Some things are years in the making, and that’s especially true of books. My novel Fire Music has been one of those long projects, and I used to wonder how I’d ever finish it. But now I’m delighted to announce that this huge labor of love is not only finished but has a publication date: mid-April, 2024. The novel, published by Coffeetown Press, will be available in paperback and e-book. I look forward to sharing it with readers, and I’m especially grateful to those of you who read The Songs We Hide and then wanted another book.

I’m often asked about Fire Music, so here are some FAQs and their answers:

What’s Fire Music about?

It’s about music and war, about love and pain, and ultimately about redemption. Here’s a description of the story:

Antal Varga, a Budapest violinist, is 78 years old when a young American stranger places a yellowed music sheet into his hands. With shock he recognizes his own teenage handwriting, for he himself wrote this piece in 1945, when his city was under siege. Desperate to talk with this American woman, Varga enlists his grandson Kristóf to translate; and he finds that the woman, Lisa, shares his family’s painful heritage.

Now his grandson and this young American press him for the story behind the music, and especially behind its shattered ending. For decades he’s hidden this story of war, love, jealousy and loss. Can he bear to tell it now? Can they bear to hear it?

Cautiously Varga, Kristóf and Lisa open the music and its hard secrets, hoping that although pain has extended over generations, perhaps love will extend further still.

Budapest’s Chain Bridge, after WWII bombing.

Is it an historical novel?

Part of it is historical. The story moves back and forth between 1944-45, during the World War II siege of Budapest, and two generations later, in 2006-07.

Is Fire Music a sequel to The Songs We Hide?

No, but it’s related. Fire Music’s main character, Antal Varga, is the older brother of Katalin in The Songs We Hide. Part of Fire Music takes place six years before The Songs We Hide, and part of it takes place many years later.

Is Fire Music set in Hungary?

Yes, most of it is. But some chapters are set in my own city—Tacoma, Washington.

Connie, have you been to Hungary?

Yes, four times now, most recently this past May. By now Hungary is beginning to feel just a little bit like home—not because I’ve lived here, but because my characters “live” there, and my imagination has settled there.

Inside the Budapest Opera House

How long did it take you to write Fire Music?

A long time. Back in 2006 I decided to write a teenage novel set during the siege of Budapest. I began the research, and with crazy optimism I cranked out a rough draft in a year. My optimism evaporated, however, as I realized that I’d gotten neither the historical facts nor the fictional story-telling right. So I started over.

The research grew exponentially. The novel went through countless revisions and became a story for adults rather than teens. The time span of the novel grew from eleven months in the first draft to sixty-one years in the final draft, involving a second story line and a second set of characters. Slowing progress down even further, I ended up setting aside the work on the siege story while I wrote another novel (The Songs We Hide). All in all, when Fire Music is published, eighteen years will have passed since I began that preliminary (and almost unrecognizable) version of the story. The years have sharpened me as a writer and deepened my empathy for people affected by war. I now realize that Fire Music could not have been written quickly—at least, not by me.

Various manuscripts of Fire Music as it evolved.

Have you begun writing a third novel?

Yes. It’s set in Peru. I’m just getting started, and it’s very much in the trial-and-error stage. But I’m excited to see where the story leads.

In Cusco, Peru.



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