Helaine Mario is the author of the new novel Shadow Music, the third in her series featuring pianist Maggie O'Shea that began with The Lost Concerto. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, and Cape May, New Jersey.
Q: This is your third novel featuring concert pianist Maggie O'Shea. Did you know from the start that you'd be writing a series about her?
A: Hi Deborah, thank you so much for your interest in my books. I never ever thought I would publish one book, let alone four, so writing has been one of the great and unpredictable surprises of my life.
I wrote The Lost Concerto, the first book in my classical music suspense series featuring pianist Maggie O’Shea, more than a decade ago. After many rejections of that first manuscript, I parted ways with my agent and locked Maggie in a drawer for almost a year.
But deep down, I loved the characters, and knew the story had good bones and deserved to be told. So I finally unlocked that drawer, edited brutally, then added new characters and plots. I deepened my characters, added a rescue golden retriever, and the publishers loved it.
By the time I signed my first book contract, I was 68 and thought, well, that’s it. But readers loved Maggie, and wanted to know what happened next. I realized I wanted to know, too. So Dark Rhapsody was born. Then Shadow Music needed to be written, because Maggie’s story was still not done.
At the heart of all my books is the healing and transformative power of music. I am doing what I love, and writing the books I want to read.
Q: How do you think Maggie has changed from the first book through the third?
A: Honestly, I think I changed as a writer because Maggie needed to change and grow. I was terrified to write the second book because I had poured my heart and soul into the first story and was afraid I would disappoint my readers if my second try was not as good.
But my publisher gave me the best advice. She said readers want to reconnect with the familiar character they have come to love, but also that character needs to be challenged, to change and grow.
In the first book, The Lost Concerto, Maggie is grieving the tragic loss of her husband, and her passion for music has been crushed. So when we meet Maggie, she is trying to find a way to face loss and grief with dignity and grace – trying to find the courage to move on, and find what has been lost within herself.
In Dark Rhapsody, Maggie is finally ready to move on and return to the world of music. But as she prepares for her performance at Carnegie Hall, she is drawn into the mystery of her past. Once again she must find the courage to protect family, friends, and the colonel she has come to love.
As Shadow Music opens, Maggie has begun to resolve her past and embrace a new love – but a life-changing decision will threaten all she holds dear.
Rachmaninoff’s Concerto, with its emotional beginning, middle and end, mirrors Maggie’s journey over the course of the books. As Maggie’s father says, “Music tells our stories.”
Q: What inspired the plot of Shadow Music, and did you need to do any research to write the book?
A: My son Sean inspired the initial character of Maggie O’Shea when he asked to learn piano and we went from a “no piano home” to a “grand piano home” in a few years. Listening to him practice, I fell in love with the music.
More specifically, Shadow Music was inspired by three moments – a realization at the end of Dark Rhapsody that Maggie was going to face a life-altering decision in her future; an article I read about a priceless, looted Van Gogh during WWII; and my experience on a hospital board, learning about issues faced by foster children.
I do a great deal of research for each of my books. Plot is not my strong suit (character is!), but the gift of research is that one article on art or music can lead to articles on missing art and music, opening up many new paths for plot and story.
For Shadow Music, not only did I research looted art and Van Gogh, but I was swept up into the history of Paris during WWII as well. (By the way, most writers only use 10-20 percent of their research. Otherwise you risk sounding like a college text, not a novel.)
Just one more thing to add – the foster teen story in Shadow Music inspired one of my all-time favorite characters, Dov, whose story shined a light on two other favorite characters who deserved their own story, the colonel and his rescue Golden.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am halfway through writing my fourth Maggie O’Shea novel, Echoes on the Wind. This time around I am challenging myself as well as Maggie, as I am exploring a dual timeline, which means shifting back and forth with new characters and time periods as Maggie falls into her French grandmother’s past, both as a musician and as a woman facing heart-breaking choices.
This time it is Chopin’s emotional music that will tell Maggie’s grandmother’s story.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes! Thank you for asking. All my royalties go to charities that support children’s music, reading, art, education, and nutrition programs. It’s a win-win. You can find out more about my charities and books on my website – helainemario.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb