Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An Interview With Nupur Tustin

by Grace Topping

Many of us have talents and interests that can be quite disparate. Nupur Tustin is no exception. But she took her wide range of talents and interests in music, history, research, mysteries, journalism, and communications and rolled them into a terrific book featuring 18th century composer Joseph Haydn. In her first book, A Minor Deception, which was recently released, Nupur takes readers into the almost fairy tale world of royalty, castles, music, intrigue, and murder. It was a pleasure reading A Minor Deception and talking to Nupur about her writing.

A Minor Deception

When his newly hired violinist disappears just weeks before the Empress's visit, Haydn is forced to confront a disturbing truth. . .

Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn would like nothing better than to show his principal violinist, Bartó Daboczi, the door. But with the Empress Maria Theresa's visit scheduled in three weeks, Haydn can ill-afford to lose his surly virtuoso.

But when Bartó disappears--along with all the music composed for the imperial visit--the Kapellmeister is forced to don the role of Kapell-detective, or risk losing his job.Before long Haydn's search uncovers pieces of a disturbing puzzle.

Bartó, it appears, is more than just a petty thief--and more dangerous. And what seemed like a minor musical mishap could modulate into a major political catastrophe unless Haydn can find his missing virtuoso.

Welcome, Nupur, to Writers Who Kill.

You selected the 18th century composer Joseph Haydn as your main character. Why Haydn?

Nupur Tustin
"I was interested in surprising the public with something new, and making a brilliant debut." Haydn's words about the Surprise Symphony describe my own motives fairly well.

But there were considerations beyond that, of course. The nosy, meddlesome sleuth who blithely rushes in where detectives forbid her to tread may work well enough for a contemporary cozy, but the protagonist of a historical mystery must be discreet enough to invite confidences from all walks of people. Even Kerry Greenwood's delightfully forthcoming Phryne Fisher knows when to hold her tongue.

Haydn was such a person. Story after story attests to his approachable, helpful nature. Haydn willingly helped his wife's relatives, interceded on behalf of Beethoven, who was briefly his student, with the elector of Cologne, requesting that the young man be allowed a greater allowance. This was an unfortunately embarrassing moment for Haydn because Beethoven had lied about his financial status. But that Haydn, distressed by the younger man's apparently impoverished state, voluntarily reached out on his behalf tells us a great deal about the great composer.

Most readers will have heard Haydn’s name or enjoyed his music but may know very little about him. In your research, what was the most interesting thing you learned about him?

Apart from his helpful nature, I'd have to say it was his relationship with his fans. People adored Haydn, and they absolutely loved his music. When one of them, Marianne von Genzinger, took to sending the great composer piano transcriptions of his orchestral works, he took the time to read through the works, correcting and editing, where necessary, and returned them with his comments.

When the townspeople of Bergen, an obscure German town Haydn had never heard of, wrote to him describing their performance of the Creation, the great composer penned an immediate response. He was delighted, he said, to "receive such a flattering letter from a place where I could have no idea that the fruits of my poor talents were known."

Finally, later in life when he began preparing piano works for amateur musicians, he reached out to his fans, using their advice to edit the works so that the pieces would be both pleasing and within the compass of their abilities.

Haydn lived during a time of political unrest and intrigue. Was his life and career as dependent on the reigning powers and currying favor as portrayed in your book?

At the time, only a court wealthy enough to support a musical establishment could have a troupe of musicians and singers. The Morzins, who were Haydn's first employers, unfortunately lost their wealth, and had to disband their orchestra. So, a musician's livelihood was only as secure as his employer's income. This would have largely depended upon the nobleman's ability to cultivate the Habsburgs, rulers of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia, and, for a long time, head of the loose confederation of German states and principalities known as the Holy Roman Empire.

A musician's income also depended upon his employer being genuinely, passionately interested in music. Fortunately, for Haydn, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy was deeply interested in music. His successor, however, was not. Most of the musicians lost their job after 1790. Haydn was kept on, although he had no duties to fulfill, because he was so well known; it was a matter of pride to keep him on.

The position of Kapellmeister was largely administrative, although, of course, the incumbent was also expected to produce prodigious quantities of music. Haydn himself was to marvel at how much he was able to write given the extent of his responsibilities: keeping his men in order, hiring or dismissing them, settling disputes, being responsible for their behavior, keeping the music library in order, ensuring the instruments were tuned, training opera singers, composing material for the church singers, editing works by other composers that were to be included in the regular performances, and so on and so forth.

