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(Part of Chantress)
By Amy Butler Greenfield

Behind the Book

Behind the Book: Amy Butler Greenfield’s CHANTRESS

What inspired me to write Chantress? The remarkable ravens at the Tower of London played a role, and so did my love for romantic adventure and my fascination with English history. But I was also inspired by what might be the most unromantic place on the planet: my high school cafeteria.

It’s been a while, but I can still remember it clearly: the hard floor, the high ceiling, the harsh lights, the stale smell, the plastic seats, the packed tables. The place was sunk half-underground like a bunker, but nothing could stop the noise. Dear heaven, the noise! A constant roar of shouting, laughing, teasing, the clank of silverware, and the smack of trays. The first time I walked in there, the fall of my freshman year, I felt like I was drowning in sound. I had a headache in minutes. I couldn’t hear myself think.

If my friends had been there, it would’ve been easier to survive it. But my schedule that year was bizarre, and none of my friends shared the same lunch slot. So I was alone as only a teenager can be alone, stranded in the cafeteria jungle, with only my bagged lunch to keep me company.

I stuck it out for a couple of weeks, sitting with some kind souls who didn’t mind me being there. But it wasn’t a good place to get to know people. Most of what the others said was lost in the tidal wave of noise. With every minute I spent in that place, I felt more lost.

What saved me was music.

The high school chorus needed accompanists, and on a crazy impulse I volunteered. I soon discovered I had to spend hours a day practicing, or else my hands froze in terror every time the nearly 100-strong chorus looked at me. One day, I asked the choral director if I could slip into the music room for extra practice during my lunch slot. I still remember the moment when he said yes.

From that point on, lunch meant time in the music room, playing the piano to my heart’s content. That alone would have been enough: The music was my escape valve, my oasis. But then other kids started to drop by, too—to sing, to practice solos, to talk. I was shy of playing in front of them at first, but soon I got braver. I made new friends. I laughed. I opened up. I tried new kinds of music. I made up harmonies as we went along.

The door to the music room was right next to the cafeteria, but as far as I was concerned, it was a portal to another universe. So I guess it’s no surprise that with Chantress I’ve written a book about a girl who works magic through music—a music that transports her to a whole new world.