From Thea: One of my very favorite things about hosting a writers on my blog is the chance to share wonderful people with you like my lovely friend Joelle Charbonneau! Thank you, Joelle, for visiting with us this week.
Dr. Jekyll or Mrs. Hyde
Thanks so much to the fabulous Thea Harrison for letting me visit today. Thea is one of my absolute favorite people so I am excited to get to play here with her and all of you.
Thea asked me to maybe share what I’m up to in my writing world. Which should be easy. Only, I never really know what to say because at the moment I am juggling two very different genres. This week, END ME A TENOR hit shelves. It is one of my two comedic mystery series. This one features stage performer Paige Marshall who is desperate to land her big break. Until that happens, she’s teaching show choir, juggling two pretty awesome guys and running headfirst into murder cases. Fun times.
However, when June arrives, I will no longer just be a comedic mystery author. That is when my first very dark young adult thriller will be published. THE TESTING is the first of a trilogy featuring Malencia (Cia) Vale whose life’s ambition is to be selected for The Testing – the one chance a young person has to get a college education and become a leader of the country that is rebuilding from the Seven Stages of War. But when Cia is chosen, she learns The Testing is more than she thinks and the price of passing The Testing might be more than she is willing to pay.
The two don’t seem as if they should go together. But somehow I find great joy in writing both. I also get a kick out of hearing that people have a hard time believing the same author is behind both voices because they are very different. In many ways, I am my own version of Jekyll and Hyde! To demonstrate, here are two excerpts. One from END ME A TENOR and the other from THE TESTING. There is also a trailer for THE TESTING on thetestingtrilogy.com in case you want to take a peek. I hope you enjoy
Whoever invented artificial snow deserved to be shot. No matter how careful I was iridescent flakes had landed in my hair, my clothes and my mouth. Not only did they taste bad, but the sparkly flakes made me sneeze. The label said hypoallergenic. The label lied.
Then again, none of my show choir students strategically scattering handfuls of the stuff across the stage seemed to be having a problem. They were delighted to spend their Saturday afternoon flirting, rehearsing and decorating the auditorium for the Winter Wonderland concert. Show choir was their life. I was sorry to say that at this very moment, it was my life, too. But not for long. My performance next weekend was going to be my big break. My real career would take off and I’d be done with teenage angst.
“The stage looks great, don’t you think?” Prospect Glen’s choir director Larry DeWeese walked over to me. His smile was bright, but the way he was wringing his hands spoke volumes.
“Wrong, Paige?” Larry raked a hand through his disheveled brown hair as his smile widened. Not a good sign. “Why would you think anything is wrong?”
I’d only been working with Larry and the Prospect Glen show choirs for four months, but every time Larry smiled like that bad things happened. I just hoped that whatever the crisis was it wouldn’t involve a dead body.
I turned toward the sound of my name, sneezed, then smiled at the student who patiently waited for my attention. Megan Posey was shy, had a fabulous soprano voice and a great work ethic, which made up for her lack of dance training. Some of the other students snickered at Megan’s struggles picking up the choreography, but she ignored them and always came to the next rehearsal prepared. I had to admire that. “What’s up, Megan?”
The blonde senior frowned. “One of the snowmen lost his head. Do you want us to duct tape it back on?”
The mere mention of the word snow was enough to make me sneeze and sneeze and sneeze. Both Megan and Larry took a step back as I sneezed one last time.
“Why don’t I handle the snowman problem?” Larry fished a crumpled tissue out of his pocket and handed it to me. “That way Miss Marshall can start rehearsal. We only have the theater for another two hours.”
Larry headed off to stage left to work his magic on Frosty leaving me in charge. Drat. The students were always better behaved when Larry was around. Having the power to fail them garnered a teenager’s respect. As a voice teacher and extra-curricular activity coach, I didn’t have the power to alter their grade point average which meant I was forced to gain their respect the old fashioned way—through fear. While I didn’t see the lure of show choir, I was grateful these kids lived in terror of losing their place on the squad.
Sneezing one last time, I yelled, “Time for warm-ups.”
Turning the knob, I push the door open and take a step inside. The smell, urine mixed with corncakes, hits me first. Then I see her. Dangling on a colorful rope. Hanging from the ceiling. Face red and blotchy. Eyes wide with horror. Neck gouged and bleeding where she fought from instinct or because she changed her mind.
I scream as the reality of what I see hits me. Hard.
Ryme is dead.
