ST. PAUL, Minn. —
To all appearances, Edward Kelsey Moore played his cello. On the inside, he fumed.
This particular gig where Moore and other professional musicians had been hired to play happened to be Chicago Public Radio's 2001 reception for its Stories on Stage contest. Moore stewed because he had intended to submit a story.
"It wasn't because I thought I would win if I entered," Moore recalls. "It was because I didn't even get my story in the envelope. I was just furious with myself [for not writing a story]. I sat there for two-and-a-half hours and all through it, I'm just thinking, 'Next year, next year, next year.'"
Moore stayed true to his goal. The following year, he submitted a story to WBEZ's now-discontinued Stories on Stage program -- and he won. "That really was the beginning of my career," Moore says with a chuckle. "I got a little attention for the story, and some people, you give them a little bit of attention and they just won't stop!"
Moore hasn't stopped. His debut novel, The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, released on March 12, is already a New York Times Bestseller. Moore's novel centers on the lives of three women and their shared triumphs and challenges over 40 years of friendship in the fictional town of Plainview, Ind., site of their favorite haunt, Earl's All-You-Can-Eat restaurant.
Moore's novel is garnering rave reviews. Zetta Brown of The New York Journal of Books says, "Edward Kelsey Moore knows how to write a terrific, complex, believable, and always intriguing story" -- not bad for a guy who committed to serious writing a bit later in life.
Moore admits he was too distracted to write a book in his younger years but qualifies he spent that time honing his skills as a professional cellist. Music remains Moore's primary career; he's a member of the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Chicago Philharmonic and the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra, and Columbia College's New Black Music Repertory Ensemble.
By age 35, Moore's career as a cellist was firmly established, and he shrugged off the writing bug thinking he was simply too old to learn anything else. "I had to get older to learn I wasn't too old," Moore says. "By the time I began to really take writing seriously, I was well into my 40s and I just felt entirely free."
There was another advantage to age. "By the time I wrote the novel, I had nearly 50 years of life experience, and that helps," Moore says. "It gives you something to write about."
With three main characters, the chapters in The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat switch narrative points-of-view depending on which character is central at that moment in the story, but the book's themes remain constant. For musically minded readers, a familiar structure may become evident. "I had to have some way of giving form to a novel," Moore says, " and what I thought of was sonata form: To have the presentation of themes at the beginning and then the development of those themes and elements of tension brought into it and working toward resolving that tension ... I was very conscious of trying to use musical forms to give [the novel] some structure."
Although structure is important, composition is also vital. Moore's writing is vivid, witty and observant; his characters are richly drawn and are reminiscent of people one knows -- or wishes one did. Library Journal praises Moore's use of "warmhearted humor and salty language to bring to life a tight-knit African-American community."
The book provides detail of African-American life, "but I didn't want to write a book about race," Moore says. "I wanted to write a book about friendship and love. I didn't want to focus on what was specifically black about the experiences these people were having."
Historical events within the book, such as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., affect the characters but don't overshadow them. "I didn't want the events to define the people," Moore says. "Even when people are living through very tumultuous times, they still get up and go to work, they still fall in love and out of love, and they still live their lives."
Despite the attention and accolades the book has brought him, Moore is looking forward to living his life -- and that means getting back to playing music. Although April brings him to the U.K. and Germany as his book tour continues, Moore relishes the inspiration of the music world. He says he wrote most of The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat in the pit of the Joffrey Ballet during intermissions and in the breaks between matinees and evening performances. By contrast, Moore found making the final edits of his novel in complete quietude to be far more difficult than writing during off moments backstage with the orchestra.
"[Music] is an environment that's really charged with creative energy," Moore says. "I need that kind of energy, and I'm looking forward to getting back to that so maybe I can finish my next book."