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Mayra Calvani

Interview with Susanne Dunlap, author of The Musician's Daughter

February 27, 2010 at 8:05 PM

It is my pleasure to have as my guest today writer Susanna Dunlap. A native of Buffalo, NY, Dunlap is the author of The Musician's Daughter and several other music-related novels for adults and young adults. In this interview the author talks about her life, her inspiration for The Musician's Daughter, and writing and publishing, among other things. 

Thanks for this interview, Susanne! Please tell us a little about your background in music. When I was 3 or 4 and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “Mozart”, I think mainly because I had a wonderful children’s book, Mozart the Wonder Boy. And my mother played the piano, my father loved opera and would play records on weekends. I started playing the piano at the age of five, and got very serious about it. I went to Smith and majored in music, doing a lot of performing. 13 years after I graduated from Smith I went back to do an MA in musicology, then on to Yale for a PhD in music history. I loved those years. I loved researching in libraries in Europe and touching manuscripts by Handel, Traetta, Salieri and many others.

From music studies, to writing... How did that come about and what was your inspiration for The Musician's Daugher? After I finished my studies, circumstances combined to make it difficult for me to get a job teaching. But I had all this wealth of knowledge and a true passion for the stories hidden in the places research couldn’t take you. Plus, I’d been writing all my life anyway—poetry, bad novels, advertising copy (day job). The Musician’s Daughter, like all my books, came from a “What if?” question. What if a young girl wanted desperately to be a professional musician, but her circumstances or the times wouldn’t permit it? And then, I love a good mystery. Plus I’ve been to Vienna more than once for research purposes, and I loved the idea of setting a novel there.

I understand this story is very close to your heart. What is the novel about? It’s about a young girl whose father, a violinist in Haydn’s orchestra for Prince Esterhazy, is murdered on Christmas Eve. His valuable violin is missing, and he’s wearing a mysterious medallion Theresa (the heroine) has never seen before. With her mother about to give birth and indisposed, Theresa decides she must solve the mystery of her father’s murder, and in the process is able to pursue her music—and find the beginnings of true love. You may wonder, why a violinist? I have a very good friend who is one of the finest Baroque violinists in the world, now doing a lot of conducting with her own orchestra: Elizabeth Wallfisch. I thought of her a lot when I was writing this—and my old friend Peter Oundjian!

Did you plot in advance? I always have a sense of where the book is going, but I hate writing to outlines. I let my characters take their twists and turns, and then nudge everything into place and tie up loose ends in the editing process.

How long did it take you to write the book? That’s a difficult question to answer. Writing the first draft doesn’t always take a lot of time. This one I think took about six weeks. But I worked on it, editing and honing it, for months after that—and that was before the editing process that begins with the publishing house.

How was your schedule like while writing the novel? Do you have another job besides writing? Yes, I do have another job, as an Associate Creative Director at a small advertising agency in Manhattan. It’s very demanding, so I write whenever I can in my spare time: on the subway, at home in the morning, on weekends.

How was the publishing process like? Did you search for an agent first? First, you have to write a book! I’ve been with my agent since 2003, when he started working on my first adult book, Emilie’s Voice, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. I would say that anyone looking to be published needs to write the best book they can, get good feedback, and get it as near to perfect as possible, then start looking for an agent. Agents open doors, and also can be very helpful in guiding your career—as my agent has been.

I hear you have another book coming out soon. Tell us all about it! Anastasia’s Secret will be my fourth book. My first two were adult books (Liszt’s Kiss was the second). Anastasia’s Secret is my imagining of the youngest grand duchess of Russia growing up during the Russian revolution. It’s more a romance than The Musician’s Daughter. It comes out March 2.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to my readers? Just thank you! Without readers, we novelists would be in deep trouble. I’m so grateful whenever people read my books, and hope that they get some enjoyment and insight from them.

Thank you, Susanne!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 3, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Mayra - thanks so much for posting the interview.  She sounds very interesting.  Please keep up the good work!

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