‘Music summoned from somewhere unknown; secrets and hope’
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is Writer Unboxed co-founder Therese Walsh @ThereseWalsh
Soundtrack by Robert Plant, Alison Krauss
I haven’t been shy in admitting that I wrote much of my second novel, The Moon Sisters, in a state of fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish the draft, that I didn’t have a second book in me, that I’d fail despite — or because of — a two-book contract. But a duo of songs helped root me to characters in my story, and whenever I needed to be reminded that these characters deserved for their tale to be told, I brought up this particular music.
Both songs are from an album featuring Robert Plant and Alison Krauss called Raising Sand. The album is laced with conflicting ideas that somehow work; it’s there even in the notion that rocker Plant and bluegrass star Krauss might make music together. But there’s also balance and ingenuity with the merging of their unique approaches; and if this music lives at the edges, then it fits all the better with my lives-at-the-edges novel and its characters.
A gypsy quirk
Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, sung by Krauss, is the first song that spoke to me, with a gypsy quirk and haunting melody. Its bluegrass spirit complements the setting of the book, West Virginia, where you might indeed hear the bright pluck of a banjo marry with the darker sound of a tensely bowed violin.
This was the perfect anthem for Olivia Moon, who sets off by foot at the beginning of The Moon Sisters to find a will-o-the-wisp light in order to fulfill her dead mother’s dreams. She’ll wander and hop a train and sleep under the stars, stretching personal boundaries that are already plenty different from those around her—especially her sister, Jazz, who has the opposite of a gypsy’s spirit and would rather be in control and safe and left to herself, thankyouverymuch.
It wasn’t just the sound of the music that summoned up Olivia Moon for me; the lyrics were spot on, too. Mmm, don’t you love the poetic weirdness of this? I do. Music, summoned from somewhere unknown. Secrets. The sound of hope. Olivia Moon loves this song. I would venture to say that it’s her favorite. She sways out of time with the music because she’s pondering the sound of hope, even the taste of it. She has synesthesia, a condition whereby her sensory areas are jumbled. She can tell you about coloured letters and the look of a song up above your head, or the way the sun smells like her mother. (She probably won’t want to talk about why she stared at the sun after her mother died and why she’s lacking her central vision, but maybe you’ll pull it out of her before the end of the book.)
The second song that spoke to me, sung by Plant, is called Nothin and immediately called to mind an essential character: a train-hopping drifter named Hobbs. Hobbs hasn’t had an easy life, and this song’s driving blend of eff-you electric guitar, down-home-and-dirty fiddle, and what-ya-gonna-do-about-it tambourine speaks to that. It evokes a damaged person, and if you were to stick a label on Hobbs you might choose that word — damaged. He’d notice that and pat you on the back for your smarts, then send you on your way without hearing an argument.
Motherless Hobbs nodded whenever this song played, and wasn’t one to condemn Olivia’s staring at the sun either, maybe because he understood that bit in the second-to-last verse about how being born is going blind.
The tune itself is dark and uncomfortable and winding, like a train, and feels too personal yet I never could turn away from it. Listening to it helped me to stick with the story, which was just as dark and uncomfortable and winding, and made it just as impossible to turn away from it.
Thank you, Roz, for the chance to share the sound behind the story.
Therese Walsh’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, is published by Crown (Random House). She’s the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Writer Unboxed, a site that’s visited daily by thousands of writers interested in the craft and business of fiction. You can learn more about her and her books on her website, Facebook and Twitter.
GIVEAWAY Therese is giving away a print copy of The Moon Sisters to a commenter here! To enter, leave a comment here, and if you share the post on other social media that counts as extra entries (but don’t forget to note that in your comment on this post)
21 thoughts on “The Undercover Soundtrack – Therese Walsh”
Tweeted…love the Article..
How very interesting! I have enjoyed the Raising Sand album since it came out AND I enjoyed The Moon Sisters. I’ll listen to both those songs with a new light.
Hi Leah! I love discovering music and being able to tie it to a story as well. I think when I listen to this I’ll be linking it to Therese’s sisters here.
Also just shared on Facebook.
Now that I’ve read The Moon Sisters, I love hearing these songs, and how they relate to Olivia and Hobbs! Thanks for sharing the lyrics on Rosetta. Ah, the power of music to simulate the flow of creativity. I use it every day that I write, and even on the other days.
Thanks for sharing, T, and thanks for The Undercover Soundtrack, Roz. (Sorry I haven’t been here in a while – I’ll remedy that.)
Always great to see you when you have time to visit, Vaughn!
Thanks for the comments and the shares, Marilyn, Leah, and Vaughn; and thank you again for having me, Roz! I really did feed off of this music, especially while working on the first draft of the book.
My pleasure, Therese. I understand exactly what you mean. I’ve had countless times when music has shown me the way to a story or a character, and also alllowed me to believe in the possibilities. Thanks for such an honest and rich post.
An author’s playlist is such an intriguing layer, revealing deeper complexities of the tale. Can’t wait to sink in and enjoy the soundtrack of your masterpiece.
I hope you enjoy it, Denise!
We do this every week, Denise – do call in again.
The novel sounds very intriguing and it is good to hear how music helped you with your fear and help set and develop the characters.
Andy – great to see you here! I have you to thank for one of my most important soundtracks at the moment. When you described writing to Living Room Songs, it was exactly what I needed to start to put down the bones of The Mountains Novel. Now I’m more than half-way through the first draft, but would not have got there if you hadn’t shared that special album.
Thanks for your comment, Andy. It’s hard to describe how it worked for me, but listening to the music evoked the characters, which fueled me to keep working. I needed that!
Wow. It’s great to read this and to have it verified for me that all of the arts truly go hand in hand. Art is art and is beautiful in all of its forms. I do want to read this book now, and I need to listen to the music as well. Thank you.
Good to meet you, Bonnie! We do this every week, so do come again. I love to read how music has inspired writers – and what I also love is the honesty of the posts, and how they communicate what’s going on in their souls as they practise their art. As you can see from Therese’s post, it’s a searching business.
Thank you, Bonnie, and you are so right. Sometimes music — any music that speaks to my mood — can help me back into writing.
I hope you enjoy The Moon Sisters!
Shared on Facebook
Music is so inspirational to so many things — it is truly a soundtrack to life.