(This is a continuation of the previous post about the story behind Sundrop Sonata.)
How did you decide on the “sonata” structure?
The term “sundrop” has almost always been part of my working title. The “sonata” part kind of fell into place after writing friends axed earlier titles. For years, I thought of the novel as The Sundrop Conspiracy. The “conspiracy” part was a bit much, so I tried Ebony, Ivory, and Mystery. That didn’t seem quite right either. On a whim, I proposed “Sonata.” A musical term, ripe with metaphorical implications for real life, “Sonata” seemed to stick.
What drew you to the suspense genre? How did you approach the particular challenges of that genre? How did you build your plot?
I didn’t actually choose the suspense genre. I think it chose me. This story grew in my mind and I was compelled to write it. People kept calling it a mystery, or a cozy mystery. But it wasn’t exactly a mystery. I had a story and I wrote it, then I had to figure out what kind of novel it was.
The plot built itself. My imagination went to work on that road trip long ago, and by the time we were home again, the story was basically there. Given the recent terrorism against the US, I wondered what other forms of attack might be possible? What might those with a grudge against the country be able to dream up that would remain unnoticed by the population until it was too late? What kinds of things might be smuggled into the country? I knew that many pianos in today’s market are imported. I also knew there are lots of places to hide things inside a piano.
I have found interesting additions in quite a few pianos, though nothing sinister to the best of my knowledge. But what if someone with an ax to grind had access to pianos heading into the country? What if they slipped something inside those instruments? How would anybody ever know? The same would be true for automobiles, or electronic equipment, or anything that is imported from other countries.
I re-wrote the beginning of Sundrop Sonata about fifty times, learning something not to do each time. I went to writing workshops, joined writing clubs and critique groups and listened to what everyone had to say. After outlining the story structure, I went to work with daily writing sessions, and revised the original many times to come up with the published version.
Any advice for others interested in self-publishing?
The literary world has changed a lot since my attempts to write during my young adulthood. I realize I no longer have decades left to piddle around. I finished writing Sundrop Sonata as well as In the Shadow of the Wind, years after their seeds were planted. I revised and edited them many times, trimming, tightening, and clarifying each time.
I pitched each book to editors and agents at conventions and workshops and actually had several professionals express interest. Each book attracted small presses and I was offered contracts. The contracts had me doing all the footwork and editing, but the publisher would get all the rights and 85% of the royalties.
I figured if I was doing all the work, why not take the next step and independently publish? It’s fairly easy to do that these days. Many big name authors started out self-publishing and some continue to publish and represent their own work. I was fortunate to have an experienced mentor, Paul Bishop, a California author with many detective novels to his credit, (and a cousin-in-law of mine as well). Paul gave me excellent advice and guided me through the steps toward the Lionheart press.
To self-publish, you need to be clear on your motives for writing. If you are doing it for the money, don’t. If you are writing because you enjoy the process and you have a story to tell, give it your best effort and offer it to the world of readers. There are lots of readers out there, but there are also lots of books to choose from. Take the time and effort to make yours the very best it can be, offer something different, but still polished. See what happens.
You have to believe in yourself first. I have always thought Sundrop Sonata was a good story—a great story. I put my best effort into it and I enjoyed it very much. After all, I write first for myself. I hope to spend my retirement years doing something I thoroughly enjoy. If others enjoy the story, that’s a great reward in its own way. If other women, other piano lovers and music lovers, or those with adventurous hearts rave about the story, that is a bonus. I am honored when enthusiastic readers tell their friends about Sundrop Sonata.
Will there be other novels?
I certainly hope so. I have some threads of ideas percolating for about three more in a Sonata series of novels. I just hope they don’t each take a dozen years to arrive! I better get busy.
(If you are curious about what the Walnut Valley Festival, red spider lilies, music on the prairie, and open pasture gates have to do with pianos, murder and mystery, read Sundrop Sonata to find out. If you enjoy the story and you think others would also, post a review on Amazon or share this blogpost with your friends.)
I have always loved make-believe. As a child, my vivid imagination once had me living in a city where everyone’s feet were wheeled. I rolled round and round the basement of my next-door friend’s house on skates as we played out various make-believe scenes in our wheeled city.
