Today, the “Story Behind the Story” is THE ROLE MUSIC PLAYS IN MY BOOKS.
It’s the very first question readers ask me—What, or who, inspired you? And where do your ideas come from?
I always begin my answer with the definition of INSPIRE—To breathe in. That’s what inspiration is—you are breathing in all the sounds and images and scents around you. Stephen King said, “Ideas come from nowhere. Sail right at you out of the sky. Two unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. The writer’s job isn’t to find ideas, but to recognize them when they show up.” For me, the answer to inspiration was easy. Classical Music fell out of my sky.
So the answer to What inspired me is Music. And the Who—my son.
Like so many of you, I have always loved music. In my younger years, it was 50s Rock and the Beatles, and later Folk, Country, Broadway and Jazz. Lightning struck in the early 80s when our 6 year-old son, Sean, began to ask for piano lessons. We did not have a piano in our home, but we found a teacher and rented an old upright. Within a few years we went from a ‘no piano home’ to a ‘grand piano home.’ (That grand is now in my son’s home and still, like the Giving Tree, giving music to my three youngest grands.). My son studied for 15 years, and during that time I discovered a whole new world. Listening to him practice, I fell in love with the glorious pieces of Mozart and Chopin, Beethoven, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
Many years later, when I began to write, I knew that I wanted to write the book that I wanted to read—a mixed genre story of suspense, thrills, romance, mystery, history and international settings. We’ve all heard that Writing Rule #1 is to write about what we know. But I broke that rule right away, choosing to write about something I love. That is why my main character Maggie O’Shea, introduced in The Lost Concerto, is a classical pianist. The Grieg Piano Concerto haunts her dreams, and propels a grieving Maggie to Paris.
But writing a story built around classical music was only the beginning—especially when I couldn’t find Middle C on a piano. Readers deserve authenticity, so that meant RESEARCH. Hours and hours and hours of research. I learned a very valuable lesson—that there is a huge connection between Research and Inspiration. I began piano lessons. Then I interviewed a professional pianist who taught me that music is so much more than technique—it’s about finding the emotional heart of the music, the silence between the notes.
As I thought about Maggie’s music, and began to study the pieces, I came to understand that the music of the great pianists all told a story, and could mirror Maggie’s journey. In my second book, Dark Rhapsody, I turned to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which strikes every emotional chord. This music inspired and illuminated Maggie’s desperate struggle to find the music she’d lost. The heart of my third book, Shadow Music, is Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 2. The three movements tell a story—Maggie’s story—with a beginning, middle and end, and touch on every emotion from grief, aching loss and fear to beauty, joy and love. As Maggie’s father Finn says, “Music tells our stories.”
But we know that, in a story, Something Must Happen. A love of music wasn’t enough—I needed a plot worthy of these characters. I needed what Robin Williams called ‘that little spark of madness.’ Once again, I turned to research and found the sparks I needed. One article on music led to a true story of missing music, and that article led to music lost during WW2, and—voila!—a plot was born.
Many of you already know about the priceless art stolen or destroyed during World War II. But you may not know that original musical scores by the great composers, and thousands of rare instruments, disappeared during the war as well. The true story of a long-lost score of classical music inspired the plot for my novel, The Lost Concerto—Beethoven’s original manuscript of his 6th Symphony was found hidden in a tunnel in Germany after the war.
In each of my books, I’ve made classical music a character, and chosen pieces that parallel the emotional journey of my characters. In The Lost Concerto, Dark Rhapsody, and now Shadow Music, the healing and transformative power of music brings a soul and grace to Maggie’s story. So come in, sit down, listen to the beauty of Rachmaninoff. I have a story to tell you…