I’m so excited that I wrangled my critique partner, Jennifer Linforth to come to the Writer’s Block and share her newest release with us. Madrigal: A continuation of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera is available at Highland Press.
Tell us a little bit about you and how you got into writing.
When I run I tend to look like a drunk muppet. I can’t stand lollipops with gooey centers, the color pink, or bugs that crunch when you step on them. I think frogs are cool, there is not a critter I won’t pick up and I absolutely cannot pronounce pistachio. Beyond that, when I write I must have Strawberry Quik on hand.Go figure. It’s pink. (Oh-kaaay … TMI, but I’m good. How about your writing, Jen. You want to tell us a little bit about your writing?)
As a child, I first picked up a pen and began to write in the last few months before father’s death. I found losing myself in my imagination cathartic due to the nature of his illness. I wrote actively from that point on-full length books, countless poems and short stories (mostly fantasy based). It was many years before I knuckled down and re-visited my dream of being a published author. I lost myself in historical fiction when I contemplated getting a secondary degree in historical archeology. That planted the first seed in my mind that my love of the past could be used once again to weave stories.
Please tell us about your newest release, Madrigal.
Madrigal: A Novel of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera is a continuance of a timeless classic. Here is the story blurb:
Years ago he faked his death and vowed the Phantom would never again haunt the Opera Garnier. But strange packages left by Anna, an unwanted Samaritan turned unlikely friend, causes Erik to desire the unattainable-love.
When Anna’s haunted past puts Christine Daaé in danger, Erik is falsely accused of the vicious crime. The Phantom is reborn as Erik, forced to the brink of insanity, revisits his passion for Christine-the woman he once swore to possess. Fighting the injustice against Erik, Anna struggles to prove his innocence. Standing in the way is her past that cannot be transcended, and years of prejudice labeling Erik more monster than man.
Battling the nobleman determined to lock him away; Erik must save Christine, control his demons, and tame a heart unexpectedly beating for two opposite women: Christine, who he longs to love, and Anna the woman who saw beyond his bitter soul to the man beneath the mask.
In the midst of a brutal manhunt, can he be loved for himself or is he condemned to be
The Phantom of the Opera? Murderer, Maestro, Magician, Mastermind.
The story for Madrigal came from my constant questioning of the death of Leroux’s character, Philippe, Comte de Chagny. It never did sit well with me. Leroux made him an important secondary character, but never revealed much about his role in the plot; mysteriously, he was involved in the affairs in the Opera Garnier, but how? Why? Time, proof, details, evidence were Leroux’s livelihood (he was a jurist for many years). I kept digging in-between the lines of his prose in order to uncover more about this character. Madrigal developed out of lack of evidence on Leroux’s behalf in an angle of his plot and once I built upon it there was no turning back. Though not seen in book one, Philippe de Chagny’s life and death play a large role in the series.
Coupled with my questions regarding Chagny, was a bit of inspiration from opera itself. The early madrigalists often strung four madrigals together to weave a complete story via song. This became the foundation for modern day opera. Voices in a madrigal were manipulated in such way to reflect crying, laugher, sighing etc. I saw this as the inner workings of Erik’s mind. To me, Erik was constantly consumed by music. Such beauty lay coiled underneath the noise of his madness. His mind was never at rest, with music always reflecting some emotion. The emotion behind Madrigal’s madrigal was based off of Shakespeare’s Sonnet twenty-nine. (When in disgrace and fortune in men’s eye, I alone beweep my outcast state…) A story that is a lament that relays a man’s deepest urges for popularity like any man, though his desires and wants are hidden and repressed beneath envy and suffering.
What made you decide to continue a classic piece of literature?
I was revisiting the classics I disliked, actually. As a child I fell in love with the masters of gothic literature. Stoker’s Dracula was the first book I could not put down and I devoured everything I could find from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe. The Victorian era was always a fascinating time period to me, but I could never wrap my brain around the literature taught in school. Dickens, Brontë, Austen-while I adore them now, did not hold the dark romanticism I craved. Gaston Leroux was a master of mystery. He had a way of misleading the reader that simply fascinated me. No author made me wonder as much as Leroux did. My love for The Phantom of the Opera stemmed from a deep respect for a book that had many more questions than answers.
