|Michelle Rodriguez, author of "Opera Macabre" and "The Opera Ghost Unraveled"|
Endings! For so many reasons. There’s the difficulty in coming up with a satisfying and complete experience for the reader. And then there’s the fact that you basically have to wrap up a few hundred page novel in a couple of paragraphs and let go. Sometimes that final ending paragraph can take me hours. And then it’s done, and at least for my original works, I always have a hard time letting the characters go and live their lives. Enduring every trial with them, every heartache and triumph, they become friends and are real. I was the one with my heroine when she cried her heart out for a lost love and the one watching that blissful moment when she found her hero all over again. I imagine it similar to what a parent feels like when their children grow up and leave. …Ask me in about 10 years, and I’ll let you know if that’s an applicable comparison! :)
You posted your first Phantom story online in 2010--I adore that one, by the way!--but you've been writing them even longer than that. What is the best part about writing Phantom stories? What makes you keep writing and sharing them?
Phantom was one of the first stories I felt a passionate connection to. I was desperate for there to be more, and I still feel that way today. That yearning for closure has never gone away, like it’s still an ellipsis that I can finish. Maybe it’s because none of my fictionalized endings are the real ending and I’m still looking for a perfect fit. And then there are the fans. They continuously inspire me and push me to give them more. They’re longing for that perfect ending as much as I am, and I love that I can eagerly take them on my creative journey with me.
The best part about writing Phantom stories for me is that they feel like home. For every adventure I go on in between Phantom tales, whether it’s among vampires or demons, I can always go home to the Paris opera house and find my friends. They are the versions of the characters I’ve created in my head, and every time I need them, I can find them and breathe life into them again. There are no other characters I’ve written who I can return to; once their stories are over, I have to let them go. But Erik and Christine are characters I’ve been able to hold and keep. That’s pretty amazing! I never have to grieve giving them up.
I'm always blown away at the emotion of your work, and the roller coaster rides you take your readers on. As exhilarating and exhausting as it can be to read, it's got to be even more so to write! How do you put so much feeling into your writing?
You’d think writing my stories would make me an emotional basketcase, but for me, it actually is a stress reliever! Yes, there have been many times where writing a particularly aggressive or depressing scene has left me lashing out irrationally at my husband and in a stellar mood all day, but if I can go back and reread it and feel all of those things again, then it’s worth it. The “how” part of the question doesn’t really have a definite answer. I just write. And whatever comes out often surprises even me.
It happens to the best of us on occasion; how do you cope with writer's block?
For each of my novels, I have a playlist of songs that either inspired the story or go with the mood of it. Music, to me, is my greatest source of creativity. So when those moments come, and of course they always must, I put my headphones on, hit play, and let my mind wander. I immerse myself in the very things that brought me the story to begin with and try to find its spark again. I also make it a point not to take a break from writing even if the words are stuttered and having a hard time finding my pencil. I may write only a paragraph or two that particular day, but it keeps the characters in suspension in my mind instead of letting them go. I feel like if I step too far away, I’ll lose the feeling of the piece as a whole.
The writing process doesn't end with the first draft...how do you know when a story is ready to be posted online or published?
First of all, as many of you know, I’m a stickler for doing my first drafts by hand. Pencil and notebook all the way! I adore a good pencil and maybe it’s because of the implication that it’s never final. My first edit comes as I painstakingly type every word onto the computer. It’s a tedious job, but I pick out things that seem awkward when I’m typing and make changes. Then once every word is typed, I take a break from the story for a few days or weeks before I do another round of edits. Sometimes that’s the last one before posting. If it feels good, I let it go as is. I don’t like to change more than sentence structures or words because I feel like it breaks the flow of the language, and to me, that’s as important as the story itself.
For publishing, I turn into a crazy person! I start to nitpick because I feel like it’s my last chance. Again, I’m doing little more than changing sentence structures, but my inner perfectionist takes control. I literally cannot read a single book I’ve published! I’m too afraid I’ll find things that could have made it better. Crazy, I know.
I think you do some pretty amazing things with your stories, from the words you use to the myriad twists you've put to the original Phantom story. What would you say sets you apart from other Phantom writers? Don't be afraid to toot your own horn!
I was going to say my inability to “toot my own horn”, LOL! I actually think that keeps me striving to exceed my own limits.
