Growing up, I loved reading authors of autobiographical fiction. My favorite, of course, was Louisa May Alcott’s legendary Little Women. She drew from her real life to create memorable, realistic characters that have charmed readers for centuries.
Another that inspired me, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote her Little House series based on her own autobiography. A true story-teller, she brought to life the experiences of the early American pioneer. Blending the line between fact and fiction, she combined and altered a few characters and events to compose a compelling narrative.
Recently, I listened to Thomas Umstadt Jr.’s podcast in which he encourages authors to transform their bio pages from boring resumes to scintillating stories. As a result, I decided to give it a try! I selected key moments and turning points in my own biography, adding some dialogue to spice it up a bit. You might catch several glimpses into the characters and events that have shaped my own fiction.
I hope you enjoy Part 1!
I clutched the neck of my violin as I waited backstage. A heavy black curtain blocked my view of the audience. But they were there, all two thousand members, made up of parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, and friends of the Wichita Youth Symphony musicians.
My heart thundered in my chest like a kettledrum. I’d practiced the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto in B minor, the first movement, so many times I could almost play it in my sleep. Still, the thought of the opening shift and the numerous fast passages sent a shiver of terror down my spine. What if I failed in front of all these people?
At least it wouldn’t affect my admission into college. Over the past few weeks, I’d already received several acceptance letters to a variety of music schools. I’d auditioned for a couple in Chicago, and several in Texas. Of course, there was always my local university to fall back on, but who in their right mind would want to stay in her hometown for university? A sense of wanderlust welled up inside my chest. Now was the time to spread my wings and visit somewhere new.
The conductor poked his head through the door. “Five minutes till the concert. Everyone take your places.”
I rubbed sweaty palms on the folds of my shimmering pink gown. Amidst the sea of black-clad musicians, I stood out like a harp in a marching band.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
I whirled to find myself face-to-face with a skinny guy dressed in a black suit. Speaking of marching bands, wasn’t he the tuba player? Or was it trombone? Who paid attention to the brass, anyway?
Tuba guy ran a hand through his sandy-colored hair. “Any chance you’d want to go out with me next weekend?”
What in the world? Why would he have the audacity to ask me out, especially now, right before I needed to go onstage for my solo? Was he crazy?
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to play my solo in a couple of minutes. I can’t think about this right now.” I straightened my shoulders. “Besides, I leave for Paris tomorrow with my mom. We’re supposed to meet up with my choir to sing in several famous cathedrals.”
He lowered his gaze. “I see.” With a quick motion, he swiveled away.
Boys. Wouldn’t they ever learn? I had much more important things to do. Like perform my concerto.
A door clicked open, and the conductor returned. “Ashley, it’s time.”
After a deep breath, I pulled back the curtain and stepped onto the luminescent stage.
A couple of weeks later, I sat on my bed, college acceptance letters in hand. After an exhilarating ten days in Europe, I struggled to wrap my mind around the college decision. How would I ever decide? Time to make a trusty pros and cons list.
I wrote the names of my top schools on a piece of paper. Which school offered the best scholarships? Five points. Which school had the best rec plex? One point. Which school required foreign language instead of science? Two points. Maybe I could continue with a minor in French. Which university offered the best faith-based education? Three points.
Which violin teacher possessed the most prestigious reputation? Three points. Hmm. That one was tricky. Several of the teachers had attended the renowned Julliard Conservatory. Ironically, they lacked the energy and enthusiasm of a younger professor who’d moved to the United States from Eastern Europe. The creative violin lesson she’d taught had inspired a flame in me that surpassed the dry technique of the others.
I held my breath as I tallied the total. A tight race. A second later, a smile spread across my face at the final count. Baylor University. “Well howdy y’all. Texas, here I come!”
“You’re wearing yourself too thin.” Mom’s worried voice rang through the phone as I pulled my violin from the metal locker in the music school.
