Giovanni Boca was destined to go down in history as an opera legend until a vocal chord injury abruptly ended his career. Now he teaches voice lessons at a prestigious New York City music school. During auditions for his summer opera workshop, he finds his protégé in fourteen-year-old Emma McPhee. Just as intriguing to Gio is Emma’s father Mike, a blue-collar guy who runs a business renovating the kitchens and bathrooms of New York’s elite to finance his daughter’s dream.
Mike’s partner was killed when Emma was a toddler, and Gio mourns the beautiful voice he will never have again, so coping with loss is something they have in common. Their initial physical attraction quickly grows to something more as each hopes to fill the gap that loss and grief has left in his life. Although Mike wonders if he can truly fit into Gio’s upperclass world, their bond grows stronger. Then, trouble strikes from outside when the machinations of an unscrupulous stage mother threaten to tear Gio and Mike apart—and ruin Emma’s bright future.
You’d be forgiven. My mother, a classically trained singer, was constantly trying to get us kids to listen to opera when I was growing up. I resisted. It was foreign-sounding and boring, I thought. Then, when I was in high school, I went to a performance of Puccini’s Turandot and suddenly I got it. My mom joined an opera company at the same time, so I went to all of her shows and that was the gateway drug, I suppose.
So here, I’ll show you a few of the key arias from The Stars that Tremble. Maybe you’ll still hate opera, or maybe I’ll convert you.
Giovanni Boca was once a great opera singer. His best-known performance was as Calaf in Turandot. It’s kind of a weird opera; the plot is complicated and stops making sense if you think about it too long. But Puccini’s music is brilliant. The third act opens with “Nessun Dorma,” an aria sung by Calaf in which he basically declares victory because he is confident he will win the Rumplestiltskin-esque challenge he has issued her (and thus her heart—I told you it doesn’t make any sense). The first line (translated) is: “None shall sleep, not even you, O Princess, who sit in your cold bedroom watching the stars that tremble with love and hope.” It’s probably one of the best known opera arias, so maybe it’s an obvious choice, but it still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s just a beautiful piece of music.
Here’s Luciano Pavarotti performing it:
There’s a scene in the novel in which Gio teaches his class about coloratura opera. He plays “Der Holle Rache” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, also known as the Queen of the Night’s aria. This is the part Emma McPhee most wants to play. It’s an incredibly difficult piece to sing. My mom had a tape of Mozart opera highlights that she kept in her car when I was growing up, so this was a piece of music I heard all the time; we called it “the crazy aria” for a long time.
This is from a production of The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan opera:
Some of the other arias Emma sings over the course of the novel include:
“Si, mi chiamano Mimi” (“Yes, they call me Mimi”) from La Boheme (Puccini):
“Ah, Fors’é Lui” (“Ah, maybe it’s him”) from La Traviata (Verdi):
The Stars that Tremble is out September 30. See the trailer and read an excerpt.
The anthology is out! Order here!
I posted an excerpt of my historical story One Man to Remember. For excerpts of the other stories, check out the websites of my co-conspirators: Marguerite Labbe, Shae Connor, and Kerry Freeman. We’ve put together a pretty stellar anthology if I do say so myself.
Marguerite and I discussed the greatest baseball rivalry of all time at the Armchair Reader. (That’s Yankees vs. Red Sox. I bet you can guess which side of that I fall on.)
And today, I wrote about why we love sports romances for Elisa’s blog.
And don’t forget you can enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a few cool prizes.
Walt leaned against the brick facade of a Times Square building and watched Babe Ruth get out of a cab. The Bambino was wearing a clean white suit with a matching fedora tilted at a jaunty angle. Walt always found the contradiction of Ruth—the expensive clothes on the odd, triangular body, with the craggy face that looked like it had been in too many bar brawls—to be quite interesting. But there were plenty of reporters in New York dying to follow Ruth around. Walt had another story to pursue.
The Penguin Club was around the corner. It wasn’t Walt’s favorite Times Square establishment. It was a little bland, but that was why he’d chosen it—it was safe. He couldn’t imagine a kid like Skip would do well in the sorts of places Walt really liked to go. He was skittish in the baseball stadium; Walt couldn’t imagine him calm in one of the racier clubs.
He pulled his fedora down over his eyes and slunk down Fifty-Sixth Street. The Penguin was a little off the beaten path—another reason Walt had chosen it—and tonight, Walt wanted to fade into the background a bit, to observe instead of be observed.
He spotted a figure walking down the street from Sixth Avenue and knew immediately it was Skip. He walked with a dancer’s grace, something Walt had noticed at the stadium. As he came closer, Walt saw he was wearing a brown suit a couple of seasons out of style and a battered bowler hat that didn’t really go with the suit. These were forgivable offenses, Walt decided, since he did look pretty great out of a baseball uniform.
