Saturday, July 20, 2013


I had the pleasure of doing a full-manuscript critique of Nicole Disney's ( new book, "Dissonance in A Minor," prior to it being published (as opposed to an excerpt-by-excerpt critique that critique groups do.) Doing this for another writer is fun and informative, as it not only exposes you to genres you might not otherwise read, but helping other writers identify problem areas in their manuscripts really helps you see such things in your own. It makes you a stronger writer as well.

"Dissonance in A Minor" is the story of Rainn, a tough street person trying to make it big with her band, who struggle with the usual growing pains of any group of musicians, when she meets Jasselle, a seemingly together and almost dream-like figure. But as Rainn feels herself inexorably drawn under Jaselle's spell, she becomes more and more aware of the woman's darker side.

I so enjoyed "Dissonance in A Minor" that when it was published I knew I wanted to interview Nicole on my blog. I even knew some of the questions I wanted to ask. So here, gentle readers, is my interview with the very talented Nicole Disney.

Q: Nicole, your novel is, on the surface, a romance between lesbians. Why should straight people read it?

Though my book can be categorized as a lesbian romance, it is not about the fact that my main characters are lesbians. It is not about sexual discovery nor is it a coming out story. It is about homelessness, guilt, and the desperation of addiction. Anyone can understand and connect with the pain of witnessing the person you love most deteriorate into someone barely recognizable. These are by no means issues reserved for lesbians. The orientation of these characters is actually more of an afterthought in the scope of the book.

Q: What is the meaning of the title, "Dissonance in A Minor"?

The word "dissonance" appealed to me for this story because it has a few applications. It can be used as a music term in reference to an inharmonious combination of notes that gives the impression of tension or instability. However, it can also describe as inconsistency or disagreement, either with another person, two aspects of life, or between a person's beliefs and actions. All aspects of the word fit into my story, whether it is Rainn's knowledge of her band's talent at odds with their performance, the evidence Jaselle is too addicted to recover against Rainn's belief she will, or Jaselle's desire to treat Rainn well but failure to do so. I chose the key "A minor" because Chopin's Prelude Op. 28 No. 2, a significant song in the story, is in the key of A minor (and is a very dissonant piece).

Q: What was it about this story that compelled you to write it?

I wanted to write something raw, emotional, and fearless that would be capable of hitting people in a way that it would linger after. I didn't want to cut scenes short before they fulfilled the true intensity of the moment. As far as addiction, specifically, I've always been drawn to understand the power of it. There are so many things to consider, from the original pain that a person might be trying to numb, to potentially being cut off from family as a result. There is also an element of shame that is common, for the betrayals that usually follow and feelings of weakness for lacking the ability to stop.

Q: Your characters are fictional, but are they representative or composites of real people involved in the true events?

None of my characters are based on real people. All of the personalities are completely fabricated, though I do like to sprinkle in extremely minor details from real life. For example, Jaselle and Rainn drink vodka and cranberry juice, which is the first mixed drink a girl ever made for me. Another is a story Jaselle tells about a Halloween night when she believed her angel costume would allow her to fly. That is something that happened to my younger cousin that I found incredibly endearing and wanted to live on.

Q: What would you say is the central theme of "Dissonance in A Minor"?

If I had to choose one theme, I'd say addiction is the most vital to the story. Jaselle's addiction to meth is the most obvious example and her addiction is equally mental and physical. I also found it interesting to examine Rainn's love for Jaselle as an addiction. In many ways, Rainn also behaves like an addict. As the story progresses, Jaselle is Rainn's first and last thought of every day and if for any reason she is denied that contact, everything must wait until things are set right. It causes her to damage her relationships with her friends and even distracts her from her music. I don't think to say Rainn is addicted to Jaselle is to say that she loves her any less, but that love is a form of addiction.

Q: Your protagonist lives a hard life, but makes no excuses for the choices she's made, which is a lesson more of us could learn. What other lessons can readers take away from your novel?

Rainn carries a burden of guilt over her brother's death. A large part of that is because they were close and that she witnessed his death, but even more importantly, Rainn knew he was huffing butane and that it was dangerous. This is a major source of her guilt and plays a heavy hand in how she handles Jaselle. I think a lesson readers can take from Rainn is that when we are in impossible situations that might not have a clear right and wrong answer, imagine the worst possible outcome, and then ask what you would wish you had done. Having said that, I think the next lesson is that no one can force another person to be happy or healthy, and sometimes, as heartbreaking as it is, there isn't anything you can do. It doesn't mean you have to exile or punish yourself.

Q: Music plays a central allegorical role in the book. Could you explain its significance to the story?

Rainn sees her music as an expression of her soul. To reject it is to reject her, and to love it is to love her. It is a safe place where she can both protect and confess her secrets simultaneously. There is a contrast between the structured, classical music she learned growing up with her mother and the freedom of her band. These are equally representative of her life. Rainn's brother rejected classical music completely, desiring only the freedom and paying a heavy price. Following her brother's death, Rainn submerges herself in the band but maintains a taste for classical music that she will revisit when living with Jaselle. Classical music represents the part of Rainn that desires a home, while rock is passion, rebellion, and independence.

