Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Selective Listening

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

I don't normally listen to music while I write--not to have the distraction. I love music of all types from classical and opera to old ballads and country and western. But I tend to get so caught up in the melody, the lyrics of a song, that all of a sudden I'm humming along, swaying to the tune, and I've forgotten that I'm supposed to be writing.

Yet I also find music to be an inspiration.

For a while I wrote books with musical titles: Unforgettable, Just One of Those Things, Oh, Susannah, and Danny Boy. They were all my titles, too, from concept to print! I guess they worked from a marketing department standpoint because no one changed them.

For whatever reason, those titles actually seemed to make my writing easier.

With the memory of the particular song clear in my mind, if not actually floating through the air from a pair of sound-system speakers, the tone of the story became almost automatic. The emotions flowed. Even characterization seemed easier to develop. I don't know why this happened. But it did.

With Danny Boy I made an exception to my no-listening-while-writing rule.

Every morning, before I began to work, I played that song on the piano (maybe I was procrastinating). I'm not a very good pianist, mind you, but I did have an excellent arrangement of that old standard, which--as it does for my heroine in the book--always makes me weep. It was kind of like having a story conference with myself to start the day. I played, I wept, I wrote. Perfect.

And sometimes, without its title, music helps to inspire a story. The germ of Danny Boy, in addition to that song, also came from a Garth Brooks album. In my book the hero is a professional bull rider, and in the song, "Wild Horses," a rodeo cowboy calls his girlfriend from the road in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He knows he must quit the circuit, which he loves, as he keeps promising to do, "before I hurt her more than she loves me."

I love that line.

Its message was exactly what I needed then--Danny's goal, even at thirty-six to keep riding bulls until, finally, he wins the world championship. Yet if he keeps going, following his dream, will he lose the woman he loves but left behind? The wife who needs him to help raise their son?

There's another cut on this album that helped, too, with my book. It's called "Wolves," about the difficulty of being a rancher. It's a sad song that compares a friend's foreclosure by the bank to a pack of wolves bringing down cattle in a winter storm. It's about loss and hope and surviving, and in Danny Boy his Montana ranch is also in jeopardy, though of a different sort.

Oh, goodness. I'm doing it right now: sitting here, listening to that song on the computer, and feeling the inspiration, the distraction, all over again.

Music is, for me then, a little bit of both.

But then, we Geminis do tend to have somewhat split personalities!

And if that helps with my writing--with the next book--that's just fine with me. Maybe I'll do another story with a Western setting.


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hi Leigh:

Wonderful post. Have you ever heard the Judy Collins song "Someday Soon"? I bet you would love it...wish I could sing it for you (Lucky for you I can't!) but here are the lyrics..

There's a young man that I know, His age is twenty-one
Comes from down in southern Colorado
Just out of the service
And he's lookin' for his fun
Someday soon, goin' with him someday soon

My parents can not stand him
Cause he rides the rodeo
My father says that he will leave me cryin'
I would follow him right down the toughest road I know
Someday soon, goin' with him someday soon

And when he comes to call, my Pa ain't got a good word to say
Guess it's 'cause he's just as wild in his younger days

So blow, you old Blue Northern, blow my love to me
He's drivin' in tonight from California
He loves his damned old rodeo as much as he loves me
Someday soon, goin' with him someday soon

xoxo let me know when you hear it!

Virginia said...

Great post. To me music is an insperation, but at time if can be a destraction. I can't set down and read a book with music, but then again I can't stand going somewhere in a car without music.

Joan said...

I like music when working around the house, riding in the car, and when on the computer. I find music distracting when reading which I do a lot.

aromagik said...

I have the somewhat difficult task of naming fragrances for an internet customer base. The fact that they're buying without smelling first means it's a challenge to grab their interest. Sometimes my fragrance names work, and sometimes they totally bomb.

I've been successful with using certain song titles -- "The Very Thought Of You" and "Fly Me To The Moon" are two that come to mind. A friend just suggested another song title that I'm definitely going to use for an upcoming sweet scent.

We find what works, don't we? :>]


Leigh Riker said...

Hank, thanks so much for the lyrics to Judy Collins' song. Says it perfectly. And sounds familiar to me, although I can't place the melody. I must look it up! So good to see you in Dallas.

Leigh Riker said...

I agree, Joan. Reading with music in the background is totally distracting for me! Guess that's why it doesn't normally work when I'm writing either. I do, however, like to listen to music in the car.

Leigh Riker said...

Lindy, how fascinating your job is! I can see that describing a fragrance would be a challenge, but the old standard songs, ballads especially, are wonderfully evocative.

aromagik said...

I love my job! Always challenging, and very rewarding -- plus I get to be at home with my 2-year-old son. I can't imagine anything more perfect. :>]