The Next Big Thing

This is a day late, I’m afraid, because I’ve caught a really bad cold and was flat on my back yesterday.  Sigh.  So here it is, a day late, but enthusiastic.  Christine Ashworth tagged me for The Next Big Thing, so here are my answers to the questions.  My tagees are at the end of the post.  Enjoy.

What is the name of the book?
World Enough and Time, a quote from the Andrew Marvell poem “To His Coy Mistress.”  The reference is to famous people being transported through time, and having enough time to finish their work.  Mozart, for instance, left his Requiem unfinished, and Jane Austen left partial drafts of several books.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’d like to go the traditional route, but I think an e-book would actually be appropriate since I could then include links to music, poems and pictures which would be relevant to the plot.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’m a classical singer, and years ago I had the idea that it would be fun to bring a group of famous composers into the present.  But I was never able to craft an actual story around the concept.  Then one afternoon I began brainstorming with my best friend, Gail Upp (really her name), who is also a writer.  Presto!  We had a story, a mystery, a romance…and a book.  She’s my co-author on this project.

What genre does your book fall under?
The book is a mystery (first of a series, I hope) with strong romantic elements.  A bit of sci-fi because of the time travel.  Since cross-genre books are becoming more popular, I’m hoping that this particular mix will work.

How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Alas, I’m not a fast writer.  Like Dorothy Parker, I write five words and delete six.  In addition, this book required a lot of research because of the historical figures involved.  Under normal circumstances, I’d expect a draft of this sort to take about a year, but so far it’s been two.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Any mystery concerning the creative arts, like Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series (which has romantic elements), the Charles Paris series by Simon Brett (for acting), and definitely James Gollin’s Antiqua Players series.  I’ve never come across anything really like this, however.  I’d love to be a groundbreaker.  By the way, the Gollin books are out of print, but DEFINITELY worth looking for on Amazon or Abe Books.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d LOVE to get Adrian Brody to play the hero/detective, composer-conductor Felix Mendelssohn.  The only problem would be that Mendelssohn was 5’6″ and Mr. Brody is over six feet tall.  Movie magic might solve this problem.  Jude Law would make an awesome Kit Marlowe.  A girl can dream.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
The wish that I could actually meet my idols (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Jane Austen, Raphael).

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Along with solving a murder mystery, Felix learns that love can come twice, even across the centuries.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In the year 2081 a transnational corporation brings famous artists, musicians and writers forward in time as a cover for its illegal and dangerous plan to change history for profit.

This post will go to both the LARA yahoo group, and Sisters in Crime/LA, so the below tags are for authors in both groups.  Please check them out, and wish me luck.  I’m now in the insane re-writing/editing phase.  Oy.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Darrell James
D.J. Adams
Linda O. Johnston (mysteries AND romances)



And Still Have Time to Read

The contemporary writer has a lot on her hands.  She has to be a publicist, a career manager, an agent, a distributor, a social media guru, an agent provacateuse, a literary lawyer, etcetera, ad infinitum.  And of course, she needs to put all her passion and energy into writing; after all, that’s what it’s all about, right?

Oh, and one more thing:  She has to read.  She has to read what’s hot and new in order to keep up with what’s happening in the literary world, AND if she writes genre fiction (mystery, young adult, romance, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, horror, etc.) she needs to read extensively in that genre to keep up with what’s happening in that field.  If she writes in more than one genre, or if she blends genres (as Gail Upp and I do in World Enough and Time, the novel we are writing), she needs to read extensively in those genres to keep up…you get it.


So when do you get the time?  Especially since there are actually very few writers who write full-time, and derive their full incomes from writing.  Most of us have jobs, family, friends, activities.  You know:  A life.

I solve part of the problem by reading in the cracks of time in my schedule.  At meals (unless we have company), while on line at the credit union or grocery store (my Nook comes in handy here), in the bathroom (that’s where I catch up on magazines).  Fortunately, I’m a very fast reader, so I can get through a book in a day if I don’t have to practice, or learn new music, or have a lesson, or a rehearsal, or an audition, or a concert/service.  And if I have enough time and energy after doing my daily dose of writing, re-writing, editing, research and agonizing.

My To Be Read pile (credit: Google Images)

So the pile of books To Be Read becomes two piles, then three.  The magazines

multiply, as do, just incidentally, the newspapers.  What’s a girl to do?

So, I’ve become VERY selective in my reading.  Is a book badly written?  I drop it.  Is a magazine article something I’ll never use, or is boring, or (as is sometimes the case in Scientific American) I don’t understand?  Skip to the next article.  In the newspapers I read the headlines, the agony aunt (for the psychology and story ideas), the book and music (mostly classical) reviews and updates, and (full disclosure) the comics.  I’ve developed an extremely low tolerance for the bad, the boring, the useless, the time-waster.  Do I run the risk of missing something I can use, or would like?  Of course.  But no system is perfect, and this at least keeps me sane.

What keeps you sane as far as your reading life is concerned?  How do you handle the need to read?  Let us know.  You might be helping a fellow writer keep her head above water?

The Harried Writer (credit: Google Images)

Until next time…keep reading.

What I Learned On My Way to My Novel

Part of the fun of doing historical research is finding the quirks of famous people.  My writing partner, Gail Upp (really her name), and I included some of these into World Enough and Time, the mystery-romance we are writing.  We discovered them while researching the 18 famous artists, writers, musicians and mathematicians who time-travel into the future.  Some didn’t make the cut, some did.  Below are tidbits we enjoy.  Hope you do, too.

Felix Mendelssohn didn’t butter his toast, he dunked it into his coffee.

Jane Austen loved the color yellow.

Ludwig van Beethoven liked his coffee so strong that it took 60 beans to make one cup.  He also like mac & cheese.

Christopher Marlowe was killed—possibly assassinated—in a swordfight where he was fighting three other men.  Take that, Errol Flynn!

The artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a murderer, who was condemned by the Pope.  He (Caravaggio) left town quickly.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was left-handed, and may have had Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ada Augusta King, Countess Lovelace, was a computer pioneer.  Although she died in 1852 she created computer programs for computers which didn’t exist yet.  In the 1940s her programs were loaded onto computers, and they worked.  The computer programming language ADA is named for her.  She was also Lord Byron’s only legitimate offspring.

Franz Schubert was only 5’2”, and so near-sighted he sometimes fell asleep wearing his glasses.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a vegetarian.

The poet Amy Lowell was part of the famous Lowell family of Massachusetts.  The town of Lowell, MA is named for a relative.

Charles Baudelaire kept a bat in a cage by his writing desk.

What quirks do you think people will remember about you after your death?

Writing Spirituality

My last blogs have been about my experience singing Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand,” with the LA Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel.  But looking back at the blogs, I was struck how inadequate were my descriptions of what it felt like to learn, rehearse and perform this incredible piece with the full forces desired by Gustav Mahler (there were over 1,000 people on stage).  I realized that writing about a spiritual experience is not just difficult, but almost impossible.

Gustav Mahler

How do you describe a profound, moving, even life-altering spiritual experience?  “It was swell” doesn’t seem, somehow, to fill the bill.  Even turning to authors, like Thomas Merton, who was a talented writer, practiced and experienced in introspection, doesn’t always help.  He may have accurately described his own experiences, but even in his most moving passages, is he describing yours?

Poetry has been held up as more of a road to the sublime than prose.  Repetition and rhyming or alliteration can, done correctly, create a trance state.  See, for instance, Robert McDowell.  Irish bards in pre-Christian Europe were not just honored but feared for their mastery over the language, which enabled them to write and improvise poetry.  Their words could curse, bless and defeat armies.  Much of the liturgy of the world’s religions is in poetry, rhymed or free.  In Classical Greece the Muses of Poetry and Music were the same:  Polyhymnia for sacred poetry/music, Calliope for epic poetry/music, Euterpe for lyric poetry/music, Erato for erotic poetry/music, and Thalia for comedic poetry/music.  For the Greeks the two were intertwined.

But what if you’re not a poet, as I’m not (English as she is spoke)?  Well then, how about the musical side of the Muses?

Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn wrote:  “These [words] seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words.”  And this may be so:  think of the last time you heard a piece of music that made you want to fly, or explode, or weep.  Could you attach words to it?  And yet, you want to tell your friends about it.  Can you accurately describe the first flush of a new love?  Or of discovering the vocation you were created to follow?  What if your experience was religious in nature?  The waters really run deep where spiritual revelations are concerned.

