I got to sit down with Shira Anthony and talk about her newest book, Prelude. Let's get started with the interview! Where are you from?
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and when I sang opera professionally, I lived in New York City. I’ve been living in the South for more than ten years now, first in Memphis, Tennessee, and now in Raleigh, North Carolina. I also lived in France (in the Alps) as a teenager and I write about that experience in some of my books.
Very cool. I'm in Ohio. Tell us your latest news?
I just published my seventh book with Dreamspinner Press last week! Prelude is the fourth book in my Blue Notes Series of classical music themed gay romances. It’s a “spinoff” series, so each book can be read in any order, although the secondary characters in one book will show up as main characters in another.
I just found out that Blue Notes, the first book in the series, will be translated into Italian and French! I can’t tell you how exciting that is for me, since I speak both languages (I’m better at French, but studied Italian for my opera career).
That's awesome! Do you have a specific writing style?
I think my writing style changes somewhat depending on the sub-genre I’m writing. I just finished a manuscript for a fantasy story about mermen shifters (to be released by Dreamspinner Press in August or September of this year) called “Stealing the Wind.” It was the first fantasy novel I’ve written, and I’d just come off of writing half a dozen contemporary romances. While I think you can recognize all of my books as being written by Shira, the fantasy romances have a different “feel” to them—a bit more formal than my contemporaries, heavier on plot and less character focused.
So what is “Shira’s style?” Definitely romantic, but clean. Straightforward. Heavier on dialogue than narrative, I tend to write very visually. I imagine a scene in my mind and then translate what I “see” onto paper. As a former musician (opera singer), I’m also very auditory. So my writing tends to describe sounds in detail.
Nice! How did you come up with the title?
Prelude, co-authored with the lovely Venona Keyes, is part of my Blue Notes classical music series, so as with the other books in the series, I wanted there to be a musical tie-in. Prelude fits perfectly, because it’s a prequel of sorts to the other three books in the series. The main characters in Prelude, conductor David Somers and violinist Alex Bishop, appear in all three previous books.
How much of the book is realistic?
As with all romances, some of Prelude is pure fantasy: musicians at the top of their careers with an international following, Chicago penthouse apartments with a view of Lake Michigan, the heir to a Wall Street fortune who cares nothing for business but lives for music. But there’s realism in Prelude as well. Beneath the high-flying careers are two very real men who have loved and lost much in their lives.
David, the conductor, lost his parents at a young age and was raised by his grandfather, a man whose temper could reduce even the strongest men to a puddle of insecurity. David’s gay, but he marries his best friend, a woman who becomes his guide through the discomfort of social occasions. When she dies, he locks his heart away and surrounds it with a façade of strength. But underneath, he’s an insecure and lonely man. Alex, the violinist, grew up on the gritty Chicago streets after running away from his foster placement. But in spite of his tough childhood, Alex is warm and open-hearted.
Prelude is about letting go and learning to love—both very real challenges for human beings.
What is your favorite character you’ve written (published or not)? Why?
Hands down, David Somers in Prelude is my favorite character. He’s ultra-talented and apparently in charge of his life, but underneath he’s a mess. His warm and romantic heart has been hidden away for years.
Why do I love David so much? I guess it’s more that I loved writing David. He’s such a complex and multi-faceted character. And although I struggled to pin him down while writing Prelude, it was a joy when it all finally fell into place! Complex characters are by far the hardest and the most rewarding to write.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The entire Blue Notes Series has bits and pieces of Shira’s life in it. From Jason Greene’s background (growing up in France as a teenager) in Blue Notes, to Aiden Lind’s operatic career and struggles with long-distance relationships in Aria, I’ve written what I know. No, I’m not a gay man. No, I never had the kind of careers some of my protagonists have. But the soul of the musicians in the books is in part my own soul and based on my own life as a musician (violinist and later opera singer).
What are your current projects?
I’m always juggling several projects. At the moment, I’m finishing up the fifth book in the Blue Notes Series, Encore. And is it a challenge! The story spans nearly 40 years, from when the two main characters meet in high school in the early 1970s until present day. The book also picks up threads from some of the other books in the series, including Prelude.
I’m also working on the next book in my merman/shifter series, Into the Wind. These books are sequel series, and unlike Blue Notes, need to be read in order. The story is a fantasy set on an Earth-like planet in the Age of Sail and is a romantic adventure with lots of mysteries. And mermen sex. Yes. It’s a bit smuttier than my contemporary romances—the first book in the series starts with an MMM ménage, although the book itself is strictly an MM pairing.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Prelude is my 8th published book. Seven of those are with Dreamspinner Press and are gay (MM) romances. The first was a smutty self-published heterosexual romance set on the high seas and featuring lots of sex and pirates called, From the Depths. It’s available on Amazon.
I’m torn when it comes to choosing a favorite. Of my published stories, it’s a toss-up between The Melody Thief and Prelude. Both are books in the Blue Notes Series.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
The one thing that’s really worked for me? Feedback and constructive criticism. But let’s face it, criticism can really sting. I ask my beta readers (they are all wonderful writers in their own right) for honest, straight-forward critiques. And yes, it does sting sometimes, but the end result is that I’m a far better writer now than when I first started out. And wouldn’t you rather have a friend tell you where you went wrong than read it in a review of your book after it’s published? Honest. Complete. Criticism.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I hear from readers regularly in reviews, of course. But as I’ve become more established in my writing career, I’ve begun to hear more directly from readers in emails and on Facebook and Twitter. I love it when a reader takes the time to contact me directly and tell me what they enjoyed about one of my books! Much as I appreciate editorial reviews of my stories, there’s nothing that compares to that kind of reader feedback.
I’ve gotten emails from gay men who have thanked me for writing stories that feature “real men.” I’ve gotten emails from readers who told me they’ve cried at the end of my books (men and women). I’ve gotten emails from other musicians and/or former musicians who have thanked me for writing stories that they can connect to. Even better, I’ve gotten emails from non-musicians who loved my music-themed books and “got” them even though they had no musical background whatsoever.
Thanks, Megan, for letting me ramble on about my writing! For everyone reading this, please be sure to leave a comment and you’ll be entered in the Blue Notes Blog Tour drawings. Prizes include winner’s choice of a paperback or ebook of one of the Blue Notes novels as well as a Blue Notes Series t-shirt (winner’s choice of cover) at the end of the Blue Notes blog tour. I’ll be drawing winners at the end of the blog tour. -Shira
No problem! Glad to have you here!!
Prelude by Shira Anthony
World-renowned conductor David Somers never wanted the investment firm he inherited from his domineering grandfather. He only wanted to be a composer. But no matter how he struggles, David can’t translate the music in his head into notes on paper.
When a guest violinist at the Chicago Symphony falls ill, David meets Alex Bishop, a last-minute substitute. Alex’s fame and outrageous tattoos fail to move David. Then Alex puts bow to string, and David hears the brilliance of Alex’s soul.
David has sworn off relationships, believing he will eventually drive away those he loves, or that he'll lose them as he lost his wife and parents. But Alex is outgoing, relaxed, and congenial—everything David is not—and soon makes dents in the armor around David's heart. David begins to dream of Alex, wonderful dreams full of music. Becoming a composer suddenly feels attainable.
David’s fragile ego, worn away by years of his grandfather’s disdain, makes losing control difficult. When David’s structured world comes crashing down, his fledgling relationship with Alex is the first casualty. Still, David hears Alex’s music, haunting and beautiful. David wants to love Alex, but first he must find the strength to acknowledge himself.
NOTE: Each Blue Notes novel is a standalone story and books in the series can be read in any order.
Want to buy the Blue Notes Series books? You can find them all here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.
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:
How about an excerpt? Sure!!
“Maestro Somers,” Paulette Pyée said as she leaned forward to kiss David on the cheeks in the French custom. “I’m so glad you could make it tonight.”
“The pleasure is mine, ma chère.” David handed her his coat, which one of the servers took with a nod. “And I can’t thank you enough for offering the studio up as a symphony benefit.”
“You know I’d do anything for you, David,” she replied. “Besides, I have ulterior motives. I thought I might be able to interest you in another piece for your apartment.”
“Perhaps a small painting for the hallway. It’s been looking a bit bare.” In truth, he wasn’t particularly interested in purchasing more art for the penthouse, but Paulette had graciously offered to donate 10 percent of the profits from the open house to the CSO, and he could well afford to purchase something himself.
“We have some fabulous artists showcased,” she cooed as she led him over to the bar. “I’m sure we’ll find something perfect for you.
“Sazerac,” she told the bartender.
“You remembered.” David touched her lightly on the forearm and smiled.
“Of course.” Slipping into French, she continued, “A good host always remembers a favorite guest’s preferences.”
