An Interview with Shira Anthony

WO:  No reader of the Blue Notes series can miss your love and extensive knowledge of classical music. Could you please tell about your background in the field?

SA:  I’m the daughter of a classical musician with perfect pitch.  My mother went to the High School of Music and Art in New York, studied composition with Leonard Bernstein and Walter Piston, and still performs professionally on the harpsichord.  My father, who loves any kind of music, is tone deaf!  My mother clearly had enough musical genes to make up for any deficit on my father’s side, because both my sister and I became professional musicians as well.

My sister was a classical cellist, and I began my musical studies as a violinist, later deciding to pursue a career in opera.  I’d always loved to sing (although mostly rock and folk music).  In high school, I juggled lead roles in musicals with my jobs as concertmistress of our high school orchestra and student director of the school chorus, but it wasn’t until I was in my first year at Brandeis University that I started to consider a career in music.  (I know – talk about dense!)  I was playing in the pit orchestra for a school production of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in college when I remember looking up on stage and thinking, “I could do that!”  I transferred to a conservatory the next year and never looked back.

I’ve got what in opera parlance we call a “big ol’ honkin’ voice” (dramatic soprano), so there weren’t a lot of little roles available for me to perform.  My favorite roles were the title role in Tosca (Puccini), and Violetta in La Traviata (Verdi).  I sang professionally for about sixteen years before I decided it was too difficult on me and my family.  Professional opera singers lead very nomadic lives—not lives conducive to raising families.  I still miss performing.  That’s probably why I write about musicians.

WO:  Then I take it you already had a family when you called a halt to your career.  It isn’t unusual for an opera singer to be a father or mother.  How do they carry it off?  Was there something that happened to make you realize you couldn’t have both?  And have you stopped performing altogether?  What about a recital at a local school or nursing home?  Are there any local amateur productions you could be in?

SA:  When I sang my last professional gig, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, I was four months pregnant with my second child (surprisingly, pregnancy agrees with the voice!).  I also performed a Cavalleria Rusticana four weeks after I gave birth to my first child by C-section.  A month later, I nursed her in between acts of Tosca.

But to answer your question about parenting and opera careers, I met many more fathers than mothers when I was singing.  Most of the women I knew who were singers and had families gave up their careers like I did.  That was nearly twenty years ago now, so I can’t tell you what it might be like now for a musician who is also a parent.  I hope it’s better, but realistically, you can only drag kids around until they’re a certain age, and then you have to make a choice about what kind of life you want to give them.

What changed my mind about deciding I couldn’t sing and raise a family?  When my children were very young, I coached with a wonderful man who was married to a well-known soprano who performed internationally and sang with big names like Pavarotti and Domingo.  They had a son who was about my oldest child’s age, and I saw what a toll it took on their family.  When their son was young, they traveled together with a nanny, but once he started school, she traveled and left her husband and son behind.  There were rumors of infidelity (not unusual in the opera business) and other marital difficulties.  That situation helped me realize that my dream of having it all—career and family—was a long shot, at best.  I had more gigs than the average singer, but I needed to work to supplement my singing income.  I also wanted my kids to go to a regular school, so homeschooling wasn’t an option for me.  And I wanted to spend time with my husband (I kind of like the guy!), and he had a day job.  That’s when I decided to go to law school.

All this to say that a career as a performer, especially in opera, requires great personal sacrifice. At some point, I decided I’d sacrificed all I could, and that I wasn’t willing to risk losing the other things in life that made me happy.

Since I changed careers, I rarely perform, and only in churches and synagogues.  I adored performing in operas (both the music and the drama).  Without opera, the joy I find in singing doesn’t outweigh the pain of revisiting my “lost” career.  It’s easier not to sing than constantly remember what I was missing having given it up.

WO:  Is your home a musical one like your parents’ or (I imagine) your sister’s?  Do your children like classical music?  Have you ever taken them to see an opera?