“Why, Mr. Littlefield,” Walt said as Skip walked up to him. “You’re a real sheik outside of the ballpark.”
It was too dark to see if Skip was blushing, but Walt imagined from the way he ducked his head that he was.
“I’m still not really sure about this,” Skip said.
“One measly drink won’t do any harm.”
Walt gestured for Skip to follow him. He knew the password, although the door was being watched by a big six named Anthony, with whom Walt had once had a brief and tawdry affair. Luckily, they were still on good terms.
“How are ya, Walt?” Anthony greeted him.
“I’m just ducky. This is my friend John.”
Skip tilted his head, but then extended a hand to Anthony, who shook it.
Anthony said, “You boys can go on in. Although, Walt? If you’re looking for something to do later, Carmela’s performing at that little place off Forty-Third tonight.”
Walt nodded. He loved Carmela’s show, but he was sort of wishing this interview would go long enough for him to miss it. And he certainly knew better than to think Skip would be interested in a show like Carmela’s. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Walt said.
As Walt led Skip into the speakeasy, Skip said, “Who is Carmela?”
Walt chuckled. “Would it terrify you if I told you she is a female impersonator?”
Skip tilted his head again, as if he were taking that in. “Like a man in a dress?”
Walt nodded. “Carmela is in fact an Italian fella named Carmine who I’ve known for years. He’s… well, he’s something, to be sure. But his brother owns a bunch of the Times Square establishments, plus a few other places downtown, so he has plenty of performance venues.”
Skip seemed more intrigued by this than put off, which was not the reaction Walt had been expecting. “What does he do in his show?”
“Dances, tells jokes, that sort of thing. Like a one-man vaudeville act. Why do you ask? Do you want to see it?”
Skip shrugged. “Just wondering.”
What an interesting man Skip was turning out to be. The lack of literacy had given Walt pause back at the stadium. Walt’s handwriting wasn’t so abysmal that it couldn’t be deciphered, so Skip’s hesitancy over the words said a lot. But he still had found the place. Asking about school was on Walt’s agenda for this evening. He didn’t know much about Skip except that he was very attractive—he had a round face with a narrow nose and surprisingly plump lips atop that athletic body, and as he removed his hat, he displayed a thick head of wavy blond hair—and he played baseball as well as or better than many of the best ballplayers in the city. He was also, apparently, barely literate and intrigued by the idea of a show like Carmela’s. Walt was fascinated.
Playing Ball will be available September 25th (tomorrow!) from Dreamspinner Press. Pre-Order the book here!
I will once again be at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It’s this Sunday, September 22. I’ll be at the RWA NYC booth (booth #78—looks like it’s on the southwest corner of the plaza, near the food truck court) from 2–4pm and I’ll have copies of Blind Items and Four Corners for sale and maybe some other surprises. There will also be a raffle for a basket of goodies from my RWA NYC chapter mates. So stop by and say hi if you’re in the area. The whole thing is a really great event, so I encourage you to come to the festival even if you don’t come to see me.
I like doing this weekly wrap-up posts, but I’m currently hella busy and also have TWO books to promote over the next few weeks. I will probably continue to throw some spaghetti at the blog wall on Fridays for the next two months, but not do a whole five things post again until probably late October.
(Also, I’ve been watching a lot of the Food Network, and now can’t even type “spaghetti” without thinking about the weird way Giada Di Laurentis says it, which is probably accurate, but I grew up in North Jersey where Italians eat pro-shoot and mooz-a-rell and ri-cahd-da cheese, so it always sounds weird. Did any of you watch the admittedly boring latest season of Next Food Network Star? Did you noticed how Alton Brown sometimes subtly makes fun of the way she pronounces pasta dishes? More evidence that Alton Brown is the best. But anyway…)
Before I get into it, ANNOUNCEMENT: If you’re in the greater New York Metropolitan Area, I will again be signing at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 22nd. I’ll post details next week.
Here are five things that happened in the last week, in no particular order:
1. Maybe you didn’t hear, but New York City had an election? Ha, well, as an actual resident of the City of New York, I got up early Tuesday to go vote in the primary. This is low stakes if you live outside the city, despite all the national news coverage, and I have a policy of not really talking about politics here, but I will say I did get totally sucked into the coverage on NY1 Tuesday night. For the uninitiated, NY1 is the local 24-hour news channel. When I first moved to the city, it was delightfully low budget. (The station Robin works for in the early seasons of How I Met Your Mother is clearly patterned after NY1, right down to the guy who reads headlines from the local papers, except in real life, that guy is awesome.)
