Out of Character
by Molly Zenk
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Inspirational
Tired of hiding his strong faith and convictions to get secular roles, David Hawkins jumps at the chance to play the curate on 1700s Life. It's the perfect vehicle to spread God’s word.
Elliot Banes’ career needs an image makeover, so he accepts the naval hero role on 1700s Life. Getting away from his overbearing mother is an added bonus. His true hope is to learn to speak his mind instead of always fading into the background.
When a scripted love triangle between Harmony, David, and Elliot becomes a real life love triangle, Harmony must make a difficult decision. . She hoped to find her wavering faith, she didn't count on finding love as well. If that was her only obstacle, the role would be a breeze. Unfortunately, there’s an on-set spy intent on causing drama. Can Harmony see through all the lies and secrets to the truth in her heart, or will she end up falling for the wrong man?
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Two Years Ago
“So which did you like best?” I ask Patrick as we drive home from college tours. “We probably saw the music and drama departments of every state school this side of the Pacific Ocean. Did any stand out or are you going to let them fight over you some more before officially deciding?”
“Which did you like best?” Patrick asks. His text message alert goes off, but he ignores it. He is always such a careful driver. Mom never worries about us when Patrick is driving. “The most entertaining thing about today was their spiels. I mean, come on, do people actually fall for those sales pitches? ‘You’ve seen the rest, now see the best.’ Who writes this stuff?”
“Really desperate recruiting guys?” I take off my wedge sandals and prop my feet on top of the glove box. That’s the last time I wear new shoes when we’re walking about a million miles. “It’s your fault for being such a catch. Everyone wants the teen violin virtuoso. I’m just window dressing. These places will take me if it means getting to you.”
“You are not riding on my coattails. You’re a fab actress.”
“If I’m so fab, how come I never get any of the parts I audition for?” I rub at an angry red blister on the back of my heel. “I can’t even get a commercial. Remember that Bright Smile toothpaste audition?”
Patrick shrugs. “So you threw up in the trash can after you brushed with it. Big deal. It’s their fault for making such a nasty tasting product. I say you’re doing the toothpaste buying public a favor by exposing the sordid underbelly of Bright Smile.”
“Sordid underbelly?” I laugh. “I’m cutting you off the next time there’s a Mobster Confessions marathon.”
“I could say the same with you and 1700s Life.” Patrick swats at my feet when we stop at a light to get me to move them. I do so… grudgingly. “Between you and Mom that show is on a 24/7 loop. Why don’t you send in an audition tape already? Mom would pee her pants with glee if you land a role on her favorite TV show.”
I shake my head. “They wouldn’t want me. I’m not good enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Patrick scrunches up his face. “They’d be crazy not to want you. You’re going to be famous someday. You’re going to be famous, and I can say I knew you when.”
“Yeah, you knew me when I was headlining at the local dinner theater. Coming to a stage and table near you — Harmony Jones!”
“You’ll make it. You’re too good not to.”
“In LA, it doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. Talent doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s all about who you know and what you’re willing to do to get ahead of every other good, talented actress out there.”
“So jaded for someone so young. What about those open casting call deals?”
I roll my eyes at the thought. “Cattle calls? Please. I’d rather not hang around in some hotel conference room all day just to be told no.”
“It only takes one yes,” Patrick reminds me. “I’m telling you, send in a tape to 1700s Life.”
I shake my head again. “I told you, they wouldn’t want me. I’m a nobody.”
“Every somebody starts out as a nobody, Harmony.”
“Yeah, I know.” I lean forward and fiddle around with the radio dial to try to hide the fact I really, really want to be
on 1700s Life but, at the same time, I really, really don’t think I have a shot. The producers always make a big show over asking for auditions tapes from all over, but when it comes down to it, the casting director goes for experience over raw talent. It happens every time. They ask for tapes, I think about sending one in, I don’t want to be rejected, so I watch other people season after season on 1700s Life instead of being on it myself. I even went so far as to make an audition tape after my crazy popular run as Abigal Williams in our high school production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible but chickened out and never sent it in. In drama club, I’m a big fish in a small pond. No matter how much I want to be a real actress on a real show, I don’t know if I’m ready to be a small fish in a big pond. My head shot may be impressive but my resume is not. I have the kind of blonde, blue eyed beauty that is common enough in California. Nothing special there. My supposed beauty landed me some child modeling gigs and beauty pageant crowns, but being the face of Lil’ Junior Miss when I was ten isn’t going to open any doors now.
“What are you thinking about?” Patrick asks.
“That this whole actress thing is just a pipe dream.” I prop my feet up on the dashboard again, but Patrick smacks them down just as quickly. “Maybe I should just accept that I’m never going to be anything more than a high school drama club darling and settle on a major with more market value, like education. Maybe I could teach acting. That sounds like a good plan, right? Or a smart one, at least.”
