By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Few people can say they have penned a published novel, but one Oxford man, Larry Denninger, can add his name to this exclusive list.
Residing in Oxford since 1999, Denninger’s self-published work, titled Songs for Clara, was released on May 10.
Set in Denninger’s hometown of Rochester, New York in 1986, the novel’s main character, Frank Stephens, finds a collection of songs composed by his father for a woman named Clara while clearing out the attic of his childhood home.
Problem is that his mother’s name was Louise and she had passed from cancer eight years prior. Stephens’ relationship with his father, who is now living in a retirement home and suffering from Alzheimer’s, has always been ridden with issues.
Stephens’ journey to unearth Clara’s identity causes him to reconsider everything he once believed to be true, and he learns about himself along the way, as well.
Denninger, 55, had the goal of publishing a novel since his high school days, a feat he has now accomplished. He has always had a passion for classical music, giving piano lessons to roughly 20 children over a 10-year period in the past, and this love played a major role in his inspiration behind Songs for Clara.
“My influences growing up reading were mysteries, science fiction, fantasy,” Denninger shared.
“I have some things in my files of stories I’ve started or got mostly through, but I came to the realization that I think I’m more inclined to write something more character-focused, more just general fiction, than something more specific in that genre.
“Although, this is still kind of a mystery, it’s not a psychological thriller or a whodunnit, it’s more of who is it-type of mystery. Focusing on family and friendships and the relationships we have with people in our lives.
“With Frank, the central relationship in this story is with his father, and it’s pretty contentious and it’s never been amicable. The discovery of these songs that his dad had composed leads him on this quest to find out who Clara is and, ultimately, he does find out, and there’s a bit of self-discovery involved along the way.”
Songs for Clara took about three-to-four months for Denninger to complete. These three-to-four months, however, came over a three-to-four-year period, and the author explained why this was.
“That’s kind of a funny answer to that because there’s an online personal challenge called NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place in the month of November,” he said.
“The challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Of course, it’s not publish-ready, it’s get your draft out. I’ve participated in that for a number of years and have written the start of different kinds of stories and then, about three-to-four years ago, I started this one.
“I didn’t get all the way through it the first year, I put it away for 11 months and came back to it the following November. In terms of actual month time, probably three or four, even though it took calendar years.
“This past November, I did a hard edit on it, sent it to some friends and family as beta readers to get some feedback, and then, in January, found an editor, worked with her for two-to-three months to get it ready for self-publishing.”
Denninger’s family helped in more ways than just serving as beta readers. One of his sons helped him with formatting the cover for Amazon’s Kindle publishing program and one of his nieces provided the terrific cover illustration.
Seeing a 395-page project like this through from start to finish is validating work, and Denninger described what was most gratifying for him once all the i’s were dotted, the t’s were crossed, and the novel was available for purchase.
“When the proof copy came for me to review and to see an actual physical thing in my hands was a pretty cool experience,” he recalled.
“Just getting the texts and the e-mails from people who have told me, ‘Hey, we bought your book’ or ‘We finished reading it and it was really good’ or even the feedback from my beta readers as they were reading it for clarity and continuity.
“That whole process of a Word.doc file to the finished product, getting that in my hands, was a really cool experience.”
Denninger sees Songs for Clara as a good fit with book clubs because of the opportunities it creates for discussion, and his readers have agreed. As of May 29, the novel has received six ratings on Amazon, all of which gave it five stars, the highest rating possible.
Goodreads has also been complimentary, generating five ratings averaging 4.4 of five stars.
On Amazon, Songs for Clara is available in paperback for $16.99 and the electronic copy is $6.99 on Kindle.
Outside of his work as an author, Denninger is self-employed as a sales representative in the packaging industry. He and his wife, Mindy, have two sons, both of whom went through our school system and graduated from Oxford High School.
By Teddy Rydquist