The Divining Wand

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Guest Alicia Bessette on
Gladys Knight and the Pips and Me

July 27, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[When Alicia Bessette (Simply from Scratch coming August 5, 2010) responded to the Revealing Q&A of, “What are your 5 favorite songs,” she said:

For someone who craves music like it’s oxygen, answering this question is impossible. Impossible! Instead, could I offer some songs off the “soundtrack” to Simply From Scratch? They’re all performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips:
“Didn’t You Know (You’d Have To Cry Sometime)”
“Every Little Bit Hurts”
“Every Beat of My Heart”
“All I Need Is Time”
“Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)”
For more information on the connection between Simply From Scratch and songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips, please visit The Divining Wand on Tuesday, July 27, and read my guest post.

Today is the day and Alicia is true to her word.]

Gladys Knight and the Pips and Me

Matt and I both believe in singing in the car. A few winters ago, we were on our way to a friends’ house in Pennsylvania, driving up I-95, singing along to a new soul mix Matt had made for his iPod. We belted out tunes by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye.

Then a song came on that I’d never heard before. Though I wasn’t familiar with any Gladys Knight and the Pips songs besides “Midnight Train To Georgia,” I recognized her velvety voice. She was singing, “Why, why don’t you make me the woman you go home to, and not the one you leave behind? Not the one that’s left to cry, and die?” And the Pips echoed her, “Why, why?”

So pleading, so spurned.

Just like something I had written that morning: a passage about a woman who missed her deceased husband so much that she stood back and watched her kitchen nearly burn to the ground around her. I didn’t know it then, but that scene would eventually become the first scene of Simply From Scratch⎯and that grieving woman would become my narrator, Zell, short for Rose-Ellen.

In the car, Matt hummed along, drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel as Gladys promised, “Total acceptance is all you’ll get. Knowing this you won’t ever regret finding yourself homeward bound.”

Matt glanced over at me. “Are you crying?”

I looked out my window, at the trees whizzing by. “Shut up.”

“You’re totally crying.”

“It’s a sad song, okay?”

He reached over and squeezed my hand. “That’s why I love you.”

I told him about the scene I’d written that morning: the firefighters tromping through Zell’s house to douse the flames; the friends who came to check on her; her nine-year-old neighbor, who announced her desire to become a celebrity chef; and Ahab, Zell’s greyhound, stalwart witness to everything.

The song ended. Matt pushed repeat and quoted Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” We listened to “Make Me The Woman You Come Home To” again. I got teary again, and then we both laughed as I tried to reapply my mascara without jabbing myself in the eyeballs.

The next day I downloaded about twenty-five songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips and grouped them together in a special mix on my iPod. Almost all breakup songs, but their sentiments paralleled Zell’s whirlwind emotions: Didn’t you know you’d have to cry sometime? Every little bit hurts. Every beat of my heart. All I need is time. Letter full of tears. Neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye. It should have been me.

And on and on.

The songs are about pain, loneliness, unfairness⎯all things lamented by the brokenhearted.

All things lamented by grieving widows, too.

I listened to those songs exclusively while I wrote Simply From Scratch. One day I was in the grocery story and heard “Midnight Train To Georgia.” My response was Pavlovian: I stopped my cart in the middle of the cereal aisle to scribble a new scene on the back of my grocery list, using a box of Puffins as a writing surface. The line, “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine” spoke directly to the heart of Zell’s grief.

And yet, Simply From Scratch isn’t about grief. It’s about moving on. Like the music that ushered my writing process, the book contains joy as well as sadness, friendship to make solitude bearable, small good moments to balance out the dark ones.

Zell listens to Gladys Knight and the Pips when she draws her medical illustrations. She’s got her own particular bittersweet reasons for loving that great music. Doesn’t everybody?

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Claire Cook’s Seven Year Switch in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Claire Cook and Seven Year Switch. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.

4 Comments to “
Guest Alicia Bessette on
Gladys Knight and the Pips and Me


  1. What a beautiful post! It’s a heady thing when you realize that someone of your own creation has the ability to twist your emotions … I think that’s my barometer for truth in writing (and reading) great characters…. Thanks, Alicia!

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  2. Beautiful post, Alicia. The more I read about Simply from Scratch, the more I can’t wait until your book arrives at my doorstep!

    Songs, films, and books definitely have an ability to pull emotions out of you that you didn’t know that you had. Just a few weeks ago I sobbed while watching, “Where the Wild Things Are.” I didn’t even know why it moved me so much, but it did.

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  3. Thank you for reading, Robin & BD!!

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  4. The not-exactly-lyrics from the Gladys Knight & the Pips songs throughout the novel were a nice touch. They told of Zell’s emotions without exactly Telling or Showing, allowing us to experience her feelings without intruding on them.

    — Tom

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