My heroine, for better and worse

Part 2 of the journey into my protagonist’s psyche. At the end of Part 1 I wasn’t sure she was going to be likable, but she shares my love of music and reading so she can’t be all bad.  (At least I hope not… otherwise I’ve got to turn her into the antagonist, eh?)

Stefanie Petros

Since this 23-year old flute prodigy has always lived in the city or had hired drivers during tours, she never got her license, or even learned how to drive a car.

She’s been earning a modest sum of money from recordings sold at concerts, but the performances themselves generate very little income. The flute maker underwrites travel costs for Stef and her mother and all the associated booking fees, but it will not provide an “income” stream.

The company has been encouraging Stef to offer master classes and private lessons at music schools along her tour, but Stef does not want to teach.

Yet at 23, her mother has been verbal that it’s “time to think about the future.”

Whenever Stef feels pressured or stressed out, she flees to the safety of a book. The public librarian is the only one who knows how deeply and in what channel her reading addiction goes. Stef’s favorite – and very secret – escapist reads are steamy romance novels. It’s the source of all her info about dating, love, and sex since she’s never had so much as one date.

There were male grad students that she liked, but at the same time they were so much older than her – she at 15, they at 21+. But once Stef started touring, her schedule became too full. She dropped all lessons except those with her master teacher – who realized she was self-motivated and driven for achievement and did no longer needed “monitoring.” Stef would diligently prepare her scales, etudes, orchestral excerpts, and solos with or without outside deadlines. It was as if she were checking off a master To Do list of items and once she could reach the bottom of the endless list she’d know she’d achieved success.  Learn every exercise, memorize every song, practice so completely that not even an earthquake could rock her execution of perfection.

Stef’s favorite color is that blue referred to as “midnight blue” – the one where people argue over whether it’s more purple than blue.

In her fairytale princess bedroom – which contains a canopy bed her mom’s parents bought for her (even though it completely dwarfs the room) – everything is white and lacy, light and ephemeral. Except for a big fluffy midnight blue “furry” pillow, and fuzzy purple slippers tucked neatly under the corner of her bed closest to the door.

She remembers going out to eat, when the family lived back in Boston, at a little Greek taverna where in summer all the tables were moved outside, and children were allowed to run and play together while the grown-ups talked about life and the world.

Stef never joined in the games, whether soccer, hackey, sack, or tag, but she would sometimes swing on the playground equipment if her mother and father were dining with friends.

Stef did not have any close friends from grade school. Most of them were distant – jealous maybe of how easily she learned the math (numbers and solutions simply came together in her head). While they struggled to fit textbooks into backpacks filled with homework, Stef carried only a pink shoulder bag with princess flair – completely empty except for two young adult fantasy novels she’d picked up at the public library around the corner from her house.

Her mother loved to go to the library and would allow Stefanie to pick out books from the older sections by the time she hit 5th grade. She would have 5 minutes to make selections, and then Stef would follow her mother to the grown-ups area of the library. Stef would sit indian-style on the floor in whatever row her mother wanted to browse. Already entranced in the pages of the newest acquisition, Stef didn’t notice what types of books her mom was drawn to, or even that an hour might pass as Anna read dust jackets and flipped to random pages before committing a single title to her basket.

Teen girl reading the Book. Education

When Stef was younger – 3rd grade or so – she would often finish reading an entire chapter book before her mom had found the week’s reading selection.

Libraries and book stores and reading were the closest things Stef (and Anna) had to a hobby. Music was more of an obsession. It was oxygen that made the rest of life possible. Her favorite were the Baroque and Classical composers: Haydn, Handel, and Mozart – whose works felt solid, predictable, and reliable. But later she came to love the rich complexity of Bach. It was like opening a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle when her flute teacher, Mr. E., first assigned her to study the famous cello solo. Nowhere to breathe. Phrases run together like a sentence with no ending, and just as soon as the mood is established it changes to something deeper and more eimpassioned.

A love-hate relationship for Stefanie. She could learn the notes, but they never made sense. It was if the song was a car with too many drivers.

Their home in Boston had been modest. A 3-bedroom but furnished sparingly with antiques and flea market s finds on a shoestring budget. Stef’s father worked as a shift supervisor on the floor of a major manufacturing company. His team trusted him and enjoyed their workday more because of his stories and antics. Dad was the family read-winner. He lived in a world of routine: coffee (strong and black), newspaper, toast with jam, a bag lunch packed by mom, and always a smile and warm hug to greet Stef. “How is my princess today?”

Life was more cramped in the NYC apartment, but Stef’s needs were few. Lessons and new music were the primary expenses.

Stefanie was born August 30th, and would often get new clothes for her birthday, rather than toys. She took immaculately good care of her instrument and music and tools, but notoriously wadded up clothing or left in inside-out dissarray  on the bedroom floor.

