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Author Carol de Giere - Biography

Carol de Giere, author of "Defying Gravity"ON THIS PAGE

Carol de Giere Author bio -short version or longer version

Radio interviews/podcast

Carol de Giere FAQs about the book

E-mail contact:

Please add the word "QUESTION" or "COMMENT" or "SIGNED COPY" in the subject heading of your email (so that I can distinguish it from spam), and send it to carol@defyinggravitythebook.com

Short Version - Carol de Giere bio:

After "meeting" Stephen Schwartz by way of his website, Carol de Giere began writing the authorized career biography of this award-winning Broadway and film songwriter (who wrote scores for Godspell, Pippin, Wicked, and more). A former librarian, Carol holds master's degrees in library science and writing. She launched her freelance writing career with this book project that involved over 80 hours of interviews with Schwartz as well as with about 100 of his colleagues, friends, and family members. She and her husband, Terry, are website publishers. They reside in Connecticut. www.caroldegiere.com

Stephen Schwartz and Carol de Giere at Skokie Illinois, January 10, 2009, Defying Gravity discussion and signing

Stephen Schwartz and Carol de Giere Defying Gravity talk

Longer Version - Carol de Giere bio:

After "meeting" Stephen Schwartz by way of his website, www.stephenschwartz.com, Carol de Giere began writing his career biography in 2000. As part of that process, she developed www.MusicalSchwartz.com in order to meet and offer information to Schwartz fans. She also started an e-mail quarterly newsletter The Schwartz Scene

A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Carol spent six years as a school and university librarian in Iowa and Illinois before pursing her interests in the creative side of the publishing world. Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way inspired her to study more about the creative process and follow her dream of being a freelance writer.

Her various college credentials include an M.S. in library and information science, and M.A. degrees in writing and interdisciplinary studies. She has served as a creativity facilitator and workshop leader in community, university, and corporate settings.

A life-long fan of music and musical theatre, Ms. de Giere involved herself with school and community productions in Iowa.

Carol is married to Terry de Giere, a photographer, chef, and web designer. They moved from Iowa to the New York City metropolitan area in 2002 and currently reside in the beautiful state of Connecticut.

Visit www.caroldegiere.com to find links to her websites, articles, links for writers, and suggestions for books to read about the creative process.

RADIO INTERVIEWS/PODCASTS

Oz-Themed Interview at The Writers' Voices

KRUU interviewers talked with Carol de Giere about Defying Gravity, and especially about the coverage of The Wizard of Oz Prequel “Wicked” with a score by Stephen Schwartz . Carol de Giere interview at The Writers Voices

The Book of Life, March 1, 2011

A podcast about Jewish people and the books we read. Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin interviewed Carol de Giere at Book Expo America about Stephen Schwartz and "Defying Gravity" Carol de Giere interview about Stephen Schwartz

Carol de Giere - Frequently Asked Questions

Below are Carol de Giere's responses to frequently asked questions.

Why Stephen Schwartz? Why did you select his career and creativity as a subject?

Carol de Giere: He's so colorful! He's not only notable for his success, but he's very smart and opinionated; he expresses himself fervently on many topics.

I feel very fortunate to have had first dibs on Stephen Schwartz's story. I claimed it in 2000 before anyone else decided it was worth telling. I share the whole story of how I got started in the "About the Author" section of the book.

Basically, I came into his world as a writer looking for a good story and a way to improve my own creative process (rather than as a musical theatre or film fan). I had been seeking a book-length topic, and wanted to interview someone who is attentive to how he or she created.

I learned a little about him reading his website discussion forum. It was Stephen's description of his writing process for "Colors of the Wind" that really hooked me. He shared an anecdote in a light-hearted way. I expected he would have more good stories.

Also, he and I both grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. I'm attracted to his musical style that was influenced by the 1960s singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Paul Simon, and James Taylor, among others. His work feels like home to me.

What was it like to interact with him for so many interviews?

