Saturday, August 31, 2019

My favorite creation (Brian Katcher)

So which character of mine is my favorite? Well, that's like asking which of your children is your favorite. Easy for me to answer, I only have one daughter. But my to choose?

Well, they always say your first child is your favorite (at least that's what I tell my younger sister), so one contender would be Leon Sanders, from my first book Playing With Matches.

Leon is very obviously an author avatar. He's 100% based on myself in high school: smart, funny, and terrified of girls. He could make a claim as to my favorite character.

Then, of course, there's Ana, from The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak.

I have real trouble writing female POV characters. In fact, to date, she's the only female point of view character in any of my published books. So she'll definitely always have a place in my heart.

But there is only one favorite:

This is my most popular book, but also my most controversial. Some readers said that I absolutely captured the transgender experience. A few even told me the book gave them the courage to start living as their authentic self.

But others hated it, saying I completely blew it, the book got major facts wrong, that the ending was unnecessarily depressing, and that my author photo was pompous. One guy wrote me from Luxembourg to tell me my book sucked.

But no one ever disliked Sage, the transgender girl and love interest of Almost Perfect. Some people loathed Logan, the narrator, but no one ever said anything negative about Sage. People would rage on her behalf, asking how I could be so cruel to someone so special, and how she didn't deserve a jerk like Logan.

And when readers bond with your character, even when they hated the book, you know you've done your job.

Hats off to you, Sage Hendricks. I'll never write another like you. You're my favorite.

Though that mental patient guy in Everyone Dies in the End is a close second.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Revisiting an Old Favorite - Playing Hurt (Holly Schindler)

Re-reading and revising. From my Instagram: @hollyschindler
Playing Hurt, my second YA, released in ’11. Which seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago.
I think when any writer looks back on previous work, there’s always a mixture of pride and the desire to get back in there and rework certain portions. I’m absolutely no different. 

But that usual wish (If only I had that to do all over again) isn’t so out of reach anymore. Books are in no way carved in stone. When rights revert, an author has every ability to get in there and rework a manuscript. Tackle the finer points raised by reviewers and bloggers. Hit plot holes that you can see now, with more writing experience under your belt. Even update a book to make it fit modern attitudes and outlooks.

Which is where I find myself now. With the rights back in my hands, I’m able to give Playing Hurt—and the characters, including my old friend Chelsea—a second life. Do some of that updating (never would I have imagined, back in ’11, the kind of social upheaval that’s taken place in the last couple of years). 

But it’s certainly a fine line—you want to refine the manuscript, but you don’t want to alienate the old readers, especially if you’re planning to accompany the re-release of an old book with a brand-new sequel. How far is too far? 

As I work on my own old release, I think about books like Blume’s Forever—what would it look like if it were updated to take place in 2019? It’s not just the fashion that changes. It’s not just that characters stop toting around vinyl records and keep phones in their pockets. The way we interact is different. Our roles change, along with our expectations of each other.

What about hopes? Dreams? Do they change too? How much of a character’s own thoughts or visions of self are shaped by the times in which they live?  

At some point, you almost have to ask yourself when a book stops being an updated, revised version, and when it starts being a new book entirely. 

Have you ever read an updated version of a book you previously loved? Was it jarring? A welcome change? Did you think the author really had improved, or gone too far?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Playing Favorites--Getting Beyond Spinning by Dean Gloster

If you’d asked me a year ago about my favorite of the characters I’ve written, I’d have said it was 16-year-old Kat Monroe, the funny, hurting narrator and protagonist of my debut YA DESSERT FIRST. She’s what is known in literature as a naïve narrator—she’s achingly honest and definitely opinionated. She never lies to readers, but she’s sometimes desperately wrong. We readers sometimes see more in her descriptions that she sees herself, as she gets in her own way.

Kat was incredibly fun to write, because—especially when things were toughest—she was funny.

And all her striking out—well, that was Kat hiding how afraid she was. Afraid her younger brother would die of his cancer relapse, afraid her bone marrow transplant wouldn’t save him, afraid her broken friendships would never heal. Afraid of the size of her own fear, so she couldn’t sit with it, and instead repackaged it as anger and humor she shoved out into the world. By the end, though, she figured some of that out. She learned to forgive others and even herself.

