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Posted July 14, 2015
my first thrillerfest in nyc was so much more than i imagined… funny, crazy, thoughtful, inspiring. met some lovely writers, including steve berry. especially loved the panels. my ‘aha’ moment came during a discussion by ‘thriller-masters’, writers i respect, who said they write five pages, or similar, every day. simple, i know. but somehow i’d lost track of that and this was just the kick i needed. yesterday i returned to vienna in my mind and wrote four more pages for book #3. today, four more. maybe five. i am grateful to the ‘thriller masters’ – sandra brown, clive cussler, nelson demille, david morrell, r l stone and scott turow.
Posted Late May 2015:
Good Monday morning,
This morning on the Today Show there was a special report on an unsolved mystery dating back to World War II – the disappearance of the priceless ‘Amber Room’ from St. Petersburg, Russia. This legendary treasure, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, was a golden room belonging to the czars, lined with precious panels of rare amber.
The Nazis knew the room’s value, and in 1941 they ripped six tons of amber from the palace walls and transported 27 crates (by train? trucks? boat?) to Konigsberg Castle in Germany, where the walls were last seen. Modern day treasure hunters are now searching 170 underground bunkers and caverns in the German town of Wuppertal.
Hiding looted art in caves and salt mines during the war was common, as underground temperatures helped preservation. But in 2010, over 1200 paintings looted during WWII, worth more than one billion dollars, were recovered in the Munich apartment of a German recluse known as ‘the ghost.’
For a writer, stories like these are a great source of inspiration. Researching these events led me to rare musical scores and instruments lost during the war – and my plot for The Lost Concerto.
Good Sunday afternoon,
Cannot believe that The Lost Concerto will be on bookstore shelves and Amazon in less than two months. Most of you have heard that, when it comes to writing, rule #1 is ‘Write what you know.’ Well, for me, it was ‘Write about something that fascinates you, something you love.’ And that was music. Fine, except that I still can’t find middle C on a piano. So that meant research. Hours and hours and hours of research. The good news is that one article on music led to missing music, and that article led to music lost during WW2, and – voila! – a plot was born. One fascinating report published by the UK’s Dailymail revealed that “Adolf Hitler kept a vast record collection of ‘forbidden’ music by Jewish (and Russian) composers.” The family of a WW2 Russian officer finally disclosed that music banned under the Third Reich – including works by Mendelssohn, Offenbach, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky – were discovered in 1945 hidden in Hitler’s bunker, with scratch marks indicating that these 78 rpm recordings, publically labeled ‘sub-human music,’ had been played repeatedly. Can you imagine never hearing Tchaikovsky because his glorious music was destroyed?
Posted April 25, 2015:
Happy Sunday morning,
Thinking many of you will go to the movies over the next few days. Woman in Gold, with Dame Helen Mirren, is on my list. It’s the true story of a Jewish refugee who battles the Austrian government to reclaim a family painting stolen by the Nazis. This movie, like Monuments Men and so many other recent books and films, gives us a fascinating glimpse into the past. Many of you already know about the priceless art stolen or destroyed during WW2. 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 original score of classical music inspired the plot for my novel, The Lost Concerto. It is music that sets this story apart and makes it special. You never know where inspiration will come from.
Boston on my mind this Sunday morning. This remarkable city has been in the news almost daily for so many months. For me, the memories of Boston go back half a century, as I lived there from 1966 – 1968. Studied at B. U., worked at Mass General, lived in a Back Bay brownstone. Wandered the cobbled streets of Beacon Hill, became a Red Sox fan, trudged through two feet of snow (even then!) and sunbathed on the banks of the Charles River. Met my future husband at the Pru Center on Boylston St. And fell deeply, madly in love with this beautiful, strong city. So it’s no wonder that I chose Boston as a key setting for my new novel, ‘The Lost Concerto,’ My character, Maggie, owns a music shop in Beacon Hill, jogs on the Boston Common paths, drinks coffee in the Charles St. cafes, plays piano with the Boston Symphony. Clearly, fifty years later, I still am in love with – and still inspired by – Boston. If you’ve never visited, go. You won’t be sorry. (and maybe you’ll run into Maggie.) Xo h
good sunday morning, i am taking the perfect day off – breakfast with my grands and then writing, writing, writing. and since i don’t yet have a clue where book # 3 is going to go, i’ll share some lovely words to begin an early spring day. “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” Beatrix Potter xoxoxo h
Last week I promised to answer some of your writing/publishing questions over the next few months. Since ‘the writing’ comes before ‘the publishing,’ I’ll begin with ‘the writing.’ The question I’m asked most often is, “Where do your ideas come from?” Good question, although the answer will be unique to every writer.