In revisiting those classics, I stumbled across a book, which continued Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I loved every minute of it. In my opinion it flawlessly wove the original story with Austen’s tale. From there I found other writers who did the same: Brooks, Rhys… Discovering this I was horrified at first-a bit shocked that authors would have the nerve to continue or expand upon a work in the public domain. It prompted me to pick up Leroux’s novel. In doing so I became curious about French nobility. A voracious researcher all my life, I began to read about France in the Victorian era, which led to me studying the history of opera. This fostered a desire to understand Leroux more and more. Why an opera house? What motivated him? How did he view France during the time of this novel since much of Leroux seemed to focus on political satire and class differences. Why-as a jurist-did he leave so many unanswered questions?
Philippe de Chagny was the character that sparked the idea for Madrigal and once I had the opening line in my head there was no resisting the urge to write it. Though he is not see in Madrigal, his life and death play a major role in the series.
Will there be any other books with this theme?
Madrigal is the first in a three book series. Book two of The Madrigals has been submitted to my publisher. It reveals the secrets of Erik (The Phantom) and his mysterious relationship with Philippe de Chagny. The manhunt for Erik continues throughout. Book three is currently being polished. It takes the story into new generations. There is a possibility for a fourth in The Madrigals if my readers desire it to be told.
I know Erik wears a black leather mask in your book … what happened to the white one?
The popular image of the Phantom in a white half-mask is an idea created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, not Gaston Leroux. Many know Lloyd Webber for his stage musical and his 2004 movie based on The Phantom of the Opera. He changed Leroux’s imagery of the Phantom significantly. Initially the white half-mask came out of a need of Michael Crawford’s, the actor singing the role of the Phantom in the musical. He found he could not sing in a full face mask and thus this iconic image of the white half-mask was born. It was taken one step further in the 2004 movie by making it a petite mask that only covered a quarter of the Phantom’s face.
Leroux’s original vision for Erik was that of a sensual monster-not the sexual, romantic leading man Lloyd Webber made him out to be.
If you came with a warning label what would it read?
Feisty when wet
Describe your writing space. Do you move around or always write in the same place?
I adore my office, yet find I only hunker down in there when I am starting or revising a novel. It is a small nook at the end of a hall that is completely and utterly my space. The walls are a deep burgundy with numerous candle sconces. Large windows overlook my balcony (where I sometimes sit and type while sipping a latte) and floor to ceiling bookshelves loaded with research material cover an opposite wall. I surround myself with sentimental items given to me during the course of my career. Looking at them helps to ground me and remind me of all the people in my life who believe in me and my talent as a writer.
When I edit, I move around. I work from a laptop where I use to have a desktop unit. I encourage writers to get the laptop! I find moving from room to room if I need to, helps when I seem to be in a writing slump. Plus-nothing attracts more attention than a writer and a laptop in a café, hotel lobby, book store, or car dealership.
If we asked your friends to name 3 personality traits about you, what do you think they would say?
Snarky. I enjoy amusing people out of the blue with those “snide remarks” that are often out of character for me. My writing friends have learned to duck and cover the quill when I turn the snark on.
Determined. I am an introvert. That completely contradicts the above snark, but it is the truth. I lock myself away in my imagination and often am a quiet type. When my determination comes forward it does so fiercely. I have had many friends say they admire the drive they see in me in terms of writing. It is a wonderful thing to hear.
Compassionate. This one I have heard all my life. Even as a child I was the one everyone turned to when they needed a shoulder to lean on, a ear to bend or a brain to pick. I take after my mother in this respect. Often I have a hard time pampering myself as a result of wanting to be so compassionate. I am far better at giving to others.
What happened to the first novel you ever wrote?