Surprisingly though, Kat isn’t my favorite character to write anymore. In my current novel in progress, the main character and narrator, Mike, has a genius younger brother, Dougie, who has skipped two grades but never skipped an opportunity for a sarcastic comment. Dougie is a hoot and threatens to take over every scene. Although he’s book-learning brilliant, he lacks common sense and has very low social intelligence—which, together with his immaturity, makes it difficult for him to navigate the hallways of a suburban high school.

In this new novel I’m writing about my usual topics—death, loss, dark humor, grief, and whether it’s possible to save someone—but also other topics from my childhood: parental alcoholism, PTSD, and the difficulty of a bright but socially awkward kid trying to get though American schools.

We are all affected by the times we live in, and I think that’s especially true of writers. So I’m also writing about evil, powerful evil, and how some collaborate with it and others—at great risk to themselves—resist. I’m writing about courage. I’m writing about empathy, how we develop it, and how some people lack it. I am writing about right and wrong and the struggle for the human soul. As his brother Mike explains, “Sometimes, before it settles down to point the right direction, Dougie’s moral compass spins.”

And how.

By the end of the novel, everything will turn on whether Dougie can be empathetic and whether he’s learned to take care of others when he gets an offer to collaborate with power and evil instead.

I like the arc of Dougie’s story and its promise, especially in these dark times. As I sat down to write this today, I learned that the Trump administration has terminated the “medical deferred action” program, under which desperately ill children without legal status were getting treated for life-threatening leukemia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and other conditions, without the interruption of getting deported, which could kill them.

That hit pretty close to home. My first book was about a family where the boy had leukemia. My wife is a former pediatric intensive care nurse who now works in a children’s hospice, with children who have life-limiting illnesses or who are at the end of their short lives.

May we all be better in learning empathy and learning to do good, even when it costs something, instead of evil. That’s what my next book is about, and Dougie is helping me to tell the story. For that, he’s my current favorite.

Good luck to us all.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Dean Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul.

When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing, he’s on Twitter: @deangloster

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

What makes a favorite? (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I have the same issue most other authors seem to have with picking favorites: it's difficult, maybe even impossible. And I'm less interested in telling you about my favorites from my own books than hearing about which characters are readers' favorites, and why. (Feel free to do so in the comments below, if you wish.)

So I thought I'd talk instead about what makes a character--whether in my own book or in any book I read--a favorite. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, here are some characteristics I came up with:

Character is entertaining. Often this means funny--humor is a big plus--but it can mean unpredictable, even shocking. When we don't know what this character will do or say next, it keeps us on our toes. We need not even like the character's actions to be fascinated by them, to look forward to this character's next appearance.

Character may be self-sacrificing or generous in some way. Sydney Carton is perhaps the shining example here, but a character need not go that far to win our admiration. Think of Han Solo in Star Wars, flying in when he'd seemed to abandon the mission. Think of all the characters who help one another in The Hunger Games trilogy. Donald Maass writes often of the power of the redemptive arc. The character shouldn't be a self-regarding martyr--"look how much I do for you"--and shouldn't be a pushover whose shoulders we want to shake while screaming, "Get a backbone!" but honestly helps out other characters from principle.

Character's special spark is evident. We all have some unique talent or skill or aptitude. It's fun to admire excellence in other people, which I think is part of the reason we watch sports, and Broadway shows, and magicians' acts, and videos of people doing the extraordinary. We like to be dazzled. A favorite character may be the best singer or thief or mind-reader or warrior, but the character may also simply be the wisest, or the funniest, or the most imaginative. Whatever it is, the author lets that specialness shine, and we are drawn to it.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Characters that make themselves “favorites” by Brenda Hiatt

One advantage to writing my blog post late in the month is getting to see how the other authors handled that month’s topic before deciding what angle to take. As several people pointed out, asking an author to choose a favorite character is a lot like asking a mother to choose a favorite from among her children—which is why a few chose to focus on secondary rather than main characters. 

Partly because my books take so long to write, I get very attached not only to my main characters, but to my secondary characters as well. Unfortunately, because secondary characters have to serve the story of the main character(s), they sometimes get short shrift…and that always makes me feel bad for them. Because I want those characters to get happy endings, too (I do write romance, after all!) I’ve developed rather a habit of giving secondary characters books of their own later on. It seems only fair, after all I’ve put them through!

