“My survival is, in fact, the final irony. Everyone was always in better health than me. All my friends, two husbands, my sisters, so many who never complained a day in their lives until death tapped them on the shoulder. The grass is green over them now–and I’m still here.” — “Mozart’s Wife”,Juliet Waldron
A few days ago, I completed an author interview that will hopefully be around and about in the next few months. In it, I was asked about the state of indie publishing, and whether or not traditional publishers were still the only reliable source for for quality literature.
A year or so ago, The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a Kindle Fire, which I wasn’t even sure at the time I wanted. As it turns out, I love it, and it’s gotten me into the habit of reading more. Since I don’t live near a convenient library and spending $15-$20 for a new release every time I’m excited to read something can become an expensive habit, discovering relatively inexpensive indie authors is a fun hobby. I’m already somewhat addicted to clothes and jewelry and headpieces and perfumes. I don’t need anything else on which to spend money (but more about me and my 2013 shopping adventures later.)
The truth is, for every 10 “free” or “99 cent” Kindle books I download, one is worth reading. Recently, I downloaded a book that sounded so promising to me in premise, and was written by a retired humanities professor with the requisite letters after his name. I made it through 10 pages. I couldn’t help but remember a time, as a freshman in university who was slacking off and called into the adviser’s office for a “chat about my potential”, the professor speaking to me told me that I was more articulate and visionary than many of his colleagues. Even though I studied in the arts, where graduating with a job offer is considered a success, my adviser expressed disappointment that I didn’t turn it down in order to continue my education. I remembered this episode, with a total lack of humility, because I encountered an instance that proved him right. Not every well-educated person should be self-publishing, at least without an editor.
I’m picky about what I read, in the same way that I don’t have the patience to sit through a bad movie and will fall asleep during a TV show I hate. I don’t mean to be critical. I guess I just am. If I dislike a book within the first 20 minutes, I’ll delete it without a thought. I’m sure plenty of people would do the same to mine.
I downloaded “Mozart’s Wife”, because it was a work of historical fiction (which I enjoy), and because in my years of singing, my operatic repertoire has become particularly Mozart-heavy. Mozart loved his coloraturas, and wasn’t afraid to write very difficult pieces for them. Of course, I know a great deal about the less-than-admirable life of the child prodigy who, like so many child prodigies, did not end his life with the same promise with which it began. However, I know less about his wife Constanze (Konstanze, or Stanzi in this book). She’s always depicted as petite, slightly plump, voluptuous, and bursting with energy that attracted many admirers. Since Mozart has a reputation as a philanderer, an alcoholic, a gambler, and a person of many other vices, it’s widely portrayed in books and popular culture that his wife was of the same temperament. One would assume, especially after watching “Amadeus”, that they were a pair of liberal party-hoppers with high aspirations but little sense of practicality.
This book shows a different side to Konstanze, a woman who struggled to deal with a neurotic, unfaithful, and chronically irresponsible husband whose flaws were to be forgiven because of her genius. She also struggled of living in the shadow of two gifted sisters, one an extraordinary beauty Mozart wanted to marry but instead helped her to launch a career as a prima donna. In the character portrayed, you don’t see a flighty and sensual woman, but one who might have been content with a less glamorous and more stable life. Upon Mozart’s death, she found herself to be 28, in severe debt, prematurely aging, and willing to bury her husband in a pauper’s grave and lock up all relics of his life. You see someone who is not mourning the loss of love, but carrying the burden of anger at how many lives the man she loved destroyed.
I do not know how much of the story is fictional, and how much is based on papers left behind by Mozart himself (which Konstanze later edited and published in order to build a sense of financial security), but the speculation that Mozart had illegitimate children and died by poison at the hands of a fellow Masoner who found his wife seduced by the musician is certainly a possibility, and an entertaining one at that. Regardless of Konstanze’s feelings toward her late husband, if she had simply thrown his stacks of compositions and correspondence into the fire, history would have been denied much. An artist who struggled to earn a living for his family during his lifetime has been turned into one of the greatest legends of all time, and I suspect most of that is owed to the sheer practicality of his widow.
I’ve always adored Mozart’s “Requiem”, and the dramatization of his death surrounding the composition of it in “Amadeus”made it that much more heart-rending for me. At one point, Waldron writes a scene in which Mozart acknowledges the requiem he is writing is for himself, and cries during attempts to create the “Lachrymosa”. (the last part of the “Requiem” most scholars agree Mozart completed completely on his own.) This scene shook me, because it is perhaps the most musically powerful piece ever composed by someone who spent so much of his gift creating entertaining stories and bawdy farces. It is at the very end of his life, you see and hear the true genius that was perhaps never entirely discovered.
I had to look through 20 “free” Kindle books to find something as well-written, well-researched, and engaging as this novel. Fans of Phillipa Gregory, Juliet Grey, Antonia Fraser, and Alison Weir will all enjoy this work.
On a somewhat related note, I experienced something that I can now cross off my bucket list: receiving my first rejection letter. I submitted a series of short stories for publication as a chapbook, and it was rejected with a polite semi-form letter that said “I’m glad to have read it, and while I found much to like in it, I think I’m going to decline the chance to publish it as a title. Please don’t take this as a reflection on you or the work–when making editorial decisions like this it’s more about the larger picture of the vision for the grouping of titles as a whole than it is a singular comment on one particular book.”
I actually took the rejection harder than I thought I would. I am not unused to rejection. You don’t get through a lifetime of working in theatre without knowing how to handle rejection. You don’t live life as the sort of person who will tell someone how you feel about them without the risk that every so often, your feelings simply won’t be reciprocated. You don’t apply for freelance jobs expecting every single person will be awed by you.
Yet, there’s something about a rejection letter that’s extremely personal and final. It is the equivalent of hearing “It’s not you, it’s me, but it’s really you.” I cried and felt inadequate about the whole business. At least when you don’t get a role in a show, it’s often because of a director’s vision, or because you’ve seen with your own eyes that you weren’t right for something or someone was better than you. When you confess your love for someone who replies with “But I’d rather be with someone who isn’t you”, you cry and realise that person is just an emotionally unaware idiot and it’s for the best. When you don’t land a job, it’s a disappointment, but an impersonal one. The real and personal nature of a rejection letter has a way of hitting hard. It must be a little like being one of Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends listening to her new album for the first time.
It isn’t even so much that I believed that a chapbook was the right format for what I wanted to put out there. As always, a simple idea of “I should write some stories” turned into a larger project that will likely end up being a 150-page novella with an over-arching theme that 10 people will read. My inability to do anything on a small scale is nothing if not consistent.
I suppose it was more just a case of me hoping to hear validation and encouragement, in the form of “You’re a creative person who isn’t wasting time working on creative things.” When I received the opposite, it felt like quite a blow to my already delicate self-esteem.
On a final, somewhat related note, I’ve had my first author interview published regarding “Ophelia’s Wayward Muse“. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here. Make certain to leave a comment or a “like”, to let both the blog owner and myself know you’ve visited and appreciated what you happened to read.
It’s been an odd week. The weather changes almost every other day, as does my mood, and both have been difficult to handle. I hope to be able to take some time in June to travel and visit a few friends I’ve been missing dearly, as both travel and the company of friends I see too infrequently generally makes me feel more exuberant and less…well…old. *laughs*
On the up side, we have tickets to see Fun. in October, and while that’s a lifetime away, I have something to look forward to.