Joanne Sydney Lessner is the author of Pandora’s Bottle, a novel inspired by the true story of the world’s most expensive bottle of wine (Flint Mine Press), which was selected as one of Paperback Dolls’ top five books of 2010. The Temporary Detective (Dulcet Press) introduces Isobel Spice, aspiring actress and resourceful office temp turned amateur sleuth. No stranger to the theatrical world, Joanne enjoys an active performing career in both musical theater and opera. With her husband, composer/conductor Joshua Rosenblum, she has co-authored several musicals including the cult hit Fermat s Last Tango and Einstein s Dreams, based on the celebrated novel by Alan Lightman. Her play, Critical Mass, received its Off Broadway premiere in October 2010 as the winner of the 2009 Heiress Productions Playwriting Competition. She is a regular contributing writer to Opera News and holds a B.A. in music, summa cum laude, from Yale University.
What are you currently working on and when do you plan to release your next book?
I’m coming into the homestretch on the second Isobel Spice novel, Bad Publicity, which I’m planning to release early next year. I also just finished an Isobel short story for an anthology edited by Jen Blood to be published by Adian Press in the fall. Besides that, I’m working on the book to a musical I’m writing with my husband on commission for the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia. It’s an adaptation of the Wilkie Collins novella The Haunted Hotel. Gothic, spooky fun!
Do you have a favorite genre for your writing or do you write whatever moves you?
I always try to let content dictate form, so I bounce back and forth among novels, plays, musicals, and screenplays depending on which medium I think will be most effective for the story I want to tell. I love writing with my husband—we’ve written five musicals together—but there is something I cherish about the solitary craft of novel writing, or noveltry as my ten year-old daughter calls it.
What is the best piece of advice you were given about writing?
From fellow writer Marc Acito: it’s amazing how much you can get done in five-minute bursts. It’s absolutely true. It’s very freeing to realize you don’t need to carve out a huge chunk of time to write. There’s less pressure to produce brilliance, because, hey, it’s only five minutes! At the same time, you can’t use lack of time as an excuse. But that’s how books get written, even if you do block out an entire afternoon: bit by bit. I wrote my first novel, Pandora’s Bottle, in three months, largely while the pasta water was boiling.
Do you have a special spot where you like to write or are you a “have lap top will travel” writer?
I write at my desk. My husband sits three feet away from me at his keyboard, composing or practicing with headphones. It’s very companionable.
What is your favorite book and favorite author?
Oh, that’s so hard! I will say that the book that influenced me most as a writer was Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, which I read in AP Lit my senior year in high school. The funny thing is that I almost didn’t take the course because of that book! A friend a year ahead of me was reading it, and I scanned the blurb and thought, “A slog about southern politics? I’m just going to hate this!” Boy, was I wrong. It changed my life.
When did you discover your passion for writing?
I’ve always written. In fourth grade I wrote a seven-page murder mystery play for my class. I came across the script recently in my parents’ basement, and my daughter and I read it aloud in English accents. We had a good laugh over it—it was pretty bad! But I really got hooked in eleventh grade when my father brought home an electric typewriter for me to type my term paper. I finished the paper, but was having so much fun typing that I kept going and wound up writing a novel—also recently unearthed in my parents’ basement, but significantly better than the play.
Do you have a favorite beverage or snack you must have while writing?
I’m currently addicted to Celestial Seasonings Peppermint Tea. I also like Trident Layers gum in strawberry/citrus. So I guess that makes me equal parts little old lady and tween girl.
What inspires you?
Seeing great theater, hearing great music, reading great books. Not only do they inspire me to act, sing and write, I find that witnessing other people’s accomplishments tangibly makes me better at mine.
Do you have a favorite vacation destination and do you write while vacationing?
We’re big cruisers in my family. It’s the ultimate relaxation vacation. I never write while we’re away, although my husband and I do enjoy bouncing ideas around. We often use it as a time to take stock of our projects, which can be easier at a distance. That said, we did scribble down ideas for our very first musical on a napkin while drinking hot chocolate at Demel in Vienna on our honeymoon.
Do you have any advice for other writers on any subject you choose?
James Thurber put it best: don’t get it right, just get it written. Try not to judge yourself every step of the way. I’m pretty self-critical as a performer, but for some reason, when I write, I’m able to get out of my way and let the ideas flow through me onto the page. A lot of times I feel like I’m channeling. It can be a real leap of faith, but you have to give up control to get control. It’s true of performing as well.
Any last thoughts you would like to add?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be able to juggle all my creative pursuits: writing, singing, and acting. Sometimes I get frustrated when I see other people shoot to the top, but I honestly don’t think I’d have been as happy having to choose one career over the others. I think you have to do what fulfills you creatively, whether it’s one thing or ten.
The Temporary Detective
An Isobel Spice Novel
By Joanne Sydney Lessner
Publisher: Dulcet Press, April 9, 2012
Phones, light typing…and murder.
Think breaking into show business is hard? Try landing a temp job without office skills. That’s the challenge facing aspiring actress Isobel Spice when she arrives in New York City, fresh out of college and deficient in PowerPoint. After being rejected by seven temp agencies for her lack of experience, Isobel sweet-talks recruiter James Cooke into letting her cover a last-minute vacancy at a bank. New to his own job and recently sober, James takes a chance on Isobel, despite his suspicion that she’s a trouble-magnet. His misgivings are borne out by lunchtime, when Isobel stumbles across a dead secretary in a bathroom stall and discovers an untapped talent for detective work—a qualification few other temps, let alone actresses, can claim.
By Joanne Sydney Lessner
Publisher: Flint Mine Press, June 12, 2010
What happens when you pin all your hopes on a single event and it all goes terribly wrong? When that event is the uncorking of a fabled bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite once owned by Thomas Jefferson, the repercussions are emotional, financial, theatrical and, in every way, unexpected. When Sy Hampton purchases this legendary bottle, which, through a quirk of preservation, may yet be drinkable he shocks the wine community by choosing to uncork it privately with a female companion, rather than at a special public event. Sy intends the evening to be a quiet reassertion of his virility in the throes of middle age, but for ambitious restaurateur Annette Lecocq, the event offers an irresistible opportunity for much-needed publicity. Their competing agendas are not the only things to collide on the fateful night. Caught in the crossfire are Tripp Macgregor, a waiter on the verge of his long-awaited Broadway debut, and Valentina D Ambrosio, the beautiful but unworldly working girl from Brooklyn Sy hopes to impress.
[There are excerpts from both books on my website in flipbook format]
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