Now that she's an author herself, former book publicist Elizabeth Eulberg has had some trouble getting used to the spotlight, despite the fact that she's comfortable singing karaoke—and she hopes Pat Benatar will invite her on stage someday to sing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
“It’s funny,” says Eulberg during a call to her apartment/office in Hoboken, New Jersey, “[Benatar] does not like to sing that song. The last time I saw her in concert, she was saying, ‘Oh, I hate singing this song,’ and I was literally like, ‘I will sing it!’” She laughs easily, something she will continue to do through our entire conversation.
For the four teens in Take a Bow, Eulberg’s third young adult novel, bright lights are as commonplace as math homework and frenemies. Emme, Sophie, Carter and Ethan attend the New York City High School of the Creative and Performing Arts (CPA), where every day is a constant competition to prove their talent.
While Eulberg never attended a performing arts high school, these settings have always fascinated her, especially when she was growing up in small-town Wisconsin. Fame and Grease had a big hand in forming that fascination. “I genuinely thought when I was little that people danced around in the cafeteria and thought that was the greatest thing ever,” says Eulberg, laughing. “I was like, ‘This is awesome! High school’s so much fun!’ And . . . not so much.”
Eulberg may not have done any singing and dancing on the way to class, but she still filled her high school days with music. Name the school band and she was in it, playing piano or clarinet: jazz band, marching band, pep band, even regular band class. During her senior year, her rock star dreams came out when her favorite music teacher, Michael Tentis, gave her the opportunity to play any instrument she chose. “I wanted to make noise!” says Eulberg, so she picked the tri toms (three tenor drums) and banged her heart out.
That freedom to choose and experiment is not shared by the students in Take a Bow, and they definitely do not have time to sing in the cafeteria. Like the LaGuardia Arts High School in New York, which is best known as the Fame school and was the inspiration for the fictional CPA of Eulberg's novel, students must re-audition every semester in order to prove their talent, and the school days are an hour longer to fit in extra studio time. Also, the pressure is far greater than what Eulberg experienced while “battling it out” for clarinet solos. “I think I put more pressure on myself than anyone put on me when I was in high school,” she says, “but it was really [while] doing the research that I realized how competitive [a performing arts school] environment could be.”
“I genuinely thought when I was little that people danced around in the cafeteria and thought that was the greatest thing ever."
Take a Bow unfolds through the narratives of the four main characters—Emme, Sophie, Carter and Ethan—who grapple daily with fame and friendships as they compete with the rest of their classmates for a spot in the senior showcase. Songwriter Emme prefers working behind the scenes for her best friend, superstar singer Sophie. However, Emme is also a member of the rock band Teenage Kicks (named for the song by The Undertones), and Sophie doesn’t appreciate her rising talent. On Sophie’s arm is Carter, a former child TV star who risks his acting career to pursue something he actually loves. And Ethan, the fourth member of this quartet, is in Teenage Kicks with Emme; despite his feelings for her, he constantly sabotages his relationships in order to get the edge he needs to write powerful lyrics.
Like many of the characters in Take a Bow, Eulberg knew exactly what she wanted to do after high school and it all started with music. Her dream was not, however, to become a superstar. “I would love to be a rock star, are you kidding me?” she says. “But being a teenager, you have all these dreams, and how quickly those can be thrown away for ‘reality.’” Like the members of Teenage Kicks, whose namesake song begins “Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?” and who know they will never be more than a teen band, Eulberg has always understood the temporary nature of teenage dreams. She never gave up on music, just chose a realistic direction: the music industry. A tip from her mother (who happened to be the high school librarian) led her to publicity. It appealed to her, says Eulberg, because “I like talking to people and if I’m excited about something, I like to share it.”
After working at a small entertainment PR agency in New York, she landed a job as a children's book publicist, something that almost kept her from becoming a writer. “I saw so many people go up to my authors and go, like, ‘I think I could write a kid’s book’ and be very dismissive about it.” It wasn’t until 2004 that she began to write her first book, The Lonely Hearts Club, which came out in 2009. “I really do believe in the universe and fate, and I do believe that I was meant to be in publishing and meant to write and it was just my path to it.”
After talking to Eulberg, it’s easy to see why Emme is the sleeper star of Take a Bow. She doesn’t want the spotlight, but it finds her anyway—an all too familiar situation for the author, who had some difficulty adjusting to being the center of attention. “I wouldn’t want to be Angelina Jolie,” she says. “Okay, I would like to look like her and make out with Brad Pitt, but you can’t leave your house. You don’t have any privacy anymore.” Eulberg wrote Take a Bow when she first began attending author events for The Lonely Hearts Club. It wasn’t until she read the page proofs for Take a Bow that she noticed the similarities between Emme and herself. “It was uncomfortable for me at first to get used to talking about myself. . . . It was kind of one of those things, going through the page proofs, finally sitting down to read the book as a whole, I was like, ‘Oh! I think I’m working through some issues!’” She laughs.
The fame junkie in Take a Bow is Sophie, Emme’s backstabbing best friend. She’s a character Eulberg understands from her own days competing for the best concert seat—but doesn’t have much sympathy for. “People are going to definitely have a strong reaction to her,” says Eulberg. “I think there are people like that in the show business who will do anything and everything because they think fame is the be-all, end-all. And I don’t think it is.” For this reason, it was no surprise that Eulberg politely declined to comment on her most famous client, Stephenie Meyer. It’s just not her style.
However, it is undeniable that her work for Twilight is legendary, so her decision to write full time—leaving behind her publicity career of more than 10 years—was initially tentative. It’s looking good, though: She recently celebrated her one-year anniversary as a full-time writer and another book is on the way. Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality will be Eulberg’s fourth book, a story of a smart girl whose little sister competes in beauty pageants. Think “Toddlers and Tiaras” with a dark side, a broken family and a little humor.
From the sound of it, there will be plenty more to come. “You get the best letters from teens,” Eulberg says. “I don’t know what adult authors get from readers, but I’m sure they don’t get letters like, ‘You have written the greatest book in all of humanity. Like, it has changed my life.’ You know? It’s so sweet.” And of course, she laughs.
Now, if only Pat Benatar were looking for a duet partner. . . .