First things first: I ended up with more author copies than I expected, so I'm going to contact the people who - as of this post - have requested one and get their mailing addresses to send them out.
And now onto the day's post:
Sing Down the Stars goes live on Tuesday - YAY!!! And we've now made it to the final character introduction post, which features Penn, the main character.
Penn has grown up in a strange combination of an idyllic life, and a hard one. She loves her sisters and her extended Show family. She adores her father, and can't imagine any life other than the one she's had on the train. But it's a very sheltered existence. They're constantly on the move, traveling from one part of the country to another, yet she's never allowed to go beyond the boundaries of the camp set-up for the circus itself unless she's accompanied by her sisters.
Worse, she's not allowed to ever show her true face because she has to pretend to be a boy. Specifically, she must hide herself in the identity of her own fraternal twin - the brother she killed the night she was born, when it became clear that the power she'd been touched with was something terrifying. The only way to protect her was to claim that the girl twin had died that night and dress her up as the boy.
So while she's happy in the life she's lived, she's also grown with sorrow and regret for things that she can't control and didn't consciously cause. She can't stop mourning her brother because she steps into his shoes every day. She sees how her father created Klok to semi-replace him. She knows no one is allowed to speak the dead boy's name because it's bad luck - to the point that she's never ever heard it spoken.
She grieves for her mother, because her mother died of grief shortly after she was born. She grieves for herself because she wants desperately to be "Penelope" rather than "Penn," yet believes that suffering is her due penance for all these things she can't even remember doing.
And then suddenly, she's out on her own without her father and without her sisters to guide her actions. She's got her friends, but her identity is in flux because now it's Penn-the-boy who is a danger for them to be seen with. She has to find herself on the road, and she's not quite sure where to start looking.
Beyond that, all the certainties she'd built up about her life and her family begin to erode as she's exposed to outside influences. Her perspective changes, and as she learns more about the people she thought she knew, her image of herself begins to change as well. Her black and white world shades in with grey, giving it a new depth and new dark corners.
Her whole life, she thought she hated the Warden's Commission and the medusae and all of the factors that led to her being so different from the "mundane" people who frequent The Show, but the first, hardest lesson she has to deal with is the fact that she hates herself, more. She's terrified of herself and the destruction that follows her everywhere she goes, but the abilities she was
touched with at birth are now the key to her survival, and that of her friends. They're her only means of finding her scattered family. Only, how
is she supposed to wield a weapon she's never been allowed to use?
The book goes live next week, so we're getting down to the final characters. Today's character is a boy named Jermay (and no, that's not supposed to be Jeremy).
Jermay is a circus kid. He's grown up in The Show alongside Penn and the rest, but unlike most of the children of The Show he wasn't homeless or a runaway; he's there with his father, Zavel. Zavel and Jermay do a magic show to entertain guests before the main event, and they also have a spot in the big top.
He's Birdie's favorite target when she wants to cause some (harmless) trouble, and like many pairs of kids who grow up together, he's not quite sure if his feelings for Penn fall on the friend side of things, or if they go deeper. It's a dangerous distinction, as Penn must keep up the facade of being a boy for the safety of everyone in the circus. Her being openly amorous with another boy could draw attention that none of them want.
Feelings aside, Penn and Jermay are rock-solid friends. They know each other's secrets; they know each other's tells, and they know each other's triggers. They've got a language all their own that allows them to speak on more than one level, and each is the one the other looks to for honest answers - even when they don't really want to hear them. Their philosophy is "always together," because they know that there's no situation that the two of them can't find a way out of together.
But neither of them ever imagined finding themselves in the position of being on the road and on the run without support from the rest of their circus family. Their connection and strength are put to the ultimate test as they have to rely on each other to get from point to point with nothing but their wits to guide them. Jermay's nickname on the train is "Good luck on legs," and all they can do is hope he lives up to it.
Birch is a boy living Penn's nightmare. He didn't have a family that could protect him from the Warden's Commission, and he didn't have anywhere to run when his family was in trouble, so he's been raised in captivity because his sisters were all touched with special abilities, the same as Penn's. He doesn't even know his own birth name, as he was given the nickname "Birch bark" as a child and it stuck.
When they first meet, Penn writes him off as someone spoiled and weak, assuming that he's an officer's son because of his appearance, but she soon learns that none of her assumption bear out. Like many of the cast-offs taken in by The Show, Birch's early life was miserable. Seen as not-quite-human by an organization that's decided everyone born into a touched family has more in common with aliens than Earth, the fact that Birch is male makes him a particular fascination of those curious to see how he differs from sibling-sets that are solely female. And he's got the scars to prove it - both on his skin and in his memories.
