1. How did you come up with the title?
The book, The Band Plays On, takes a nostalgic step back in time. An aging group of former students and band members return to their small home town (population 900) to celebrate the life of their beloved music teacher from decades past, Lewis Niece. “Lewie’s Alumni Band” gathers to rehearse a routine for half-time during the local school’s football game. They also practice to march in a parade the next day and play a concert downtown.
The title of the book references an old music classic, “The Band Played On,” written in 1895. That song begins with this lyric:
Casey would waltz with a strawberry blond
And the band played on.
The difference is that in this lyric, the band “played” on—a verb in the past tense. The title of my book is in the present tense, plays, to signify that this music continues on and on in hearts and memories.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, there is a message. First, I believe The Band Plays On is heartwarming, humorous, and reflective and that my stories provide an entertaining, inspirational, and nostalgic glimpse into lives richly lived. The book allows me to share all of this with others.
Second, music is an essential part of my life, especially classical music. I was raised in a house where classical music was ubiquitous. I firmly believe that the music we are exposed to as infants, and then raised with, becomes our predilection for life. I want for my readers to understand and appreciate the importance of band and chorus—and the financial and parental support required for their existence—in the lives of young people. For that reason, I am donating one dollar for every book sold to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a foundation that provides musical instruments to students in schools that otherwise cannot afford to purchase them.
Finally, there is a message of hope, optimism, and the joy of small-town living. In this age of economic, political, and social disarray, my books provide a respite of temporary relief, and the opportunity to smile and remember.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
Everything and everyone in The Band Plays On is real and true. This was especially evident when I returned to my hometown for a book signing for my first book in the series, Side-Yard Superhero, and I was autographing books for people who were “characters” in the book. What I write about them or their friends and relatives must be accurate, or I will lose all credibility among the ones I care about most. I return to DeGraff in September, and I will again be signing books for people depicted in The Band Plays On.
However, and I make this quite clear, this book—as is Side-Yard Superhero—is an “automythography.” My books document what I think I remember, and how I think I remember it. The stories are iridescent memories based upon my truth and personal narrative.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
At this point, I do not have anything I would change. However, after I read what the critics and reviewers have to say, I may change my mind!
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
My day job, one that is truly 24/7, is being a University President. With day to day campus management, traveling for fundraising and alumni visiting, and representing the University for a variety of formal and informal occasions, I have very little time for myself. So, the hardest part about writing for me is finding the time to write.
When I am able to write, the difficult task is describing my very vivid and carefully-pocketed memories in a manner that allows readers not only to see what I see, but vicariously to live what I lived.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a very valuable lesson after writing Book 1 in the Fanfare for a Hometown series, a lesson that every author will quickly learn. I am certain that the lesson will be equally valuable for The Band Plays On as well. When an author writes a book, revises, revises, revises, and revises again, and then the book—hallelujah!—is finally published, the real work is just beginning. Even though others assist with the marketing, publicity, and promotion, the author is always in the forefront marketing, publicizing, and promoting.
I also learned that I am a pretty good wordsmith with a memory that amazes even me. And I am learning that I am a compulsive reviser.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
One of my favorite pictures, that I still have and treasure, is from my very early childhood. It is a picture of my mother reading to me. The book in the picture is Tommy Tractor, and my mother read that and other books to me frequently. I also saw her reading the books from her book-rich knitting room, so the powerful influence of the written word was “imprinted” in me at a very young age.
In junior high and high school, the teachers often asked me to read my compositions to the class. Those were other acts of positive influence and confidence-building reinforcement. My classmates seemed to enjoy my stories. The natural progression was for me to major in English as a college undergraduate and then to go on to teach high school English.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
As a reader, I enjoy America’s classic writers: Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Twain. The poetry and other writings of William Carlos Williams have also shaped my writing and insights. Williams advises writers to write about the local before attempting to write about the universal. That is, write about what is around you before attempting the territory beyond the borders of your own backyard. He is emphasizing to write what you know before creating new worlds.
But I have been influenced the most, interestingly enough, by James Herriot and his books about the small, rural town of Darrowby. My style and thematic structures are similar to his. The central theme of a veterinary’s practice in rural England runs throughout Herriot’s series of books, but within each book most of the chapters are autonomous and able to stand on their own. In The Band Plays On, “Lewie’s Alumni Band” is the story arc, but most chapters are self-contained and can stand alone. They are short stories written within the framework of a multi-layered book. That technique is the style as well for Book 1, Side-Yard Superhero, in the Fanfare for a Hometown series.
