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How life as a luthier inspired the plot of Grit Laskin’s new novel

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Grit Laskin is a world-renowned luthier and inlay artist, a singer-songwriter and a co-founder of the Canadian Folk Music Awards.

For 300 years, luthiers and musicians have marveled at the quality of instruments made by Antonio Stradivari. His violins, which are stilled played today, have never been equaled for playability and sound. Generation after generation of violin makers have tried and failed to replicate his sound or discover what his secret was.

In his new novel, The Stradivari Formula, master luthier Grit Laskin offers one possible explanation.

“Back in 1996, when I published a young adult novel (Angel Could Smell The Fire), I had this idea I knew would be an original plot,” Grit said.

“Because only an instrument maker could think of it.”

The basic premise of the novel is that the secret to how Stradivari crafted his instruments was found hidden within a handful of his guitars.

How did Stradivari make his instruments sound so good?

“I paid attention to Strad and learned he made some guitars, a harp and a mandolin. It started my imagination going, so I thought, ‘What if…?'” Grit said.

Grit also knew there was knowledge Stradivari possessed that didn’t get passed on to his apprentices, an uncle and a nephew. Even though they worked right beside the master, after he died, the violins they made were not as good.

“It leaves room for all these speculations on what is the solution,” Grit said.

“Was it the finish, how he treated the wood? Was it his thicknesses? Was it the grain? A good builder responds to the flexibility of the top and how they carve it. So, there’s all sorts of subtleties.”

That realization was in a way comforting for Grit when it came to his own instrument making. Since no two builders will give you the same result, there’s always going to be something different between them.

How songwriting helped the novel writing

“So, people like me shouldn’t have fears that someone’s going to steal all my secrets,” he said.

The Stradivari Formula takes the protagonists, luthier Norman Dan and his wife, Rosalie, from their home in Toronto to Phoenix, AZ, London, Paris and locations in Italy. Along the way, they’re faced with actions of an arsonist, a crooked auction house owner and even a Russian oligarch. And for those familiar with the folk music scene and the world of lutherie, there’s the added bonus of some familiar names in secondary characters. It’s a rollercoaster ride of a tale and one in which Grit credits his years of songwriting as being beneficial in putting together.

“You get a sense, literally, of rhythm. In fiction writing there’s a rhythm to the sentence structure, the paragraph structure and to the action.”

With a number of subplots making up the overall story, one must figure out when to go from one to the other, and for how long. For this, Grit appreciated the help he received from an outside editor.

“When you’re so close to it, you do miss some things that when pointed out you say, ‘How could I possibly not realize what I did?’ I gave characteristics to someone and then had them do something a person with those characteristics wouldn’t do. Everybody, no matter how brilliant they are, needs editors. It’s welcome when it happens.”

Initial reviews have been very positive for The Stradivari Formula, which is good since Grit is already on to his next novel. It too will feature a luthier, but this time as the love interest of the central character. The plan is for it to be the first of a series of books featuring the same protagonist.

“I’m finding a way to get music, the art world and instrument making as part of the story,” Grit said.

The Stradivari Formula is published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited and can be found at https://fitzhenry.ca.

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