Birch has also cultivated the same sort of public docile behavior many caged animals adopt out of self-preservation, which is something that irks Penn to no end. She wants to lash out, but he's been in the system long enough to know that direct attacks often end in more pain. It's not easy for the two to get along for long because their natures are so different, but eventually Penn comes to understand that these differences can be strengths. He becomes the temper to her steely nature, and tempered steel is much harder to break.
Nowhere in the strangely anachronistic world in which Penn lives will you find someone more unique than the boy called Klok.
Like Birdie, Klok came to the circus with a single name and no hint of his past life or biological family. (They call it running away to join the circus for a reason - people are generally running from something they don't want to be found by,) However, in this case, he was actually raised by members of The Show before he arrived at the train. Squint and Smolly, the train's engineer and his wife (both of who are under four feet tall) raised the boy alone until his was about ten years old. This was no easy feat, considering at sixteen he's bigger than most grown men.
Of course, there's one other huge difference between Klok's backstory and Birdie's. Klok's is pure cover-story. Rather than running away or being orphaned like most children of The Show, Klok was created without parents. Yes, created - as in android.
Built by Magnus Roma, and designed to look like Roma's deceased son, Klok is a spectacular creation. Strong, brilliant, and protective, Klok was everything the Warden's Commission was hoping for in the soldier they commissioned Roma to build... except he's also compassionate and capable of remorse. This "flaw" made him unsuitable for military service, and so Roma conspired with his friends Squint and Smolly to hide his "metal man" away where he couldn't be corrupted into the soulless killer he was meant to be.
Now Klok works as a stage hand, literally doing the heavy lifting for the circus as it picks up and puts down stakes for each performance. On the road, he becomes a valuable ally to Penn and her friends, which is a situation she finds uncomfortable given his appearance. She's known since she was a child that she's the one who killed her brother, so being followed by someone who looks so much like him is disconcerting. And given that he can only "speak" via text on a view screen where his voice box should be, she's forced to face her past on a regular basis - whether she can deal with it is another matter.
No hero's journey is complete without a cast of supporting friends to back them up along the road.
I've made a brief mention of Penn's circus friends in the post about The Show itself, but since they're the core group, I'll go into a bit more detail in the last few days before the novel's published on October 6.
Winifred Singh -- Known as Winnie to her friends, Winifred Singh has traveled with The Show for four years at the start of the story. As far as anyone knows, she's either an orphan or a runaway who ran afoul of the Warden's Commission at some point, leading to the scars she wears long sleeves to cover up. Though she portrays a siren in The Show's sideshow, she's never spoken a word.
Winnie's a girl with secrets on top of secrets, and she keeps them buried so deep she hopes to never remember them. But when The Show's train is sacked, it turns everyone's life upside down -- literally. When things get shaken up that badly, a few things are bound to end up falling into the open, and Winnie ends up on the run for the second time in her life.
She's a loyal friend, but how much can you really trust someone who's used to sacrificing anything they have to in order to survive?
Birdie Jesek -- Whether Birdie is her given name or not, no one knows. It's the only name the truly bird-like little girl has ever given or answered to, and as for the "Jesek" part, she gets that from her adoptive family: "The Flying Jeseks," who are The Show's acrobats. Bruno Jesek and his wife (known affectionately as "Mother" to one and all) have made a habit of stitching their family together from people who have nowhere else to go, and Birdie's no different. A confirmed survivor by the age of eight, Birdie was alone and half-starved when she found The Show, and she latched onto stern Bruno as a source of consistency and protection. She also proved a natural at the high-wire and related acts, and was soon an official member of the Jesek company.
One of the youngest Show-members by far, Birdie's seen more in her short life than most adults three times her age, but she's still a kid, and she's spent her two years on board the train learning how to be one again. She delights in mischief - usually at the expense of her favorite target Jermay Baan, and thrills at the chance to finally "fly" during a performance, but it's once the group is on the run that she truly begins to shine. Birdie proves herself to be resourceful and clever in ways the rest of her friends and make-shift family never imagined.
Birdie has secrets, too, and once they come out, Penn's world will never be the same.
YA and MG writer repped by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I have a habit of doodling things that turn into actual pictures. I toss them up at random intervals for readers to point and laugh at.