[ Joëlle Anthony debuts next week with her YA novel, Restoring Harmony — a riveting tale of how a resourceful teen survives, and even finds romance, in a future world where no one is as they seem. To add another dimension to her main character, the author also gave her the gift of music as she explains in this guest post.]
While I’ve been a writer for a long time, it wasn’t until I moved to Tennessee to live with my then boyfriend/now husband that I was able to quit my job and focus on writing full time (about 6 years ago). Victor is a musician, and living with someone who plays guitar, mandolin, banjo, and ukulele, sings, and relishes his old vinyl record collection and turntable changed my life. Unfortunately, I did not become a great musician, but I did become an astute listener.
What was most surprising (and really shouldn’t have been) about living with a songwriter is that he didn’t sit around playing his own music every night. I’m not sure why I thought he would. I mean, at the end of the day, I don’t settle into the reading chair with Restoring Harmony, do I? Uh, no. I read other people’s books. So what happened, living with Victor, was instead of getting a personal concert of my favourite songs that he wrote each night, I got an old-time traditional music education.
While Victor’s own music is more a mix of bluesy-jazzy-Lyle-Lovett-Tom-Waits type stuff, his true love is old-time traditional music. You’re probably more familiar with bluegrass than what constitutes old-time, so I’ll give you a very rudimentary tutorial, which probably stems more from my observation, than from actual fact. Bluegrass is played FAST, the faster the better. And in a circle of musicians, they tend to move around, each taking a solo, each trying to play faster and outdo the person before them.
In old-time, it’s much more an ensemble situation. And it’s not unusual for a circle of musicians to play the same tune over and over for ten, fifteen, or even twenty minutes, the whole thing becoming something of a meditation as the energy increases and melds together, going on and on and on until the fiddler (who is essentially the leader) kicks up his or her foot indicating it’s time to take a break for a beer. There’s more singing in bluegrass too, although there are plenty of old-time songs as well. In bluegrass, the choices tends to lean towards gospel, while in old-time it’s more about killing your lover, or leaving the farm, or missing your lover who died because you left the farm and returned too late.
Anyway, the more music I had around me, the more I found it seeping into my writing. I have two manuscripts tucked away, probably never to be published, about a girl who plays old-time music on guitar and lives in a house similar to ours on the lake in TN. And as you probably know, Molly McClure, the main character in Restoring Harmony is a fiddle player.
I chose to have Molly play the fiddle for several reasons. First of all, I’d played violin as a child and so I have a bit of a feel for the instrument, even though I don’t play now. Also, it’s a portable instrument, perfect for a road-trip. Another reason is because while Victor really is only a beginner fiddler, and couldn’t help me too much on the technical aspects of fiddle playing, he did know all about the music and could assist me there. Also, some of our friends in TN are “top of the heap” fiddlers too. They would come to our house and sit on our covered porch and raise the roof with their playing, which made me want to “participate” somehow and the only way I could think of was with writing.
Molly could’ve played a mandolin. Victor plays one well and so he could’ve easily been my expert, but there’s something about fiddlin’ that is just brash and brazen and brave and so like Molly. And by making Molly a fiddler, I have experienced a most amazing thing. I’ve drawn into my life, Sarah Tradewell – Canadian teen fiddler extraordinaire. Oh, and did I mention that I met her while my book was out on submission, not before I wrote it, and yet she physically looks exactly like I imagined and described Molly? The story of how we met is too long to include in this post, and many of you have heard it, but if you haven’t, check out this video.
I think what I find most amazing about Restoring Harmony is how I’ve been able to weave music through it, when only 6 years ago, I had no idea what it was like to be a musician. Living with live music truly is a gift and I hope that by incorporating it into my writing, I can inspire others to pick up instruments, share their talents, or just start listening to something they might never have listened to before.
To hear several of the tunes and songs from Restoring Harmony, performed and sung by Victor and Sarah, check out my website. I’d love to hear what you think of the music! And thanks, Larramie, for having me here.
[Book Giveaway:] The Divining Wand is giving away the five books of the Sisters 8 series, including the latest — Marcia’s Madness. Anyone leaving a comment on this post will be entered into a random drawing with the winner receiving ALL five books! The deadline for this giveaway is Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced in Thursday’s post.