“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music”
Walter Pater’s said that. It’s a famous quote of his, more famous than he is. When I first heard it, I checked him out, to find he was a nineteenth-century art critic and literary theorist who was born in the East End of London.
Some think that this quote is bunkum, and that art doesn’t move towards being music, but the idea resonates with me. Why else would Leonard Cohen have moved his writing sideways from prose and poetry to lyrics (oh! the money, maybe…). Music often enhances reading; I played Bob Marley all the time when I was consumed by A Brief History of Seven Killings
When I write, I’m always aware that certain scenes make a sort of music in my head. My characters, right from before I had anything published, always listened to music, often (this is possibly why these stories weren't published!) for long, closely-described scenes.
Then I read the critically acclaimed Teddy Wayne, and heard about how he created a ‘soundtrack’ to his most recent novel Loner, an unsettling story of obsessive desire. In his article, Wayne says…A great deal of pop songs are also about romantic obsession and loneliness (often in the same breath), and many ostensible love songs, when you examine the lyrics, are really avowals of stalker-like pursuit or thoughts of the object of desire; the British seem to have a particular fondness for this kind of ballad.
Wayne chose ten tracks that informed his portrayal of his protagonist. I’m writing book four of the Shaman Mysteries, Flood Gate, and I'm doing the same thing. My chosen tracks each represent a character, and I’m finding wonderful inspiration from listening to these songs. Follow the links to hear the music.
In order of appearance:
Larry Waish is a small-time poultry farmer who recently lost all his hens in one of the many floods that plague the Somerset Levels. What he’s discovered, is that his neighbour is to blame for his loss, and he’s hopping mad. Larry really loves Country and Western and plays The Eagles Heartache Tonight a lot, while he’s trying to cope with what happened between him and Jack Spicer at Harper’s Coombe
Jack Spicer, who’s real name is John, farms 200 acres of Somerset land, as his family has for generations. He's recently lost his daughter, and is helping bring up her daughter, baby Olivia. He knows he's been driven to do wrong, and t’s tormenting him. He's a bit of a classical buff, and listening to the slightly sinister tones of Shostakovich’s first piano concerto helped me build his character. By the end of chapter one, Jack is dead.
Sabbie Dare is a young shamanic practitioner and therapist who knows it is her destiny to be of service to people on the very edge of life. The victims of evil…the perpetrators of it. Sabbie’s mad about Pet Shop Boys and pagan music which can vary from folksy to rocking, and includes groups like Incubus Sucubus, Dahm the Bard and The Dolmen
Kelly King was 28 when she threw herself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. She’d never really recovered from her life in The Willows, a local authority children’s home where Kelly, Sabbie and Debs Hitchings all lived when they were children. Kelly was depressed, directionless, and addicted to chocolate cookies. In her last days, she plugged into the music of her childhood, such as Pink’s There you go.
Debs Hitchings is a beautician who wanders from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Debs turned up at the very end of In the Moors, (Book One) where she cuts Sabbie’s tortured hair, and has a small part in Unraveled Visions. In this book Debs, and the story of her past, takes centre stage. She’s known for cracking out Beyoncés Crazy in Love
at the top of her voice as her heels skittered across nighttime pavements.
Quentin Lachapelle is a thirty-five year old photographer with a nice studio, a pretty wife, and a flourishing career. He meets Sabbie and Debs at Kelly King's funeral, where he offers to take some glamour shots of Debs, although he finds Sabbie’s dark skin tones and angled face interesting. There is more to Quentin that meets the eye…or the lens of his cameras. Quentin is a Miles Davis fan, of course.
DI Reynard Buckely. Fans of the Shaman Mysteries will be delighted to hear that and Rey and Sabbie are still an item. In fact, things hot up between them considerably! Rey made his musical preferences clear in In the Moors, so there’s only one group I could play, and that’s the Stones.
Fenella Waish is Larry’s sister. Now in her forties, but still living in their childhood home, Fen seeks help from Sabbie for longterm Ornithophobia, her paralysing fear of birds which prevents her going anywhere near Larry’s poultry shed. Fenella loves her laptop, which is her window on the world. Scared to be Lonely might bring tears to her eyes, but she plays it again and again.
Tara Yorkman. Before she died, Kelly was fruitlessly searching for her friend Tara, who lived at The Willows from when she was little. Kelly, in need of someone to care for, always looked out for Tara, until she was a teenager. Then she disappeared. When Kelly’s spirit comes to Sabbie in a dream, she feels indebted to continue the quest for the missing girl. I listen to Taylor Swift and other noughties music to get in touch with Tara.
