09 November 2008

Book Party: Jennifer Linforth

Debuts are fun! This week we're talking with contributor Jennifer Linforth as she celebrates the release of her debut, MADRIGAL, available now from Highland Press.


Years ago he faked his death and vowed the Phantom would never again haunt the Opera Garnier. But strange packages left by Anna, an unwanted Samaritan turned unlikely friend, causes Erik to desire the unattainable--love.

When Anna's haunted past puts Christine Daaé in danger, Erik is falsely accused of the vicious crime. The Phantom is reborn as Erik, forced to the brink of insanity, revisits his passion for Christine--the woman he once swore to possess. Fighting the injustice against Erik, Anna struggles to prove his innocence. Standing in the way is her past that cannot be transcended, and years of prejudice labeling Erik more monster than man.

Battling the nobleman determined to lock him away, Erik must save Christine, control his demons, and tame a heart unexpectedly beating for two opposite women. Christine, who he longs to love, and Anna: the woman who saw beyond his bitter soul to the man beneath the mask. In the midst of a brutal manhunt, can he be loved for himself or is he condemned to be The Phantom of the Opera?

Murderer, Maestro, Magician, Mastermind.

MADRIGAL is a continuance of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. Why expand a work of classic literature? How long did this take?

Certain stories transcend time leaving many more questions than answers. 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. How utterly frustrating and wonderful is it to read a book that makes you ponder what happened after the final page? How many readers have thought about the nuptials of Darcy and Elisabeth after Jane Austen put down her quill? There are those readers who are merely content to question and those readers who seek answers...

After revisiting Leroux's novel for the third time the questions in my head would not go away. A voracious researcher, I began to read about France in the Victorian era which led to me studying the history of opera. This fostered a desire to understand Leroux on a deeper level. Why set this book in an opera house? What motivated him? How did he view France during the time of this novel? Much of Leroux's body of works focused on political satire and class differences. Why--as a jurist--did he leave so many unanswered questions?

While innocently poking around in my research I stumbled across a book which continued Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I loved every minute of it. In my opinion it flawlessly wove the original story with Austen's tale. From there I found other writers who continued classic literature: Brooks, Rhys... I was horrified at first--a bit shocked that authors would have the guts to expand upon a work in the public domain. But I had a way now to answer those unanswered questions. It took three solid years of research and revision to do, but was worth every moment.

The Phantom of the Opera has an enormous fan base. What was your biggest challenge in writing MADRIGAL?

By far breaking down the walls erected by Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musical sensation and 2004 movie staring 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.

When I wrote MADRIGAL, I wanted to adhere as closely as possible to Leroux's original vision of a sensual madman. Erik (the Phantom) was not a sexy, buff man hidden behind a petite white half-mask. He was the central character in a Death and the Maiden tale. Erik was hideously deformed, hid behind a full black mask and slept in a coffin. Very different from the image of the mildly deformed gentleman with the famous romantic "swan bed" crafted by Webber .While he 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 of human emotions--love. Yet how can one when love society sees you as nothing more than a deviant of the underground?

Webber said in an interview that he stripped down Leroux's original to the most basic love story. In doing so I found he lessened many elements that made this classic unique. Elements such as the social differences of the time period and the clash of the classes, Erik's inherent madness and Christine's push and pull between the loves of two men. 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.

I have received numerous emails from readers stating after reading MADRIGAL they purchased Leroux's original. That is a true reward!

Do your readers have to understand Leroux's original to be able to read MADRIGAL?

Absolutely not, and that is why it is so rewarding to know readers are seeking out Leroux's work. That is one of the reasons it took three years to research and polish this book. I wanted MADRIGAL to be able to stand on its own independent of Leroux's story. Just enough back story of Leroux's original is woven into MADRIGAL to be able to give the reader a flavor for The Phantom of the Opera.

The title itself is unique. Can you explain? I understand this is first in a series.

Opera and its history play a huge role in Leroux's original novel.

The story for MADRIGAL grew out of two elements. The first was my unending curiosity over one of Leroux's secondary characters, Philippe Georges Marie, the Comte de Chagny. His death in the original book at the hands of Erik never did sit well with me. Leroux wrote Philippe as an important secondary character, but never revealed much about his role in the plot. Why? Leroux was a jurist. Details and proof were his life yet he offered the reader no proof about this murder. I kept digging in-between the lines of his prose in order to uncover more about Philippe de Changy. Though not seen in book one, Philippe de Chagny's life and death play a large role in the series.

Coupled with my questions regarding Chagny was a bit of inspiration from opera itself. Philippe was the primary patron of the Opera Garnier and a high ranking nobleman of his time. In the 16th century the primary source of entertainment for nobles were madrigals--a type of secular vocal composition. The early madrigalists strung four madrigals together to weave a complete story via song. This became the foundation for modern day opera. Voices in a madrigal could be manipulated in such way the singer appeared to be crying, laughing or yelling in anger etc.

This to me was the inner workings of Erik's mind and madness. Mingled with the music consuming him were these voices of beauty, but they were coiled underneath the noise of his madness. The emotion behind MADRIGAL's madrigal was based off of Shakespeare's Sonnet twenty-nine. (When in disgrace and fortune in men's eye, I alone beweep my outcast state...) A story that is a lament relaying a man's deepest urges for popularity though his desires and wants are hidden and repressed beneath envy and suffering.

MADRIGAL is the first in a three book series (The Madrigals). There is a possibility for a fourth if readers desire.

Do you only write works that expand upon classic literature?

The Madrigals are only some of my unusual historicals. I write historical fiction and historical romances that focus on the social mores of the 19th century. My passion lies in Austrian culture and I have several historicals set in the Habsburg empire during the reign of Franz-Josef.



"Ms. Linforth has written a love story sure to please Phantom fans old and new alike." ~ Amanda Ashley, NYT Bestselling author

"Reading MADRIGAL by Jennifer Linforth has been a wonderful experience. As a Phantom of the Opera lover, I've been able to read all the books based on this story and Ms. Linforth's work including plot, characters, and style makes this novel a gorgeous and unique creation. Ms. Linforth's love for the Phantom legend can be felt in every page, in every word which makes her novel a wonderful experience and a delight to the senses." ~ Sandra Andrés Belenguer, historian and creator of the foremost Phantom of the Opera history and fan site


We featured an excerpt of MADRIGAL on Thursday, which you can read here. Interested in getting your hands on a copy? Leave a comment or question for Jennifer, and we'll draw a name from among the commenters.