So you can read my books

Monday, July 5, 2010


{A ripple from my July 4th post} :

I've been told by many that they no longer watch old movies. Pity. There are some great ones out there. At least try CASABLANCA or GOLDEN EARRINGS.

My introduction as a very young boy to the world of adventure, mystery, and love was done courtesty of the weekend classic movie marathons.

It was where I first met Marlene Dietrich. I first saw her in the the movie, GOLDEN EARRINGS. On my wall of Movie Memorabilia is the framed original sheet music for the movie, autographed by Marlene.

Even though I was a very young boy, I fell in love with her portrayal of the gypsy, Lydia. Of course I imagined I was the escaped British prisoner, Ray Milland, on the run from the Nazi's in Germany. It was the first movie she made after her three year gauntlet entertaining the troops on the front lines.

Marlene came back from her three years on the front lines of WWII very much changed. She never got over the horrors she saw there. She slept for months in jeeps, on floors, even on bare dirt.

One afternoon after VE Day, she was walking through a little French village. All around her was rubble, and she couldn't understand why -- all the buildings along the street were still standing with curtains blowing frilly and snapping clean-crisp in their windows.

Then, she looked through one of the windows to see that there was nothing behind it. The fronts of the buildings were still standing, but everything behind them had been destroyed. There wasn't a single living person past the false fronts of those caricature buildings.

With her face cupped in trembling hands, she stood in front of that window, weeping silently, refusing to be comforted ...

"... for there is no comfort for the dead," she whispered.
Ernest Hemingway also wrote this of her : "She is brave, beautiful, loyal, kind, and generous. She is never boring and is as lovely looking in the morning in a G.I. shirt, pants, and combat boots as she is at night or on the movie screen.

She has an honesty and a comic and tragic sense of life that can never let her be truly happy unless she loves. When she loves, she can joke about it -- but it is gallows humor.
{Now back to our regularly scheduled post} :

Some things are universal and eternal : hate, terror, and love.

They are the subconscious melodies in the background of humanity's thoughts. It sounds surreal but it isn't : Mankind shares a soundtrack.

Music is the breath of humanity as a species. Anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, neurosurgeons, and psychologists attest to it. They belive the area in the brain which processes music actually gave birth to human nature.

Music predates agriculture. It existed before language. Its melodies promoted the cognitive development necessary for speech.

Americans spend more money on music than they do on prescription drugs or sex. On the average, they listen to music at least six hours a day. For many it is the breath of their daily lives.

In Sanskrit breath is called prana, the very breath of life.

That breath is filled with vibrations : the cry of a lost child, the wail of a bereaved mother, the shattering of a store window. So many sounds in a single night of terror, creating a haunting melody ... a French Quarter nocturne for a mortally wounded city. Its name?


I was one of its notes.

Though I have a Master's degree in Psychology and a Bachelor's degree in English education, I, like so many others, survived as best I could. And so I found myself working as a blood courier to New Orleans in order to support myself. I used that experience to aid me in writing the Noir Fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE.

With a name like that, it involves music. How could it not? Its actions centers in the French Quarter, the birth place of jazz.

It is important to the lead character, Samuel McCord, too. It is no coincidence that he owns a jazz club. A jazz club he named after his wife, Meilori. Music to him has become a remembrance of shadows, an echo of times spent with friends, and a glimpse back into a time when he was loved.

He is a monster who mourns the loss of his humanity. So much so that he nutures it in the souls of those who pass his club, lost and hungry. McCord sees life in terms of music. When he first views the flooded streets of New Orleans, he hears Bette Midler singing, "I think It's Going To Rain Today" ...

... especially the refrain "human kindness is overflowing."

He championed the tragic jazz legend, Billie Holiday. His wife's favorite song was Billie's "You Go To My Head." He hears it throughout the novel. And when he is facing his death before overwhelming odds, he once again hears that song before murmuring the one name he promised himself would be the last on his lips :


And why is all this important to you as a writer?

