Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I’ve always admired writers of historical fiction. To be able to place one’s imagination in the ambience of another decade, or another century, another country, even, where one may or may not have visited – is a skill I never conceived of possessing.

WAM: Quite frankly, my dear, I do not find that to be an unusual talent. I composed my Turkish “Janissary” music, never having traveled to Turkey, and never having met a Janissary, either.

MM:  Yes, Amadé, but in truth, it was your conception of Janissary music, not necessarily an actual reproduction of the form.

WAM: Still, I believe I did a most excellent job of it, did I not? My Turkish Rondo most certainly captures the flavor of that musical style – even though I never encountered personally the invading forces of the Ottoman Sultan.

MM: I might just interject here that the Janissaries were not only bodyguards of the Sultan, but also players of fearsome brass instruments that were intended to scare off the enemy before the Turkish troops actually reached their lines.

But getting back to truth in writing, particularly historical fiction, I’ve come to believe that truth (or fact) is not so important as atmosphere and ambience. Which is basically what my friend, Mr. Mozart is implying.

WAM: Yes, but I must also point out that I took offense at the film, “Amadeus.” Certainly it was entertaining, and brought my life and my work to the attention of millions who might never have played one of my sonatas on the fortepiano, but it bore no relationship to the truth. Salieri poisoned mois? Ridiculous. Salieri and I were friends and often attended the opera together. Why, he even conducted my music! The only transgression he committed against me was to recommend to the Emperor that he need not pay me the same salary he paid my predecessor, Christoph Willibald Gluck.

MM: Well, here’s the point I’m trying to make. I’ve screwed up my courage and I’m writing an historical novel, after years of feeling intimidated by the form.

WAM: Brava, my dear!

MM: Thank you. Yes, my new work, an historical murder mystery, takes place in Vienna in the 18th Century –

 WAM: Eighteenth Century Vienna, you say! Am I perchance involved in this work?

MM: Most certainly Amadé. You are the protagonist. I have a clear storyline, which is total fiction, but I want the surrounding facts to ring true.  So as I write, I’ve also been doing my homework, researching daily life in your Vienna, and of course, studying your life, (which I’ve been doing for many years now).

Google has been a tremendous help in my research. But I’m thinking that perhaps I should walk the streets you walked, visit the venues where your music was performed, soak up the atmosphere of your adopted city…

WAM:  (CLAPPING HANDS)  Are we traveling to Vienna?

MM: Yes, my dear Mozart, we are traveling to Vienna!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Art (or Not) of Competition

Mozart and I have been discussing the competition that Emperor Joseph II arranged between Muzio Clementi and himself on Christmas Eve, 1781, and it’s started me thinking about the value (or not) of competition.

WAM: That evening will live on forever in my memory. How good it felt to put that imposter in his place.

MM:  Imposter?  Clementi was an accomplished pianist and composer, as were…er, ARE…you.

WAM: Yes, he enjoyed that reputation, my dear, and he certainly did have some technical proficiency, particularly in his right hand, but his lack of sensitivity – I believe your generation would call it “soul” – was evident.  His playing was fiery, but mechanical.  And that is why the Emperor proclaimed me the winner and awarded me 50 ducats.

MM:  So I take it that you consider competition to be healthy.

WAM:  In my case, Madame, there was no competition. I was simply the best.

MM:  Okay, Amadé, I’m not going to argue that point. But I’m referring today to competition in writing.  Specifically in fiction. I recently returned from Malice Domestic, a conference of mystery writers and their fans.

WAM: I was there, remember? I thought the chicken at the banquet was a bit rubbery.

MM:  The banquet, yes, where they presented the Agatha Awards in categories like Best First Mystery, Best Mystery Novel of the year, Best Nonfiction Mystery, etc.

I was catching up on my reading over the weekend, and managed to consume several books. I have a favorite, one I could not put down until I’d finished it—

WAM: Care to share the title?

MM: Not just now, I’m thinking of writing a review of it in a future blog. My point here is, though, that what I couldn’t put down, someone else might not have been able to finish.  She might not have been as engaged in the story as I was. Reading is so personal.

WAM: As is music.  But, of course, everyone loves mine!

MM: Yes, but the point I’m trying to get to here is, that trying to compete with a fellow writer is futile. The writer’s voice is personal. And if a writer strives to compete with another, she might just alter her voice, and thus do her own work a disservice.

My late, brilliant husband used to say, “Don’t compete with anyone else.  Compete with yourself.”  I think Alan was right.

WAM:  Ergo, strive to make the next work outshine the last one. Yes, Madame, that was always the driving force behind my own compositions.  After all, who could compete with me but Mois?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Music and Words

WAM:  Madame Moreno, you promised me we would spend more time together.

