The Big Wide Calm is a character driven, contemporary fiction novel that explores music, art, ambition, fame, love, and deep philosophical themes. The sophomore work by New England author Rich Marcello draws you in right from the cover, the intriguing title, and the first few pages. This is the second of three books that is part of the author’s trilogy on different kinds of love. The first, The Color of Home, was published in 2013 and the last of the three, The Beauty of the Fall, published in 2015.
Rich Marcello has captured a unique voice in the story’s heroine Paige Plant, a girl trying to make it in the music business. By drawing on his own wealth of life experience as a musician, Rich Marcello is also able to give The Big Wide Calm a really authentic feel. The book features flawed characters, life lessons and rich character development. His work also encompasses interwoven philosophical elements throughout the story that go even deeper then the plot line causing the reader to pause and think. The Big Wide Calm is a distinct coming of age story that is smart, well written and unique among other works of literary fiction.
The Big Wide Calm is told through the first person narrative of its main character Paige Plant, a budding musician on a quest to be famous. She is in her mid-twenties and described as having olive skin and shoulder length, brown hair. Rich Marcello has done a remarkable job of breathing life into this well written character. She is interesting, confident, strong, full of tenacity and spunk. She is definitely an individual who marches to the beats of her own drum. She even switches the gender role and objectifies men by calling them the first letter of their name.
Paige has been preparing for super-stardom all her life. Her father was an avid Led Zeppelin fan, and even legally changed her last name when she was young to “Plant” as an homage to Led Zeppelin’s very own Jimmy Page and frontman Robert Plant. She hasn’t recorded an album yet, but she believes being a legendary musician is her birthright. But is she living her dream, or her father’s dream? Paige faces that realization.
“Some artists shrivel on stage; the light scares them, makes them all too aware of what they aren’t. But I’m not like them. I bloom here.”
Paige believes her rock music will save the world. Paige wants to be famous without having to sacrifice her art and what she stands for. She wants to create an album like the iconic rock and roll albums that instigated social change and peace. After studying her face in the mirror, she concludes “It’s a face destined for album covers, billboards, stadium monitors. It’s the face of the Grammy winning album.”
Paige sees a chance for her big break when she meets an unlikely mentor in the form of musical guru John Bustin. He is a middle-aged, enigmatic, wealthy, former semi-famous singer/songwriter/producer. Upon their first meeting Paige performs a couple of her songs on her guitar and they discuss music. John hates her songs, but is impressed with her talent and offers her the deal of a lifetime. The chance to work with him for a year for free, plus a monthly stipend. Of course Paige is hesitant at first, thinking John may be a psycho, trying to lure her in to his secluded house in the woods to murder her. However, she feels pulled by a magnetism in John`s eyes and after she sees what a golden opportunity this is for her music career she accepts his offer.
John takes Paige under his wing and mentors her. He gives her an expensive car, a place to stay, and helps her record her album in his multi-million dollar recording studio. John is her guide through the process that he calls tapping into “the big wide calm.”
The big wide calm is referenced throughout the book and also becomes her album title and song name.
“The big wide calm.”
“What do you mean?”
“For years, I’ve been wandering around with this phrase, the big wide calm, never exactly sure what it meant. I even wondered if you’d touched it yourself when I first met you. Maybe it has something to do with the place underneath emotion.”
Thus begins the challenge and adventure of creating twelve earth-shattering songs that will be the world’s next iconic and multigenerational album. Despite the differences in their ages, ideals, and life experiences, the duo create magic and are able to change each other’s lives. Along the way, Paige meets and befriends a slew of characters (mostly musicians) who contribute moral lessons and personal stories become revealed through the songs on her album.
Multi-talented Paige not only sings, writes lyrics, plays guitar, and piano but also creates oil paintings as part of the creative process in constructing her music. This creates a visual medium for the song, and a chance for Paige to see and feel the music. The author also goes into intricate detail to explain the songwriting process and does so with utter ease thanks to his own musical background.
Although John and Paige’s personalities couldn’t be more different, the two make it work it order to achieve their goal. Along the way, they learn more about themselves then they ever knew before. John becomes not only her producer, but a teacher, muse and love interest. Paige has attracted many people to her life through her beauty and talent, but her bond with John remains unbreakable.