“And always wonder what could have been? Please. You’re too good to be one of the ‘what could have beens’, Harmony. If you have a dream, chase it. Don’t settle for what could have been.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re, like, guaranteed success. The more you play your violin, the more people love you. Acting doesn’t work like that.”
“Acting works however you want it to,” Patrick says. “If you need to be confident, act confident. If you need to act brave, act brave. Seriously, Harm, you can do anything you set your mind to. Just believe in yourself a little bit more, will ya?”
I kiss my index and middle finger and hold them up to the roof. “From your lips to God’s ears. I think I can do anything as long as you’re with me, Patrick.”
He playfully bumps my shoulder with his. “Good, cause you’re stuck with me.” Patrick motions at the radio. “Hey, turn it up! Nothing says ‘I’m fabulous and I don’t care who knows it’ like a little Kelly Clarkson.”
I crank up the radio. We sing Stronger at the top of our lungs, grooving along to the music, and laughing till there are tears streaming down my cheeks. This is the first day of the rest of our lives. We’re young, we’re free, we’re talented, and we’re invincible. Nothing can stand in our way or tear us apart.
Until it does.
The black pick-up truck slams into the driver’s side door like some linebacker looking to make a tackle, only we aren’t ready for it. How can you be ready for something like that?
I scream. It’s the only thing I seem able to do. I scream over and over and over again.
“Stay calm, Harmony.” Patrick grips the wheel hard and grits his teeth as he tries to take control of the out-of-control car. We pin wheel into the guard rail on the side of the highway. The metal rail twists and bends as if a giant crumbles it in one angry hand and throws our car into the mix.
I brace myself against the passenger side door with my right arm and foot. My stomach feels like it’s in my throat. Throwing up would actually be welcome right now. It would give me something to focus on other than this sickening fear that has my heart in a squeezing death grip and my whole body shaking. I try to calm myself by saying a prayer but all that comes out is “we’re going to die, we’re going to die.” Everything I ever wanted to do but never got to flashes before my eyes. Landing my first big role. Cheering for Patrick when he plays his first concert at Carnegie Hall. Getting married. Having kids. I want to be a good person. I hope I already am a good person, but what will people say about me if I die now? What have I really done with my life?
I clutch at the gold cross necklace around my neck — a present from mom for mine and Patrick’s eighteenth birthday. He has one, too, but he can’t reach for it now. He’s too busy trying to keep us alive. Patrick bites down hard on his lower lip and stares straight ahead through the broken windshield. Blood and glass from the driver’s side window sprinkle his strawberry blond hair but he doesn’t lose focus. Not once. I can count on Patrick to get us through this. He’s never let me down before.
The four points of the cross pendant dig into my palm. I focus on that, and suddenly my mind is clear enough to pray. Dear God, please help us. We need you now more than ever. Get us through this, and I promise to--
I never get to finish my thought. Instead, we slam into a concrete support column and everything goes black.
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I recently won a Halloween flash fiction contest through Bienvenvue Press. I saw the call for submission on twitter, thought ‘might as well give it a try’, wrote something that I consider kind of Edgar Allan Poe-ish and submitted it. Horror/Suspense is not my genre of choice so it was a fun surprise to find out I won the contest. You can read the story here: https://bienvenuepressblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/carolina-forever/
What are some of your pet peeves?
Grammar and spelling. I proofread everything thanks to my English/Secondary Education degrees, years teaching, and writing. I don’t even use shorthand in texts. I don’t correct people’s mistakes unless they ask me too…it’s mostly all in my head.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Minnesota but moved to Florida when I was 7. I grew up in a suburb of Orlando, went to college in St. Augustine, and moved to Gainesville to teach. That’s where I met my husband. We’ve moved around a bit too. We spent a year in Tennessee before finally settling in Colorado.
What are you passionate about these days?
My daughters have special needs, so I’m very passionate about being a strong advocate for them, autism research/advocacy, and being a good role model for them. My favorite TV show is THIS IS US. I can get really fired up over that. I’m passionate about the stories I tell through my writing. I feel like these people/characters have entrusted their life stories to me. I only hope I can do them justice.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
With 3 special needs kids, I have limited time to unwind/relax. I like reading and watching TV and movies. If I didn’t have a DVR I wouldn’t stay current on anything.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Right now, I have 12 hours a week where all 3 are in school. I wish I could say I use all those 12 hours to write, but I don’t. I’m looking forward to next year when they’ll all be in school full time. I’ll be super mega productive…and I’m already known for my extreme ability to multi task.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
2nd grade. I had a notebook that I’d write short stories in. I don’t really remember what the stories were about, but I’ve been writing stories from a young age.
