The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by mystery novelist Margot Kinberg
Music has always been a very important part of my life, and that’s just as true of my writing life as it is of the rest of my life. All sorts of songs – and the ideas I get from them – have been woven through what I write because quite honestly, I think in music. So when I write, music has a way of inspiring me. My second crime novel B-Very Flat is in a way divided into four musical ‘sections’, although I didn’t do that deliberately, nor are there rigid divisions among the sections.
The close connection between artist and instrument
Several of the characters in the novel are young musicians at university who are hoping for music careers. One of them, Serena Brinkman, is the main character for the first part of the novel – until she’s murdered. Triumph’s Magic Power really helped to put me in the state of mind where I could feel that love Serena has for music, and so understand her character better. Musical artists are absolutely passionate about what they do, and I wanted that to come through. Even the characters who aren’t musicians are young and passionate about life, and that song helped me tap into that energy.
Serena is a brilliant violinist, and music means a lot to her. In fact, she and a rival are preparing for an important musical competition as the story goes on. JS Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C Major helped me get a sense of what playing a violin is like. It’s such a warm, tender piece, and yet with some real richness to it. To me, it captures at least a bit of the connection between the artist and the instrument. There are a few scenes in the novel where Serena is practising and one in particular where she plays a piece for her adviser. The Bach sonata helped me to tap that feeling of getting utterly lost in a brilliantly-played violin piece.
A sense of emptiness and devastation
About halfway through the novel, Serena is murdered. Her death leaves a gaping hole in several lives; even people who didn’t know her personally are affected by her murder. That includes my sleuth, who never does meet her. That sense of pain and loss is a big part of Billy Joel’s Nocturne, so that song helped me to focus on the emptiness and devastation left behind when someone dies. In a few scenes in the novel, people who loved Serena are coping with the realisation that she’s gone. Because Nocturne is empty and lonely, but restrained, it was very helpful to me as I wrote those scenes. Depicting sadness and loss without melodrama isn’t easy.
Towards the end of B-Very Flat, we find out who killed Serena Brinkman and why. In that sense, the story is resolved. But the people who knew her are not all of a sudden ‘whole’ again. They have to find a way to go on, especially her parents. They have to figure out what happens next for them. One song that helped me explore that sense of having to pick up the pieces after heartbreak is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Another Suitcase in Another Hall. Admittedly the song doesn’t have to do with going on after a loved one has died. But it does deal with that need to be strong despite the pain. That song helped me to explore how the people in Serena’s life might begin to pick up their pieces.
Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist and Associate Professor at National University, Carlsbad, California. She was born in Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She taught at the University of Delaware and Knox College, then moved to California where she lives with her husband, daughter and dogs. She is the author of the Joel Williams mystery series which includes Publish or Perish and B-Very Flat.