Posts Tagged John Mayer

The Undercover Soundtrack – Kris Faatz

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 writing teacher, award-winning novelist and piano tutor Kris Faatz @kfaatz925

Soundtrack by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Air Supply, John Mayer, Van Morrison

The first seeds of my novel To Love A Stranger came into my head in the fall of 2007. At the time, I had recently finished my grad studies in piano performance, gotten married, and started working professionally as a piano teacher. I’d written almost no fiction since high school, about 10 years earlier, and had never tried – or thought seriously about trying – to write a novel.

Stranger came out of the backstage world of the classical symphony. My two main characters, Sam and Jeannette, are a conductor and a pianist, respectively. They and their story woke up in my imagination because I had fallen in love with that particular piece of the music world, where people come together to create huge living pieces of art. Some of my favorite classical music, for solo piano and for symphony, ended up in Stranger, because I wanted to share the experience of hearing and being part of those works with readers. During the first months of writing the novel, though, I listened to very different music.

When I started the project, I had a starry-eyed idea that writing a book would take a few months and then we’d be off to publication. Pretty soon, I realized I had let myself in for worlds of trouble. I was in love with Sam, my primary character. He was clear and alive in my mind, and his story – about love and loss, and isolation and condemnation because of the person he was – felt urgent and real. I wanted to get it onto the page, but quickly realised I didn’t have the skills I needed. Frustration set in even as I tasted, for the first time, the exhilaration of a story that wanted to take root and climb for the sky.

Music pushed me along. First, I needed to anchor myself in Sam’s time and place. He was born in the early 1960s, and Stranger was ultimately set in the late 1980s, while I was born in 1979 and needed some way to touch a past I hadn’t experienced. One of the first tunes I listened to for inspiration was Bob Dylan’s Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard any Dylan before, but the tune quickly wrapped itself around my imagination. As I listened to Dylan sing, I felt myself reaching back and linking hands with people in the first crowds that thronged to hear him. I felt the energy of that time and understood why Dylan’s audiences fell in love with his candid, wistful lyrics. For a heartbeat or two, I was part of the generation that had claimed him as its voice.

From that early tune, I moved to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album, and did my best to wear out my husband’s copy of it during the first year of working on Stranger. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go wasn’t just a time-anchor: it drew me a picture of a central relationship in Sam’s life, a love he had held and then felt compelled to let go. I listened to the tune over and over, caught the mood, cried over it, and did my best to put what I saw and felt on the page, as imperfect as it had to be.

“Gil,” Sam said, “listen.” He had to say something before it was too late, if only he could find the words… “I married her, but…” There it was, the simplest thing in the world. “I love you. Always. You know that, don’t you?” I never stopped loving you. I never should have left. I’m so sorry, Gil.’

I was disappointed not to be able to find a link to this tune as it’s performed on the Blood on the Tracks album. If you’ve never listened to the album, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Songs like Lonesome, about love and loss and missing the one who was gone, kept me focused as I stumbled along, trying to write the story that felt more urgent to me every day. I went to the Rolling Stones’s High Tide and Green Grass album and played Tell Me You’re Coming Back To Me over and over in my car as I drove to piano lessons. The song told me everything I needed to know about Gil, the man Sam had loved, and how Gil felt after the relationship ended. Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing At All filled the same function (as cheesy as the song sounds now to this 80s child’s ears). The thread about Sam and Gil helped pull me back into the story every time I got frustrated again with my limitations as a writer.

Stranger took far more than a few months to see through to completion. When the book was released in May, it had been almost a decade from start to finish. During those years, I realized that I wanted to be a writer even more than I wanted to be a musician, and I learned the writing craft pretty much from scratch. By the end of that journey, almost any music I heard anywhere was about Stranger in some way, or about the need for courage and persistence. As I wrap up these memories, I have to mention John Mayer’s Say (What You Need To Say) and Van Morrison’s Queen of the Slipstream, neither of which has to do with Stranger’s story, but both of which kept me writing when I didn’t want to.

