Susan Sloate is the author I might never have met if we weren’t the only two people who’d posted reviews of an old, obscure novel we both love (See blog entry “Good Morning, Young Lady” by Ardyth Kennelly). Not surprisingly, we have a lot more in common than our mutual love for one novel. She emailed me a manuscript she had just written, which I enjoyed reading, and now it’s published:
SYNOPSOS: In glittery 1980’s Los Angeles, Beau Kellogg is a brilliant Broadway lyricist now writing advertising jingles and yearning for one more hit to compensate for his miserable marriage and disappointing life. Amanda Harary, a young singer out of synch with her contemporaries, works at a small New York hotel, while she dreams of singing on Broadway. When they meet late at night over the hotel switchboard, what begins will bring them each unexpected success, untold joy, and piercing heartache … until they learn that some connections, however improbable, are meant to last forever.
My amazon review:
A caveat of the romance genre is a handsome young hero who inspires the same infatuation in the reader as in the heroine. This novel does the impossible, delivering a rude, grouchy, self-absorbed Broadway has-been, with a third strike against him, being married and committed to his beautiful but faithless wife. I kept screaming at Amanda, GET OVER this man. Heroines never listen to their readers, or Amanda would quickly realize the budding romance was beautiful, it was good while it lasted, but it CANNOT LAST. I rarely get so worked up at a heroine. I cheered when her friends and family told her to forget this guy. So why couldn’t she give up and move on? Why didn’t I give up on her and slam the book shut?
The answer is multi-faceted, and the author’s story telling skill is Reason #1, but there’s also the fascinating mystery of how things we loved in childhood haunt, or inspire, or comfort us for life. In “Stealing Fire” (great title, taken from a great poem, look inside the book!), Beau Kellog is a brilliant lyricist, and early in Amanda Harary’s childhood, she listened to a recording of his music over and over again, staring at the album cover, memorizing the lyrics. Losing this treasured album (sister breaks it by accident) only increases its “unforgettable” value. Things familiar to us in our earliest awareness leave a profound, life-long impact. E.g., a man who obsessively collected swans one day found in his grandma’s attic a crib mobile of a swan. Consciously, he didn’t remember it, but what an imprint! For me, it was that brown and yellow harlequin blanket, a 1950s wedding gift my Mom hated (“ugly”), but after years of sleeping under it, I acquired a passion for that 2-tone diamond-pattern. One day, finding the forgotten blanket at Mom’s, I recognized the source of my obsession. And so it is with Amanda in “Stealing Fire.” This delightful heroine grows up as an “old soul,” a 1970s teen who loves early 20th century Broadway hits that none of her peers would even recognize. When the song writer of her treasured musical appears in real life, what else would she do but fall in love? Never mind that the night they meet, he’s in a bad mood and takes it out on an innocent stranger working the hotel switch line; never mind that he’s married. The mood and atmosphere are perfect for a man on the phone to strike up a casual conversation that evolves into an addictive flirtaion with an unseen woman. These conversations between strangers via middle-of-the-night phone calls set the stage for a budding romance that must flower, the consequences be damned.
Amanda is unconditionally loving, forgiving, sweet and unselfish. Her only flaw is that she’s so thoughtful of everyone else, so self-sacrificing, and so humble. She suffers stage fright that cripples her singing career. Her adoration of Beau Kellog inspires him to rise up from being a has-been to a commercial success. I kept wanting to see him return the favor, but his cheating wife gets his loyalty and attention, not Amanda. Whatever she achieves, she earns the hard way, after long, lonely nights, anguish, toil and persistence, and a little inspiration from Beau, while Beau soars on the wings of love. The heady fire and intoxication of a May-December romance re-invigorates his stale musical career. Being unconditionally loved and adored by a beautiful young woman would be quite the ego boost for any man, and poor Beau did need the boost–but his ego is re-inflated to obnoxious, creative-genius, self-absorbed proportions. I may be the only reader on the planet to feel such antipathy for this man. Readers do bring their own personal baggage to every story. I know too many women like Amanda and too many men like Beau.
To say more about Amanda and her career would risk too many plot spoilers. Suffice it to say, it’s a stroke of sheer brilliance that Susan Sloate kept me turning pages in a story so frustrating and heartbreaking. Not a false note is ever struck. Amanda’s passion and devotion are 100% authentic–and so compelling, I lay awake at night thinking about her.
