Undercover Soundtrack

The Undercover Soundtrack – Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

for logo‘Harmony from fragments’

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 UCLA tutor, Harold Ribelow Award nominee and professional psychic Rochelle Jewel Shapiro @RJShapiro

Soundtrack by Karen Siegel

What I Wish You’d Told Me is a collection of three stories of women of all ages grappling with the whacky and the tragic in their lives. An exciting new publishing company, (Shebooks) gave me the opportunity to publish an ebook of three short works of my choice. I already had two stories that I was delighted with, but there was one in me that my bones, my guts, had needed to write for so long, and each time I started out, the ‘how’ of writing the story — its basic narrative, where to start, the climax, denouement—was like a balloon bobbing overhead with the string always out of reach, no matter how high I jumped.

MEW-01I went to music as I often do for inspiration, direction. Writing lines of prose on a page or notes on a staff are hugely different, but have parallels—they begin, have a middle, and an end. There’s mood, pacing, breath stops. I played Chopin, Sousa, Wagner, nothing clicked. And then, in one of my procrastination bouts, I looked up a video of my daughter-in-law, Karen Siegel and her acapella composition Confessions from the Blogosphere, and had the eureka moment I had been hoping for.

Karen (the woman with the blue top in the video) holds an undergraduate degree from Yale, an MM (masters of music) in musical composition from NYU’s Steinhardt School where she studied with Marc Antonio Consoli, and a PhD in music composition from CUNY Graduate Center where she studied with Tania León. In this piece, she alternated and layered humorous excerpts from random blogs. Sometimes the text was set intact and homophonic—with the whole choir singing the same text at the same time, in a single rhythm — as in the opening statement, ‘I like Paris Hilton for real. Should I be ashamed?’ More often, a fragment of text was repeated in one or two voice parts at a time, offset against the same text in another voice part or voice parts, to create a rhythmic texture. This texture was frequently a backdrop for a melody in a single voice part. At other times, the rhythmic texture itself was the focal point. Altogether, it was like a cento, a poem made up of quotes, lines, phrases from others.

It occurred to me that neither Karen nor I had to have the total vision of what our creations were going to be. She used lines of dialogue gathered by different people. Bingo, I could write lines of dialogue from each of the characters I wanted in Secrets (the first and newest short story in What I Wish You’d Told Me, and see how it came together later, rather than trying to create order right away.

It made sense to me, even physically. I have a spot in my right eye that I need to see around. Sometimes it blots out the full picture of what I need to see, but somehow, my mind creates the whole of it. A study from John Hopkins University shows that when a person looks at a figure, a number, or letter, or any shape, neurons in other areas of the brain’s visual center respond to different parts of that shape, almost instantaneously interlocking them like a puzzle to create an image that sees and understands. I’m sure this is true for all of our senses.

WhatIWishYoudToldMeIn Secrets, a story set in the 60s about a teenage girl, Leah, whose illusions about her best friend, Arianna’s family are blasted along with her faith in Kennedy’s Camelot, I began with a piece of dialogue from Arianna’s mother. ‘You ran him over!’ she says. ‘It wasn’t a dog. It was an old man.’ Arianna’s father counters with, ‘I wouldn’t have hit anything if you weren’t so drunk that I had to be the one to drive after I had a few.’

After pages of dialogue, some of which I got rid of in the end —’Kill your darlings,’ as Arthur Quiller-Couch advised in his lectures On the Art of Writing — I was able to fill in the rest, and that was the secret of my writing Secrets.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s first novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Her novel Kaylee’s Ghost is an Indie Finalist. She’s published essays in the New York Times and Newsweek and in many anthologies. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in the Coe Review, Compass Rose, the Griffin, Inkwell Magazine, the Iowa Review, the Los Angeles Review, the MacGuffin, Memoir And, Moment, Negative Capability, Pennsylvania English, The Carolina Review, and more. She won the Brandon Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Shapiro is a professional psychic who currently teaches writing at UCLA Extension. Read more about her at her website. Find her on Twitter @RJShapiro

Undercover Soundtrack

The Undercover Soundtrack – Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

for logo‘Everyone is haunted by something’

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 UCLA tutor, Harold Ribelow Award nominee and professional psychic Rochelle Jewel Shapiro @RJShapiro

Soundtrack by Tanya Davis

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, everyone is haunted by something. When my Viennese mother-in-law slid into senescence, she began to hear strains of her favorite operetta, Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. It played in her mind, non-stop, at full volume. She’d press her palms over her ears, and still she’d hear it. She would ask her neighbors in her assisted living complex if they were perhaps playing it on the radio. When they said no, she invited them in.

