Hi everyone! I’m Rebecca F. Kenney, author of YA romantic fantasy novels and lover of stories in all forms—books, TV, movies, and songs. I’m here to tell you how I got the idea for my genderbent Phantom of the Opera retelling, The Monsters of Music!
I love a well-done retelling. Give me the bones of a classic story, change it up with a few deft twists and a fresh setting, and I’m there. I loved the blend of humor and pathos in Brigid Kemmerer’s Beauty and the Beast retelling, A Curse So Dark and Lonely. In Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s sci-fi version of Cinderella, the main character is a cyborg with a missing foot—a clever twist on the lost slipper trope. And Alexa Donne’s Brightly Burning took one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre, and retold it with spaceships and a postapocalyptic setting!
Retellings are still hot in YA right now, but many of the old fairytales have been redone multiple times. I wanted to take another familiar story and rework it for modern readers. So one day I was in my van, driving my kids to the park, and I starting running through favorite classics in my mind. And I thought, “What if I took the concept of a beloved book-turned-musical, The Phantom of the Opera, and transformed it? What if Phantom were a scarred girl, a Muse—and Christine were a guy with a gorgeous voice?” And since I was bringing the story into modern times—instead of the opera house setting, I decided to use the idea of a televised singing competition, something we’re all familiar with thanks to American Idol, The Voice, and similar shows.
But I didn’t want my main character to be a soft, idealized muse. I wanted her to have agency, to be a force in the story, like the Phantom is. He’s powerful, and deeply morally gray. So I blended the old legend of the Lianhan Sidhe (Fae Celtic muses) with a goth aesthetic, and I created Melpomene, or Mel, a Fae muse whose pent-up excess of creative magic is driving her insane.
I was so excited to write the story, and I immediately researched to see if any other Phantom retellings had been done. There were a few, but nothing like what I envisioned; so I descended into a whirlwind of music and shadows and magic, and I wrote the book.
Next, I queried The Monsters of Music to literary agents, hoping to move forward with a traditional publisher. I received a good response, but unfortunately, there were already a couple of Phantom retellings coming from publishers in 2020 and 2021—totally different from mine, but it meant that my book wouldn’t sell in that arena.
Fortunately, thanks to my experience self-publishing my original fantasy trilogy, I knew I could publish The Monsters of Music myself and present a beautiful, polished product, with a release date much earlier than major publishers could manage. And I could do something else—something completely new. In the e-book for The Monsters of Music, I inserted links to each song that’s performed throughout the novel’s singing contest, so readers can hop over to YouTube, listen to the music, and enjoy a richer experience. For example, when a character sings George Ezra’s “Budapest” or Kelly Clarkson’s “Dark Side,” the e-book links to a YouTube video for that song. After all, music is an integral part of the original Phantom tale; so why not leverage modern technology and celebrate music in a new way?
And so my wild, dark, romantic story made its successful debut on October 30, 2019!
The reviewers and bloggers I have worked with were so lovely and kind throughout the pre-release process, and it’s due in large part to their encouragement that I’m so thrilled to share an excerpt of this novel with you today!
About the Book:
THE MONSTERS OF MUSIC
Author: Rebecca F. Kenney
Publisher: Amazon KDP
Publication Date: Oct. 30,2019
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
A darkly romantic gender-swapped modern retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, with a scarred Muse girl, a rock-star boy, and a singing competition. For fans of The Wicked Deep (Ernshaw), Wintersong (S. Jae-Jones), American Idol, or The Voice.
Mel must share her creative magic or be driven mad by it. But finding her first protégé isn’t as easy for her as it is for most Lianhan Sídhe (muses of Celtic myth). Though the women of her race are naturally beautiful, she carries horrifying scars across one side of her face, inflicted by her mother’s obsessive boyfriend. And Mel isn’t only interested in pouring her creative energy into a man; she wants to use her musical genius herself, too. But the laws of the Lianhan Sídhe, and her own savage appearance, stand in the way of her ever singing onstage.
To relieve the painful pressure of her magic, Mel latches onto Kiyoji, a boy with a beautiful voice, and coaches him through a televised singing competition. But neither of them are prepared for the power of their connection, or for the new kind of magic that happens when the two of them sing together.
About the Author:
A lifelong lover of stories, Rebecca majored in English with a minor in Creative Writing, then took a job in the marketing department of a small educational publisher. She had two kids and transitioned to freelance writing from home. Last year, she took an idea she’d been pondering for years and turned it into her YA contemporary fantasy trilogy. Now she has 15K wonderful followers on Twitter and a new book always in the works!
The Lianhan Sídhe seeks the love of mortals… if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place… She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth—this malignant phantom.
—W. B. Yeats—
Having a front-row seat at a singing competition wasn’t as exciting as Mel had hoped.
First of all, her seat wasn’t exactly in the front row. She perched on a beam high above the stage in the vast, gloomy auditorium of the Leroux School for the Performing Arts. Her ripped black skinny jeans and dark gray Beatles T-shirt blended with the shadows shrouding the ceiling, making her invisible, exactly as she wanted to be. From her perch, Mel could see the judges seated at their table, and she could look down on the heads of the singers who clomped hollowly, one at a time, across the boards beneath her.
All day, the hopefuls trotted onto the stage, spilled out condensed versions of their favorite songs, endured the judges’ quips, and skipped or slouched to the exit door. Some of them took defeat gracefully, with a nod and a forced smile. Others snorted and stamped like agitated horses, fun to watch, but not to wrangle. Mel wished for some popcorn, settling for the smashed fruit bar she had jammed into her pocket before climbing up to the beam.
