Saturday, March 15, 2014

Frozen Music, the Choral Novel: Introduction

At the age of 27, I began a novel, Frozen Music, inspired by my college choir and the first great heartbreak of my life. I often worked on it after hours at the best job I ever had, publicity director at Villa Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California.

I finished the novel amid two great traumas: being laid off from that job and losing my mother to cancer. After that, spurred on by a sudden awareness of my own mortality, I kicked my literary career into high gear, attending three different arts colonies and finding a subsidy publishing firm to handle Frozen Music. It came out in 1995, escorted by an excellent editor and an award-winning cover photograph from Susan Merrill. I set up a cross-country tour of 25 bookstores and was on my way.

The original cover.
A month after returning from that tour, in late 1995, I discovered that my publisher was running a scam, that the two leaders of the firm were taking the author fees and blowing them in Vegas. Those two eventually ended up in prison.

I came out of it okay. That very month, I met the love of my life (who inspired two novels of her own), kept writing, and in one memorable month in 1998 landed two legit publishers for two different novels and a $3,000 fellowship from the local arts council. I consigned Frozen Music to the almost-required category of First Failure, and only thought about it when I discovered a copy floating around some used book store.

Turn the clock ahead to 2013, and a funny thing happened. I was cruising the site when I discovered a five-star rating for Frozen Music. I assumed some friend of mine was playing a curiously nice joke, but eventually sent a message to the reviewer, Ruth Bueter, and asked her if her rating was legit.

Ruth told me things that an author can only dream about. She was studying music in college when she discovered Frozen Music in a bookstore in Ohio, and fell in love with it. For five years, she would re-read it every summer, until eventually the book fell apart and she had to buy a fresh copy. I thanked her profusely.

I was relating this story to my friend Ellen Lee Gibson (who came with me on that 1995 tour), and she surprised me further. "Oh, Frozen Music has always been my favorite of your books."

That was certainly enough for me. I began a thorough editing of the book, and - although the 27-year-old me definitely deserved some serious hacking from the 52-year-old me - I was impressed at its depth and passion, and a little ashamed that I had kicked it to the curb.

Being a thoroughly musical novel - featuring works by Mozart, Dvorak, and Bernstein that I performed with the San Jose State Concert Choir - I have decided to bring it to the readers of my opera blog. I'm dedicating it to Dr. Charlene Archibeque, who led that fine choir, and who I left out of the narrative only for fear that her dynamic personality would drown out all my other characters.

I hope you all will enjoy the performance.

Michael J. Vaughn

For more on the Northwest Publishing scandal, please read the post at my Writerville site.

Photo by MJV

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