cj Sez: When I interviewed author Nupur Tustin for this post, I discovered that she’s uniquely qualified to write her wonderful historical fiction.
Among her many talents is being a composer, so wouldn’t you think it natural that she choose Franz Joseph Haydn as her protagonist? Okay, maybe not “natural” but it is a remarkable choice. Here are her fascinating responses to my questions:
Lyrical Pens: When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Nupur Tustin: Although I've always enjoyed writing, I don't think I'd ever have considered writing a novel if it hadn't been for two people I encountered as a grad student at UConn. One was the author Scott Bradfield. I was in a creative writing workshop he taught. We critiqued short stories, but for some reason he strongly suggested I consider writing novels. That advice stayed with me, although for the longest time I had no idea what to write about.
I was also fortunate enough to encounter Janice Law, another mystery writer, at UConn. From her came the advice to write the kind of novel I most enjoyed reading. It took a while to admit to myself that I enjoyed a good mystery more than anything else.
LP: What is it like to be a historical fiction writer?
NT: Strangely enough, it's a bit like being a detective. Although there's a wealth of information on every detail from women's undergarments to the post when it comes to Britain and America, there isn't quite as much information about Europe. What there is, isn't available in easily labeled packets. So, I have to think of ingenious strategies to find tidbits of information, which I then piece together like a jigsaw puzzle. Let me explain.
When I needed information on funeral practices in Catholic Austria, the closest thing I could find on the subject was Craig Koslofsky's research on how the Reformation had changed rituals of death and dying in early modern Germany. Better than nothing given the geographic proximity of the two regions, and that both were inhabited by Germanic peoples.
Any book on the Reformation and its impact on rites and rituals would necessarily have to detail customs prior to that event, which meant I'd get some insight into Catholic funeral practices. These practices had apparently not only remained largely unchanged after the Reformation, but didn't really differ from one Catholic country to the next.
Even so I wondered if this general assumption was accurate. Would I be missing out on a singularly Austrian detail, if I didn't investigate any further?
I looked at details of Mozart's funeral, but although he had died in Vienna, he was Lutheran. My character was Catholic. Moreover, Mozart had died in 1791, and my story was set in the 1760s. Joseph II had initiated a number of changes, which, although they didn't go down too well, did affect the way Mozart was buried, giving rise to the common misconception that he received a pauper's funeral.
In an effort to limit funeral expenses, Joseph II insisted that coffins only be used to convey the dead to the burial site. The dead were to be buried only in their shrouds so that the coffin could be re-used for the next person who died. Burial was also to take place outside city limits, initially a practice adopted by Lutherans.
Then, I remembered that Vivaldi had died in Vienna. There was likely not only to be a record of the details of his death, but it would likely have been translated into English. Musicologists until quite recently believed that Haydn had sung at the older composer's funeral, a belief that would have fueled research.
|National Library in Vienna ... (awesome)|
I wrote to the National Library in Vienna—a vast collection of documents and works originally owned by the Habsburgs—and received a very detailed account of Vivaldi's last days: his death in an apartment near the Carinthian Gate, the examination of the body by a medical examiner, a list of funeral expenses. No song was sung, although a fee of six gulden would have purchased an a capella rendition of Der Grimmige Tod.
A time-consuming, frustrating process at times, but always fun, in my opinion!
LP: It’s fascinating that you’ve taken Franz Joseph Haydn, an 18th century Classical composer, and imbued him with kind of a modern-day humanity that history books cannot. As a composer yourself, you have something in common, but why did you choose Haydn and what kind of feedback do you get from fans of the great musician?
NT: I knew I was going to write a mystery. I also knew it would be a historical mystery centering around a composer. My love of music, biography, and history determined those facts. But I needed someone with the right temperament.
Nosy sleuths who forcibly insert themselves into an investigation can be fun in a contemporary cozy, but don't work for a historical mystery. Take Anne Perry's Thomas Pitt, for instance. How far do you suppose he'd go, and how many cases would he solve, if he was known to have a propensity to gossip and meddle?
