The Undercover Soundtrack – Margot Kinberg

‘The devastation left behind when someone dies’

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

Soundtrack by Triumph, JS Bach, Billy Joel, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber

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.

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  1. #1 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 3:08 am

    Roz – Thanks so much for having me; it’s a real pleasure and honour!

  2. #2 by bernadetteinoz on January 25, 2012 - 9:18 am

    Thanks for sharing this Margot, you’ve reminded me what a gorgeous piece that Sonata is.

    • #3 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 9:02 pm

      Bernadette – Isn’t it a lovely, lovey piece? It really “sent” me.

      • #4 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 25, 2012 - 9:17 pm

        For my novel, I also had key pieces that made me understand how special it was to be able to play. Not that I’d stand a chance of being able to play them myself, but just as you said, Margot, they carried me to a place where I could imagine doing so.

  3. #5 by Sarah on January 25, 2012 - 11:48 am

    I hadn’t heard the Billy Joel song before. It’s really beautiful.

    • #6 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 9:03 pm

      Sarah – Oh, I love it, too. And interestingly enough, it’s one of his early published works. Such talent before the man was even 25!

      • #7 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 25, 2012 - 9:15 pm

        The Joel piece was a new one on me too. What a lovely find. I might be sneaking it into one of my undercover soundtracks too.

  4. #8 by Sally on January 25, 2012 - 12:48 pm

    “Depicting sadness and loss without melodrama isn’t easy.”

    Very true. Thanks for sharing this Margot. It sounds like you are very well connected with music. Do you play an instrument by any chance?

  5. #9 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 12:58 pm

    Sally – Thanks :-). And actually I’ve done keyboard and vocals, so yes, I have played instruments, ‘though not professionally and certainly not at the expert level. And you put that very well: I’m deeply connected with music.

  6. #11 by Elspeth Antonelli on January 25, 2012 - 5:54 pm

    Fascinating, Margot! Thanks for sharing.

    • #12 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 9:03 pm

      Elspeth – So glad you found it interesting :-).

  7. #13 by Clarissa Draper on January 25, 2012 - 9:13 pm

    What a different mix! I love your choices, especially the classical. I’m a big fan of classical.

    • #14 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 10:55 pm

      Clarissa – Oh, I’m glad you liked my mix. It is eclectic, but then, hey, so am I. And there is, as you see, classical music that I just love, too…

  8. #15 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 25, 2012 - 10:12 pm

    I’d also like to applaud the Triumph track. As I’ve mentioned in other places around the web, I put this post up and wrangled the links before dawn one morning, and the Triumph piece really sang out to me. Exactly as it must have to Margot about her characters.

    • #16 by Margot Kinberg on January 25, 2012 - 10:54 pm

      I’m so glad you feel that way, Roz! I’ve always loved that track and felt it was under-rated. And yes, it really did sing out to me. That one has real power.

  9. #17 by Patricia Stoltey on January 26, 2012 - 12:13 am

    What an interesting post, Margot. I have to admit no music plays in my mind when I write. It’s more like a cacophony of voices I hear. Music, for me, is something to be played when I’m in the mood to sit quietly and just listen. The fact that you write to the music in your head fascinates me.

    Many thanks to Roz for hosting you today. Now must go listen to the music you linked to above. I’m in the mood.

    • #18 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 26, 2012 - 10:59 am

      Hello, Patricia – now nice to see you here!

    • #19 by Margot Kinberg on January 26, 2012 - 12:26 pm

      Pat – I think all of us have different ways that we tap our resources for characters, plot and so on. I admire the fact that you listen to your voices for writing guidance. I’ve got an eternal jukebox where my brain is supposed to be, so that’s what I use when I write.

  10. #20 by Mason Canyon on January 26, 2012 - 2:02 am

    Margot, I love the music selections you featured. I can see how they would inspire while you write.

    Roz, nice to meet you and thanks for hosting Margot so that we could learn more about her music selections.

    Thoughts in Progress

    • #21 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 26, 2012 - 11:00 am

      Nice to meet you too, Mason. Thanks for commenting.

    • #22 by Margot Kinberg on January 26, 2012 - 12:27 pm

      Mason – Thank you :-). They’re awfully, awfully eclectic aren’t they? But all of them were there and yes, they did (do) inspire me.

  11. #23 by Bill Selnes on January 26, 2012 - 5:28 am

    I was very impressed with the concept and will be heaing in my mind Margot’s choices when I read B-Very Flat. I am interested in finding out what the combination of words and background music will have upon my experience in reading the book.

    • #24 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 26, 2012 - 11:00 am

      It really builds up anticipation for the book, doesn’t it, Bill? Thanks for stopping by.

    • #25 by Margot Kinberg on January 26, 2012 - 12:29 pm

      Bill – Didn’t Roz have an excellent idea for looking at stories? I’ll be interested in whether you see the influence of the music when you read. And you’ve raised an interesting question: how will knowing those songs affect your reading experience? Fascinating.

  12. #26 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 26, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    One thing I really enjoy about this series is how eclectic writers’ choices are. Where else would you see Bach, Billy Joel and Evita discussed with equal weight? But they have spoken in a very personal way for the characters in Margot’s novel.

  1. I’ve Got the Magic Power of the Music in Me* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

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