“You’re too kind.”
“For you,” she said as she took his arm, “I’d do just about anything. You know how I adored Helena. Now if I could only find you someone who could take care of you as well as she did—”
“Mademoiselle Pyée,” one of the gallery assistants interrupted, “I need you to make sure the canapés are all right. They mixed up the order, and it seems they’re shrimp instead of scallops.”
Paulette shook her head and gave David an apologetic smile. “We’ll speak later, David,” she told him. “In the meantime, I suggest you start with the red room. There are a few pieces there that might suit your tastes. I’ll find you later.”
“Of course,” David said, silently relieved not to be forced to discuss his personal life. She smiled once more before she left the room.
David sipped his drink. It wasn’t half bad, with just a hint of licorice from the absinthe. Leave it to Paulette to make sure the caterer had Sazerac whiskey on hand, with its whisper notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and honey. No doubt she had ordered it with him in mind. He’d make a point to thank her again later.
The gallery was beginning to fill with people. Built on the upper floor of a reclaimed warehouse, it was divided into spacious rooms by walls that reached only to about two-thirds of the way to the high ceilings. The original wooden floors had been sanded but retained their mottled, worn quality, and the outer walls of the freestanding rooms were painted in vibrant hues, in sharp contrast to the ecru walls where the artwork was hung. Benches of brushed aluminum covered in sleek leather were scattered in the middle of the rooms, leaving plenty of space for patrons to mill about.
The red room toward the back of the gallery housed the more unusual pieces, as well as the most expensive. On the way, David greeted a number of symphony benefactors, as well as local celebrities and politicians. Paulette’s openings, especially those held in early winter, were always well attended. David came here first with his wife long before he moved to the area to take the job with the CSO. After her death, he’d tried to avoid the gallery, but he knew he could not: Paulette’s regulars were also symphony patrons.
“You will attend the party,” he could almost hear his grandfather say when, at fifteen, he’d asked if he could go to the movies with friends instead of yet another party. He had despised the large gatherings held at his grandparents' estate—they were more business than social occasions.
Strange, how he still remembered his mother tucking him into bed on the night of just such a party. He’d been three or four at the time, and he’d wanted to go downstairs to meet the guests. “You really aren’t missing anything,” Caroline Hayden Somers had told him as she pulled the covers over his shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. “Someday, you’ll long for the days when you could run around the gardens or go swimming in the lake.” He could still imagine her scent—freesia and lilies—and the softness of her lips pressed to his forehead.
“But I want to go with you,” he’d protested.
She’d been right. When he finally was old enough to attend the gala celebrations, he’d quickly realized they were less than satisfying. She, too, disliked parties and was happier to spend time in the tiny rose garden behind the guesthouse. Her sanctuary. Sometimes he wished he had a place he could go where he could just be himself. The closest thing to that garden he’d ever known was the studio in his apartment. Lately, however, he felt none of the peace there that his mother had found among the flowers and trees.
A hand brushed his arm and he pushed the memory away, greeting a symphony patron with his usual polite charm. He stopped several more times to chat with other guests, finally reaching the red room half an hour later.
The room was crowded. Servers circulated with champagne and hors d’oeuvres on silver trays, the scent of expensive perfume mingling with the smell of the food. One of the paintings by the back corner caught his eye, and he moved through the room, making sure to greet some of the guests on his way and thank them for coming out to support the symphony. The painting was rectangular, modern, done in pastels. The description of the piece said it was a depiction of Lake Michigan, although there was little recognizable other than the multicolored hues of the Chicago sunrise. It was more a blur of color, a hint of the original. He stood, staring at it, for several uninterrupted minutes. He decided he would buy it, but not for the hallway, for his practice studio—the place in his home in which he spent most of his waking hours. Inspiration, perhaps, for an as-yet-unwritten composition.
As if. How many times had he hoped for that elusive inspiration? And yet each piece he’d written had been as flat and unremarkable as all the rest. No, his grandfather had been right. Conducting was a far more appropriate career. His overwhelming success was proof enough and his abysmal failures as a composer more so. Still, he’d purchase the painting. It would look lovely hanging over the table near the piano.
Determined to let Paulette know of his interest, he turned to leave the room and nearly walked headlong into another guest.
“Mr. Bishop.” Alex Bishop was the last person he’d expected to see. He’d spent the better part of three days trying to contact the man’s agent and had been left utterly frustrated by the effort.
“Please,” Bishop said, offering his hand, “call me Alex.”
