I'm thrilled to welcome George Rabasa, author of The Wonder Singer, to Diary of an Eccentric. I really enjoyed the book, (which I reviewed here) and I'm pleased that he was willing to answer a few questions.
What inspired you to write The Wonder Singer?
My intention was to write a sort of picaresque novel about a ghostwriter. In my checkered professional life I’ve written in practically every medium, besides fiction, with varying degrees of success: commercials, direct mail, restaurant menus, reviews, speeches, obituaries and jokes. But I was never a ghostwriter. The idea of a journeyman writer serving as the voice for a famous personality has a kind of elegance to it. I needed a bigger-than-life foil for the humble scribbler. There are no bigger personalities than old-school opera divas. And the irony of serving as the conduit for a voice that cannot sing her own song captivated me.
As I began to imagine Mercé Casals, I reached for the bigger-than-life women in my own family. I also read a particularly lurid biography of Maria Callas, as well as reams of lore on the bad old days of opera. They don’t make divas like Mercé Casals anymore. The challenge was to endow her with the full grace and dignity of a real human being – not a caricature or comic character. After a while, as I wrote, I took her eccentricities for granted, and concentrated on giving her a rich and deep inner life, touched by love, disappointment and the world’s inevitable cruelties. As a result, I hope my Diva will engage the reader’s heart and mind at a basic human level.
How long did it take to write the book?
I worked on it for about ten years, off and on. During that time I wrote and published another novel, The Cleansing, and finished a collection of short stories. But throughout that time, the insistent melody of The Wonder Singer kept calling me back. I’m glad I listened.
What do you want readers to take away from the book?
In a sense, The Wonder Singer is about the power of art, and the rewards that come from reaching beyond one’s limits. Mark Lockwood transcends his expectations, finds his own Voice as a writer from the gift of Mercè’s life, her music, and her extraordinary talent. In a sense he is forced to reach upward to do her life justice. When he finally finishes his manuscript, he is someone whose reach has matched his grasp. His breakthrough as an artist means he will never shrink back to his previous status.
Do you have a special place where you write?
I keep a small office near my apartment, a place of great energy with a big Mexican rug, red walls, and sunshine. It’s packed with books, music, cool art on the walls, a green sofa, and a microwave for gourmet cuisine. I call it the Fiction Factory.
Do you have a writing routine, such as listening to music or setting aside a certain time each day to write?
I punch in around 9:00, every weekday, and work, with multiple distractions, until 4:00. Weekends are devoted to reading and ruminating. The union contract at the Fiction Factory allows for naps. Management goes along.
What's the best book you read recently?
Insect Dreams, by Marc Estrin
Are you working on another book? If so, any hints as to what it's about?
With regard to writing, what's the best piece of advice you've received?
Write from the heart, read above your head.
Thanks so much, George, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you much success in your writing endeavors, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future!
**Stay tuned for a chance to get your hands on a copy of The Wonder Singer!**