2. I was in Philly last weekend for tourism and the consumption of delicious meals at nice but moderately priced restaurants. (You live in New York long enough, the price of things in other cities start to seem like a bargain.) It was a nice trip. I took my mother, who wanted to go see the Battleship New Jersey, which is parked on the Camden side of the Delaware River. We did the self-guided tour and saw some for-real actual sailors! They seemed to be on the boat for some kind of ceremony followed by training exercises. My mom went on all day about how cute the white sailor uniforms are. We spent time in actual Philadelphia, too, mostly nerding out at historical sights. The weather was great, which certainly didn’t hurt anything.
3. I’m reading almost exclusively nonfiction right now, but the stuff I’m reading is giving me all manner of story ideas. Which is problematic, because I’ve got other stuff I need to finish first. That’s always the way. I get some of my best ideas when I’m on deadline.
4. Last night, I went to the Golden Apple Awards, which is the annual awards reception for the NYC RWA chapter. I schmoozed, I drank wine, I chatted with friends. It was really fun. Plus, the event was held in an upper-floor conference room at the Flatiron building on the front pointy side with a fabulous view of Madison Square Park. That was really cool for me; as an armchair architecture nerd, it was exciting to go inside such an iconic building.
5. As you may or may not know, I’m helping plan the writers workshop portion of GayRomLit in October, so I spent part of this week organizing my info on editors and agents. One thing that I think is really awesome is the number of editors/publishers/agents who are interested in books across the whole LGBT spectrum, not just m/m. There’s certainly room in the marketplace for everyone, and I believe there are readers out there for all manner of books, so I hope we get some fantastic breakout books in the next couple of years.
I have been remiss in doing these wrap-up posts all summer! The cause is a strange combination of either being too busy to post or just not having much going on. More of the former, honestly; August just zoomed on by and then was over and I was left crying all, “But, Mom, I don’t want to go to school.” Even though I was totally that kid who got all giddy right before school started, although this was in part because I love shopping and a new school year obviously meant that I had to buy cute clothes and school supplies. (I still remember the outfit I wore on my first day of high school. I bought the exact outfit that was on a mannequin at Nordstrom’s, and it involved plaid pants because it was the 90s. Incidentally, all the hipster girls in Brooklyn are dressing now the way I did then—lots of ugly floral dresses paired with clunky boots—and it is freaking me out.) (Also, I still get excited about school supplies. Who has two thumbs and bought special pens just for book signings? This girl.)
Anyway! I have news and also thoughts on things, so here are 5 items of interest, in no particular order:
1. If you missed the Twitter announcement, The Stars that Tremble is now available for pre-order! The book is out 9/30.
2. I’m skipping town this weekend. Well, I’m taking my mom to Philly as a birthday present. My immediate family has lived on the East Coast for thirty years—and for a while, we lived in the part of Jersey that is spitting distance from Philly—and somehow my mother, a history buff, has never been. So we’re gonna go be nerds together. My brother and his wife are joining us later in the weekend, and it will basically be a history nerd convention. (True story: My brother finished a masters in history earlier this year and now does historical tours of New York City.)
3. My roommate went to Europe last week and I tried to curb my intense jealousy by watching all 15 hours of the Simon Schama History of Britain documentary. Now I really want to go to the UK. The documentary is really good if you like history documentaries; Schama has a dry sense of humor that I enjoyed and I learned a lot of new things. But even in 15 hours, there was a lot of stuff that got skipped or glossed over. And it was still a poor substitute for actually going to Europe. (At least my roommate brought me back a box of chocolates from Buckingham Palace. They’re very fancy.)
I also watched a PBS American Experience episode about the Stonewall riots that is worth your time. It’s available streaming. (I watched it on Amazon Prime video.)
4. I’m reading mostly nonfiction lately, too. Maybe I really do miss school! Right now, I’m reading a book about NYC in the bad old days of the 1960s. It’s giving me lots of story ideas, but I’m nervous about writing about a period of time that people still living remember but about which I have no first-hand knowledge. I’d hate to get something egregiously wrong. I’m also about halfway through a book on prostitution in New York in the 19th Century. So much sin in the Big Apple!
I’ve got a lot of train riding on the schedule for this weekend, so lots of reading time. I packed 2 books and my iPad, which should be sufficient. (I have a weird phobia about being stuck somewhere with nothing to read.)
5. Some of my GRL swag got delivered this week. So far, I have bookmarks, pin-back buttons, and a big sign for my signing table. I’m trying to come up with an awesome one-of-a-kind, everybody-will-want swag item, but I’m not thinking up anything (or at least, I haven’t come up with anything that won’t blow my budget). Swag is so hard. I don’t want to spend money on something that will swiftly end up in the trash. What will people actually keep?