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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Author Interview: George Rabasa (The Wonder Singer)

As part of the May blog tour for George Rabasa's new book The Wonder Singer, I have been fortunate enough to interview him. I wanted to gain some insight into Rabasa as a writer, as well as understand his thoughts on writing and his own writing process. Enjoy the interview! If you'd like to read my review of The Wonder Singer, please go here.

Q: What do you do to prepare to write?
A: I try to be at my desk around nine most mornings. At that time, all my good ideas and fine intentions of the night before have vanished and I wonder what's the point of writing. I wish I had real job. Still, the screen opens up a world of possibilities. Start a sentence. Change a word. Move some phrases around. Daydream. Wake up.

Q: What is the process that gets you ready to sit down a lay out a story?
A: I wish I had a process. A short story starts with an image, a feeling, a character, and I find out what the story is about by writing the first draft. Novels tend to live in the mind for a while, months maybe, before I get so restless with the energy that bubbles up within me that I start writing with a mix of fear and courage. After about eighty pages or so, I'm committed to finishing the thing, even it takes a couple of years to get a first draft. A novel is a marathon.

Q: What is the best part of writing a book?
A: A moment in the telling of the story that surprises me with a beautiful phrase, a surprising turn of plot, the life force in a previously static character.

Q: What is the most difficult part of writing a book?
A: Keeping the faith.

Q: What was your inspiration for The Wonder Singer?
A: My intention was to write a sort of picaresque novel about a ghostwriter. In my checkered professional life I've written in practically every medium, besides fiction, with varying degrees of success: commercials, direct mail, restaurant menus, reviews, speeches, obituaries and jokes. But I was never a ghostwriter. The idea of a journeyman writer serving as the voice for a famous personality has a kind of elegance to it. I needed a bigger- than-life foil for the humble scribbler.  There are no bigger personalities than old-school opera divas. And the irony of serving as the conduit for a voice that cannot sing her own song captivated me.

As I began to imagine Merce Casals, I reached for the bigger-than-life women in my own family. I also read a particularly lurid biography of Maria Callas, as well as reams of lore on the bad old days of opera. They don't make divas like MerceCasals anymore. The challenge was to endow her with the full grace and dignity of a real human being – not a caricature or comic character. After a while, as I wrote, I took her eccentricities for granted, and concentrated on giving her a rich and deep inner life, touched by love, disappointment and the world's inevitable cruelties. As a result, I hope my Diva will engage the reader's heart and mind at a basic human level.

Q: Where do you look to find inspiration any time you write?
A: I don't look anywhere in particular. I write about what interests me. I like to think I am fully alive to every moment of my life’s experience. My ideas are the stuff of life, somewhat tossed and blended and simmered to make the stew that is a good story.

Q: What kind of research did you have to do to write The Wonder Singer?
A: When I started The Wonder Singer over ten years ago, I did not particularly like what little opera I had listened to. Rock and roll, roots, symphonic, choral, chamber-- all of these I loved. Then, when I decided to write about an opera diva, I though I'd better figure out what these people did. So thanks to the Minneapolis Public Library, I checked out Tosca. I played it over and over one weekend, and by Monday morning, I was hooked.

After that I listened to opera, read about opera, talked about opera. I attended master classes for young singers to see how they were trained. I interviewed singers, voice teachers, producers, wannabe divas and the occasional opera queen.

I loved every moment of the learning experience.

Q: What have you wanted to write about but haven't had a chance to yet?
A: Submarines, rock bands, prisons, ashrams, pilgrimages, mathematicians, muslims, millionaires and whores. Also, on a larger scale, the Jewish diaspora after expulsion from Spain in the early 16th century.

Q: How much of yourself do you put in your characters? Are they extensions of you, or are they independent creations that take on a life of their own after coming from your imagination?
A: While I'm not an autobiographical writer, there is something of me in every character I imagine. And I have always been fascinated by the idea of ghost writing. Ghost writers are like actors taking on a role. They are the voices of people who are mute, who cannot speak for themselves. In a sense I'm a ghost writer for the characters I imagine. When Flaubert was asked where Emma Bovary came from, he said, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi."  Merce Casals? She is me. As are Nolan Keefe, Hollywood Hank, Alonzo Baylor, Mark Lockwood and the rest of the cast.

Q: What is the most valuable piece of knowledge that you've picked up after becoming a published author that you wish you knew from the start?
A: Finish what you start.

Q: What is one thing you've never done but would love to do?
A: Write good poetry.

Q: What would your :theme" song be on the soundtrack of your life?
A: "I'm Your Man" by Leonard Cohen.

Q: Finally, could you share with all of us a quote that you love?
A: "Characters in a story should be alive, except in the case of corpses, and always the reader should be able to tell the corpses from the others." (Paraphrased from Mark Twain.)

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