Chapter no 16



blog post titled “Mother Witch Is Also Plagiarized, and I’ve Fucking Had It with June Hayward.”

I glimpse the Google Alert just as I’m about to step into the shower. I sit back on my bed, clutching my towel tight against my chest as I click the link.

Like many of you, I was curious when Eden Press announced June Hayward, writing as Juniper Song, was releasing a stand-alone novella. After the allegations surrounding The Last Front, I had doubts whether she could write something of equal quality, especially now as there are no remaining works of Athena’s to steal from—or so we all thought. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned to the first page.

Mother Witch opens with identical lines from a story that Athena Liu workshopped at the Asian American Writers’ Collective summer workshop in 2018. Such overlap is not coincidental. Here’s the proof.

Below, Adele has included screenshots of Google Docs and photographs of printed story outlines with handwritten notes in the comments, along with so many corroborating dates and accounts that such an accusation would be impossible to fake.

In case anyone thinks this is some elaborate hoax, I’ve reached out to eight different attendees of the workshop that year. Not everyone still has their printouts from that summer, but everyone has gone on record as remembering Athena’s work. They’ve attached their names to this write-up as endorsements. If you won’t take my word for it, consider the weight of our combined testimonies.

The debate over the authorship of The Last Front has been fraught and troubling for many in the Asian diaspora community. A lot of us, myself included, did not want to believe anyone could do something so vile or selfish. And a lot of us were willing to give June Hayward the benefit of the doubt.

With this evidence, there’s no longer a question about Hayward’s intentions. Hayward; her agent, Brett Adams; and her team at Eden Press have a choice now to make about accountability, transparency, and their supposed commitment to justice.

The rest of us will be watching.

I lower my phone. The water’s been running for a good ten minutes, but I can’t summon the willpower to go turn it off. All I can do is sit at the edge of my bed, breathing in and out as the world narrows to a pinprick around me.

When I first saw Geoff’s @AthenaLiusGhost tweets, I spiraled into an hours-long anxiety attack. This time, my reaction feels strangely muted. I feel like I’m submerged underwater. Everything sounds and feels wrong, distorted. Somehow, I am both more calm and more terrified than before. Perhaps it’s because this time, there is no question about what will happen next. This time the truth is incontrovertible, and it’ll make no difference whether I scramble to control the public narrative or not. I don’t have to wonder what my friends and colleagues are thinking about me, or whether they’ll believe my denials. It’s all there in black and white. What happens next will happen, no matter what I do or say.

I put my phone on “do not disturb” mode. I slide my iPad into a drawer. I shut down my laptop. I grab a bottle of whisky from atop my fridge—WhistlePig, a gift from Daniella for three consecutive months on the NYT bestseller list—and settle down in front of my couch, watching old episodes of Friends while I chug straight from the bottle, until I’m out for the night.

Let the internet do its work while I’m gone. When I face the noise, I’d rather it come all at once.


metric is still dropping; nines turning to eights before my eyes. This time, I don’t have to search my name to track the conversation. It’s right there, all over my timeline and in my mentions.

I fucking knew it about Juniper Song. June Hayward strikes again!

Does this bitch never stop?

Wake up publishing, the White Witch is back.

Last time, I’d kept my social media accounts active—partly so that I could stay tuned to what was being said, and partly because I feared deactivation would be an admission of guilt. This time, my guilt is a foregone conclusion—all I can hope for now is damage control, by which I mean managing threats to my personal safety. I delete my Twitter account. I set my Instagram to private. I turn off notifications from my publicly available email address. Certainly I’m getting death threats, but at least this way I won’t know about them the second they arrive.