SA:  I’ve never taken my children to an opera!  I know that sounds crazy, but I tend to avoid them for the same reason I don’t sing much anymore.  Both my children, however, studied an instrument in school.  My son plays French horn (like his father did) and is the drum major of the marching band at his high school.  My daughter loves to sing, although she sings pop and Broadway.  It’s not like the musical home I grew up in, but music is definitely a part of our lives

WO:  So you gave up opera and became a romance author instead.  How did that come about?  Don’t tell me it was for the money!

SA:  Hah!  I wish it was for the money.  The romance author persona was a natural for me.  I grew up on romances, fantasy, and sci fi, and I was a voracious reader.  I wrote poetry and started to (attempt) to write novels when I was in middle school.  I think part of my love of opera came from the fact that I loved to live in fantasy worlds, and I loved to step into someone else’s shoes.  I dreamed stories and when I performed in operas, I sometimes dreamed I was the character I was performing.

The first few complete stories I wrote were novellas, and had nothing to do with music.  I think I was still in avoidance mode.  Then a friend suggested we co-author a book about a conductor and a violinist.  That book was a breakthrough for me:  I finally realized I could write about classical music and handle the pain of loss of my career.

Later, after spending two weeks in Paris in winter (have I mentioned I love Paris?), I was inspired to write a story about a former musician who runs away to Paris from his less-than-perfect perfect life.  That story is “Blue Notes,” the first book in the Blue Notes Series.  “Blue Notes” was both painful and cathartic to write, but writing that novel showed me that I could write about music.  Even more, it convinced me that there were readers out there who wanted to read about the classical music world I used to inhabit.

And that short novella about the violinist and conductor I wrote nearly five years ago now?  It became the bones for the upcoming “Prelude,” the fourth book in the Blue Notes Series.

WO:  Very few M/M romances feature classical musicians, but there are many about rock stars and pop music, a subject more readers are familiar with.  Have you felt the need to add background information to your books so readers will understand what you’re writing about, or perhaps less so they won’t be bored by something that doesn’t interest them?

SA:  It’s a tricky balance.  I do try to add enough background so that readers who aren’t familiar with classical music can relate to the characters.  But you don’t want to add so much background that you lose sight of the fact that the stories are, first and foremost, stories about human beings with needs and desires similar to the readers’.

WO:  Yes, but music is so much a part of a classical musician’s life, professionally and emotionally.  I don’t mean just performing, but the music itself.  Doesn’t that call for some specificity (as you do when you write about the Elgar and Dvorák concertos in “The Melody Thief”)?  Authors who write about rock stars don’t hesitate to throw in names of pop idols or their songs.

SA:  I think you’re talking about expressing the deep connection between musicians and music.  Interesting that you bring up that question, because that connection is often a challenge for me to convey in my books.  Of all the Blue Notes books, I think the upcoming “Prelude” has the strongest connection between music and musician.  Music is such an integral part of David Somers, one of the main characters in that story, that without the music, there would be no story to tell.  The same type of connection to music is also there in the first two books, “Blue Notes” and “The Melody Thief.”  “Aria” is a bit different, and addresses the issues of balancing career and family, something I’m intimately familiar with.

So how does a writer add musical color and depth to a story?  It can’t be by dropping names or just talking about the mechanical aspects of performing.  A writer conveys the depth of the music by showing how the music feels when the musician performs: the feeling of the violin as it vibrates against your chin, the way your entire body becomes part of the musical expression, the pain and the joy of the melody, the baring of your soul to forge a connection to the music, and the way a true musician gives a bit of himself up to his audience when he performs, among other things.  Performing is both exhausting and exhilarating, physically and emotionally.  That’s what I want my readers to feel and understand when they read about my characters.

WO:  Do you have a favorite Blue Notes book?  Which one and why?

SA:  “The Melody Thief” is my hands down favorite so far (you may want to ask me again after the fourth book in the series, “Prelude,” is published, though).  I think “Thief” has the best balance of characterization, realism, and connection to the music of the first three books.  The protagonist, Cary Redding, is such a mixture of contradictions: a natural and beautiful musician, a man who never really grew beyond the pain of his difficult childhood, and a beautiful soul in need of salvation.  Cary finds his salvation in the love of a good man, and through that love, Cary’s soul blossoms, as does his music.  There’s a happily ever after in “Thief,” but not a perfect ending.  Cary’s demons continue to threaten his newfound happiness and probably will all his life.  But that’ s reality.  We all have to fight our demons, and no HEA comes without continued hard work.

