Ernessa Carter got into Carnegie Mellon University on the strength of an unfinished screenplay about a small-town Mississippi ugly duckling who -- inspired by 1980s Molly Ringwald movies -- transforms herself into a glamorous Hollywood lounge singer. The script was never completed, and in 2003, Carter herself left town for Los Angeles, trading gigs like CP music free-lancer for things like writing for American Top 40 With Ryan Seacrest and roller-derbying for the L.A. Derby Dolls.
Eventually, however, Carter recast the story of Davie Jones -- she calls it The Color Purple meets John Hughes movie -- as a novel and secured an agent. In June, Amistad books published 32 Candles; it's an Essence Book Club pick, among other distinctions.
As it happens, Carter, 33, still burns a candle for Pittsburgh, too. Her "impromptu tour" includes a signing here on Wed., Sept. 22.
Ernessa Carter signs 32 Candles 7 p.m. Wed., Sept. 22. Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 510 S. 27th St., South Side. Free. 412-361-3800