Return of a Dark Legend? It is still in the black binder sitting on the shelf in my office. I wrote that when I was twelve and I have no plans of ever changing it or attempting to get it published. That book is exclusively mine and I see it as a reminder to stick to your goals and dreams. I should have had the backbone as a child to pursue my career as a writer instead of listening to those around me who encouraged me to pursue a degree in fine art. I keep it within my line of sight so I know never to lose sight of what I want again.
You have a fulltime job and a child. How do you fit writing into your busy schedule?
You adjust. My writing schedule has changed as my child grows and I know it will continue to do so. I thought I would feel guilty for placing my child in daycare on my days off from my regular job, until I came to realize that writing is a fulltime job as well. I have two days a week that are mine. Usually on Mondays I market, blog, plot, write, edit and mentor. Tuesdays are affectionately knows as “typing Tuesdays” and it is that day when I close out the world and knuckle down for a solid 8 hours of writing. I spend time at night, usually from 8 until 11 multi-tasking with interviews, edits, articles and emails in addition to my days off.
I have learned that dust-bunnies do not bite. They may grow but if you glare at them the right way they will slink their furry asses into a corner until a scene is done. Then-you can kill them…
If you were sick in bed which movie would be your comfort movie and why?
The BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. Originally, I adored the 2005 remake until my mother suggested my historical mind might enjoy being wrapped around Colin Firth. How right she was… The detail and brilliant storytelling each actor placed into that story simply makes my mind explode. I like being transported back in time. That movie is one that does it for me every time.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Open your mouth and tell the world that you want to write. I kept silent for far too many years. The CEO of a major NYC press chatted with me a year before I landed my contract for Madrigal. He told me the number one thing I can do for my career is to start acting like a published author before I ever signed on the dotted line. Market yourself even if you are unpublished! Get your name out there. Network! Every small thing you do makes a ripple and ripples eventually turn into waves.
Much of writing is learning. Constantly polish your craft and always seek the advice of others. It does not hurt and it is your choice to take that advice and use it or not. At least you had the courage to ask. You never know when a door is going to open. When that door opens, be ready to walk through it with confidence.
The New England Conference for the Romance Writers of America last year opened with a quote that still is very powerful to me. I encourage every new writer to take it to heart:
“‘Come to the edge,’ he said. ‘We are afraid,’ they replied. ‘Come to the edge,’ he said. They came. He pushed them… and they flew.”
Your original critique partner is an amazing woman and a multi-published author in erotica, how fortunate do you feel that you found her?
You are kidding me, right?
The partnership I have with Nina Pierce is an odd one. I write historical fiction, she writes erotica. Writers are told it is best to have critique partners that are similar in genre. Nina and I are down right opposites when it comes to that. I am usually shoving her butt into broughams with brooding nobles and she is often frisking me with half-naked cops with hard-ons. Sometimes you have to overlook the genre and focus on the partnership. Does your CP understand your voice? Do they know how you develop your themes and characters? Can they yank you out of writer’s block and cheer you on when you meet success? Do they make a killer margarita? The relationship is most important and I am extremely fortunate to have Nina as my partner.
Although when we do attend conferences together we have a mutual understanding. I will not force her to wear a corset and carry a fan around me if she does not make me tie the bartender to her bedpost… (Hey, that was only that once and you promised never to tell. But it is a nice memory … he was totally worth the struggle … Get your mind out the gutter people … he made killer margaritas!)
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
Dickering with well beloved character can be a ticking time bomb. Readers get fiercely defensive of those characters they have grown to love. Writers who continue classic literature are just as passionate. If a writer does not believe in the passion behind a story, that will come across in the writing. Leroux was a lawyer and a journalist. Nothing he did was accidental. The Phantom of the Opera has transcended time for a reason. I hope it will continue to leave many more questions than answers.
When Jen’s not hanging around here, you can find her at her website and her blog. She’d love you to friend her on MySpace or at FaceBook.
Jen knows her way around, so she’s already walked away and seems to be organizing the cabana boys. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the opening bars of the Macarena … and that’s the blender. *rubs hands together*. This promises to be one heck of a party. So come on in and ask Jen some questions. She’d love to hear from you!