The beam was broad enough for her to lie down on her back when her butt grew numb. In this position, she could still hear the voices without seeing the singers, and sometimes that was better. She didn’t want to judge a person’s potential by their looks, no matter what her aunt said.
“Choose someone sexy,” her aunt had advised. “You can’t do much with certain features or figures, darling. It’s too bad, but the world works the way it does. We can’t change it, much as we may want to.” And she’d reached out to touch the right side of Mel’s face, where the skin writhed with hard, lumpy scar tissue.
Mel raised her fingers up to the scars, tweaking the ridges and tracing the grooves. Prodding the sagging right eyelid. Somehow she had retained most of the vision in that eye. A miracle, the doctors said, and her aunt had scoffed. “Some miracle.”
Ten-year-old Mel had endured her treatments in such dogged silence that the nurses praised her constantly. “Such a tough little thing! So strong, so brave!”
They hadn’t known that inside she was screaming. Disconsolate.
Mel sat up on the beam, swinging her bare feet in midair. That was then. Seven years ago. A time and place not worth thinking of, not now, when she was trying to find her first protégé.
But everyone who had passed across the stage today lacked the spark—the magic, for lack of a better word. She smirked. Humans threw around the word “magic” like confetti, as if its use made a thing more special. Real magic was raw. Visceral. More primal than ornamental. And it certainly couldn’t be used to repair a girl’s once-pretty face.
Her aunt had tried to contact one of the last healers in existence. But the woman had recently died, and so did Mel’s hope. Reconstructive surgery might have helped, but Mel didn’t want to go through a long lineup of painful surgeries, only to end up with a face that still looked odd and distorted.
“Next!” barked one of the judges, a tall, bulky man named Eddie Carver. He was losing patience faster than the others; Mel had noticed him tapping his pen and sighing deeply each time a potential contestant quavered or squeaked. The judge next to him, a thirty-something pop star called Amarynth, hid her dislike of the candidates behind a fabulous frozen smile, while the third judge slumped in his seat, blinking vaguely and looking as if he’d much rather be drinking or smoking something.
Mel twisted a piece of shaggy black hair between her fingers. It was nearly eight o’clock in the evening. This next candidate would be one of the last for the day.
She closed her eyes, feeling the pounding and pressure of the magic inside her. For years it had been growing, building, until it burned acidic in her chest, pulsed relentless in her head.
“Find a protégé,” her aunt insisted. “Otherwise you’ll go mad, or worse.”
It was so for every Lianhan Sídhe—or at least those of her clan. The original line had split into three prongs—one of muses, who imparted magical energy and inspiration; one of seducers who enslaved harems of human men; and a third rogue group that Mel’s aunt rarely mentioned. Once, while giddy-drunk, she’d told Mel that the third clan’s magic had somehow reversed. That they sucked energy from humans, rather than giving it.
“It’s what can happen,” her aunt had warned, “if you don’t follow our traditions and secure a protégé.”
But it wasn’t as easy as snagging some rando off the street. There had to be a connection, and so far, the singers Mel had heard today were less than inspiring. Although she supposed, if no one special showed up, she would have to make do with one of them. Perhaps she had overlooked someone.
Footsteps echoed across the stage. “Hey, I’m Kiyo Darcy.”
“Hello, Kiyo Darcy.” Eddie Carver gave the words such a vicious twist that Amarynth cut in quickly.
“Hey there, sweetie,” she said, smiling. “Tell us something about yourself.”
“Please don’t,” mumbled Eddie. Mel stifled a chuckle, liking this tired, grumpy, late-evening Eddie much better than the arrogant, coffee-fueled version of the morning.
“Well, I’m eighteen, and I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember—”
“They all have, kid,” said Eddie. “What else?”
The boy hesitated. “I’m doing this for my sister. She always told me I had a beautiful voice.”
“I’m sensing a sob story here,” said Eddie. “Let me guess—she’s dead? Dead sister?”
“Eddie!” snapped Amarynth.
“She’s not dead,” said the boy. “She’s deployed, overseas. I haven’t heard from her in a while, but I know she’d be proud of me for giving this a shot.”
Good for him, not letting Eddie faze him. Mel bent forward a little, but all she could see of the boy was a shock of dark hair, a pair of wide, thin shoulders, and a guitar clutched in slim, pale hands.
The slouching judge, Ferris Manson, appeared to shake himself out of his stupor. “Well, go on then,” he said, pulling a British accent out of absolutely nowhere. Mel rolled her eyes at the affectation.
“All right.” The boy began to strum softly on the guitar—not astonishing, because most of the candidates could pluck a few chords or plunk the melody on a keyboard. Mel relaxed and lay down again, staring at the crisscrossing pipes and beams clustered against the dark ceiling. Wondering if she should slip away after this one, or stay to see if any surprises came in before eight.
And then the boy began to sing.
She stiffened and sat up. Leaned so far forward she nearly lost her balance.
He sang “Budapest,” by George Ezra. Not a conventional audition song—pleasantly unexpected. His graceful baritone made easy work of the first few lines, and he took the leaps to the high notes effortlessly, hitting each one with a clear, sparkling falsetto that sent shivers over Mel’s skin.
Where, where did he get that blend of strength and fragility in his voice? She squinted at the judges, sure that they would be listening with a rapt attention rivaling hers. But Ferris looked half-asleep, Amarynth was unwrapping a piece of gum, and Eddie was tapping his damn pen again.
Mel ground her teeth. All the crap on legs that had traversed the stage, and they had the gall to ignore this one? Sure, he swayed slightly flat on a note or two, and his phrasing could be better—but he had it. The magic.