Gayle Lynds: What a joy to welcome Helaine Mario, a remarkable suspense author whose novels are woven with great music and art. Her new one, Shadow Music, has just been released —you don’t want to miss it! Helaine and her husband also founded The Sundial Foundation and the Helaine and Ronald Mario Fund. Royalties from her books support reading, music, and food programs for children and families. Thanks, Helaine! And now … ah-one, ah-two … take it away, O terrific author….
by Helaine Mario:
The very first question that people ask me is: “What, or who, inspired you? And where do your ideas come from?”
I always begin my answer with the definition of INSPIRE – To breathe in. That’s what inspiration is – you are breathing in all the sounds and images and scents around you.
Stephen King said, “Ideas come from nowhere. Sail right at you out of the sky. Two unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. The writer’s job isn’t to find ideas, but to recognize them when they show up.”
For me, the answer to inspiration was easy. Classical Music fell out of my sky.
So the answer to What inspired me is Music. And the Who – my son.
Like so many of you, I have always loved music. In my younger years, it was 50s Rock and the Beatles, and later Folk, Country, Broadway, and Jazz.
Then lightning struck in the early 80s when our 6 year-old son, Sean, began to ask for piano lessons. We did not have a piano, but we found a teacher and rented an old upright. Within a few years we went from a ‘no piano home’ to a ‘grand piano home.’ (That grand is now in my son’s home and still, like the Giving Tree, giving music to my three youngest grands.).
My son studied for 15 years, and during that time I discovered a whole new world. Listening to him practice, I fell in love with the glorious pieces of Mozart and Chopin, Beethoven, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff.
Many years later, when I began to write, I knew that I wanted to write the book that I wanted to read – a mixed genre story of suspense, thrills, romance, mystery, history, and international settings. We’ve all heard that Writing Rule #1 is to write about what we know. But I broke that rule right away, choosing to write about something I love.
That is why my main character Maggie O’Shea, introduced in The Lost Concerto, is a classical pianist. The Grieg Piano Concerto haunts her dreams, and propels a grieving Maggie to Paris.
But writing a story built around classical music was only the beginning – especially when I couldn’t find Middle C on a piano. Readers deserve authenticity, so that meant RESEARCH. Hours and hours and hours of research. I learned a very valuable lesson – that there is a huge connection between Research and Inspiration.
I began piano lessons. Then I interviewed a professional pianist who told me that music is so much more than technique – it’s about finding the emotional heart of the music, the silence between the notes.
As I thought about Maggie’s music, and began to study the pieces, I came to understand that the music of the great pianists all told a story, and could mirror Maggie’s journey.
In my second book, Dark Rhapsody, I turned to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which strikes every emotional chord. This music inspired and illuminated Maggie’s desperate struggle to find the music she’d lost.
The heart of my third book, Shadow Music, is Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 2. The three movements tell a story – Maggie’s story – with a beginning, middle, and end, and touch on every emotion from grief, aching loss, and fear to beauty, joy, and love.
As Maggie’s father, Finn, says, “Music tells our stories.”
But we know that, in a story, Something Must Happen. A love of music wasn’t enough – I needed a plot worthy of these characters. I needed what Robin Williams called “that little spark of madness.”
Once again, I turned to research and found the sparks I needed. One article on music led to a true story of missing music, and that article led to music lost during World War II, and – voila! – a plot was born.
Many of you already know about the priceless art stolen or destroyed during that war. You have seen or read Monuments Men and Woman in Gold. But you may not know that original musical scores by the great composers, and thousands of rare instruments, disappeared during the war as well.
The true story of a long-lost score of classical music inspired the plot for my novel, The Lost Concerto. Beethoven’s original manuscript of his 6th Symphony was found hidden in a tunnel in Germany after the war.
One shocking report published by the UK’s Daily Mail revealed that “Adolf Hitler kept a vast record collection of ‘forbidden’ music by Jewish and Russian composers.”
Music banned under the Third Reich – including works by Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky – were discovered in 1945 hidden in Hitler’s bunker, with deep scratch marks indicating that these 78 rpm recordings, publically labeled ‘sub-human music,’ had been played repeatedly. Can you imagine never hearing Tchaikovsky, never taking your grandchildren to Swan Lake or the Nutcracker, because his glorious music was lost forever?
In each of my books, I’ve made classical music a character, and chosen pieces that parallel the emotional journey of my characters. In The Lost Concerto, Dark Rhapsody, and now Shadow Music, the healing and transformative power of music brings a soul and grace to Maggie’s story.
So come in, sit down, listen to the beauty of Rachmaninoff. I have a story to tell you….
Dear Rogue Readers…. Do you enjoy reading suspense novels that include music and musical themes, too?