An Impulse that Paid Off

Linda RiebelI got a book idea over dinner with an opera star.

My favorite Metropolitan Opera singer had invited my husband and me to dinner to thank us for bringing so many subscribers into the fold. She regaled us with one tale after another of backstage shenanigans, last-minute emergencies, and sharing the stage with Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, Franco Corelli, and other stars of the 1960s and 1970s. “Miss Dalis,” I exclaimed, “When is your memoir coming out?”  She said she had no intention of producing one. On the spot I decided to write a book about her. After all, someone had to do it.

A confession: I was ripe for an excuse to avoid marketing my previous books. After doing hundreds of blog posts, dozens of author events, linking to relevant organizations, sending copies to book conferences and competitions (I was finalist or silver award winner in three of them) I wanted to get back to doing what I love – writing.

Gazing at Irene Dalis across the dinner table, I felt no hesitation. I knew I could have books in hand in time for her retirement a year hence. At 88, she was going to finally hand over leadership of the opera company she had started from scratch, and which was now an artistic gem in the Silicon Valley region of California. Having self-published two previous books, I knew the ropes and the timetable. So what if I had never done the genre (oral history) or published a book with photographs?

First I had to talk her into it. Though she still receives fan letters 35 years after leaving the stage and has a long list of honors and awards, she didn’t think anyone would be interested. I begged to differ – and convinced her by promising that the book would also focus on her opera company, Opera San Jose. That did the trick.

Plunging into newspaper archives and old trade publications, I found she had garnered some of the most ecstatic reviews ever written. Almost everyone I asked for an interview eagerly agreed: singers, conductors, orchestra members, stage directors, opera patrons, board members, and three composers. I spent many hours with Irene Dalis herself, hearing more fascinating tales. So my first outing in a new genre was supported every step of the way. Of course there were the usual frustrations, but my trusted book designer and an opera-loving professional editor guided me through them.

Does this mean you should act on impulse, too? I would say yes, if your situation includes all or most of the conditions I was lucky enough to inherit:

  • Yearning to write,
  • No competition on the exact topic,
  • Familiarity with the general topic,
  • Access to the best information,
  • Guaranteed interest from a sizable audience,
  • Confidence that you can perform (time, expertise, and resources).

For me, all the pieces came together. Now that the opera book is out, it has been enthusiastically received and I’ve just ordered a second print run. My impulsive decision was a winner.