Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March Author Series #15: A Little Inspiration Courtesy of Broadway by J.A. Beard

The hills are alive with the sound of...inspiration? See why JA Beard is really glad he got a last minute ticket to a musical, and see why a little bit of Broadway might be just what you need to pump a little feeling into your story. Read on!

A Little Inspiration Courtesy of Broadway

Underestimating the popularity of a Broadway show almost killed The Emerald City before I wrote down a single world. The story, though I now love it, was not birthed from some deep and long-lasting desire to write a modern young adult urban fantasy version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While I’ve always liked the original Oz book, I’m really more of Alice in Wonderland man. So why do I now have a story about a Kansas girl and her heartless, cowardly, and scatter-brained friends instead of a story about a girl named Alice? Musicals.

"Wu's Wok makes me a bit
green too, Miss West." 
I happen to love musicals. After watching a concert version of the musical Chess on PBS one night, I became intrigued with some of the performers, in particular Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel.  I acquired several l cast recordings of some their respective Broadway works. As it so happens, Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, in the Broadway version of Wicked. For those of you unfamiliar with original book, it’s a revisionist take on Oz that presents The Wicked Witch of the West as a sort of tragic figure.

When the Broadway traveling show of Wicked rolled into town, I eagerly snapped up a ticket.  Well, I attempted to snap up a ticket at least. Apparently buying tickets only three hours after they went on sale was enough to ensure I could only get matinee tickets for the final performance day.

I loved the show. I also found myself inspired by the show. All the music and angst planted a seed of a new idea in my head. I knew I wanted to do my own take on Dorothy Gale and Oz, but something that was a bit more modern. Even the musical structure, in a way, worked its way to my story. Singing plays a key role in several chapters of my book.

At the time, I was actually working on something completely different, a Regency paranormal romance. Once I finished off the main draft of that book, I decided I would work on this new Oz-inspired book a little bit each day as well.  That was December of 2010.

A “little bit each day” became “four to six hours each day.” By the end of December, I completed a first draft. Things had already changed a lot just in that one month. Characters and plot points were adjusted. My lead, Gail Dorjee, went from a juvenile delinquent to more of a law-abiding but hot-headed type.

Something just wasn’t there. I liked the story and the characters, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The Emerald City was supposed to be a story about a girl hurting from the loss of her parents and sent away from her Kansas home to Seattle against her will. For all the supernatural weirdness that occurs, the story was supposed to be a strong emotional journey as well. I wrote the darn thing, but the emotions came across as muted.

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So I rewrote the entire manuscript. Now, it’s not as bad as you might think. What I did was transform the third-person manuscript into a first-person manuscript. I shuffled some scenes around and added a lot of emotional insight. After those changes, the story finally spoke to me. My lead, Gail Dorjee, finally seemed real. Fortunately, my beta readers and editor also liked the changes. 

At times I wonder about my last day Wicked tickets. If I’d waited a few more hours and the show sold out, it very likely might have been years before I was inspired to write this book. I guess it was a good thing I got up early that day.


J.A. Beard likes to describe himself as a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. His two children are too young yet to discuss whether or not they are restless souls, but he’s betting on it. He likes to call himself the Pie Master, yet is too cowardly to prove his skills in an actual baking competition. So, really, he’s merely a Potential Pie Master.

While writing is one of his great passions, science is another, and when he’s not writing or worrying about baking, he’s working on the completion of his PhD in microbiology.

He blogs at and is on Twitter as @jabeard_rf.

His current release, a young adult urban fantasy, THE EMERALD CITY, details the transition of a Kansas teen to a sinister Seattle boarding school. It’s available for sale at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.


  1. Gotta love serendipity. You never know when inspiration will strike.

    Your book sounds really interesting, a cool new take on a classic. Now I have another book on my reading list. Ugh! It's getting out of control!

    Keep up the great work!

  2. It's amazing how beautiful these productions can be. About two years ago, I finally kicked my dislike of cities aside and traveled to New York to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. What an incredible production! To be so immersed in a dream, every sense at play, every emotion stimulated! My eyes were wet by the time the curtain came down.
    How wonderful you were inspired to revisit your manuscript. Now readers can reap the benefit of that inspiration as well.

    :) More power to you,

    Laurel W.

  3. Yeah, I don't get to the theater (particularly musical theater) often enough but every time I go, I remember why it's surviving in the face of movies, television, the internet, et cetera.


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