But I’m not a composer.  I can listen to or perform Beethoven’s Ninth, or Mahler’s Eighth, but are my descriptions adequate.  If I walk the tightrope between the banal (“It was swell”) and purple prose (“the profundity of my sensibilities cannot be fathomed…”) I still run the risk of not connecting with you.  Or of accurately conveying my experience.  I could burst into tears, but that’s hard to do in a blog.

So, what passages or writers have moved you, or described something you felt, or at least accurately and adequately (to you) described their own experiences?  Let us know.

Gustav, Gustavo and Me (Part the Last)

To condense the rehearsals for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (hereinafter “M8”):  Our next rehearsal was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion—the opera house—where we took up about one-third of the seats.  It was our first rehearsal with Gustavo “The Dude” Dudamel.  Everyone calls him Gustavo.  Everyone.  The backdrop was the set for “Simon Boccanegra,” which was the next opera production coming up.  It’s a huge, pseudo-Roman set on a raked stage and is impressive on a scale that made it perfect for the Symphony of a Thousand.  Gustavo is an incredibly physical conductor.  When he was instructing the sopranos how to sing the word “amorem” (love) he said, “You should embrace the audience, and make them want to embrace you.”  To demonstrate, he embraced the standing microphone next to him.  He also said that he had had a rehearsal of Mahler’s Ninth in the morning, conducted a performance of the Sixth in the afternoon (Joe and I were present for that), and now was here conducting a rehearsal for the Eighth.  “My brain is all right, but my arms are very tired.”  After a pause:  “Well, my brain is tired, too.”

The next rehearsal was in Disney Hall, where (leitmotiv alert) we took up about half the seats.  It was also the first time we met our soloists.  They are excellent, especially the mezzo-sopranos, plural.  There are eight soloists.  The first time we let loose with the opening “Veni, creator spiritus” we actually rocked the two soprano soloists backward.  Very satisfying.  I have to tell you, 400 tenors and basses letting loose is an impressive thing.  It feels like riding a tsunami.  For those of you who haven’t ridden a tsunami, close your eyes and let yourself fall off a roof.  It feels like that.

From this point on all our rehearsals were on stage at the Shriner’s Auditorium (hereinafter the “Shrine”).  This is a cavernous, mouldering hall, and pretty much the only indoor venue that could accommodate the forces needed.  Even then the stage had to be extended.  Look here for a schematic, and here for an article about it.  It was also the first time we worked with the orchestra.  All 200+ of them, including an organ, an offstage (actually in a box) brass ensemble and four harps, two of whom were from the LA Phil, and two of whom were teenagers from the Simón Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela.  And of course, Gustavo.  And a soloist we hadn’t met:  She sang the Mater Gloriosa (Glorious Mother, i.e., the Virgin Mary) from another box across the stage from the brass ensemble, where it says “Original Opera Box.”  She was in a spotlight and had a truly heavenly voice.  Click here for the full review.

We went into full court press mode on Friday, February 3.  We had a rehearsal that Friday in the morning, then the dress on Saturday morning, then the performance on Saturday evening.  (And I then had to be up at 5:30 Sunday morning for a rehearsal and two services at All Saints.)  Some pictures of the backstage area are at right.  It’s amazing how smoothly everything went at the performance.  Kathie Freeman, Grant Gershon’s assistant (see two previous blogs) did a massive Excel seating chart, and a list of seating, andtaped the line-up order to the floor of the Expo Hall at the Shrine.  We nominated her for canonization.

Grant Gershon and Kathie Freeman 2-4-12

How to describe the actual performance?  How would you respond to someone asking you what a transcendental emotional and spiritual experience was like?  “It was swell.”  This was swell.  Also neat and keen.  I’ve decided that the M8 isn’t so much a symphony in two movements, but rather a sacred opera.  The first act is a prayer to the creative spirit, “Veni creator spiritus,” a 9thCentury prayer.  The

The Children Warm Up 2-4-12

result of the assimilation of the creative spirit is Act Two, the last scene of Goethe’s “Faust,” set so heart-stoppingly that those who claim Mahler was a mystic (minus the meditation and levitation) are probably right.  For anyone who claims that he was fixated on death, I strongly recommend a glass of wine, a quiet room, a comfortable chair and a good recording of the M8.  Find a recording, if one exists, made with the full complement.  The performance that Gustavo, the LA Phil and the Bolivars are preparing for February 18 in Caracas will be a DVD and a CD, and it will be performed with 1,600+ people, as opposed to the puny 1,000+ here in LA.

