Priya Sridhar joins us today to talk about her 2014 novella Carousel. This contemporary twist on the tale of the Pied Paper is filled with music, magic, and monsters.
In Carousel, conductor Renee Zingany shies away from the intrusion when a university patron takes interest in her past. Renee hasn’t performed any magic or faced a demon in years, and she wants her life to remain that way. She prefers writing symphonies and conducting orchestra students to reading Tarot. Then the Pied Piper, a demon from her past, comes to steal her students, and only Renee knows how to stop him.
Carousel is available now.
Music plays an important role in Carousel, both in the orchestra’s practice sessions and the Piper’s magical flute playing. What inspired you to weave music so tightly into the fabric of this novella? Is music an important part of your own life?
Believe it or not, a real clocktower and a real orchestra inspired the story. When I was in undergrad, I found out there was an orchestra and asked if I could audit the course for my first semester, when I was doing seventeen credits. The clock tower was across from the auditorium, and for a while at noon it would play a melody. That drove me insane, since I didn’t know where the music came from. Around seven-thirty in the morning, I wrote a short story about the tower, and the horses. The novella came several years later, after about five revisions and an editor asking for the expansion.
Music is an important part of my life. I’ve been singing and playing violin on and off from a young age. In high school I took a college level course for music theory, and in this day I am an avid Broadway and classical music fan. If you want an animated film or a musical to win me over, have a killer soundtrack. For that reason I’m a Disney fan and enjoy the old Looney Tunes that paid homage to opera. Currently Hamilton and the video game Undertale have taken my attention, since the covers that have ensued are inspiring. One of my friends is a composer and is looking over a rough waltz that I drafted based on an Undertale theme.
How does it feel to look back on a book you wrote years ago? Has your perspective on the book evolved with time?
Carousel I’m proud of because I wrote it the year before I entered business school, when writing became much harder. Terrie, the editor who accepted the tale, had read the short story. It took about a week and a day to write, with her gentle nudging. Since then I hope to again write a long work in a short amount of time that is as tight.
Probably one thing I would have changed was add more depth to Deborah Aether, and to take away the appellations of her being “insane”. Mental illness does run on a spectrum,and she was more power-grabbing than “crazy” as Renee would put it. Other than that, I’m proud of the effort that I put into the revisions, and into making it a solid story.
How have readers responded to Carousel? Does the response of readers impact you as a writer?
Most of the readers I’ve talked to about Carousel enjoy the story a lot. One girl at a convention came up after a panel and immediately bought a copy. She then sent a gushing review a few days later, and we corresponded for a while. Another craftswoman at the same convention let me buy a ring at a discount in exchange for a signed copy of the book. The real orchestra conductor who inspired the story has a signed copy, and I’ve passed it on to him. Sometimes the personal reactions matter the most, and I treasure the reviews I’ve gotten. I need reader feedback, and I hope someday to have more readers on hand.
Carousel combines a contemporary setting on a university campus with magical elements from folklore. What intrigued you about the tale of the Pied Piper, in particular, and what inspired you to mix realism and fantasy in this novella?
The realism comes from my experience as an undergrad in the orchestra, and as an intern at a huge theater that relied on fundraising. I saw a lot of fundraising done for the wealthy patrons. For the Pied Piper, it was tying in a reason for the horrible things in the story to be happening. Originally, carousel horses appeared for no reason and my original beta said that was not acceptable. The Piper also represents honoring your debts, so that you aren’t condemned.
Has your approach to writing changed since this book? If so, in what ways? If not, what has stayed the same?
I haven’t handwritten a short story draft since then. Most of my work is on the computer, on Google Drive or Microsoft Word. The first draft of Carousel is somewhere in one of my folders, handwritten on notebook paper. Talking with my beta readers and brainstorming has been the same. I also tend to do rough outlines of what I want to happen in scenes.
What have you worked on since Carousel? Can you share any details about your current project(s)?
I am currently working on some short stories, one about voice acting, and another about an asteroid colony in outer space. Right now most of the creative projects are a work in progress. I hope to finish a novella about nagas in India commissioning an author to write a play.
Do you have any advice for new writers on the twists and turns that a career in publishing can take?
You have to be patient with yourself. Everyone writes at a different learning curve, the average of which is ten years. Keep writing, find people who will give you encouraging feedback while noting room for improvement, and stay determined. Chocolate helps, as do good writing friends.
Who do you hope will find Carousel?
I hope that musicians will find Carousel, and conductors. I also hope that fantasy and horror fans find it, and enjoy themselves, and that eventually people who come to like my work will read it in a couple of years and compare the two.
What else would you like readers to know about Carousel?
That none of the characters are real, and most art donors are nicer than the main villain in the story. They do make violins in sizes fit for children, although none of them are purple. Also that this tale took about five drafts to get just right, plus one draft for copy-editing.