The Backstory: BEAUTIFUL NOISE: THE MUSIC OF JOHN CAGE
I first met today's guest, Lisa Rogers, when she joined us on the blog in 2020 with her picture book HOUND WON'T GO. Today she is back with her latest, BEAUTIFUL NOISE: THE MUSIC OF JOHN CAGE with illustrations by Il Sung Na. Keep reading to learn all about this amazing book that will be appearing in bookstores near you on October 10, 2023.
AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind BEAUTIFUL NOISE: THE MUSIC OF JOHN CAGE.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
LR: BEAUTIFUL NOISE invites readers to listen to the sounds around them and appreciate them as music, as the innovative composer John Cage did. It’s told in second person to speak directly to those readers, asking them to imagine doing the kinds of groundbreaking experiments Cage attempted. At its heart, BEAUTIFUL NOISE aims to inspire readers not only to listen to the sounds around them and accept them as music, but to inspire them to think creatively and see possibilities in their own endeavors. Cage was all about wonder and creativity, and that’s what children are all about, too. AH: I love how this book brings the reader right into the action. The 2nd person POV is so effective for this and will have children eager to explore and experiment.
AH: What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
LR: I’m fascinated by what inspires artists of all kinds to create, and when I saw a photo of Cage listening to the sounds of a feather brushing against a cactus’ spines, writing about him became a must. I knew of Cage and his “silent” piece, 4’33”, but seeing the photo of him in the act of listening closely lit up my own imagination.
AH: The way you were inspired by Cage is exactly what I hope will happen when children read this book. Children are undeniably curious creatures and all it takes is a little catalyst, such as your book, to spark their imagination and make them wonder.
AH: How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now BEAUTIFUL NOISE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
LR: I wish I had let this idea grow for a while, as I did with 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow,” but I immediately delved into research. I contacted a Cage scholar, composer Peter Dickinson, and the composer Elliott Schwartz, and they both thought Cage would make a wonderful subject for a children’s picture book and gave me suggestions for research.
There was so much to learn about Cage! I was fascinated by everything about him – from the intricacies of how he created his compositions, his time with modern artists and writers at Black Mountain College, where the first “happening” happened, his relationship with dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, his incredible brilliance, his expertise at identifying mushrooms. I read deeply and listened closely to his work, read interviews with him and his peers, watched videos. All exciting and a bit dizzying!
AH: That sounds like a tremendous amount of learning and information. It is amazing that you were able to distill these incredible facts into a picture book length piece.
AH: Did BEAUTIFUL NOISE undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
LR: So many changes! I began writing this story in 2015–yep, eight years before publication. First it was a straight biography, which I revised many many times, then a treatment just of Cage’s most famous (and favorite) piece, 4’33”, during which a pianist sits at a piano for that length of time without playing a note. Both were rejected, one after a revise and resubmit, and I put this project away for a while. Then, right after a kind of horrible holiday season in 2020, when my husband had Covid and my young pup was hospitalized with severe kidney disease, and I was completely exhausted caring for both of them, I woke up and somehow had this story-poem in my mind. I immediately scribbled it down and sent it to one of my critique partners, asking if it was a story. I really didn’t know. She gave me great feedback, I revised slightly, and sent it to my agent, who almost immediately sent it to my wonderful 16 Words editor, Anne Schwartz. Anne loved it right away, we tweaked it (and I did even more research to make sure the details were correct, including running it by the John Cage Trust), and away we went! I was dazzled when the incredible Il Sung Na agreed to take on this project, and wow! His work is genius. I guess I finally realized, subconsciously, that while the details were important, the whole point of my story was about listening.
AH: What a journey! I am so glad that you stuck with this piece and that it teased itself out in your subconscious and found its way to the page. And Il Sung Na's work on this book is magnificent! The two of you made a great team.
AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on BEAUTIFUL NOISE? LR: The whole wonderful genre of picture book biography is so stimulating. Because I developed that collection for my school’s elementary library, I paid attention to the various ways authors developed their stories. I noticed what children responded to. I know that young readers love learning about real people from whom they take inspiration. So I think that reading biographies with children by great writers such as Lesa Cline-Ransome, Jen Bryant, Carole Boston Weatherford, Candace Fleming, Margarita Engle, Rita Lorraine Hubbard, Jeannette Winter, Nikki Grimes – and many more – gave me the confidence to try to write in this genre with the goal of inspiring young readers.
AH: Such wonderful influences. I can imagine that your work as an elementary librarian can come in quite handy as an author. From staying current with children's literature to being able to share and see children's reactions to books, it sounds like a great job for a children's book author.
AH: As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars to organizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you? LR: So many! I’m indebted to the 12 x 12 Challenge for keeping me on the “write” track and inspiring me with amazing webinars and supportive community; The Writing Barn, where I took a 6-week workshop with Nancy Churnin; The Highlights Foundation, where I’ve taken several virtual classes; kidlit411.com, SCBWI’s webinars, The Writers’ Loft for community and incredible workshops, my fabulous critique partners, and the many kidlit bloggers like you who share new books and authors to inspire writers and readers!
AH: You have an incredible network! All of these are wonderful resources that all kidlit folks could benefit from.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Thanks for asking!! I’m fortunate to say that I do! Next month, my first Little Golden Book biography, RONALD REAGAN, comes out on Election Day. Reagan, coincidentally, was president of the Screen Actors Guild during several strikes, the last in 1960–the last before this year’s ongoing strike. The changes he obtained still benefit Guild professionals today.
In December, my poem “The Seven-Headed Dragon” will appear in the gorgeously-illustrated GNOMES & UNGNOMES: POEMS OF HIDDEN CREATURES (Writers’ Loft Press.)
In 2024 comes another Little Golden Book biography, about a major musical figure that had me singing and dancing for months. So much fun!
In 2025 Astra/Calkins Creek will bring out two picture book biographies. One, WOODROW WILSON RAWLS AND WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, is about the remarkable life story of Wilson Rawls, the author of the classic Where the Red Fern Grows, and his unrelenting obsession to write despite enormous obstacles. The other, unannounced, is about a major artist and her creative inspiration.
Also in 2025, my poem, “If I Could Choose a Best Day,” will appear in Irene Latham and Charles Waters’ anthology IF I COULD CHOOSE A BEST DAY: POEMS OF POSSIBILITY, illustrated by Olivia Sua (Candlewick). And I’m happy to report that there is much more to come!!
AH: WOW!!! So much incredible news. I love hearing about all of the books we have to look forward to from you. Keep them coming!
Where can people connect more with you? LR: Find me a lisarogerswrites.com, where you can sign up for my newsletter, and on X and Instagram @LisaLJRogers.
AH: Readers, please connect with Lisa on social media and check out her website for more information about BEAUTIFUL NOISE and her other books. And while you are at it, please consider supporting BEAUTIFUL NOISE in any way you can.
This could include:
- ordering from your favorite indie
- marking as want to read on Goodreads
-leaving a review
- making a library request
Lisa, thank you so much for joining us! It was wonderful learning more about how BEAUTIFUL NOISE came to be.
Lisa would love to offer a virtual visit of 20 minutes with a single classroom and one manuscript critique of a non-rhyming picture book manuscript that’s less than 800 words.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT LISA ROGERS
Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian in the Wellesley Public Schools and a former newspaper reporter and editor. Her debut picture book is 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019). A draft of 16 WORDS received the 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. She lives in Wellesley with her family and hound dog, Tucker, who frequents Wellesley Books.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture books, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024) and HOPE AND THE SEA (WorthyKids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.