“May I call you David?” Bishop gripped his hand and flashed him a warm smile.
“Of course.” Alex's comfortable familiarity rattled him. Seeing him here, in such an intimate venue, caught David off guard. Not that he’d show it. He was far too well trained in handling just such awkward situations. He’d be pleasant, polite, and then he’d excuse himself to find Paulette.
Alex gestured to the painting David had been admiring. “It’s beautiful,” he said, turning to face it. David couldn’t help but notice that Alex was dressed quite well in a fitted button-down shirt with narrow stripes, a pair of well-tailored wool trousers, and a slim tie. As before, David could see a hint of ink at the other man’s throat. For a moment, he found himself wondering what the tattoos looked like without the shirt.
“I’m considering purchasing it.” David hadn’t intended to admit this.
Alex shifted slightly on his feet and gestured to the small piece of paper that described the painting. “I’m afraid you’re too late.”
David hadn’t seen the silver mark at the bottom. “It’s sold,” he said, doing his best to mask a frown.
Alex appeared to have guessed at David’s disappointment. “Selena has several other pieces in the show. Similar. You should check them out.” When David said nothing, Alex continued, “She’s a good friend of mine. Just sold several of her paintings to a collector who’s commissioned three more. She’ll be having her own show here in a few months. Paulette can’t stop gushing about her.”
Alex knew Paulette? And he knew the artist? “I’ll take a look.” Then, deciding he was already irritated and had nothing to lose, David added, “And perhaps when you have a chance, you can speak to your”—he tried not to grit his teeth—“agent. Mr. Sykes doesn’t appear to be interested in giving me the courtesy of returning my calls.” If it had been up to him, David wouldn’t have called after the first fiasco, but several other association members had called to ask about Alex making a return appearance, and he’d finally given in.
Alex looked genuinely mortified. “I… I’m really sorry about that. Ken is—well, I’m not sure how to put it—a handful? I’ll make sure he calls you.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“No problem.” Alex snagged a champagne flute from a passing server and took a hasty drink. “And if there’s anything I can do to accommodate the CSO’s schedule, I’d be happy to. I really enjoyed the other night.”
David looked down at his drink, then swallowed the remainder faster than he’d meant to. The tension in his neck abated with the alcohol. He couldn’t help but think he should leave, maybe find Paulette—anything but stand here trying to converse with Alex. Instead, he did something he hadn’t intended. “How was your get-together after the concert?”
Alex appeared buoyed by David’s question. “It was great. Low-key. Just a few friends. I’m sure your donors’ party was far more interesting. Someone from the symphony association—Doris Pinkley-something, was it?—called my agent to invite me. I didn’t get the message until the next day. I’m sorry I missed it.”
“Doris Pinchley-Bates. And don’t think twice about it. I’m sure if you do perform with the symphony again, she’ll make sure you know about her shindig well in advance.” Why was he trying to assuage Alex’s guilt? Surely he didn’t really care that he’d missed the party. And yet there was something about Alex Bishop that made David wonder if he’d underestimated the man yet again.
“Thanks. I try to go to those things.” Alex ran a hand through his hair and the corners of his mouth edged upward. “Not that I like them all that much,” he added. “But I understand how important they are. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
David felt his cheeks warm, but passed it off as just the alcohol and the crowded room. For the first time, he realized Alex was wearing his hair down. Long enough that it skirted his upper back, it fell over his shoulders in a cascade, layers curling just slightly at the ends. A hint of a melody flickered through David’s mind, then fled. “I really should be going,” he said, deciding it was time to move on, perhaps get another drink.
“I’m sorry.” Alex offered him a charming smile. “I’ve been monopolizing you. This is your fundraiser, after all.”
“I don’t mind.” It was the truth. In fact, he realized he minded Alex’s company far less than any of the other guests’. He had almost enjoyed it.
He’s right, though. You need to be circulating. He nodded at Alex, who smiled again and turned to leave.
“Mr. Bishop… Alex?”
David reached into his pocket and handed Alex a business card. “If you don’t mind, would you ask Mr. Sykes to call me? It’d go a long way to placating the symphony association if we could schedule you for next season. This is my home number.”
Alex took the card and their fingers brushed. “I’ll make sure he calls you. And I apologize again for any inconvenience.”
“It’s not a problem,” David heard himself say. What was it about this man that had him forgetting the wasted time spent on the phone? “Enjoy your evening, Alex.”