Someone edits my Wikipedia page to read: “Juniper Song Hayward is a ‘novelist,’ serial plagiarizer, and flaming racist.” That particular line is gone within an hour—Wikipedia has minimal civility requirements, I suppose—but the “Plagiarism” section of my biography remains as follows: “In March 2020, literary critic Adele Sparks-Sato published an essay alleging that the first paragraph of Hayward’s novella, Mother Witch, is a word-for-word copy of the first paragraph of Her, an unpublished story by late novelist Athena Liu. This allegation compounds long-running suspicions that Hayward also stole The Last Front from Liu, though there remains no conclusive proof this is true. Hayward’s editor, Daniella Woodhouse, has released a brief statement claiming Eden Press is aware of these allegations and is looking into the matter.”

My phone rings six times that day—all calls from Brett. I don’t pick up. I will eventually, when I trust myself to hear I’ve been fired without breaking into sobs.

For now, I take a kind of perverse pleasure in watching everything fall apart.

Over the next week, all of my publishing relationships disintegrate. I’m asked to leave two professional Facebook groups and three Slacks I’ve joined in the past year. My so-called writer friends ghost me without exception, even the ones who professed a few months ago to be on my side against the mob.

I have no one to turn to but Eden’s Angels.

Oh god, I text. It’s happening again. When no one responds—which is atypical; Jen is addicted to her phone—I follow up a few hours later with,

I’m having a really hard time right now, is anyone possibly available to talk?

They ignore me for three days. Finally Marnie writes: Hi, Junie. Sorry; have been so busy these last few days. Moving house.

Jen never responds at all.

I’m supposed to have my monthly mentee check-in session with Emmy Cho on Friday. On Thursday afternoon, I receive an email from the mentor program coordinator:

Hi Juniper, Emmy doesn’t think that continuing with your mentor relationship is a good idea, and has asked us to pass the message on to you. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Emmy and for our program.

Bitch. Emmy could have at least mustered the courage to say that to my face. It’s probably ill-advised, but I write back to the program coordinator, Thanks for telling me. Do you know if Emmy has any feedback for my mentorship style, so I can take that into account in the future? What I really want to know is if Emmy’s going around bad-mouthing me. I don’t expect a response, but the reply lands in my email later that night: Emmy simply feels that you have very different perceptions of how the industry works. She also requests that you do not contact her, directly or indirectly, any further.


videoconference with my team at Eden. I finally picked up one of Brett’s calls the night before, after Rory texted me asking if I was alive: Your agent just emailed me. He said you weren’t responding, and he was worried about you. What’s going on? Is everything okay?

“Daniella wants to talk to you ASAP,” Brett told me when I called him back. He sounded tired. He didn’t even ask me if the allegations were true. “We’ve scheduled a Zoom meeting for tomorrow at two.”

Brett’s on the line with me now. All the Eden people are on the same screen, sitting together around a conference table: Daniella, Jessica, and Emily, and a red-haired man I don’t recognize. No one is smiling. No one waves hello when I join the call.

“Hello, June.” Daniella’s voice is cool and low, which is how I know she’s pissed. “I’m here with Jessica and Emily, and Todd Byrne from legal.”

“I’m here as well,” says Brett, ineffectually.

“Hi, Todd,” I say weakly. No one told me I was getting a lawyer. Todd merely nods at me. I realize then that Todd isn’t here for me, he’s here for them.

“Where’s Candice?” I ask, trying to get my bearings through small


“Oh, Candice isn’t here anymore,” says Daniella. “She left a while


“Oh.” I wait, but Daniella doesn’t elaborate. I try not to overthink it. Editorial assistants come and go all the time. They’re underpaid entry-level employees in the most expensive city in the world—ill-treated, overlooked, and overworked with minimal opportunities for advancement. It takes inhuman drive to hack it in publishing. Probably Candice just couldn’t take it. “That’s too bad.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” Daniella clears her throat. “June, if there’s anything we need to know, you need to tell us right now.”

My nose prickles. To my horror, I realize I’m already close to tears.

“I didn’t do it,” I say. “I swear to God. It’s not plagiarized, it’s all my own work, especially Mother Witch—”

“Especially?” Todd cuts in. “What does that mean?”

