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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Keeping The Real Me In My Heart and Off The Page

I've been a musician for all but the first four years of my life. A pianist primarily but I also played the violin in junior high school (not overly well but at least practicing didn't make me sound worse), taught myself guitar and the flute. Majoring in music in college, piano was my prime instrument, with organ and harpsichord as secondaries.

Thousands of lessons performed on dozens of pianofortes, my technique and skill at making music with ten fingers on 88 keys was shaped by many, many teachers. Some were positive influences, some not so much. For instance Dr. Ego, (not his real name and too kind at that), a college piano pedagogy professor. He hurled my brand new, two-volume collection of Beethoven sonatas (a Christmas present from my mom), across his studio and ordered me to leave because he didn't approve of that particular publication of Beethoven's works. End of that lesson and end of him being my piano professor. I dropped him faster than I could say allegro non troppo. Not a nice man. He should have stuck to performing instead of teaching. Being good at something doesn't mean you're adept at imparting your knowledge of that talent to others. Even so, I learned something from him (mainly what kind of teacher I'd never be), because that's what we do, right? Learn from the good experiences as well as the not-so-good.
With Beethoven's infamous fiery temper, he and Dr. Ego could have been cousins

So, at my core I am a musician and lover of music, and because I am, I deliberately avoid having musicians as characters in my books. I'm afraid my character will be more me and not them. Too easy to shape the character after myself and if I wanted to do that, I might as well write an autobiography.

The female protagonist in my Games People Play series is an exception to my No-Musician-Character rule but she's not a performer. Her old upright piano is more her therapist than an instrument she's trying to master. She turns to it when she's overwhelmed by life and needs to blank out for a spell.

My latest historical, Almost Denied, is also an exception but an unplanned one. I was reading an article about Antonio Vivaldi, (1678-1741), one of Italy's most famous composers and touted to be the most recorded composer of all time. That article led to one about the Ospedale della Pieta, an all girls orphanage in Venice, Italy. Originally a hospital during the Crusades, it became an orphanage and then a music school. Vivaldi wrote many works for the schoolgirls at the ospedale. 

Well, I couldn't let that information just take up space in my head and not use it to shape a character. But to maintain distance from my own musician character,  I made Gianna LeBon a composer and a cellist. I know enough about both to make her skills sound believable without pouring too much of myself into them.

Every student I've had has taught me how to better teach the art of playing the pianoforte. Every teacher I've studied with and every musician I've accompanied has influenced my piano playing skills, two in particular and I can't write about this subject without acknowledging both. My mother and first piano teacher, who passed away two months ago, and Doris Bardon, a woman 35 years my senior and my two-piano partner for nearly 20 years who has been gone 8 years. Two superb musicians and profound influences in my life.

While I was writing Almost Denied my mother asked me what the story was about. After I told her she said, "Well, it's about time you worked a musician into one of your stories. Music is what you know the most about."

I took that as a compliment.

Do you have a talent or skill that you purposely avoid giving to your characters? Or have you been successful at writing it/them into a story with enough detachment that it truly is your character's talent and not your own?

Blurb for Almost Denied 

No one is going to take Gianna LeBon’s land and home from her. Not any man, not for any price, especially the charming Colonel Ross Rayne. And pretending to be married may not be enough to save it or her.

Ross knows how to deceive an enemy but he’s never had to use those skills on a woman. He regrets agreeing to undertake a mission of procuring the LeBon’s property. Instead of dealing with Mr. LeBon, he’s stuck with his pig-headed wife.

Can the charming Colonel win against a determined woman fighting for her home and family? Or will they be forced to walk away from their only chance at happiness?


 Never had Ross seen a vision as captivating or sensual as Gianna LeBon making love to her cello, for that’s what it looked like and he suddenly was absurdly envious of that instrument.

His groan startled her. The bow stopped moving and her eyes sprung open.


“Yes. Me.” He opened the door further. “May I come in?”

A table to her right held a single lamp, the only light in the room. Composition papers and pen and ink were spread across the tabletop. Even in such low light Ross saw her cheeks color when she looked down at her bare legs. She dropped the bow and eased the cello forward, no doubt to put herself to rights.

“No, please. Don’t move.” Permission to enter hadn’t been granted but he didn’t care. He was going in. He closed the door behind him and walked toward her, his heartbeat twice as fast as his footsteps. “Have you any idea the picture you make, Gianna? You and the cello as one self, each separately beautiful but together you are magnificent.”