I don’t restrict my writing or the crazy workings of my imagination. Between my pencil and paper, I never doubt and am the most self-confident person in the world, and yet the instant the last letter is printed and it’s just me again, I become the absolute opposite. I think that’s a testament to how much of myself is in every word I write. I pour my heart and soul through my characters and never put bars in between. Because of that, it’s always an obstacle when it comes to posting and putting my stories out there for the world to share. I have to keep reminding myself why I do it: that I’m not looking for judgment, just to give others something I have such passion in. I crave that happy ending for Erik as much as every one of my phans, but I want it to feel real and earned.
To other writers looking to take on Erik's story, what do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing about the Phantom? He's one of the most beloved characters of literature, after all.
I think people have to remember that he’s not the hero. He can grow into being the hero, but he doesn’t start out that way. I know people like to romanticize the character and give him a fairytale story, but I like the reality in him: the darker parts, the sins on his soul. As a character, he’s a writer’s dream because he needs redemption. I love giving him a passion to be redeemed for his transgressions through love. Love is the ultimate gift and something he’s always been denied. It’s something that can turn any villain into a hero and transform.
There are twelve stories in Manifestations of a Phantom's Soul, Volume Two, including a few never posted online. If you had to pick just one, which one is your favorite?
That’s like asking me to choose which of my children I love most, LOL! But if you’re going to twist my arm, I will say that I have a special love for “A Twist in my Story”. I feel it has been the most overlooked of all my posted stories, and it’s one I’m the most proud of. People don’t like an angry Christine, especially in a story where Erik is doing everything he can to win her affections. She hates herself for caring about him as much as she hates him for what he is. I think that story is very real even if cruel at times.
I also love “Let It Bleed”. Every level of Erik is in that story: dark, angry, passionate, tender, sorry. I’ve always wanted to expand it into something longer (future project?)
Which one was the most difficult to write?
Most people would expect me to say “Captivated” just because of the subject matter, but actually, that one always made sense in my mind. I knew where it was going and how it would get there. The hardest one for me to write was definitely “Forget Me Not”. Most of you know I am a hopeless romantic, and I want happy endings. But no matter how I tried to interpret that story, it could not have a happy ending. I obsessed over finding one. That was one of the few stories I did take a break from and leave unfinished for awhile because I didn’t want to end it the way I inevitably did. But there was no other path that made sense. Any other would have taken something away from the power of that story and ripped the symbolism apart. It had to be tragic, and writing it was like torture to me! Do you ever wonder why I don’t write death scenes? LOL! “Forget Me Not” was close enough to that in my book!
You've been writing about the Phantom for years now, and I don't think anyone who reads your work denies the love you have for the story. How has writing Erik and Christine changed you? Not necessarily just as a writer, but on the whole?
I had to really think about this question for awhile because it hit me a bit deeper than expected. Writing Erik taught me how to deal with my son. It’s amazing the life lessons you get from the most obscure places. My son is 7 years old, and he is autistic. When he was younger (and still now to a lesser degree), he had these awful tantrums that would go on for hours at a time. He’d be so consumed that he wouldn’t even realize what was going on around him. He’d shake so hard, and I often had to stop him from banging his head against any solid surface. I’ve said how alike my son is to Erik. He’s a genius who runs on passion; he needs to feel like he is in complete control of his world; he has a deficiency that sets him apart from others constantly. Writing Erik often put me in Christine’s shoes, dealing with his temper and his genius, and I had to learn from her perspective how to have patience and tolerance and love through the hardest and most difficult situations.
Your newest Phantom story, "Rib-caged Hearts," is in progress online and you have the third book of the Angel and Demon Chronicles coming out later this fall. Any hints what your next project might be?
Oh gosh! I wish I could say ‘catch up on some sleep’, but that’s not even an option, LOL! I would like to publish one of my other Phantom novels this winter and then another of my vampire novels in the spring. I’m also considering doing a third volume of “Manifestations of a Phantom’s Soul” next summer or fall. Maybe it should be a yearly thing, LOL!
I also have plans to return to writing a new vampire novel and a long, DARK Phantom story, for those who love the darker ones.
On top of that, I will be performing in another opera production and 2 solo vocal recitals this spring. And by then the baby should be walking! As if things couldn’t be crazy enough!
To read "Rib-caged Hearts," go to:
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Michelle's published works are available on Amazon.com, and to read my reviews, visit "The Bookshelf" page of this blog. Manifestations of a Phantom's Soul, Volume Two is now available for purchase. Be sure to get a copy! It's a must-read for any phan!