Friday, August 26, 2011

Using Music to add texture to the imagination

Do you listen to music when you write? Do you listen to music in between writing sessions and think about what you have just written and where it will go next? Do you do both?
I find it hard to listen to music while I am writing. It is too distracting, too varied. I get so immersed in the moment that if the song changes to another mood, I get lost. So I don't listen to music WHILE writing.

However, I DO listen to music between writing. This last marathon round of work on DISTILLATION saw me become obsessed with more than my characters and their lives. I make mixed CDs still. Old school, I know. They correspond to playlists on the I-Pod, but it is easier to listen to them in my car. I made a playlist/CD about a month ago, just when I was really riding the wave of DISTILLATION's last 100 pages. Thanks to I-Tunes, I am aware that I love what they call Alt. Country: Neko Case, Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch etc. Some of it more blue grass, some of it more general singer song writer. But I made this mix that was mostly Gillian Welch, a combination of her new and old stuff. And I still can't stop listening to it. My husband immediately was sick of it. He said the songs all sounded the same. I disagree. But they do all have a similar dark, haunting, melancholy element to them. And they bring me to a place where the the images and the themes of my novel are able to thrive.

What I find is that I fixate on mood in a song. A particular line will speak to me and ring in some way of the story that is going through my head. My vision may not have anything to do with the story of the song itself, but the combination of the mood and the lyric help add texture to the picture in my mind.

For example: The song "Elvis Presley Blues" by Gillian Welch, which has no connection to my story's plot, has a line "he shook it and he rang like silver, he shook it and he shined like gold...well, bless my soul, well bless my soul..." My story deals with the balance between the male and the female using the sun and moon as symbols, as is done in alchemical symbology, and it deals with the reincarnation of souls. Having written the scene in DISTILLATION where the male and female leads are in a field finally getting to business and both the sun and moon are in the sky, one setting, the other rising - I am in my car listening to this song and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. I feel that moment.

Another example is from Welch's new album The Harrow and the Harvest. The song "Dark Turn of Mind" is a song that if I could make a movie of my book, I would include in the sound track. So many of the lyrics bring to mind elements of my story. "I've had trouble already, and it left me with a dark turn of mind. I see the bones in the river, I feel the wind through the pines, and I hear the shadows a calling, to a girl with a dark turn of mind." (song is below)

Love it.

Lastly, the song "The Way it Goes" from the same album - talks about people all once friends going different ways in life and dealing with darkness of one sort or another. "The brightest ones of all, early in October fall. That's the way that it goes. That's the way. While the good ones go to bed with good whiskey in their head. That's the way that it goes. That's the way." The theme of this song reminds of living in a small town and the things that happen which never go away, the things that change relationships, but still you can never get away because everyone in a small town have to exist in such close proximity. This too shows up in DISTILLATION.

Because of my obsession with this CD, I was able to stay in character so to speak. When driving alone in my car, or cooking dinner, I could immerse myself in the in the emotions and ideas evoked in my novel, by letting the art of another add texture to my imagination.

So how do you use music in your writing?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Obsession is not a bad word

The rewrite of DISTILLATION is complete - for now. Since early spring I have been doggedly reworking my first novel.

I set out to make DISTILLATION the novel I had really wanted to write all along (though it took me a while to admit to myself just what I really wanted.) This time I was going to make it pop in a huge way - make it magic, make it romantic, make it gothic. I think I succeeded. Summer 2011 is coming to a close and I have had a fabulous ride reworking this book. I am too in love with it, which I know is dangerous, but it has been the greatest adventure. Not only do I think I made my book better, I learned a lot about myself.

But here's the thing. I have spent most of my summer obsessively writing. When I wasn't writing I was listening to music (the same songs over and over and over) lost in the world of my characters. My imagination was on fire. I was channelling them. I was having trouble eating. I wasn't sleeping. I would get up at four and start writing again. I was euphoric. I felt like I was on drugs but there was no crash. Not once have I suddenly dropped down and said - this sucks - why am I doing this? My poor husband must be jealous, I am so enamored with my characters, I have to give him credit though. He has listened to me go on and on about ghosts and witches, romance and peppermint, souls and eternity. He has really supported me through this obsessive roller coaster.