Q: There are "bad guys" in the classical sense in your story, but wouldn't the primary antagonist, if unwittingly, be Jaselle? Why or why not?

As Jaselle's addiction deepens, Rainn sees a change so dramatic in her eyes and the way that she speaks that Rainn feels she is talking to something that is evil. She begins to refer to this side of Jaselle as "the demon". Noah challenges this as excusing Jaselle from her own actions. At the heart of this conflict is the answer to this question. Is the addiction capable of being an antagonist or is referring to the addiction as something separate from Jaselle a displacement of guilt? I think the issue is debatable, but I see the addiction as the antagonist.

Q: Noah fills the significant role of fulcrum in the turning point of the story. Expound on this.

When Noah finally exposes his reasons for closing himself off from Jaselle and her addiction, he proves himself to be much more feeling and reasonable than Rainn would have guessed. He is also challenging Rainn's conviction that she can save Jaselle. Noah focuses on Rainn and her right to have a happy life, a concept that Rainn has so connected to Jaselle that she sees saving Jaselle's life and being happy as two inextricable things. Having these arguments delivered to her gives Rainn the opportunity to debate what she has otherwise felt too guilty to deliberate.

Q: What has been the feedback you've gotten from readers?

I've gotten fantastic feedback so far. Almost everyone I have heard from said they read it in one or two days because it is a quick read and they "one more chapter"ed their way all the to the end. The consistent comment I have been getting is that the book is extremely emotional.

Q: How has your book been received by those who have experienced some of the themes in your book, such as addiction, guilt, loss, etc.?

The reception has been amazing, which is extremely important to me. I wanted this story to be as authentic as possible. I have heard from several readers who used to play in bands, owned clubs, or were music producers. They usually say they found the band scenes hilarious and the characters realistic. The other group I have received even more feedback from has been addicts and recovering addicts. This group has a darker identification with the story, saying it is both graphic and realistic, capturing the chaos of addiction.

Q: Are you working on any other projects? And if so, will they be like this one?

I am working on a couple of new projects. One is much more similar to Dissonance in A Minor than the other, but in both stories, I maintain my taste for a dark and edgy set of issues. I'm not sure I will ever tire of diving into those worlds. 

Q: What was the one thing you consider the most valuable tool in working to get your book published?

I would have to say the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group was the most valuable tool for me because it is really like ten tools rolled into one. I was able to improve my actual writing with their classes, network at the events, dissect my stories in critique groups, pitch editors and agents at the annual conference, and attract a little attention with a contest win. It is an extensive support system for writers.

Q: What would be your advice to those attempting to publish their manuscripts?

My advice would be to join a critique group. This is a great way to figure out if your manuscript is ready and get it there if it isn't. Even if you don't need extensive changes, your group members will see things you, as the author, won't catch. Most groups are even willing to help with query letters any may know things about the publishing industry that you don't.

Q: What is your writing process? For example, do you write eight hours a day, or only when the mood strikes you?

My process is constantly evolving, but it always involves deadlines. For a while I experimented with reaching a certain word count every day, but found that method was resulting in quite a bit of writing I would eventually delete. Deadlines give me enough freedom to wait for inspiration, but not enough to wait forever.

Q: Do you write an outline, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?

I outline obsessively. It is not unusual for me to spend a full month or even two on the outline before I write a single word. I hate the feeling of writing without knowing where I am trying to get. It makes me feel like I'm rambling and boring the eventual reader. I also have the fear that readers can tell when I go back to add in foreshadowing as opposed to knowing where it belongs as I go. That being said, sometimes characters have their own ideas about who they are or what they want to do. I'm always willing to let them ruin my outline, but I'll quickly create a new one.

Q: The second act of any story, or the "middle part," is often dubbed the "swamp" by writers because it is the most difficult part of any story to write. Did you struggle with this, or did it all come to you pretty smoothly?

I dealt with the "swamp" by constantly reminding myself not to hold onto any scenes for later (with the exception of a few structurally fundamental ones). If I ever felt the story was dragging, but had a great scene idea I wanted to use in twenty pages, oh well, it's moving to now. Doing this takes a lot of faith in yourself that you will come up with something better to use in twenty pages, but after the first few times work out, it becomes less scary.

Q: How long did it take you to write "Dissonance in A Minor"?

I spent about a year writing it. That is a time frame I would consider too long for future projects, but I'm glad I really took the time to baby this story.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers, who've informed or influenced your own writing?

My list of favorite writers is unreasonably long, but to name a few I can say truly made me a better writer I'd have to say Anne Rice, J.D. Salinger, Chuck Palahniuk, William Styron, and Edgar Allan Poe.

I want to thank Nicole for taking the time to indulge me. I hope you, the reader, enjoyed it as much as I did, and I hope you pick up Nicole's new book "Dissonance in A Minor" - just click the book cover above, I truly think you'll find it a rewarding read.

You can visit Nicole Disney's website at www.NicoleDisney,.com.

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