It’s a challenging time for parents. How does society face those obstacles and raise resilient, confident teenagers without overstepping their teen’s personal and social boundaries? How do we keep the lines of communication open so our youngsters can make it to adulthood prepared for the journey that’s ahead of them?
Tony Brindell specializes in teenage psychology and answers all these questions during his live talkback broadcast on his very popular radio programme Teen Talk, every Thursday night at seven-thirty. Parents call into the station for advice on matters of sex, drugs, alcohol, school, Church, social media, peer pressure, family — everything parents encounter when raising modern teenagers. If there’s a question you have about yours, Tony has the answer.
He has an easy, commonsense, down-to-earth style of counsel and everyone loves Tony’s silky smooth, empathetic tone.
A smooth voice can also conceal good lies.
Forget Tony’s microphone prowess for a moment, when I first wrote Tony Brindell into my book, he wasn’t any of these things. He was a colourless individual. He lacked personality and substance — but that was the plan. He was just supposed to be a Mr Potato Head character. I plonked a nose, mouth and ears on him and called him a counsellor. He wasn’t meant to occupy a lot of space. His job was to simply listen to a protagonist tell him a deadly tale so readers could hear it too. Tony Brindell wasn’t a story. He was a potato.
Those little plastic ears were made to listen to deadly secrets and then a threat. If he was to go to the police with what he knew, death would come to his family. I wrapped up the story and gave it to a test reader for a once over.
She replied, “Umm, if it were me, I’d go to the police anyway. Once the villain is locked up, how can he harm anyone from jail?”
My protagonist isn’t a gangster. There was no way his threats could reach beyond prison walls. I didn’t set him up to be well connected or some kind of escape artist. I was simply expecting the reader to make a giant leap with what was an unsubstantiated threat between a client of a counsellor and his counsellor (Yes, I included the client/patient privilege thing too but my beta reader wasn’t buying that angle either).
Rewrites are common when it comes to writing novels.
The first draft of any story often has deep holes in it. A writer doesn’t see them when compiling the piece because their eyes are looking forward. It’s not until he or she steps back and has another look at it from a distance do they realise just how deep those holes go. I agreed with my test reader. I needed to fill in those enormous voids so that my readers could cross the pages without falling into them. Tony Brindell was a hole that needed filling.
Enter Tony Brindell, version two.
He was a former high school teacher who left the profession to become a youth worker. Later, he became a Pastor of a working-class Church. He established a youth camp through its committee and then he counselled couples after hours. The counselling component grew and he turned it into a business. He counselled couples outside his church from a private office he built under his home. His open-collared shirt and upward facing handshake approach to counselling were disarming. That compassionate, empathetic voice charmed everyone too. He was well on his way to succeeding as a life coach for everyday people.
The Education Department invited him to be a guest speaker at some professional development days for its teachers. Due to his popularity, he was called back to provide seminars to school Principals. Word got out. Local radio executives heard about his successes and they contacted Tony’s office. They wanted to offer Tony a late-night spot on their 4XWS talkback radio programme. He came up with the title Teen Talk and that’s about where we were when I started writing this post.
My Mr Potato Head wasn’t a vegetable anymore. He got some proper fleshy legs, feet, arms, a life and a complex personality all of his own!
Backstory much? Sheesh! Those holes were filled to the brim!
Tony always believed that the strength and stability of civil, Christian society depends solely on the quality of its upcoming youth. Children are the key but guiding them into adults is a complex and stressful task. Getting them to transition from dependants into responsible young adults in these modern times requires hard work. When done right, juvenile crime drops, education improves and families will become happier, therefore, remain together.
He sees it as a win-win situation for society and families alike.
Teen Talk was aimed at troubled teens but they never called the radio station. Perhaps Tony’s on-air message was broadcast too late in the evening to be heard by them. Maybe teenagers weren’t interested in tuning into talkback radio at all. Music is far more appealing than listening to a bunch of boring old chatterboxes going on about stupid things.
He had to settle for taking calls from distressed parents instead.
It made sense. They were the ones up late, worrying about their offspring’s future. The show became a hit and was moved to an earlier, more accessible timeslot.
Let’s stop the post again.
Tony appears to have succeeded in every way. His counselling, ministering and counselling has grown in leaps and bounds. He’s a leader among his peers and has risen to the top of his profession in a relatively short time. Unfortunately, he keeps failing at the one thing he thing he’s been trying to achieve since he started his life coaching journey: Accessing troubled youth.
There are clues left (much more detailed in the book of course) because each time Tony makes some ground, his job changes. He starts out as a graduate high school teacher believing he can make a change there. That doesn’t last so he becomes a youth worker instead. That ends and he becomes a Pastor, professional counsellor and radio star. He talks to married couples, teachers, school Principals and parents but not to the troubled teens. He misses his mark again and again.
Thank God for those youth camps.
He looks for vulnerable teenagers — to give them love and kindness. He says that he has all the answers and all they have to do is place their trust in him so he can show them the way. But when he finally gets one, it’s never the males he chooses to teach alone. Special attention is awarded only to the females.
And now we’re heading into dark territory, right?
Remember, my writing is dark, adult fiction. I’m drawn to it. It’s what I do. I’m forced to drag Mr Potato Head down into my pit of evil happenstance and fuck him up. I’m destined to expose this filthy bastard for who he really is. I’ll take his kind, outstretched hand of fake hope and encouragement and break it off so I can use it to choke his throat. I want to hear that silky voice struggle past the obstruction and become an incomprehensible rasp. We’ll see just how empathetic it sounds after the truth is let loose and he finds out what my protagonist knows about his dirty little secret.
This brings me back to renewing that threat to keep Tony Brindell silent. “Tell the police what I’ve told you and I’ll expose you for the paedophile you are.” The protagonist walks out the door and doesn’t look back.
Yes, instead of making my protagonist more slippery and cunning, I spent time building my antagonist’s life to a point that it could fall from a much higher place. I printed out the new manuscript and handed it to my beta reader and asked her to read it over again.
“Oh wow. Oh my. That’s not what I expected at all. That’s so creepy and yucky. Where do you come up with this stuff?”
I ignored the question. “Don’t worry about that. Do you think Tony will keep quiet now?”
“I don’t know, yes, of course. How could he not? This is… what… where does this come from?”
Finding ways to destroy a decent man is my thing.
Oh, come on. Look at history. Good men like Tony are found everywhere. Priests, Ministers, Pastors, teachers, coaches — each caught with their hands dipping into the lolly jar. Every day a new story breaks about a person in authority having an inappropriate relationship with a young person who’s supposed to be in their care. Mostly, it’s men who just can’t keep away from that which isn’t theirs to take.
Tony says he’s different and not like that — he doesn’t think like that. He’s respectful to the young ladies. His counsel isn’t some kind of vile perversion but a genuinely caring all-encompassing life experience. He teaches love and every aspect of intimacy. The girls are taught confidence and self-respect, in and out of the bedroom, readying them for the relationships they’ll have in the future. He believes this is God’s way.
“They become better women — and better lifelong mates for the men they’ll marry. It’s the kind of life coach we expect to exist but doesn’t because we can’t talk about it,” he says. “This is what is lacking. You can’t have them guided by today’s young men. They think intimacy is finishing off on a girl’s face!”
Let’s leave Tony right here. You get the picture now.
By lifting his profile I’m able to raise the stakes and give him more to lose. I can also let the reader watch him squirm as he battles with internal conflict. Does he report the murder and risk giving up on his youth-fixing quest, his Church, his radio show, marriage and family? Or does he let it slide so he can continue doing what he says God wants him to do?
And that, my dear reader, is the challenge of writing. Does a writer go for an easy happy ever after ending to wrap it up quick smart, or does one need to dig a bit further and expose the rabbit hole along the way?
That’s the conflict writers face all the time.
SEETHINGS is written in the first-person perspective (which is a challenge in itself) so when news like this is delivered to a character like Tony Brindell, is as though you are delivering it to him yourself. He looks at you and dips his head in shame. You caught him out and he knows you know. You get to see the moment his penny drops. The atmosphere crackles. His eyes change as he realises you’re aware. You’re in a position of superiority. He’s been a naughty boy and he knows it.
What about the rest of the SEETHINGS’ story?
Tony Brindell started out as a potato but, in the original manuscript, I also had bean sprouts, some cauliflower, a pasta dish and something fishy on the side. All had makeovers to improve their standings in the story (a bad egg was dropped – LOL) and some were trimmed so their clippings could be kept and grown for the second novel. The counsellor had a minor story compared to that of the main character. Tony is just a puppet. Our protagonist has a journey of their own to explore. That’s the one to watch!
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer who specializes in taking pictures of lightning may be the only witness.
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