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Tour & Giveaway: 72. The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa...

May 5, 2009
Welcome, everyone, to this Unbridled Books tour stop for George Rabasa's THE WONDER SINGER!

From the book:
Mark Lockwood's life is a small one. He's made his living writing a series of little books for hire called How to Talk to Your Teen about.... But for the past few months he's had a ghostwriting assignment beyond his dreams. To prepare her "autobiography," Mark has been interviewing the internationally renowned Spanish diva, Mercè Casals. When the Senora dies suddenly - afloat in her scented bath - her life story becomes a hot property and a celebrity biographer arrives to take over the project.

But Lockwood realizes this is his one chance at greatness, and so he runs off with the interview tapes. Abetted by the beautiful and scrupulous Perla, the Senora's nurse, and by a female impersonator who is the diva's greatest fan, Lockwood locks himself into his study, endlessly plays the tapes, and begins to craft his greatest book. Once the three conspirators rescue Mercè's husband from the retirement home, Lockwood's sense of his own heart begins to expand beyond his considerable imagination.

Moving between the diva's lyrical account of her life on three continents and the frantic pace of Lockwood's notes from underground, The Wonder Singer portrays for us just what it can mean to live a beautiful life to its fullest.
drey's review:
The Wonder Singer was a fun romp through the consequences of Mark's decision to abscond with his interview tapes. Yes, there's a "before," including the diva's childhood and discovery. But I thought the fun really started with her death (am I bad or what?). And Mark, who up to that point was just another interviewer, really, seems to finally open his eyes and run with the realization that he can be the author that he's always wanted to be. So what if he has to run off with the tapes like a common thief? You only get a chance like this once, and by golly, he's ready to take it! =) An entertaining read that alternates between Mark's adventure, and The Wonder Singer chapters (like, the "real" book, not the one you're reading...).

About the author:
George Rabasa’s collection of short stories, Glass Houses, received The Writer’s Voice Capricorn Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Minnesota Book Award for Short Stories. His novel, Floating Kingdom received the Minnesota Book Award for Fiction. And his most recent novel, The Cleansing, was named a Book Sense Notable. His short fiction has appeared in various literary magazines, such as Story Quarterly, Glimmer Train, The MacGuffin, South Carolina Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry, American Literary Review, and in several anthologies. Rabasa was born in Maine, raised in Mexico, and now lives in Minnesota.

George Rabasa has kindly agreed to answer some of my babbling questions, read on!
drey: Just curious, do you like opera? If yes, do you have any favorites?
George: When I started The Wonder Singer some ten years ago, I did not particularly like what little opera I had listened to. Rock and roll, roots, symphonic, choral, chamber – all of these I loved. Then, when I decided to write about an opera diva, I though I’d better figure out what these people did. So thanks to the Minneapolis Public Library, I checked out “Tosca.” I played it over and over one weekend, and by Monday morning, I was a convert. Once opera’s sublime melodies get a hook into your brain, there’s not much, musically, that can match the experience. Add to that the great emotional and intellectual challenge of almost mythical theater and you’ve got the stuff of ecstasy and catharsis. No small achievement for people in big wigs and fancy dress singing really loud.

I go back and forth with favorites. Right now, I would travel anywhere to hear “Aida” by Verdi. Next week, it might be Puccini’s “Turandot” or Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.” All of these have good stories, beautiful melodies, and amazing singing.

d: There are so many other divas out there, why an opera singer?
GR: My intention was to write a sort of picaresque novel about a ghostwriter. In my checkered professional life I’ve written in practically every medium, besides fiction, with varying degrees of success. But I was never a ghostwriter. The idea of a journeyman writer serving as the voice for a famous personality has a kind of elegance to it. I needed a bigger-than-life foil for the humble scribbler. There are no bigger personalities than old-school opera divas. And the irony of serving as the conduit for a voice that cannot sing her own song captivated me.

d: Is Mark based on anyone you know in real life? His mannerisms, quirkiness...
GR: Having written a great variety of words for money – from advertising and junk mail to jokes and obituaries, I know Lockwood as I know myself. In a way, he is me, but with better manners. In the wider sense, I am all my characters – from divas to sleazy agents to transvestite opera queens. When Flaubert was asked where Emma Bovary came from, he answered, “Madame Bovary c’est moi.”

