Karen’s Killer Book Bench: PAGANINI AGITATO by Ann Abelson & Lenny Cavallaro

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A Novel


Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) was perhaps the most influential violinist of all time. A great celebrity, he earned a fortune but also became the subject of a dark rumor: that to play as he did and compose the music he had written, he must have sold his soul to the Devil. How else could anyone explain the feats of virtuosity and unprecedented challenges of music that Europe had never before heard?

The price Paganini paid was undeniably high. Throughout his life, he suffered from poor health. He was addicted to vice, his self-destructiveness knew no bounds, and his gambling losses were legendary. Ravenous for sexual conquests (of which he had many), he was nevertheless unable to know a woman’s love.

Many devoutly believed the Devil would ultimately collect a final payment. However, a spark of light shone through the shattered soul: the love he felt for his son. Would this be enough to save him?


A Novel


1) This novel was begun by your mother, who died in 1992. Describe the experience of “editing and revising” her work.

In one word: agonizing. My mother brought a lot of psychological “baggage” into this project, since her marriage to my father (a violinist) was crumbling, and they went their separate ways in 1974. Worse still, her health was failing. She had already had two major surgeries for cancer, and by 1978 she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, to which she would ultimately succumb. Thus, despite the NEA grant for a “work in progress” (both this and her unfinished novel, A Slow Train to Budapest), she turned her attention to career vocational books and the well-received young adult novel, Blimp. The draft of the Paganini novel remained in “rough shape.”

2) What, exactly, was wrong with it, and how did you improve it?

The novel lacked a central focus and ultimately read more like a fictionalized biography without an underlying, central conflict. I needed to cut nearly two hundred pages, add perhaps another sixty, and then edit extensively. It was painful at times, but necessary.

3) Did you make structural changes as well?

Yes. She had written an excellent Prologue, but I wanted to introduce the thematic question — had Paganini been able to save his own soul? — and then extend it into an Epilogue as well. The violinist’s remarkable story is now sandwiched in between.

4) Fomite Press released the novel in August, but hadn’t it been published earlier?

Yes and no. Much like my own series, The Passion of Elena Bianchi, this novel has been under a “curse” of sorts. In an earlier form (with a different title), it was accepted by a very small house for their 2007 list, but the firm imploded before the actual publication. I then restored some material I had rather foolishly deleted, and in 2011, the second incarnation (with a second title) was released by a digital publisher.

That version enjoyed remarkable success during a promotional weekend in late 2012. Under Amazon’s broad category of “Music/Biographies” (which included historical fiction as well), Charlie Brown’s book on Wiz Khalifa finished #3, and Andrew Morris’ volume on Justin Bieber took the #2 slot.  Topping the list was this Paganini novel! How often does a 19th century classical violinist finish ahead of a rap artist and a pop icon?

One might have assumed things would get better from there, but while the book had sold consistently in the $2.99 to $4.99 range, the publisher got greedy and hiked the price up to $9.99. Sales virtually screeched to a halt, eventually necessitating a “buy out.” Suffice it to say that we had a rather unpleasant parting of the ways.

For its final form (with the novel’s third title!), I added a few short scenes, mostly descriptions of the performances and the violinistic wizardry Paganini presented to his bedazzled audiences. I also enlisted two friends to help me with the editorial/proofreading process, and I believe our “finished product” is vastly superior to the earlier renditions.

5) So, you did not edit it entirely on your own?

Because so much of this is, in fact, my own work, I appear to have had the same problems most writers experience. Indeed, I have now edited eight books that are selling on Amazon, but my own copy takes me several times longer than someone else’s. My friends insist they did little more than proofread, but they also caught a few things the publishers and I had somehow missed: not necessarily “mistakes” or “errors,” but prose that could nevertheless have been improved.

6) As an editor yourself, do you find it difficult to work with an editor?