What is the musical score to your novel? Every good book has one : stirring, haunting, light with laughter, or heavy with sorrow --

or all of the above. The music of your novel is the heart of your novel. And the heart of your novel is your pitch to the agent.

Think of the image on the posters for the past five movies you saw. It evoked a sense of the story to the movie. If you could look into the past, it would have been the essence of the pitch to the studio heads for the movie itself.

Like every good melody, the structure of your novel is comprised of two intertwining themes :

A) The physical goal of your hero ... what she/he wants.
B) The spiritual goal of your hero ... what she/he needs.

The A theme is what attracts the agent/reader to your story. The B theme is what keeps them there, what brings them back to re-read it again and again, making your novel a classic ... and a bestseller. Why not work to make your novel one of the great ones?

Music is all about transformation. You are not quite the same after hearing a good song. A good novel is about the same thing : transformation. Your hero has emerged transformed at the end of your novel, taking your reader into the process.

It all comes down to that one moment of faith : when your hero takes that leap into the darkness, not knowing if he will survive -- only knowing he would not be able to live with himself if he did not make the attempt.


  1. Wonderful! I loved the idea of transformation through writing and music.

  2. I almost always listen to music when I write, fiction or non-fiction. It is essential that the music fits the mood I am in, which in turn reflects the mood I am supposed to write (this part mostly applies to fiction, of course). Even if I wasn't listening to music, this would be the feeling I'd hope to recreate, so I am with you in your reasoning here.

    When I worked on my last WiP, I made a playlist that probably could have been the soundtrack had the novel been a movie. I tried picking light songs for the beginning, darker ones for the middle, and then the epic ones for the ending. Not entirely sure how well it worked, though, but I liked the idea of writing with that structure in mind.

    PS - I have not seen "Golden Earrings". Will have to do that!

  3. This is a great post. You are making me think about my WiP and where I am taking my character.
    I do have a musical soundtrack to my manuscript, in fact, I have a soundtrack every story I have written.
    I must now look at theme A and B, it should be interesting.

  4. Where to begin? First, I'm beginning to think I need to do some 'Crazy Ivans.' If I didn't know better, I'd say you were standing and looking over my shoulder! I do have a soundtrack-it's mournful (Lisa Gerrard) and eastern and angry and hopeful. Music, as much as books, have saved me in many ways...can't hardly live without it. I read once (don't remember where) that our DNA, when plugged into the right computer, actually makes music...

    I, too, watched old movies-love Casablanca! In reading about the store fronts-how very profound that image is. We go around, our hair fixed, make up on, clean shaven, clean clothes, good manners....and behind the facades, we're blown apart, empty, dead. And most people go along, never noticing the person next to them, never looking into the windows to see what's behind the curtains....would it be too hard to rebuild each other, if we were willing to take the time?

    Anyway, that's what you made me think of...

  5. well said, bud...

    i prefer judy collins' version [i know, it dates me]

  6. I have a physical soundtrack to every important moment in my life, to every chapter I've written. Music moves me even more than any books do. It makes me feel in a way books do (but to a lesser degree). I love how you integrated the importance of music into the books.

    This post was executed very well, I'm impressed.

    I'd be interested to know if you had an actual soundtrack to your novels and not just a thematic one?

  7. Melissa : I actually do have a physical soundtrack to my novel. I put references to it throughout my novel : Sam and Renfield looking at the flooded streets of New Orleans has Bette Midler singing : "I Think It's Going To Rain Today."

    Sam hears Billie Holiday singing "You Go To My Head" throughout the novel. He plays a recording of Meilori on the piano doing the Moonlight Sonata as he waits for DayStar to visit and kill him.

    In the deserted campus of a nearby college, he dances with the ghost of Meilori to a tune played by the spirit of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

    In his jazz club, the greats of jazz actually sing, even though they are undead. In a desperate fight within his club, the living Thea Gilmore warns him of a trap with snippets of "Rags and Bones."