: I liked the flow of the book, alternating between Mark's quest to put the story in writing, and the actual "book". Did you flesh out the book first, then interspersed it with Mark's story? Or did you work on both in parallel, & in which case, was that difficult to do?
GR: Oh God, yes! I will never write a novel this way again. I had the basic structure – Lockwood’s attempts to write his big book, the story of La Señora in her own words, the relationship between the writer and the diva. So for about two years I just wrote random scenes, fragments, snatches of dialogue as the mood hit me, with the idea of putting it all together eventually. After about 130,000 words I had a mess to cut and paste into some coherent arc. A wonderful mess to be sure. But it took years of grief, and thousands of words cut, to come up with the novel that is the object of our attention today.

And, of course, the Proust-lite:
  1. What is your idea of earthly happiness? A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a good day’s work behind me, my love before me.
  2. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? The years 2000-2008.
  3. Who is/are your favorite heroine(s) in fiction? Susan Burling, from Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.
  4. Who is/are your favorite heroine(s) in real life? My wife, Juanita. I know no other woman who displays in synergistic combination, such love, humor, courage, intelligence and spiritual depth.
  5. What sound do you love? Tweet, tweet, tweet! (The first bird of spring after six months of Minnesota winter.)
  6. What sound do you hate? Car horns.
  7. The quality you admire most in a man? A small head and a large heart.
  8. The quality you admire most in a woman? Intuition. (Yes, there is such a thing as female intuition.)
  9. If not a writer, you would be a mathematician. To understand God you have to speak his language: mathematics.
  10. What is your favorite swear word? I use America’s most popular percussive expletive with enough abandon as to get me a guest role in the next remake of “The Sopranos.” But I reserve the Mexican chingar for special occasions. It is marvelously versatile, whether as a verb, an adjective or a noun. It can be violently aggressive: Chinga tu madre. Or complimentary: Rabasa es un autor muy chingón. Or describing the depths of existential despair: Me lleva la chingada. Everyone should try it for its cathartic benefits.
Have some fun...
To pay your respects to Ms. Casals, we invite you to check out the Diva’s fan page on Facebook.
To hear opera selections that inspired this story, please visit
To learn more about Mark Lockwood, his series for teens, and his work with the Diva, please visit Unbridled Books or Facebook.

Thanks to Unbridled Books, I have one copy of The Wonder Singer for you, but only if you live in the U.S... To enter the giveaway, comment and tell me - do you like/love/hate/not care about opera? If you like it, which one(s)? Is it the music that draws you? The story? The singer(s)? As usual +1 for followers (here, Twitter, anywhere else you can find me!), +2 for spreading the word. Come back & let me know what/where/what color my eyes are. Hah! Gotcha! =D

Do it all by 6:00 p.m. CST MAY 15th! Come back after to see if you're a lucky duck. Can't wait that long? Click on the book cover to purchase from Amazon. Have fun!!

Tour stops:
Write For A Reader
Cheryl's Book Nook
The Epic Rat
Booksie's Blog
Medieval Bookworm
Morbid Romantic


bermudaonion said...

I've only been to the opera once and it didn't do anything for me, so I've had no desire to go back. milou2ster(at)

Anonymous said...

I really like some operas. I saw my first and my favorite, Carmen, in Milwaukee of course! It was magical. I love the music. It's kind of "cheating" though because the score for Carmen is more "tuneful" than most operas. Even The Little Einsteins have done it! (with their own inimitable great lyrics: dah dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah dah dah, etc.)

nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

Anonymous said...

I follow your blog.

nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

Anonymous said...

I follow you on twitter and tweeted here:

(and by the way have gotten all sorts of retweets for the Awesome Contest I tweeted)

nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

Unknown said...

Hi Drey

Please enter me, this sounds so funny, cute, revealing!


Unknown said...

I'm a follower!


(Oh, btw, I think your eyes are brown--who can really know with the lovely shades?)

nfmgirl said...

