been home taking care of his snotty-nosed children.

Tired.

But in this debut, a ferocious undercurrent of pain flows through every relationship. There is no joviality or reconciliation here, which might cause the reader to wonder exactly what was going on in the author’s life at the time she wrote it.

“I didn’t go after this,” the fortysomething Washingtonian explains, referring to her book venture. “A job situation that was a disappointment—metaphorically—that’s what this book is about. You think things are going one way, and they turn out another. After it happens, you realize you had hints all along that the outcome would be what it is.”

While Harris is clearly unfulfilled by her day job as a federal government employee, she will not expand much on the episode that drove her to tears—and prayer—while at her desk one afternoon. “I prayed that God would show me I was worth more than my job,” she states with exasperation. Harris admits that unhappiness and anger became the catalyst for Between the Lies, and her sadness slowly unveiled itself at her basement computer.

“I simply wanted to clear my head. I went down and sat in front of the computer and [the pain] started to come out. I was expressing my pain through the characters. As the story unfolded, I began to understand that my prayer was being answered. I never wrote before. I didn’t want to write before. Letting all of that out was a cathartic experience for me.”

The newfound novelist hasn’t hit it big enough yet to step away from her position as a city slave, however. “I’m working between a glass ceiling and a sticky floor,” sighs Harris. “That’s where I am now.”

Between the Lies, published by Harlen Publishing in Temple Hills, Md., is somewhat implausible at points; it’s difficult to believe anyone could endure as much craziness and heartache as her trio of female heroines does and still come out on top. But with each ass-whipping experience comes a profound lesson: You can’t trust nobody. Except maybe your mother. And definitely not your lover.

And certainly not your local government employer.

—Deborah Rouse