Paige in turn learns about John’s past and helps him heal his deep wounds. During her time with John, Paige not only embarks on a musical journey, but a spiritual discovery that challenges her to grow as a person. It is this inner transformation that Paige undergoes that becomes more powerful and important than any Grammy winning record she could ever make.
In the beginning, Paige is egotistical, narcissistic, and a bit of a diva. She sees people either as someone to satisfy her savage sexual appetite, or further her career. However, throughout the course of the book she recognizes that she can learn from others. She also learns what it means to really care for someone other than herself; she learns how to love. There is a great manifestation of this in the book when she literally is willing to take a bullet for the ones she loves.
Rich Marcello has put his finger on the pulse of what is going on with today’s generation. A generation who, like Paige, want to be rich and famous. People want to leave their mark, some kind of a legacy and I think that was one of the many brilliant ideas that Marcello delved into. Although Paige isn’t willing to “sell out,” initially she still wants to be somebody, and I think that is what a lot of this generation can relate to.
What striked me about Paige was that she didn’t want to just be a singer/songwriter, but one of the greatest that ever lived. She doesn’t just want to play coffee shops, she wants to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She has a vision and is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. I admire Paige for going after her dreams with that kind of unbridled passion. But even Paige, with her talent and beauty has doubts, like any human being. Her multilayered character is demonstrated in her inner monologue:
“I’ve been reeling in the nightmare that my stuff isn’t good enough. Or maybe it’s that I’m not good enough. Nah, I’m good enough. But I don’t want to be a flash in the pan. Staying power is the name of the game.”
Her vision of of creating music manifests itself in her life, and she ends up getting more out of her deal with John than she could ever hope for. This book inspires you to have big dreams and go after them like Paige. At the same time, it make you appreciate the things that really matter in life, like human connection and love.
As this is your second book, were there things you wanted to do differently with this book as opposed to your first?
Yes and no. Since this is the second of three books I’m writing about different kinds of love, thematically I tried to remain consistent. On the other hand, The Big Wide Calm has a young female protagonist, Paige Plant, and is written in first person, present tense. I spent a great deal of time speaking with women, young and old, to make sure Paige’s voice was true. As a writer, it’s important for me to be able to characterize both men and women of all different ages and backgrounds. Naturally, it’s a little harder to characterize a women, especially one as strong as Paige, but I’m happy to say I’m really proud of how she turned out.
Who is your target audience, or who do you think would enjoy reading this book?
Folks who like coming-of-age stories, though this one is a millennial coming-of-age story. Folks who like literary fiction with a philosophical slant. Folks who like strong female heroines. And finally, folks who love music.
Did your love of music and your musicians background contribute (or help you) in writing this book?
Yes. It was important in characterizing Paige to get the songwriting process right. While The Big Wide Calm is really about a young woman learning to truly and deeply love, the world she learns to do that in is filled with music. Because I’ve been a musician for many years, I was able to place Paige in that world and fill it with authentic details. In some ways, placing Paige in a world I knew so well helped me focus more on the deeper, more emotional components of her character.
What is some of your favorite music?
I like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Mumford and Sons, Ani Difranco, The Civil Wars, to name a few.
What is your writing process like?
I write every morning for five or six hours. I’m a big believer in the notion that the best writing comes when you move from one dream-like state ( sleeping) to another (writing fiction). For that reason, mornings are best for me. I also write the first pass of scene quickly, almost like I’m channeling the scene from my mind onto paper. The I rewrite and rewrite. Finally, I live on a lake in Massachusetts and I have a separate building which overlooks the lake. It’s a great work environment.
How were you able to get into a female head-space to write the character of your heroine Paige Plant? Love your Robert Plant reference here!
I really wanted to push myself as a writer and characterize an aspiring young female singer-songwriter. I spoke to many different women while I was writing, including female musicians, and let them read scenes and chapters of The Big Wide Calm. Also, my daily editor is a woman. I read scenes to her each day, and got immediate feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. She was a tremendous help.
Find out more about author Rich Marcello visit his official website.
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