I've only gone to the opera once. I was in middle school, and I was dreading going. My friends and I sat up in the mezzanine for our special performance that was just for us middle schoolers, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think we all actually wound up liking it! I believe it was Madame Butterfly, if memory serves me.

+1 And I'm a follower

nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

tetewa said...

I've only been to the opera once and enjoyed it!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

HA! I've BEEN to the Opera! Willingly, even! We saw La Boheme, of course, as Rent is my favorite musical. I'd go again; I love those men's voices. Wow.

Yep, go on and enter me for this one, babe. I can't resist.

Eye color? Magenta. Heh heh Het.

Oh, and I posted this at Win a Book. Just 'cause I like you.

Rachel said...

I love the opera! My favorite opera is La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.

Thanks for the giveaway!

LuAnn said...

I listen to lots of different genres of music (just like my eclectic reading habits!), but I've not had the opportunity to hear much opera. What I have heard was very inspiring. A singer obviously has to have a lovely, talented voice to handle that particular type of singing.

Nicole said...

I do like opera. My favorite is Carmina Burana. I just love the music.

Nicole said...

I follow.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about opera but I absolutely love the sound of Andrea Boccelli's voice. I can listen to him sing ANYTHING and fall in love with it.

caitlin said...

thanks, drey! this is awesome! i have been to the opera. i got in trouble for yelling "Bravo!" after Pavarroti sang Nessun Dorma. I am much better fitting in at sporting events.

Serena said...

No need to enter me. I;m also on this tour and loved reading your interview with rabasa.

Unknown said...

Great Q & A post! I've never been to the opera, so I really can't pass judgment on it!

I am already a follower :)

Amber said...

I love Opera - Turandot and Carmen are my favorites!
Thank you for the giveaway :)

Anonymous said...

I once saw a production of Otello at the Kennedy Center OPera House in DC. It was amazing. I loved it! Unfortunately my husband would only sleep if I took him, so we don't go.

Kat Bryan said...

I've never been to an opera and I'm not a big fan of that kind of music. However, I like most live events and I have great admiration for the singers and their talent.

Dawn M. said...

I don't hate it but I'm not a fan either. I can only take so much of it and then I have to listen to something else. Now musicals are another story.... ;)

librarygrinch at gmail dot com

Marie said...

I actually enjoy the older more traditional operas, especially those by Mozart because I love the music!

Lucy said...

Please enter my name into your giveaway.
I don't know much about opera I'm sorry to say. I like the music. I've never seen an opera. I believe there easier to appreciate now that there are follow along screens. I loved Luciano Pavorotti's voice. All I know are individual songs. I love the musice from Madame Butterfly.
Thank you for your giveaway.

CherylS22 said...

I've never been to an opera. So, it's hard for me to say whether I'd like it or not.

Please count me in - Thanks!
megalon22 at yahoo dot com

CherylS22 said...

I'm an e-mail subscriber.

megalon22 at yahoo dot com

Carlene said...

I have never had a chance to go to the Opera but do love listening to it when I get the chance. I am a follower. I would love to be entered in your drawing.

Jo said...

I don't listen to opera regularly, but I do really like it (hard not to when you hear it from a young age - my dad's really into opera and classical). Anyway, I've been to a few performances, but my favorite is one I saw first on TV and got a chance to see performed live later... Carmen by Bizet.

Jo said...

Oh, I forgot to add. The story is interesting, but it's teh music I really like.

Kitten22 said...

This looks great! Please enter me!

I only do one opera - Phantom of the Opera. The music is so powerful and if you get just the right seats and the chandelier goes past you as it falls it is amazing!!!


Kitten22 said...

I'm a subscriber (through Google Reader)!


Kristen said...

I'd love to win this one far more than I'd want to go to the opera (don't like it).

whitreidsmama at yahoo dot com

sharon54220 said...

I have never been to the opera. I love Andrea Boccelli though.

Please enter me.

sharon54220 said...

I am a subscriber.

A Reader said...

I love the costumes. Thanks for the giveaway!

A Reader said...

I'm a follower.
Thanks for the giveaway!

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