“What if on the outside of this picture, where this guy is sitting on a chair with his guitar, there’s a chained up hostage being held outside the frame?” said Brenna Ehrlich, explaining the inspiration behind her debut novel. “That would be super weird.”
Ehrlich will launch Placid Girl tonight at her neighborhood bookstore, Word in Greenpoint. She describes the YA thriller as a punk rock version of Catfish. After Hallie, a young aspiring drummer, starts talking to her “favorite masked punk musician” on a photo-sharing app, she decides to travel with a group of friends to meet Haze in person. The result is a gut-knotting trajectory from suburban teenager to dangerously obsessed fangirl.
As a senior writer and editor at MTV and former “netiquette” columnist for CNN, Ehrlich worried about Catfish scenarios before the term was created. She remembered her days of hanging out in AOL chat rooms, when “a guy could use a picture of an Abercrombie model from a catalog and send it to you and say it’s him, which happened to me when I was a kid.”
Unfortunately, online encounters got stranger as she and her friends got older. She often used her research skills to verify the identity of the men her friends met online, at their request. “The internet is creepy and, like most women in NYC who’ve done online dating, it’s a super scary experience when you meet someone you don’t know,” she explained. Though she hasn’t suffered any truly scarring encounters, she did have a gut instinct that a guy she planned to rendezvous with was a “creep.” Ehrlich cancelled, only to have him send her an unwanted and uncalled for dick pic via Snapchat later on. (Too bad these apps don’t have dick filters.)
Though disgusted, Ehrlich drew from these online experiences when writing Hallie’s story. Another big influence stemmed from her work as a music journalist. As many in the profession do, Ehrlich befriended numerous musicians on social media. She began to wonder: “What creepy stuff are my band guyfriends hiding in their photos?”
“Every time that you meet somebody online, they’re a different person [than IRL],” she pointed out. “They’re whatever they’re choosing to put out there for consumers or their fans. You don’t know what their weird shit is or if they’re violent or if they’re creepy. I think that’s the danger — the fast intimacy that you can make online without actually knowing somebody.”
Read Placid Girl and you’ll be a little more wary about getting cozy online. A wise choice, especially for teenagers, because Ehrlich noted that “there’s a bunch of musicians lately who have been accused of improper relationships with teens, whether in person or online.”
Musicians aren’t the only ones to be wary of — in reality, fans can be creepers too. “One of the things that weirds me out (I know a lot of kids do this) is they’ll change their avatars to be the band that they like,” Ehrlich said. “So there’s this big robot that’s tweeting about this band without a face.”
But for most music fans social media can be a positive outlet: “It’s not very hard in a lot of cases to have contact with artists now, especially with smaller artists who rely on their fans to have their career.”
If only Hallie’s interaction with Haze could play out this innocently. “In [Hallie’s] case, she shouldn’t look to this guy to feel good about herself or think they’re so much more accomplished and talented than she is. She shouldn’t confuse the admiration for somebody with real feelings, especially somebody who is over 10 years older. Admiration is not love. Just because you admire somebody and they’re older than you and being creepy, you shouldn’t excuse behavior like that.”
Brenna Ehrlich will present ‘Placid Girl’ at Word on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m.