IMG_1187‘Do you hear it?’ she’d ask, hopefully. ‘Do you hear Die Fledermaus?

They just blinked at her.

According to Dr Victor Aziz of St Cadoc’s Hospital in Wales, musical hallucinations tend to happen to women over 73 who are living alone and have hearing impairment. In their mostly silent worlds, the brain stimulates itself to in order to hear sounds stored in the memory.

If this should ever happen to me (ptui, ptui, ptui, as my Russian grandmother would say to ward off bad fortune) the song that would probably come to me is Art by award-winning Canadian folk, pop, rock singer-songwriter, storyteller, and poet, Tanya Davis. It has become my anthem for creativity. I watch the video each morning before I begin writing. When I get stuck, I play it again. Art is a deceptively simple manifesto, a fetching love song to art, to what it means to be an artist and dedicate your life to it. In her quirky, endearing voice, Davis exposes the writer’s vulnerable heart, all the doubts, the worry if it’s worth it, if you’re worth it, whether people will appreciate your work, the whole caboodle that happens no matter how many times you’ve published.

Art, its childlike delivery, the girl painting as it’s sung, brings me back to my childhood bedroom, its floor printed with nursery rhymes, where I sat at the small desk my mother had painted red, drawing and writing stories, the tip of my tongue sticking out of the corner of my mouth in concentration. Every now and then, I’d call out to my mother, ‘How do you write flower? Princess?’ When she holler-spelled the word from the kitchen, I would write most of the letters backwards. No one required me to draw or to write. And I didn’t expect anything further to come out of it. I just had a drive to create and I worked at my illustrated stories every day without thinking of it as work or even as play. It was instinct.

The child’s voice is the truth

As Davis’s lyrics tell us, this innocence, this grace, doesn’t last long. But Art can help you pick up the child’s voice, which is where you have to dig to in order to get to the truth of any character.

KAYLEEGHOSTCOVERIn my newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost, a domestic drama spanning five generations about life here on earth and after we’ve passed on, is written in four voices. One is the voice of five-year-old Violet, a beautiful and sensitive child who seems to be psychic like her grandmother, Miriam. Miriam wants the chance to mentor Violet to help develop the gift as her own grandmother, her Russian bubbie, had done when she was a child. But Cara, Violet’s mother, a modern businesswoman who knows all too well the pitfalls of growing up with a psychic mother, digs in her heels. As things become more fractious, Miriam’s gift backfires, bringing terrible danger to those she loves and anxiety to the reader who has to worry about whether or not Miriam can make things right in time or whether it is already too late.

A young child speaks with urgency, without guile, amped feeling in every word. The feelings are real, naked, and make absolute sense according to the child’s logic and experience. In order to know an adult character, you have to not just know the events of his childhood, you have to imagine what he was like as a child. As Wordsworth said, ‘The child is the father of the man’.

Art, Art, Art, you haunt me when I don’t write and you worry me when I do. You are the best part of my childhood. Please be with me until the end. Whether or not the world can live without my writing, I can’t live without you.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is a phone psychic and an award-winning writer who teaches at UCLA Extension.  Her first novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) was nominated for the Harold Ribelow Award. Her newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook, 2012) was an Indie Finalist. Articles have been written about her psychic gift in such places as Redbook, The Jerusalem Post, the Dutch Magazine, TV GID, and the Long Island section of the New York Times. She’s chronicled her own psychic experiences in Newsweek (My Turn), and The New York Times (Lives) which can be read on her website. Find her on Twitter @RJShapiro