“I mean, The Last Front was inspired by conversations with Athena,” I say quickly. “But she’s dead now, obviously, and I didn’t have her to talk to while I was drafting Mother Witch, so the writing style doesn’t resemble hers as much—”

“That’s not what Adele Sparks-Sato is claiming,” says Jessica. She pronounces Adele’s last name like she’s reading some exotic soup ingredient from a grocery list. Sparks Sa-touuu. “It appears that she’s gone public with some rather conclusive proof—”

“Adele’s full of shit,” I burst out. “Sorry. No—I mean, I get where she’s coming from; I can see why she’s protective of Athena’s work. And, like, yes, I was inspired by a line that Athena wrote once. I saw—um, she showed me, in her notebook. But the story is completely original—it’s based on my own relationship with my mother, in fact, I mean, like, you can call her, even—”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” says Daniella. “What about The Last Front, then? Is that completely original?”

“Guys.” My voice hitches. “Come on. You know me.”

“You can tell us,” says Daniella. “We’re on your team. If there was any sort of . . . collaboration, or anything that means you are not the sole author, we need to know. We can still make this work. We could set up a split royalties arrangement with Athena’s estate, perhaps, and then out a press release about the shared authorship where you explain that you felt like you needed to do justice to your friend’s work, and that you did not intend to deceive anyone. Then perhaps we can set up a foundation in Athena’s name


She’s talking like she’s certain I’m guilty.

“Hold on,” I cut in. “No, look, I swear to God—it’s mine, the project is mine, I wrote out every single word myself.” And that’s true. Completely true. I made The Last Front. Athena’s version was utterly unpublishable. That book exists because of me.

“Do you possibly have proof of that?” Todd asks. “Early drafts, perhaps—emails with time stamps that we could verify?”

“Well, no, because I’m not in the habit of emailing things to myself.” “Is there any proof that it is plagiarized?” Brett cuts in. “I mean, what,

are we assuming Junie is guilty until proven innocent? This is ridiculous. Didn’t you guys just put out a book about criminal justice reform?”

“We’re not persecuting Junie,” says Daniella. “We’re just trying to protect her, for the sake of her reputation and Eden’s—”

“So are we being sued?” Brett presses. “Has Athena’s estate issued a cease and desist? Or is all this precautionary?”

“It’s precautionary,” Todd admits. “As it stands, the copyright issue is quite easily contained. Athena’s next of kin—that would be her mother, Patricia Liu—has expressed no desire to sue for damages, and as long as we take out or rewrite the opening paragraph of Mother Witch, there’s no problem with the bulk of the work . . .”

I feel a glimmer of hope. Mrs. Liu’s decision not to sue is news to me

—here I thought I’d be on the hook for thousands of dollars in payments. “So we’re all right, then?”

“Well.” Daniella clears her throat. “There remains a problem of perception. We need to be clear on what our story is. That’s what we’re trying to do here: get all the facts straight, so we’re all on the same page. So if June could repeat, for clarity, precisely her account of how she wrote The Last Front and Mother Witch . . .”

The Last Front is entirely my original work, inspired by my conversations with Athena.” My voice keeps steady. I’m still terrified, but I feel like I’m on more solid footing, now that I know I’m not getting dropped by my publisher. They’re trying to help me. I just have to give them the right spin, and we can make this work. “And Mother Witch takes the first paragraph from one of Athena’s unpublished drafts, but otherwise it is entirely original to me as well. I write my own stuff, you guys. I promise.”

A brief pause. Daniella glances at Todd, her left eyebrow arched high. “All right, then,” Todd says. “We’ll want this in writing, of course, but

if that’s all you did, then . . . this is fairly containable.” “So can we make this go away?” Brett asks.

Todd hesitates. “That’s really a question for publicity . . .”