And now it's done. I have to write curriculum for school. I should be doing that right now in fact, but here I am. Strangely, I am not sad or grumpy. I am still happy and even when I am back in the classroom, I know my characters are there waiting for the next chapter to be written.

Recently, an article about Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help' came across the Twittersphere. It talks about how long it took her to write the book, how many rejections she got, how her friends said things like: “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?” Eventually, after 40+ rejections, she started lying to her friends about what she was doing on the weekends. "The truth was," she says, "I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read." She became increasingly obsessed, going away for weekends to be alone and edit, editing even as she was in labor.

I really related to this article when, last weekend, I declined hanging out by a lake with friends to stay home alone and edit for twelve hours straight. It made me feel a lot better knowing that at query # 61, Stockett finally got an agent and now look where her book is.

I have a long way to go before I meet her record, and her success, but at this point, I am thankful for the pleasures of obsession.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Embracing the writer you never knew you wanted to be

Oh yeah - I went there. This is the best image I could find to illustrate one of the things that has been in my imagination over the past month as I rewrote DISTILALTION - it's not quite right, a little too...perfect, but nonetheless a visual helps.

Hello again.

Summer has flown by because I have been having way too much fun rewriting DISTILLATION. I took a serious hiatus from Blogger - though I've been around the Twittersphere a bit. It was a choice I needed to make between reading and thinking about writing and just WRITING. Over the past two months I have completely reworked my novel and not only do I think it is much better, but I feel that I have finally embraced the writer I never knew I wanted to be.

When we start out writing, there are so many preconceived notions of what is and what is not good, inspiring, marketable, enlightening, or worthwhile. I just read a tweeted blog post entitled You Want to Write Trash? thanks to @AmyJRomine. This post is about a woman whose husband thought her Gothic romance was trash and didn't see why she would write such drivel. Well, it turned out her husband was a good reason to need some romance in her life.

My life is pretty good, but like most, it is full of work and bills and responsibilities and other boring things. So I write to escape it, to add some measure of fantasy to my days. And this time around with DISTILLATION, I finally let go of my preconceived notions. I stopped trying to cling to some modicum of reality, because I asked myself the question: Who the hell wants to escape to reality? Not me.

Earlier this spring I tried to read a realist novel by a well known author whose prior work I had enjoyed years ago. I got to page 50 and when a character was lamenting a horrible tragedy for the 10th page in a row, I closed it and never picked it up again.
I wanted fantasy - damn it. I wanted witches, and ghosts, and magic, and maybe a little mystical love. Okay maybe a lot. Well good thing I had the summer ahead of me to rewrite a book with the potential for all of those things. And man, has it been fun.

When I let go, so did Alice (my MC). She articulated what she wanted, she stopped shaking in her boots, she faced her fears to find the truth, she figured out she wanted her man early on, (and let him know it), and she let others help her to accept herself for who she is, which in the end enabled her to solve the mystery, which made everyone happy. Alice (and I) achieved so much more than we did in the first version. We went so much further, in so many ways. Looking back at the story I thought was "done," I now see as a real let down. It was so UNSATISFYING.

DISTILLATION went from being a half baked magic realism flopper, to a full on gothic, darl, scary, fantastical, magical, funny, sexy, and -  I think - inspiring story. No I am not calling myself a romance writer these days. Still supernatural women's fiction. But, I stopped telling myself I must be the only one who reads good love scenes twice just for fun, or gets excited when full on magic brings down that bad guy. Once I embraced what I wanted and let myself stop worrying that it was silly, then Alice embraced her talents and had a real adventure.

Now, let's just hope that when the rose colored glasses come off, it reads as good for others as it does me.