Chanson de l’Ange, a retelling of "The Phantom of the Opera": Interview with Author Paisley Swan Stewart
“Paisley Swan Stewart’s writing voice is powerfully and masterfully done, and is informed in every sentence, every paragraph by her own private experiences. She has what it takes to be a NYC published author — and believe me, I do not say this lightly.
I am writing through tears right now… Her voice moved me deeply, and I think this world needs more thoughtful, intelligent, strong voices.”
http://ced-benin.org/, or Swannie as I know her, first came into my consciousness via her music. I stumbled upon a You Tube video featuring her singing, and I was at once captivated. It was not long before I realized that there is more to this woman than her gift of song. She is also a story teller, a composer, an author, a wife, a mother, and a top notch friend…amongst countless other things!
Watch the video below to hear her lovely and moving Aria, Chanson de L’ange (The Angel’s Song)
Where our paths truly cross, however, is in our love for the story of The Phantom of the Opera (and a certain Phantom in particular, as you’ll soon find out!).
Paisley graciously agreed to allow me to interview her about her upcoming novel Chanson de l’Ange, a retelling of the classic novel, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux.
Without further delay, I present my exclusive interview with Paisley Swan Stewart.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a happily married lady; married to the same man for 31 years. I consider myself very blessed to have been loved, and to love so completely. My husband and I have produced all kinds of projects together, including a full length musical play which was performed by a cast of over 100, for 3 years consecutively. We have a tendency to use all our resources for our artistic passions, so it’s been an exciting ride! We have one son who is a fabulous composer, whose work you will hear on the CD we are recording as a companion to my book (and hopefully, someday in a major movie soundtrack).
We live a fairly modest life with our 2 cats in a small home, and we are content with life as it is. At my age, I’m just now learning how not to want too much. I have a great passion for life, and the simple things to me, are its greatest treasures.
Give us some insight into how music has played a part in your life. Are there correlations between your love of music and being drawn to the story of the Phantom of the Opera?
I really can’t remember a time when I did not love music. My first moment of knowing that I wanted to be a singer was when in the third grade, I saw The Sound of Music. After buying the album, I memorized every song and even performed the title number for our school talent show. I suppose that was one of the defining moments in my life, which led me to audition for the school chorus. Funnily enough, the girl who would one day take first place in her state’s HS vocal competition, was rejected from the grade school chorus! I always wanted to go back there and show that teacher my gold medal!
But I didn’t let that stop me. I loved musicals, and given that I had older sisters involved in HS theater, I got a lot of exposure to some great shows. I grew up dreaming of becoming a Broadway star. Throughout my HS years, I was very active in drama and played leading roes in our musical productions, and then after I graduated, I pursued my interests through our local community theaters. I had a great time, but I suppose at one point I realized that I just did not have the drive or talent to be a pro.
Additionally, I was not cut out for the backstage politics or fierce competition, and I was too easily hurt by the temporary romantic entanglements that often come with theater. Eventually I made the decision to give it up, and although sometimes I think, “what if?”…I know it was the right choice for me.
However, even though I left musical theater… musical theater never left me. I continued to follow the various productions, and when ALW’s Phantom first hit the boards, I saw some clips on TV of Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford in their starring roles, and I was completely mesmerized. The song was Music of the Night, and I have never been so attracted to a fictional character as I was to the Phantom. (what is it about that man?)
Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman
When Michael was performing the role in LA, my hubby and I got tickets to see the show while we were down there on a buying trip for our gift shop. Needless to say it was an experience that has shaped my life in unexpected directions.
I know you are a fan of all things POTO…how were you first introduced to the Phantom?
My first introduction was the silent film starring Lon Chaney. I was around 11 years old at the time, and for some reason, I just loved the story. As a girl who often felt like an outcast in my own home, I related the the Phantom’s loneliness. Later came the 1949 film starring Claude Raines. His Phantom hinted at a more romanticized version of Gaston Leroux’s horror story, and I developed a bit of a crush on that Phantom. I think I’ve seen most of the better known Phantom movie adaptions, and then of course when I saw ALW’s musical, I officially became a “Phan.”