Precisely. Haydn's discretion and his affable nature make him the perfect protagonist. But the more I read about him, the more he captivates my heart. His eager desire to help anyone in need earned him the affectionate nickname of Papa Haydn. He remained unassuming to the end, never taking umbrage at being mistaken for a servant; taking pleasure in the mere fact of anyone, amateur or professional, performing and enjoying his music.
So, Haydn has become not just a muse for the mysteries I write about him, but a moral beacon guiding my life. Many people have achieved success. Not many, though, retain a sense of their roots in the way Haydn did.
LP: What are you most proud of over your writing career?
NT: I never thought I'd be able to write a novel. That I've been able to write two while having three young children to take care of—my oldest will be five, and my youngest is about 18 months—makes me quite proud. In addition to the two Haydn novels, I've written a few short stories, been a regular contributor for the SinC Guppy newsletter First Draft, I maintain a monthly blog and send out a newsletter, and I've written some music. That's a lot of writing for a woman as hard pressed for time as I am.
Apart from my writing, I'm most proud of my three beautiful children. My husband and I congratulate ourselves on this wonderful accomplishment nearly every day!
LP: Lessons you wish you knew before starting on your quest for a career in writing?
NT: You know, I'm actually glad I knew nothing about the publishing world when I started out. I never would have embarked on this journey if I had. Just as I would never have had children if I'd known how tough it is to be a parent.
But I can't imagine life without my children, and I can't imagine not being a writer.
There are some hard truths you have to accept when you become a writer—that it's a business and you need to market and promote your books in addition to writing them. I accept this part of it just as I accept my children's temper tantrums and frequent bouts of ill-health. No matter what the trials and tribulations, some dreams are still worth having.
LP: What would you tell you 20-year-old self?
NT: Experience is a far better teacher than I could ever be, so I don't think I'd say much more than: "Follow your heart." That's a variation of Sir Philip Sidney's injunction to "look in thy heart and write." There's a deep, inner wisdom within each of us. When we learn to look within, we can use it as a compass for every endeavor.
LP: Tell us about an important mentor in your life.
NT: That's a tough question. I've received nuggets of wisdom from so many people: my parents and teachers, from books, from my husband, and now from my children. What can my children have taught me? Well, to let go and trust in their innate wisdom, for one thing. To hold onto my inner joy, for another.
One time I put my daughter in timeout. There were toys strewn all over the floor, and she hadn't picked them up despite repeated requests to do so. When I went into her room to check on her a few minutes after I'd put her in there, I found her, much to my surprise, playing with some odds and ends and singing to herself.
I was secretly impressed that she hadn't allowed the circumstance of being in timeout dampen her natural good spirits. "Good for you," I remember thinking. "Never let anyone steal your joy from you."
There's so much about life that we can't control. But I learn every day that we can control our attitude.
LP: What is the best writing advice you ever received?
NT: The best writing advice comes oddly enough from a songwriter, Pat Pattison: There are no rules; only tools. That's compelled me to look deeper into writing rules, and consider their purpose, instead of following them blindly.
There's nothing inherently wrong with adjectives or adverbs, for example, even those pesky ones that end in "ly." When it comes to describing tone of voice, for instance, adjectives and adverbs—depending on how you've phrased the sentence—are your best tools. How else do you describe the gentleness or softness or harshness of someone's tone?
But when it comes to emotional states, we use a variety of verbal and nonverbal cues to interpret, or misinterpret, a person's state of mind. In most cases, it helps to provide the reader with those cues rather than your character's perceptual interpretation of them. In the case of your character's own state of mind, you might want to consider the unbidden thoughts and feelings, the visceral state of being, that a situation can call up.
I can tell you that my daughter is delighted to see her Dad when he picks her up from school, for example,
I can describe how her eyes light up when she catches sight of his truck pulling into the lot; how she immediately rushes up to the fence around the schoolyard, and, holding onto the bars, jumps excitedly up and down while yelling, "Daddy! Daddy!" at the top of her voice. How she turns to her friends and teachers to announce that her "Daddy is here, Miss Jen! Look, it's my Daddy, Caitlin!"