Do you have a favorite movie? which of your novels can you imagine made into
I don’t know if I have a favorite movie. I can’t pick just one! I tend to need some hint of romance or the possibility of romance to really get into a movie. That’s the romance writer in me, always interested in character interaction and relationships. When I write, I ‘see’ a movie in my head and write down what I see. The creative process is very visual for me. For that reason, I could see just about any of my books being a movie.
What inspired you to write this book?
A very, very, very early draft was written around the time of the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. It’s changed a lot since then once I started asking myself questions like ‘what if they were actors?’ etc. but my original inspiration was POTC plus realty TV shows like 1900s House.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I write so many different genres, sometimes I feel like I’m all over the place. I finished a YA paranormal romance. I also am working on an adult romance set after a terrorist attack. I have plans for some historical fiction too. It’s hard for me to pick what to work on next because I have so many ideas. I also have future adventures planned for the Out Of Character group.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Definitely. The story takes place after Harmony loses a family member, so there’s so much back story on what her life was like before the family member’s death. Elliot was a child actor who turned into an adult actor. There’s side stories there. David was a model who has been hiding his faith to get secular roles. He comes on strong in the main action of the story because this is the first role where he can really be himself. Katie was the commercial queen for a long time and super ambitious. She’s a schemer. There’s also how they adjust to being off the show once filming stops.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Out of Character?
There’s four main characters in the book which also means 4 point of view characters. They are:
*Harmony – a young actress. This is her first role ever beyond high school. She hasn’t even done any college productions. She sends in an audition tape and is plucked from obscurity. She feels like she’s in over her head and always worried she’s going to get fired.
*David – The ‘It’ boy from across the Pond. He’s a model/actor. He acts super confident and secure but that’s all a front for his inner insecurities. He’s kind of flashy with his faith which can get on the other characters’ nerves, even though they are on a faith based family show.
*Elliot – he’s hoping for redemption and to get away from it all after his ex-girlfriend goes on a smear campaign against him on national TV. He and David are in a scripted love triangle with Harmony which goes off script into real life. He’s used to playing stalkers and serial killers so is looking for a career/image make over as well.
*Katie – She’s been acting a long time without a big break. She’s envious of Harmony or just being handed the lead role. How she handles that jealousy is questionable. She’s very ambitious. You’ll hate her one minute, and she’ll break your heart the next. Katie and Elliot are the two characters that surprised me the most while I was writing.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
It’s kind of a mash up of a lot of things. There’s the Pirates angle, plus a bunch of different reality shows mixed in like Top Model (living together or in close proximity), The Bachelor (romance angle), and 1900s House (living as if you were in that time period – no modern conveniences at all). I thought it would be fun to put a bunch of modern people into that situation. The fact that they were then actors being filmed, having to improv everything added extra layers.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
How the characters took over and told their story. Several (especially Elliot and Katie) really surprised me. There were times I remember saying to my editor “Elliot doesn’t want to talk today” when she asked for more Elliot chapters.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
The title OUT OF CHARACTER refers to the fact that they’re acting. They’re all playing roles. Harmony needs to figure out if David and Elliot are being sincere or playing a role. Who are they out of character?
Who designed your book covers?
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
OUT OF CHARACTER ends on a bit of cliffhanger, but there’s a sequel – potentially a series – planned.
How did you come up with name of this book?
It’s a bit of a play on words. They’re actors so they’re “in character” but they’re also trying to find out who each other are “out of character” too. How they act in character could be completely out of character as their real selves.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
The characters definitely hijacked the story. Harmony kept flip-flopping on which guy she picked, for one. The first draft, she did not pick who she ends up with in the final draft.
What are you currently reading?
The most recent modern book I’ve read is ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake. I’ve been in a classics kick lately and read LITTLE WOMEN and LAST OF THE MOHICANS.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve been writing for publication since 2006 with my first book published in 2008. Currently, I do a mix of ghost writing (writing for other people), freelance (blog posts), and writing my own original work.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
They tend to evolve as I write or think about the project more. Two of the three main characters in the project I’m currently writing, I keep saying “geez, all you guys want to do is talk about your relationship problems.” Some characters are also more ‘talkative’ than others so come across stronger.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
My favorite genres to read are YA and historical fiction. My favorite tropes are love triangles and unrequited love.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Having music on in the background helps me focus for some reason. I create playlists with songs that represent the project or specific characters. That helps me tap into their mindsets even more.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I always have a million different ideas. I try to finish one manuscript before starting the next one.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Pen/paper for short stories or fan fiction. Computer for anything longer. I’ve started testing out dictation too. I like dictanote because it lets you mix dictating and typing so you don’t have to say/speak punctuation or paragraph breaks.
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