Posts Tagged Enigma
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 literary writer Jessica Bell @MsBessieBell, author of String Bridge
Today I’m not only going to talk about how music influenced the creation of my debut novel, String Bridge. I’m also going to talk about how String Bridge influenced the creation of its own soundtrack, Melody Hill: On the Other Side.
Melody, the main character in the novel, is a musician, who struggles to revive her passion to pursue a career in music after the role of mother and wife stunted its growth. The songs that appear in the book started off as poems. But then I thought, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be song lyrics? And so, I converted the poems into lyrics. Then it occurred to me that I could create and produce an album conceptually written by Melody. Being a singer/songwriter/guitarist myself, and having written and recorded countless songs over the years, meant it was a task that I could definitely undertake. But I became even more convinced of the idea after listening to one of my mother’s songs on YouTube, which conveniently portrayed my main character’s mindset.
Now, I was more than inspired.
Push and pull
The lyrics of this song are about the push and pull a mother feels from her family to her desires, from her need to be a ‘good’ person, to the pit of guilt and depression that haunts and feeds the creative mind. ‘Do you really want to be this famous?’ is the last line of the song—a question I’m sure every potentially famous person asks themselves at some point or another. Is there anything in this world worth the sacrifice of one’s true identity?
I eventually rerecorded this song with my own voice for my book trailer. It’s also in the album. (Thank you to my mother, Erika Bach, once again, for allowing me to do this.)
Once I finished the final revisions to String Bridge, I sat down with my guitar and wrote music to the four songs that appear in the book by channelling Melody’s musical influences (PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Nightmares on Wax, Enigma) and combining their styles of rock, pop, folk, and ambience to create an atmospheric grunge CD that is also a visceral lyrical story. Once those were done, I wrote five more songs in the same vein to complete the album, and had the album professionally recorded and produced. You can hear samples on iTunes.
I’m often asked whether being a musician benefits my writing. And I have to say yes. For one, I think sound is a very difficult thing to describe. And even for me, it is not easy. I spent a long time trying to perfect the parts of the novel where music is illustrated. I didn’t only want the words to describe music; I wanted them to sound like music. Being a poet also, I adore playing around with different words and sounds and hearing how they roll off my tongue like a velvety tune. I thrive on constructing sentences with cadence. It’s like singing without a melody—writing to a tempo.
That being said, writing also benefits my songwriting. Over the past seven or so years, since actively writing novels, I’ve noticed a huge change in the way I approach writing lyrics. So I suppose both skills feed off each other. I can’t imagine my life without either of them.
And do you want to know something funny? I need silence when I write. If there is music playing, all I want to do is sing.
Jessica Bell is a literary women’s fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the ’80s and early ’90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece, and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide and is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Jessica has published a book of poetry Twisted Velvet Chains, and a novel String Bridge, with Lucky Press, LLC. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. Please visit the site to register. Find her on Facebook and Twitter @MsBessieBell
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 contemporary novelist Mary Vensel White @mvw888
At the time I began work on The Qualities of Wood, I had just moved to Chicago. I was entranced and completely inspired by the big city— the smells, the sights, the sounds. On a warm day, everyone flocked to the public parks, those small parcels of grass and trees amidst the steel buildings and concrete. I began to wonder why we’re drawn to natural settings, and my character Vivian’s journey from city to country began with this thought. The sounds around us can be a type of music, an enveloping aspect of our setting. Whenever I begin to write something, the atmosphere is always important and music plays a big part. The background music of the city: the rush of wind, cars braking and starting again, a lone saxophone, water rippling, voices everywhere, rising and falling.
An ancient music of sounds and silence
In the novel, Vivian and her husband Nowell have decided to take a break from city life. They move to his late grandmother’s house in the country to prepare it for sale. The natural environment, the different types of sounds, the music of nature—all becomes a very sensory experience for Vivian. The skies stretch, limitless, and the land flows to the horizon in soft rises. She’s never been able to see that far; her head begins to clear. Childhood rushes back. She can see herself, hear the live things around her. It is a soothing combination of sounds and silence, its own music (Deep Forest – Sweet Lullaby )
In the evenings, Vivian’s energy level peaked again and her sense of hearing sharpened. She heard crickets under the house and outside, the green, thick-veined leaves flapping, one against the other in the breeze. When a small branch snapped and fell, the other branches gently guided its descent.
These rhythms, the almost ancient sound of this music, always made me think about the vastness of nature, and I’d return to this piece whenever I needed to remind myself of Vivian’s impressions of her new surroundings.
In the small town, there has been a death and as Vivian becomes enmeshed in the mystery of what has happened, secrets begin to emerge. Town gossip flourishes; cracks appear in her marriage. Above all, she searches within herself for answers. Late in the novel, Vivian attends a festival. I grew up in a smallish town and every year, we had a ‘Fair and Alfalfa Festival’. These events are very much a part of Americana; anyone who has attended a county fair knows what to expect. Lots of food on sticks, a beer garden with a long line, local rock or country bands. And it seems like the music played is usually a generation behind and always includes certain songs everyone, young and old, knows the lyrics to.
The band played an old favorite, a song about a woman leaving a man. Swaying to the music, Vivian and Lonnie sung the lyrics in wavering, unpolished voices. Colored streaks came out in the evening sky, like water that had soaked through paper.
Vivian has a freeing moment, a loosening of inhibitions cued by the familiar music. I imagine the band in that small American town played songs like these – Rock n’Me by The Steve Miller Band, Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
These easy-going tunes with their emphasis on good times and living in the moment are songs that make you want to forget daily responsibilities and remember your youth. Listening to these songs infused my writing with the feelings of freedom Vivian experienced on that vivid night.
The novel, I hope, has an empowering message, as Vivian learns about herself and begins to appreciate her own strength and gifts. I’d like to think the story ends with a folk music feel, with strong female voices and an uplifting melody. The characters leave the stage to a strident guitar and assured singing, rather like Indigo Girls’ Closer to Fine.
Mary Vensel White was born in Los Angeles and raised in Lancaster, California. She graduated from the University of Denver and completed an MA in English at DePaul University in Chicago. She lives in southern California with her husband and four children. The Qualities of Wood is her first novel and was released on January 31, 2012 by HarperCollins. Find her blog and contact her in a variety of ways through her website and Twitter @mvw888.