A Summer in Europe: Musical Adventures in Budapest
First of all, many thanks to Amy for inviting me for a visit. It’s a pleasure to be here with you all!!
Today is the official Kensington release day for my third women’s fiction book, A Summer in Europe (http://tinyurl.com/3qk8nt8), which is about a junior-high math teacher named Gwen, who gets a month-long grand European tour as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric Aunt Bea and her aunt’s Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. Gwen has never had an adventure overseas before—she’s rarely ever even left the Midwest—so each day of her trip brings with it a rush of new experiences, and they often make her question what she thought she wanted or thought she knew about her life.
Well, I’ve been celebrating this new book by taking a journey around the web to share some of my favorite European sites and to explain how my own real-life memories from visits abroad influenced the writing of this novel. I’m very excited to get to talk about this city today because a few key story scenes happened in the Hungarian capital, one of which I know I never would have thought to write about if I hadn’t experienced it myself…
Part of Chapter 7 reads:
Gwen could scarcely imagine a place more foreign-sounding than Budapest. Not that it looked vastly different from some of the other splendid European sites they’d visited already, she decided, as they crossed the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which traversed the Danube River and divided the antiquated cities of Buda and Pest. But Hungary was really far from Iowa.
I’d done a fair bit of traveling outside of the U.S. before I’d ever set foot in Eastern Europe but, even so, I grew up in Wisconsin. (LOVE Wisconsin, by the way! I go home whenever I can. But “dairy state” comes more immediately to mind than “international mecca.” 😉 As a high school kid, there were very few places on the planet that sounded more exotic to me than Budapest, although I always thought Montevideo seemed pretty far away, too. Or Kuala Lumpur. These were the kind of places you’d read about in National Geographic, not the kind of vacation spots people in my circle of acquaintance would visit. So, when we first got to Hungary, I was very conscious of doing a lot of comparing and contrasting in an attempt to figure out once and for all just how “foreign” the city really was.
Like my character with her tour group, my husband and I trooped around the capital city, taking in sites. I wasn’t a writer at the time—at least not officially so—but I kept a detailed journal of the landmarks we visited, took TONS of pictures on my old 35mm and hung onto little mementos like postcards, admission tickets, even a “Do Not Disturb” sign from our hotel. (Hey, it was cute and it had all these languages on it!)
But there was one memory that was impossible to capture with a camera or even by hanging onto the evening’s program: a German operetta that my husband and I serendipitously stumbled upon at Vigadó Concert Hall, featuring the songs of both Austrian and Hungarian composers.
In the book, I gave my characters this entertaining experience, even including a few of the specific musical numbers that we’d seen performed. But theirs was a planned excursion—something their German-speaking tour guide organized for them in a city where there’s a strong cultural value placed on the sharing of music. I wrote this event into my novel because, quite frankly, I felt something important would have been missing otherwise. I just couldn’t think of Budapest—couldn’t write about it authentically—without remembering the magic of that night’s performance.
And it was magical, despite the fact that I knew only a handful of words in German (Wienerschnitzel and Volkswagen being two of them) and none at all in Hungarian. It was magical because of the almost tangible enjoyment of the crowd for these songs. Because of the energy and feeling of rapport between the performers and the audience. And because—even though my husband and I couldn’t understand the lyrics—we were fully accepted by the people sitting around us. They could tell we appreciated the show, and the feeling of joy that permeated the atmosphere of the theater reminded us all how easily music could transcend language and cross cultural boundaries.
Budapest wasn’t really all that “foreign” after all.
After the performance, when the man sitting to our right turned our way in sheer jubilation and said enthusiastically, “Wunderbar!” My husband and I nodded in absolute agreement, and said, “Wunderbar!” just as enthusiastically right back to him (another of my few German words, but a perfect one for the situation). And I could never forget that short but meaningful exchange. These many years later, I gave that same expression of delight to the tour guide in my story—a man who was in raptures after listening to an operetta sung in his native tongue. It might be a small writing detail, but it was the truest expression of emotion I could find for that moment.
Have you ever had a similar moment as a writer? Wanted to recreate a very specific emotional reaction in one of your characters that you’d witnessed in real life? I imagine many of you have… Did they ever come from a travel experience? And for everyone—whether you’re a writer or not—what are your favorite kinds of musical performances (concerts, theater shows, orchestras, etc.)? I’d love to know!
If you’re a travel lover like me, my book tour/grand European adventure is in progress with the first part of the itinerary below:
Friday 11/25: Rome at Magical Musings (http://magicalmusings.com)
Monday 11/28: Pompeii at SOS Aloha (http://sosaloha.blogspot.com)
Tuesday 11/29: Isle of Capri at the Stiletto Gang (http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com)
Wednesday 11/30: Venice at Girlfriends Book Club (http://girlfriendbooks.blogspot.com)
Thursday 12/1: Budapest at Women’s Fiction Writers (http://womensfictionwriters.wordpress.com)
Friday 12/2: Florence at Writer Unboxed (http://writerunboxed.com)
Monday 12/5: London at Austen Authors (http://austenauthors.net)
Tuesday 12/6: Salzburg at Robin Bielman’s blog (http://robinbielman.com/blog)
Wednesday 12/7: Lake Como at Brant Flakes (http://marilynbrant.blogspot.com)
And I’ll be featuring other cities in the days and weeks following, too, such as Pisa, Zermatt, Vienna, Nice, Brussels and Paris. (The full list of travel stops will be updated through the month on my website: http://www.marilynbrant.com .) I hope you’ll join me for a few other cities on the tour!! And if you’d like to read an excerpt from A Summer in Europe, which is a Literary Guild and Rhapsody Book Club featured alternate selection for December 2011, you can find one here: http://www.marilynbrant.com/MBbooksEURO.html
Thanks, again, for having me here today!
Marilyn Brant has been told she writes with honesty, liveliness and wit (descriptors she’s grown terribly fond of) about complex, intelligent women — like her friends — and their significant personal relationships. Although her favorite pursuits undoubtedly involve books, she proves she’s not just a literary snob by confessing her lifelong fascination (read: obsession) with popular music, especially from the ’70s & ’80s, most flavors of ice cream and a variety of sensuous body lotions/oils.
Marilyn is the award-winning women’s fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and her upcoming novel, A SUMMER IN EUROPE (November 29, 2011), all from Kensington Books. She’s also a #1 Kindle bestseller and has written a series of fun and flirty contemporary romantic comedies, available exclusively as original ebooks. The first of these, ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAE, was released in June 2011 and hit Amazon’s Top 100 List for “Bestsellers in Humor.” Her second digital story, DOUBLE DIPPING, was a September 2011 release.
As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She’s been told — and not always with the intent to flatter — that she’s “insatiably curious” and “a travel addict.” She admits to combining these two passions by taking classes in foreign countries whenever possible and, consequently, she’s been able to learn lots of fascinating things in Australia, in England, in Italy and in universities across the United States.
She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel featuring “Jane” won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award. Her second novel was a Doubleday Book Club and Book-of-the-Month Club Featured Alternate Selection. And her third women’s fiction book will be featured by the Literary Guild and the Rhapsody Book Club.
Marilyn has traveled to 46 states and over 30 countries (so far — she’s not done yet!), but she now lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family. When she isn’t rereading Jane’s books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she’s working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.