I worked backstage on Broadway for years as a dresser. There’s a peculiar type of intensity intrisic in the relationships backstage, even when they’re not romantic or sexual. You spend nights, weekends, holidays with these people in a state of high adrenalin. When a show closes, you even miss the people you didn’t like! And the stakes are different on Bradway than they are off-Broadway, off-off Broadway, in a regional theatre or a straw hat theatre, or a dinner or a community theatre. Each type of theatre has a unique atmosphere – and believe me, I’ve worked all of ’em! So often, backstage is portrayed in very cliched, bitchy, petty terms. We all have bitchy, petty days backstage, but without rising above it to find a manageable working rhythm, you can’t sustain a successful long-running show. People outside the business are always fascinated by my backstage stories, so I thought, why not use it to frame the piece? Besides, Broadway theatres, the old ones, all have ghost stories attached.
So the ghost stories are true?
The theatre in the book is an amalgam of several of the theatres in which I’ve worked, all of which have a deep history,and are known for their ghosts. The stories in the book were inspired by some of the ones I’ve heard over the years, in different theatres, that particularly resonated with me. I changed the details to suppot the story and gave this fictional theatre its own ficational haunted history.
What is it about theatres and ghost stories?
You’ve got a group of highly creative, energetic people in a closed, charged atmosphere filled with history. You’ve got energy and high adrenalin going for every performance. However you look at the phenomenon known as “ghosts” – whether a ghost is a spirit who hasn’t moved on or residual energy left by someone who’s been there before, or energy created in the time and space that draws like energy to it, you have a highly charged, suggestive environment. Almost everyone who’s worked in one of the theatres has experiences that can’t be explained by normal means, whether they talk about it or not. And every old theatre has its special ghostly history. No one gets too upset about it. it’s just part of working in theatre.
Do the Secret Service actually come backstage?
How did you research the book?
A lot of the backstage stuff is inspired by my experiences over the years, although no situation and no character is directly lifted. When you do your job as a writer, the characters evolve to be very distinct individuals and have very little to do with the original inspirations. I created the outline for a big musical to encompass what I wanted to happen both on and off stage and by the end of it, I wished I knew how to write musicals, because it was a fun premise! As far as the Secret Service aspect, whenever I dealt with agents backstage, I talked to them as much as they could talk and asked questions. Some of it, in the moment, was so we could work together smoothly. Some of it was because I’m a writer and everything’s material.
Why did you wait until the revision to research?
Do I dare admit it? The very first incarnation of this piece was my second year of Nano, National Novel Writing Month. Nano puts editors and publishers into despair from December until March every year because people dash off a novel, run it through spell check, and then submit. I kept revising this book for FIVE YEARS until it was in a shape I felt was submission worthy. I wrote the entire first draft during Nano but over the coming years I tore it apart and there’s very little left from the original except the premise. What I like about Nano is that it’s a playground and I can push myself out of my comfort zone. I might not have attempted romantic suspense if I hadn’t been dared to by a Nano pal!
Do you write every day?
Since this is how I make my living, absolutely! I do my first 1K of the day – well, usually, it’s about 1500 words/day – first thing in the morning, after yoga and feeding the cats, before anything else. After breakfast, I blog, and then I work on whatever’s on deadline, market, etc. But no matter what goes haywire during the day, I always have that initial 1K. And those words start adding up pretty fast. The longer you don’t write, the harder it is to get back into the rhythm of it, so writing every day is important. When you don’t write, plan not writing. It cuts down on the frustration levels.
You publish under different names. Why?
Different names for different genres. It’s loosening up in the last few years, but there are times when people in the business can’t seem to fathom that one can write well in more than one genre even though readers will follow an author from genre to genre. I like to write about whatever captures my interest, therefore I do! Also each pseudonym has a slightly different tone. Another reason is that I like to keep my life MINE.
What’s next on your agenda?
I’m working on The Spirit Repository, the next Annabel Aidan novel. It features Bonnie, who’s a peripheral character in Assumption, and her interactions with ghosts from the days when New York was New Amsterdam. Among the research materials I used for inspiration were Washington Irving’s diaries..and if course there’s plenty going on under the other names, so you’ll just have to visit the blog, Ink in my Coffee to keep up!
We need to be willing to let our intuition guide us, and then be willing to folow that guidance directly and fearlessly. Shakti Gawain