Thanks, Lily, for hosting me on your blog and letting me ramble a bit about my classical music series, Blue Notes. It's a pleasure to be here!
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Blue Notes Series, these are interrelated, standalone gay romance novels, each with a classical music theme. Secondary characters in one book become the main characters in another, and the books can be read in any order.
The fourth book in the Blue Notes Series, Prelude, was released on May 6th, and is now available for purchase in ebook or paperback format on the Dreamspinner Press website, Amazon, and other booksellers.
With each Blue Notes book, I've tried to create romances with real characters and real situations, many of those situations taken from my own experiences as a violinist and later, as an opera singer. Of all of the books in the series so far, Prelude is the one that is perhaps the most driven by music and the emotion behind the music.
So what is it about music that connects with people? What is it in my books readers tell me they connect with? I think Prelude answers both questions. But I hadn’t thought about it really, not at that level, when I was writing the book. Let me explain.
I’m a former professional musician (violinist and opera singer). Music is in my blood, in my bones, and my gut. I hear music and I get an ear worm. You know, like when you hear “It’s a Small World” at Disney and the stupid (yes stupid!) song repeats over and over ad infinitum in your mind? Yep. That’s me. The protagonist in Prelude is me times a thousand. David Somers, the fictional conductor of the Chicago Symphony, hears music in every person he meets and in every deep emotional reaction he has. And that’s the key. Music=emotion.
That’s what makes you get excited when your favorite song plays on the radio. It’s what gives you goose bumps when you sing in a choir, perform in an orchestra, or just crank the volume up on your stereo and listen to the latest release from your favorite indie band. It’s what chokes you up when you hear the national anthem played. Emotion. And that’s the connection I’m trying to share in the Blue Notes books.
You may not be able to read a note of music. You may be tone deaf (my dad is tone deaf, but he still loves to listen to music). You may love rock, classical, hip-hop, or rap. Doesn’t matter. The way humans connect to music is through their hearts and souls. That’s what Prelude is all about. David looks at Alex Bishop for the first time and sees only his tats and his rough exterior. But when Alex plays his violin, David hears the music of Alex’s soul, and it forges a connection between them that’s strong enough to give David the courage to take a chance on getting hurt again.
The Blue Notes books aren’t just about music. Not really. They’re about human emotion and the connections humans form. Music as sex (yes, explicit sex, by the way). Music as pain. Music as joy. Music as promise. Music, as the bridge between human beings.
If you haven’t read any of the Blue Notes Series, you can dive in with any story and in any order. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
Want to read an excerpt from Prelude? Click on this link (my website) and scroll down to the excerpt tab, or you can read a second excerpt on the Dreamspinner Press book page (same deal – scroll down and click the excerpt link). -Shira
PS: Want to win some Blue Notes swag? I’ll be giving away winner’s choice of a paperback or ebook of one of the Blue Notes novels as well as a Blue Notes Series t-shirt (winner’s choice of cover) at the end of the Blue Notes blog tour. To enter, comment on this post and the other blog posts to win! I’ll be drawing winners at the end of the blog tour.****************************
Summary: World-renowned conductor David Somers never wanted the investment firm he inherited from his domineering grandfather. He only wanted to be a composer. But no matter how he struggles, David can’t translate the music in his head into notes on paper.
When a guest violinist at the Chicago Symphony falls ill, David meets Alex Bishop, a last-minute substitute. Alex’s fame and outrageous tattoos fail to move David. Then Alex puts bow to string, and David hears the brilliance of Alex’s soul.
David has sworn off relationships, believing he will eventually drive away those he loves, or that he'll lose them as he lost his wife and parents. But Alex is outgoing, relaxed, and congenial—everything David is not—and soon makes dents in the armor around David's heart. David begins to dream of Alex, wonderful dreams full of music. Becoming a composer suddenly feels attainable.
David’s fragile ego, worn away by years of his grandfather’s disdain, makes losing control difficult. When David’s structured world comes crashing down, his fledgling relationship with Alex is the first casualty. Still, David hears Alex’s music, haunting and beautiful. David wants to love Alex, but first he must find the strength to acknowledge himself.
“Maestro Somers,” Paulette Pyée said as she leaned forward to kiss David on the cheeks in the French custom. “I’m so glad you could make it tonight.”
“The pleasure is mine, ma chère.” David handed her his coat, which one of the servers took with a nod. “And I can’t thank you enough for offering the studio up as a symphony benefit.”
“You know I’d do anything for you, David,” she replied. “Besides, I have ulterior motives. I thought I might be able to interest you in another piece for your apartment.”
“Perhaps a small painting for the hallway. It’s been looking a bit bare.” In truth, he wasn’t particularly interested in purchasing more art for the penthouse, but Paulette had graciously offered to donate 10 percent of the profits from the open house to the CSO, and he could well afford to purchase something himself.