Hands help me stand. Lead me into the hall. Someone asks me to wait and other people in jumpsuits come running from every direction. I clutch my bag to my chest like a security blanket as activity swirls around me. Ryme is cut down from the ceiling. A gurney appears. When she is whisked past, I recognize the rope still around her neck. Her dress, the one she looked so lovely in yesterday, tied to a bed sheet.
I can’t help my stomach from emptying or the tears that flow hot and fast—for her, for me, for not seeing the desperation and depression under the arrogant façade. Did my taunting her with finishing the final written test push her over the edge? Could a kind word have saved her?
I blink and realize Dr. Barnes is holding my shoulders. Looking into my eyes. I blink twice and swallow down the bile building in the back of my throat. Mutely, I nod that I hear him.
“They are going to assign you a different room.” He leans against the wall next to me. “Would you like to talk about it?”
No. But I will. I have to. Softly, I tell him about Ryme’s arrogance and her taunts today. My reaction and the apology I eventually gave. Even the corncakes and what I suspected they might contain. He’s a good listener. His deep brown eyes meet mine without censorship. His head nods, encouraging me to say more—never once letting his eyes travel to the officials walking in and out of the room, cleaning the floor next to me, talking in hushed tones about removing her belongings.
When I am done, I feel empty, which is better in a way than feeling smothered by guilt. Dr. Barnes assures me Ryme’s death is not my fault. As we discussed earlier, stress is difficult. Some students handle stress better than others. Some can’t eat. Some never sleep. Ryme took her own life. While this is a tragedy, it is better for the entire Commonwealth population to learn now that she is not capable of dealing with the kinds of pressure she would be forced to deal with in the future. This event is unfortunate, but The Testing served its purpose. He hopes Ryme’s choice to end her candidacy will not impact the results of mine.
End her candidacy? Inside I am icy cold. An official in purple informs us my room is ready, and Dr. Barnes gives my shoulders a squeeze. I smile and tell him I’ll be fine and that talking to him made me feel better. I hope he can’t see the lie. Because while his tone was kind, I heard the indifference in his words. To him, this was just another test. One Ryme failed. If I am not careful, I will fail, too.
I am shown my new room at the very end of the hall. The walls are painted yellow. They remind me of the dress Ryme was wearing when I first met her. The official asks me if I’m okay not having a roommate. If I don’t want to be alone he is certain a female official would be happy to sleep in the spare bed.
No, I do not want to be alone. Awake, I am having trouble keeping Ryme’s lifeless eyes out of my head. Asleep, I will be defenseless to stop her from haunting me. Knowing I will be alone through the ordeal makes me want to curl up in a ball.
But Dr. Barnes’s words ring loud in my head. The Testing is about more than what happens in the classrooms. Asking for help through the night will be seen as a weakness. Leaders are not weak. The Testing is looking for leaders.
So, I thank the official and tell him, “I’m fine being alone.” He tells me to let the official at the desk know if I change my mind. They can even give me drugs if I need help sleeping. Then he shuts the door behind him.
I look around the room. Aside from the color it is an exact replica of the one I previously occupied. I hear muted voices and the sound of footsteps. Other candidates returning to their rooms from dinner. For a moment, I consider opening my door and going in search of my friends. A smile from Zandri, a hand squeeze from Tomas, or even one of Malachi’s quiet looks would help ease the sadness. But I don’t open the door because that, too, could be considered a weakness. Instead I shower, change into my nightclothes, wash the daytime ones, and hang them to dry.
Lying on the bed, I stare up at the ceiling, trying to conjure happy memories. Anything to ward off images of Ryme hanging from the light fixture. I can’t help but wonder whether my father witnessed something similar. Whether his brain is making up an even worse memory of The Testing to compensate for the horrific one he used to have. At this very moment, I believe it is more than possible.
Everything is quiet. The others have taken to their beds and are sleeping in preparation for whatever is to come tomorrow. I am still awake. I keep the lights blazing bright and fight against the heaviness of my eyes. I am losing the battle when something catches my eye. A small circular glint in the ceiling. One that matches the one I saw in the skimmer.
It is all I can do to keep the discovery off my face. I don’t know why it should surprise me that there is a camera watching even when we are doing the most mundane chores like sleeping and getting dressed. But it does. Is this sleeping room alone being watched? Because I found Ryme? Immediately, I reject the idea. If they are watching one room, I am certain they are watching them all. The implication of that sucks the air out of my lungs. If there are cameras in every room, someone watched Ryme as she stripped her bed of the sheet. Tied it to her dress. Reasoned out the best place to affix it to the light fixture on the ceiling. They watched as she stepped off the chair. Saw her struggle against the rope, claw her throat in an attempt to free herself, and go limp as her body shut down.
They could have saved her. Instead, they let her die.