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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is poet-turned novelist Dave Malone @dzmalone
As a boy, I stayed up late without my parents’ knowledge, my ear chaffing against stainless steel of transistor radio. Huddled in my bed, I kept my 10-year-old attention alert for the opening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, hosted by EG Marshall.
In the country dark of the Midwest, my radio crackled until the bliss of hearing that creaking, almost screeching, door open the show. Then, ominous string and percussion, followed by EG Marshall’s distinct, authoritative voice. And lastly, words coming to life and bringing mystery stories into my bedroom. My imagination soared with dirty dealings, the macabre, and shadow.
While I’ve spent most of my writing life as a poet, I have never lost my love for mystery and detective stories. Living in the Ozarks provides quick and easy access to inspirational characters. Most Ozarkers are no-nonsense and a welcoming bunch — to a point. It was this kind of straightforward man I wanted in my private detective, Walt Records. In my novelet, Not Forgiven, Not Forgotten, I wanted him educated at college for a couple of years, before he considered it useless. And I wanted him a smart-ass, but wise. Tough, but tender.
Music is almost always essential for me to getting started, to diving down into the moment. Whiskey has a similar effect, of course. I like to write in the early afternoons. With a bourbon. Everything else fades away, except the characters, the moments.
My private detective keeps shop on the downtown square of a small Ozark town. About the only other private dick in the county, Records comments:
Jones ain’t as good as me. He’ll charge you double, and he’ll find the same shit I did.
For Records, I needed music dark and soulful. Something rural and tough. Something lean. And I found it, in The Hank Dogs. The British band’s eponymous album played throughout not only just the composition but the revision as well.
Mostly, I’m interested in the sounds of The Hank Dogs. The female vocals, the harmonies, the trailing guitar. However, I’m an Angel could well have been written by Walt Records himself who narrates the stories. The song’s sentiment is that we are being judged — not necessarily by Records — but actions have consequences on a person, and this is very much this private detective’s belief. Records is a dark, sarcastic anti-hero, yet he acts with integrity. Despite his fuck-ups and misgivings, he knows he’s ‘an angel by comparison’ to others, including a town preacher and the community’s leading philanthropist — who both are leaders in the town’s dark underbelly of drugs and scams.
There wasn’t anything better to get me started with the action of Not Forgiven than a pleasant three fingers of Wild Turkey and some Hound Dog Taylor and the Rockers. Upbeat, tough, mean, spirited, tender, poetic describes this powerhouse of an album. She’s Gone, Walking the Ceiling and Give Me Back My Wig are three winners. I played this CD while Records chased down leads: crashing Adam’s Rib bar, getting pistol-whipped by the corrupt preacher man, and flying through the night in his old Chevy Cav for the next clue.
The love interest, Madeline (Mads), is a lanky, tough, strawberry blonde, and according to Records
That girl is all fire and no rain.
Mads is strong and independent, and the Cowboy Junkies’s Witches set the mood I needed for Records’s arrival at her place when he wasn’t sure she’d be interested:
I wouldn’t say it. Cuz a man only says certain things to a woman. Madeline might have known I’d been clobbered in the face by the butt of a .357, but she didn’t say nothing about it when she answered her door at 10:14 that night. She hadn’t gotten a text from me, and she was a free woman, but I played the odds that on a weeknight, another rooster weren’t in the chicken house.
To keep me from getting too romantic, I drafted their love scenes by also listening to Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child. It has such greats as I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You, I Cover the Waterfront, Don’t Explain, and He’s Funny That Way. He’s Funny (lyrics here) plays into the spirit of both Records and Mads — tough Ozarkers, they ain’t beauty queens. But they’re real solid inside. And maybe despite town corruption and any personal insecurity, these two strong characters might find love in Not Forgiven, perhaps like a boy who found love so many years ago in an unexpected place — a storied voice on a transistor radio.
From the Missouri Ozarks, Dave Malone writes crime fiction and is also the author of five poetry collections, including Seasons in Love. His latest volume, View from the North Ten: Poems after Mark Rothko’s No. 15, is forthcoming from Mongrel Empire Press. His interests, bordering on obsessions, include Alan Watts, Ozark culture, crime fiction, gardening, and minor league baseball. He publishes a monthly e-newsletter, If I Had a Nickel, whose title derives from the sentiment of his rascally Ozark grandfather. For more, visit davemalone.net or find him on Twitter @dzMalone.