“We have some fabulous artists showcased,” she cooed as she led him over to the bar. “I’m sure we’ll find something perfect for you.
“Sazerac,” she told the bartender.
“You remembered.” David touched her lightly on the forearm and smiled.
“Of course.” Slipping into French, she continued, “A good host always remembers a favorite guest’s preferences.”
“You’re too kind.”
“For you,” she said as she took his arm, “I’d do just about anything. You know how I adored Helena. Now if I could only find you someone who could take care of you as well as she did—”
“Mademoiselle Pyée,” one of the gallery assistants interrupted, “I need you to make sure the canapés are all right. They mixed up the order, and it seems they’re shrimp instead of scallops.”
Paulette shook her head and gave David an apologetic smile. “We’ll speak later, David,” she told him. “In the meantime, I suggest you start with the red room. There are a few pieces there that might suit your tastes. I’ll find you later.”
“Of course,” David said, silently relieved not to be forced to discuss his personal life. She smiled once more before she left the room.
David sipped his drink. It wasn’t half bad, with just a hint of licorice from the absinthe. Leave it to Paulette to make sure the caterer had Sazerac whiskey on hand, with its whisper notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and honey. No doubt she had ordered it with him in mind. He’d make a point to thank her again later.
The gallery was beginning to fill with people. Built on the upper floor of a reclaimed warehouse, it was divided into spacious rooms by walls that reached only to about two-thirds of the way to the high ceilings. The original wooden floors had been sanded but retained their mottled, worn quality, and the outer walls of the freestanding rooms were painted in vibrant hues, in sharp contrast to the ecru walls where the artwork was hung. Benches of brushed aluminum covered in sleek leather were scattered in the middle of the rooms, leaving plenty of space for patrons to mill about.
The red room toward the back of the gallery housed the more unusual pieces, as well as the most expensive. On the way, David greeted a number of symphony benefactors, as well as local celebrities and politicians. Paulette’s openings, especially those held in early winter, were always well attended. David came here first with his wife long before he moved to the area to take the job with the CSO. After her death, he’d tried to avoid the gallery, but he knew he could not: Paulette’s regulars were also symphony patrons.
“You will attend the party,” he could almost hear his grandfather say when, at fifteen, he’d asked if he could go to the movies with friends instead of yet another party. He had despised the large gatherings held at his grandparents' estate—they were more business than social occasions.
Strange, how he still remembered his mother tucking him into bed on the night of just such a party. He’d been three or four at the time, and he’d wanted to go downstairs to meet the guests. “You really aren’t missing anything,” Caroline Hayden Somers had told him as she pulled the covers over his shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. “Someday, you’ll long for the days when you could run around the gardens or go swimming in the lake.” He could still imagine her scent—freesia and lilies—and the softness of her lips pressed to his forehead.
“But I want to go with you,” he’d protested.
She’d been right. When he finally was old enough to attend the gala celebrations, he’d quickly realized they were less than satisfying. She, too, disliked parties and was happier to spend time in the tiny rose garden behind the guesthouse. Her sanctuary. Sometimes he wished he had a place he could go where he could just be himself. The closest thing to that garden he’d ever known was the studio in his apartment. Lately, however, he felt none of the peace there that his mother had found among the flowers and trees.
A hand brushed his arm and he pushed the memory away, greeting a symphony patron with his usual polite charm. He stopped several more times to chat with other guests, finally reaching the red room half an hour later.
The room was crowded. Servers circulated with champagne and hors d’oeuvres on silver trays, the scent of expensive perfume mingling with the smell of the food. One of the paintings by the back corner caught his eye, and he moved through the room, making sure to greet some of the guests on his way and thank them for coming out to support the symphony. The painting was rectangular, modern, done in pastels. The description of the piece said it was a depiction of Lake Michigan, although there was little recognizable other than the multicolored hues of the Chicago sunrise. It was more a blur of color, a hint of the original. He stood, staring at it, for several uninterrupted minutes. He decided he would buy it, but not for the hallway, for his practice studio—the place in his home in which he spent most of his waking hours. Inspiration, perhaps, for an as-yet-unwritten composition.
As if. How many times had he hoped for that elusive inspiration? And yet each piece he’d written had been as flat and unremarkable as all the rest. No, his grandfather had been right. Conducting was a far more appropriate career. His overwhelming success was proof enough and his abysmal failures as a composer more so. Still, he’d purchase the painting. It would look lovely hanging over the table near the piano.
Determined to let Paulette know of his interest, he turned to leave the room and nearly walked headlong into another guest.
“Mr. Bishop.” Alex Bishop was the last person he’d expected to see. He’d spent the better part of three days trying to contact the man’s agent and had been left utterly frustrated by the effort.
“Please,” Bishop said, offering his hand, “call me Alex.”
“May I call you David?” Bishop gripped his hand and flashed him a warm smile.
