Posts Tagged Joni Rodgers

The Undercover Soundtrack – Joni Rodgers

for logo‘His familiar voice brought me back to where I began’

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 NYT bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers @JoniRodgers

Soundtrack by Patsy Cline, Nick Drake, Jefferson Airplane, Claudia Schmidt, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson

Of course, the song that had the greatest influence on Crazy for Trying is the song that gifted the book with the perfect title: Willie Nelson’s Crazy recorded by Patsy Cline in 1961 and by many others since then. Nelson (who was just a journeyman songwriter back then) actually wrote the song for Billie Walker, who rejected it because it seemed like ‘a girl’s song’, which means, I suppose, that it’s gentle and vulnerable, filled with longing and a willingness to love with no hope of being loved in return. But I see those qualities as strengths, not weaknesses, and I wanted Tulsa’s story to deliver exactly the same vibe we get from Patsy Cline’s powerhouse rendition. Crazy features several times in the book, informing and giving voice to both main characters.

joni smlThe fire tower and a guitar

The earliest version of the manuscript took shape while I was living with my husband on a fire tower on Weaver Bally, a 9,000 foot peak in the Trinity Alps wilderness area in Northern California. I originally thought I was writing a stage play with music, so I sat out on the catwalk with my feet up on the rail, my guitar on my lap and a yellow legal pad between my knees.

I had the plot in mind, knew the characters, and had a list of songs, which I thought would be apt and entertaining in the show. Among these were Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane and Spoon River, done here by Michael Peter Smith. (I love Claudia Schmidt’s version.) Drinking Buddy by Claudia Schmidt makes perfect sense of the relationship between Tulsa and Mac.

A book, actually

While I was learning it, I started to feel that the songs were actually informing and developing the characters in ways that went beyond dialogue, evolving into more back story and subtext than were practical for a small stage. I started thinking maybe I was actually writing a book. And then I quickly glanced over my shoulder, burning with shame at my audacity for even considering the possibility that I could actually write a book. It took another ten years for me to embrace the idea and find time and quiet to do the work; I finished my first novel in isolation, undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I do not recommend this as a great way to write one’s debut novel, but it worked for me.

Originally titled Last Chance Gulch, my debut novel was published by MacMurry & Beck in 1996. Brainstorming titles, my editor, Fred Ramey, suggested Crazy for Trying, and it resonated like a gong. It’s so perfect; I wish I could say I was the one who thought of it. The only downside is occasionally being referred to as Joni (Crazy for Trying) Rodgers — which is probably not completely inaccurate.

Crazy for Trying by Joni Rodgers smlDirector’s cut

In the years after Crazy for Trying was originally published, I’d occasionally hear a song that actually opened my eyes to aspects of the story I hadn’t fully thought through as a debut novelist, and I started banking them in a file, thinking I might revisit the book and indie publish a sort of “director’s cut” after it went out of print and I regained the rights, which finally happened in 2008.

While I worked through the second edition, two songs in particular kept me grounded in my goal to be true to the original while allowing it to benefit from 20 years of hard-earned wisdom and craft experience: Johnny Cash’s haunting cover of the Nine Inch Nails heart-wrencher Hurt says everything you need to know about the wrung out heart of an aging drug addict. Willie Nelson’s take on Coldplay’s The Scientist brings such a gracefully aged wisdom to that song about the task of loving, and his familiar voice brought me back to where I began.

The Crazy for Trying second edition debuted as part of Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, a box set of seven stellar novels featuring extraordinary women characters, and will be released next year in paperback to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the book’s original publication. In addition to her own critically acclaimed novels and memoirs, NYT bestselling author Joni Rodgers has collaborated as ghostwriter/ book doctor on a number of celebrity book projects, including Part Swan, Part Goose with Broadway icon Swoosie Kurtz (Perigee 2014). She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband of 30 years, mechanic/ winemaker/ voracious reader Gary Rodgers. Joni’s books and video book reviews can be found at www.jonirodgers.com. She is the founder of the League of Extraordinary Authors and you can also find her on Twitter @JoniRodgers.

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEGsmlLIMITED OFFER Psst… Outside The Box: Women Writing Women is available only until 24 May. 7 full-length novels for £7.99, including My Memories of a Future Life by yours truly. And it vanishes on 24 May.

