That time I went to the orchestra and an evil magician showed up
It was a Friday night almost two years ago. I was at the orchestra with my friend Rose, because that's what all the Really Cool People do on Friday nights, and I have always aspired to be a Really Cool Person. Rose and I went to the orchestra almost every weekend that season, reveling in the cheap tickets offered by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's New Generation Initiative, which meant we could actually afford to go to an orchestra concert and still buy groceries for the week. By that time, we had become total SPCO groupies, obsessing over our favorite musicians and learning not to burst out laughing during the avant-garde pieces. Our favorite guest conductor was a Russian violinist with an unpronounceable last name who performed barefoot. I didn't think anyone could be stranger than her. Until this night...
The orchestra took their places. The audience hushed as they tuned. The lights dimmed, and applause swelled as a youngish blonde man swaggered onstage, carrying a violin. Swagger isn't the right word. A kind of loose, purposeful swaying forward. The swaying was enhanced by his jacket, which was not really a jacket but a long, baggy, hooded cardigan that probably cost thousands of dollars and looked like something a Jedi would wear to a cocktail party. He also wore some kind of designer combat boots and wielded his violin bow like a light saber, completing the Jedi effect. Rose and I looked at each other, fascinated. But the real fascination came when Pekka Kuusisto began to play. It was magical.
Halfway through the concert, a thought burst into my mind: what if there was a fantasy world where all the magic was based on music? Conductor's batons would be used as magic wands. There would be little magical creatures with heads shaped like different instruments. The guest conductor would be an evil magician in disguise... not Pekka, of course (though I did imagine him blonde), but a conglomeration of all the fascinating, mysterious, slightly strange conductors I had seen throughout my life.
After that night, every time I went to the orchestra, new ideas for my portal fantasy would pop into my head. The story would start at an orchestra concert. The main character would be a 12-year-old girl whose dad was in the orchestra and who wanted to be a composer when she grew up. The inspiration for my heroine came from another violinist who was also a composer and had started composing as a child: Jessie Montgomery. As I sat at the concerts, I put myself in the place of my determined heroine and watched it all through her eyes.
One night, a mom sat behind me with her two children, a boy and a girl. The boy was about eight and the girl was about ten. The boy squirmed and fidgeted through the whole first half of the concert while the girl sat up in her chair, enraptured. At intermission, the boy turned to his mom and begged, "Can we pleeease go now? I'm so bored." The mom sighed and glanced at the girl, who looked up with a sad but understanding expression and pleaded softly, "I want to hear the Mendelssohn." I don't think they stayed for the second half. But from that little boy came the inspiration for another character, a boy slightly younger than my heroine, who ends up sitting next to her at the concert where all the adventure begins. Unlike my heroine, this boy doesn't find anything magical about the orchestra, until he ends up accompanying her to Symphonia...
Almost two years later, I have a completed manuscript of Through the Silent Door. I've fallen more in love with it every step of the way. I'm currently seeking representation for my middle grade portal fantasy. I can't wait to take it that next step... into the hands of young readers.