Mom would always come along and collect it for laundry and then magically the items would appear freshly pressed and hung neatly in her small closet.

There were no animals in Stefanie’s life. At home it would be another outh to feed on an already narrow budget, and when they moved to NYC, it pets were forbidden in their apartment building.

Stef had no formal religious background or beliefs. She had been baptized in the Greek Orthodox church, but aside from Christmas and Easter, they never attended services. It was “complicated” according to her mother.

They were a tight-knit group of three, separated from Anna’s parents by several states, and from dad’s parents, siblings, and their offspring by an ocean. Stefanie had greek cousins, neices and nephews she’d never met.

The family had wanted to make a trip to Greece, but the vacation fund kept being raided to support Stef’s music studies – a new instrument, more frequent and longer lessons, new sheet music, accompanist fees, and of course dresses and shoes for performances.

It had been obvious from an early age that Stefanie was a prodigy. She learned music quickly, but even as a small child she spent hours each day focused on repetitive practice to learn patterns and perfect her technique to blazing fast speeds.

Mr. E. taught her tunes on the recorder from age 3 through 6, then moved her to a shiny silver flute with a curved headjoint to fit the body of a child when she entered 2nd grade.

Girl playing flute

Mr. E.’s greek band played at the taverna on Saturday nights in the summer, and little Stefanie had toddled over to his side and sat down right at his feet – wide eyes riveted to his flute. She liked it when he played the clarinet, too, but she was fascinated by the flute. It’s shiny silver body and keys were a beacon that called to the moth in her soul. She couldn’t resist drawing as close as possible… toying with fate and hoping she wouldn’t be pulled away or thrown out.

He took her under his wing far sooner than most children start wind instruments. Taught her a tune or two by ear, but she wanted longer songs. Stefanie devoured whatever he assigned her and came back for more.

She was an only child and her father doted on her endlessly. Stef didn’t know – and didn’t care – if they had been unable to have more children, or had only planned for one. She was simply happy not to have to share the attention.

When her parents purchased her first flute with the curved headjoint, her grandparents (on mom’s side) bought her a CD player and popular recordings of James Galway, but within a year she was begging for recordings by other serious flutists including works of a “non-popular” nature from eras long past. Mr. E. had a record collection and would play Rampal and Julius Baker for her. One of Stefanie’s favorites was the flute solo from Swan, though she never asked to play it herself.

Stef gravitated to technical pieces and preferred fast movements to slow.

Memorization came easily and she knew hundreds of studies and famous compositions by heart.

Her life had thus far been untouched by the drama of death – with her family’s extended reach she didn’t even get to experience the birth of cousins or neices and nephews. There were often young children running around at Mr. E.’s conservatory preparatory school – usually the students studying Suzuki method violin. They started as young as Stef had, on 1/8th-size instruments and were always cooed over at the quarterly studio recitals.

But cooing was not Stef’s desire. She wanted applause.If she had to perform, she desired recognition for learning increasingly harder works and performing them with relative ease.

But given her druthers, she would’ve stayed home and learned a new song in the privacy of her own room.

She’d had a crush on Mr. E. since forever, it seemed like. He was the only man in her life except for her father, and Mr. E. poured his heart and soul into Stefanie’s lessons. He made sure she had new material each week, even if it meant loaning her his own musical scores and recordings to study. And he began arranging field trips to the Boston Symphony – for his whole studio, but really he did it so Stef would have exposure to world-class performers.

It made no sense to her to fall in love or lust with a boy her own age. They had nothing to offer that could compare to the adoration and idolation idolization she received and gave to her father and Mr. E.


Here endeth Part 2 of Stefanie’s character profile. Two down, two to go.

If you’d like to download the Character Profile worksheets I created for my students, you can get them HERE for FREE!

stef 2

It’s downright painful to leave misspellings in place.  “Neices”?  Seriously?  It looked perfect in my notebook. And screwy punctuation should be the least of my worries.

And it should be the least of YOURS as you’re crafting your first draft.

Honestly. Don’t give it a moment’s thought.  Just KEEP WRITING!  This is life-and-death for your characters!

If you stop now to fuss and muss endlessly over every little typo, those beautiful creatures of your imagination will never see the light of day.  And that will be a damned shame.

Until next time, when I figure out what REALLY drives this girl… I hope you read and write with joy!

Click HERE to read the next installment in this series


2 thoughts on “My heroine, for better and worse

  1. Already, I am drawn to find out if she finds romance and how she will cope given the lack of peers in childhood. How lonely she seems despite adult focus on her talent. I can’t wait to read more!

    • Oh Laurie, she’s got a long road to love! I’m working on her nemesis’s profile now, and he’s everything she hates — right up until the moment he’s not. Isn’t it funny how the same quirks can provoke feelings of love or hate, depending on surrounding circumstances?

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