Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Capturing Schubert's soul

First-time author tells an imaginative story about 'genius, passion and hair'

By Martin Steinberg
The Associated Press

A tax lawyer from Brooklyn is struck by genius while shopping for holiday presents at a Nordstrom's in Southern California.

Unable to bear the store pianist's Muzak version of "Ave Maria," Liza Durbin takes over and plays the song beyond perfection. A crowd gathers. One woman weeps tears of joy, others ask for autographs.

How did a lawyer with a grade-school knowledge of piano do it? Franz Schubert. The soul of the 19th-century composer has found a home in Durbin's body and mind.

So begins this imaginative, self-described "novel about genius, passion and hair" written by first-time author Bonnie Marson. Sony Classics has put out a companion CD of works in the story, and Paramount Pictures has purchased the film rights.

Sleeping With Schubert is hilarious reading and filled with suspense. Will Liza get discovered? Will Schubert leave her before she plays at Carnegie Hall? Will he make it home to Vienna? Will he finish his "Unfinished Symphony"?

Till it's finished

How does a new novelist get published by the Carnegie Hall of book publishing, inspire a classical CD of well-worn favorites and get a ticket to Hollywood?

"She made me believe the impossible," says Jonathan Karp, Random House's editor in chief.

Marson calls her publishing debut "the power of innocent optimism." At 52, she is a copywriter by occupation and an artist who paints and sculpts. About nine years ago, she wrote a short story that won honorable mention in a literary contest.

Encouraged, she began a new story but stopped at page seven. A writer-friend later told her, "Just write it till it's finished."

"If she said write a 'book,' I would have said she was crazy," Marson says. "But she said, 'Write it till it's finished,' which is a whole different territory. That's saying a page a day."

After a year, Marson finished the 378-page Sleeping With Schubert. "The night that I finished writing it, it was such a feeling of accomplishment," she says.

As an artist

Like Marson, Liza Durbin also had never been involved in her own artistic venture. After Liza realizes that Schubert has inhabited her, she breaks the news to her parents, her former boyfriend and her fashionista sister with the bottomless bank account.

Sister Cassie, who stole away and married Liza's boyfriend from her Cornell University days, aggressively promotes Liza's Carnegie Hall debut.

Marson said her goal wasn't to write a metaphorical autobiography. "After the book was finished I saw some parallels, because she's a lawyer who suddenly finds herself at the top of the musical world - Carnegie Hall and Juilliard, and I'm an artist who suddenly finds myself at Random House and phone calls from Paramount ... But the big deal is I have not been inhabited by genius," Marson says.

"All over the world, there are great novels sitting in desk drawers ... and there's all kinds of people who have had inventions that are brilliant that don't get off the drawing table because they're waiting for permission, or they're waiting for the right time ... .

"I'm trying to encourage people to open up the unfinished side."


Find out more about Marson at www.bonniemarson.com

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