For me, the easy answer is – newspapers, politics, current events and history (WW2/Cold War), travel, Shakespeare, art/the performing arts, and conversations. But this doesn’t explain the Magic.
The Magic happens when something strikes a chord in me, and it begins with just two simple little words. What If?
Some years ago, I read a fascinating article on a Russian dancer who defected to the West, and not long after that I discovered an antique Russian brooch in NY’s theatre district. Hmmm. What If … they were connected? And FIREBIRD was born.
Another time, I was staring out to sea, wondering whatever happened to my high school sweetheart. What If … I chanced upon his photo in a French cafe decades later? And THE LOST CONCERTO was born.
A cloaked woman in a Georgetown cemetery, soaked by rain; a glimpse of a running woman on Notre Dame’s tower walkway, high above Paris; a man and his dog on a deserted Maine beach; myself, in a museum gazing at an oil painting by Vincent van Gogh, weeping. All of these moments have found their way into my novels.
So the next time a moment touches you, ask yourself, What If? And see what happens.
Well, the six months countdown has begun for me – my novel, THE LOST CONCERTO, will be on bookshelves July 1. Like childbirth, I am ‘over the moon’ and totally terrified at the same time. Most of all, I am grateful.
Since many of you have shown such interest in this process, I’m hoping to share some of the wild, wacky, wistful and wonderful moments of writing and publishing with you all over the next few months.
For today, I’ll start with this smile – a book quote I adore, created by Writers Write:
“Always go to bed with a good book or someone who has written one.” J
INTERVIEW FOR OMNIMYSTERY PRESS –
For Interviews Published on Omnimystery News (http://www.omnimysterynews.com/).
- Introduce us to your series character(s) or for stand-alones, lead protagonist(s). What is it about these character(s) that appeal to you as a writer?
I’d like to introduce you to classical pianist Maggie O’Shea from my novel The Lost Concerto. A recent widow mourning the loss of her husband and best friend, Maggie is drawn into a search for her missing godson that will take her to France, test her courage, and change her life. I like to write about women who are strong but flawed, independent, talented, funny, loving and brave – the kind of woman I would like to be.
As a writer, developing and deepening a character is the most challenging and rewarding part of creating a story. I want to care about my characters, I want them to resonate with me – and with the reader.
In The Lost Concerto, it is Music that tells Maggie’s story.
- If you write both series and stand-alone mysteries or crime novels: What criteria do you use to decide whether a book will feature a series character or not? Do you come up with a plot outline first, then decide whether or not it is more suitable for a series character?
I have written two stand-alone suspense novels, Firebird and The Lost Concerto. These novels introduce strong, beautiful, mature and brave women – Alexandra and Maggie, both of whom deserve a sequel. Women who read Firebird emailed me wanting to know ‘what happens next’ for Alexandra and her friend Garcia. Now, readers of The Lost Concerto are waiting for the next chapter in Maggie and her Colonel’s lives. I hope I can write the sequels both women deserve.
As for what comes first, for me it’s character, character, character. Then I go crazy doing research, looking for a plot that will fit and honor them. Ken Follett said of the great woman spy novelist Helen MacInnes that her plots “…are just a channel through which a love story can flow.” Could have said the same thing about me. I am really writing love stories.
- How would you categorize your books? (Or, into what genre would you place your books?) Examples might be … Suspense novel, Thriller, Cozy, Hard-boiled, Police Procedural, Paranormal. Cross-over. Do you find there are advantages/disadvantages to labeling it as such?
Years ago I was told by my then-agent that I did not fit into a genre. She was right. I write suspenseful novels of international intrigue, thrillers masquerading as love stories. Or perhaps they are love stories masquerading as thrillers… Sometimes you get ‘more thought than thrill’ with my stories, but even so they appeal to a surprising audience of young and old, male and female. I think so many readers just want to get lost in a really good story, to care about what happens.