The Orchestra with Projection Screen 2-3-12

There isn’t a good way to describe the experience.  For singers, the voice, when supported by that many other voices and that huge an orchestra, just soars through the piece.  And it’s a difficult piece, with sustained high Bs and Cs for the sopranos.  It makes Beethoven’s Ninth seem like a walk in the park, vocally speaking.  It was like being carried away by sound so massive, it became as physical as a brick wall, but lovelier.  Try to listen to the Caracas recording.  Really.

This blog is long already, so I’ll stop.  My next blog will be on writing, and we can hardly wait.  If enough people want to know more about the M8 performance, my arm can be twisted.  Until next time, stay healthy and do what feeds your soul.  You’ll never have a more nutritious meal.

P.S.  Look in the lower left-hand corner of this picture.

Sharon in the Eighth (credit: Los Angeles Times)

The Fire or the Mahler?

I have two choices about what to blog.  On Saturday evening, February 4, I participated in a rare performance (and an LA premier) of the Mahler 8th Symphony with the full forces requested by Gustav Mahler.  There were over 1,000 people—chorus and orchestra—on stage.  The Mahler 8 has been performed in Los Angeles, but with only (only!) about 350 musicians.

Let’s go with the fire.  On Sunday evening a fire broke out in the unit next door to us.  It was very serious, generating heat so severe that the blinds in an upstairs, closed room melted.  Fortunately it was contained in the unit itself.  My husband heard something heavy fall, went outside to look and saw smoke billowing from the front door.  He called 911 and pounded on the doors of the other units to alert the homeowners.  The tenant who was in Unit 3 wasn’t home.

The Fire Department was there in three minutes.  It does help that we live about a half-mile from a fire station.  They work fast!  In a few minutes they broke the door open, dragged very long hoses in, and went in themselves wearing gas masks and eye shields.  It was impressive as hell.  They even got the two dogs (huge mastiffs) out safely.

No one, thank God, was hurt.  We found out that because of the heat it could have easily spread to other units.  We dodged a bullet.

One of the other homeowners called the owners of the unit, and they came down.  They were upset, obviously.  Before they rented out, they put in about $50,000 worth of improvements, including new floors and rugs.  All ruined.  The tenant had run out only for a few minutes to buy some Gatorade.  That’s how fast it happened.

The firefighters paid almost no attention to any of us until the fire was out, which is exactly as it should be.  Then we spent almost another hour giving them information.  Joe, who is President of the HOA got most of the questions.  The dogs went to the vet, and then to the home of the unit’s owners.  I don’t know where the tenant is staying.

So we are now involved with our HOA manager, insurance companies (who will be conducting investigations as to the cause), construction companies, and etcetera.  The LAFD will be conducting its own investigation.

Fortunately, one of the homeowners is a businesswoman with her own management firm.  She has a network of insurance companies, construction firms and—inevitably—lawyers.  Let the games begin.  Sigh.

We walked through the unit the next day.  It’s a total loss.  Joe made sure the electricity and water were off.  The walls are black, there is debris all over; the time estimate for cleaning is about two months.  The tenant had just spent about $20,000 on new furniture and furnishings.  A huge flatscreen TV was semi-melted.  The intercom and thermostat were melted.  Blinds were melted.  We’ve already had an emergency crew in to cover the broken windows with plywood.  We need to have our own insurance company in to test the integrity of our walls.  They’re probably all right, but we gotta check.

Oh, and firemen really do wear red suspenders.

So please be careful, people.  It can happen in a flash.

Conclusion of the Mahler next time.

Gustav, Gustavo and Me

I took a few days off because of my singing schedule, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE how good it feels to say that!  Well, upward and onward in the Mahler 8th journal.  (You’ll notice I changed the title slightly.  Alliteration’s artful aid.)