Victor Doyle is a successful Bristol business man, a builder of local housing. Now 55, he's loaded, charming and still handsome in a chiselled way, although he’s put on a bit of weight. In the community, he’s a well-loved philanthropist, but underneath, the man is pure, unadulterated evil. I think he’d be rivitted by Pretty Women from Sweeny Todd.
If you're writing a novel, or a series of short stories, try finding and playing the soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the story and the characters. It can make a tremendous difference to the outcome.
By: Beth Harbison
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Beth Harbison delivers a poignant and witty story of a woman’s journey back to the past, IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME, coming in paperback June 14, 2016 (with a new 83/18 cupcakes adorable cover). Readers will go back to revisit their younger years, for a thought- provoking look at the people in our lives, choices, and questions, of what if.
“Sometimes – some rare times—when a soul has left in its own time, it leaves a love one wholly unprepared. Missing some of the most important lessons that were meant to be shared.”
“Can a soul find it’ way back to communicate in a less subtle way? To remind their loved one of those things they must know in order to find their own fate."
The night before Ramie Phillips; thirty-eighth birthday, she is on a boat (yacht) off the coast of Miami, Florida-- like something you would see on the cover of Conde’ Nast Traveleror other luxury magazine.
She did not grow up rich, In her youth she enjoyed a happy Charlie Brown landscaped middle class life in Potomac, Maryland, close to the DC border. She grew up loving math and her dad was a banker. When she was five her dad taught her about the stock market and how to track a portfolio. He taught her how to invest.
Thanks to her dad, she had a nice little nest egg for herself before she hit it big working with Whitestone, one of the top private equity investment firms in the country.
A daddy’s girl, her Dad died unexpectedly halfway through her college education. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, then a stroke. She thought he would be around forever and in her life. He was to be a grand dad. Her mom had always feared his upcoming death. Her mom had a hard time; however, Ramie came through for her investing her life insurance so she could live off the dividends.
Skip to the boating event, as the book opens, with champagne, cocktails, friends and a little too much to drink. Her friend just found out she is pregnant. Here she is, close to forty years old and now she is feeling sorry for herself. Her big birthday bash, had been overshadowed by toasts and congratulations for Lisa’s unexpected pregnancy.
What happened in her life from ages eighteen to thirty-eight?
She knows she is feeling like a baby. Beings selfish. Could she have known her previous partner in crime (herself) might feel a little weird about being ambushed by the news of her total acquiescence to domestication. She knew her friend would never be fun anymore. She tells her she is happy and begins to dwell on her situation. She has a nice life and career, but no personal life. She is not happy. She had been left behind. She had made mistakes.
Soon she dives off the boat and all she remembers is pain, and everything going black.
She wakes up in her childhood room. Dream or not, this was a moment in her life where she would get a second chance, with someone she had loved and lost. However, she is trying to talk about things in the future and her dad is of course still alive. Her mom thinks she is getting ready to go to school.
Now she finds herself back in time to the eve of her eighteenth birthday. Will she be able to change her decisions, and get what she wants from the past for her future?
Harbison always combines wit, emotion, and some tough life lessons. We all wish we could have a redo; and regret many things in our past, and questions of "what if" we had made a different decision, or choices back when,--- how would my life be different today. A journey of a thirty-eight year-old woman with her insight into the future and in her current role as age eighteen.
Thought-provoking! Makes you take a step back and appreciate those in your life. For Fans of In Twenty Years and The Year We Turned Forty as well as time traveling. I am normally not a fan of time travel; however this one was done really well.
For all you wondering why I am just now reviewing this book. I read it last year, and realized when reading an advanced reading copy of her upcoming new book, One Less Problem Without You, (great read), Coming July 26, 2016, was referring back to link to the review, and discovered I failed to write the review. (my bad)!
Quickly did a recap, since still on my Kindle, and even purchased the audiobook, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy for a fun time-travel trip. Guess my review, will be “timely for the paperback”, coming June.
I do not read as much chick-lit, as I did in my younger years; however, always enjoy Harbison’s books. She was initially the one to turn me on to the genre with her funny audiobooks. Always tons of fun, wit, and humor-and much more than fluff –there is depth, life, emotions, and so much more!
On a different note: Would like to take this opportunity to highlight St. Martin’s Press and compliment the team on all the beautiful covers! The Beth Harbison name is branded by her covers, and each and every one pulls you in to her character’s world. They are perfect. A cover can make, or break a book in my opinion, and all St. Martin’s Press’ covers are first-class- one of my favorite publishers.
Coming in Paperback
June 14, 2016
If I Could Turn Back Time
Told with Beth Harbison's wit and warmth, If I Could Turn Back Time is the fantasy of every woman who has ever thought, "If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I'd do things so differently...