Carol de Giere: His East Coast entertainment-industry world was so different from mine that I felt like Dorothy who had been blown into some strange Oz. I was always the naïve one with a huge amount to learn from, in this case, a good wizard who was not a humbug.

I didn't come in as a theatre peer or sophisticated theatre writer. In a way that worked in my favor because when I'd question him, he couldn't assume that I'd know what he was talking about so he explained things more thoroughly than he might have otherwise.

For a while he had the reputation of being difficult to work with. He does have strong opinions and he expresses them emphatically. Since I wasn't collaborating, but absorbing and piecing together a story, once I got accustomed to his poignant personality and he got accustomed to my ways of questioning him, our meetings went pretty well.

Did you ever consider writing an unauthorized biography?

Carol de Giere: And miss a chance to spend time with a genius of the musical theatre? Never. My interests intersected perfectly with his needs for what he would share. I only wanted the creative work. He's a setter of boundaries in his work and life, so he set boundaries on how much of his personal life he would let me in on and my agreement was my ticket to get close enough to tell a good story.

Besides which, the people I interviewed were mostly all on friendly terms with him and would only speak to me if he was in agreement. His name became this wonderful magic "Abracadabra" that opened many doors and possibilities. Suddenly I could be doing phone interviews with people like Disney's Alan Menken, who was Schwartz's collaborator on three Disney films, or receiving emails from London from British directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, or speaking to all of the living Godspell cast members from the original 1971 production. It was great.

When you got to know Stephen Schwartz was he different than you expected?

Carol de Giere: I think people want to hear that a famous person is really just an ordinary guy. But he really isn't.

First, he is extraordinarily smart, if not at some kind of genius level of thinking. When I would bring up some of the puzzle-solving issues for his musicals or for my own writing, I always felt like I was stepping under a great vaulted ceiling of his intellect and that I was no longer lost because he could encompass all of what I was considering.

Second, he is a gifted musician and very skilled with languages, which contributes to his being a successful composer-lyricist.

At the same time, he is immensely energetic and fun-loving when he's at ease in a situation. You get the feeling he was born with all circuits on. Everything works: his brain, his heart, his body, his personal charm. He is generally is warm, personable, and down-to-earth.

As remarkable as I found him to be, it was reassuring to learn that he has creative issues like the rest of us. It was actually surprising for me to learn how much he would sometimes struggle with a song to get it right.  I cover this throughout the book and describe some of the strategies he has worked out to overcome blocks and move forward with his work in collaboration with others.

What would you say are some of his weaknesses?

Carol de Giere: Because he is so task-oriented, he can get frustrated when things aren't working or people are not able to grasp his point of view. And he'll let them know. At times he has been undiplomatic and frank with his colleagues, although less so in later years.

He became so frustrated and discouraged after Rags failed that he wrote out a vow in front of Charles Strouse never to write for New York commercial theatre again, a vow he broke to write Wicked. When I corresponded with Mr. Strouse after Wicked had been playing on Broadway for several years, he sent me a funny comment: "I still have the contract Stephen signed swearing he ‘would never write for Broadway again.' I had it notarized, and in breaking the contract, Stephen now owes me $10,000,000."

Talk about the critical response to his work. Any comment on that?

Carol de Giere: It certainly bothered him for a long time that few of the New York Theatre critics praised his work. He really wanted to be a new Richard Rodgers—someone who was fully accepted and acclaimed for his role in shaping musicals. It didn't work out that way. Critics outside of New York, and the audiences, are more likely to respond positively to Schwartz's work.

Many people I've spoken with like his musicals because they tend to be upbeat and they have a purpose and message. Ben Brantley, in his New York Times review of Wicked, called it a "sermon of a musical." That's exactly what I like about Schwartz's work—it makes a stance on strong ethical concerns or issues about personal character. He likes to write that way and he's good at it. Life is challenging, so we benefit from art that supports our personal growth and the development of our society.

