By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
— It took a few days for 28-year-old Brittany Cournoyer to create the perfect character.
She dreamed about a teen girl with a tragic past. She knew the girl was lonely and isolated and would be drawn to a boy who would try to change her.
Those visions were the seeds of Cournoyer’s first novel, “Ultimate Betrayals.”
The book is currently available on the Tate Publishing and Enterprises website (http://bit.ly/VOAolh) and will be officially released April 16.
The Kokomo woman was a substitute teacher at Bon Air Elementary School when the story started to unfold.
Her students were working in the computer lab, and she had nothing to do.
“So I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing,” Cournoyer said. “I wrote the first 10 pages of the book that day.”
She didn’t know how long the book would be or exactly where the story would go. She just kept writing.
Every once in a while she would get stuck.
Writer’s block is frustrating, she said with a laugh. For weeks at a time, she struggled to figure out what would happen next in the story.
By the time she finished writing six months later, the story’s ending had changed, and one of the characters had changed, too.
And it was much more massive than she imagined. The finished product was 550 pages.
“I didn’t expect it to be that big,” she said.
She had written a novel without even realizing it.
The story follows the life of 17-year-old Samantha Stewart. A tragedy turns her into a withdrawn and isolated teen. She has no friends in high school, Cournoyer said.
Cournoyer posted an excerpt from her book online. Character Samantha talks about being a nobody in school.
In it, she says, “I was always invisible in school. You know, the shy girl who always sat by herself at lunch with her nose stuck in a book, who pretended the whispers she heard weren’t about her, when, most likely, they were.”
Then, David Edwards comes along and sets his sights on the girl.
Samantha lets him into her life, and he starts changing her.
Then she finds out David isn’t who he says he is. Her life is turned upside down, the author said.
Cournoyer gives her hometown some publicity in the novel.
The story is set in Kokomo and makes mention of local landmarks like Old Ben the steer and the giant tree stump in Highland Park.
Cournoyer said she writes what she knows, so it was only natural to set the story in the place she grew up.
But she also thought it would be fun to see Kokomo mentioned in a story.
She laughed and said she wanted to give it some notoriety for “something other than UFO hunters and hoarders.”
She didn’t always know it would be published. In fact, she says she didn’t even consider it until she was done writing.
“When I finished, I thought, ‘Why not give it a try and see what happens,’” she said. “I liked it, so I thought others might like it, too.”
Cournoyer spent a year contacting literary agents and publishing companies. She received more than one rejection letter. It was easy to get frustrated and discouraged, she said.
Finally, though, Tate Publishing and Enterprises in Oklahoma picked up the book.
The company says it’s a Christian-based, family-owned, mainline publishing organization that specializes in discovering unknown authors.
It receives “tens of thousands” of submissions each year and publishes less than 10 percent, its website states.
Cournoyer said she was excited that her book was among those.
Part of her contract, however, stipulated that she had to cut her book in half — from 550 pages to 225.
So she turned the one book into two, and gave the first one a cliffhanger ending.
But the only way the second part will be published is if the first one is successful, she said.
Cournoyer said she’s hoping readers will enjoy it.
Some readers are already praising her work.
One woman posted a comment on Cournoyer’s professional Facebook page that read, “OMG! The book is amazing!!!! I want part 2!!!!!!! I finished it tonight. It was really FANTASTIC Brittany!!!!! I can’t say enough about it. It kept me on the edge wanting more!!!!”
Cournoyer said she looks up to women like J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter series, and Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight books.
She knows she likely won’t find the kind of fame those women did, but she’s fine with that, she said.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so just the fact that my work is out there for other people to enjoy is exciting,” she said.
And maybe her books can be an inspiration for teens who are struggling to find their way in the world, Cournoyer said.
There’s a lesson to be learned from “Ultimate Betrayals.”
“Being a teenager can be tough, and sometimes bad things happen,” the author said. “But you can get through it and learn from it.”