What’s a freelance harpist with a calendar full of teaching, performing, and freelancing through the N.Y.C. region do with extra time on their hands? The answer—if you’re Diane Michaels—is to write that novel you’ve always dreamed of. And what better topic for a freelance harpist than—tada—a freelance harpist? Nothing like a little on-the-job research to get the creativity flowing! Following the successful launch of her book “Ellen the Harpist” this summer, I caught up with Diane Michaels to find out more…
Q: So, who is Ellen?
Ellen is an “emerging adult,” a 27 year-old woman comfortable with the process of establishing her career as a harpist, but who is only beginning to come into her own as a grown-up. She has both a sense a humor and flaws that make her the punch line to jokes she doesn’t mean to tell.
I remember going through the emerging adult phase. The ballast of the responsibility of being an adult barely countered the buoyancy of being young and independent. This duality made it hard for me to believe anyone would or should entrust me with the task of being an actual adult. It was easy to expect that my story would become Ellen’s, but the more I developed Ellen as a character, the less of my DNA remained in her, much to my relief.
Q: What gave you the idea for a book about a harpist?
The world needs more books about harpists. Haha! While writing what I know was a helpful game plan for my first novel, I also embraced pulling back the curtain on the life of a freelance musician. I hope readers unfamiliar with live music will be inspired to hire— and respect — musicians.
Q: Do you have a literary background, or was this just a “go for it” moment in your life?
I loved writing as a kid, and I have written professionally (my first job right out of college entailed writing biographies and press materials for classical musicians). I don’t remember when I first thought I might have a book somewhere inside of me, and I never brushed aside the notion of writing a novel.
Q: How long did the process take?
I started preparing to write “Ellen the Harpist” two years before the typing began. I carried a notebook to jot down ideas and funny gig stories. I also researched how to write a novel — everything from word count to when to introduce and resolve subplots and conflicts. In March 2013, scenes and sentences formed in my head at a furious rate, and I had to start typing. I completed the first draft in only four months. I put it aside as I focused on my day job — being a harpist — until the beginning of 2014. After a little editing, I pitched my novel to an agent. Although my pitch accurately described the novel I had written, I wasn’t pitching the novel I wanted to have written. I spent the next year working on major revisions. And then I spent another year editing and pitching to more agents. This past April, I made the decision to self-publish, and two months later, I introduced Ellen to readers worldwide.
Q: What’s been the reaction so far?
People have not only shared some really positive reviews, they have shared my excitement in my having published my first novel. I’ve especially loved seeing pictures of people reading “Ellen the Harpist” on the beach this summer.
Q: Do you see yourself writing more, and if so, what’s the next topic?
While “Ellen” was still a first draft, I outlined two additional titles to follow it in a series, and I developed an idea for a fourth stand-alone novel. I’ve just written a short story that is available to all subscribers to my website for free. Currently, I’m blogging, I’m about 20% done with a novella I hope to release before the end of the year, and I am researching book number two in the “Ellen” series.
Q: Tell us a bit about your harp life.
I’ve always described my harp career by saying, “If you need a harp to play something, I’ll play it.” I try to schedule a recital or two each year. I play with the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea and other ensembles, sub tea at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. And weddings! I love playing background music as much as being on stage. I also teach privately and at the Wharton Institute of Performing Arts in Berkeley Heights, NJ. In addition to maintaining a harp studio at the school, I also teach music theory and sight singing classes, plus I work as a practice coach for a piano student.
Q: How do you plan to mesh your two identities now?
I’m really looking forward to being both an author and a harpist at an upcoming event in Pittsburgh on September 17. I’ll read a little and play a little.
The hardest part about having two professional identities is making time for everything. My gigging and teaching schedule will remain the same. I may not take on a recital commitment right away because I’m using practice time to write and develop my marketing strategy. But I want to be both a harpist and an author. We can have both pie and cookies, right?
Q: You’re also one of our artists on Harp Column Music. Any new music publications in the works for you?
I have arranged and published one harp ensemble arrangement—”Mars,” which is available on HCM—since I began writing “Ellen the Harpist.” I have written many solo and duo arrangements for personal use in the last three years, but at the moment, I’m not developing any arrangements for publication. But if inspiration strikes…