‘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.
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.
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