Today is my interview with author Michelle Rene Debellis, and I’m thrilled to chat with her. For those who don’t know, The Music We Make is Michelle’s debut novel and tells the story of Santiago DeAngelo. But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll let Michelle do the honors of telling us more about her touching novel and the story behind the story’s inspiration.
Michelle, welcome to HeyitsCarlyRae! Tell us more about your debut novel, The Music We Make.
The Music We Make is a story of overcoming our pain to achieve our dreams. And that means, dear readers, the characters are going to experience pain. In fact, the first chapter is titled Pain Introduces Itself, and with that line, Santiago DeAngelo is introduced to a pain few of us ever consider.
The antidote, in this modern world, seems clear—Pain killers promise to eliminate pain, physical and emotional, right? Not quite.
Sliding down the slippery slope of opiate addiction, twenty-two-year-old classical pianist Santiago DeAngelo calls out to his late mother for help and receives four musical notes. But to write the song, he’ll have to become the man she intended him to be.
The book centers around Santiago DeAngelo. What was your favorite part of crafting his character?
I began writing this novel from the perspective of Sophia (Santiago’s wholesome love interest) with Santiago as a side character. When my muse informed me that this story belonged to him, she also made it clear how much effort would be required to pull it off from his perspective.
I agreed. At that time, I had no idea how much growth in the craft of writing it would take to realize him fully. This is why I was thrilled when Kirkus’s reviews said, “he is an unquestionably well-realized character.”
To summarize, my favorite part of crafting Santiago was the challenge of being a woman writing from a male POV and earning equal favor for his story among male and female readers.
What is the inspiration behind The Music We Make? Have you always loved music?
Carly-Rae, this story is more inspired than you can imagine.
Years ago, my husband suddenly lost his mother and received divine inspiration for a song in the depths of his own grief. However, the pain of her absence triggered a long-term creative block.
Around this time, I was in a serious car accident. I underwent several surgeries and became quite fond of opiate painkillers. Hearing my husband’s haunting piano ballad while I recovered, I began to imagine a story of a young pianist who lost his mother in an accident that he survived, became addicted to painkillers, and received the same four notes to fashion a song from.
When my muse told me the story was Santiago’s, I wanted to write it to show my husband how to conquer his grief and achieve his song.
It worked! The song was completed alongside the final draft of the novel.
Even more incredibly, both the novel and the song have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
To listen, search Bird of Paradise, wherever music is streamed. And you can hear the original instrumental version in the final chapter of The Music We Make on Audible.
Are any of the characters based on people you know?
Because the story was based on the creation of Bird of Paradise, I originally fashioned Santiago after my husband and filled him in with the empathy I gained from my experience with opiate painkillers. But soon, Santiago became something separate from either of us. And telling his story in a way that would suit him drove me to become a better writer.
But enough about Santiago. Let’s talk about Kitty Holladay, who also has her own first-person perspective chapters and was so much fun to write. Kitty is the kind of character who can say almost anything and is so damaged and daring you’ll have no idea what to expect next.
Some readers will swear I’m her, and while that’s not true, I have dug deep into my suffering to forge a character that women can see their flaws in—and root for—as Kitty finds her own path to healing. She really is my favorite, but don’t tell Santiago I said that.
The Music We Make by Michelle Rene DeBellis
Genre: Fiction/ Coming of Age
The Music We Make follows the story of Santiago DeAngelo. After a devastating accident, he develops an opiate addiction. When get approached by the luring Kitty, he gets swept up into the world of his bestselling album. But after he gets deceived, only Santiago can decide his future.
Buy this Book: Amazon
Do you have a favorite chapter in this book?
You better believe I have a favorite chapter! I absolutely love chapter 16, where the chemistry between Santiago and Kitty is off the charts while they record a hit song and fall in love. But even as much as I love chapter 16, it doesn’t compare to Chapter 30. That’s where my heart rests. It’s so beautiful, and my sound engineer, who recorded and edited the audiobook, sent me chapter 30 for review on Mother’s Day. Such a beautiful gift given the content of the chapter.
The cover is really unique and reflects the story of this book. Were you involved in the design process?
Thank you so much! I adore the cover, and I designed it myself. I worked with Paradise Publishing and two separate graphic design artists who created over a dozen covers, and none of them were quite right. Having become somewhat of an amateur graphic artist myself, to create posts on Instagram, I decided to give the cover a go on my own.
I wanted something that showed readers instantly how beautiful the story is. When I thought of making the music notes on the book in gold foil and making a spine that was like a gold mirror, I was sure I was going to be able to achieve my goals. When I held the first proof in my hands, I lost it. But that’s what art does. I wish—wish—wish the paperback also had gold foil, but its another reason to splurge on the hardcover (available on michellerenedebellis.com)
Walk us through your writing process. Do you need complete silence? Do you plan out everything before you start to type?
Ah, my writing process. I absolutely need complete silence! And I do a mix of planning/outlining and letting my characters take the wheel. When I truly surrendered to them, I felt like I was the passenger in a car heading down a mountain road in the dark. I didn’t know what was around the next bend, but I sure loved the wild ride.
That said, I wrote the book seven times. Putting it through a hotter fire with each revision and working with several developmental editors to craft a story that would be both meaningful and entertaining. One of my favorite ways to deepen the scenes and solve story problems was to go for long walks in nature and let my imagination add the layers that make this story so engaging. There was always this ethereal connection to my future readers where I considered their satisfaction and worked tirelessly to earn it.
Did you always want to be an author?
Oh yes, I always knew I would be an author, and I spent decades devouring literature searching for the type of author I wanted to be. In that search, I always knew I wanted my first novel to have a love triangle, dual POVs, and be contemporary. From the beginning of time, telling stories is how we as humans make sense of our lives, and I’ve always wanted to do that in a big way.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
I advise aspiring writers to let the story lead the way, accept that you’ll need to grow to live up to its potential and keep at it, even if it takes ten times longer than you expected. I believe that ideas find artists and stay with them if they make progress on the work. The best story ideas will require you to evolve. Trust your muse to fulfill your destiny along with the project’s destiny, and it will happen.
Before I let you go, share with us where readers can find you on social media.
I’m so excited for you and your readers to find me on Instagram @michellerenedebellis where I am having so much fun creating unique content. I’m also getting my toes wet in the TikTok waters and hope you’ll look for me there, too @michelle_rene_debellis.
That concludes my interview with Author Michelle Rene DeBellis!
Drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts on today’s interview. If you have any questions for Michelle ask away! If you’re an author or want to see anything interview, contact me!