Squawk Radio

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Elizabeth Talks Music and Writing

Originally uploaded by EliBev.
A lot of writers MUST write with music playing if they want to do their best work. We all remember that shot of Joan Wilder finishing up her lastest masterpiece at the beginning of “Romancing the Stone,” dressed in her pajamas, with her headphones on and tears streaming down her cheeks. Often a writer will choose one piece of music as the “soundtrack” for whatever book she’s writing and play it relentlessly during the creative process. I know of at least one Squawker who does this. (Terri.)

I, however, must have total silence when I write. Or, at least, what passes for total silence in my house. Which means I’ve gotten very good at filtering out loud thumping and cries of things like, “Pikachu, I choose YOU!” and “Luke, I AM your father!” from my son’s room, which is right next to my office. If there’s music playing anywhere, I want to focus on that instead of what I’m writing. Therefore, I absolutely cannot write if there’s music playing.

That’s not to say I don’t find music inspirational. Nor does it mean I don’t choose “soundtracks.” I do. Just about every single-title I’ve written has had a specific CD attached to it, almost always some kind of big band jazz from a contemporary big band like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or the Brian Setzer Orchestra. I’ll listen to the CD in the morning before I go to work, or in the car when I’m brainstorming, or on my walk when I’m trying to work out a plot snag.

When I was writing THE THING ABOUT MEN, I was having trouble pegging down the secondary hero, until one day in the car when I was listening to Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot,” and the song “Brown Derby Jump” came on. Boom. Suddenly, Davis Webster blew to life in my brain, fully formed right down to his ugly Hawaiian shirts.

So I’m going to start my Sunday music blog with a very writer-friendly CD: John Wesley Harding’s “Trad Arr Jones,” which I chose because we have so many historical authors and readers frequenting Squawk Radio. You can’t go wrong with anything by JWH, imo, but this one’s a bit different from most of his albums. The Jones referred to in the title is Nic Jones, a British folk musician who took some traditional English ballads and folk songs and provided them with arrangements more suited to contemporary musicians. Add John Wesley Harding’s velvety voice, and you have magic.

The songs are, for the most part, hundreds of years old, hence the album is almost entirely accoustic. (Organ and electric guitar appear on one or two songs but are used judiciously.) Some of the songs are light and fun, some are deeply tragic. But, hey, that’s balladry for you. All in all, however, what you get is a slice of what it must have been like whenever the minstrels showed up at the village gates.

All I know is, whenever I listen to this CD, it makes me wish I was writing English historicals, something I know for a fact is way beyond my abilities as a writer. Now THAT’S inspiration.
Elizabeth Bevarly, 10:50 AM