I wrote the first book of my Starstruck series completely from the heroine’s viewpoint, since the story was mostly her journey. I originally thought I’d do the whole series that way, but in book 2, Starcrossed, the hero’s journey was almost as important as hers, so I felt compelled to give him a few viewpoint chapters in that book. (In present tense, which I’d never written before, but which he insisted on, no matter how many times I tried to “fix” it back to past tense!) Once I’d done that, I decided to write a short story exclusively from his viewpoint, as a giftie to my newsletter subscribers. (BTW, anyone can get Rigel’s Jewel by subscribing: )

In Starcrossed, newcomer Sean was the main antagonist (if not quite a villain), scheming to steal M (my heroine) away from her soulmate, Rigel. While writing that book, I got to know Sean’s inner workings pretty well. So well that in book 3, Starbound, I decided to give Sean his own viewpoint in several chapters, to let readers in on his thought process and motivations. In the process, I made him a tortured sort of hero in his own right, though the primary story arc was still M’s. His transformation continued in Starfall, book 4. That book was again mostly in M’s POV, though this time with a middle section in Rigel’s viewpoint that sort of paralleled the first few chapters of Starstruck. (That was so much fun to write!) 

After the sacrifices Sean made in books 3 and 4, it bothered me a lot that even though he was now thoroughly redeemed for his misguided efforts in book 2, he was left hanging without a happy ending at what I expected to be the end of the series. Fortunately, enough readers asked for more books that after a brief hiatus I decided to continue the series. After a “bridge” novella (Fractured Jewel), I decided to give Sean his own story with The Girl From Mars. In that book, he’s forced to confront everything he grew up believing when he’s faced with a heroine who challenges all of his assumptions. 

Molly, Sean’s sister, was another significant secondary character in Starcrossed, Starbound, Starfall and The Girl from Mars. As she and M became closer and closer friends (after some early conflict), I/we learned more about the push-pull of her life as a girl born into an “inferior” class but raised by a high-ranking family. So in The Handmaid’s Secret, I finally gave Molly her own story (and happy ending) too, exploring her dynamics and giving her a hero worthy of her—though of course he had to earn that! 

The next book in the series, which I’m currently writing, will require all three couples to work together to conquer the challenges coming their way—which means all six of the characters I’ve developed will have story arcs that will come to some kind of satisfying conclusion. That means I’m still working out how to balance everyone’s viewpoints, since it’s feeling like more of an “ensemble” book than the previous installments. It’ll be a challenge, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 23, 2019

My Favorite Character by Christine Gunderson

My favorite character from one of my books is a wise-cracking best friend named Roxanne. The protagonist starts the book as a strait-laced rule follower. She changes on her journey through the story and by the end she’s strong, rebellious and unafraid. But she doesn’t start that way.

This protagonist character was hard for me to write in the early pages, before she changes. And suddenly Roxanne just sort of appeared. She’s a snarky rule breaker and I later realized she needed to be there, because she became a moral guide for my main character who began to ask, “What would Roxanne do?” in difficult situations. 

If I look back at the books I’ve loved, the main characters are usually a lot like Roxanne, in different ways. Elizabeth Bennet from my beloved Pride and Prejudice is witty, independent and rebellious too, in her refusal to marry Mr. Collins even though she has no other prospects. Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, another one of my favorites, is sometimes downright evil, but she’s also brave and smart.

Roxanne isn’t based on anyone I know. None of my characters are based on real people. I know many writers do use templates from the real world when they create characters and I wish I did this too, because it sounds like a more convincing and efficient way to write a book, legal issues aside. But if there’s a difficult, inefficient way to write, that seems to be the method I choose every time. 

Do I love and create these characters because they’re like me? I hope I’m not amoral like Becky Sharpe, and I'll never be as witty as Elizabeth Bennet,  but it is true that if someone orders me to do something, I do the opposite, on principle. I also have an issue with authority figures and speed limit signs. Coincidence? Maybe.

I read a hilarious book on vacation this summer called Class Mom by Laurie Gelman, and I’m still thinking about the characters. And that’s my goal when I sit down to write, to create sticky characters the reader carries inside their head and hopefully in their heart too, long after they finish the book.


Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion,or unloading the dishwasher. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Betcha Can't Choose Just One! by Patty Blount

August is Favorite Character Month and with six young adult novels published to date, I bet you're probably thinking it's hard to pick just one.

You'd be right.

It's SO hard.

Authors work on novels for a year or two before they're published so those characters we develop start to feel like family. Picking a favorite just isn't possible. I'm incredibly proud of Dan Ellison, the former bully in SEND and of Derek Lawrence in SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, because I think they did the most growing up, the most changing, of all of my characters. But I'm equally proud of Grace Collier and Ashley Lawrence, sexual assault survivors in SOME BOYS and SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, because they fought so hard to challenge assumptions in their respective stories.

