THE BOOK: Listen


THE AUTHOR: Francesca G. Varela

THE PUBLISHER: Homebound Publications [], which is one of the premier independent publishers in the country. Homebound strives to ensure that the mainstream is not the only stream. In all of their titles, they hope to introduce new perspectives that will directly aid humankind in the trials we face at present as a global village and enrich the lives of their readers.

SUMMARY: Listen tells the story of May, a piano-genius college freshman who dreams of becoming a brilliant composer. In her school’s practice rooms, she meets Conner, an undeniably unattractive junior, and she is immediately captivated by his raw musicality on the piano. As May tries to navigate college life and fulfill her music dreams, Conner pulls her toward the natural world, toward her own wildness, and, ultimately, toward the wildness within her music as well.

THE BACK STORY: Listen began with an image in my head. I imagined a piano in the forest. Far out somewhere, in a cabin, sat a nice grand piano by a string of windows. I wrote Listen by imagining the journey to that piano.       Music and nature don’t immediately go together. Classical music, especially, comes from an era in which man was considered divine and separate from the natural world. Nature, at its best, was admired from afar as a beautiful machine.

And yet, nature is inherently musical. There’s evidence of this in birdsongs, and in wind caught in cottonwood leaves. Waves at the shoreline; even the quiet nothingness of a desert tundra, in its own way, is a type of music.       I started playing piano when I was eleven years old. Well, that’s not entirely true—that was just when I started taking lessons. I was drawn to the piano long before, ever since early childhood. I spent hours on our little toy keyboard, playing Mary Had A Little Lamb and TwinkleTwinkle Little Star. If a friend had a piano in their house, I would float toward it, entranced, and play until they coaxed me off. By middle school I had my very own Everett piano, weekly lessons, and an unbreakable love for the instrument.

Classical music was always my favorite to play, but I didn’t listen to it much until I was in college. There was, really, something divine about classical music, though not in a haughty way. To me, classical music was not refined or civilized, but a wild, creative thing, which transcended all borders. It was pure emotion. It was time travel. Listening to Mozart’s symphonies was much like standing beneath a redwood tree, one that had lived for thousands of years and held within it airs and waters of lost days.

Creativity—like writing—had long represented to me a way to connect with the natural world. I didn’t see why music would be any different. This, I realized, was something that had never been done before, at least as far as I knew. Music and nature. Of course folk-music and the music of many indigenous peoples has some very obvious roots in the world of nature, but classical music seemed a removed, tidy thing. I wanted to question that, and to explore it. I also wanted to draw attention to the world around us. I hoped to invoke a sense of longing for freedom, and wildness, and wild places. And I wanted readers to feel that this was tangible. In all my writing my ultimate goal is to inspire both emotion and action. I want to call everyone back to nature. Back to themselves, really. There is a place of overlap between nature and the inner, creative voice of writers, artists, or musicians. This is the place of instinct. Listen was my way of saying, don’t question it. Listen to yourself and to the wild Earth, and let them guide you.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I originally wanted the title to be For Those Who Listen, inspired by the George Santayana quote: “The Earth as music for those who listen.” My publisher thought that might be too pushy, though, so we shortened it simply to Listen.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Listen is on the edge of young-adult and adult fiction. The characters are in college, sure, but the writing style and character development appeal to a wider audience. Listen is also unique because it looks at the human place in nature, and the relationship between human art and the more-than-human world.


Listen, Francesca Varela’s latest novel, is a coming of age tale about a young woman learning to find her place in a world that does not always recognize beauty—of nature, of music, and of those who do not look and act as we expect. Her prose is simple yet profound, with a rhythm that speaks to the themes of nature and music in Listen. This is a work that I’ve been waiting for: a young author speaking to the struggles and questions of her generation. And as much as anything, Varela is suggesting that what we need now is to listen—listen to the sound of the leaves blowing in the wind, the streams flowing, the birds singing. And, as the title suggests, we also need to listen to what this talented and insightful young author is saying.” – Theodore Richards, author of The Conversions.

“Human life is complicated; luckily there are stories to help us navigate important passages. The transition into early adulthood is particularly challenging, and Listen provides a template for being faithful to core personal gifts while maturing into the passion that will actualize them. Why bother with the struggle at all, especially when most of ones peers seem content with sleepwalking into their lives? The deeper truth is this: if we default on this critical life stage, we may not get another chance to become what we are meant to BE. And that is the great tragedy of human existence. May this story inspire the reader’s own journey.” – Rev. Gail CollinsRanadive, author of Chewing Sand.

“May, a gifted musician, knows early in life that she is different than her peers, that she doesn’t quite fit in. Any teen can identify with May as she struggles to find her true path as she enters college to study piano. She is a loner who is comfortable with herself, but life becomes more challenging when she falls for fellow music student Conner, another loner whose beliefs, looks and non-traditional ways are outside the norm. Will these kindred spirits — breakers of stereotypes — succeed in navigating the troubling waters of early adulthood and stay true to themselves? Francesca Varela’s skillful and colorful storytelling sings as she keeps us guessing until the end.” – Gary Cornelius, author of Dancing with Gogos.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I still remember the day I announced my decision to become an author—it was third grade, and we were assigned to write a one-page story about the planet we were studying. I had so much fun writing “My Trip to Neptune” that I ended up with a 10-page story complete with crayon illustrations of aliens and space goats.       All throughout school, I loved writing, but it wasn’t until I discovered my passion for the natural world—until I had something to say—that I felt ready to write a novel. I wrote my first book, Call of the Sun Child, during the summer between high school and college. When I signed the publishing contract, I was only 19. The book came out when I was 21, and now, by age 26, I’ve published two others—Listen, and my newest novel, The Seas of Distant Stars. The natural world continues to be my biggest inspiration.

For the last two years, I lived in Salt Lake City while working toward my M.A. in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah. After graduating in spring 2018, I returned home to Portland, Oregon, where I now work in communications at an environmental non-profit called the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and continue to write environmentally-themed novels.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: You can read the first chapter of Listen on Amazon [].

LOCAL OUTLETS: Listen is available at most local indie bookstores. In the Portland area, you can find it at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop, Another Read Through [], and Books Around the Corner [].



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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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