Guest blog: Sonya Clark on Getting the Music Right

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I meet a lot of writers through social media, and one day I was chatting with Sonya Clark, author of the Magic Born trilogy and two novels in the Bradbury Institute series. It turns out she’s working on a novel about music, and her thoughts on that intrigued me so much that I asked her to share them with my blog readers.

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How much do I love music? My honeymoon (ten years ago, our wedding was on April 2) was a blues pilgrimage. We started in Memphis with Graceland and from there went south to Mississippi. All over Clarksdale, the mural of W.C. Handy hearing the blues for the first time in Tutwiler, down to the Dockery Plantation where Charley Patton lived, all three of Robert Johnson’s grave sites.

So while I’m a writer, reader, and book lover, to be honest, music means more to me. Some of my earliest short stories as a teen revolved around music. I can’t sing and I’ve never been able to learn an instrument, so maybe I’ve been trying to translate what music gives me into a form of expression I can use. Long before I was finally able to finish a manuscript, I knew there were particular books I wanted to write. These weren’t the only books I wanted to write, just ones I knew I had to write. All were tied to genres of music and archetypes and ideas I associate with those genres.

I’ve loved county music since childhood, but I haven’t always loved Top Forty country. A lot of good music has come out of Nashville, but plenty of great artists either got run out of town or left on their own, too. It’s practically a musical archetype: country singer/songwriter with great potential comes to Nashville, can’t or won’t conform and also probably can’t or won’t behave, goes back home to Texas to forge their own path. In my personal Tarot of Music, I call it the Willie Nelson card. This is one of the music stories I’ve wanted to write for a long time, because I love the archetype and because the artists who fit it made some of the country music that has resonated with me the most.

That’s what my unpublished small town romance Good Time Bad Boy is about. Wade Sheppard is a washed-up country singer who drowned his career in booze and bad behavior. Now he’s back in his small West Tennessee hometown for the summer, falling in love with a woman who makes him feel like Wade Sheppard The Man instead of Wade Sheppard The (fallen) Star. He’s also rediscovering songwriting and it leads him in brand new directions, to more of an alt-country/Americana sound. With Wade’s character, the focus is very much on music and not the celebrity trappings of being a star. I had no interest in writing about that, which was the main reason for putting him at past his career prime.

Getting Wade’s relationship with music right was the most important thing for me. What motivates him to pick up his guitar and a pen and notebook, his musical influences, even how he uses other people’s songs to express himself on stage. I wanted to get those things, and so much more, right to honor every time Van Morrison or Miles Davis or Nine Inch Nails got me through a case of the mean reds. Every time I write about music I’m hoping to capture something of the feeling of an amphitheater full of people coming to their feet to sing along to “California Dreaming,” the last canned song before the concert starts. “The Dance” by Garth Brooks played at a funeral, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” at a wedding. The relief of being temporarily free of heavy anxiety and fear of crowds because it’s a band you love and those forty-five thousand people are your friends for a few hours. The feeling that there’s something bigger and grander than the everyday, something mystical and magical transported through headphones or cheap speakers or a high-end sound system.

I don’ t know if I succeed but it’s what I strive for when I write about music.

Firewall coverSonya Clark writes a few different flavors of romance – paranormal, sci-fi, and contemporary. She loves music, all things Whedon, has a weird thing for the abstract art of Wassily Kandinsky, and a long-standing obsession with Robert Johnson that will one day result in a blues-themed novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in Tennessee. You can learn more at her website, sonyaclark.net, and follow her on Twitter @sonyabclark.

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