Don't even get me started on Jin-Thomas Clarke, the Pulitzer-Prize-Winning journalist in BORDERLINES, a still unpublished novel of mine that launched a decade-long crush I've had on actor Gilles Marini. (Want the steamy details? Click here.)

Main characters already know they're pretty damn special; they got their own books. You know who never gets any love?

The secondary character!

So I've decided to tell you a little bit about my favorite supporting characters.

First up, we have Mr. Russell, Ian's dad in SOME BOYS. Main character Grace may not be what some consider to be a 'nice girl.' She wears a lot of leather and studs, black clothes, heavy makeup. It's an outfit she adopted as something of a protest to annoy her father.

It works. Perhaps a little too well. Because after Grace's assault, he doesn't give her the comfort and the reassurance she so desperately needs. He suggests the crime committed against her may be her fault because of how she dresses.

You know who does provide comfort? Mr. Russell, main character Ian's father. He not only believes Grace, he steps up, advocates for Grace when no one else would. I adore that character. Here's an excerpt from SOME BOYS where Mr. Russell does what should be done.

I knock on the door to the second property Mr. Russell wants me to shoot.
The door's answered by a guy named Don Harding, a short, thinks-he's-a-player guy wearing a t-shirt that's too tight to be anything but sad. He looks me up and down, smirks a Zac kind of smirk and invites me in. In my head, warning bells sound, sirens wail, and forces are mobilizing for a full scale attack. Don The Homeowner looks at me like I'm nuts while I try to convince myself this is safe but it's not safe and I know it, he knows it and he's daring me to do it anyway.
"You live here alone?"
"My wife won't be home for a while yet, sweet thing. You could come in for a while." Another smirk. Yeah, this is definitely not a good idea.
"When's your wife home?"
"Six-thirty or so."
"I'll come back then, Mr. Harding."
"Call me Don, honey."
How about no? "I'll come back." With a bodyguard and maybe a weapon.
I head down the walk, so happy not to be trapped in a room with this creep.
"Aw, come on. We're both here now. Why you gotta be like this?"
Me? — Oh, you douche. I whip around, not surprised to find that he followed me down the walk. "You wanna know why I have to be like this? Because you're a slimy asshole, that's why. I came here to do a job but you have to act like a dick and then say it's me. It's my fault. It's my problem."
He holds up his hands in surrender. "Jeez, I was just—"
"Oh, you were just what? Playing around?" I wave my hands. "Oh, oh, you were joking and didn't mean anything? Newsflash, Don, I don't find guys like you even a little bit funny. I'm here to take pictures of your new kitchen. Period. I'll come back when your wife is home so pray I don't tell her what you tried to do." To add more weight to my bluff, I whip my phone out of my pocket and wiggle it in front of his face.
I turn to leave.
"Aw, baby, come on—"
I flip directions, stride right up to him so that we're standing toe to toe, and grab a fistful of his t-shirt. "My name isn't honey, or baby, or sweet thing. I am not here to amuse you until your wife gets home. Last chance — are you gonna get out of my way or do I have to mess you up?"
"Okay! Okay! You on your period or something?"
My vision tunnels and I want to tie this guy's tongue in a knot. Before I can do something I'll have to be bailed out for, I turn on my heel and leave. Don Harding's new kitchen is not going to make it into Mr. Russell's new brochures and I really don't give a shit.
When I reach the corner, it hits me I'm not scared anymore. Guess I'm too mad to be scared. I call Mr. Russell, tell him word for word what just happened, and apologize.
"Grace, what did Ian do when Mr. Harding got fresh with you?"