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‘His voice brought me back to where I began’ – Joni Rodgers

for logoMy guest this week returns for her third appearance on The Undercover Soundtrack. And it’s for her first novel, which she’s reissuing in a director’s cut, after reclaiming the rights. Plotlines and characters have been reimagined according to her original vision, and music was vital to recreating the book in her mind. Indeed, the story began in music, as she initially didn’t even realise her idea was destined to be a novel. She relates in her post how she’d sit on a gantry with guitar and writing pad, imagining a stage play with songs.  But then the back story began to take shape, and the subtext, and before she knew it, a novel was born. She is NYT bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers, one of my partners in crime at the Women Writing Women box set, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack for the novel she contributed, Crazy For Trying.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Joni Rodgers

for logo‘Whistling past the graveyard’

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 NYT bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers @JoniRodgers

Soundtrack by Dick Dale & the Del Tones, The Playboys, Rockin’ Rebels, The Ventures, The Trashmen, The Tremolo Beer Gut, Propellerheads, Shirley Bassey, Fabulous Playboys, B-52s, Booker T & the MGs, Dave Brubeck, Archie Bell & the Drells, Caroline Savoie, Hanson, Cake, Nancy Sinatra, Duffy, Amy Winehouse,

joni rodgers bwKill Smartie Breedlove is the story of a Shep, a dishonored cop, and Smartie, a pulp fiction writer, who is convinced that Shep’s employer, divorce attorney Suri Fitch, is behind the murders of several of her clients’ inconvenient exes. It is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book – ever – and was born out of a pure pleasure reading/listening binge of pulp fiction (hardboiled mysteries of the 1930-60s) and ‘pulp music’: electric guitar and percussion-driven beats embodied by Dick Dale & the Del Tones’ Misirlou – which a lot of people associate with the movie Pulp Fiction. The Playboys’ Cheater Stomp actually gave me the original working title.

Reckless energy

As I absorbed a plotting masterclass from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the vaguely nerdy vibe of the music took me to a creative place that was fun and full of reckless energy, a semi-cool throw-back to horn-rimmed glasses and pencil pants. The Dick Dale channel on Pandora features The Ventures, Rockin’ Rebels and other old-timers along with gritty off-beat wonders like The Trashmen and a Danish band called The Tremolo Beer Gut. These instrumentals are driven machine-gun percussion and gritty electric guitar leads. They’re a bit reminiscent of the theme music from The Munsters – which might explain the macabre undertones that rumble and rise throughout the book, which has a lot of ‘whistling past the graveyard’.

Rhythm and sense memory

Two songs that anchored me to my original vision with rhythm, lyrics and sense-memory: Propellerheads (featuring Shirley Bassey) History Repeating and The Fabulous Playboys Nervous. Archie Bell and the Drells Tighten Up always reminds me of exactly what I love about Houston, which is very Southern but very urban.

Roam by the B-52s plugged me into the quirky artistic tourism that compels dysfunctional Smartie to observe people and extrapolate their backstories. Dave Brubeck’s classic Take Five and Booker T & the MGs’ Green Onions perfectly capture the plodding procedural aspect of Shep’s work and the patiently canny way he goes about his daily grind.

KILL SMARTIE B 13No sunshine

Both Shep and Smartie are widowed, and a collection of cover versions of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine kept me mindful of how that terrible loss motivated and defined them. Two of my favorite covers are Caroline Savoie and Hanson. (Seriously! As in ‘MmmBop’ Hanson. They grew up. Sort of.)

Divorce attorney Suri Fitch’s calculating brilliance (and Shep’s ill-timed attraction to her) steps out of Cake’s Short Skirt Long Jacket, while the transformative sorrow, betrayal and bitterness she sees (and generates) in her business are present in Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang, Duffy’s Stepping Stone and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was the chance to write about the publishing industry with a bit of the ol’ gimlet eye. Smartie and her critique-mates, a group of women authors called the Quilters, approach writing life with a wistful pragmatism best expressed by Nancy Sinatra remixing one of her dad’s standards, This Town.

In addition to her own critically acclaimed novels and memoirs, NYT bestselling author Joni Rodgers has collaborated as ghostwriter/ book doctor on a number of celebrity book projects, including Part Swan, Part Goose with Broadway icon Swoosie Kurtz (Perigee 2014). She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband of 30 years, mechanic/ winemaker/ voracious reader Gary Rodgers. Joni’s books and video book reviews can be found at www.jonirodgers.com. She is the founder of the League of Extraordinary Authors and you can also find her on Twitter @JoniRodgers.