“Maybe I could put out a statement,” I say. “Or do, like, an interview. Clear everything up. Most of this is all misunderstandings—maybe if I just . . .”

“I think what’s best for you right now is to focus on your next work,” Daniella says crisply. “Eden will put out a statement on your behalf. We’ll send it over for your approval this afternoon.”

Emily chips in. “We all feel that in the meantime, it’s best that you, personally, stay off social media. But if you wanted to announce a new project, something you’re currently working on . . .” She trails off.

I get the idea. Shut up, stay out of the spotlight, and prove you’re capable of writing your own books. Preferably something that has nothing to do with Athena fucking Liu.

“What are you working on now?” Daniella prods. “Brett, I know it’s not under contract with us, but we do have the first look, so if there’s anything you can share with us . . .”

“I’m working on it,” I say hoarsely. “Obviously this whole thing has been very distressing, so I’ve been distracted . . .”

“But she’ll have something new soon,” Brett jumps in. “I’ll be in touch when she does. Does that sound good, everyone? Junie will fix that first paragraph ASAP, and I’ll circle back next week when we’ve got something shaped like a pitch?”

Todd shrugs; his part in this is over. Daniella nods. We all exchange some niceties about how it’s good we could get on the line and clear all this up in person, and then Daniella kills the Zoom room.

Brett rings me right after for a follow-up.

“Do they hate me?” I ask miserably. “Is Daniella done with me?”

“No, no.” He pauses. “Actually, it’s not as bad as it seems. Controversy of any sort is pretty good for free marketing. We’re expecting your royalties to go up in the next payment period.”

“What, seriously?”

“Well—so here’s the thing. We didn’t want to tell you over Zoom, but it seems like this whole fiasco got picked up by a lot of, um, well, right-wing commentators. Probably not people you really want to associate with. I mean, let’s be clear about that. But they’re turning this into a culture war issue, and that always drives attention, so sales are . . . up. And it’s always nice when sales are up.”

I can’t believe it. This is the first piece of good news I’ve gotten all week. “By how much?”

“Enough that you’re going to get a bonus.”

It seems like a weird time to celebrate, and perhaps this is wildly inappropriate, but in the back of my mind, I make a mental note to finally get that IKEA couch I’ve been eyeing. It’ll look nice next to my bookshelves.

“It just seemed like Daniella wanted to kill me.” A hysterical giggle escapes my throat. “I mean, she looked so mad—”

“Oh, Daniella doesn’t really care,” says Brett. “She has to do her job, you understand. But at the end of the day all that really matters is cash flow. Eden’s going to stand with you. You’re pulling in too much money for them to back out now. Feel better?”

“So much better.” I exhale. “Wow. All right.” “So you’re going to work on something new?” “I guess I’d fucking better, huh?”

“That would be nice.” Brett laughs. “Write up some pitches for me to show Daniella next week. You don’t have to outline a whole project—just throw out some ideas so that she knows you’ve still got it. Just maybe something that isn’t about a Chinese girl, okay?”

“Ha ha,” I say, and hang up.


dinner. I hit the green ANSWER button, assuming it’s my DoorDash guy. “Hello?”

“June?” A pause. “It’s Patricia Liu. Athena’s mom.”

Oh, Jesus Christ. I have the fleeting urge to hang up and hurl my phone across the room. But that will only make things worse—then she’ll know I’m too afraid to talk to her, and she’ll make assumptions why, and I’ll be up all night panicking over what she would have said to me. Better to have it out now and get this over with. If she’s changed her mind about suing for damages, Brett and the Eden team need to know.

I can’t keep my voice from cracking. “Hi, Mrs. Liu.”

“Hello.” Her voice sounds muffled and nasal. I wonder if she’s been crying. “I’m calling because . . . well, there’s no easy way to say this.”

“Mrs. Liu, I think I know—”

“A woman named Adele Sparks-Sato reached out to me this morning. She wanted to know if I still had Athena’s drafting notebooks, and if she could have a look.”