The flush on her cheek deepened, eyes lowered when he stopped before her. Embarrassed by his boldness or from being seen so exposed? Probably both. Ross drank in the sight of her and tried not to feel like an ogling letch. The loose bodice of her dress gaped, exposing the upper curve of her breasts. He wanted his mouth there, wanted to trail his tongue over the soft skin and dip it between the two small mounds. She could feel his stare, he knew. Her mouth parted and breathing quickened. She licked her lips but still didn’t look up at him. Ross’s gaze swept over her thighs, skin pale and perfect as a pristine beach. The cello, centered between those thighs, concealed her body’s sweetest space. He wanted his mouth there also. Her flavor on his tongue, the scent of her skin and damp flesh filling his mind. He would be the first to know both. But he wouldn’t stop there. A lady’s knees shouldn’t be overlooked, the sensitive hollow at the back of them so delicate. Imagining tasting and kissing every inch of Gianna LeBon made him painfully hard and he only made it worse by noting the shapely muscles of her flexed calves and feet so small they wouldn’t fill his hand.
He’d put himself in grave danger of shattering even before touching her. Which he absolutely must do. Now.

Ross reached for the neck of the cello, his hand covering hers. Her head snapped up, eyes blinked open.

“May I?”

She swallowed hard. “May you what?”

His smile must have registered his lascivious thoughts because she gasped.

“Relieve you of this.” Ross felt her hand clench around the narrow neck of her instrument. He watched her, patient, knowing he would win this battle of wills and wants. Another hard swallow and the tip of her tongue wetted her lips. One more of those and he might just lose the ability to be so damned patient.

Something else he must have unconsciously registered because her hand relaxed and she leaned back in her high back chair. If he were keeping score there would be a marker on his side of the board. And there would be far more when the game was done.

Available in print and ebook. Buy links:

Also just released, Almost Perfect, an ebook boxed set with all five of my historical romances in the  Almost series. 99 cents this week!




Sandy said...

Polly, that was a hot read even without using the actual terms for the anatomy. lol

A wonderful post, Polly. It was to learn about your many musical accomplishments.

Cara Marsi said...

This is very interesting, Polly. I envy your musical ability. If I had your talent, I'd write music into my stories. I think it's great you've decided to do that. And, no, I have no talents I can bring to my stories. Alas. Best of luck to you. Loved your excerpt.

D'Ann said...

Very good post! I'm a lifelong horsewoman, and every heroine I write must have horses. I think I've only ever written two that were not.

Polly McCrillis said...

Thanks, Sandy. I love the challenge of being vaguely specific when it comes to, er, anatomy. Lots of fun!

Polly McCrillis said...

Cara, since I managed to write music into a story with a level of detachment, I'm sure I will again. Maybe a vocalist next time. Or bassoonist...

Polly McCrillis said...

I love horses, D'Ann but am no rider, just an appreciator. Have you been to Chincoteague Island to see the wild horses that live there? A dream of mine for many many years that finally came true this past July. Pretty wonderful!

Judy Baker said...

Polly, it was fun to learn about your musical interests and accomplishments. I'd love to have those skills, but I can't even carry a tune! I enjoyed your excerpt and agree with your mother about writing music into your stories.

Polly McCrillis said...

Judy, like I've told parents of students who just can't grasp the how to make music on the piano, not everyone is cut out to be pianist which is a good thing, because we need audiences too!

Janice Seagraves said...

Great read and hot, with no touching, that's hard to achieve. Good for you.

I actually give my characters something that I do or have done, so they seem more realistic. In Windswept Shores, Megan is a basket weaver, which is from a class I took in HS. In Matrix Crystal Hunters, my heroine is a geologist, her parents rock hounds. Rock hunting is something my family did for fun on a trip to the desert.

I think you should have more musicians in your books. You certainly are gifted in combining both the artist and the romance.


Polly McCrillis said...

Thanks, Janice, and what a great idea to incorporate what you've learned in classes (always have wanted to take a basket weaving class) and family outing experiences. That's given me an idea for a character...:-)

Melissa Keir said...

I have blended everything from my hometown to my profession into my books. I love that it allows a passion to come to my books. :)

jean hart stewart said...

Wonderful excerpt! Absolutely loved it...

Polly McCrillis said...

Melissa, I agree with you that what you know and love certainly adds a passion to the books we write. Using the 'what we know' lends a sincerity to the words that just don't come from research alone.

Polly McCrillis said...

Jean, thank you!! Made me smile....

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