Interview with Jeanne Bogino, Author of Rock Angel

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Librarian by day, writer by night! Jeanne Bogino lives in Massachusetts and works as a director for a small library in rural New York. While considered an expert on zombie lit and horror films, having published articles and participating on panels related to the topic, Bogino’s latest work strays from that genre. Her New Adult debut novel, Rock Angel, (Prashanti Press) is a love story set in the ‘90s laced with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Publisher’s Description:  Shan is young, beautiful, talented, and addicted to heroin in Rock Angel, a novel that follows her meteoric rise to guitar goddess stardom in the 90’s.  She is discovered in New York by a handsome, arrogant musical genius named Quinn, and sparks fly between them when he hires her as lead guitarist of his band.  Although Quinn is accustomed to bedding a different groupie every night, he can’t ignore his deepening feelings for his new band mate. From gritty Greenwich Village clubs to L.A.’s Troubadour, gigging and touring the country to the cover of Rolling Stone, Rock Angel is infused with the passionate music and intense sexual chemistry of Shan and Quinn. Shan must work out her personal demons and learn to trust Quinn enough to love him, but still remain true to the music that has always been her salvation. A hot, hard-driving story set in an intoxicating world of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, Rock Angel is the first novel by author Jeanne Bogino.

We had a chance to catch up with Bogino and learn more about her background, favorite authors and the inspiration behind Rock Angel and the main characters, Shan and Quinn.

GGM:  You’ve written many novels on different topics and are considered an expert on zombie and horror films. What inspired you to write a book about a female guitarist and rock ‘n’ roll set in the ‘90s?

JB:  Actually Rock Angel is my debut novel, unless you count the Star Trek fan fiction I wrote years ago! I have published many short pieces on a variety of topics, though, including book and film reviews for Library Journal, where I’m the official horror movie reviewer.

Rock Angel was inspired by Cinderella. That’s what it is, at its core, a Cinderella story, only my girl isn’t a princess, she’s a rock star. Her prince is a hot, womanizing keyboard player. Her glass slipper? A guitar. But a modern-day Cinderella can’t sit around waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming, she’s got to be badass enough to rescue herself. That’s what Shan’s journey is all about, and it’s set in the ‘90s because that’s when I began writing it. Back then it was current – now it’s retro! 

GGM:  I understand that you’re not a musician but took some guitar lessons at one point that didn’t go so well. Can you share with us that experience?

JB:  It was dreadful! Actually I am the dreadful one – I really have no musical talent at all. I practiced and practiced, but I never succeeded at sounding like anything but a student, and not a very good one at that. My timing was always so far off that my teacher suggested getting a metronome. I abandoned the guitar and decided to learn percussion. My partner Frank, who is extremely musical, took me to a music store to try out some Djembes. He watched me try to play one, then shook his head and said kindly, “Sweetie, you just don’t have any rhythm.” These days my life in music is confined to singing and dancing along with my iPod and writing about musicians. We all need to be able to make some music – that’s how I make mine.

GGM:  Who are some of your favorite authors and what inspired you to become a librarian to begin with and then later on a writer?

JB:  So many! I love Elizabeth Berg, Jodi Picoult, Chris Bohjalian, Katrina Kittle, Nancy Thayer, Anna Quindlen – I’m a big fan of domestic fiction. I adore Diana Gabaldon – there’s nothing I look forward to more than a new book in the Outlander series. In the horror realm my desert isle picks are Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Jack Ketchum, Mira Grant and any anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, whose job I wish I had! I worship Neil Gaiman and love some of the chick lit writers like Jennifer Weiner, Jane Green and Sophie Kinsella (new Shopaholic novel debuts next month – can’t wait to get my hands on it!) I’ll also read any type of music fiction –  A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, The Commitments by Roddy Doyle, and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett are all books I wish I’d written.

