Posts Tagged Indigo Girls
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 journalist and contemporary women’s fiction author Karen Wojcik Berner @karenberner
Soundtrack by Icicle Works, Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, The Doors, The 5th Dimension, Bach, Phil Collins
I was a singer way before I was a writer. Nothing on a grand scale, although I was asked to try out for the Lyric Opera children’s chorus, which I turned down because I hated opera and didn’t recognize the value of the musical education I would have received. What did I know? I was only ten. I settled for local variety shows, high school musicals, and choirs. Wise? Probably not, but then I wouldn’t have discovered writing.
Only natural then that music helped me create the Bibliophiles series, which revolves around members of a classics book club. Not your typical series, each book stars one or two of the book club members and tells their stories. Tragedy. Coming of Age. Romance. You never know what you’re going to get.
Small and helpless
The first is A Whisper to a Scream, which I’m sure you’ll recognize as the title of an Icicle Works song from the 80s. Most people think A Whisper to a Scream is a mystery novel, but if you listen to the lyrics of the song, it’s really about feeling small and ‘ever helpless’ in the face of a greater force, which is exactly what the book is about.
Overwhelmed stay-at-home mother of two Sarah Anderson feels adrift in a sea of diapers, Legos, and school projects. Her workaholic husband is never home, and she longs for just 10 minutes to herself to reclaim the person she was pre-kids. When she finally gets out of the house and joins a classics book club, she meets Annie Jacobs, a public relations executive. Annie’s infertility treatments send her spiraling out of control. What starts as a mere notion, a small whisper of the promise of motherhood, consumes her, whipping her into a frenzy.
The song’s happy dance beat underscores the need to surrender to circumstance, something both Sarah and Annie eventually do at the end.
Tell me Y
Having never written from a male perspective, I was worried Annie’s husband John could easily become a stereotype. After all, who do you think of when a couple is dealing with fertility issues? Not the guy.
When John sensed his marriage was coming undone, I’d listen to Peter Gabriel’s tender, yet melancholy Blood of Eden, which perfectly captured what John felt as his wife spun out of control in a vortex of hormones, emotion, and deep craving that he cannot understand. He missed the intimacy of their life before sex became mechanical.
Was this guy married to Annie too? He tipped his glass to Peter Gabriel, comrade in misery.’
A Whisper to a Scream
Several years ago, I bought the Indigo Girls album Rite of Passage. One track is Galileo, which talks about reincarnation and how many times must we go around until we finally get this life thing right. But instead of reincarnation, I envisioned a young woman who kept reinventing herself from location to location. That became Until My Soul Gets It Right, about another classics book club member, Catherine Elbert.
She was a fraud. Had been for years.’
Until My Soul Gets It Right
I’d wanted the final book in the series to be a love story. Opposites attracting is always fun, so why not bring together fastidious Anglophile computer programmer Thaddeus Mumblegarden IV and the free-spirited daughter of Hippies Spring Pearson in A Groovy Kind of Love?
The chance to delve into the 60s and the Pearsons’ background was too much fun to resist. Only a small child when the Hippies embarked on their psychedelic journey, I was drawn to their sense of freedom, something I had never felt growing up as an only child.
Every day while writing Spring’s childhood, the velvety smooth vocals of Jim Morrison in The Doors’ classic Light My Fire showed me a window to their world and explored quintessential sixties sounds. I mean, does anyone use an organ like that anymore? Aquarius belted out by the 5th Dimension and originally from the musical Hair signified pure freedom. Anything was possible if you opened your mind and let the sunshine in. That bass line underscores the funkiness of the dance. You can’t help but move.
That’s how I felt about the Pearsons. Sure, they might be potheads who left their eleven-year-old daughter in charge of their juice bar, but you can’t help but like them.
In contrast, Thaddeus’s family is traditional, and he, himself, is more formal. The Brandenburg Concertos played on repeat while writing his chapters. They helped me focus on structure and complexity. While driving, Thaddeus puts on the local classical music radio station hoping for Handel or a medieval madrigal.
Instead one of John Cage’s twentieth-century avant garde sonatas accosted him, which he immediately turned off with disgust. Better no music than that trash!’
A Groovy Kind of Love
Music helps my imagination find its sense of time and place. It’s almost hypnotic. As soon as one of my inspiration songs plays, I’m back in the 60s with the Pearsons, bouncing from coast to coast with Catherine, or drinking scotch with John. I really cannot write without it.
Karen Wojcik Berner writes contemporary women’s fiction, including the Bibliophiles series. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women’s Fiction Writers, and Fresh Fiction. She is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. When not writing, she can be found on the sidelines of her youngest’s football or lacrosse games, discussing the Celts with the oldest, or snuggling into a favorite reading chair with a good book and some tea. Find her on Goodreads, Facebook, her blog, Google +, and Twitter @karenberner
My guest this week says she was a singer long before she was a writer, and when she started writing, music was a natural place to find story inspiration. She writes a series of novels based around the members of a book club, and many of the titles and characters come from tracks that have been special to her. I took unashamed pleasure in seeing Icicle Works and Peter Gabriel make an appearance – the latter with Sinead O’Connor (gasp). And one of her books was inspired by a track by Indigo Girls, which talks about reincarnation and the soul reinventing – possibly a familiar idea to longtime visitors here. Anyway, she is award-winning journalist and contemporary women’s fiction author Karen Wojcik Berner and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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.