If Music Be the Food of Literature, Play On


Music has always played a huge role in my life, first as a vocalist performing in school talent shows, local entertainment revues, musicals, and two choirs. I was certain this was my calling at the age of seven, when I practiced singing Partridge Family songs into my hairbrush (karaoke wasn’t invented way back then). It continued up until junior year in high school when I discovered both journalism and the multiple layers of symbolism and genius in Moby Dick. A light bulb flashed above my head, and I knew writing was my true path.

Although it has been many years since I have performed, most mornings before I sit down at the computer, I sing something to get focused. When I was writing Until My Soul Gets It Right, it was Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” Now, it’s another Florence song, “Shake It Out,” that helps me exorcize the demons of self-doubt.

I have specific music for writing copy for my freelance account and for writing fiction, classical, mostly. It’s too difficult to focus on the words I need to put down with song lyrics floating through my brain.

Some of my characters have their own soundtracks as well, melodies I have used to get into their heads. Listening to Peter Gabriel’s “Blood of Eden” helped me see John Jacobs’ point of view, which most of the time is very different from that of his wife Annie in A Whisper to a Scream. The entire “American Idiot” CD by Green Day, but particularly “Jesus of Suburbia,” aided in communicating Catherine Elbert’s attitude while she was stuck on her family’s farm in Until My Soul Gets It Right. Holiday tunes set the mood while I was writing my short story, “A Bibliophile Christmas,” even though it was the middle of summer and more than ninety degrees outside at the time.

So far, the Bibliophiles series titles are even inspired by songs. A Whisper to a Scream is an old Icicle Works piece, while Until My Soul Gets It Right comes from the Indigo Girls’ brilliant “Galileo.” The concept of reincarnation fascinated me, but instead of multiple lifetimes, I decided to play with a character that reinvented herself each time she moved, refashioning in accordance to her surroundings until she found the true person within. Catherine Elbert was born.

I think all of us have a little piece of Catherine tucked inside. When I was young, I knew exactly what path to follow. So certain of my talents was I that I stayed focused on my destiny through freelancing for a mere $25 per article and long stretches of unemployment. Now, in my late forties, that self-assuredness has melted to reveal a woman who feels like she flies by the seat of her pants at least half of the time. Yes, with age has come some rudimentary knowledge, but certainly not in large enough quantities to restore my former bravado.

Some days, I still question my choice to give up music. It's a tie which one gives me more pleasure—a good book or a great song—but maybe that's okay.


Kelly Hashway said…
I love finding music for my characters. It's fun and give me more insight into the people I'm writing about.
I agree, Kelly. It really helps me get into their heads.
Anonymous said…
I really enjoyed the music video, and agree that music is an inspiration to writing. I haven't identified songs with characters yet, but sounds like fun.
R. Doug Wicker said…
For me the music is soundtracks in general, John Barry in particular, and early OO7 soundtracks specifically (as well as some of the latter soundtracks done by other composers).
Hi, Deborah. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked Florence + the Machine. She's pretty amazing!

R. Doug, I get the soundtracks. 007, huh? I can see that after reading some of your work. :)
Janel Gradowski said…
I love Florence + The Machine. I find Mumford & Sons very inspiring, too. I've set up an "inspiration" channel on Pandora that I often listen to. Every once in awhile I have to get up and head to the stereo that is playing to punch in a thumbs-down, though!
Funny, Janel, I was just listening to Mumford & Sons while I ate lunch. They are fantastic! So soulful.
It's strange, but I have been thinking a lot about music lately and the role it plays in writing and how it inspires creativity and story ideas. There are songs and I have discovered recently (most notably tom Waits)who capture the 'feel' of the types of stories and books I want to write. They create a mood I like.

Thanks for sharing!
You're welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

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