The big elm tree in our front yard became a sinister resident of “the forest of no return” after we saw the Christmas movie Babes in Toyland. I used to pretend my very life depended on my accuracy and memorization of a recital piece—Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”.
When I am alone, which is often, I rarely feel lonely. The characters in my mind create a running conversation with me and have provided inspiration for some of my fictional characters. I used to think everyone’s mind worked the way mine does, but now I’m not so sure.
The storyline of Sundrop Sonata came to me in a rush the summer of 2003. My mother had just died after a prolonged decline with congestive heart failure. This was less than two years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and, like many others, I felt the vulnerability the attacks had exposed in our country.
That summer my family and I drove from our home in Winfield to Oregon, to visit friends. Much of the road trip in Sonata was inspired by our travels that summer, from the basic route, to the idyllic setting on the Oregon coast, to the river raft trip on the McKenzie River. Though we weren’t fleeing for our lives, my imagination had us running a game of stealth, hide-n-seek. Perhaps this was one way I set about healing the hole in my heart from my mother’s death. It was an escape from reality.
Also on that journey, we did a bit of racing through Idaho to arrive in a town with a movie theater in time for the late show. The first episode of Pirates of the Caribbean had just hit theaters and we wanted to see it. We loved the show and even saw it again at a theater in Oregon. The loveable, quixotic, easy-going character of Capt. Jack Sparrow lent a few traits to the Brett Lander character developing in my mind—mysterious, worldly, nonchalant, and (in the end) a good man.
By the time our journey was over, the entire plot of Sundrop Sonata had written itself in my mind. A few details had to be fleshed out, and the whole thing had to be converted from scenes in my imagination to a written manuscript, but the story was there. And I was excited. It was a good story. I have always felt that. My challenge was to write it so that others would enjoy it too. Perhaps other people need a break from the reality grinding away at their lives, to escape for a few hours.
Where did you get the ideas for the main characters?
Aside from the pirate movie, encounters with various pianos or piano owners (or in some cases the lack of encounters) left me with unanswered questions. I made up stories to answer them. For instance, there really was a woman isolated in the wild northern hills of our county, raising two daughters (not twins) and home-schooling them. The gate to their house really was remotely controlled from the house a mile distant. I had to call the house from a device installed at the gate to gain admittance to the pasture.
I never saw anything beyond the music room at that house until twelve years after my last service call. The house and ranch was up for auction last year and I went to the auctioneer’s open house to satisfy my curiosity. I had only glimpsed the children once in half a dozen visits. They seemed quite shy, and a little naïve about the rest of the world. The woman seemed of an age she could have been the girls’ grandmother. But she wasn’t. I never saw the man of the house, but neighbors whispered suspicions about him. It was thought he was a foreigner, Arabic most likely, a rumor likely influenced by the terrorist events of 2001.
My last service appointment to this house was canceled, last minute. I never heard from them again. At the open house, it was clear the place had been abandoned and unoccupied for a decade. Everything but the piano appeared to still be there. School papers, kitchen dishes, photos of the girls on the walls, clothes in the closets. The exterior door to the music room had been kicked open forcibly, the locked deadbolt splintering the wood of the door frame.
Who were these people? Why were they so secretive? What happened to them? I am not entirely sure. I made up a story about the family which is likely a far cry from actual true events.
At about the same time, my husband and I had purchased a quarter section of land in the wild southern part of the county. We once thought to build a retirement home there, complete with a fancy piano shop such as Izzy had. The circle of cedars which hid Izzy and Laura as they watched the break-in of the house really exists, as do the tallgrass pasture lanes and tree-lined creek bottom. The house and shop do not.
The murder/suicide really did happen to a piano client of mine, just not in Wichita. I learned about it in our local newspaper. There was conjecture about a love triangle, with a cheating husband in his mid-age crisis angering his wife of forty years to the point of violence, nothing traitorous to the country involved. But what if?
The solfege chart in a high school vocal music room was real, and was a revelation to me. My mind began to knit the threads of Ra/ra/ra together. I love codes.
Melody, Kurt and Izzy are loosely based on individuals in my own family. Unlike Izzy, I raised four children, not a single daughter.
