Originally published on The Writer's Bone website July 2014
How music inspires and informs my writing.
When I set out to write my first novel, Sierra Court Blues, I knew that music would be its core. It is a story about young musicians trying to make it big, a work of fiction heavily informed by my own experiences in bands over the years. My aim was to make music more than an occupation of the characters. I wanted music to be an element of the text itself. I wanted the prose to wail.
It was the rhythm and dynamics of hard rock and heavy metal that would drive the story forward. It was that feeling of raw rebellion I wanted to capture.
I approached the outline as if I were creating a mixtape. The arc of the story charted to the sounds of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” and Rush’s “Moving Pictures,” a mad juxtaposition but a necessary one.
The histrionics of Iron Maiden, for me, captured the heightened emotion of struggling young musicians adjusting to the demands of a working band while, at the same time, dealing with the pressures of being on their own in the world for the first time. It helped portray the recklessness of youth and characters bent on steamrolling their way through it all.
Adversely, Rush’s “Moving Pictures” contributed to the book’s quieter moments. It spoke to the thoughtfulness of the main character as he struggles to navigate his newfound fame and the relationships at the heart of the story’s conflict.
Throughout the book music moves from the forefront to the background, my hope being that, subconsciously, the songs and bands mentioned would help set the scene and create a third dimension, a depth of field in the reader’s mind.
In this, I didn’t want to limit myself to a specific genre of music. The sound had to reflect the world around them in a much more meaningful way. Throughout the book there is everything from the dance party of Dee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” to quiet midnight drives powered by Wynton Marsalis’ “Blue Interlude”.
The characters affinity for, or aversion to, the diversity of music went a long way in helping to define them as they developed on the page.
With the music in place the world these characters inhabited came into sharp focus. It became a place that I wanted to visit and hang out in to see the band. My hope is that this is true for the reader as well.