Ultimately, To Love A Stranger exists because of music. The story could not have existed, or made it into the world, without the melodies that fill it and the tunes that carried me along when I needed them.

Kris Faatz’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review Online, Potomac Review, Reed, Digging Through the Fat, and other journals. Her debut novel, To Love A Stranger, was a finalist for the 2016 Schaffner Press Music in Literature Award and was released May 2017 by Blue Moon Publishers (Toronto). She has been a contributor at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a fellowship recipient at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops, and is a pianist and a teacher of creative writing. Visit her online at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter @kfaatz925

 

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Chele Cooke

for logo‘This album makes me feel that anything is possible’

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 debut science fiction novelist Chele Cooke @CheleCooke

Soundtrack by Matchbox Twenty, Nickelback, John Mayer

There is a theory that you will never connect more to music than you did as a middle teenager, around age 14 to 16. The theory is that the music we listened to at that age will be the music we always come back to. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but it is true for me, and it’s definitely true for writing my first novel, Dead and Buryd.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABackground noise

I’m very particular when it comes to having music on while writing. It has to music I know by heart, otherwise it distracts me. Even when I’m writing in a new place, having something so familiar around me is comforting.

I was about 14 when I began writing in earnest, and at that time, I had just begun listening to Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty. To this day, it is my favourite album. Matchbox Twenty speaks to me in a way no other artist has managed, both with their interesting melodies and their emotion-catching lyrics. I carried that CD with me everywhere, listened to it every day for a month. Still, a month does not go by where I don’t listen to it at least once, and mostly, while I’m writing.

This album lifts me, and as cliché as it sounds, makes me believe that anything is possible. The Technicolour dreams of Black and White People, speaks to exactly that. From the first twang of a chord, I feel happier, and I feel more productive. It’s a song about music lifting you and clearing your head, about how life gets you down but your dreams are far more beautiful than the drab life sometimes handed to us. It is exactly how I feel about my writing. Writing Dead and Buryd is like stepping into that technicolour dream, and each time I listen, this song reminds me of that.

Getting grungy

There is a certain element of grunge in Out of Orbit, of which Dead and Buryd is the first instalment. The story revolves around a revolution on a planet with a very hostile environment. There are parts that are gritty and dirty, and nothing is as simple as you’d like it to be. Nothing gets me in mood to write those grungy scenes like Nickelback, another band I listened to as a teenager. These days, it’s their later albums, Dark Horse and Here and Now. The first song of Here and Now, This Means War, is perfect for my characters and plot. The characters are fighting impossible odds and are technologically inferior to their enemy. This Means War really calls out that fire in the characters, knowing that they’ll probably lose, but going at it with all they have anyway.

Delicate descriptions

As a writer, descriptions are very important to me. Getting the right level description in a story brings it alive, and sometimes a few choice words can be better than entire paragraphs. John Mayer is a talented artist who has an incredible affinity for words. He paints entire scenes in a few short lines. This song, 3×5, is from the album Room for Squares. The song is about not wanting to take photographs because he wants to experience the world fully instead of behind a lens. Instead, in writing a letter, he describes the things he is seeing.

DBKindlesmIn this song Mayer really speaks to my mantra on writing. I have to describe the stories I’ve thought of because I can’t take photographs of them and hand them out. No piece of art will ever truly capture the images in my head, and so I have to describe them instead.

I often listen to John Mayer while editing. I remember that my audience needs to be able to see what I’m thinking. Mayer’s music reminds me just how much you can do. If he can do it in a three-minute song, I can certainly manage it in a novel.

Chele Cooke is the author of Dead and Buryd of the Out of Orbit sci-fi series, which she describes as grungy, character focused, and accessible to readers who don’t usually pick up the genre. Living in London, Chele often dreams that she’s back in San Francisco, where she spent many of her teenage years. Aside from writing, Chele loves immersing herself in television shows, movies, music, cross-stitching, knitting, travelling, and cheese jokes. You can find more about Chele at her website, http://chelecooke.com, on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads

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