Wednesday, 25 May 2022

G Guest Editorials

Celebrate Lit: Beloved Ballet to Terrible Crime

How a Beloved Ballet Became a Terrible Crime Scene... Sorta

All I had was a fairy tale and a setting. I knew I wanted The Nutcracker Suite ballet, and of course, we were setting all of our books in the 1920s, so that era had already been decided for me. I chose my fictional world of Rockland as the city in order to bring in someone I knew would have lived then. Oh, and murder. There’d be a murder. How can you have a 1920s mystery during the prohibition era without some mobsters and murder, right?

After several false starts, I went to the cast list and renamed everyone. Clara Stahlbaum became Clarice Stahl. Uncle Drosselmeyer became Mr. Meyer. Since the nutcracker had been a gift, I decided that he owned a toy factory where Clarice worked. But my Clarice would be without family—a home child who had gone to work for Meyer’s Toys at seventeen.

Bringing in the mob was difficult. How on earth could I do that? Then Emiliano (Milo) Natale came on the scene. (Natale is Italian for Christmas). I decided he’d be the mob king’s “nutcracker” because he crushed people until they cracked. Basically, he’s the big guy’s enforcer, and he’s got a bit of a soft spot for Clarice.

Now that was so much fun and so difficult at the same time. I wanted this tough guy to be a bumbling fool around Clarice, but I didn’t want him to be obnoxious. I tried stuttering, running his words together—you name it. I watched every episode and movie of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, paying extra close attention to Norman Dorman in hopes that I could get ideas for how to make my guy delightfully awkward. I failed.

Then, while waiting for one of the proofreaders to get to it, I figured it out. What a relief! I love Milo now. He’s exactly the bundle of strength and uncertainty that I wanted him to be. Working for a guy like Mario Topo could do that to you.

Mr. Topo was extra fun to write. See, Topo is the “Mob King” of Rockland, and well… topo is the Italian word for… yeah. Mouse. The book is full of all kinds of little things like that. I enjoyed using elements from the ballet reimagined in prohibition era America.

In the end, we have The Nutcracker’s Suite—a story about a man, a mouse, and the kitten who ties them all together. Doesn’t make sense? I suspect readers will understand after they’ve finished the story.

Nutcracker Suite cover


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