Book Review of Fabulous! An Opera Buffa
Opera singers, a drag queen, and the mob make for a delightful campy novel in Laury A. Egan’s new book, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa. Set in New York City, it is the story of Gilbert, an opera singer who is also a drag queen. Although Gilbert’s adventures take him on a sometimes dangerous journey, his search for true love prevails.
Author Laury A. Egan is a a born and bred “Jersey Girl.” She began writing poetry at age seven, had a first novel at age 12, wrote stories in high school, and then wrote intermittently until about 27 years ago. When she semi-retired as a book designer she was finally able to devote herself full time to her fiction and poetry.
As a child in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, she read everything in the local children’s library and then began borrowing her mother’s books. Egan said, “Skyscrapers of books currently surround my bed and nearby bookcases.”
Her novels are often derived from a setting she knows well and has photographed, like Venice. In Jenny Kidd, a psychological suspense book that utilized the shimmering façades of Venice in an ominous way. Wave in D Minor (forthcoming, 2019) is placed in a location similar to a granite quarry in Cape Ann, MA, where she visited. Multiple long sojourns to Greece and the islands are also very evocative. In addition to settings, she sometimes experiences a kind of channeling, where a “voice” drops down from nowhere. Egan said some stories are fictional versions of an actual event. But in many cases her novels are invented, “with only tentative strands attached to my own experience.”
Egan talked about how the character of Gilbert in Fabulous! An Opera Buffa came to life. As a photographer, she freelanced for most Lincoln Center venues, such as the Met Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia and others. So Egan had a strong visual connection to the opera. She was a Met subscriber for several decades, and became friends with a few singers. The passion for the art form made opera a felicitous choice, though readers who know little about it will still enjoy the book.
She said, “The channeling experience mentioned above happened one afternoon while I was sitting on my deck, gazing upon the ocean and distant Manhattan. Suddenly, Gilbert Eugene Rose’s voice, very campy, somewhat arch, and quite funny, wafted in from on high. I waited a bit, but Gil was determined to have his say, so I rushed to the computer and gave him the go-ahead, which was akin to letting a greyhound off the leash. To be honest, I’ve never met anyone exactly like Gil, so I have no clear idea as to his origin.
This novel is a real departure for me. It is a happy one, since I usually write literary fiction or literary suspense. An additional bonus was that my wonderful publisher, Tiny Fox Press, allowed me to design and illustrate the cover, thus giving me the opportunity to fully express my vision for the novel.”
Fabulous! An Opera Buffa is not thematically heavy or profound, yet it portrays a young man’s ambitions for a singing career and for finding love despite the many obstacles tossed in his path. Egan said, “When I wrote it, times weren’t as bleak as they are now, but even then, people were hungry for relief from all the bad news and depressing headlines. Today, sadly, this is even truer. This tale is a divertissement; one I hope will be a very welcome antidote to what ails. Sometimes laughing is indeed the best medicine.”
Egan once lived in New Hope, PA, and talked about the drag scene now and then. She said she felt drag was still under appreciated in today’s world. “I used to live near New Hope and would go to the discos back then, where drag shows were part of the scene. I loved the droll humor, the outrageousness, and the talent the performers possessed. Writing the drag queen was so much fun!”
In talking about the role of gay characters in novels today, Egan said she has thought a great deal about the incorporation of LGBT characters and plots into mainstream fiction. She said she may have been penalized for writing books that seek to bridge between straight and gay readers. Her stories fall in the chasm between. She feels that gay male writers are allowed more leeway and acceptance by trade publishers to do this and are read by general reader’s far more than lesbian authors or authors who incorporate lesbians in their work.
“No doubt part of the reason is the ghettoization of women. The origins of lesbian literature in pulp fiction still continue to have an impact,” she said. “Most books are written exclusively for a lesbian audience, with little or no sales to a wider readership.”
Egan admires writers who aspire to creating literature, without worrying about a book being exclusive for a gay or straight audience. “I don’t think: “Ah, I’ll write a gay book today.” I write the book that’s in my mind and follow the plot as it enfolds, rather than force it into categories.”
Her work, including, numerous poems, short stories, and three novels have been published. Jenny Kidd, has LGBT themes. Her collection, Fog and Other Stories, also includes some gay protagonists. Egan said her current work, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa will definitely appeal to gay men and lesbians.
Egan’s advice for budding writers is to build a professional résumé of publications, but first learn your craft thoroughly. Become expert at punctuation and usage; keep Chicago Manual of Style at your elbow (or on your computer) along with a good Thesaurus, an international unabridged dictionary, and lots of source books. Then, write and write and write (and, yes, read and read and read). Don’t quit on a project until you’re absolutely sure it’s no good. Let the length be determined by the process rather than pre-conceive that a work will be a short story, novella, or a novel.
Finally, when the piece is really polished, give it to some tough readers and take their criticisms seriously. After you’ve revised some more and your novel is in near-perfect condition (don’t expect agents or publishers to edit for you), submit it to agents and/or publishers. She says to also attend writers’ conferences where they are featured panelists.
Publishing is a very tough business and is becoming more competitive every year. Patience and persistence are really important attributes, equal to talent. “Unfortunately, the expectation of making money shouldn’t be a reason to write,” she said. “You write because you must.”
As a reader, her novel Fabulous! An Opera Buffa is on the must read list!
Fabulous! An Opera Buffa is available in paperback and eBook at Tiny Fox Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local bookstores.