GIVEAWAY: 5 Kindle copies of Not Forgiven, Not Forgotten to be won! Dave is excited to give away a generous 5 copies of his novelet to commenters here – and as usual, extra entries if you report in your comment that you’ve spread the word on other media.
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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by journalist and award-winning debut novelist Terri Giuliano Long @TGLong
Dave and I are in the car on our way home from dinner. He puts a Bruce Springsteen CD in the player, Greetings From Asbury Park. The song Growin’ Up strikes a nerve, and I ask him to hit replay. I listen to the song over and over. The song is still playing when we pull into the driveway 30 minutes later. In this song, I see Leah – a 16-year-old girl, pushing boundaries, horrifying the adults all around her. She’s just a kid, flying high, full of imagination and life, yearning for independence, trying to make her way in the world.
Dave and I have four daughters. As I’m writing the novel, they’re all teens, and I see Leah from a mother’s perspective. I love her, but she frightens me. This song opens a door, shows me another side of her. I see tremendous energy and vulnerability so deep and true that it brings tears to my eyes. I try to integrate this new understanding into her scenes, but it’s not until late in the novel, after she’s run away from home, that it pays off.
When I wrote In Leah’s Wake, songs—like Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, Robbie Robertson’s Showdown at Big Sky and Tom Petty’s Face in the Crowd provided the emotional connection I needed to define certain scenes. The novel opens with Leah’s parents, Zoe and Will, playing poker—a metaphor I didn’t notice until the second draft, when I realized how much parenting teens resembles a poker game. Tupelo Honey spins on the player. After a spat, Will leaves the table and replaces the sweet love song with Zoe’s favorite song, Showdown at Big Sky. That night, alone, waiting for Leah, he listens to A Face In The Crowd, a haunting song that speaks to his profound loneliness, as he sits by the window, imagining the unthinkable horror that may have befallen his child.
Often, the instrumentals, the sound, the tone—the emotional energy—of a song put me into the scene. Paranoid Android, from Okay Computer by Radiohead, I’m On Fire, by Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Stardog Champion, from Stardog Champion by Mother Love Bone, I Loves You Porgy from Porgy and Bess, by Keith Jarrett on the CD The Melody At Night With You, and Misguided Angel from The Trinity Session by the Cowboy Junkies—all set an emotional stage for a scene I was working on.
In the lyric
Occasionally, the lyrics spoke to me, as was the case with Madonna’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, from the film Evita, released in 1996, a few years before I began In Leah’s Wake. Early in the book, Zoe is in the car, on her way home from work. She’s thinking about Leah, all the changes that have occurred of late. Leah’s behavior drives her out of her mind. She also feels guilty, selfish for putting her own needs and desires ahead of her family. ‘I love you,’ Madonna sings, echoing Zoe’s feelings. ‘And I hope you love me.’
The best writing moments occurred when – as with Growin’ Up – a song moved me emotionally and its lyrics gave me insight. Our house at the time was wired for sound. One morning, when I stepped out of the shower, Oasis’s Champagne Supernova from What’s the Story? Morning Glory, was playing. I was working on a pivotal scene: Leah’s 12-year-old sister, Justine, asks for a cigarette and Leah, hesitant at first, sees her sister as her equal for the first time and allows her to smoke. The song’s textured ethereal feel, for me, mirrored Leah’s state of mind. The lyrics, about getting high, people changing, felt right. The metaphor gave me psychological clarity, a window into Leah’s heart.
As I progressed through draft after draft, music, which had initially inspired me, took on a defining role in the book. Scenes where the characters were listening to music began to different feel from scenes that were virtually silent, except for the dialogue. To me, those silent scenes feel stark, and emotionally raw. Maybe that’s why they so often end with an argument or a crucial event that, to one of the characters, represents catastrophic change.
Without music, In Leah’s Wake would be a very different book. How do you identify with music? When you read a book, do you relate to songs or find them a distraction?
Terri Giuliano Long is a contributing writer for IndieReader and Her Circle eZine. She has written news and feature articles for numerous publications, including the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College. In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel, winner of the Coffee Time Reviewer Recommend Award, the Book Bundlz 2011 Book Pick, the Book Bundlz Book Club Favorite, 2012 – First Place and nominated for the Global eBook award. For more information, find her on her website. Or connect on Facebook, Twitter or Blog.
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- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
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Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
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Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
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- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2022. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
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