"Oh, he's not here."
"I see."
Crap. I think I just got Ian in big trouble. "He got a ride home from one of his friends. I decided to visit the properties near the school after he left."
"I see."
"Mr. Russell, please. It's not his fault, really. Zac was causing trouble, so Ian got him away from me."
"Well, that's something. Where are you now?"
"Um, walking to the Miller's house up on College Drive."
"I'll meet you there."
He ends the call before I can protest. It takes no more than ten minutes to find the third address on Mr. Russell's list. When I turn up the walk and knock on the door, the homeowner holds up his finger. "Yeah, she's here right now. Okay. Bye."
"Are you Grace?"
I nod. 
"Come on in. That was Steve Russell on the phone."
I hesitate. "Are you Mr. Miller?" The man is tall, with a ton of gray hair streaking the sides of his head. He's wearing a pair of wire-rim glasses and has a tiny gut hanging over the waistline of his Dockers. When he smiles, he seems friendly, not slimy.
"Yeah, Brett Miller. My wife is outside with our kids." He holds out a hand to me but I still hesitate. After a moment, he lowers his hand and loses his smile. "Grace, Steve told me what just happened."
I shut my eyes with a groan.
"It's okay. Why don't you walk around the house to the yard and I'll stay in the kitchen, okay?"
I look at him sideways. "Really?"
"Really." He grins again.
I nod and walk around the house. Mrs. Miller is pushing a toddler on a swing set. An older boy is running around with a soccer ball. A door slides open and Mr. Miller calls out. Mrs. Miller picks up the baby and heads indoors. A few minutes later, the little boy follows. The yard is like a park with tons of perfectly clipped grass and curvy flower beds. Mr. Russell designed custom tile that resemble scales for a large fish at the bottom of the pool. The sun's at the perfect angle to show off those colors. There's something about framing the perfect shot, something soothing, maybe even cathartic. It's like your whole world gets reduced to just light and shadow, to whatever fits in the viewfinder. Mr. Russell does beautiful work. The pictures I'm taking will make people want to touch this fish, see if those scales are real.
With a happy sigh, I carefully pack the camera away and turn to wave at the Millers, watching from their kitchen. I wind my way around the house and find Mr. Russell leaning against the white Camry. "How'd it go?"
"Mr. Russell? What are you doing here?"
"Making sure nobody else gives you any trouble."
I blink. My dad told me the same thing once. It was after my first day of kindergarten. I walked out of the huge steel doors and found him leaning against our car. I ran over to him and he scooped me up into his arms and asked me if anybody was mean to me. Nobody was until a few weeks later when a little witch named Samantha got me sent to the principal's office. Strange how after Zac assaults me and everybody's mean to me, now his response is "What do you expect me to do when you—"
He never finishes that sentence. I guess he didn't really need to.
I swallow hard. "Thanks, Mr. Russell. Really."
"So, can I see what you've got so far?"
 "Yeah. Sure." I unpack the camera, switch to scroll and hand it to him.
"Grace, these are amazing. Thank you so much. Wait, what's this?"
I snatch the camera from him when he scrolls too far and sees one of the Zac shots I'd taken. "Nothing. I should go. It's getting dark."
"I'll drop you off."
"No! I can walk."
Mr. Russell's eyes, so much like Ian's, go hot for a moment. Then he sighs. "Grace, I know you don't know me, but I promise you this — you're safe with me. I am so, so sorry about what happened to you."
My throat closes and I nod once, then take off. He drives slowly behind me as I walk all the way home. I hate that he knows what happened. I hate that he thinks I'm afraid of him, that I can't handle myself.

