On Writing, with Rick Blechta
Musician and writer Rick Blechta returns this season with The Fallen One (Dundurn). Like Rick's other books, music takes centre stage in The Fallen One. This time the genre is opera, and the grand character of the music is reflected in both the plot and structure of this page turning read.
Rick talks to Open Book today about his soprano narrator, weaving together music and narrative and his dream writing environment.
Tell us about your book, The Fallen One.
Being a musician as well as a writer, I use music or musicians as a major plot device. The Fallen One is no different. This time out the musical element is opera, specifically a soprano, Marta Hendriks. Her life is pulled apart when her husband is killed in a house fire. Then, two years later and three thousand miles away on a Paris street, she sees someone who looks exactly like him. Fearing for her sanity, she compelled to find out whether she really saw him or not. The resulting situation is very “operatic” as it involves betrayal and a very tangled web of deceit and danger. I’m particularly happy with the climax of the novel. Readers and reviewers seem to be, too, which is always very gratifying.
How did the character of Marta evolve for you? What do you see as some of her primary strengths and weaknesses?
Once I realized what Marta’s back story was (she could be best described as an “accidental singer”), her strengths and weaknesses became easy for me to understand. Interestingly, a lot of her strengths also cause her weaknesses. She’s very tenacious on the plus side, but this becomes stubbornness on the minus side — and that’s where she gets herself into the most trouble. There are times she should back off, and just can’t. She’s also exceptionally loyal, and as a result can’t look at the people in her life clearly based on their actions. Marta is very insightful — except about herself. She doesn’t give up control easily. Musically (having started out as a percussionist), she has exceptional ability to be precise in her singing (far more than is normal for many singers), and this makes it difficult for her to let go and just do it. I really enjoyed “working with her”, so much that I’m currently writing a sequel to The Fallen One.
You've been praised for your ability to incorporate your love and knowledge of music into your writing. What do you love about opera in particular and what drew you to use the opera world as a backdrop for this book?
Opera is the melding of many different performance arts (music, drama, acting, staging, set design). It’s not referred to as “grand opera” for no reason! Everything is just so much larger than life. When you experience a great production it can be almost overwhelming in its intensity. To me it seemed a natural setting for a crime novel. I’d always wanted to write something like this but needed that good plot idea. What I didn’t want to write was a mystery that takes place in an opera house, no Phantom of the Opera sort of thing for me! Marta is an opera singer whose story takes place in her day-to-day life. What happens to her, though, is very operatic, and I had a lot of fun with that. The novel’s title, for instance, is a poetic translation of La Traviata, and there are several plot points I used from that opera. However, I sort of turned those on their heads in surprising ways.
Tell us about your ideal writing environment.
That’s easy! A good part of this novel was written in the actual house where Marta supposedly lived with her husband. It’s out in the country and very peaceful with a wonderful pond to look at if I raise my eyes from the paper or computer. Lots of birds! I always enjoy writing there. If I could be anywhere to write, though, I choose rural Italy. I’d love to go to Tuscany or La Marche, Abruzzo, rent a villa for a few months and spend all day writing. That would be heaven to me.
What are some all-time favourite reads that you would recommend to mystery fans?
That’s a tough one to answer. May I list the top 50? Probably not. Okay, before I started writing crime fiction, I really enjoyed Rex Stout and Dick Francis, and probably read all their novels. A good bit of their writing informs mine. I enjoy Michael Connelly’s novels very much. Closer to home, Peter Robinson, Barbara Fradkin, Sean Chercover, Louise Penny, Vicki Delany and Linwood Barclay always go to the top of my “To Be Read” pile. I also read a lot about food, its history and traditions, as well as recipes and methods. That’s what led to my food blog, A Man for All Seasonings.
What are you working on now?
As mentioned above, I’m well into the sequel to The Fallen One, and this time Marta is performing in Italy (Rome and Venice), hence my earlier comment about wanting to write in Italy. I also have a proposal in to Orca for a sequel to my Rapid Reads novel, Orchestrated Murder, published last fall.