A Tale of Two Books: “Prelude” and “Encore”

Encore-BuildEncore, the fifth installment in the Blue Notes Series, was released on November 11th.  On December 25th, Christmas Day, the sixth book in the series and first holiday novella, Symphony in Blue, will be released by Dreamspinner Press.  Symphony in Blue is also my 10th Dreamspinner Press release!  Be sure to check out the Blue Notes Holiday 2013 Blog Tour contest to be entered to win some super prizes, including a brand-new Kindle e-reader loaded with ebooks.  Click here to enter on Rafflecopter. You can enter more than once, and there are lots of ways to enter.  The contest ends on New Year’s Eve!

Encore  is both a coming of age story and a romance between adult men.  It’s also the story of modern day star-crossed lovers, and while there’s a happy ending, it’s a very real story of pain, loss, and learning to move on from both.  It begins in the 1970s and ends in the present.  The characters are musicians, but you don’t need to be a musician to understand their emotional connection, or how important music is in their lives.  And there’s a special connection between Encore and its predecessor, Prelude: a very special violin.  But more about that in a minute…

To say that Encore is near and dear to my heart might be a bit of an understatement. PreludeLG There is more of my heart in this book than any other book in the series (or any other book I’ve written). For those of you who might not be familiar with my personal story, here’s the quick background.  I’m a lifelong musician who played violin for 17 years and sang opera professionally for about as long.  My mother and my sister were also musicians (my mother is still performing on her harpsichord in her late 70s!).  Music is in my brain, my heart, and my soul.  Giving up my music career was very difficult for me.

Fast forward to Encore, the 5th book in my of classical music themed gay romance series, Blue Notes. Of all the books in the series, this one has the most connections to my childhood and my early experiences with music.  One of them is the violin that plays a pivotal role in the story.  That was my violin.

BisiachRoger Nelson, once of the main characters, is a supremely talented violinist.  For reasons I won’t go into here (don’t want to spoil the story!), he loses his ability to play the violin when his career is just about to take off.  His grief over the loss of his music is one of the main sources of tension in the story.  At the source of that grief is his beautiful violin, a stunning Italian instrument made by Leandro Bisiach in the late 1800s.  That violin is Roger’s heart and soul incarnate.  I owned that instrument for about fifteen years, and when I sold it, I felt a real sense of loss. It was like I said goodbye to one of my oldest and dearest friends, knowing I’d probably never see that friend again.

Roger’s violin made its first appearance in Prelude, one of the other Blue Notes Series books.  In it, there’s a flashback scene where violinist Alex Bishop plays for the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the other main character in Encore, John Fuchs.  His violin teacher?  Roger.  Alex is overwhelmed when his teacher, Roger, gives him a new violin.  But Alex doesn’t understand the true significance of that gift.  In Encore, we see the truth behind it.  And the moment when Roger passes that violin on to the next generation of musicians is a pivotal one between the main characters.

While I can’t share the scene from Encore (it would spoil the story!), I will leave you with the original scene from Prelude to give you a taste of what you’ll experience in Encore. Want to read the first chapter of EncoreClick here.  Hope you enjoy it and good luck in the giveaway!  -Shira

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Excerpt from Prelude

“Alex Bishop, meet John Fuchs.”

Alex’s eyes widened with recognition as he reached out to shake John’s hand. “It’s an honor, Maestro. I apologize for being so late, I—”

“Don’t sweat it, son,” the conductor of the Chicago Symphony interrupted with a warm smile. “I’m guessing Roger made you wait on at least a few occasions. He’s certainly kept me waiting a few times.”

This time it was Roger who coughed.

“So I’m told you’re interested in NEC.” John gestured for Alex to sit down next to him, then motioned for Roger to bring Alex a bottle of water.

“I’ve always dreamed about going to New England Conservatory.” Alex winced inwardly at how young and overly eager he must sound. “I’m just not sure I can afford—”

“If you’ve got the talent, there are scholarships available.” John’s expression was both understanding and kind.

Alex accepted a bottle of water from Roger and guzzled nearly half of it. His heart was still racing, but it wasn’t from exertion anymore. Talking to John Fuchs made him incredibly nervous. “I… I’m not sure I’m that good.”

He silently hoped he could manage to play in front of Fuchs without falling on his face—the man was a legend! He’d listened to the conductor’s recordings when his mother was still alive. How old would he be now? Late forties? Fifties? Like most teens, Alex wasn’t very good at judging age, and in spite of the white hair, John’s face was full of youth. Expressive. Attractive too.

