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Roberta Hershenson

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    I will be attending NY Pitch Conference 12/2-12/5

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  1. 1. Story Statement Arts journalist Piper Morgan must prove the unknown Lisha Lovington the true composer of the 1899 Requiem, both to ensure that a neglected woman’s work will be heard and to triumph over a killer set on stopping her. 2. The Antagonist British musicologist Hunter Bell wants glory without earning it, wealth without working for it. Erudite, handsome, and charming, he glides through life giving glib lectures with enough feminist zeal to make women swoon. He stakes all on a family letter passed down four generations and promising riches if he finds a certain trick manuscript written by the famed Edward Elgar under the name of Bell’s long ago aunt, the rejected composer Lisha Lovington. He deludes himself to persuade others, commits crimes to prove himself innocent, and brings massive determination to an evil project. His skill set is obfuscation and invention combined with a pretense at outrage. Matching wits with the protagonist, arts reporter Piper Morgan, he holds sway by withholding evidence and twisting facts. Piper may lack his store of musical knowledge, but she’s miles ahead in clear-eyed integrity. 3. Breakout Title DYING TO BE HEARD MUSIC, MURDER AND MALICE ANGELS’ BLOOD: Murder in the Chorus 4. Comparables MURDER DUET, by Batya Gur. Two musicians are murdered. The writing is steeped in the music world with Brahms and Vivaldi woven into the narrative. As a music nut myself, I will buy any book that promises to envelop me in music and musicians, and when murder is involved it’s irresistible. (I have loved Gur’s books since before beginning to write my own.) MURDER IN G MINOR, by Alexia Gordon. A classical musician forms a school orchestra in Ireland while the ghost of a man falsely accused of killing his wife haunts the house she’s renting. One reviewer said “If you’re a music nerd you will love the musical references.” My book aims at that same enjoyment. AN UNEQUAL MUSIC, by Vikram Seth. A romantic drama set in the world of classical performing artists. No murder, but a mystery based in a relationship. PW says the story’s told with “intelligence and sensitivity,” which sold it to me immediately. I aspire to those values in my writing. 5. Hook (logline) A successful arts reporter must choose between staying objective and writing on behalf of an unknown 19th century female composer who might have been a plagiarist. 6. Inner Conflict (Part 1) Piper Morgan chose journalism to find a more stable life than she had with her wildly creative and unpredictable mother, a painter. At 29 Piper has achieved a respected position as chief arts reporter for The New York Vines, but a feeling of dissatisfaction nags at her. She stays at an objective distance from the artists she writes about but dreams of producing an artistic “grand opus” of her own. When she hears about an unknown 19th century female composer whose music was rejected by the sexist music academy of her time, and whose 21st century premiere might be cancelled due to a an unproven suspicion of plagiarism against her, Piper is appalled that this woman’s music may never be heard—that in fact many women’s creative works have never and will never be heard—including her own potential grand opus. A feminist professor Piper admires urges her to write on behalf of the composer, saying only she can bring justice to a suppressed woman, but Piper struggles against taking sides without proof of the composer’s innocence. Then she hears the music played one night at a chorus rehearsal… (Part 2) To prove the composer Lisha Lovington innocent so her music can be heard, Piper must get hold of a letter Lovington’s distant relative Hunter Bell, a present-day musicologist, claims to own, written by Edgar Elgar, the composer she is suspected of plagiarizing, to Lovington. Bell is smooth and glib, eluding each effort Piper makes to get the letter, which is a missing link in the Lovington-Elgar story. Normally not one to lie or connive, Piper must now do so in her conflict with Bell, as she struggles to understand what really happened 120 years ago. As Bell grows increasingly desperate—millions of dollars are at stake—Piper becomes increasingly bold, putting herself in harm’s way not only for the sake of a dramatic newspaper story but of women everywhere. (Note: Maybe this is the primary conflict?) 7. Setting My murder mystery novel is set in a volunteer chorus abounding in moving parts: prima donnas, earnest fellows, ambitious singers (who futilely aspire to be soloists), and a brooding married conductor madly in love with the star chorus soprano, while his feminist and woke wife sings with his beloved in the soprano section. Classical requiems, glorias, and stabat maters rouse the emotions, so it’s no wonder romance arises on the risers. Couples in various stages of meeting, joining, and breaking up form an unending backdrop for chorus gossip. There is a fraught Messiah dress rehearsal where the vocal warmups resemble a bizarre tribal ritural. Off-key mistakes lead to embarrassment during the rehearsal, and the high-strung conductor broods some more. The chorus is his only instrument, and an unwieldy instrument it is, with water bottles rolling out from under chairs, people talking during instructions, and complaints ranging from too much perfume to the perennial “I can’t see the conductor.” The chorus performs in a gleaming new performing arts center where somehow the chorus ladies room was an afterthought, winding up at the bottom of a rickety staircase that must be negotiated by singers in long concert skirts and high heels. The men’s dressing room is relatively calm, while the woman’s is chaotic with pre-performance jitters: misplaced music books, lost lipsticks, and not enough chairs to sit on before curtain call. The 35-piece professional orchestra adds bulk and sound but is a study in cool by comparison. The players long ago learned the ropes of performing several times a week, while the chorus performs only once or twice a year on this grand stage, and it goes to their heads. The stage is the powdered face of the massive center, while backstage is where the body’s systems throb and churn, a maze of stairways, rooms, and closets where rendez-vous happen along with the occasional murder. Might a weapon be hidden under a staircase? Will a trail of blood on the stairs lead to a killer? Did anyone notice whether the conductor used his very polished and special baton in the second half? And why did the conductor pause so long before the downbeat in the second half of Messiah? The audience even noticed. So many moving parts, and don’t forget the stagehand who makes sure to flick the conductor’s dandruff from his tux, and the deep, professional voice that announces: “Ladies and gentleman, this is your final call. Please line up for the stage.”
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