Welcome to a new XPAT Spotlight Interview! Today we have a very special guest with us. While she is not a German, Austrian, or Swiss living in California, she has a long connection with CaliforniaGermans!
Her stories on CaliforniaGermans.com gave us some insight into what it means to live as a Californian in Germany! Do you know who we are talking about?
Yes, Kate Müser! After some big changes, which involved moving back to the USA and living in Las Vegas with her young family, she now is back in Germany again and is promoting her first book The Girl with Twenty Fingers.
We are so excited to have her here with us today and can’t wait to catch up and have her introduce her new novel to our readers.
CG: Kate, your book, The Girl with Twenty Fingers, is about a failed concert pianist in Germany. You studied piano performance but didn’t become a concert pianist, and you’ve lived in Germany for many years. Is the book actually about you?
Kate: No! Well, maybe a tiny bit. But actually, no. Or, yes… I mean, of course, it was inspired by many of my experiences, but it is not a memoir or autobiography.
The initial inspiration for the story — the protagonist Sarah meets regularly with an elderly German to play Mozart’s works for piano four hands — was real. More than twenty years ago, shortly after I moved to Germany, I did meet a kind elderly couple with a lovely grand piano. He was a skilled and passionate player and we met every two weeks or so for about a year to play Mozart and other piano duets. He didn’t have a mysterious past, as Herr Steinmann does in my book — at least, not that I know of — but talking with him did teach me a great deal about German history, culture, and language.
Playing piano with my elderly friend also helped me learn that music can be a hobby. I had a degree in piano performance and for me, music had always been more about achieving artistic perfection and less about enjoying the moment. I also had a chip on my shoulder after the recent realization that my plans for a career in music weren’t going to materialize and I needed another perspective.
CG: Mozart is the central composer in the book. Why did you pick Mozart?
Kate: Mozart’s music often sounds easy, but is deceptively difficult. His music is childish at times, but it is very exposed so every mistake is audible! That made him a good composer for Sarah’s bombed degree performance. Plus, Mozart had a strong connection to Munich, which I was able to touch on in the book.
CG: Who should read your book? Why would California Germans readers be interested?
Kate: Anyone who loves music, Mozart, or Munich will hopefully enjoy The Girl with Twenty Fingers. On a bigger level, though, it’s a book about failing royally, dusting yourself off and trying again. I’d like to think that that’s a universal experience. How many of you have been forced to change course and forge a new path at some point in life? Another major theme in the book is cultural identity, and I think, whether you’re a German in California or anyone who’s intimately experienced more than one culture, you’ll be able to relate to the novel.
CG: You have three young children including twins. How did you manage to write a novel during this crazy phase of your life?
Kate: I started the book when my oldest son went from two naps to one predictable nap a day. When I got pregnant with twins shortly after that, I was so exhausted all the time that I had to be horizontal while my toddler was napping, so I continued writing on my phone. By the time they were born, I’d completed about 95% of the first draft. After that, I squeezed in the revisions wherever I could — mostly late at night and almost always on my phone. This novel admittedly cost me a tremendous amount of sleep and a hundred grey hairs — but my need for creative output is really strong and I am very passionate about this book project.
CG: Tell us a little bit about the publishing process.
Kate: It is my first novel and I rewrote the manuscript several times while trying to find my voice. Then I queried dozens of agents and publishers and was really lucky to connect with Blackwater Press. They’re a young, professional, and very motivated publishing house with a high level of expertise in music and strong transatlantic ties. We refined the manuscript together. They got a talented Scottish illustrator, Eilidh Muldoon, to take care of the cover, and publication was set for the anniversary of Mozart’s birth (January 27), which was about four years to the day after I’d typed the first word of the manuscript.
CG: What advice do you have for writers hoping to publish their own novel?
Kate: Read a lot! Even though I love to read and always have, this is hard for me, since I want to spend the little free time I have writing, but I find that every time I do read a novel, it informs my own style in some way. If you aim to publish, do your research. In addition to querying agents, consider a small publishing house that is aligned with your genre and taste. The advantage is that you will be a lot more involved in the publishing process than with a big-name publisher.
CG: You recently spent some time in Las Vegas and have moved back to Munich, where The Girl with Twenty Fingers is set. What do you like about Munich?
Kate: Our kids are now five, three, and three. For us, the decision was about where our kids should go to school and spend the bulk of their childhood. The Munich area offers an amazing combination of nature and world-class infrastructure. We want our kids to get muddy, throw pine cones and be able to go to museums or music lessons if they want to. I mean, Mozart must have jumped in a few puddles when he toured here as a child, right?
CG: What are you currently working on?
Kate: I am putting the finishing touches on the manuscript to my second novel, which is also about forging new paths in music but completely different from The Girl with Twenty Fingers.
CG: Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into your new life as a novel writer, Kate. I am so excited to read your first book! We wish you all the best with your life back in Munich and we can’t wait to find out what your next novel is about.
READ THE GIRL WITH TWENTY FINGERS
Amazon US https://a.co/d/3p8s15G
Amazon UK https://amzn.eu/d/bvzQAmA
CONNECT WITH KATE
ABOUT THE BOOK
Sarah’s hope of becoming a concert pianist was shattered when she bombed an important performance of a Mozart concerto. Now in Munich, she feels like an imposter in her job as a food magazine editor. A chance encounter in a music shop leads to a surprising friendship with an elderly widower with a unique grand piano. When they start meeting to play Mozart’s works for four hands, Sarah unravels the mysteries of his war-time past, uproots a musical secret in her own family — and finds the strength to redirect her own future.
Laced with melodies from Mozart and Schumann to Toto and Nena, The Girl with Twenty Fingers will delight readers, while asking the question: Can music change lives? Kate Mueser’s debut novel cracks open notions of failure and second chances, living to the fullest and dying without regrets, and cultural identity and privilege, making it both timeless and urgently relevant to our age.
Kate Mueser was going to become a concert pianist, but instead became a bilingual storyteller with a penchant for music. She spent over a decade working for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, where she reported and presented an award-winning documentary feature on the future of the book and hosted a TV show on German pop music, her own web video series, and a youth radio show. Kate holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from Indiana University and a Masters Degree in Modern European Studies from Columbia University. A California native, she has spent nearly her entire adult life in Germany, with brief interruptions in New York City and Las Vegas. The Girl with Twenty Fingers is Kate’s debut novel.
Images: ©Kate Müser 1)Kate 2)The Girl with Twenty Fingers Book Cover 3)Nymphenburg Castle in Munich