WO:  You’ve already mentioned your next book in the series.  What will it be about and when do you expect it will see the light of day?

SA:  “Prelude” (Blue Notes #4) is tentatively set for release in early May, 2013, and takes place before the other books in the series (although the series can be read in any order).  It’s co-authored with my friend Venona Keyes and is set a few years before the original “Blue Notes” (Blue Notes #1).  “Prelude” is the story of conductor David Somers, who has appeared in all of the first three books.  David is part guardian angel and part mentor for some of the musicians in the series, including Cary Redding (Blue Notes #2) and Aiden Lind (Blue Notes #3).  But the strength and empathy David shares with these young musicians is hard won, and when the reader meets him in “Prelude,” he isn’t the same man as in those later books.  “Prelude” is the story of David’s growth and healing.

In “Prelude,” David is in his prime as a world-renowned conductor.  In his position as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he is outwardly confident and able to wrangle donors as easily as he handles temperamental musicians.  Inwardly, though, David is haunted by the loss of his parents at a young age and his grandfather’s stern upbringing.  For David, conducting is a bit of a compromise:  although he enjoys conducting, he always wanted to be a composer.  In fact, David has a form of synesthesia:  he hears music as part of his emotional reactions to people and situations.

When David meets violinist Alex Bishop, the music David hears is unlike any other he’s ever heard.  David feels compelled to compose “Alex’s music,” but it seems ever elusive.  The problem?  David controls his emotions with an iron fist, but creating music calls for an open heart and vulnerable soul.  David fears what loving Alex means for his fragile self-control, but loving and allowing oneself to be loved is the key to David’s composition.

WO:  How many books are you planning for the series?  Can we expect there to be some about woodwind or brass players?  Percussionists?  Or maybe a small ensemble like a string quartet or piano trio.

SA:  I have at least three more books in various stages of planning, and I’m sure there will be others after those.  And yes, one of the three books features a percussionist (the drummer from the Blue Notes jazz group in the first book, Henri).  I don’t doubt there will be woodwind and brass players at some point, although I have to admit to less familiarity with those instruments.  A good excuse to contact friends who do know those instruments well!

As for a small ensemble (trio or quartet), that might make for a very interesting story indeed (although I’ll probably avoid a ménage theme in the Blue Notes Series books).  But love triangles?  Or parallel romances between the participants?  Or one of the past Blue Notes featured characters as the third in a trio?  I’m liking those ideas.

WO:  The piano is also a percussion instrument.

SA:  Funny, how I always forget the piano when I think of percussion instruments!  Did you know that piano is my favorite instrument?  I adore Chopin and Brahms for piano (which explains why those pieces appear in a lot of the Blue Notes stories).  Part of why I don’t think of piano as a percussion instrument is also part of the reason why I love it so much: it’s such a self-contained instrument.  True, there are unaccompanied pieces for other instruments, but to me, the piano is such a complete sound.  Like a solo symphony.  I always regretted not having studied the instrument.

 WO:  Please tell us a little about your other books.

SA:  As much as I adore writing contemporary gay romances, I grew up reading the romantic fantasies of Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover Series), Ursula K. Le Guin, and others.  I’m also a sci fi geek who loves Star Trek (old and new incarnations), Battlestar Galatica (new version, although I loved the old when I was young), Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and I find that I sometimes need a break from my angsty musicians, and I enjoy delving into other genres.

I’ve written an erotic fairy tale, my first Dreamspinner Press publication, “The Dream of a Thousand Nights,” that features a Djinn and a prince.  I’ve also co-authored a sci fi thriller entitled “The Trust,” with Venona Keyes.  I co-authored another book with author E.m. Lynley which will be released on March 29, 2013.  “Lighting the Way Home” is a contemporary gay romance set on the lower east side of Manhattan and mixes in a bit of Jewish tradition and heritage.