What made you decide to write a book?
Um… total insanity??? The answer to that question is: Gerry Butler’s portrayal of the character in the 2004 film. Seeing the show live on stage was amazing, but the movie took my POTO obsession to a whole new level.
I saw the film over 13 times in the theater, and it truly moved me in ways I’m still trying to understand. Film is art, and I believe that art can touch and transform a person’s life. A year before the film’s premiere, My son was faced with a health crisis that nearly cost him his life. After dealing with the ICU, all the surgeries, the post op infections and a long recovery, Gerry’s Phantom came at a time when I had sort of died inside.
The film’s beauty, romance and passion… and of course, Mr Butler’s heartbreaking and emotive portrayal, somehow ignited my own passion to create again. I loved the story so much that I didn’t want to let it go, so I started writing what I thought would be a short story for a writing competition on one of the GB fansites. Ha! That was in February of 2005… and I am just now halfway through re-writes and edits for the second draft! The first draft stands at 1,045 pages! …and it’s all Gerry’s fault!
Tell us what Chanson de l’Ange is about?
Well it is a different take on the Phantom of the Opera story. My adaption begins in Christine’s childhood and it takes these characters through a 50 year journey. I wanted to bring more depth to the basic plot and flesh out the characters as I saw them. I think POTO is a commentary about all of us needing to be loved an accepted for who are, so in exploring the lives of these characters, I try to make the story relevant to anyone, regardless of their interest in the Phantom. I use the basic Phantom story for a template, but from there I hope to give it an original voice; different from any stage production, book or film adaption. It’s been great, because I’ve been able to incorporate my theater experience and my vocal training into the story, and I’m sort of living out my old dream of being a Broadway star, through my Christine.
My book incorporates several operas; one completely my own original, for which I have penned the lyrics, and given detailed descriptions of the backstage and onstage atmosphere. I am hoping to convince my readers, that although my story is a romantic and suspenseful fantasy, it takes place in a real world of sights and smells and stirring human emotion.
I tell the story with lots of sensuality, and although its not erotica, it has moments of true eroticism, all wrapped up with deep soulful romance.
I am most proud of my book’s ending, and it sound’s cliche to say this, but the ending of the book sort of came to me like a dream. Before I began writing the story as a novel, I knew I needed a very special ending or I wouldn’t even start, and one day, it all fell together. I’ll never forget the day when I told my husband how the book would end. His reaction was all the confirmation I needed. Besides me, he is the only living soul who knows how Chanson ends… and on threat of death…he’s not telling anyone!
How close are we to seeing Chanson de l’Ange published?
I am currently researching Print On Demand options. If I were younger and much braver, I might submit the manuscript to a trade house publisher, but I just don’t have a burning desire to deal with agents and editors. Chanson is a labor of love, and I really don’t want to try and fit into someone else’s concept of what it should be. With Print On Demand, I can control every aspect of its publication; from the cover art to how it is marketed. That really appeals to me.
Once I have decided on a POD, and after we’ve made other decisions about whether to publish the story in a book series or a single thick volume, it’s just a matter of putting my “ducks in a row”…and completing the second draft. From there, the third draft will undergo technical edits, and that will become the final manuscript. I expect by the end of the year, I’ll have something out there!
Now for the big question…How did you meet Gerard Butler and how has his portrayal of the Phantom inspired your writing?
On June 10, 2006, I was given the honor of meeting my favorite actor, Gerry Butler in person, when he presented me with a very special award, for a song I composed with my son and performed at the GBGALS fan convention in Vegas. The song I sang was an aria I wrote to compliment my novel, Chanson de L’ange , and was dedicated to both Gerry, and to my son, Nathan. Gerry saw my performance of The Chanson de L’ange aria, via a video taken by Jereme, the videographer he hired to chronicle the Vegas convention.
