This Is Me

Happy Valentine’s Day (and Ash Wednesday)!

If you’ve seen the movie, The Greatest Showman (starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Michael Gracey), you might know that the title of the post is the title of a song from the movie, which was sung by Keala Settle and other members of the ensemble cast. Yeah, I’d never heard of Keala Settle either before seeing the movie, though she’d starred on Broadway for years. Yet there she was in the movie, singing one of the most memorable songs from it.

A friend and I saw the movie this weekend. Afterward, we walked back through the frozen tundra to the car, processing what we’d seen.

Some of the lines of the song ran through my mind:

I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me. (Written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek)

This post is not meant to be a review of the movie, though I thought it was fabulous. (Guess that statement is a mini-review of a sort.) I won’t give any spoilers about why the song was sung, though it came at a very appropriate point in the movie. And this post is not a commentary on the life of P. T. Barnum, the subject of the movie. I was struck, however, by the song and how long it took to get the movie made—seven and a half years, according to Hugh Jackman. Studios were reluctant to back an original musical. But this project was a passion for him. In an interview I found on the internet (sorry, I didn’t copy the link to the interview) he said this project was more like who he was than other projects.

Maybe you can relate to the lyrics I quoted above. I certainly can. And I can relate to a seven-year journey of working to get something made. I began my elf novel seven years ago. I’ve written many books and other things since then. Some were published, some weren’t. But the elf book is my passion project, which has its antecedents in a story I wrote twenty years ago—you read that right—back when I wrote parodies.

I grew up watching a little cartoon called Fractured Fairy Tales, which were parodies of fairy tales.

I thought I’d try my hand writing at those. But instead of using existing fairy tales, I wanted to write original fairy tales. I came up with some characters who rescued princesses. Only, they weren’t very good at it.

This is not the story I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I can’t find that one for some reason. This is another fairy tale I wrote back in the day. But I wrote all of my fairy tales on yellow paper like this.

I worked on that story off and on for six years for my own amusement, considering it a hobby like crocheting, while trying to finish a science fiction novel for adults. But around 2004, an astute friend asked me, “Why don’t you write fairy tales instead?” She meant for publication, instead of the science fiction novel for which I struggled to find a good ending. “They seem more you,” she added.

Honestly, the notion of getting that story published had never crossed my mind until she spoke those words. Well, I polished it, submitted it to publishers and agents, but got nowhere. Only one agent asked to see the full manuscript. He mentioned that he liked some of it. Now, let’s flash forward seven years. I’m in grad school at this point. An advisor read my fairy tale, which had been rejected probably twenty-five times. Ironically, I had submitted chapters of this book as part of my application to get into the graduate school.

She said, “I liked some of it.” Familiar words. And then she said (and I’m just paraphrasing here, since we had numerous conversations on this subject), “You’ve got to take writing more seriously. These characters deserve better.” Meaning, stop writing parodies, making fun of the fairy tales you claim to love. Write from a sincere heart.

So, I lifted several characters out of that book and gave them a new home and a new plot, which became the book I started seven years ago.

That’s why I was encouraged by The Greatest Showman. It’s nice to know that projects made with love can find an audience of people who love them too.

What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a project?

If you want more information on the movie, check out this
HBO Interview, which involves Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, and Zac Efron talking about the movie:

The Greatest Showman movie poster from cinematerial.com. Fractured Fairy Tales still from avxhome.se. Other photos by L. Marie. The Valentine owl crochet pattern can be found here.

Check This Out: Strange Sweet Song

adiruleGreetings one and all. I feel like singing. Know why? Here today is the awesome Adi Rule, author of the young adult novel, Strange Sweet Song (St. Martin’s Press), which releases today!

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Here is a synopsis:

18112933Music flows in Sing da Navelli’s blood. When she enrolls at a prestigious conservatory, her first opera audition is for the role of her dreams. But this leading role is the last Sing’s mother ever sang, before her controversial career, and her life, were cut tragically short.

As Sing struggles to escape her mother’s shadow and prove her own worth, she is drawn to the conservatory’s icy forest, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. She soon realizes there is more to her new school than the artistry and politics of classical music.

With the help of a dark-eyed apprentice who has secrets of his own, Sing must unravel the story of the conservatory’s dark forest and the strange creature who lives there—and find her own voice.

Adi is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Let’s talk to Adi, shall we?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Adi: I am left handed. I have never had a cavity. My favorite band is My Chemical Romance. I love video games.

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El Space: No cavities, huh? I wish I could say that about myself! How long was the process of writing Strange Sweet Song?
Adi: About two years.

music-note-icon-psd-psdgraphics-124893El Space: I didn’t know you were a singer until I read your bio on your book. So the obvious question is what commonalities or differences do you share with Sing da Navelli? But I have to ask what other character(s) do you see yourself in most?
Adi: In a way, of course, everything and everyone in the story is me, but I don’t see myself particularly in any of the characters. Sing deals with some psychological issues that are common among singers, so we share some of that. And she’s not always likable—that controversial word—which some readers have responded negatively to at first. But I tried to write honestly; classical singing is so cutthroat that a certain amount of puffy confidence is a matter of survival—but along with that is constant, vicious self-doubt. Sing’s emotional journey is her attempt to navigate between these two extremes to a place where she can actually grow as an artist and as a person.

