Entry Nickname: Orphan Red
Word count: 90,000
Genre: Women's Fiction
After years spent trying to make her marriage and acting career work in New York, Claire Dowler returns home with no husband, no career prospects and a mountain of debt. When her former high school drama teacher falls ill, she asks Claire to start the school year as a long-term substitute, both teaching drama classes and mounting a successful production of the musical “Annie.”
But unbeknownst to Claire, she’s cast freshman Kimmy Ralstin - an actual orphan - in the lead role, and Kimmy’s adoptive parents are furious. Claire’s also naively adopted a pit bull in the hopes of turning him into a stage star by playing the role of Annie’s dog Sandy, and she must convince the school administration and her parents that Danger Fosse is a sweet, trainable dog. She’s also trying to break into the clique of the popular teachers, but a new school counselor seems to have an old ax to grind and wants to derail any of Claire’s friend or romantic prospects.
Claire must save her production and her job, and figure out how to make peace with leaving behind her New York childhood dreams. She’s just hoping the sun will come out “Tomorrow.”
The only difference between being a high school theater geek and a long-term substitute teacher is, instead of sitting with drama queens at lunchtime, I’m about to sit with faculty queens who love drama.
The teacher’s lounge is where you find your allies, or so I’ve been told. Teachers are always at war with someone: An administrator, a parent, a student, their own child who pretends to not know them in the hallway. Whether you’re the aggressor or the victim, Russia or Poland, it’s important to remember there are other soldiers on your side.
“Remember,” I thought as I stared at the lounge door. “Pretend you’re Stalin, but, you know, friendly and cute.”
As I tried to gather my courage to walk in, I was tackled by Spanish teacher Taylor Whistler.
“Oh my gosh, so happy to see you!” Taylor squealed as she hugged me. “Simona and I were just talking about you. It’s going to be the best.year.ever.”
If the teacher’s lounge were an ocean, I’d imagine choir director Simona Martin would be a beautiful seal teaching little seal pups to use their flippers and sing in unison, while Taylor is a sea lion entertaining other marine life. I am a penguin in this scenario: occasionally amusing, good when wearing black and white, and trying not to get my throat ripped open by Simona.
“Awesome,” I murmured. I thought, “Yay! Maybe I am moving from penguin to porpoise!”
“I’m a porpoise with a purpose,” I said. Out loud.