I always wanted to be a writer. When I was a little kid reading picture books, I thought I would grow up to write and illustrate children’s books. Then I moved on to serial chapter books, so I figured I could be the next Julie Campbell (loved those Trixie Belden mysteries!). When I joined drama club I planned to be a playwright, then spent my teenage years writing bad poetry. It was always writing, though, in one form or another. Becoming a librarian came later. I began my professional life in special education and worked in that field for about ten years. Next I moved to General Electric, where I spent another ten years working in inside sales. Eventually I was laid off, which often happens in the corporate world, and I had a fantastic severance package which included reeducation. I decided it was time for graduate school and that was when I decided upon Library Science. It really is the perfect job for me, surrounded by books and people, and I wish I’d figured it out thirty years ago.

GGM:  You had quite an extensive list of musicians and other people that were of great assistance during your research and writing of this novel. How did you pull together such a great team?

JB:  I’m incredibly lucky to count many fantastic musicians among my friends and doubly blessed that they have been so generous in sharing their experiences with me. I really couldn’t have written this book (or the next one!) without them or my partner, Frank Kennedy, who for years was one of the leading sound engineers in Berkshire County. Most of my backstage research came directly from him, as well as information about the more technical aspects of the music world, like what’s the best microphone? How do you judge a good sound studio? What’s the very highest end keyboard?

GGM:  I read where you started writing Rock Angel back in the ‘90s, but it sat on a shelf for years before you picked it up. It was originally 1,000 pages, but you narrowed it down to somewhere around 500. How did you tackle that task and what did you leave on the cutting floor?

JB:  The book languished on my computer for years. Every so often I would haul it out, chop fifty or sixty pages out of it, then put it away again. When it was picked up by Prashanti I had it down to 650 pages, but that wasn’t enough – the publisher wanted a 300 page novel. There was no way I could tell that story in 300 pages, so I kept the book intact up to page 134, threw out everything else, and pretty much wrote the second half of the book from scratch. Even then it came in at 400 pages, but what can I say? It’s a big story.

GGM:  What was it that inspired you to finally finish the book after all these years?

JB:  Back when I finished the original, doorstop draft of Rock Angel, a few loyal friends managed to plow through its thousand pages. One of them was my good friend Gina Coleman, who today is the marketing director of Prashanti Press. When Gina began working with Prashanti, she pitched Rock Angel to Wendy Lipp, my publisher. I had literally nothing to do with it – didn’t even know the book was being pitched. One day I got a text: “Wendy wants to see your book.” It’s my own Cinderella story, really.

GGM:  Any particular rock legends that inspired the fictional characters Shan and Quinn, or any of the other characters?

JB:  People keep asking me that question! Rock Angel is not a Roman à clef. The story and characters are almost entirely products of my imagination, although my fictional band Valentine is an homage to Heart. Even in that case the characters are not intended to depict the Wilson sisters in any real way, except that they are exceptional, inspiring, amazing lady rockers.  

GGM:  How did you choose the name of the main characters and the name of the band Quinntessence?

JB:  The name ‘Shan’ is of Gaelic origin and means ‘old and wise,’ which I think is a neat dichotomy because she’s really young and innocent. The name ‘Quinn’ also means ‘wise,’ which is also dichotomous. Shan sees Q as so mature and together, eons ahead of her in wisdom and experience, but that’s not really true at all. Shan, I think, is a very old and sage soul. In a spiritual sense, Q is brand new!

I’m extremely visual in my writing process, meaning that what I write is a description of the movie that’s projecting inside my head, so I always need a strong, clear vision of my characters. That vision sometimes comes from really weird places. For example, in my head Denise looks like Tasha Yar of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Yes, I’m a Trekkie!). I took the name from Denise Crosby, the actress who played Yar on the show. Denise’s appearance has subsequently changed and she doesn’t really look like Crosby at all, but she still has the name. The name of the band? Quinntessence = the essence of Quinn. It’s spelled “Quinntessence” with two n’s, which is a nod to how incredibly narcissistic he is.

GGM:  You created quite the picture of the locations the stories took place. Did you get a chance to visit any of the places in your book to feel the vibe and connection with the scene? I personally spent a great deal of time in Southern California and while reading the part of the novel when Quinntessence relocated to Los Angeles, I felt as if I was reliving it!