The prose is clean and solid, a refreshing change from the slew of typo-ridden, grammatically challenged self-pubbed novels I’ve been downloading. The characters are fully realized, not cardboard cutouts, and certainly not cliches of the romance genre. Fans of Broadway are sure to love this novel just for the musical references. I kept wishing for a Kindle version that included links to you-tube recordings of the songs. Susan Sloate’s song writing skills are as strong as her novel writing talent, which is considerable.
I can’t say I ever learned to like the hero of this story, but he is all too true-to-life, and so is the long-suffering heroine. This novel would be a great addition to book-club and classroom discussions. The May-December romance, the age difference, really isn’t the issue. The man’s selfishness is.
This is a story that cannot be told too often. My only complaint is the ending. However, it reminds me in many ways of the dual-edged ending of a novel I treasured in my childhood (and yes, that means I have little objectivity with this novel: it reminds me of a childhood favorite!). Someof the themes I love in “Good Morning, Young Lady” appear in modern form in “Stealing Fire.” One of most unforgettable things about both novels is the ending. As a child, I believed Kennelly’s was tragic, and I mentally rewrote the ending every time I read it. As an adult, I realize it’s not only a happy ending, it’s the best of all possible outcomes for the heroine. Likewise, “Stealing Fire” delivers a bittersweet but ultimately very satisfying conclusion.
If Susan Sloate ever uses her many talents to make this story into a musical, I’ll be in the front row, cheering.
STEALING FIRE was a 2012 quarter-finalist in the amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
–Who’s the handsome New York Mets catcher? Gary Edmund Carter (April 8, 1954 — February 16, 2012) aka “Kid” (for his youthful exuberance). Susan emailed me:
Gary died 2 years ago at the age of 57. The photo was way long ago, while he was 34 and in the prime of his career…. Carter won 3 Gold Gloves (for exceptional defense) as a catcher, was on the All-Star team 11 times, including one year where he was the game’s MVP, has had his number (8) retired in Montreal, where he played before coming to the Mets, and perhaps most memorably–he was the batter who started the extraordinary rally in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series – Mets vs. Red Sox.The Sox were ahead by 2 runs in the bottom of the 10th inning (playing in New York)–and as they hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, their fans were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the inning to end and their heroes to be crowned champions.The Mets got 2 quick outs and were down to their final chance. Carter, who’d had a very tough time hitting in the post-season that year, hit a single. He was followed by consecutive singles by Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight. Knight batted in Carter, score now 5-4. Then Mookie Wilson came to the plate for one of the most famous at-bats ever.Mookie, not a strong hitter but a very fast runner, fouled off a bunch of pitches. Boston brought in a new pitcher, Bob Stanley, who threw a tricky pitch called a palm ball. He ended up throwing one the catcher couldn’t get, which rolled all the way to the wall, and unbelievably, Kevin Mitchell scored from third base. Now the score is TIED, where before Boston had been within one strike of winning it all.With the score tied, Mookie was very relieved. Nothing could go wrong for him now. So he hit a little dribbler along the first-base line–which went right under Bill Buckner’s glove (the really famous Buckner blunder). The ball went into right field, Ray Knight came home, the Mets won the game and went on to win the Series 2 days later.And Gary Carter started it all.RIP, Gary. Still miss you, buddy.P.S.I saw Game 6 of the ’86 World Series live, as it happened… truly one of the top ten moments of my entire life, as a Met fan.
This email says a lot about Susan. Need I spell it out? What a smart, wise, insightful and fun-loving person!
And what an accomplished author:
Susan Sloate is the author or co-author of more than 20 published books, including Realizing You (with Ron Doades), for which she created a new genre, the self-help novel, and the 2003 #6 Amazon bestseller, Forward to Camelot (with Kevin Finn), which took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned by a Hollywood company for film production. The much-anticipated reprint, Forward to Camelot (50th Anniversary Edition), was published by Drake Valley Press in October 2013.
She has written young-adult fiction and non-fiction, including the children’s biography Ray Charles: Find Another Way!, which was honored in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Book Awards. Mysteries Unwrapped: The Secrets of Alcatraz led to her 2009 appearance on the TV series MysteryQuest on The History Channel. Amelia Earhart: Challenging the Skies is a perennial young-adult Amazon bestseller.
She has also been a sportswriter and screenwriter, managed two recent political campaigns, and founded an author’s festival in her hometown outside Charleston, SC. Stealing Fire was a Quarter-Finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and combines autobiographical experience with Susan’s lifelong love of the musical theater. She is proud to be related to Broadway legend Fred Ebb, the lyricist for Cabaret, Chicago, All That Jazz and New York, New York.