Diane Michaels is a professional harpist living in New Jersey. Her career has taken her from Carnegie Hall to the wedding hall (she has played at least 1000 weddings). Her articles on establishing and sustaining a career as a musician have appeared in Harp Column and Allegro. When not performing or writing, she and her husband make up songs about and for their miniature poodle, Lola.
1. What was the inspiration for your latest novel?
My newest novel, “Ellen at Sea,” follows Ellen aboard a cruise ship where she will work as a harpist. I’ve borrowed a little of my own biography for this novel, having performed as a harpist on both the QE2 and the Seven Seas Navigator. Cruising is awesome, as is working aboard a cruise ship. I hope my readers enjoy taking a vicarious cruise!
2. When did you take up writing?
I always dove into my creative writing assignments back in elementary school. When I was seven or eight, I wrote a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” as a Thanksgiving present for the relative who was hosting our family dinner. It was so fun to write, and I loved sharing it with my relatives.
3. How important is setting/place in your writing?
Whether a novel is set in an exotic locale or someplace more familiar, I want to bring the reader into the world I’m creating. Plot may drive a novel, but as a reader, I love taking my time to savor the words authors choose to set a scene.
4. Do you have a favourite character (s) in your current novel?
Hmm… One character I found especially fun to write was Sheldon, an older gentleman and pianist who torments Ellen with his unsolicited though immensely valuable advice.
5. What’s the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Best may be too hard to pin down. “Just write,” for starters. My ninth grade English teacher taught us there is nothing new under the sun. When I grow frustrated that I can’t prove her wrong when I’m looking for ideas for a novel, I turn to this quote by the composer, Igor Stravinsky: “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.” This is why my first books are about a harpist: I’m stealing from myself. Write what you know, they say!
6. Do you have a schedule for writing?
I prefer to write in the middle of the day. I often get a lot of ideas — or work through ideas — while I’m at the gym after breakfast. I take a few months off from writing during the year as I’ve found writing and practicing the harp sap the same sources of inspiration and energy. If I have a lot of concerts to prepare for, I’ll shift into an editing or marketing phase.
7. Are you a plotter or someone who tends to wing it?
I am a plantser – a hybrid between plotter and pantser.
8. Can you name three of four of your current favourite books or recent reads?
I’ve had a lot of fun reading Kate O’Keeffe’s Cozy Cottage Café series. I enjoyed David Sedaris’ “Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002.” He has a gift for understatement and misdirection in his humor.
9. Can you tell me a little bit about what you are working on now?
I’ve just begun to write book three of the Ellen the Harpist series. But I keep distracting myself with ideas for a different novel.
10. What advice would you give to a fledgling writer to assist them on their journey?
Just write. No, there are a lot of other things worth doing, too. Read great books in the genre similar to the one you want to write. Understand why they work. You can read about writing, too, but it’s important to go to the source. The biggest mistake I made with my first novel was not building an author platform. I kept my work on the manuscript private. No one was expecting (or waiting for) my novel when I set her free.
Ellen at Sea
Who a harpist brings with her for a four-month long gig aboard a cruise ship:
Her best friend. A lock-picking pianist. And a blow up doll.
Who she leaves behind…
When Ellen’s boyfriend Josh goes on the road with a Broadway touring production, Ellen takes to the high seas. Can tropical destinations, a busy performance schedule, and cheap booze in the crew bar distract her from the heartache of her separation from Josh? Or will her mother’s devastating news and her best friend’s antics send her overboard?
Excerpt of Ellen at Sea
Halfway through my last set of the night, an older man in a tuxedo with velvet lapels and a ruffled tux shirt entered the lounge. He leaned against the wall, staring at me with a laser-like focus. Atop his head sat a jet-black hairpiece of such girth, I was sure it had a heartbeat of its own. His skin was a well-seasoned shade of tan. It stretched tightly from side to side, pulling his mouth and eyes into horizontal lines. His eyes never left me. I shuddered. Tapping the lower right corner of my tablet to turn the page when I finished Embraceable You, I smiled in anticipation of playing the next tune, Adele’s Someone Like You.
The arpeggiated pattern of the intro soothed me. I plucked the ascending and descending notes with my left hand and floated the melody line above it. My new fan was having none of it.
“What are you doing? You’re going to lose your audience. Look around. Who do you see?” He asked, his tone implying I possessed a less than agile mind.
A group of guys my age was doing shots at the bar, their laughter and playful swats at each other indicating this wasn’t the first round. People my mother’s age filled most of the tables near me, but none had paid any attention to me since they came into the lounge.
“The guests want to hear something lively. Play Under the Boardwalk.”
Who did he think he was, instructing me what I should or shouldn’t play? “I don’t know it.”
“You’ll learn it.” Mr. Bossy Pants pounded out the bass line on the piano and called out, “I’m in G. Play this pattern. Good. Keep the rhythm going.” I plucked along for two bars before he came in with the melody. The room came to life. People sang along. A boisterous round of applause broke out as we ended the tune. Rather than allow me to savor our success, he commanded me to play something else.
I scrolled through my repertoire list on the tablet, struggling to think of a tune he’d approve of. “What’s taking you so long? Just play anything. And who told you to put the harp like that? Here.” He grabbed the column of my harp and tugged it to face into the room. How dare he move my harp without asking! Doesn’t he know how expensive it is? I grimaced at him through lowered eyelids as I readjusted my bench and stand to my harp’s new position. Fearful of frustrating my tormentor further while I mulled over what tune to play next, I turned off the tablet and played Eleanor Rigby from memory.
“Well, now you’re playing the right music, but the guests can’t hear you. Play the right hand an octave higher. That will cut through the room noise.” I jumped my hand up the strings, wincing at how my new arrangement sounded like a track from the Chipmunks’ Beatles tribute album.
I endured fifteen more minutes of his harassing interference until 9:30 finally arrived. Even while I covered my harp, he refused to leave me alone. “I’m Sheldon. I’ve been doing this since before your parents were born. Everyone in New York knows me. I’ve played in every club, I’ve played with every great musician, and I’ve played for everyone who matters. I’m the real deal. I’m too old now to perform like I used to, but I like to work aboard a ship once a year for a month during the holidays. You have a lot to learn. I want to teach you how to be an entertainer because I see something in you. You’re great at playing the harp. I will train you how to be great at playing for people with drinks in their hands. Now get this harp out of here. It’s blocking the seats around the piano.”
Where to Buy Ellen at Sea