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’s post is by award-winning science fiction author Jake Kerr @jakedfw
Soundtrack by Crosby, Stills and Nash
When I was 10 years old I had two passions in my life: Music and reading. I was never that good at producing music, so I did the next best thing–gathering up all the 45 RPM records I could, stacking them on my cheap plastic phonograph player, grabbing a laundry clip, and then pretending I was a DJ. Similarly, I wasn’t very good at writing, so I would write reviews and commentary about the books I read. I would discuss what I liked about the stories, what the writer did well, and all the things that I didn’t like and how he or she had failed. I would type these up on sheets of paper, staple them together, and then collect them in a drawer.
I wasn’t really a DJ, and I wasn’t really a literary critic. And I definitely wasn’t a musician or a writer.
Such is how dreams are born.
At the age of 27 I was hired to move to Los Angeles to write a column about music and the radio industry. I told all my friends: ‘I’m not really a DJ playing music, and I’m not really a writer or writing about stories, but I have achieved this amazing thing of merging my two dreams into one: I’m writing about music and DJs.’
It took about six years before I realized that this wasn’t really my dream. Music wasn’t something I wanted to do. It was part of who I was. I lived through music, where it would provide me with solace, understanding, and escape. But I didn’t want to actually create it or write about it. I experienced it. It was me. But I needed more from books. I did want to create. I did want to write the books, to tell the stories.
Such is how dreams are formed.
So I live the dream, and I write the stories. But make no mistake: The music is still there. Sometimes it is the soundtrack to what I’m writing, inspiring me even as it sets the tone and attitude of the words forming in my mind. Sometimes it is the source of the scene I’m writing, providing me with raw material that I never would have experienced otherwise. And sometimes it is the story. But the role of music in my dream is always there.
The song is the story
This is happening right now. I am writing a story for the third volume of Hugh Howey and John Joseph Adams’ Apocalypse Triptych. As I began thinking of the story I wanted to write, the song Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills and Nash was playing, and I immediately realized that this particular song was the story. There are lines in that song that are both heartbreaking and yet oddly hopeful. The more I thought about it, the more it integrated with my ideas for this apocalyptic story. It didn’t just set the tone of the story; it was the story.
So I put the song on repeat and started writing. The song, with its gentle rhythms and bittersweet lyrics took me exactly where I wanted to be for my story. The melancholy, the hope, the dream, the freedom—it was all there.
It’s odd. For various rights reasons I couldn’t actually include the song in the story. As a result, no one who reads the story will know of its importance. This is common. For many of us, certainly me, while there is not always this explicit a connection between the music and the words on the page, some kind of connection is always there, and it is powerful. I somehow knew it when I was 10. It just took me many years to understand how to put the pieces together.
After 15 years as a music industry journalist Jake Kerr’s first published story, The Old Equations, was nominated for the Nebula Award from Science Fiction Writers of America and shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon and StorySouth Million Writers awards. His stories have subsequently been published in magazines across the world, broadcast in multiple podcasts, and been published in multiple anthologies and year’s best collections. A graduate of Kenyon College, Kerr studied fiction under Ursula K. Le Guin and Peruvian playwright Alonso Alegria. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and three daughters. His debut novel, Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, an adventure story for teen and pre-teen readers was released in 2014. Find him on Facebook, on his website, find more about Tommy Black here, and tweet him as @jakedfw.