Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Beethoven in Love; Opus 139 by Howard J. Smith Blog Tour

We're happy to host Howard J. Smith's BEETHOVEN IN LOVE: OPUS 139 Virtual Book Tour today! Please leave a comment to let him know you stopped by!


Author: Howard Jay Smith

Publisher: SYQ

Pages: 385

Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction

At the moment of his death, Ludwig van
Beethoven pleads with
Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of
pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the
great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the
netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to
be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom
the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the
composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of
his past. 
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended
life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own
voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor
the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of
his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and
experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.

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Book Excerpt:

The Death of Beethoven
Vienna, 5:00 pm,
26, 1827
Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the
Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm
muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the
old city.
    Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier…
Funf  Uhr. 
Five O’clock.
    Beethoven, three months
past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights,
his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it
proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles
and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his
breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings
of the heavens throughout his apartment. 
     Muss es sein? Must
it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their
grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at
     Their jagged bolt
of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the
Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer
to consciousness. 
     Beethoven’s eyes
open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if
anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas,
and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing
against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.
     His arm falls back
to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone ...

About the Author

Howard Jay Smith is an
award-winning writer from
, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers
Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’
Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and
photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal
of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and
trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and
Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and
commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara
Symphony - "The Best Small City Symphony in
America" -  and is a member of the American Beethoven

Interview with Howard J Smith
What is your favorite part of this book and why?  

That might seem to be an easy question to answer, but in truth, in regards my journey creating, researching and writing “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” it is not.  The novel both opens and closes at the moment of Beethoven’s death from illness at age 57 on a snowy afternoon in March, 1827.  He pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy.  In order to find that joy Beethoven must confront the many failings and disappointments of his life. In that sense – finding joy in our lives -- the entire novel becomes a universal quest about the ways in which each of us comes to terms with the meaning of our own lives and finds peace.
My initial thought upon coming up with this notion about Beethoven being forced to review the failings of his life by his “Ghost of Christmas Past,” before he could pass on to Elysium or paradise, was to read a single biography, find the empty or white spaces in his life that we did not know much about and then create a totally fictional story. After reading one biography, I quickly grasped that scholars and musicians knew and had preserved a staggering amount of information about Beethoven, so much so that there were few blank spaces to fill in. If I was going to do a novel about such a famous man, I realized that I was going to have to research that life fully and make sure everything I wrote was as accurate as possible.  
My personal dilemma was this: All of my mentors from my early years as a writer, John Irving, Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison and the late John Gardner, all won National Book Awards or some similar accolade.  When I committed myself to doing a Beethoven novel, I knew there were two hurdles I had to overcome in order to be successful. First I would need to thoroughly research everything about his life and times and be exceedingly accurate or risk being shredded by historians and critics in the music world.  Given the enormous amount of material on his life, including dozens of major biographies, six volumes of letters as well as his diaries – not to mention his music - I was initially daunted by the scope and size of what I had taken on.  I decided not to proceed unless the quality of the writing line by line was at a level that those mentors would have approved.
Feeling the weight of their teachings upon me, I committed myself to doing everything necessary to research not only Beethoven’s life, but the life and times of his family, friends, and lovers and of the entire Napoleonic era, no matter how long it took. And then and only then would I write a novel based on that research that could stand up to the weight of any critic or criticism.
I spent nearly two full years researching before writing a single word of fiction. I built a chronological outline that ran over two hundred pages itself. I read all the major biographies; all the volumes of letters to and from Beethoven; I read his diaries and first-hand accounts of his life compiled by his friends. I listened to endless hours of his music. I studied the history of the times, from Voltaire and the French Revolution to the spas of Central Europe and the life of Napoleon – whose ghost plays a central role in the novel.
I read each book at least three times: the first to get a general sense of its content; the second to highlight specific notes (don’t even ask how many yellow highlighters or sticky notes I went through); and the third to transfer key information to my outline. If Beethoven or Napoleon referenced a philosophical text, such as the Bhagavad Gita or the works of Confucius, I would read those as well.
Shaping the novel out of such a full and rich life had little resemblance to my initial notion of finding the blank spaces in his life and creating a fully woven fiction. Instead it was more like chipping away at a giant block of marble to find the essence of his life.
Researching and then writing this novel was a long journey, every moment of which was an absolute pleasure.  I learned ages ago that if you want someone to take the time and effort to read your book and find your work compelling and engaging, you must also be equally passionate about what you create. I absolutely love the entire process of crafting a story, from jotting down ideas and doing research when necessary, to shaping each line, each paragraph, each character, each scene. I want to transport the reader into a vivid and continuous dream that is so powerful, so all-encompassing that the next thing they know is that someone is calling them to dinner. What then is my favorite section?  They all were.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?