JB:  What an amazing compliment! I am ferociously inspired by locations and a trip west was an integral part of rewriting the second half of the book. I travelled there with my good friend Deb Francome and we spent days driving through Southern Cali. We spent a lot of time in the Tujunga-Sunland region and a full day exploring the Angeles National Forest in search of “the” cabin where the band would live. We went to the Whisky, the Troubadour, Mulholland Drive, Disneyland, Hollywood…pretty much every location in the California segment of the book. My intention was to capture the essence of the landscape and your question tells me that I was successful – thank you!

GGM:  Is there any one particular scene in Rock Angel that stands out the most to you and, if so, why?

JB:  The scene when Quinn first hears Shan sing. This is it – the beginning of their connection– and it happens on a visceral, instinctive level. They really are fused together from that point onward, even though he fights it every step of the way.

GGM:  One of the things I found very interesting about Rock Angel that you included at the end of the book was the very thought-provoking section titled “Questions and Topics for Discussion.” Is this your set up for a “book club” or are you building identity with your characters for the forming of a series of novels around these characters?

JB:  A book club guide was what I had in mind when I formulated the questions. I think Rock Angel addresses some very serious issues like addiction, misogyny and infidelity. I think it could generate some interesting discussion and I hope that some book clubs will agree.

GGM:  The novel includes a lot of abuse, sex and drugs. What’s the one biggest takeaway you would like readers to learn from your novel?

JB:  It’s about talent, not balls! If there is one thing I want my readers to take away, it’s that there are tons of kick-ass girl guitar players out there who are discounted simply because of their gender. When Rolling Stone published its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, they listed ninety-eight men and two women. TWO!! Only Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt made the cut. Where’s Nancy Wilson? Melissa Etheridge? Liz Phair? The Great Kat, whose shredding rivals Yngwie Malmsteen? And how about Jennifer freakin’ Batten or some of the early picking pioneers, like Maybelle Carter and Elizabeth Cotton? Ignored, overlooked, or just plain forgotten. It’s wrong. SO wrong!

GGM:  I agree!  You ended the book with an excerpt from the sequel, which I might add is quite tantalizing! When can readers expect the release of Angel on High?

JB:  We’re gunning for Fall of 2015, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 2016. I’ve learned that there are many, many steps to the publication process and they just can’t be rushed.

A few fun questions!

GGM:  What’s one novel you could not live without?

JB:  Gone With the Wind! It was and is my very favorite book of all time. It isn’t a coincidence that Shan’s last name is O’Hara.

GGM:  Besides writing, what other hobbies or interests do you have?

JB:  I’m an insane gardener –herbs, flowers and vegetables. I also keep bees and chickens and spend a lot of time hiking with my dogs. One of them (Juniper, who is the prototype for Shan’s dog Sugaree) is a therapy dog and we visit patients in the local hospital as well as participate in a program called Paws To Read where kids come to the library and read to the dogs. It’s heaven! I’m a big movie buff, too, especially horror films.

GGM:  In one word what does writing mean to you?

JB:  Freedom! Writers get to live many, many lives through their characters. We’re a lucky bunch.

GGM:  If you could co-write a book with anyone, who would it be?

JB:  Someone very literary, like Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie. I don’t write that way at all, so I think it would be interesting to combine our different styles and see what comes out. Hopefully it would be something brilliant, like Shan & Quinn’s music, although it could just as easily be a horrid, incomprehensible mishmash.

GGM:  What’s one things fans don’t know about you?

I’ve never tried heroin. Never even seen it, except in photos. That piece of the book is based on research, just like the music is, but I hope that it’s convincing enough that my readers think I’m basing it on personal experience.

About Jeanne Bogino:  By day, Jeanne Bogino is director of a small but busy library in rural New York. By night, she writes at her western Massachusetts homestead. She’s published short horror, fantasy, romance, memoir, and gay fiction, and is a regular contributor at Library Journal, where she was named 2011’s fiction reviewer of the year. An expert on zombie lit and horror films, Jeanne has published articles and appeared on panels devoted to these subjects. Rock Angel is her debut novel with Prashanti Press. For more on Ms. Bogino, visit her site HERE.

Cover Photo credit:  Jane Feldman

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