passings, memories, and the soundtrack of life…

The first news I saw this morning was that Walter Becker, co-founder of the band Steely Dan, had died.

I’ve written before (a main example is in this post) about the power of music and memories.

And as I – and the singers and songwriters and musicians I grew up listening to – get older, and the years and the decades pass, there are more and more deaths of people who have been part of the soundtrack of my life.

In just the time between the beginning of 2016 and now, there have been several (not a complete list by any means):

Prince. George Michael. David Bowie. Maurice White. Leonard Cohen. Al Jarreau. Leon Russell. Glen Campbell. Paul Kantner. Gregg Allman.

And Glenn Frey.

I mention Glenn Frey separately because the music of the Eagles has been extra-huge in my life. And…  it was after watching the documentary History of the Eagles on Netflix shortly after Glenn’s death in January 2016, that I felt compelled to finally do a final revision of one of my novels – In New Harmony – and publish it. (You can find it right here.)

Watching that documentary, which I’ve seen several times now, simply does something to my creativity, especially when it comes to writing fiction.

Watching that documentary makes me WANT to write – and, specifically, write fiction – so much that my fingers start to almost physically itch to do it.

Listening to Eagles music does something to me very similar to how I feel when I watch that documentary. For the past year and a half, I’ve come close several times to writing a blog post with the title “the Eagles are my spirit animal” but I simply haven’t been blogging much… (So maybe I’ll write that blog post sometime, but I’m just not sure when.)

Music is a muse for me.

And music is a memory-holder and time-traveller for me.

That’s why when there’s news like today’s passing of Walter Becker, I feel an impact.

Steely Dan’s music has definitely been part of my life’s soundtrack. I’m 55, so the music of the 70s and 80s will always have a unique and special place in my heart and my memories, and Steely Dan songs are part of that for me: junior high and high school in the 70s, beach trips with my friends, going to see FM on a Friday night at the movies.

When I decided to post on facebook this morning with a link to a youtube video of a Steely Dan song, I had trouble deciding which song to choose. I finally decided on “Deacon Blues.”

As I said in that facebook post: Someone else in the soundtrack of my life has passed. I always feel sadness along with the nostalgia… and I always feel so grateful for the music shared with the world.

RIP, Walter Becker and so many other song-makers.

And thank you for the music.

behind the scenes of writing In New Harmony…

In New Harmony is my middle-grade historical novel… but it didn’t start out as a novel.

The idea that sparked what was to become In New Harmony was a little memory my mother told me. About a time when she was young, spending the night at a relative’s farm, and she’d been scared by a noise that sounded like someone breathing just outside the open window.

I turned her memory into a children’s short story, setting the story in the 1930s, the time-frame it actually happened when my mother was a small child. The title I chose for the short story was “Night Noises” – a title to reflect the differences in the noises the main character (named Bunnie in the story) experienced during her first night on the farm, compared to the noises she was accustomed to hearing at night in her home in Atlanta.

Only a few things about “Night Noises” were true-to-life when it came to my mother. Bunnie was one of her childhood nicknames. She had been frightened – and then relieved and laughing – about the noise.

But the other details and the rest of the “Night Noises” story? All fiction.

Bunnie in “Night Noises” was several years older than my mother had been at the time of this memory. My mother didn’t have a younger sister (her sisters were both older). She never lived in Atlanta and moved from there to a farm – actually, until her early teens, she lived in rural Alabama and her own family farmed a little space of land.

I revised “Night Noises” a few times… but then I realized something.

The characters wanted to stick around. And the story wanted to become longer – and go deeper.

 

And that’s when Night Noises started to become a novel.

I kept the main character at the older age (13) but changed the time of the story to take place in the summer of 1943 – which is when my mother was 13 herself. I changed most of the characters’ names to be different than their names in “Night Noises.” Bunnie turned into Nora, and Ellen turned into June, and Uncle John turned into Uncle Lester.
World War II became integral to the storyline, and I added the important-to-the-novel detail of an older brother who had recently been killed in battle.
And although I don’t think the word depression is ever mentioned in the novel, I added the element of Nora’s mother being deeply depressed due to her son’s death. The story of Nora’s mother – and how Nora is impacted by and deals with her mother’s depression – is a central part of the story that became In New Harmony.

I did take a few of my mother’s own experiences of life on a farm, weaving them into the story at a few places. And the setting of the novel – the imaginary New Harmony in Pike County, Alabama – is a fictional version of my mother’s small hometown community of another name. (She even drew me a little map of how it had been back then!)

 

But in one way, Nora’s story is the opposite of my mother’s life.

One big reason Nora and her family move to her uncle’s farm is to help out… because hiring people to help during the summer and the harvest season had become difficult. This happened because so many were now in the Army or Navy, or had moved away to work at factories necessary for the war-time effort.

For my mother’s family, this shortage of potential farm helpers was the reason they moved away from rural Alabama. Even though their house was small and their plot of field wasn’t much (my grandparents were the opposite of wealthy farmers with lots of land), my grandfather needed extra help during certain times of the year when it came to farming. More help than what he, my grandmother, and their three daughters could do by themselves.
So, when my mother was Nora’s age – or a bit older – she and her family left farming and rural Alabama.
They didn’t move to Nora’s hometown of Atlanta, but they did move to Georgia. They settled in a town – small compared to Atlanta in 1943 – but it wasn’t a rural location, and it was a town much larger than where they’d lived.

But although my mother’s move was almost the exact opposite of Nora’s, her experience of why her family moved was a big spark for part of the storyline for In New Harmony.

Some bits of the original “Night Noises” short story can still be seen in what eventually became the middle-grade novel, In New Harmony – but In New Harmony developed into quite a different story.

A story about loss, change, discovery, and family…

And ultimately, a story about love, getting through tough times, and starting anew.

(If you’d like to read In New Harmony, it’s available at Amazon (paperback as well as kindle) here and at Barnes & Noble here.)

and now in paperback…

I was thrilled to hold a copy of my own novel in my hands when the few I ordered arrived last week.

Making the decision to do this – to put this middle-grade historical novel out there in kindle version as well as paperback – instead of going the traditional publishing route (there’s a story behind that decision, for this project) – has been huge for me.

The kindle version is available here.

And now the paperback version is available here.