Was much written about Haydn that you had a wealth of source material that enabled you to write about him, or did you have to create your own character of Haydn?

I was fortunate in that Haydn's anecdotes as related to his earliest biographers were still extant, and there's quite a bit of research on him.  The Haydn you see is my perception of his character—a warm, personable man deeply invested in his music. I saw no reason to change that.

There is one aspect of his character I've found it hard to come to terms with. Haydn and his wife didn't get on well with each other. She had absolutely no interest in his music.  They had no children either. All of those reasons led him, apparently, to have affairs with other women. Maria Anna took lovers, too, of course. One of these painted a portrait of Haydn. For my novels, I've ignored these extra-marital relationships. It's not something I can condone, so I choose not to dwell on it.

You included a number of real people in your book. What was the greatest challenge you faced writing about actual people?

Although there's quite a bit of information about Haydn, there isn't as much about some of the other people in his life. In a number of cases, I've had to create a personality for them.  There are clues as to what Johann may have been like, or Michael Haydn, for that matter, but for the most part, Haydn's younger brothers are my own creation.

You wrote very knowingly about music composition and performances. Do you have a background in music?

Yes, I had piano lessons as a child. We didn't have a piano at home, so I lived for my half-hour Saturday morning lessons. In 2010, my husband bought me a keyboard, and a year later, he bought me my Weber upright. I resumed piano lessons at the time, and when I began researching the Haydn novels, started studying music theory and began composing.

With planned royal visits, castles, and numerous dignitaries, your book almost has a fairy tale element. How difficult was it to portray life as it actually was during the 1700s? You’ve done it very well.

Thanks, Grace! It was quite the challenge because it wasn't just a question of what life was like in the eighteenth century. But what was it like in eighteenth-century Austria? Using England as my exemplar wouldn't have done at all, and even Germany, to the north, was sufficiently different, although still closer to Austria than England.

I had to go on a treasure hunt, using Leopold Mozart's letters, for instance, Haydn's anecdotes, and research on Mozart to formulate a picture. I found a forum specifically for Eisenstadt expats and gleaned interesting details about farmhouses and their structure and the purchasing power of a gulden, among other things.

What is it about Haydn that has him trying to unravel a mystery?

For me, it's his helpful nature and his sense of responsibility. When one of his men, even someone he doesn't like, disappears, Haydn needs to find out what happened. When it turns out that the man in question has something disastrous planned, his loyalty and gratitude to his employer and his fealty to the Empress oblige him to keep going.

With a Ph.D. in communications and a background in journalism, what led you to writing mysteries, particularly featuring Joseph Haydn?

I've always been interested in history, and I enjoy reading biographical fiction, especially mysteries. My Ph.D. has provided me with invaluable research training, so I felt quite confident I could research and write a historical mystery. I have strategies for finding research material and for interpreting them.  I'm used to reconciling contradictory interpretations and findings, and formulating a hypothesis to make sense of the material.

As far as my background in Communication is concerned, I was still a student when my husband and I began watching two wonderful TV shows, Burn Notice and White Collar. The protagonists, Mike Westin and Neal Caffrey, make frequent use of people's common assumptions to achieve their goals. As a student of communication, that made complete sense to me.

We not only make assumptions about people based on their verbal and nonverbal behavior, our assumptions frequently lead us to misinterpret people's motives. It's a useful technique for the mystery writer who's always striving to keep her readers off-kilter until the very end.

Do you listen to music when you write? Music by Haydn for inspiration?

Listening to music is a family activity for us. We'll all sit around the TV, and watch a music video on YouTube. The kids are metalheads, but we are trying to get them interested in Andrea Bocelli, an easy transition to classical music. Oftentimes, we'll sit at the piano and play and sing Christmas carols—even when it's not Christmas. The kids also like singing nursery rhymes.

But when I write, or read, for that matter, I tend to tune out everything else. I'm just lost in my fictional world.

Please tell us about your journey to publication. What writers inspired you the most?

For the Haydn series, Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series were a huge inspiration, especially in terms of voice. Emily Brightwell, a modern-day Agatha Christie, in my opinion, has taught me a lot about constructing a good plot.  Kate Kingsbury showed me it was possible to advance a plot using dialogue, and Amanda Carmack's ability to lend her characters emotional depth has inspired my writing style quite a bit.