    He wears the Spurs of Haephatus which sound out with music not jingling. The tunes are chosen by the watching Olympian who both loves and hates McCord. Usually they play Dimitri Tiomkin's version of the Deguello, the No Mercy tune ordered by Santa Anna at the Alamo - as a mocking announcement that McCord is facing unbeatable odds.

    During his battle against overwhelming numbers in a realm some call Hell, McCord hears the Spurs play "Dark Chest of Wonders" by Nightwish.

    And at the novel's end, to mock McCord, DayStar has Tarja singing at his return to his jazz club. McCord has been cursed never to be touched again by anyone lest they die by doing so -- he has become a walking Ark of the Covenant.

    She is singing "I Walk Alone."

  8. Again you write things I feel and so well. Music slides past language, place of birth and even time to connect us. It predated us, inspires us and celebrates who we are to the rest of the world. I could go on but this is a comment and not a post so back to my own soundtrack.

    I use music to dig into the heart of my characters or begin their heart beating. Angry rock and rap, gentle adult contemporary, sassy country or quirky oldies--I use it all to inspire character behavior and actions. Music has always spoke to me. I would/still do hear music and a movie or story pops into my head.

    My present WIP is a paranormal romance set in a small rural town so my song choices are a bit less rock and more country...

    *I'm Moving On by Rascal Flatts
    *Holdin' You by Gretchen Wilson
    *When You Come Back to Me Again by Garth Brooks
    *Desperado by The Eagles
    *Long Trip Alone by Dierks Bentley
    *Circles Around Me by Sam Bush
    *Dimming of the Day and Feels like Home by Bonnie Raitt
    *Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own by U2
    *The Cowboy in Me by Tim McGraw
    *Dare You To Move and This is Home by Switchfoot
    *I Should Go by Levi Kreis
    *Short Change Hero by The Heavy
    *Daisy by Brand New
    *Exploder by Audioslave
    AND THE LIST GOES ON...(Cut and paste BTW)

    God I love music!

  9. Nicole : "Desperado" by the Eagles would fit Samuel McCord. Glad I could hit a chord with you (pun intended.) Have a great holiday Monday.

    Laughing Wolf : Personally I prefer Diana Krall's version of "You Go To My Head." But Samuel and Meilori knew Billie Holiday.

    Words Crafter : Crazy Ivans don't help with psychic -- you just get them dizzy! And I, too, had that same analogic flash with the caricature building fronts in Marlene's experience.

    Christine : Let me know what your Theme A and B are, all right? Thanks for liking my post.

    Cruella : I think you'll like GOLDEN EARRINGS. I watched it again last night, having not seen it in a year. But I see it through different filters and perspectives than another would.

    I played "DARK CHEST OF WONDERS" in a continual loop while I wrote of Sam's desperate battle against hopeless odds in the chapter "War of The Last Wolf."

    Golden Eagle : Thanks for liking my idea of being transformed by hearing music or reading novels. Just reading your comment altered me in a good way.

  10. Thank you for relaying your playlist and giving me some details to go with each song. I'm going to listen to each and keep the context in mind. Thanks Roland!

  11. The Snowman Song! It's a christmas favourite of mine - the boy is taken by his snowman come to life to this song and the next day, the snowman is melted. Awwww!!! I cried buckets when I first saw this!

    Sorry - I wasn't expecting the snowman song when I clicked on your clip! It brought me back! :-)

    Marlene Dietrich is a beauty! And I absolutely adore Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Amazing women! Who doesn't love "old" films?!? These are classics!! :-)

    Take care

  12. My mc loves classic rock, the louder the better, different songs depending on the scene. I hadn't actually thought of it as the soundtrack, though, my second DUH of the day.

    I've never seen "Golden Earrings", I'll have to get my hands on that one. I did just click over and watch a youtube clip from the movie when they're singing the title song. Looks like a good one.

