Music can be a great catalyst for writing. Some writers find music a companion for a long writing project. Many of Stephen King’s novels resound with rock; Peter Straub often works jazz into his stories.
Things get a little complicated when the music actually turns up explicitly within the piece of writing. Sometimes it’s OK, as in the King and Straub examples. But what if there is a chronological problem? What happens when someone finds inspiration in lush 19th century romantic music for their historical romance set in Renaissance Italy? Unless the plot involves time travel, the music must remain invisible, with only its passion and the other emotions it provokes manifesting themselves in the written work.
When I was writing The Friendship of Mortals, I listened to J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the Allegri Miserere, and Loreena McKennitt’s album, The Mask and the Mirror. The setting of this novel is early 20th century New England, specifically H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional city of Arkham. So it was OK to have my principal characters attend a concert which included parts of the Goldberg Variations (although I’m not sure that this work was as well-known or as often performed then as it is now, especially in a version for string trio). It was OK for one of my characters to remember hearing the Allegri Miserere in a church service. But McKennitt’s setting of St. John of the Cross’s poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” must lurk unseen, despite its huge influence on the book.
The second book of the Herbert West Trilogy, Islands of the Gulf, was directed entirely toward a conclusion inspired by Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Alium. Listening to that great musical storm, I had a vision of that scene, and then had to create a series of events that would put my protagonist (Herbert West/Francis Dexter) into that situation. But Spem in Alium does not appear in the story, strangely enough. For some reason I did not even consider that.
The concluding book of the trilogy, Hunting the Phoenix, includes some musical shenanigans (Shostakovich, no less!), but is not imbued with music. Its narrator, Alma Halsey, is not really a music lover, unlike Charles Milburn, the voice of The Friendship of Mortals.
My fourth novel, Winter Journeys, is actually about a musical work, specifically Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise. Writing this was somewhat risky because although I love music, I am not a musician and my perspective is that of an outsider.
And in case you are wondering, the second volume of Islands of the Gulf and Hunting the Phoenix will be available on Smashwords later this year.