There really was a Korean-born woman who called me to tune her Korean-built piano and fix a pedal damaged in its shipment overseas. The piano still sat on the bottom of a packing box in her home. Music books in the Thompson series, with Korean text instead of English, sat on the piano.
I heard about a piano falling out of a pickup at a street corner once, but it wasn’t this particular piano.
Quite by accident the other day, I stumbled upon an exciting place and an equally exciting way to promote a book. I met my writing friend and naturalist, Mary Coley (marycoley.me) for lunch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Like me, Mary has spent much of her adult life occupied with making a living wage and raising a family and has returned to her love of fiction writing in recent years. She is the author of Cobwebs, Ant Dens, Beehives and soon to be released The Ravine. The day was perfect, a rare break in the nagging winds which have blown from the north one day and the south on the next for nearly two months. I drove through greening hills in my Kansas County, crossing into the rolling hills of Oklahoma. I met few other travelers between Winfield and Pawhuska.
After lunch and a long chat to catch each other up with events in our writing lives, Mary asked if I’d have time for a tour of Pawhuska.
A tour! Of the setting of her 2014 novel Cobwebs? Of course I had time to tour the setting of a book which won a 2015 Creative Woman of Oklahoma award and was a finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona book awards as well. And I’m glad I did.
Check out her books and her blog at these locations:
Mary is skilled at weaving local history and places into her books. I soon realized why she selected this sleepy little town. Pawhuska, Oklahoma is the perfect setting for a mystery. Touring the town with the book’s creator made the story come alive. Though the story takes place largely in Any House on Any Street in Pawhuska, there are several locations that figure significantly into the plot.
Along the way, I became captivated by the fascinating history of Pawhuska itself. Places Mary showed me included the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where Cobwebs protagonist Jamie Aldrich went to find solace after puzzling and frightening events unfolded around her.
I lingered on the steps leading to the Osage County Courthouse, where so much drama between the Osage Nation and white opportunists occurred a century ago. (See marycoley.me/2014/09/05/pawhuska-means-white-hair-a-mysterious-setting/)
We drove through the cemetery where in the book Jamie discovered that her new friend Sam had also lost a spouse in recent years.
We turned around in the parking lot of the little grocery store where Jamie was snubbed by a local woman and had no idea why.
We drove by the Pawhuska Museum. Mary described a real fire that temporarily closed the local museum where she had written about an arsonist’s handiwork in her fiction book. The museum provided much background for protagonist Jamie to uncover chilling details that helped explain events that brought her to Pawhuska.
We cruised through the city park where Sam revealed to Jamie that she has a blood connection to the Osage Nation.
The tour was energizing–an excellent way for Mary to promote her book! If you ask, perhaps she’ll schedule a tour for you. I’m looking forward to a personal tour of the locale covered in Ant Dens (Sante Fe, NM area) and Beehives (Osage Hills State Park, Oklahoma). It makes me wonder about settings in other books I’ve read. Several locations in my own Sundrop Sonata are based on genuine places I have been, but they are scattered over a much broader area. Still, a tour. . .makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
I love pianos. I spend uncounted hours working with pianos, playing them, tuning, fixing, and re-building them, and teaching others how to play. As an invention of humanity, a fine piano ranks somewhere in the top ten. In my mind, it is #1. The brand new Sundrop Sonata, my novel of suspense featuring pianos and a piano tuner in rural Kansas, is now available on Amazon, as digital or a print book.
I invite you to be one of the first to read Sundrop Sonata. Early readers rave about its plot and pace.
“I am hooked to your story! Read till 1AM last night, then came in really late to work today, not putting the story down. I rather gobbled it up.”
“I downloaded your book Sundrop Sonata this afternoon and just finished it. Excellent!”
“Loved your book! Lots of great plot twists.”
“Last night I finished reading Sundrop Sonata. It’s wonderful and I was so sorry to have it end.”
“Hold onto your seat!”
You may order a digital or a print copy of Sundrop Sonata through Amazon. If you think others would enjoy it, write a short review on Amazon.
Thanks and happy reading!
First book event for Sundrop Sonata will be Friday, April 15 5:00 – 7:00 pm at Gallery 1001, 10th and Main, Winfield, Kansas.