“That’s not what I’ve heard.” John shot a wink in Roger’s direction. “Your teacher seems to think I’m not wasting my time.”

“Maestro Nelson is very kind.” Alex’s cheeks heated as he gazed with genuine admiration at the man who had guided him for such a long time. Even now, he wasn’t very comfortable with compliments, although over the years he’d learned to respond to them with something other than stuttered embarrassment. “He’s been teaching me for nearly seven years. He’s never charged me for lessons.”

“True.” Nelson rubbed a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. “But you’ve paid your bill by helping me teach the younger students.” He turned and winked at Fuchs. “Alex here’s quite the charmer. The female students especially enjoy his work.”

Alex squirmed in his seat. In all honesty, he loved working with the younger students, but he was more uncomfortable with starry-eyed girls than he was with his teacher’s praise.

Perhaps sensing Alex’s continued embarrassment, John changed the subject. “So what are you going to play for me today, Alex?”

“The first movement of the Wieniawski violin concerto.” Alex was relieved to be moving on from the uncomfortable conversation—playing his fiddle was familiar territory and something he wasn’t self-conscious about.

Roger nodded in tacit approval, then walked over to the upright piano pushed up against the studio wall and pulled a piece of dog-eared music from the substantial pile on the piano’s stand. The piano bench creaked as he sat down.

“Excellent!” John took a swig of his water and sat at attention. “Although I suppose I’ll also have to put up with Roger’s less than stellar piano playing, won’t I?”

Roger scowled good-naturedly at John as Alex pulled his battered instrument from its case. “Dear, dear,” Roger tutted with a quick glance at John. “We really must do something about getting you a new instrument, Alex.”

“This one’s fine, Maestro.” Alex tightened his bow and tucked the violin under his chin.

“No. I really don’t think so. The sound has only deteriorated over the years. It’s really not suitable for someone the likes of Maestro Fuchs.”

Alex stared at Roger in stunned silence. He had no other violin, and he had no money to repair the crack on the top of the old fiddle, let alone buy another instrument. Why would he bring this up now? “But, Maestro, I… I…,” he stammered, his face hot with shame. He knew the violin was woefully lacking, even though he loved it dearly. He’d asked his social worker about whether there might be money available to buy a new one, but she’d just sighed. He was lucky the state paid for his rent.

John shook his head. “Really, Roger, do you have to be so cruel?”

Alex fought the urge to sink into the floorboards and disappear.

For a moment, Alex hoped his teacher was joking. But Roger’s tone was serious, firm. He took a deep breath and began to pack the violin away. He felt miserable—he’d wanted nothing more than to play for Fuchs. He’d already sent his college application to NEC, and he’d been wondering how he’d come up with the money to fly to Boston or even make an audition tape. “I’m very sorry, Maestro Fuchs. I hope that when I get a better instrument, you’ll still be willing to hear me play.”

“Roger….” John blew out a breath that sounded like air being released from a steam pipe.

“Oh… all right,” snapped Roger. “But I couldn’t help it, could I?”

John scowled and shook his head again.

Roger shrugged, then got up from the piano and walked over to the wooden armoire on the opposite side of the room. Without a word, he opened the large doors and pulled something out, then walked silently back over to where Alex was still packing up his ancient violin. “There’s no need to postpone the audition, Alex.”

“What? Why not? But you said—”

“You have a far more suitable violin to play.” Roger pulled a brand-new violin case from behind his back and held it out to Alex.

Alex stared at the case, then back up at Roger, uncomprehending.

“Well? Don’t you want to see what’s inside?”

“S-sure.” Alex gingerly laid the case on the table and popped open the latches to reveal a green crushed velvet lining. Inside were a beautiful violin and not one but two bows. Alex’s jaw dropped. One of the bows alone was probably worth more than he earned in an entire year playing for tips.

“My gift to you, Alex Bishop.” Roger glanced over to John, the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced with his broad smile.

“But really, I can’t—” Alex could never pay his teacher back for this. It was a gorgeous instrument. Italian, probably nineteenth century. Alex guessed it sounded as magnificent as it looked. It must have cost a fortune. Thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands, even.

“Yes.” Roger cut across Alex. “You can and you will. But you must promise me one thing first.”

“Yes. Of course.” Alex was more out of breath at that moment than when he had first arrived at the studio. “Anything.”

“Promise me that you’ll send me tickets to your Boston Symphony debut,” Roger said, deadpan.

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