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My most recent Konigsburg book, Brand New Me, takes place in a bar—or actually a honky tonk. Writing it gave me a chance to talk about two of my favorite things: Texas music and the honky tonks that are the best places to hear it. And it gave me a chance to work with a new hero and heroine, without entirely giving up the Toleffson clan and their friends.
Technically, a honky tonk is a bar that plays music, but that’s only half the story. A true honky tonk has character. Take Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas, for example. It’s billed as the oldest continually operating dancehall in Texas. The accommodations are pretty rudimentary: long, scarred tables with benches that fill up fast. The walls are screened windows that stretch from one end of the room to the other, letting the people strolling the streets of Gruene peer in and listen to the band as they walk by. Much of the time you end up standing in elbow-to-elbow crowds, trying not to go deaf from the nearby amps and hanging on to your beer. Dancing is encouraged and occasionally even possible, assuming people can get out of the way of the flying feet. It shouldn’t be fun, but believe me, it is.
The hero in Brand New Me, Tom Ames, owns a honky tonk. Tom’s name comes from a song by Steve Earle about an outlaw facing his final gun battle. My Tom Ames isn’t quite that extreme, but he’s a man with a slightly shady past and a flourishing bar, the Faro. The Faro has a shady past too since it used to be a place you wouldn’t want to visit without a burly escort, but Tom has cleaned it up, adding music and a colorful group of employees. He’s dead set on making the Faro work on his own terms. He wanted his own bar, and he wanted that bar to be as perfect as he could make it.
Into this perfect bar walks our heroine, Deirdre Brandenburg, who had a one-sentence mention in Wedding Bell Blues. She’s Docia Toleffson’s cousin and she needs a job. Tom’s looking for something to attract local customers, and gorgeous Deirdre seems like a good possibility. But of course, Tom’s just as attracted to her as the locals are. Adventures ensue.
Tom is different from the Toleffson brothers. I wanted a hero who had a dark side, but not someone as troubled as Erik Toleffson. I wanted a hero who hadn’t always been on the up-and-up, but who was an honorable guy deep down. I wanted a hero who was trying to make it in a tough job, but who had the skills and the will and the deep-down desire to make it happen. I wanted Tom Ames. As I said, he’s not a Toleffson—he doesn’t have the good Midwestern values and the solid family support. But he has a different kind of support system, a ragtag “family” he’s created from a disparate bunch of people who all call the Faro something like home.
So Brand New Me becomes a kind of transition from Toleffsons to non-Toleffsons. Deirdre is still part of the extended Toleffson clan, but Tom is somebody new. If you’re fond of the brothers and their wives, you’ll get to see them in passing, but you’ll also meet some new people this time around. I hope readers will keep coming back to Konigsburg with me. I definitely plan on making the trip myself!
- Meg Benjamin
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