Q & A with Author Brendan Slocumb

The 2023-2024 One Book, One Community selection is The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb. Read Slocumb’s thoughts about his work and about music in this interview, courtesy of the Vernon Area Public Library. OBOC runs from December 1, 2023 to February 25, 2024.

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About One Book, One Community

Now in its eighth year, One Book, One Community (OBOC) is a partnership among Cook Memorial, Indian Trails and Vernon Area public library districts to encourage dialogue and build community through a shared experience of literature.

The series is a recipient of a 2019 award from the Illinois Library Association for interlibrary resource sharing that makes a lasting impact. Visit 1book.org to register for book discussions, programs and the author event.

Author Interview

Q: Your bio and author’s note reveal that elements of Ray’s story parallel your own. What do you and Ray share? In what ways are you different?

A: Like Ray, I started playing violin very young; I was 9 years old. Nobody in my family really understood the attraction – nobody in the neighborhood was even remotely interested. In the beginning, playing was great – it was something different, and I loved it from the moment I picked up my first violin.

Throughout elementary school, junior high and high school, my classmates didn’t understand what I saw in music, and they called me every name in the book, like Ray.

Since my college was a school of music within a larger university, I was finally around more like-minded people, so on some level life became much easier.

I differ from Ray in that he is much more adept at playing jazz. I’m terrible at it. I’m actually kind of jealous of him in that regard.

Q: Are there ways that writing a novel is like performing in a symphony or as a soloist?

A: Writing and performing are closely connected for me. I approach writing like a piece of music. Start with an overture that sets everything up. Next comes the introduction, middle section, climax and finale.

I outline everything and really focus in on each part like in a concerto or symphony. It’s second nature to me because of playing violin for so many years.

Q: Ray’s story involves a few key people and events that greatly affect his trajectory. Is there a person or moment in your life that your recognize as life-changing?

A: My first teacher in college told me to quit because he thought my hands were too big to every play violin in tune. My second teacher, Dr. Rachel Vetter Huang, really taught me how to play my instrument and to this day, I’m extremely grateful to her.

Has it changed my life? Absolutely. The violin allowed me to travel, fly for the first time, go to college, meet incredible people and help those in need – as well as the opportunity to express myself musically.

Q: Parts of your book are a pleasure to read: the peek behind the curtain of classical music competition and the “whodunnit” aspect of the story. Other parts are difficult, but necessary on many levels. How did you approach bringing those voices together?

A: My goal was to tell a good story. It’s an honest account of the life of a Black violinist. I was given great advice, which was to write honestly.

I believe the difficult sections to read reinforce the message that anything worth fighting for may be tough at times, but when you make it through, it will all be worthwhile.

Q: As a successful musician, teacher and author, what advice do you have for young people who have a passion for the arts?

A: If you have a passion for the arts, always remember why you began to love it. Do your best and give 100% all the time, not just when someone is watching.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Violin Conspiracy?

A: I really want people to do what they love because they love it. Never ever ever let someone tell you you can’t do something. If you love it, do it.