MM:  I know.  I did.  And I’m sorry.  But I’m just way too busy today.

WAM:  Every Wednesday, you said.  From here on in, we would attend to our blogging every Wednesday.

MM:  I said that, yes, Amadé.  And I meant it at the time.  But that was last week, before I knew I had a final exam in music theory due tomorrow.

WAM:  Music theory, you say?  Now who could be more helpful to you than mois?  Who could enlighten you more?

MM:  Please don’t think me unkind Herr Mozart, but I’m afraid post-tonal music theory is beyond anything you’ve experienced.

WAM:  (SNORTS LOUDLY)  Madame?  To whom do you think you are speaking?

MM:  The musical genius of the 18th Century, of course.

WAM:  Musical genius of all time, my dear.  Excepting, of course, dear Mr. Bach.

MM:  Yes, Amadé, but there are those who have followed you and developed new techniques in the art of writing music. Berg.  Schoenberg.  Messaien. And too many more to mention here.

WAM:  Music is music, my dear.  Now allow me to help you with your examination questions.

MM:  Okay.  What is combinatoriality?

WAM:  Excuse me?

MM: Define invariant sectors.

WAM:  I beg your pardon.

MM:  Help me construct a 12-tone matrix.

WAM:  Are you making fun of me?

MM:  No, Amadé.  I’m just trying to illustrate how much 21st Century music differs from the music of the classical period.

WAM:  Evolved?  Indeed!  Are you saying it is superior to my music?

MM:  Of course not. But music reflects life the way it is today.  Contemporary composers don’t want to write like you, or Mr. Bach.  They can’t.  Their work would be poor imitations.  So they strive to create something completely different.

Come to think of it, it’s pretty much the same with writing fiction. Contemporary authors don’t try to imitate Jane Austen, or Agatha Christie, or Hemmingway.  We strive to write with original voices.

WAM:  Voices, yes.  Now that is something I can understand thoroughly.  When I composed my arias, I always took into consideration the unique properties of the voice of my soprano…

MM:  I don’t have time for this right now, Amadé, I really don’t.  I need to get back to my exam.


MM:  Please don’t be like that.  I promise we’ll get together next week and we’ll write something together.  Perhaps a new murder mystery.  Perhaps one that takes place in 18th C. Vienna.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart here, reporting in after an extended absence. Mme. Moreno and I have recently returned home from a delightful weekend in the company of people who commit murder for a living.

MM:  You may wish to clarify that, Amadé, lest readers get the wrong impression.

WAM:  From what I could gather, between visits to the lobby bar, my dear, Malice Domestic is an annual gathering of writers dedicated to partying and creating general mayhem, am I not correct?

MM:  Maybe I'd better take over from here.

WAM:  Please!  Must you always interrupt me?  You are not the only writer in the room, Madame!

MM:  True, but I'm the writer who purchased this computer, so I'll interrupt as I see fit, especially when I catch you straying from the truth, Amadé.  Malice Domestic is an annual event that celebrates the traditional mystery,  and it brings together both the authors and their fans.

WAM:  Now, fans are something I understand, although in my day we referred to them as audiences. Thousands of people from all over the Continent celebrated my music and attended my concerts and operas.

MM:  They still do today, and their numbers have swelled to millions. I am, perhaps, your biggest fan, Amadé, striving as I am to bring you into the 21st Century with your very own series of murder mysteries.

WAM:  Merci, Madame.  I am looking forward to that event with great anticipation.

MM:  So that's why I decided to attend my first Malice and get a better grasp of how this business works.

On the social side, I got to spend quality brainstorming time with my fabulous agent, Christine Witthohn, and to party with her extraordinary group of writers whom I'd previously met only online - Liz Lipperman, Kari Lee Townsend, Joni Sauer-Folger and Barbie Mahoney.

In a surprising moment of synchronicity, I sat next to a New York neighbor and multi-published author, Elizabeth Zelvin, at Saturday morning's Sisters In Crime breakfast.

I got to meet published authors whose work I've admired for years - Harlan Coben, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny. (Why didn't I think to get my picture taken with them??? Oh, well, maybe next year.)

I attended panels on how to negotiate the rocky road to joining their ranks. And I got to meet editors who may or may not publish our book one day.

WAM:  Brava!

MM:  But best of all, I came home fired up with enthusiasm, full of ideas for new projects, and renewed commitment to daily writing.

WAM:  If you do not mind my asking, what was the most important thing you learned?

MM:  I learned from Harlan Coben that even multi-published, successful authors are terrified of not being able to produce another book.  And that the only way to overcome this fear is to sit down and write!  So that's where I'm headed now.  Back to MS Word to work on the new novel.

WAM:  Mind if I tag along?

MM:  I wouldn't have it any other way!