My current project is the first in a series of novels set in an alternate universe Earth of the 1700s involving pirates and mermen shape-shifters.  Gay romances, but very different from the character-driven stories of my Blue Notes Series, these books are heavier on plot and world-building.  “Stealing the Wind” allows me to indulge my love of sailing (my husband and I own a 35′ catamaran sail boat named “Land’s Zen” and sail at the Carolina coast) and fantasy worlds.

WO:  Are all the love relationships in your books M/M?  What is it about love between men that attracts you as an author?  Do you think you might write a het romance someday?  The homosexual angle certainly works well in your “Blue Notes” series.  Not that all classical musicians are gay, but the profession has more or less come out of the closet over the past quarter-century – at least it has in the West – and they no longer have to worry about it affecting their careers, although in other ways they have to deal with the same bigotry the rest of us do.

SA:  Someone once asked me if the Blue Notes Series was “plausible,” in that so many of the characters are gay or bisexual.  My answer was a resounding “yes!”  I’ve lived that life, and in my experience, there were more LGBT than straight musicians, especially in opera.

Why do I write M/M?  First and foremost:  I love men.  Gay men, straight men, bisexual men, transgender.  Doesn’t matter.  I love to write about the tension between society’s expectations of  how a man should behave and his emotional needs.  Let’s face it—even in the 21st Century, gender roles are still something we struggle with, in spite of the huge strides we as a society have made.  For gay, bisexual and transgender men, the struggle to accept oneself and be accepted can be far more challenging.  Add to that the dynamic of coping with and breaking down societal prejudices, and there are so many more emotions and situations to explore than in a typical heterosexual romance.

I think my love/hate relationship with heterosexual romances also comes into play here.  I grew up reading Harlequin romances.  And with each new romance I read (I devoured them!), I hated them more and more.  Wimpy heroines falling all over the hero and following him to the ends of the earth (no career in sight when I was reading these in the 1980s, so sure, she could follow him!).  Worst thing about them?  The “happily ever after.”  Which, back then, was a marriage proposal.  I remember thinking, “But what happens after the wedding?”  Fade to black?  And I felt like a total failure for wanting more than that.

Side note here:  For me, a HEA isn’t a place in time, it’s a continual state of being.  You don’t just get married or make a commitment and get a HEA.  You have to work at your HEA.  Every single day.  I want to read and write stories that are about more than just “I love you.”  I want to explore how love really works.

There are another hundred other reasons why I write what I write, not the least of which is that I find reading M/M sex incredibly hot.  I could probably give you an intellectual justification for that, but I think it just boils down to the fact that I love the male body, and I’d rather watch or read about two men together than watch or read about some perfect woman with a perfect body (a perfect body I definitely don’t have) having sex with a hot man.

By the way, my first book was a self-published heteroerotic novella, “From the Depths,” that still outsells my gay romances.  So I certainly don’t write MM because I think it will make me more money!  Would I write another het story?  Probably not.  I’m too happy writing what I write.

BlueNotes coverBlue Notes:
http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=2692

Buy Print book at http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=2693

Ebook ISBN-13:  978-1-61372-273-2

Print ISBN: 978-1-61372-272-5

“…Shira Anthony has composed a bluesy take on love and relationships with this relaxed, sure riff…. The chemistry is hot, and the romance and sex hotter” – Bear on Books Blog

Blurb:

Blame it on jet lag.  Jason Greene thought he had everything:  a dream job as a partner in a large Philadelphia law firm, a beautiful fiancée, and more money than he could ever hope to spend.  Then he finds his future wife in bed with another man, and he’s forced to rethink his life and his choices.  On a moment’s notice, he runs away to Paris, hoping to make peace with his life.

But Jason’s leave of absence becomes a true journey of the heart when he meets Jules, a struggling jazz violinist with his own cross to bear.  In the City of Love, it doesn’t take them long to fall into bed, but as they’re both about to learn, they can’t run from the past.  Sooner or later, they’ll have to face the music.

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MelodyThief coverThe Melody Thief: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3170&cPath=55_484

Buy Print book at http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3171

Ebook ISBN-13:  978-1-61372-695-2

Print ISBN-13:  978-1-61372-694-5

“I recommend this book to everyone with a romantic heart, like me, and a love for the magic of music, and of love’s ability to overcome any obstacle…” – Rainbow Book Reviews

Blurb:

Cary Redding is a walking contradiction.  On the surface he’s a renowned cellist, sought after by conductors the world over.  Underneath, he’s a troubled man flirting with addictions to alcohol and anonymous sex.  The reason for the discord? Cary knows he’s a liar, a cheat.  He’s the melody thief.

Cary manages his double life just fine until he gets mugged on a deserted Milan street.  Things look grim until handsome lawyer Antonio Bianchi steps in and saves his life.  When Antonio offers something foreign to Cary—romance—Cary doesn’t know what to do.  But then things get even more complicated.  For one thing, Antonio has a six-year-old son.  For another, Cary has to confess about his alter ego and hope Antonio forgives him.

Just when Cary thinks he’s figured it all out, past and present collide and he is forced to choose between the family he wanted as a boy and the one he has come to love as a man.

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Aria coverAria:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3468&cPath=55_484

Buy Print book at http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3469

Ebook ISBN-13:  978-1-62380-176-2

Print ISBN-13:  978-1-62380-175-5

“…Aria is a wonderful addition to Anthony’s Blue Notes series and includes her signature elegant descriptions of Paris and music.” – All About Romance

Blurb:

Five years after a prestigious scholarship jumpstarted his opera career, Aiden Lind has it all:  fame, choice roles, and Lord Cameron Sherrington to share his life with.  Maintaining his façade takes effort, but under his poised, sophisticated mask, Aiden is still the insecure kid from rural Mississippi.  Then he walks in on Cam with another man, and the illusion of perfection shatters.

Philadelphia attorney Sam Ryan never moved on after his partner died, though he tried.  Instead of dating, he keeps himself busy with work—but when he unexpectedly runs into ex-lover Aiden while on a rare vacation in Paris, he’s inspired to give their love a second chance.  First, though, he’ll have to get Aiden to forgive him.  Because when Sam was still grieving five years ago, he broke Aiden’s heart.

When rekindled lust blossoms into a true romance, it seems like the start of something wonderful.  But Aiden’s career has him on the road much of the time, and the physical distance between him and Sam starts translating into an emotional disconnect.  If Aiden and Sam can’t learn to communicate, their separation may prove more than their love can bear.

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Prelude coverPrelude (Book Four in Series) (early May, 2013 publication)

Blurb:

David Somers, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is one of the best-known conductors in the classical music world.  He helps young performers like Cary Redding (The Melody Thief) and Aiden Lind (Aria) with their careers.  He’s sophisticated, richer than God, handsome, and outrageously successful.  But there’s something about David that his public personality doesn’t come close to hinting at:  underneath it all, he’s insecure.

When crossover violinist Alex Bishop fills in at the last minute on a CSO concert, David isn’t expecting much.  After all, Alex has long hair, tattoos, and plays rock ‘n roll when he’s not playing Beethoven.  But when David hears Alex perform, he begins to wonder if he hasn’t underestimated the man.

It takes some time, but the two men fall hard for each other.  But each has his own measure of pain to shoulder, and when David’s insecurities threaten to tear them apart, it’s up to Alex to show David that not all love is conditional.

 

**************************

 

Bio In her last incarnation, Shira Anthony was a professional opera singer, performing roles in such operas as Tosca, Pagliacci, and La Traviata, among others.  She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle.

Shira is married with two children and two insane dogs, and when she’s not writing, she is usually in a courtroom trying to make the world safer for children.  When she’s not working, she can be found aboard a 35’ catamaran at the Carolina coast with her favorite sexy captain at the wheel.

Shira can be found on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shira.anthony

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4641776.Shira_Anthony

Twitter: @WriterShira

Website: http://www.shiraanthony.com

E-mail: shiraanthony@hotmail.com

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