Coming July 26, 2016
One Less Problem Without You
Be sure and move, One Less Problem Without You to the top of your list! (just finished it and "promise" to write my review before Tues. pub date). You will love the Cosmo chic cover, the three gals whose lives connect, a bad guy, teas, and "Diana’s Drinks" with 30-yummy cocktail recipes at the end of the book. Need I say more?
On a personal note: I think I was meant to go back and re-read this book. Makes you think of your parents. This week received the news my mom (some of you know she has battled cancer for 3 ½ yrs.) -now her body is shutting down, with less than a few months left to live. All of her many friends are saying their goodbyes, and I will be returning home, within the next couple of weeks, from South Florida to NC to spend some time with her and the family. This will be a difficult time- and not sure what lies ahead, as my dad depends on her for everything (they just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary), and his health is poor as well.
This is when we all want "more time", and regrets for all the time we have wasted. As she mentioned this week, even though she has known she has stage IV cancer for years, she kept thinking she was going to beat it, and she would have "more time." Now there is none. This book brought back some special memories and times with my mom, as a teen.
By Melissa Cistaro
Publisher: SOURCEBOOKS (non-fiction)
Publication Date: 5/5/2015
My Rating: 4 Stars
Coming in Paperback, Feb 2, 2016! An ideal selection for book clubs and further discussions.
A special thank you to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for an ARC exchange for an honest review. Beautiful front cover, which grabs you.
Please join me **Upcoming Blog Tour Stop Host April 21 for a complimentary Chapter 1 excerpt from Pieces of My Mother.
Melissa Cistaro courageously steps out to deliver a poignant memoir, PIECES OF MY MOTHER, a heartbreaking story, drawn from memory, letters, and early recollections of her own childhood and family trials.
While trying to sort out her troubled family and a mother who left when she was a small girl, she reflects as a grown woman, while looking at her own family, and wonders genetics can spill over and make you question yourself as a mother. Are we destined to repeat our past environment?
Perfect timing as we approach Mother’s Day, to appreciate our mothers, and realize some children do not always have the proper parents—ones to love and protect them, to serve as viable role models for their children. These children grow up always wondering if they were to blame for their parent’s absence, and desperately seek love and validation.
As a child, Melissa sees her mother drive off while her dad informs the family their mother is "taking a break" from everyone and not very forthcoming about the details. They can only hope she will return for their birthday, or possibly a special holiday. However, when she does, is she really there? She and her brothers--Jamie and Eden, alone without a mother.
Now a mother herself, how can she tell her daughter a dark truth, she was leavable and unkeepable. What if there is some sort of genetic family flaw, some kind of leaving gene that unexpectedly grabs hold of mothers like the ones in her family? What if the gene is lying dormant inside of her? What if her own daughter worries she may leave one day?
She pictures her mom, a thousand miles away, and only visiting a few times, while each of the children carried "her leaving" in different ways. She took all the colors with her. She drifted in and out of their lives like live-in sitters, always seeming just out of reach. She wants her own daughter to feel safe and loved, not left the way she has always felt.
Now years later, a mom with children of her own, she finds herself in Washington, as her mother is dying. Her mom has cirrhosis and liver cancer; all the years of drinking have caught up with her. All her fears surface. She is leaving once again. She will only be sixty five in five days and she promises her own family she will be home by New Year’s Eve. Her own family needs her and wants to make sure she WILL return.
Her mom is as mysterious as ever, yet her mother surrounds herself with bits and pieces of life collected; a life she never really knew – the books she loved. Melissa began to fill her own notebooks, only attempting to understand her mom’s leaving, searching for memories that could rescue her. Believing that if she could dig up the goodness in the things that haunted her, there would be a chance she could save her mom, her brothers, her dad, and herself. If she can get the words right, maybe she can keep her alive. She wants desperately to understand a woman who is dying.
As she is going through her mother’s things, she finds folders, letters, treasures, and all the while she recalls the days she was afraid to move to yet another house, for the fear her mom may not be able to find them; if and when, she would come back. Now, letters her mom never sent may provide her comfort and answers. Her mom and dad were both hoarders, coveting treasures and not one of these items will keep her alive. She too suffers from hanging on to things.
However, as she reads her mom’s letters, thirty-six years have passed since she watched the her mom drive away in her baby-blue Dodge Dart, she still wonders what if she had called out to her, would she have stayed? Now she has to make the decision to leave her mom to die, to get back to her own family and a miracle of her own.
A deeply moving complex, honest portrayal of family, of motherhood, yet uplifting and captivating; alternating between Melissa and her mother, we see firsthand how a parent’s choices impact their children’s lives for generations to come with emotional devastation.