I am an award-winning writer originally from Long Island and now living and working in Santa Barbara, California. “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” is my third book. I taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and have lectured nationally. My short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, I worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Orchestra in America” - and I’m a member of the American Beethoven Society.
Where did you grow up?
Syosset, Long Island, New York.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Writing a very, very short story about piloting a Cessna 172 when I was twelve.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
All of the above!
What is this book about?
At the moment of his death, Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past.
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.
“Soloist” first-person chapters written by Beethoven himself alternate with the orchestral voices of people close to this magisterial figure, people who loved him yet also had to endure his passions, eccentricities, quirks, obsessions, suicidal tendencies, and downright nasty behaviors.
What inspired you to write it?
When I was not yet twenty-one and going to school overseas, I underwent a near death experience in the course of a severe motorcycle accident. As my body somersaulted through the intersection, time stopped and a great and profound sense of peace and calm overtook my consciousness. Fear, especially the fear of death we all share, disappeared. The biggest shock was landing very much alive – and in pain – on the other side of the crossroad and not the “other side” of life. Years later, when I read the story of Beethoven’s death and how at the last moment he railed against the heavens, I wondered what it would have taken for this great man to come to peace with all the turmoil and failings of his life. And in that nugget of a thought, the novel was born.
Who is your biggest supporter?
Before his death at age 98 ½, two years ago, my dad was my greatest supporter. He introduced me to classical music – and Beethoven – as a child and was thoroughly thrilled that I had completed a full manuscript draft and was selected to join the Board of the Symphony before he passed.
Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?
When I was young writer just starting out I was a member of a writers group. My fifteen years in Hollywood however broke me of the habit of sharing anything with anyone as the theft of ideas is rampant and real. Since going back to writing fiction I share my drafts with a small cadre of friends whom I know I can trust not only their feedback but their integrity as well.
Who is your favorite author?
I have three actually, Cervantes, Borges and Murakami.
Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?
I have worked with many agents in the past, especially in Hollywood, with mixed results. I currently do not use one. The book industry seems to be changing so much that most agents are unable to actually sell much of anything unless it is a high concept or celebrity driven product. “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” is neither.
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
“Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” is my third book but the first in the many years since “Opening the Doors to Hollywood,” a guide book for want-to-be-screenwriters, was published by Random House. After searching traditional publishers, I choose instead to go with a friend’s small press. Once we agreed to work together, the process was generally smooth. I had near totally control over the process, from the design and layout to the cover. I was also especially fortunate that my son, the artist, Zak Smith, whose work hangs in eight museums around the world, agreed to do the cover art and came out with a painting of Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved that has become a new icon.
If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, I invested a fair amount of money in a traditional book publicist with a great track record hoping to get national publicity and reviews. What I did not know at the time was that the times they are a changing. The old methods do not work well in this day and age. She had no experience in using the web or social media and her methods did not generate the level of business my publisher and I expected. As a footnote, I am now working with Dorothy Thompson and having far greater penetration and exposure.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
I have limited my sales to online retailers, such as Amazon and review sites, such as Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26068629-beethoven-in-love-opus-139
What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?
It has taken an enormous amount of work, but using Facebook to its creative maximum has worked best. I created a data base of 5,000 friends, post daily to nearly 50 groups, and advertise key posts regularly.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Be passionate about what you do and what you write – or don’t bother at all.
What is up next for you?
While writing about Beethoven I rediscovered the pleasure of working with music as a background component. My next project is about Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, and the scandals their operas created in their time.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I welcome feedback from readers, and do work with Book Clubs. To reach me, either use my “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” Facebook or Web page or my email: Smythe1313@gmail.com