Interview with James Markert, author of A White Wind Blew

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publish Date: February 26, 2013

Order From:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Dr. Wolfgang Pike would love nothing more than to finish the requiem he’s composing for his late wife, but the ending seems as hopeless as the patients dying a hundred yards away at the Waverly Hills tuberculosis sanatorium. If he can’t ease his own pain with music, Wolfgang tries to ease theirs—the harmonica soothes and the violin relaxes. But his boss thinks music is a waste, and in 1920s Louisville, the specter of racial tension looms over everything.

When a former concert pianist checks in, Wolfgang begins to believe that music can change the fortunes of those on the hill. Soon Wolfgang finds himself in the center of an orchestra that won’t give up, forced to make a choice that will alter his life forever.

Set against a fascinatingly real historical backdrop, A White Wind Blew raises compelling questions about faith and confession, music and medicine, and the resilience of love.

Author Interview: Q. Please tell us about your current release.

A White Wind Blew is a moving story about the power of music.  It takes place in the late 1920s at Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium, where most of the patients rest on the solarium porches to breathe in the fresh air, even during the snowy winters.  The death rate is so high that they’ve begun to send the bodies down the supply tunnel to the railroad tracks below—if the patients saw the hearses coming and going all day it would hurt morale.  So the tunnel turned into the body chute and eventually the death tunnel.  Tuberculosis had no cure, so Dr. Wolfgang Pike turned to music to help heal their souls.  A choir and orchestra are formed, and pretty soon healing music soars over the wooded hillside.  It’s a story about music and love.  And as William Shakespeare once said: “If music be the food of love; play on!”

My editor described the story beautifully: “Sometimes medicine is no match for the body. Sometimes faith can test our limits.  But sometimes, something within us knows how to pull out a measure of hope.  In an era of smooth jazz and devious disease, when cures are scarce and racial tensions run rampant, how do you cope with the devastating blows of faith?  I found Dr. Wolfgang Pike at his piano.  Music is his refuge, his way of dealing with the haunting memory of his late wife.  But he can’t compose the requiem he wants—the notes clash and the ending is wrong.  It’s as troubling as the fact that nearly one body per hour leaves the sanatorium in a coffin, and Wolfgang can’t save them, as a doctor or a priest.  It’s the story of a man who feels in his bones that music might be an elixir, that it can heal the broken patients and mend his own tattered heart.”

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your book?

Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium is considered one of the most haunted buildings in the world and it has been featured on The Sci-Fy Channel, Fox, and The Travel Channel.  I grew up only a few miles from Waverly and always wanted to go there—I’d heard it was a haunted insane asylum.  The building on Facebook has over 120 thousand fans.  I’ve gotten emails from Waverly fans in France, Germany, and Australia.  I finally took a tour of Waverly with the idea in mind to write a scary book set there, but on my visit I was so amazed at the size of the building, the beauty of the architecture, and the history of the disease that I knew Waverly deserved more than just something scary.  It was built high upon a secluded, wooded hillside.  I looked out over the trees and stared down the fourth floor solarium porch and thought, “What if it is haunted?  What if I am surrounded by ghosts?  What is their story?”  Tuberculosis had no cure back then, and legend said that at the height of the epidemic one body per hour was being taken away down the body chute (now referred to as the death tunnel).  Standing on the windswept solarium porch, I imagined the sound of a violin playing, and then a piano and choir, and the story was born.  Perhaps they had no medical cure, but Wolfgang Pike would attempt to heal through music.

Q. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?

It was a long journey, for sure, but worth every minute.  The day I got back from the Waverly tour I started researching.  I did a lot of initial research on the early 1900s, tuberculosis, and music.  I love music but I don’t have a musical bone in my body, so that in itself was a journey, especially with it being classical music.  The idea for the story came to me quickly, so I wrote the screenplay first.  It took me about 2 months to do that, and then I used that as an outline for the novel.  I’ve never done this before, using a screenplay as an outline, and I doubt I’ll do it again because I don’t like to work from outlines.  But in this case it worked well.  And then I spent the next two years rewriting and tweaking the manuscript so it would be ready to send out and be rejected.  But what writer hasn’t been rejected, right?  It builds character; at least with me it did.  Suggestions from various rejections only allowed me to make it better.  I’m not saying I enjoyed the rejections, they’re annoying, but they were certainly part of the journey.  But this is only a portion of my overall journey.  A White Wind Blew is my fifth novel and still my debut!  The other four are festering in my closet…

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about the book?

I laughed out loud when I read this question because with this book I actually did get a chance to change the story, and I took that chance and ran with it.  This story was initially published with a small local press and it was titled The Requiem Rose.  It sold really well in only a handful of stores, reached number 1 on the Courier Journal Best Seller list, and ended up winning an IPPY Award.  From there I signed with Writers House in New York and they sold it to Sourcebooks, Landmark a few months later.  And now it’s being published in North America as A White Wind Blew.  But during those months before it was sold, I did a rewrite with my agent Dan Lazar, and we did change a few pretty important things.  I’m so glad that I made the changes!  And that I was fortunate enough to have the chance to do so.  Don’t wanna say what they are for spoiler reasons.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Probably the hardest part was piecing together all of the history and making it as accurate as possible.  There are plenty of books on tuberculosis but no books on Waverly Hills.  As popular as Waverly is as a haunted building, I still had to really imagine what it was like back then. Visiting Waverly and taking a tour really helped.  Talking to a survivor from the late 1930s/early 1940s was a huge benefit as well.

Q. Do you have a musical playlist you listen to when writing? If so, what kind of music?

I don’t have a playlist but ALWAYS listen to music of some kind.  Lately it’s been the radio.  Rock stations and pop/rock stations.  Usually though I’ll listen to CD’s like REM, Cold Play, The Killers, U2, Pearl Jam, Mumford & Sons, Dave Matthews Band, Muse, and some Mozart when I was writing A White Wind Blew.

Q. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Not sure if this is a quirk or not, but with just about every manuscript I’ve written I have started over at some point near the middle.  Storylines often venture off in a different direction from where I’d imagined when I started and for me at least it’s always easier to start completely over instead of continuing on when I know the beginning will end up different anyway.  I also retype all of my second drafts.  I think sentences can always be improved, and when I don’t retype something I end up not changing things that could and should be improved.

Q. Do you plan any subsequent books?

I always have my next book idea in mind, even if it’s just a concept or premise.  Some of the ideas are more fleshed out than others.  The book I’m writing now has been percolating for a few years, and it’s actually the second book I’ve written since finishing A White Wind Blew.  It’ll be my next release because it’s similar in tone to A White Wind Blew.  The other manuscript is also historical, but it’s the first of a long series and I may wait until book three or four on that one.

Q. Please tell us your latest news.

Along with having my debut novel released on February 26th, I have a movie being released in the summer.  It’s a tennis romantic comedy called 2nd Serve, and it stars Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

First and foremost, thank you for reading the book.  Thank you for reading this interview.  If you haven’t read A White Wind Blew yet I hope this may encourage you to take that plunge.  And if you have read it, and enjoyed it, please spread the word.  I’ve wanted to be a novelist since my freshman year of college (the first draft of my first manuscript was terrible), and I’ve been working on my craft ever since (I’ve gotten much better, I promise).  For 15 years I’ve been pecking at the keyboard (I’m the fastest two-finger typist around) trying to find my place, and what has kept me going is my love of writing and the eagerness to share my stories with others.  Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

1 comment:

  1. Very great interview. Authors are really amazing because of the wonderful insights they always have in mind.


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