The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Getting that music into the words

nirvanaIf you’ve been following my posts for a while, I’m repeating myself for a moment when I say that I wrote two of my contemporary fantasies while listening to specific albums. That music captured the sense of the stories and themes.

In addition to the plot lines with good guys and bad guys and what-the-hell’s-gonna-happen-next moments, both The Sun Singer and Sarabance had moods associated with them. In each case, the music set my mood, that started my imagination running, and soon I was far away from the actual music into improvisations of my own creation.

ravenmoon2I heard the transcendent, hero’s journey mood of The Sun Singer in Deuter’s “Nirvana Road.” I heard the earthy heroine’s journey mood of Sarabande in Mary Youngblood’s “Beneath the Raven Moon.” The Sun Singer is sunshine and sky gods; Sarabande is earth music and moonlight. Sarabande is told from a female protagonist’s point of view, and Mary Youngblood’s flute helped keep me on track.

By the time I was finished writing each novel, I knew the album by heart. I never got writer’s block because I started the music each time I sat down to write and never played it as background music when I was going other things.

If Hollywood calls, I have the music picked out. When e-books are released with music, I’m ready.

When I'm writing with raw energy, I'm listening to Sister Rosetta.

When I’m writing with raw energy, I’m listening to Sister Rosetta.

My work in progress has another focus: Southern folk magic. My wife thanks me for sitting here wearing earphones because I’m listening to a lot of blues and a lot of boogie woogie. The blues not only set the mood, they’re part of the story. The characters listen to the blues and a few of them sing the blues. Not today’s blues, but the blues up to the early 1950s when the story is set.

Since most of the famous blues songs are still under copyright in spite of the fact that their lyrics are easily found on line, I can’t use the words–even in quotes at the beginnings of chapters. One can quote a book because 50 words isn’t much of the book; but even a line or two is a lot (percentage wise) of a song. My characters can talk about the singers they like and mention song titles, but unless you’re an aficionado of vintage blues, that won’t mean much. So, I need to go beyond that.

“Nirvana Road” and “Beneath the Raven Moon” are instrumental so, unless I was planning to include snippets of sheet music in my novels, there was no temptation to quote words. With the blues, though, my challenge is to give a sense of the down-and-out, melancholy and often fatalistic nature of the blues without having to pay thousands of dollars to the copyright holders to use ten words of a song.

When I need devils and cross roads and danger, I turn to this man (among others).

When I need devils and cross roads and danger, I turn to this man (among others).

Quotations can help set a mood, but after a while, they become crutches. Trying to get the sad sense of the blues and the saw energy of the boogie woogie into a story challenges a writer; makes him/her stretch, I think, and find creative and imaginative ways to set moods while supporting the plot.

There are plenty of books that describe field hollers, ring shouts, the blues and the boogie woogie and how those forms are related to each other to help a writer get started. After that, one needs to just listen, listen until s/he feels the music and the performer’s feelings behind the music and then becomes able to translate that from music into a linear series of letters on a page.

In north Florida, especially at the time when my work-in-progress is set, folk magic, the blues, turpentine camps, piney woods, booze, cigarettes and deep troubles were, in many ways, all parts of the same puzzle. I grew up there, so getting the music into words for this story is like trip back to another era in a time machine.

Plus, I’ve always loved the blues!


LadyoftheBlueHourcoverYou’ll find a taste of the blues in my 99 cent Kindle short story “The Lady of the Blue Hour.” The blue hour is, of course, twilight and that fits the notion of a ghostly woman coming down the street toward a young man’s house as darkness falls.




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