“Of course.” Alex's comfortable familiarity rattled him. Seeing him here, in such an intimate venue, caught David off guard. Not that he’d show it. He was far too well trained in handling just such awkward situations. He’d be pleasant, polite, and then he’d excuse himself to find Paulette.
Alex gestured to the painting David had been admiring. “It’s beautiful,” he said, turning to face it. David couldn’t help but notice that Alex was dressed quite well in a fitted button-down shirt with narrow stripes, a pair of well-tailored wool trousers, and a slim tie. As before, David could see a hint of ink at the other man’s throat. For a moment, he found himself wondering what the tattoos looked like without the shirt.
“I’m considering purchasing it.” David hadn’t intended to admit this.
Alex shifted slightly on his feet and gestured to the small piece of paper that described the painting. “I’m afraid you’re too late.”
David hadn’t seen the silver mark at the bottom. “It’s sold,” he said, doing his best to mask a frown.
Alex appeared to have guessed at David’s disappointment. “Selena has several other pieces in the show. Similar. You should check them out.” When David said nothing, Alex continued, “She’s a good friend of mine. Just sold several of her paintings to a collector who’s commissioned three more. She’ll be having her own show here in a few months. Paulette can’t stop gushing about her.”
Alex knew Paulette? And he knew the artist? “I’ll take a look.” Then, deciding he was already irritated and had nothing to lose, David added, “And perhaps when you have a chance, you can speak to your”—he tried not to grit his teeth—“agent. Mr. Sykes doesn’t appear to be interested in giving me the courtesy of returning my calls.” If it had been up to him, David wouldn’t have called after the first fiasco, but several other association members had called to ask about Alex making a return appearance, and he’d finally given in.
Alex looked genuinely mortified. “I… I’m really sorry about that. Ken is—well, I’m not sure how to put it—a handful? I’ll make sure he calls you.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“No problem.” Alex snagged a champagne flute from a passing server and took a hasty drink. “And if there’s anything I can do to accommodate the CSO’s schedule, I’d be happy to. I really enjoyed the other night.”
David looked down at his drink, then swallowed the remainder faster than he’d meant to. The tension in his neck abated with the alcohol. He couldn’t help but think he should leave, maybe find Paulette—anything but stand here trying to converse with Alex.
Instead, he did something he hadn’t intended. “How was your get-together after the concert?”
Alex appeared buoyed by David’s question. “It was great. Low-key. Just a few friends. I’m sure your donors’ party was far more interesting. Someone from the symphony association—Doris Pinkley-something, was it?—called my agent to invite me. I didn’t get the message until the next day. I’m sorry I missed it.”
“Doris Pinchley-Bates. And don’t think twice about it. I’m sure if you do perform with the symphony again, she’ll make sure you know about her shindig well in advance.” Why was he trying to assuage Alex’s guilt? Surely he didn’t really care that he’d missed the party. And yet there was something about Alex Bishop that made David wonder if he’d underestimated the man yet again.
“Thanks. I try to go to those things.” Alex ran a hand through his hair and the corners of his mouth edged upward. “Not that I like them all that much,” he added. “But I understand how important they are. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
David felt his cheeks warm, but passed it off as just the alcohol and the crowded room. For the first time, he realized Alex was wearing his hair down. Long enough that it skirted his upper back, it fell over his shoulders in a cascade, layers curling just slightly at the ends. A hint of a melody flickered through David’s mind, then fled. “I really should be going,” he said, deciding it was time to move on, perhaps get another drink.
“I’m sorry.” Alex offered him a charming smile. “I’ve been monopolizing you. This is your fundraiser, after all.”
“I don’t mind.” It was the truth. In fact, he realized he minded Alex’s company far less than any of the other guests’. He had almost enjoyed it.
He’s right, though. You need to be circulating. He nodded at Alex, who smiled again and turned to leave.
“Mr. Bishop… Alex?”
David reached into his pocket and handed Alex a business card. “If you don’t mind, would you ask Mr. Sykes to call me? It’d go a long way to placating the symphony association if we could schedule you for next season. This is my home number.”
Alex took the card and their fingers brushed. “I’ll make sure he calls you. And I apologize again for any inconvenience.”
“It’s not a problem,” David heard himself say. What was it about this man that had him forgetting the wasted time spent on the phone? “Enjoy your evening, Alex.”
NOTE: Each Blue Notes novel is a standalone story and books in the series can be read in any order.
Want to buy the Blue Notes Series books? You can find them all here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=54_673
In her last incarnation, Shira Anthony was a professional opera singer, performing roles in such operas as Tosca, Pagliacci, and La Traviata, among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle.
Shira is married with two children and two insane dogs, and when she’s not writing, she is usually in a courtroom trying to make the world safer for children. When she’s not working, she can be found aboard a 35’ catamaran at the Carolina coast with her favorite sexy captain at the wheel.
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