A writer cannot expand a timeless classic without an impending sense of doom. Doing so challenges readers to view beloved characters in new and compelling ways. Through the years Leroux’s novel has had numerous progeny. Fans of Phantom of the Opera are faithful to the versions they love, be it the musical adaptation of Ken Hill or the film starring Lon Chaney. One thing it seems all Phantom fans appreciate is a deep respect for Gaston Leroux and his vision of a sensual madman. ~Jennifer Deschanel
What genre do you write in?
My passion lies in historical romance. Parents that read raise children that read and my mother was a voracious reader of romance. I can’t think of a time where I didn’t see her nose buried in a Harlequin. I grew up reading many genres, from the likes of Carolyn Keene and her Nancy Drew series to the works Nelson Demille, but it was my love of the Regency and Victorian eras that ultimately led me to write historical romance.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes and no. As a child, I had many careers in mind from nursing to acting, to paleontology and even the ministry. I settled for a long while on historical archaeology but, misguided as many children can be, I ended up getting a Bachelors of Fine Art with a focus on children’s book illustration. In my youth, I turned to writing as a means of escaping the pain of my father’s death. That escape turned to therapy, as writing helped me control my battle with Purely Obsessional OCD, and a difficult time in my life. It wasn’t until much later that I made writing a career.
Why expand a work of classic literature? How long did this take?
Certain stories transcend time leaving more questions than answers. Readers worldwide have wondered about the nuptials of Darcy and Elisabeth after Pride and Prejudice. Thousands more ponder the life of Harry Potter post-Hogwarts. No author made me question as much as Gaston Leroux. My love for The Phantom of the Opera stemmed from a deep respect for a book that was a mystery, horror, and romance rolled into one.
After revisiting Leroux’s novel for the third time, the questions intensified. This fostered a desire to understand Leroux on a deeper level. I began to read about France in the Victorian era which led to me studying the history of opera. What motivated him to write it and set this in such an unusual location? How did he view France during the time of this novel? Why, as a jurist, did he leave so many unanswered questions?
It took three solid years of research and revisions to solve those questions and expand his work but was worth every moment.
The Phantom of the Opera has an enormous fan base. What was your biggest challenge?
By far, breaking down the walls erected by Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musical sensation and 2004 movie starring Gerald Butler created an iconic image of both The Phantom and the story as a whole. Webber got his start through Leroux, and Leroux’s original is quite different from the romantic, sexual tale millions of fans saw and fell in love with. Webber said in an interview that he stripped down Leroux’s original to a basic love triangle. In doing so I found he marginalized many elements that made this classic unique. Elements such as the social differences of the time period and the clash of the classes. Things like Erik’s inherent madness and Christine’s indecision over who she loved.
When I wrote DESIRED, I wanted to adhere as closely as possible to Leroux’s original vision of a sensual madman. Erik (the Phantom) was not a sexy man hidden behind a petite, white half-mask. He was hideously deformed; a “Living Corpse” as Leroux stated and hid his face behind a full black mask. His bed was not the famous romantic “swan” idea as created by Webber, rather a coffin. While Erik possessed the same genius Webber capitalized on, he was also a murderously vengeful soul. Despite that, he was a repressed and ardent gentleman seeking the most basic human emotion— love. Yet, how can one when love society sees you as nothing more than a deviant of the underground?
Naturally certain elements of Leroux’s story were changed to suit the limits of my imagination, but I tried to bring the reader back to Leroux.
Do your readers have to understand Leroux’s original to be able to read your series?
Absolutely not. That’s one of the reasons it took three years to research and polish this work. I wanted DESIRED to be able to stand on its own independent of Leroux’s story. Just enough back story of Leroux’s original is woven into DESIRED to be able to give the reader a flavor for The Phantom of the Opera.
Your series has a lot to do with Leroux’s character, Philippe de Chagny. Why is he important?
Philippe de Chagny is likely the biggest plot-hole Leroux dropped, and he left a lot of plot holes. Leroux describes him as a bit “haughty toward men and overly kind toward women” yet a man with an irreproachable conscience and great heart. That description caught my attention. Philippe was a man born and raised in the height of France’s nobility and growing old in the days when titles were fossils. Empires were built on marriages of property and money. This character had 600 years of tradition to adhere to and a younger brother seeking to break all of that. Yet in all the heartache he caused Raoul in the original novel, I don’t think Philippe went charging down into the vaults of the opera house to do anything to prevent Raoul from marrying Christine as Leroux led readers to believe. So why did he go down there and lose his life in the process?
I explored this and my views of Philippe as a philanthropic character throughout my series. Though he is mentioned only once in book one, book two cracks into his story and explains how he got involved in the opera house mystery.
How did you secure a traditional publisher?
You get out of writing what you put into it. Publishing takes guts. It takes patience and the willingness to learn from your mistakes and successes. Publishing traditionally is highly competitive. It’s not the fast track by any means. It can take years to find a publishing house. My best advice to those who want to publish is to develop a tough skin and believe in yourself. The rejection and time involved in striving for a contract can be daunting. Understand the industry you’re entering. Know how it works. Understand what does and doesn’t sell. But above all, learn how to write and be willing to improve. Go into this business wearing a confidence that can’t be denied, and it won’t.
My greatest reward as an author is mentoring other new writers looking to embark on this journey. Seeing them shine and assisting them like other authors did me makes every rejection letter I received the greatest gifts I ever got.
It only takes one yes.