Yes and no. My last interview — https://www.karendocter.com/karens-killer-book-bench-chess-pi-mystery-sherlock-holmes-and-the-mysteries-of-the-chess-world-by-lenny-cavallaro/#more-28867 — involved my Sherlock Holmes collection, and Russell Enterprises gave me the services of Al Lawrence, the finest editor with whom I’ve ever worked. However, I’ve also encountered editors who made horrible errors of diction and grammar when they “corrected” my prose. Needless to say, things soon got difficult.

7) Fomite is a small “traditional” publisher. Have you also self-published, and if so, on what platforms?

I have found the team at Fomite cordial and extremely professional, and I have also sung the praises of Russell. Nevertheless, I have self-published a good chunk of my work. I start on Amazon, usually with Kindle Unlimited, but if the KENP numbers don’t justify exclusivity, I “go wide” (AppleBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, et al.) via Draft2Digital. More recently, I’ve uploaded some titles onto payhip, and I may even try books.io, who pay in crypto currencies. Of course, Kindle still accounts for the overwhelming majority of digital sales.

With paperbacks, I sell through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I used IngramSpark for three titles and worked directly with the retailers for the others.

8) Paganini Agitato has a number of supernatural elements (e.g., his encounters with the Devil). Do you find it difficult to combine historical fiction with the supernatural?

Not at all. In fact, the “other-worldly” has figured in several of my works, most notably The Ibbur’s Tale, which is Jewish paranormal and also historical. I am quite comfortable with both.

9) What is your next project?

I have several. The first is a satirical novel, still in its embryonic form. The second is a collaborative work with a friend: a conjectural “sequel” to Georges Bataille’s The Story of the Eye. On the musical front, I am composing another work for English horn and piano, as well as a choral work for the church at which I serve as choir director.

10) Do readers need to understand classical music to understand Paganini Agitato?

Absolutely not! It’s historical romance and the story of the battle for the protagonist’s soul. Enjoy!

About Authors Ann Abelson & Lenny Cavallaro..

Ann Abelson (1916-92) was the author of Angel’s Metal (Harcourt), The Little Conquerors (Random House), and the award-winning young adult novel, Blimp (Dutton). She left behind unfinished manuscripts, including Paganini Agitato, A Slow Train to Budapest, and A Slow Train to Budapest, Part Two: Interlude in Eden. All were edited by her son, Lenny Cavallaro.

Lenny Cavallaro’s literary works include: The Passion of Elena Bianchi (a four-volume series), Sherlock Holmes and the Mysteries of the Chess World, The Ibbur’s Tale, Two Oedipal Plays, and Trojan Dialogues.

Also an accomplished pianist and composer, Cavallaro performed Bach’s Six Partitas to the highest critical acclaim in Carnegie Recital Hall and has achieved even more recognition as a composer. His musical works are available through Broadbent and Dunn, Forton Music, and Ayotte Custom Musical Engravings.


Links to Lenny’s websites, blogs, books, #ad etc.:


Barnes & Noble


Website: https://www.lennycavallaro.com/literature

Substack: lennycavallaro.substack.com


Contact Info: https://www.lennycavallaro.com/contact


Thanks, Lenny, for sharing your book with us!

Don’t miss the chance to read this book!


4 thoughts on “Karen’s Killer Book Bench: PAGANINI AGITATO by Ann Abelson & Lenny Cavallaro”

  1. Good morning, Lenny, and welcome back to Karen’s Killer Book Bench. I love that you have worked so assiduously to bring your mother’s work to fruition. It’s truly a labor of love! I never knew much about Paganini, although I played the violin. Probably because I was a child. If I were to relearn the violin now, I’d be more focused on taking my lessons beyond learning how to make the music. It’s fascinating that he was so good as to be thought having made a pact with the devil. Thanks for sharing your (and your mother’s) book with us today!

  2. Good afternoon, this is so very interesting, thank you so much for sharing about it and how you changed it. Have a great week.

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