Why yes, my book does have a theme song….

Reflection meme*Apologies to anyone who got an unfinished version of this post earlier today. It’s been a long day and WordPress was playing with me…*

People often ask about a writer’s process. From what word processing program you use (Word) to do you ever write longhand (yes, with a fountain pen) to what’s your writing schedule (lately 5AM to about 1PM, and no I’m not happy about it). But one of the questions writers get asked most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” There are many possible answers to this. I believe Stephen King said “I have the mind of a small boy. In a jar on my desk.” How very. . .Stephen King of him. (There’s a reason I don’t read horror) Personally, my problem has never been finding ideas, it’s been fighting the new ones off so I can finish the current one.

Sometimes it will be something I see or hear, an image or a phrase, that will spark the creative synapses and, if I’m lucky, turn into a usable idea. And if I’m really lucky, that idea may spark others. Music is a critical part of my process. Sometimes it’s general, a certain piece of music invokes an emotion that gets translated into feeling of the story. But in the case of my Hawk trilogy, just re-issued in gorgeous new print editions and e-books by Bell Bridge Books, it was much more specific.I can tell you exactly where and how each book was born, because each one came from music. Particular music, either written or performed by the same person.

But first, one of the question I always get about this trilogy is “Why are they backwards?” And I get it, truly, to some people starting present day and tracing the story back in time does seem backward. But that’s the way they came to me, and Wild Hawk, the contemporary, was already sold when the idea for the rest came, so there in fact was no other way to go but backwards. (and if you want to wait and read them in reverse but chronological order, I’m fine with that, just saying that’s not how they came. . .)

That ‘splained, back to inspiration. A very dear to me friend happens to be a singer/songwriter of some note. If you were listening to country in the nineties, the name Hal Ketchum might ring a bell. Hal’s been down some long, hard roads, but he has persevered through it all and come out smiling. I have told him he drives me crazy because he can encapsulate in five verses what takes me five hundred pages. And it is one of those verses that I found the core of Wild Hawk.

The song is called “Drive On,” and while the entire song fits, the verse that began it all is this:

Somewhere back in the good old days

I missed the last train home.

Mastered more than a million ways

Turn my heart to stone

I have taken love, I have taken trust

Given little in return

I have held a match to my careless dreams

Stood and watched them burn.

From that verse the character of Jason Hawk sprang, fully formed, and all that remained was to backtrack and figure out why he was who he was. Which was probably the beginning of backwards.

I can’t write to music with vocals, at least, not in English, I get caught up in those words instead of my own. (Not in Spanish either, for that matter; I understand just enough to try to figure out the rest. . .) But that song, played as I was getting ready to write, got me back into the world I was creating in less than four minutes. (My friend, writer Eve Gaddy has a great term for this, she calls them “trigger songs”)

And if you’d like to hear the song, here’s a link:

And then Hal added a cover of an old Steely Dan song to his live shows. It’s called Do It Again, and is about a man who goes after a water thief with a gun, kills him, is caught but the hangman isn’t hanging so he goes free. (After one night’s tangled introduction, this song was forever after known as “The gunbiter song.” Hence the dedication.) And thus was born the second book of the trilogy, Heart of the Hawk, about gunfighter Joshua Hawk. I’d never done a western, or historical for that matter, and since I love them it was fun to do all the research. I’ve always loved the reluctant gunfighter mythos, and it was great to be able to play with it. And while Hal never recorded this one, I do have a rough (very rough) live recording of it, if you’d like to hear it:

Of course once I’d done that, I needed to go all the way back and trace the origin of the magical book that ties the stories together. So I went back to a magical time and place that never really existed for the foundation of both the magic book and the Hawk line. This became Fire Hawk, and once again music was key. In this case it was not just a song, but a particular version of a song. One that Hal had put on his very first album release on a small Texas label, and then re-cut later in his career. But it was that first version, called Bobbie’s Song (later recut as She Found the Place) that inspired me, in particular the incredibly evocative mandolin arrangement of Paul Glasse. It was the quintessential trigger song, all I had to do was hear that song and I was back in that made up time and place, and ready to write. If you enjoy the book, listen to the song, it’s all there. And vice versa, if you haven’t read the book yet, listen to this first; the essence of the story is summed up in the lyrics, in fact in the first couplet:

She found the place where I’ve been hiding

Have I the grace to let her in?

Sums up a lot of stories, doesn’t it? And I have a special soft spot for this one, not just because it won a RITA Award and put me in the RWA Hall of Fame, but because it has one of my favorite secondary characters, whose story I hope to write even after all these years.
And here’s that one, just listen to that mandolin! Beautiful.

So that’s how it happened, why the trilogy is backward, and why the trilogy is dedicated to Hal and his music.

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5 thoughts on “Why yes, my book does have a theme song….

  1. Rosemary says:

    You know, I’ve always loved Bobby’s Song /She Found The Place (I’ve practically worn the CD out) and once I made the connection between it and Fire Hawk, I wondered which came first, the song or the book.

    • Good taste, Rosemary, and fun that you made the connection! Chronologically, the song definitely came first. It wasn’t until I’d started the book that I realized the sound/arrangment of that version of the song was perfect…and then realized so was the story in the song.

  2. Donna Bayar Repsher says:

    I’m so glad you’re letting your readers know about Hal’s incredible music and lyrics. Far too many people have never heard of him, which breaks my heart–they have no idea how moving and inspiring his songs are.

    • Donna, that’s so very true. But he had his taste of wider fame in the early 90s, and it didn’t really sit well. He was quite happy being regularly able to put a thousand people in a smaller venue, where he could feel the feedback. It was an amazing phase, where new music was pouring out almost constantly.

      And needless to say it was gratifying when he loved the books!

  3. Donna Bayar Repsher says:

    I know–he was appearing here in VT within the same week I first heard him sing. After that, we saw him at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA, every time he appeared there. I even got a birthday kiss from him one year (be still my heart!), and, as I once told you, I got him to autograph my copy of your novel, “The Morning Side of Dawn.”

    I just watched a recent video of him singing on his porch, and I so wish they’d find a cure in time to help him and the two friends of mine who are on the same path–it’s something I pray for daily.

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