MacawEl Space: Understandable. What was the inspiration behind characters like Nathan Daysmoor? The Felix?
Adi: Nathan, to me, is that unadulterated love of music that all the best musicians have at their core. He exists outside of the politics of academia and the music world in general, but that also isolates him. I’m actually not sure where the Felix came from. I think her name came first; I have a macaw named Felix—who is nothing like the Felix! OK, sometimes I can tell he wants to rip my throat out—and he’s gotten comments along the lines of, “Isn’t Felix a cat’s name?” But despite Felix cats of varying renown, the name doesn’t come from feles—“cat”—it comes from felix—”happy”—and I guess that train of thought was the seed of a character.

El Space: Reading Strange Sweet Song was like watching a staged musical. What musicals, if any, influenced the book? I couldn’t help thinking of Phantom of the Opera and operas like La traviata.
Adi: Angelique, which the students perform, is a gentle parody of nineteenth century opera. It’s the play-within-a-play that mirrors the events of the novel itself, except that Sing—who loves opera, and Angelique especially—has to eventually come to terms with its flaws.

Sunday_patinkin_peters_aThere are no musicals that specifically influenced the book, although I am a big fan of musicals as well. I like Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit’s Phantom very much, though strangely enough, I didn’t have it in mind while writing SSS, even though the stories both feature young female singers and sort of darkly attractive mentors. Must have been my subconscious! My other all-time favorites are Sunday in the Park with George, Moby Dick: The Musicalone of the funniest things I’ve ever seen—and, I will admit proudly, Cats. Because, come on. Cats is awesome! And the brilliant Growltiger “opera excerpt” is one of the reasons I got into actual opera.

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Frozen-Soundtrack-frozen-35659358-1280-1280El Space: What songs would you put on a Strange Sweet Song playlist? I ask this, because I’m listening to the Frozen soundtrack on my phone. 😀
Adi: The Frozen soundtrack is very appropriate for the northeast right now! Ha ha! While some of the music and composers in SSS are invented, there are quite a few real pieces throughout the novel. I wanted to throw in pieces people might be familiar with, but they’re all easily accessible on the amazing Internet, anyway. 🙂 Definitely Brahms Opus 118, No. 2 (Intermezzo in A), because that piece features prominently in the story. Pamina’s aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” from The Magic Flute, plays an important role as well. And two heartbreakingly gorgeous soprano arias that influenced my idea of what Angelique’s aria might sound like are “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka and “Ain’t it a Pretty Night” from Susannah.

El Space: Which authors influenced you as a writer?
Adi: As a kid, I adored Roald Dahl and James Howe, and I still do. They taught me so much about how to use words and how to be funny, coming at it from opposite ends of the spectrum. Dahl is so delightfully big—just look at all those italics!—and Howe was that hilarious American-dry before it was mainstream. I love Diana Wynne Jones‘s simple, subtle, crystal-clear style that socks you right in the guts. I love every sentence Frances Hardinge has written. I will never be as clever or insightful as Terry Pratchett, and it makes me so happy that he intends to keep writing for as long as he is able. I’m inspired by Lemony Snicket, a master somewhat disguised as frivolous, who often prompts me to wonder, “Can he do that?” And for just perfect words, I am continually delighted by Alicia Potter.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to incorporate their previous job experience in their novels—i.e., they’re musicians and want to write about the industry; they’re actors or lawyers—whatever? How should an author guard against information overkill?
Adi: That’s a great question. I’d say start—and end—with character. Having real-world experience with the nuts and bolts you’re writing about will lend an easy authenticity to the story, but at its heart, the story is probably about someone who faces a difficulty and undergoes some kind of change. Readers will connect with the emotional arc of the main character regardless of the environment or field she’s in. In terms of info overload, I think it’s important to remember that readers are smart. They’ll get it! Define profession-specific words and situations by context whenever possible—a character’s reaction to something tells us a lot more about it than straight-up exposition. Also, give us the right details rather than all the details. The emotion and the sensory aspects of a scene have to come first, so choose actions and descriptions that both educate and illustrate. And if you have to pick one, always illustrate.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Adi: My next novel from St. Martin’s is called at the moment Redwing, and we’re currently in the editing stage. It’s a bit industrial revolution and a bit mythological. Plus ostriches! I’m very excited about it.

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Thanks, Adi, for being my guest! Happy Book Release Day!

Strange Sweet Song is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Looking for Adi? You can find her at her website, EMU Debuts blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of Strange Sweet Song. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on the Ides of March. (Um, that would be fifteenth.) Thanks for stopping by!

Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Music note from wallsave.com. My Chemical Romance photo from Wikipedia. Covers from Goodreads. Author photo courtesy of Adi Rule. Phantom of the Opera logo from ukfrey.blogspot.com. Sunday in the Park with George image from Wikipedia. Cats image from catsthemusical99.blogspot.com. Macaw photo from adaptingeden.com. Ostrich from freefoto.com.