LP: What are you most excited about for the next 10 years of your career?
NT: I've never looked that far ahead in time. I try to live in the present, taking it one day at a time. I would never have guessed at some of the things life has already brought me. So, I'm eager to see what it has in store for me next.
I'll be visiting San Diego for a bookstore event in a few months. This will be my second trip to the city. But eight years ago when I was there to present my research at one of the biggest Communication conferences in the country, I had no idea I'd be back with a mystery novel, of all things. That it would be about a composer, that I would have begun composing, were not only things I couldn't have predicted, they were things I hadn't even dreamed of.
LP: What’s on the horizon for you?
NT: The second Haydn novel, Aria to Death, has already been written. I'm researching the third, Prussian Counterpoint, and writing short stories about a librarian named Elsa Cronin, who seems to have a propensity for danger. The first story about her was the lead story in the December 15 issue (Vol. 4, No. 11) of Heater Magazine.
LP: Tell us about your latest book . . . where you got the idea, how long it took from concept to publication, and how you came up with the title.(The title is usually a real challenge for me.)
NT: Titles aren't exactly my forte, either. I knew I wanted a play on musical terminology, and because the minor mode is frequently used to convey negative emotions, I decided we needed that word in the title. A violinist disappears, so my first idea was: A Minor Problem for Strings.
But I wasn't entirely pleased with it. I briefly considered A Minor Study in Murder, a play on the French "étude," usually an exercise in some aspect of technique. But Haydn is confronted with something far worse, so that didn't really fit.
Bartó, the violinist who disappears, isn't just a violinist. Haydn learns that he's a dangerous man, harboring a deadly secret. His actions, unless Haydn can stop him, could jeopardize the entire Empire. As I continued to think about it, I realized deception was the key theme of the novel. It occurs on a number of different levels as well. So, I hit upon, A Minor Deception. The perfect title!
Thanks for inviting me to Lyrical Pens, Marilyn. I've really enjoyed answering your questions.
A Minor Deception is available in Print and Ebook Format at:
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Nupur+Tustin?_requestid=744712
A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works. Learn more about this fascinating author at
Haydn Mysteries: http://ntustin.com
cj Sez: Thanks so much for stopping by, Nupur, and giving us some insights into your writing process. Your "showing not telling" example with your daughter's reaction was spot on. Best wishes for great success with A Minor Deception and all of Haydn's future adventures.
Lyrical Pens visitors, be sure to leave a comment . . . we authors need to know there are readers out there.
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Thanks so much for inviting me to Lyrical Pens, Marilyn! I enjoyed chatting with you.ReplyDelete
A very entertaining and informative interview. I especially liked the concrete examples Nupur gave the readers. Nicely done, both of you.ReplyDelete
Thanks for visiting, Jude. Glad you liked the examples.Delete
I'm glad the examples worked for you, Jude! Thanks for visiting.Delete
Interesting article. Loved the bit about research - it can be trying, but also so rewarding! (also the bit comparing being a writer to being a parent - sooooo true!)ReplyDelete
Thanks, Lori! I'm glad those analogies resonated with you.Delete
WOW! Amazing interview, Nupur!! You have such a rich background for your subject, and you did so much digging for material. Love the photo of the National Library in Vienna. At first glance I thought it was a cathedral. :-)ReplyDelete
Thanks, Kate! So glad you enjoyed it. Yes, Marilyn found that lovely photo. It is really gorgeous, isn't it?Delete
Nice and informative interview. Your choice of Papa Haydn as protagonist is an interesting choice. Adding the book to my already towering TBR stack.ReplyDelete
Thanks! When you do read it, I'd love to know what you thought of it.Delete
For some reason, my reply to Lori isn't going through. I just wanted to say: thanks for visiting and I'm glad the analogies worked for you.ReplyDelete