I hate that he's right. 

Another favorite secondary character of mine is Etta in THE WAY IT HURTS. Etta is main character Kristen Cartwright's grandmother. She's this larger-than-life former stage actress who coaches Kristen through a seriously humiliating event with a "don't get mad, get even" philosophy. Etta has a string of ex-husbands who all still adore her and are still part of her extended family. She knows what she wants and doesn't just expect it; she demands it in ways that have people tripping over themselves to provide it. Etta has a health crisis in this novel and it's Kristen who propels Etta out of her hospital bed in a gratifying role reversal.

Last month, our theme was secrets in our novels. Here's a secret for you: I adore writing secondary characters' relationships with main characters. I love revealing different aspects to love, to grief, to disappointment, to pride. These supporting characters reveal those aspects to perfection. Here's a scene from THE WAY IT HURTS starring Etta.

"How could he do that, Etta?" I sobbed.
"Hush, darling, hush." She stroked my hair. "Are you absolutely certain he  -- what is it again?"
"Twitter. And yes. I am. He posted a picture of me." I lifted my head from her shoulder and curled my legs under me. Etta handed me the box of tissues from the table beside the sofa, where a framed photo of Etta and Dad sat. I blew my nose loudly and sniffled a few times. "I thought he liked me, Etta. Really liked me."
"He does, darling. I saw the boy's face and I'm an excellent judge of character, remember?"
Despite the knife twisting deep in my soul, I laughed. I couldn't help it. Etta could always make me laugh no matter how crappy I felt. That was why I came straight here, instead of running up to my room and hiding under the covers. "Maybe he's just a good actor."
Etta raised both eyebrows over her tea cup at that. "Nobody's that good, darling." She studied me for a long moment. She wasn't fully dressed today -- no red lips or outlandish eye makeup, but she still looked amazing to me. "Come with me. I have just the thing to cheer you up."
I followed her into the kitchen -- a tiny room at the back of the apartment my parents built for her. The apartment was just large enough for Etta's acting souvenirs and her. She had a tiny sofa, a flat screen TV on the wall. Every spot of wall space boasted autographed pictures of Etta and her leading men, or Playbills, or reviews of her performances -- the good ones, that is. Knowing Etta as well as he did, Dad provided only a basic kitchen. Etta didn't cook. Not even a little. Her refrigerator held leftovers from the meals Mom cooked or the meals Etta ordered in. I watched while she opened the door to the tiny fridge, rooted around inside for a moment and surfaced bearing a foil-wrapped package.
"Sit, sit." She waved me over to the small bistro table in the corner. I sat on a high stool while she opened the cabinet in the hall, took out one of her fancy plates, the kind rimmed in gold, and brought it to the counter near the fridge. A moment later, she put it down in front of me.
I gasped.
Six chocolate-covered strawberries circled the plate, on top of a lace doily. Fresh tears choked me. Etta wrapped her arms around me and squeezed. "Oh, hush now. No boy is ever worth your tears, darling. I should know. I married four."
"You never cried over a boy, Etta?"
She pulled out a chair and sat opposite me, studied the plate, and chose a strawberry. She bit into it, closing her eyes with a moan. "Not since I was thirteen years old and Harold Fine decided that Rose DeLuro had nicer...assets... than I did." She looked pointedly at her chest -- noticeably flatter than mine.
I took after Mom's side of the family in that department.
"What about The Four? Didn't you love them?"
She slowly chewed her berry, licked her fingers and shrugged. "I certainly thought I did at the time."
"And now?"
She smiled brightly. "And now I know I am far too self-absorbed to love any man more than I love myself."
"Uh." I blinked. I had no idea how to respond to that. I grabbed a strawberry of my own, took a bite and felt immediately better. "Where did you get these? They're amazing."
"The chocolate shop off Main Street, near the theater. Wonderful, aren't they?"
Wonderful didn't come close.
"If you were a tad bit older, I'd pour you a shot of whiskey in that tea."
I stared at her. "I won't tell if you won't."
She smiled and gave me the nice-try look. "Now then. Tell me from the beginning everything that happened."
So I did. We drank our tea, finished the strawberries, and I told her everything... the band and The Beat and all the crappy insults and put-downs I'd had to deal with just because I posted my opinions.
"And these insults... you're certain they were from Elijah?"
"Um, well, no. Only the one about making me scream. Oh, Etta!" I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. "I really thought he was great. But he's just -- he's just-- "
"A man. The question is, how will you use this information?"
I lifted my head and stared at her through my tears. "I don't know what you mean."
"Kristen, my darling, whether this Elijah is great or not is not the question you should be asking. You now know something about him -- how can that something help you get what you need?"
"I don't know what I need!"
"Of course you do." She repeated with a subtle eye roll. "You were heartbroken about your summer program rejection. What if you created your own summer program? What if you accepted Mr. Hamilton's indecent proposal?" She leaned in closer. "And what if screaming in his rock band is just the sort of unexpected something extra that you need on your conservatory applications?"
I rocked back in my seat. Could I do that? Could I hide the crack in my heart and pretend this is just my next role? Yeah. Yeah, I decided, I could. "I guess I could call him."
Etta gasped. "Oh, no, you will not. You will wait for young Mr. Hamilton to come to you, begging. When he does, and he will, you'll agree to sing in his band and then you will capture all of his fans with one simple technique that has endured through the ages. It's called sexual competition, darling."
I choked and then quickly looked around to make sure Mom and Dad hadn't possibly heard that.
 Etta patted my back. "It's not what you think," she said, waving a hand. "The concept is quite simple, really. Despite it being the twenty-first century and all, it's just that people -- especially men, cannot believe women can do anything as well or heaven forbid, better than they can. You turn this into a competition like that and people who don't even like this sort of music will fill seats just to see who wins."
My eyes widened. If I did this, I could really give Elijah Hamilton's fans something to talk about -- and maybe, with a little luck, that something might involve revenge of all sorts of unspeakable agony.

A slow grin spread across my face. I raised my teacup and Etta clinked it, a matching grin on her face.