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‘Whistling past the graveyard’ – Joni Rodgers

for logoMy guest this week is another old-timer on The Undercover Soundtrack. She returns with a playful story about a dishonoured cop and a pulp fiction writer who investigate a series of murders. Her soundtrack is sassy, full of fun and energy, but also undershot with an awareness of the tragic and macabre. She is Joni Rodgers and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack to her hardboiled mystery homage, Kill Smartie Breedlove.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Joni Rodgers

‘I listened, eyes closed, hands on the keyboard, remembering the *why* of this book’

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 New York Times bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers @jonirodgers

Soundtrack by Doug Kershaw, Rockin’ Sidney, Hadley Castille and L’Angelus, Michael Doucet, Patti LaBelle and Moby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Bob Dylan c/o Frenchy Burrito, Seal,

Volunteering with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, I heard a New Orleans police officer comment that this was perfect weather for con artists and media people. The story hammer hit me. I saw a scientist obsessed with storms, a con artist using chaos as cover for murder and identity theft, a hungry reporter hot on her trail.

To keep the original vision

The bones of a novel always come that quickly for me, but it takes years to lay on muscle. I do a variety of other things between (sometimes during) each draft – researching, editing, ghostwriting, living my life – but the novel is always present in my head, and on a daily basis, something resonates with it, revealing something the story needs. Quite often, that’s a song, which I store in a playlist that instantly returns me to those insights and keeps my original vision for the book intact.

The main character in The Hurricane Lover, Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, is a hard-drinking New Orleans climatologist and hurricane specialist. An old video of Doug Kershaw doing Louisiana Man on the Tonight show gave me Corbin’s nerdy brilliance. He’s awkward and lanky with a large nose, huge passion and bounding, houndish energy.

Cajun music like Rockin’ Sidney’s Don’t Mess With My Toot Toot and Hadley Castille and L’Angelus Le Swing Cajun defined Corbin’s raucous family and the raw southern charm of New Orleans. The traditional Cajun lullaby La Petite Poule Blanche brought tears to my eyes, because I realized that for Corbin, the destruction of New Orleans was no less than the death of his mother.

Underlying sorrow

Climatologists and engineers had been saying for decades that a hurricane would eventually wipe out New Orleans. No one would listen. One of These Mornings by Patti LaBelle and Moby told me I had to build in the emotional component of that. Beyond the science was the sorrow Corbin felt as he tried (and failed) for years to make people understand what was at stake.

Corbin’s longtime on-off lover, Shay Hoovestahl, is an ambitious journalist, struggling to overcome her beauty pageant past. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy clarified her classy bad-girl vibe. She’s a Texas rich girl who knows how to use her assets, a character who’d be easy to hate. ZZ Top’s Legs told me how to give her the likeable feistiness and joie de vivre Corbin finds irresistible.

The recitation of small casualties in Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken (I like the Frenchy Burrito cover version) made me rewrite everything about the flood. Instead of the typical big drama, I wrote about the seemingly insignificant chairs, dishes, baby shoes and water bottles that add up to a lost civilisation and good intentions that crumble into broken hearts.

Through many revisions, Seal’s Love’s Divine provided a solid conceptual anchor for this novel. When the plot was a tangle, subplots in shreds, I listened, eyes closed, hands on the keyboard, remembering the *why* of this book, mindful that the goal was a place of redemption, a moment when these characters could move beyond how deeply they’d screwed up and disappointed each other.

Shay and Corbin’s relationship is a microcosm of what happened that summer in New Orleans and Houston. The Hurricane Lover is a tale of two cities, one ruled by denial, the other by fear. The rolling thunder at the beginning and the end of Love’s Divine brought the story home and reminded me to invest it with a sense of future.

New York Times bestselling author/ghostwriter Joni Rodgers lives in Houston, Texas. After a dozen books with corporate publishers, she opted to go indie for The Hurricane Lover with her own digital imprint, Stella Link Books. Rodgers continues to work on ghost projects with NY publishers and is the founder of The League of Extraordinary Authors, an international coalition of authors blurring the boundaries between old school and new world publishing. Find her on Twitter @JoniRodgers

The Undercover Soundtrack is taking a short break but will be back on 6 June. If you can’t wait that long for your next fix, you can now search through the archives by musician, composer or artiste – and find out who writes to what. See you soon

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‘I listened, eyes closed, hands on keys, remembering the *why* of this book’ – Joni Rodgers

Joni Rodgers was a volunteer with the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina when she had the idea for The Hurricane Lover. The novel came to life over a long, slow period – a whirl of ideas, each falling into place day by day. Very often those insights come in the form of music – for the nature of her characters and for the tumultuous arc of the story itself. Joni Rodgers will be here on Wednesday drumming up a storm with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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