I did in fact spend almost five years with Beethoven, so clearly it would be the composer himself that I would choose.  Much of the novel is written in “first person” from Beethoven’s perspective, consequently I spent a lot of time trying to be Beethoven by getting into his head.  I did that by reading all of his letters, listening to thousands of hours of his music, reading his diaries and trying to capture his thoughts, words, phrasings and so forth.  

When I was nearly done with a first polished draft, I began showing it around to my friends in the writing community and to a one, their response was, “Yes, you’re there.”  Since that time, the reviews from critics in the literary world, the music world and more specifically, the world of Beethoven scholars and devotees has been wonderful – and gratifying. In fact my first public reading was for a gathering of Beethoven scholars at the American Beethoven Society’s Thirtieth Anniversary Conference.  There I was, reading a work of fiction to the very people who knew more about Beethoven than anyone, and, thankfully, they loved it.

And if I had the chance to hang out with Beethoven, what would we do for a day?  We would spend it wondering on his favorite walking paths, talking music, talking composition, talking women and in the end, asking who indeed was his “Immortal Beloved.”

If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?

I would have loved to have been the author of “Don Quixote,” to my mind the greatest novel of all time.  To write such a brilliant work, one would have had to have had all of the collective insights into human life and the ability to put that wisdom into a marvelous fictional story as Cervantes did. In fact, the South American writer, Jorge Luis Borges, wrote a short story about a writer who wanted to – from scratch – write the Quixote.  Not another version mind you, but the original, word for word, line for line without copying or memorizing but rather from his own consciousness.  Borges work is clearly surrealistic, but it is driven by that same desire, to be able to be as wise and skillful as Cervantes.

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?  For “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” I dealt with a universe of essentially real characters, real people.  For example, in the course of the novel we meet Beethoven’s friends, his two brothers, his patrons, Napoleon, and of course many of his real life lovers.  To do that again meant scads of research into the lives of those characters.  The only truly fictional characters were three that I added into to complete the narrative and even they were inspired in part but real flesh and blood people.

What made you want to become a writer?  One doesn’t become a writer.  You either are born having the need to express yourself with words or not.   As one of the fictional characters, Johann Gardner, a writer inspired by my mentor, John Gardner, says to the composer in the course of Beethoven in Love; Opus 139, “What is a novel, but a collection of lies we tell to reveal greater truths.” 

Whether we are conscious of it or not when writing, (and hopefully one is always conscious) a book, a story, an article is always about something, it always presents a world view, an attitude, a philosophy of life.  In simple terms, you want the reader to finish your book, and feel as if they have not only been thoroughly entertained but that they have also learned something about life and the way of the world.  If a character does something, it has its roots in their behavior and thoughts and there are consequences that occur because of those attitudes and actions – and this is what I would not only want my readers to reflect upon when they finish but to also consider how those situations, behaviors, and ideas might impact their own lives.

No one does this, the writing and the research behind it, unless they are driven to tell stories.  Of all the working writers I have known, it is that instinct, that mandatory need to tell stories that drives them. You don’t acquire that drive, it is simply part of one’s very nature.




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