- How much of you or your experience is in your book/series? (Or more generally … Are any characters in your book/series based on people you know? Are any of the situations in which your characters find themselves based on real events?)
I write about the women I want to be (without the danger…) and men I would like to meet – flawed, but noble. Years of travel have given me a wealth of unusual places that inspire scenes and/or action. I’ve heard it said, and it’s true for me, that a writer doesn’t just see a place, she sees a whole scene unroll before her eyes. As for real events, most of my plots have been inspired by political stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times.
- Describe your writing process. Do you outline your plots or create biographies of your characters? Do you write a detailed synopsis then expand from there? Do you let the story develop as you write? Does your expected cast of characters expand/contract as you write the story?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes! I do outline, and I do create biographies. But the final work rarely resembles my originals. Same with the synopsis, but I’ve learned to be flexible. I would say that I change something every single time I sit down to write. Yes, the story expands as I am sent in new directions by research, and as I learn about the characters – and sometimes they totally surprise me. I’ve just begun my third book, and early on I created a well-educated, dark-haired teenaged boy who runs off from a very select boarding school. But when I got to his first scenes, a door off a prison yard opened, and out stepped a bony, cocky Russian teen with long blond hair hiding his eyes. Go figure. And stay tuned.
One more note about how stories develop for me… For The Lost Concerto, I began by researching articles on classical music. That in turn led to rare, lost musical scores. That led to music lost during World War II. And, voila! A plot was born.
- Describe your writing environment.
Wherever I can find a quiet moment, especially near water. My office is a wild and crazy and a cluttered mess with files piled everywhere, including the chair and floor. Enough about that.
- If your books are set in a real place: Do you take liberties with your setting, or do you try to be true to its geography and/or local environment? How important is this setting to the character(s) and/or plot(s)? If your books are set in a fictional place: Is there a particular city/state/region that influences how you depict your setting?
Reviewers have described my settings as actual characters. Many of my settings are evocative, mysterious, moody – and play a real role in the scene. They are as authentic as I can make them. I try to be true to a setting, but if the door to an abbey needs to open into a courtyard, I will make it happen. Places have been a huge inspiration for my scenes, as I mentioned earlier in question #4. Much of The Lost Concerto is set in Paris and Provence. I’ve been blessed to visit both areas several times and found more inspiration than I could use. The towers of Notre Dame, the houseboats on the Seine, the Left Bank, Pere Lachaise Cemetery. The gorgeous town of Aix, with its palace open to the sky. The cliffs of Cassis, Senanque Abbey… Some places just speak to you.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world to do research for your next book, all expenses paid, where would that be … and why?
I just returned from Vienna, and was entranced by the music, the art, the architecture and the Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School. In book # 3, scenes will be set in Vienna for sure. One place I have not been that I believe would resonate with me is the Pacific Northwest. I hope to visit the San Juan Islands – and I have no doubt that new characters would walk toward me off the ferries and out of the green forests.
- What are your hobbies, interests outside of writing? Do any of these activities find their way into your books?
I have four beautiful grandchildren who fill my life with magic. I value, and make time for, my friendships. And, as you have read, I travel often with my husband. I love the performing arts and they always will find their way into my novels. Dance and theater in Firebird, classical music and art in The Lost Concerto. But the other love of my life, besides writing, is my SunDial Foundation, founded in 1998, which supports women, children and families. I am hoping to direct as much of my royalties as possible into the foundation. You can read all about it on my site: sundialfoundation.org
- What is the best advice you’ve received as an author? What is the harshest criticism? What have you learned, or can others learn, from either? What advice might you give to aspiring authors?
Several years ago, very disillusioned by rejections, I tossed an early version of The Lost Concerto into the back of a drawer. Then Pat Gussin of Oceanview Publishing encouraged me to ‘deepen my characters.’ It was as if a light clicked on. When Maggie and her Colonel began to pound on the drawer, I let them out and began re-writing them with much greater dimension and depth. I was finally where I belonged, writing-wise, and now I am very proud of Maggie and Colonel Beckett – even if I have ‘too much character’ at times. Best advice ever. Thank you, Pat.
Too many criticisms to mention but I tried to learn from the most brutal comments and grow.
As for advice, Edit, Edit, Edit. Even when you think you are done, you are not. Keep polishing, keep striving to make your work better. And always – always – be true to yourself. I don’t write what I know, or what I’m told I should write. I write what I love. I write the books I want to read.