When he showed up the next night at the convention, I was absolutely floored as he came on stage and stood right in front of me. He was 100 times more gorgeous in person than any photo I have ever seen of him, and he was extremely sweet to me. I could barely remember my name, so I hardly said a word, and when I did not immediately try to touch him in any way, he invited me to hug him…which I did.
Gerard Butler with Paisley
At one point he said to me, “Now you can take me home with you and sing for me every night.”
Too bad I was too much in shock for a clever comeback!
It was an unforgettable night, and it meant a lot to me that he had even taken the time to listen to my song, let alone show up in person! At that time, Nathan was still quite ill, so the fact that Gerry had heard his music was also a huge boost to him. Mr Butler doesn’t know it, but he has been a blessing to my entire family.
A Gerard Butler-Swannie Smooch!
I would say that Gerry has been the primary muse of my writing of Chanson. It is his complex and beautiful portrayal of that character which inspired me. He put real skin on the Phantom, and not only was his rendition of the role sensual and romantic, he gave the Phantom a soul…and that really moved me. You could see it in his eyes…that he understood the Phantom’s pain, and he made the rest of us feel it too.
Dependent on the success of Chanson de l’Ange, do you have any interest on writing another novel?
In all honesty, I wish I could say yes, and perhaps at some point I will… but I’m still so wrapped up in Chanson that I can’t think beyond it. It’s been occupying my time and my heart for over 4 years, and I know it will be hard to let it go. Knowing me, after Chanson is published I’ll get seriously depressed and jump into another crazy project right away! I’m not happy unless I’m creating something.
We still have plans to create a CD of original music inspired by my book. Nathan is working with me on the concept, and so far we plan to record 2 vocal pieces; including the aria I sang for Gerry, and another song I wrote, which in the story is a gypsy song Christine learned from her father as a child. In addition, Nathan is composing some gorgeous orchestral/instrumental pieces. You can listen to some samples of the Chanson music on my website by clicking the MUSIC link.
Music of Chanson de L’ange
These tracks are just studio demos and not the finished pieces, but they can give you a sense of the music.
Our goal is to have the CD for sale when the book hits the market… that way, people will not only read the story…they will also “hear” it through music.
You may visit Nathan’s website to hear more of his work here:
Tell us about the Chanson de l’Ange website, and how we can get involved.
Nathan and I set up a website to keep people up to date about the writing process and publication news. We also have a FORUM, where from time to time people drop in and comment. The website features a link to our music and you may also read a free preview of the book’s prologue and a segment of Chapter 1. In addition, I have a great image gallery of both POTO related graphics and artist created images.
Each Monday I post a POTO related video of the week, where POTO fans can see everything from gorgeous fan videos to homemade videos of kids performing songs from the ALW play.
I also enjoy blogging about all sorts of subjects, and I do enjoy it when people leave comments on my blogs.
I would love to have more visitors come on the site an register. (If you do, you can read the FULL account of my meeting Gerard Butler in person.)
In the future I will post all news regarding the road to Chanson becoming a real book, and when it’s finally available to purchase, there will be link on my site where the novel, (or series) may be ordered.
Here is the link:
Anything else you’d like to share?
I just want to thank Natalina for taking an interest in my book, and for lending her support. It is my hope that Chanson de l’Ange will find its niche in the plethora of romantic fiction, and it really helps to have other outlets for promotion.
And I want to thank the magnificent Paisley Swan Stewart for chatting with us. I urge everyone who is a fan of Romance, Intrigue, Drama, and Music to keep checking in with Paisley at Chanson de L’ange for updates about the release of her novel. We here at Extraordinary Intelligence will also continue to check in, and bring you any new developments.
Finally, as an aspiring author myself, I cannot stress enough how important it is to support authors who publish independently. There is real untapped talent out there, and the more we show the big publishing monopolies that authors can become successful without their help, perhaps the publishing world as a whole will start to evolve in the right direction.
Thanks! Leave your comments here, and don’t forget to swing by Swannie’s site and tell her how excited you are for Chanson de L’ange!!