music in fiction

Blog header: Twenty Years a Writer

Twenty Years a Writer, Part 7: Unwritten and Unrealized

Some writers say their characters come alive during the writing process and even push the story in unexpected directions. But do we owe anything to characters we’ve thought up but whose stories remain unwritten, stuck halfway through Chapter 3? Or languishing in an abandoned notebook?

A while ago, in a discussion among several indie authors, I declared that I had no unfinished works. That’s actually true, although She Who Comes Forth stalled at page 17 for months before I found my way back to completing it. But I do have a complete novel that’s been sitting around unpublished since 2008.

Winter Journeys is literary fiction unrelieved by any genre fiction attributes. Moreover, it grew out of my obsession in the early 2000s with Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise. And said obsession was due in part to my experiences of rejection while trying to get my first few novels traditionally published.

The twenty-four songs that make up Winterreise follow the wanderings of a man who has been rejected by a young woman and her family, and who finally rejects the world. I turned that story arc into a novel about a woman who goes through a similar trajectory in the present time, while she becomes fascinated with a particular recording of Schubert’s music.

I hesitated to publish Winter Journeys myself, first, because literary fiction doesn’t sell unless boosted by the forces of Big Publishing, literary prizes, and being made into movies. And second, because I had an intention to send it around to Canadian publishers. They do publish literary fiction, with the help of arts and culture grants from the federal government.

But since entering the realm of self-publishing, I’ve totally lost the mindset and desire to submit. (I actually hate that word, even.) So this novel continues to lurk in the shadows, although I’ve designed a number of cover images for it. Here are two of them…

Winter Journeys cover image 4
Winter Journeys cover image 5

2028 will be the 200th anniversary of the publication of Winterreise, and incidentally, of Schubert’s death. I think that would be the right year to publish Winter Journeys.

In the meantime, I’m getting psyched for writing a sequel to She Who Comes Forth, provisionally titled (what else?) She Who Returns. (You read it first here, folks.)

This is the final post in this series. I hope reading about my writing journey has been informative, interesting, or at least diverting. Here’s a link to Part 1 if you want to read it again. Links to all the other parts are there.

Well, fellow writers, do you have any stories languishing in unwritten or unpublished limbo? Do you feel you have an obligation to give them life?

Music and Writing

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.