- What specific authors or books, if any, influenced how and/or what you write today?
I learned to love suspense and international intrigue from the masters of ‘romantic suspense’ and intrigue – Mary Stewart, Helen MacInnes and Evelyn Anthony. I am guessing most of you reading this never heard of them but they were my first, and truest, inspirations. And, as I said earlier, plots are just a channel through which my love story can flow. At their hearts, my novels are love stories.
What is next for me?
I dearly want quiet, uninterrupted time to concentrate on writing my next novel. It will be a sequel for sure, I just don’t know which woman character I am going to choose. Right now ideas are spinning through my head, and I am waiting for what Robin Williams called, “that little spark of madness.”
Thank you for asking me to participate in this interview.
Respectfully submitted, Helaine Mario
Submit a short biography (300-400 words):
HELAINE MARIO – ABOUT THE WRITER
Helaine Mario is the author of two novels of suspense, Firebird (Amazon 2012) and
The Lost Concerto (Oceanview Publishing, July 2015).
New York City born and raised, Helaine is a Boston University graduate. She married in 1969 and moved to CT to raise her two children, volunteer at Save the Children, and write for the local newspaper.
In 1985, Helaine’s life took an unpredictable turn when her husband’s career brought her family to Potomac, MD. For all eight years of the Clinton Presidency, she was a White House volunteer for Tipper and Al Gore, and continues to be a passionate advocate for public service and women & children’s issues.
Because Helaine believes strongly in “giving back,” she has worked on several non-profit boards and, in 1998, founded The SunDial Foundation, Inc., which benefits our most vulnerable women, children and families. She also created Project PJs, offering new books, bears and pajamas to under-served children in the community.
Helaine and her husband, Ron Mario, now spend their time in Arlington, VA – where she continues her advocacy work – Longboat Key, Florida, and Cape May, NJ. She is grateful to be a twelve year cancer survivor and is most proud of her two children and four beautiful grandchildren. Her son, Sean, is the pianist who inspired the classical music background in The Lost Concerto.
When it comes to writing, Helaine wants, more than anything, to tell a good story, create characters with depth, and paint pictures with words. To make people feel. She wants to be a storyteller forever.
Facebook Author page: Helaine Mario
The Lost Concerto Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/yxAYieoZRxg
INTERVIEW WITH THE READING FRENZY
Interview with Helaine Mario 7-1-15
The Lost Concerto
Hi Helaine, welcome to The Reading Frenzy
Tell my readers about The Lost Concerto
Thank you for asking.
Maggie O’Shea, haunted by the violent deaths of her husband and best friend, has withdrawn from her life as a classical pianist. But then a CD of unforgettable music and a grainy photograph connect her missing godson to a long-lost first love.
Maggie is drawn inexorably into a collision course with her godson’s criminal father and a decades-old secret involving stolen art, music, and terrorist financing. Her search will end at a Music Festival in France, where she discovers the answers to her husband’s death, an unexpected love – and a concerto lost for decades.
A compelling blend of suspense, political intrigue and romance, The Lost Concerto explores universal themes of loss, vengeance, courage and love.
Wow, what a premise Helaine.
How was the idea for this story born?
I wrote the book that I wanted to read.
That meant writing about something I love – classical music. In The Lost Concerto, it is music that sets this story apart, music that tells Maggie’s story.
My son, Sean, began asking for piano lessons when he was five. We rented an old upright, convinced that he would lose interest within a few months. The months became years, and he graduated to a new upright, and then a grand piano – competing frequently in classical competitions. As I listened to him practice, I fell in love with classical music.
There was just one small problem… I can’t even find middle C on a piano. So that meant research. Hours and hours and hours of research. The good news is that one article on music led to missing music, and that article led to music lost during WW2, and – voila! – a plot was born.
Finally, as Robin Williams often said, sometimes inspiration is just “a little spark of madness.”
The story seems to have roots in more than one time period.
What tense does the story take place in?
Most of Maggie’s story takes place in the present. But as she is drawn in to the search for her missing godson, she learns of secrets that date back to Florence during World War II. Most of these scenes are presented as memories, in letters, or as ‘flashbacks.’
Your novel takes place in some interesting locales.
Did you get to travel to do your novel research?
