It’s a challenging time for parents. How do they face modern obstacles and manage to raise resilient, confident teenagers without overstepping their teen’s boundaries? How do they keep the lines of communication open so their youngsters can make it to adulthood safe and healthy?
Tony Brindell specializes in teenage psychology and he’s good at it. He addresses these kinds of questions during his live talkback broadcast on his very popular radio show Teen Talk, every Thursday night at seven-thirty. Parents call the station for advice on sex, drugs, alcohol, school, Church, social media, peer pressure, and family.
According to his audience, Tony has the right answers. His easy, commonsense, down-to-earth style of counsel is appealing. Tony’s silky smooth, empathetic tone helps too.
You wouldn’t know but that smooth voice also conceals some good lies.
Forget Tony’s vocal gooiness, when I first wrote Tony Brindell into my book, he wasn’t any of those things. He wasn’t anything at all. He was mostly a colourless individual without personality or substance. He was just supposed to be a Mr Potato Head. I plonked a nose, mouth and ears on him, called him “counsellor” and left it at that. He wasn’t meant to occupy a lot of space in the text. His job was to simply listen to someone else tell him a deadly tale of murder and intrigue. Tony Brindell wasn’t the story. He was a potato.
Those little plastic ears were made to listen to some deadly secrets and then a threat. If he was to go to the police with what he knew, death would come his way. I wrapped up the story and gave it to a test reader for a once-over.
She replied with one small concern. “Umm, if it were me, I’d go to the police right away. Once the villain was locked up, how could he make good on his threat?”
My protagonist isn’t a gangster. There was no way his arms could reach beyond prison walls. I didn’t set him up to be well-connected or some escape artist. I was simply expecting the reader to make a giant leap and then accept it. (Yes, I included a client/patient privilege subplot but my beta reader wasn’t buying that angle either).
When writing novels, rewrites are common.
The first draft of any story often has deep holes in it. A writer doesn’t see them because their eyes are so close to the action. 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 can go. I agreed with my test reader. I needed to fill in those enormous voids with sense so that my readers could cross the pages without falling into them. Tony Brindell was a hole that needed filling. The potato man needed substance.
Enter Tony Brindell, version two.
He was a former high school teacher who left the profession to pursue a different career path. He became a Pastor of a working-class Church, established a youth camp and then he counselled adults after hours. The counselling component grew and he turned it into a business, working from a private office in his home. His open-collared shirt and upward-facing handshake approach to counselling was disarming — and a compassionate, empathetic voice that charmed everyone. 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, some bones, a life and a complex personality all of his own!
Backstory much? Sheesh! How deep was that hole?
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 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 the first incarnation of the show was broadcast late at night. Few teens called the radio station at that time. He had to settle for taking calls from distressed parents instead. It made sense. They were the ones up late, worrying about their kid’s futures. The show became a hit and was then moved to an earlier, more accessible timeslot.
Let’s stop the post again.
Tony appears to have succeeded in every way. His counselling and ministering have 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 also fails at something he’s been trying to achieve: Accessing troubled youth.
There are clues left (detailed in the book) because each time Tony makes some ground, he loses it. He starts as a graduate high school teacher believing he can make a change there. That doesn’t work out so he becomes a youth worker. That ends and he becomes a Pastor. He misses his mark again and again but eventually finds his groove.
Thank God for those youth camps and the support of his radio programme.
He looks for vulnerable teenagers and parents at their wit’s end — to give the latter respite and, the former, love and kindness during the school holidays. All anyone has to do is place their trust in him. And they do. But special attention is awarded to young 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. 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 and turn into an incomprehensible rasp. We’ll see just how empathetic it sounds after the truth is let loose and others know 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 away 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. Where do you come up with this stuff?”
“Don’t worry about that. Do you think Tony will keep quiet now?” I asked
“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. It reminds us that evil people can be cloaked in goodness.
Oh, come on. Look at history. Good men like Tony have been found everywhere. Priests, Ministers, Pastors, teachers, coaches — each caught with their hands dipping into a sexual lolly jar. Every day a new story breaks about a person in authority having an inappropriate relationship with a young person. 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’s respectful to the young ladies. 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.
Let’s leave Tony right here. You get the picture.
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 once he’s found out. 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 expose a deep rabbit hole?
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. You’re in a position of superiority. He’s been a naughty boy and everyone knows it.
What about the rest of the SEETHINGS’ story?
Tony Brindell started as a potato but, in the first draft, 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. 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 specialising in taking lightning pictures may be the only witness.
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