A few years ago, after several inquiries about my recommendations, I came up with this list about the advantages of a genuine piano over one of the newer electronic versions.
It’s a bit inaccurate to call electronic keyboards pianos. By definition, pianos have felt-covered hammers and steel strings. (Pi-a-no: a stringed percussion instrument having steel wires that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard.–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) Electronic keyboards (aka digital pianos) lack these definitive items. They are keyboard instruments similar in some ways to pianos, like organs, harpsichords, clavichords, and virginals, but they are different in nature from pianos.
Why Choose a Genuine Piano?
Musically: digital keyboards are limited musically to what the “programmer” put into its computer programs. Pianos can deliver a full range of musical expression depending on the pianist’s abilities. Keyboards have difficulty producing expression, color, and tone.
Aesthetically: A properly maintained piano in a home adds sophistication. It is a work of art. Electronic keyboards have a less-sophisticated plastic look.
Financially: With proper maintenance, pianos can last a few generations. Few products in today’s world can make such a claim. Digital keyboards are designed to need replacement every few years. Which is the better investment?
Practically: Pianos will work even in a power outage. Their mechanisms are physical rather than electronic. They also need no amplification. Their sound waves are magnified by the built-in soundboard.
Authentically: A piano’s action mechanism allows the pianist to control dynamics and tone color. Though some higher-priced keyboards may have touch sensitivity that attempts to imitate a piano, most do not. Lack of touch control on a keyboard is a big issue for skilled fingers and feet. Pedal usage on a digital keyboard, if available, differs greatly from genuine pianos.
Skill Mastery: Pianos have capabilities and range necessary to play music of all kinds. Some skills can only be learned on a genuine piano. For example: Students who have practiced on a piano, who transfer fortissimo power to a keyboard can watch the digital version scoot across the floor under their practiced blows.
Physically: The development of skills such as eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, and full body involvement in musical expression is limited in a digital version to what was programmed into the computer by programmers who may or may not have been musicians.
Personally: It is rare for a student who starts on a digital keyboard “to see if they like it” to progress very far in piano study. Serious students need the best piano they can afford in order to minimize frustration. Some piano teachers will not teach students beyond beginner levels who don’t use genuine pianos for home practice.
Emotionally: Piano owners fall in love with their instruments in a way that is unseen with digital keyboard owners. Love your piano; it will love you back.
Spiritually: Under the practiced hands of a skilled pianist, a piano can “come alive.”
I can now add another reason. Electronic keyboards lack the intrigue of an acoustic piano. I cannot imagine making a plastic, computerized keyboard instrument an integral part of a suspense novel, like I did the genuine pianos in Sundrop Sonata. If you are like me and love the real thing, you might enjoy reading the story of Isabel Woods as she discovers disturbing things in some of her neighbors’ pianos.
Sundrop Sonata–A Novel of Suspense by Ann Christine Fell. Available now as an electronic book at Amazon.com.
I’m excited that my long-awaited and much anticipated suspense novel Sundrop Sonata is now available on Amazon.com as a Kindle e-book. The print version will soon follow.
What’s it about?
With her passion for helping people, piano tuner Isabel Woods loves her job – but passion can be a dangerous thing. Reluctantly agreeing to harbor a client’s autistic daughter, Izzy’s good intentions unexpectedly expose her own family to a murderous fiend with a chilling agenda. Human trafficking and bio-terrorism are no longer just buzz words from the nightly news. For Izzy, they have become terrifying and real. As the deadly Sundrop Sonata begins to play, Izzy has one chance to save the people and the country she loves armed with nothing more than courage, intelligence, and her esoteric knowledge of pianos.
Early readers, men and women alike, rave about the plot and pace of Sundrop Sonata. From one reader: “I am hooked to your story! Read till 1 AM last night, then came in really late to work today, not putting the story down. I rather gobbled it up.”
Another: “I was caught up in this page-turner. The cliff-hanging chapter endings may well keep you reading long after the bedside lamp should have been extinguished.”
I can offer you good Entertainment, a refreshing Escape from gritty reality, and Encouragement to stick to your principles in everyday dealings, for it could matter very much. If you need a diversion, check it out. Then let me know what you think in a comment here, or a review on Amazon. Happy reading!