My husband ran an international mobile satellite business for years, and we were blessed to travel all over Europe. I didn’t travel to do research. Rather, the settings inspired me to write scenes for a novel. Places “spoke” to me – a cemetery, and a bird market, in Paris. An ancient abbey in a valley, an outdoor theater, a fishing village on a rocky coast… Someone said that writers do not just see ‘places’ – they see ‘settings,’ and scenes that unroll like movies before their eyes. That happens to me all the time.
This is your second novel.
What was different about writing number two?
I am a better writer, I hope. Surely #2 is better edited, since I seem to be of the ‘more is more’ school and still have trouble with my (deeply madly sadly) adverbs… My first novel, Firebird, is the story of a forgotten Russian spy from the Cold War, so there is more political intrigue and it is set mostly in NYC and Washington, DC. It also includes lovely scenes of dance. In The Lost Concerto, most of the action takes place in France – and the plot revolves around missing art and rare music. But the truth is, I love both stories and all my main characters.
Helaine this is your first novel published by a brick and mortar house.
Describe what your feelings were when you found out Oceanview would publish your novel?
Total disbelief. I was at the beach in Cape May NJ one year ago, prepared to self -publish, when Pat Gussin of Oceanview called me. I literally fell on the floor and burst into tears. Total shock. For months, every time the phone rang, I feared she was calling with a change of heart. I still wake up in the middle of the night and think I am dreaming…
I like this image of a ‘brick and mortar house.’ It offers unknowns like myself an opportunity we might never have found elsewhere, even though I had a NY agent for many years. I feel as if I am one of several bricks, that we are building a future from the ground up together as a team. A small house like Oceanview is absolutely professional, but also more approachable. I would have been lost, literally and figuratively, in a ‘skyscraper.’ Oceanview has changed my life.
Helaine you have a strong background in volunteer work from Save the Children to spending all 8 years of the Clinton Presidency as a White House volunteer for The Gores.
You’ve also founded The SunDial Foundation and Project PJs.
First thank you for having such a philanthropic soul.
Tell us a little about these organizations?
I have always believed in giving back. Not having a full time job outside the home allowed me to volunteer for a number of organizations and boards over the years, and opened up a whole new world to me. In The Lost Concerto, one of my characters says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” I believe this.
And so, in 1998, with a small legacy from my parents, I founded SunDial Foundation, which supports women, children and families. Every year we fund approximately 30 small local programs that support education, health, protection, shelter, the arts – and combat homelessness, abuse, hunger and poverty. I tell my kids and grands, “No child should go to bed hungry. If you can, you should.”
And, because I am blessed, I hope to contribute most of my royalties to my foundation. I want Maggie’s story to make a difference.
I have to admit I’ve always been fascinated by Tipper and Al Gore.
What exactly is the role of their White House volunteer?
VERY varied. Volunteers come in all ages, commitments and talents, and your role totally depends on your assignment. Of course there is an application and vetting process. The first time I ever heard of the White House Volunteer Program, it was from a woman who sorted mail in a basement room. For me, I was very lucky to know someone in Tipper Gore’s office. In those first hectic days of Clinton Gore, the volunteers in ‘the Office of the Vice President’ were offered extraordinary opportunities. I worked with scheduling, wrote personal letters for Mrs. Gore, worked at events at the Vice President’s home, helped to plan outreach programs, was a docent for White House tours and parties. And I met the most remarkable women, women who remain my friends to this day. For this ‘very blue bleeding heart liberal,’ those eight years were some of the most thrilling years of my life.
Helaine with all the benevolence in your life what led you to write, according to your website, novels of suspense and adventure?
I said earlier, I wrote the book that I wanted to read. I have always loved mysteries, suspense, and stories of strong women. I read every Nancy Drew, and was inspired by the “Queens of Romantic Suspense” – Helen MacInnes and Mary Stewart. These writers wrote about World War II, the Cold War, espionage, secrets and intrigue – and set their stories all over Europe. And – there was always romance. I write about the women I would like to be – strong, independent, smart, funny, kind, brave. The truth is, I want to care about my characters. They come first. Honestly, the hardest thing for me is finding a good plot to give them. But when it all comes together… it’s magic.
Helaine thanks so much for answering these questions.
Good luck with this and all your future tales.
Are events listed on your website? YES. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts.