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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A very special contest…

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
–Will Rogers

Decoy foot

I will not forget you. I have carved you on the palm of my hand.

Isaiah 49:15

 

Three years ago this month I lost my beloved girl, pictured here. I’d like to tell you everything that was so special about her, but that would fill, as they say, a book. Let’s just say that some angels have fur, not wings. She was a rescue, which supposedly means we rescued her. It didn’t take long for me to realize we had that backwards. She was my husband’s baby, and then my most solid support through very dark days. If not for that dog, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am. I might not even be.

 

You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.

–Robert Louis Stevenson

While to me, she was the best dog in the world–and I mean that literally, except for a couple of times when she first came to us and was unsure, that dog Never Did Anything Wrong–I know every dog is special in their own way. And judging from the response to my series of books featuring that furry rascal Cutter, people everywhere love being owned by those furry critters who have the gift of utter forgiveness and give the gift of unconditional love.

Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.

–Mark Twain

Nothing can fill the hole left by the loss of a beloved dog. And their lives are far, far too short, leaving our lives without them far, far too empty. No one knows that better than I. The only thing we can do is to never forget them, or the joy and love they brought us. With that in mind, it occurred to me that there might be a way for me to help. Which is why I decided to dedicate all of the Cutter books, however many there may be (and no, I have no idea yet) to those dogs who are missed so much.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

–Roger Caras

This month, (until January 31) you can enter to win the chance to memorialize your most beloved canine. Enter through the contest tab at my website: http://justinedavis.com/contest.html You’ll have to be patient, publishing is not a fast business and you’ll have to wait a while to see your tribute. And don’t worry if you’re not a writer, I’ll work with you personally via email to get it just right, because I understand.

Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog.

~On the grave of the Newfoundland of George Gordon, Lord Byron

Why am I doing this? Yes, in memory of my sweet girl. But also to move a step closer to that old saying, that the best goal you can have in life is to be the person your dog already thinks you are.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wait, do I have my holidays confused??

Wait, do I have my holidays confused??

No, I’m not really confused. It is, of course, St. Patrick’s day. Since I’m half Irish, I know this. (the other half is split between Welsh and a contribution from a mercenary Hessian from the American Revolution who fell in love with America and let himself get captured so he could stay, but that’s another story….)

Green cupcake

There, that’s better. More appropriate. I was going to use a shot of a pint of Guinness, but for some reason I can’t find it…..

I’ve sometimes wonder if I would have guessed at my Irish blood if I didn’t already know it. When I first came to the Northwest, after years of trying to survive in a dry, desert region paved over with concrete and asphalt, I was off the ferry out of Seattle less than five minutes before I realized I felt I’d come home. Is it some genetic memory that hearkens back to other green covered land and blue waters? As a child, the first time I heard a Celtic flute, without even know what it was, my heart was filled with longing, an ache I couldn’t define. And heaven help me, the pipes. Yes, yes, I love the pipes. Apparently you either love or hate bagpipes. No denial here. I’ll stop for the pipes anywhere, unless they’re playing Amazing Grace, because then I’ll end up weeping my eyes out.

“Maybe it’s bred in the bone, but the sound of pipes is a little bit of heaven to some of us.” –Nancy O’Keeefe

The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots as a joke, but the Scots haven’t seen the joke yet. –Old Irish Joke

Someone once said to me “Of course you’re a writer. It’s the Irish, you know.” I didn’t know, but there certainly is a stable to choose from. And they do have a way….

“The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man’s fate and man’s follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth. Rarely has a people paid the lavish compliment and taken the subtle revenge of turning its oppressor’s speech into sorcery. ”  T E Kalem

And I have Irishman Brendan Behan to thank for one of my favorite quotes ever, since becoming a writer:

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

No, I’ve never set foot on that green, green isle, but I hope to rectify that some day. How can you not want to visit a land that has a place like this?

"Heavens Trail" A place in Ireland where every two years on June 10-18 the stars line up with this path. (H/T @Earth_Pics )

“Heavens Trail” A place in Ireland where every two years on June 10-18 the stars line up with this path. (H/T @Earth_Pics )

In the mean time, to you all, Irish, part Irish, or not, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc

photo credit: clevercupcakes via photopin cc