At the end of the Wicked section of the book I include some of the disparaging lines from reviews and then what some of the fans say. Like the woman from Maine who emailed me to say "I loved, loved, loved the score and during ‘Defying Gravity' all the hair on my body stood up on end." And one girl who emailed me to say "If I could pick where I had to die, It would be at a performance of Wicked. If I could pick the last words that I heard, It would be the last note of the song ‘Defying Gravity.' This show is utterly amazing!"

Do you read biography? Was there anyone's work that inspired you to write this?

Carol de Giere: Actually, I read mostly in the "creative nonfiction" genre: true stories that read like novels, such as Three Cups of Tea , Into Thin Air, The Devil in the White City, and The Professor and the Madman...and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. I aspired to make the story of Stephen Schwartz a "good read" while making it an accurate account.

I've read a lot of creativity "how to" books. I've listed some of my sources on my personal website, www.caroldegiere.com

I'm inspired by bio-flicks like Miss Potter and by some statements of biographers.

One person said that our job is to take the miscellaneous information and piece it together into a chronological story. And this was a big issue for me because when I was gathering information on Wicked, the only way I could make sense of it at first was to collect it by topic, for example, information about the auditions, the readings, the sets, the costumes, the actors, the characters. But it didn't make for compelling reading. Once I could see the storyline and got down to business writing the story as a third person narrative, it started to work. It took me about two years just to write the Wicked section in this way.

What can we learn from Stephen Schwartz?

Carol de Giere: I think we can learn more about living creatively. Defying Gravity debunks some myths, such as that creative geniuses just have solutions come to them spontaneously all the time and they walk around smart. And if we believe that's true and yet it's not happening to us, we might give up and let other people be creative or artistic. While it's true for Stephen some of the time, most of the time he uses strategies like research, brainstorming, trial and error, workshops and testing, and lots of rewriting to get something to seem as polished and perfect as it is.

It may sound like things you don't need to get out of a book, but one of the main ways that artists use to express themselves effectively is to follow the model of others. Visual artists and musical artists are always spinning off of what other people do. I think it's helpful to read the subtle descriptions Stephen gives of what he does as a model for our own work.

What would you say is Stephen Schwartz's greatest achievement?

Carol de Giere: For several reasons I believe that Wicked is Stephen Schwartz's greatest achievement to date. First of all, in order to begin making the musical, he had to let go of previous prejudices and wounds and issues he had about working on Broadway again. He did it because he truly believed in The Wizard of Oz prequel story idea based on a retelling of the Wicked Witch's journey. It seemed ideal material for a grand Broadway musical, complete with on-stage flying. But for him to overcome his own blocks was a personal triumph.

It was an artistic triumph not only because thousands of people started playing the cast album over and over on the car stereos, but also because of how much of his vision was translated into the piece. As one of the "Extras" in Defying Gravity, I include his original outline for the musical. It was this outline that quite substantially shaped what the musical would become. For example, he envisioned the turning point in the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, he structured the first act climax scene for which he would later write the song "Defying Gravity," and he envisioned the ending based on his belief of what would work in a musical.

We know from reading letters from fans and all the enthusiasm the show receives that Wicked is a major inspiration and delight for thousands and thousands of people. Many report that their lives have been changed because of it. "For Good" has been lifted for use in graduations, retirement parties, and other situations. He considers it one of the best songs he's ever written. So it was an inspirational success.

And, of course, Wicked is an enormous commercial triumph, not due solely to him on his own but to the team effort. Still, as I describe in the book, Stephen had to convince movie producer Marc Platt to change his course and make it a stage show. Stephen wisely selected the brilliant Winnie Holzman to write the book. He was part of the team who agreed on the director, the designers, and the cast. For example, it was his idea to bring in Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda for the first major reading, and from then on her performance began to influence the show.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS AND BLOGGERS: If you want to borrow any of this material, please contact the author at carol@defyinggravitythebook.com