9. Tell us your latest news.
This year is my last year in the magical profession of education. Forty-five years are enough for one career. For the first ten years I was a teacher. The past thirty-five years I have served as an administrator, with the final seventeen as a University President. I have been blessed by my career and with Sherée, my wife.
Although Sherée and I are both Ohio natives, we will retire in Arkansas. We love the friendly people, beautiful environment, and accommodating weather. We are retiring in Hot Springs Village—located about twenty minutes from historic Hot Springs—a village of 15,000 inhabitants located within 26,000 acres of forest. We are preparing the Hot Springs Village house for our arrival—a house with a 38 mile view of forest and two mountain ranges.
We have already purchased one piece of furniture for our new house—in which we will move after my retirement on July 1, 2013—and that is a writing desk. The desk will sit in the middle of our sun room, a room with a big window and an even bigger view. I am looking forward to full days of writing, as opposed to my current schedule trying to steal an hour or two while waiting in airports, flying on planes, or while Sherée chauffeurs us to visit alumni, donors, and friends of the University of the Ozarks. Book 3 in the Fanfare for a Hometown series will be written during my newly found, greatly appreciated retirement days.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I promise readers that they will enjoy my books. The writing is vivid and flows easily, and the characters are endearing, interesting, and quite unique. The books are universally appealing, I believe, because most readers like a story with descriptive writing, strong narrative, and appealing characters. I also think that readers enjoy stepping back in time to an age they either lived themselves or wish they had experienced.
Specifically, The Band Plays On will be enjoyed by everyone who has been a member of a marching band or who has played a musical instrument. We have a shared camaraderie that comes through loud and clear—and in tune—throughout the book.
The Band Plays On and Side-Yard Superhero contain no offensive language or inappropriate descriptions. There is no embarrassing content. Grandparents can give the books to their grandchildren, and grandchildren can recommend them to their grandparents. They will marvel in their book sharing and then sharing their own stories. The books are wonderful conversation starters and sustainers, especially for families.
Finally, I believe that we each have an “automythography” waiting inside of us, anxious to be written. I hope that my writing inspires others to write their stories.
About the Book
Celebrating the soul of America’s heartland, The Band Plays On is Rick Niece’s heartfelt tribute to friendship, community, and, most importantly, his father, Lewis Niece. When DeGraff, Ohio’s beloved band teacher is invited to direct an encore performance, “Lewie’s Alumni Band” gathers to celebrate with gusto. As the band practices for its final parade, Rick, his baritone in tow, reflects on treasured memories, relationships, and the legacy of a small town with indomitable spirit. The second volume in the delightful Fanfare for a Hometown series, The Band Plays On provides an entertaining, inspirational glimpse into lives richly lived…and shared.
A Buck A Book! One dollar for every copy of The Band Plays On sold will go directly to Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. More information about Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation is available at www.MHopus.org.
Publisher: Five Star Publications
Release Date: July 16, 2012
Buy Link: http://www.fivestarpublications.net/sideyard/books
About the Author
Following in his father‘s footsteps, Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., is a lifelong educator who has served as a classroom teacher, a public school administrator and a university professor, provost and president. In 1997, he was named President of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, and has been steadfast in his devotion to the University's success.
A small-town boy who has maintained his small-town values, Dr. Niece remembers his childhood with fond nostalgia. Growing up in picturesque DeGraff, Ohio, young Rickie was influenced by many endearing friends and neighbors who taught him the important life lessons that shaped his future—especially Bernie Jones. Confined to a wheelchair with severe cerebral palsy, Bernie became Rickie‘s friend, inspiration and superhero, opening a world of compassion, trust and adventure that benefitted them both. >From Bernie, Rickie learned the value of unconditional acceptance, kindness and the triumph of the human spirit—lessons he took with him from his years as a newspaper boy to a career in academia.
Side-Yard Superhero is Dr. Niece‘s first book in the Fanfare for a Hometown series about his upbringing in DeGraff, an "automythography" describing his childhood in rich, vivid detail. Considering himself a "memory keeper," Niece takes readers with him on a poignant journey back in time to a safe haven of heartfelt remembrance. Vibrant, poetic and charming, his stories make DeGraff an open book that everyone who appreciates sentiment will want to read.
Dr. Niece is the recipient of multiple awards, both as an author and an educator. Residing on campus at the University of the Ozarks, he and his wife, Sherée, are the proud "parents" of 630 students.
Links to connect with Rick:
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