But I continue to learn from Sisters in Crime, in particular the Guppy chapter, where we discuss topics as varied as craft and marketing. It reminds me a bit of a society that C.P.E. Bach, Haydn's mentor, joined in Hamburg. Artists, craftsmen, and businessmen were all included, and they discussed aesthetics, as well as the dissemination and promotion of their products.

What’s next for Joseph Haydn and your series?

The next book, Aria to Death, delivers a double dose of history. It's set in Vienna, and Haydn is on the track of a dangerous killer who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the lost operas of Monteverdi. Haydn, of course, also has to discover whether the operas have indeed been found, and whether they are genuine.

I'm also currently researching Prussian Counterpoint where Haydn has to match wits with the wily Frederick of Prussia, and gets to meet his mentor, C.P.E. Bach. And in the fourth mystery, Mozart Connection, Haydn will have to step in to save Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang's father, from the gallows.

And, of course, I've written a few short stories. One of them, "The Christmas Stalker," was published in the December 2016 issue of Heater magazine. Another, "The Evidence Never Lies," is now available on Amazon. Both are set in modern-day California where I live.  

For mystery fans, what book would you recommend?

I think it would depend on your interests. For people interested in biographical mysteries, Stephanie Barron kills it with her Jane Austen series. If you enjoy a historical series with emotional depth, there's nothing better than Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. For a fast-paced Victorian mystery, take a look at Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries.

For those who simply like well-researched novels whether historical or contemporary, Susan Wittig Albert's books are a must-read. If you enjoy a sophisticated read, I'd recommend Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series. And for cozy fans, I'd suggest either Victoria Abbott or Naomi Hirahara. I could go on, of course. But I'll leave it at that.

Thank you, Nupur, for joining us at WWK.

A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works.

Web Sites:
Haydn Series:

Buy Links:

“The Evidence Never Lies” Find it here.

A Minor Deception


cj petterson said...

Another informative post. Thanks, Nupur. I learned something more about Haydn and your mysteries. Marilyn Johnston (aka cj)

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks Nupur -- It's great when two of my loves (mystery and music) come together.

~ Jim

C. T. Collier said...

Fascinating interview, Grace and Nupur. Grace's well-informed questions and enthusiasm for the book provide the perfect framework for Nupur's knowledge about her Maestro Detective. Kudos, ladies!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Interesting interview, Grace and Nupur!

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, C.T. Collier, for your kind comments. With her wealth of knowledge and talents, Nupur was a pleasure to Interview.

Thank you, Nupur, for your terrific responses to my questions. I look forward to reading the next book in your series.

Nancy G. West said...

Nupur, I love music and mysteries so I know I'll like your books. I'm impressed that you're three books ahead in your planning.I need to get busy.

Shari Randall said...

Great interview, Nupur and Grace! I love music and history so I think I'll love your books. So nice to see fellow Guppies doing what they love and creating excellent work.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks to both of you for an excellent mystery. History through mystery is one of my favorite reads.

Gloria Alden said...

Nupar, I can't wait to order your books. I love music, and this sounds like a wonderful book to read. It's on my TBO list now.

KM Rockwood said...

I loved hearing about your background and what led you to write such unique mysteries. It's fascinating to think about the intrigue that surrounded the court and the musicians, and I admire you for delving into the research involved.

NT said...

Thanks Kate and Marilyn! I love sharing what I learn about Haydn. He was such a fascinating man. Grace is a superb interviewer, and has the ability to anticipate just the kind of questions someone new to the Haydn Mysteries would have. Thanks Grace!

NT said...

Nancy, Shari, and Jim, I'm so glad to hear you enjoy music, too! It's so uplifting. I hope you enjoy the book just as much.

NT said...

Thanks Gloria! I hope you enjoy the book.

NT said...

I love history, too, Warren! For the longest time in the world, I read nothing but historical mysteries, but I'm coming round to enjoying contemporary mysteries as well.

NT said...

Thanks, K.M. Much of the politics Haydn had to deal with was of his superior Rahier's making. The larger intrigue was something I've largely made up. I thought it not entirely implausible that there may have been Hungarian rumblings even during Maria Theresa's time. She was able to charm the Hungarians into submission, and without their support, it's doubtful the Habsburg Empire would've remained intact.

E. B. Davis said...

Sorry to chime in late, Nupur. You are an inspiration to all of us who are working on getting our first novels published. Good luck with the series and keep writing!

NT said...

Thanks for visiting, Edith. And how kind of you to say I'm an inspiration. That makes my day!