    Thanks, Roland. As always, your posts are food for thought.

    AND, I'm sorry but I have to add this, it's in keeping with my mc but has nothing to do with the MD movie. I LOVE Golden Earring, the band. Somehow I think one or two of their songs just hit my soundtrack. :D

    ~Olivia J

  13. Indeed every book has a soundtrack in our heads while we dig into the story. Does every life have a soundtrack also? I think so.
    We all "attach" music to happenings and to people who crosses our way. And it happens the other way around too, when we are constantly listening to a music and imagining a story.
    So, I agree life without music would be unbearable.
    I love the way you write!

  14. Hi Honey, I'm home.

    Sorry I've been away so long Luv. But when I saw this title I could NOT hang back.

    You see, sometimes I feel like movies have one huge advantage over novels, and that is the soundtrack played to evoke the required emotions in the viewer. Sometimes I wonder if certain scenes in a movie would be less intriguing if the appropriate music hadn't been playing.

    Take LAST OF THE MOHICANS, for instance. This is your typical historical romance movie, and while Daniel Day Lewis is about the most awesome eye candy out there, I sometimes have to admit the acting isn't nearly as good as say, Mel Gibson in THE PATRIOT (which had some inspiring music of its own). So I have to wonder if the movie itself, without the amazing musical scores, would have captured my attention so completely. I don't do romance - though I'm beginning to wonder if I wouldn't like Regency Romance if I picked up a book or three.

    Some movies don't need the music at all to bring out the emotions intended in the script. While I may not have shed actual tears, or jumped in horror without the theme music (THE GUARDIAN is a good example of a highly emotive movie that needs no music) that final touch left me in just the emotional state THE WRITER, not the producer or set director, envisioned.

    THE MATRIX: RELOADED has another example of a scene that absolutely does not need the music to make its point. In the scene where Neo and Trinity are entering the Sentinal building, going through the metal detectors, and the music starts almost as soon as Neo opens his trench coat and exposes his weapons. The musical score is almost lost in the discharge of weaponry. But whenever I listen to anything Techno or New Age that evern remotely sounds like that music, I'm almost compelled watch that movie, just to hear the music.

    Roland when I'm reading your posted scenes, I'm also thinking about the music you hear (you've posted enough of it for me to know what would work). Now, your scenes are not ones that require specific music to make the required emotional connection to the characters or the plot. But when I read one of your scenes, and listen to the soundtrack you've chosen to iterate your mood, I'm totally carried away by the sentiments.

    But I'm like you in my writing; I need the music to properly motivate me to write the scene I'm intending. The mood has to be there, and the music inspires the mood. And hopefully (in your case ABSOLUTELY) that soundtrack comes across in the written word as surely as the music moves the feelings within my soul.

    I have several musical soundtracks running through my Trilogy, and each character, and their relationships to other characters, has something different in the way of musical inspiration. But I think my main character, my POV character Amy, has as her overriding theme Jo Dee Messina's BRING ON THE RAIN as her personality theme song.

    It says everything I need about her perserverance, h er spirituality, her willingness to survive in any situation. If you listen to that song, perhaps it is also a part of Samuel McCord also.


  15. Blogger is messing with me tonight, so I'm sending my comment in a private e-mail. Twice, its erased me, and I don't want it to catch up sometime and post me comment a zillion times. Provided, of course, you even get this comment.


  16. What an interesting and awesome piece, Roland! The soundtrack of the mind, heart, and soul in your WIP is what captivates a reader. I always thought about it that way, as well. As if I was playing an instrument and trying to catch the reader's ears and attention with my story.

    The way you wrote this about how people don't watch old movies anymore and how you transformed it into something else was just beautiful.

    Write on!

    P.S. I watch old movies from time to time, but not as often, because I don't like watching too much TV.

  17. I actually am a musician as well as a writer. I'm working on composing an original soundtrack to go as a compliation CD with the book. In an ideal world, they'd sell as one...