She doesn’t elaborate, which forces me to ask, “Yes?”

“Well, she insinuated that you had stolen The Last Front from Athena. And she wanted to look through Athena’s notebooks, to see if there was any evidence that Athena had been working on that project.”

I press my hand against my forehead. This is it. It’s all over. I thought she was calling about Mother Witch, but this is so much worse. “Mrs. Liu, I don’t know what to say.”

“I told her no, of course.” My heart skips a beat. Mrs. Liu continues. “I don’t like when strangers . . . Anyhow, I told her to give me some time to think about it. And I thought I would talk to you first.” She pauses again. I know what she wants to ask; she’s just not brave enough to say it. I imagine her standing in her kitchen, nails digging into her palm, trying to speak aloud the possibility that the last person who saw her daughter alive might have stolen her magnum opus as well. “June . . .” Her voice catches. I hear her sniffle. “As you know, June, I very much do not want to open those notebooks.”

And the follow-up question, unspoken: Do I have reason to?

Believe me, in that moment, I want to confess.

This would have been the best time, the right time, to come clean. I think of our last conversation, two years ago, when I visited her home. “I so wish I had been able to read her last novel,” Mrs. Liu told me as I stood up to leave. “Athena so rarely opened herself up to me. Reading her work

wasn’t like knowing her thoughts, but it was at least a part of her she’d decided to let me see.”

I’ve torn that from her. I’ve denied a mother her daughter’s final words. If I tell her the truth now, Mrs. Liu will at least get those words back. She’ll see the effort that occupied the last years of Athena’s life.

But I can’t break.

That’s been the key to staying sane throughout all of this: holding the line, maintaining my innocence. In the face of it all, I’ve never once cracked, never admitted the theft to anyone. By now, I mostly believe the lie myself—that it was my efforts that made The Last Front the success that it was, that when it comes down to it, it is my book. I’ve contorted the truth into such ways that I can, in fact, make peace with it. If I tell Mrs. Liu otherwise, all of this unravels. I drive the nail in my own coffin. And the world may be crumbling around me regardless, but I can’t let it all slip away if there’s even the slightest hope of salvaging it.

“Mrs. Liu.” I take a deep breath. “I worked very, very hard on The Last Front. My blood and sweat are in that book.”

“I see.”

“Your daughter was an exceptional writer. And so am I. And I think it hurts both her legacy, and my future, to overlook either truth.”

I’m skilled with words. I know how to lie without lying. And I know, on some level, that Mrs. Liu must know what I’m really telling her. I’m sure she knows, if she gives Adele Sparks-Sato permission, what they will find in Athena’s notebooks.

But she is terrified of what lies inside those Moleskines. That is clearer now than ever. I’m speaking to a mother who, when it comes down to it, would really rather not confront what dark things lay buried in her daughter’s soul. No mother wants to know her child that well. Here, then, are the terms of our bargain—she’ll keep my secrets, as long as she never has to confront Athena’s.

“Very well,” says Mrs. Liu. “Thank you, June.”

Before she hangs up, I blurt, “And Mrs. Liu, about Mother Witch . . .” I trail off. I’m not sure what I want to say, or if it’s prudent to say anything at all. Todd told me that Mrs. Liu isn’t suing for damages, but I hate to have this hanging over me. I want confirmation from Mrs. Liu’s own mouth that this is going away. “I mean, so I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m going to rewrite the opening . . .”

“Oh, June.” She sighs. “I don’t care about that.”

“It really is original work,” I say. “I did—I did take the first paragraph

—I don’t know how, I think we were just trading excerpts, and it wound up in my notebook somehow, and it’s been so long that I forgot . . . but anyways, the rest of the story . . .”

“I know,” says Mrs. Liu, and now there’s a hard edge in her voice. “I know, June. Athena never would have written something like that.”

Before I can ask her what she means, she hangs up.

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