52 Pick-up 2.0, #43, 10/27/2020
“I’ve noticed a lot of musical references in Next To Last Stand and was wondering if music is a large component in the ideas for all your novels.”
Yep, music is an essential part of all the novels for a number of reasons, but mostly because I love music so much, all kinds of music. I write up in the loft here at the ranch, and I have a pretty good stereo that I generally turn on while writing. I think music might be the most emotive art, and its abilities to summon up emotions in the listener are hard to ignore.
People always ask what I listen to while writing and generally it’s the pieces or genre that happens to fit the novel, but I also have a friend who is a member of the Academy and sends me the soundtracks that she receives. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t watch much TV or movies and what I do tend to watch is old and black & white, which gives me an advantage in that I don’t generally know the movies whose soundtracks she sends me. Film music is highly emotive and does a pretty good job of getting me into the story if I need it.
I was looking through a local marketplace online and noticed an old Victrola for sale for a more than reasonable price and wrote the individual a note about it and he responded that if I was the Craig Johnson he’d sell it to me for half-price and a copy of the new book… I took the deal and placed it in the living room of a little cabin I’ve got and plucked out the first old 78 in the bin and placed it on the turntable, lowering the metal needle—Tchaikovsky’s Moscow Cantata. I was just frozen to the ground listening to it. With all the little pops and cracks, I was immediately swept away thinking about all the individuals who had listened to this particular record album before me.
In the Next To Last Stand it was an opportunity to set a time and place for Magic Mike and the Wavers, to pin them in a period with which Walt would be conversant. Music provides bookmarks in our lives, a soundtrack to our very existence. It’s funny, though, because Walt doesn’t have the best personal memories connected to the 60’s music, whereas Vic just enjoys the tunes, having not been around for the tumultuous period. Music is such a marvelous way to summon up a period in the reader and another opportunity to establish a high context connection so long as I don’t get too esoteric. In those scenes, if I chose carefully enough, the reader instantly hears what I want them to hear.
Another reason is that I like doing what the characters do, see, taste, feel, and hear. As stated above, I know what can happen when you hear certain songs, how transformative that it can be. Sense-memory is always a shortcut to getting into the character’s world.
Another reason for all the music is Walt is a musician. I think it’s one of the hallmarks of his character that’s intertwined with his abilities in math and investigation. He rarely makes it home to his little unfinished cabin, but when he does, I think he’s drawn to the old Henry F. Miller piano his wife refinished all those years ago. He has a poet’s soul heightened with the temperament of a musician which gives him a different connection to the world, an ability to slow its tempo to where he can read the music of life, which can sometime distract him—but sometimes distraction is important.
See you on the trail,