Our second rehearsal was also with Grant Gershon (see previous post), but included both adult choirs and the children’s choir.  We met at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, in Pasadena.  It’s a lovely church, with a truly beautiful organ (minds out of the gutter, please) and, more to the point, it’s huge.  We began to get an idea of what the distance-from-the conductor problem would be.  You have to watch like a hawk searching for lunch not only to see the conductor, but to slightly anticipate him because light travels faster than sound.  I remember that from high school, and finally, a practical application.  The pictures attached show three views from the sanctuary, and one from the balcony.

Rehearsal Lake Ave. Church - Sanctuary

Lake Ave. Church Rehearsal from the Balcony

Rehearsal Lake Ave. Church Sanctuary

We also began to get a sense of the logistics of seating.  Kathie Freeman is Grant’s assistant, and it’s one of her jobs to create the seating chart.  Kathie should be up for sainthood because any usable seating chart is going to constitute at least two—and possibly all three—necessary miracles.  She’s also in charge of giving announcements (“Remember, even if we meet in the Dorothy Chandler, we park at Disney Hall”), warnings (“Please don’t wear scent of any kind…”), and time checks (“Ten minutes…five minutes…places please”).  All this has to be done through a microphone.

There is also the matter of distributing parking passes, travel instructions, maps (this is Los Angeles, remember) and other bits of arcana.  I’m collecting them for a scrapbook.  It includes a sign designating where the Choir I, Sopranos II should sit.  I did say arcana…

Despite all the difficulties the rehearsal was, once again, amazing.  You’re going to get tired of that sentiment, but I’m not sure how else to describe a mind-blowing, sensory-overload, just plain luscious musical experience.  And it’s only the second rehearsal.  We have five more, plus the dress.

And of course, the performance.  More in a day or so.

Procedural note:  I’m trying to keep up with the rehearsals so I can write about the performance as soon as possible after it takes place.  I’m way behind of course.  But after this I’ll be blogging about once a week, unless something huge happens.

Mahler, Gustavo and Me

My first blog!  Welcome.  I’m kicking off with a journal of the rehearsals and performance of Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand,” with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.  This is part of the Mahler Project, which runs during January and February 2012.

The choral forces are drawn from 15 LA-based choirs, including All Saints Church, Pasadena, where I’m in Canterbury Choir.  More on them in a future blog.  Other choirs are the LA Master Chorale, the Pacifica Chorale, the Gay Men’s Chorus, Vox Femina, and the National Children’s Chorus.  Total singers:  826.  There is also a double quartet of soloists.  Total soloists:  eight.  The orchestras are the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela (which used to be the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela).  Total orchestra:  300+.  There will be over 1,050 performers on the stage of the Shrine Auditorium on February 4, 2012.  It’s one of the few places in town that can accommodate that many people.  After the performance, Dudamel will head back to Caracas with the Bolivars to perform it again, with over 1,600 people!  He’s out of his mind.

Our first rehearsal was at the Great Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which is the opera house.  It’s my idea of the perfect venue for rehearsals:  rugs on the floor, marble all around and glittering crystal chandeliers overhead.  It was nighttime, but the floor-to-ceiling windows showed a lovely view of the plaza of the Music Center.  There was a camera crew filming a documentary on the making of the performance.

Only Choir 1 was there, that is half of the adults, and we filled the place to capacity; Choir 2 rehearsed the following night.  Our conductor was Grant Gershon, Music Director of the LA Master Chorale, and Choirmaster of the LA Opera.  It’s hard to imagine someone more completely dedicated to his work, and who enjoys it more.  Anyone who doesn’t draw energy just from being around him is dead.  Even though the 60 members of Canterbury Choir who were singing were scattered among the sections—and every section is divided into firsts and seconds and sometimes thirds—I was among friends, new friends in this case:  several ladies of the Philippine Chamber Singers.

The rehearsal was 2½ hours long, and I wouldn’t have believed we could have worked in that much detail and yet gotten through the whole thing.  For those of you familiar with Mahler, you’ll know what that entails.  For those of you who are not—let’s just say he doesn’t just write brief, bright little pieces.  And for those of you who have sung Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which I have, if you thought the sustained high A for the sopranos in the “Ode to Joy” was hard, Mahler gives us high B-flats, Bs and one long, sustained high C.  Mahler was out of his mind.

By the end of the rehearsal I (a) had all my trouble spots marked (more than I thought, alas); (2) was high from the breathing and the music; and (iii) couldn’t wait for the next rehearsal.  More next time.