“I know.” I ran my shaking fingers through my hair. “But what am I supposed to do about it? My violin lesson is tomorrow, I’m accompanying one of my friends on the piano this morning, then I need to rush to chamber music rehearsal after music theory class.”
“Can you rest later?”
“No, tonight we have a two-hour dress rehearsal for our orchestra concert this weekend. Besides, the concerto competition is in two days. I have to perform the first movement. There’s no way I can take a break now.”
Mom sighed. “I just don’t want you to get sick or hurt.”
“Don’t worry, Mom, I can handle it.”
“I hope so. I love you, Ash.”
“I love you, too.” I slipped the phone into my purse.
“Your mom, huh?” A cellist propped his hand on his bulky case.
I nodded. “She worries too much.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “What are you playing for the concerto competition?”
“The Barber Violin Concerto. Ugh.”
The cellist frowned. “Why don’t you like it?”
“Because it’s lame. Nothing happens in the first movement. So boring.”
“Is that the concerto where the violinist told the composer it was too easy, then Barber turned around and wrote a bear of a third movement?”
I squinted at him. “Maybe?”
He nodded. “I’m pretty sure it’s perpetual fast passages the entire time. And just when you think it can’t get crazier, he throws in straight sixteenth notes until the end.”
My heart sank. To be honest, my arm had already been killing me recently. Probably a bad case of tendinitis. How would I ever memorize a third movement like that? “I guess I’ll worry about that when I get to it. For now, I need to focus on performing the first movement.”
“Good luck!” He grinned, then slung his cello case over his shoulder and sauntered off.
Two days later, I rubbed my wrist with my thumb before I pulled out the violin. Time to perform the Barber. It should be easy, although I probably wouldn’t win the contest. Several of the seniors were competing on concertos by renowned composers like Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. As a sophomore, I wouldn’t stand a chance, especially not on the Barber.
I took my place on stage, lifted my violin to my shoulder, and started to play. The notes flowed from my fingers like water from a fountain. The music struck a chord deep inside, as though a part of my soul poured out onto those strings. What was Barber imagining when he wrote this melody?
A moment later, my fingers froze. Why didn’t the notes sound right? I’d played the phrase exactly as I had at the beginning. Oh no. That was the problem. I hadn’t changed keys for the ending. What were the notes? Mortified, I lowered the violin to my side, peaked at the pianist’s score, and recommenced the final section.
After the close of the movement, I walked offstage, head hung low. Not watching my steps, I nearly bumped into someone. The cellist.
“What a disaster,” I exclaimed.
A painful pause ensued as he ran his hands through his hair. “Hey, at least you looked good.” He winked.
Ugh. If he had nothing better to say than “you looked good,” I’d definitely bombed. The only thing left to do would be to ace the third movement next month. I’d practice it so many times I could play it perfectly by memory. No matter the cost.
A month later, I pulled the sweater more tightly around my slender frame. The cold in the stale doctor’s office seeped through my skin and into my tendons like an icy hand. My fingers prickled as pain shot to the tips of my fingers, followed by a wave of numbness.
A quick rap on the door jolted me to attention.
The doctor entered, dressed in a white coat, clipboard in hand. “Ashley Peterson, I presume?”
“Yes.” I croaked.
“My notes show you’ve been experiencing soreness, shooting pain, and numbness in your wrist, hand, and fingers. Is this correct?”
I nodded, then winced as he stretched out my palm, bending my hand into several uncomfortable positions.
“Yes, it’s definitely a repetitive use injury. Inflammation of the joints and tendons.” He scribbled down a few notes.
I looked up. “What can you do? I need to be ready for my concert next weekend.”
He shook his head. “We can try a steroid shot and anti-inflammatory medications. But what you need most is rest. We could put on a cast to stabilize the joints. And absolutely no playing the violin for a long while.”
Silently, I opened my mouth, but it was dry. I’d lost my voice, my song. I’d given in to my neurotic musical obsession. And I’d paid the price. What could I possibly do now?
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