Friday, December 11, 2015

Music & Muses - Alyssa Palombo || Guest Post

In light of Alyssa Palombo's fabulous new musically drenched new book The Violinist of Venice, Alyssa has kindly agreed to guest post for you all. So grab a snack and enjoy!

Given that I wrote a novel largely about music and musicians, it's probably no surprise that music is a huge part of my life, and something that I love passionately. I got a great musical education from my parents growing up, and heard everything from Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King to Led Zeppelin and The Who to Metallica to rock operas like Jesus Christ Superstar. I love musical theatre (Phantom of the Opera is and always will be my jam) as well as opera, and as a classically trained vocalist I have sung my share of opera music. I've been a huge heavy metal fan since the age of fifteen, when my dad bought me a copy of Black Sabbath's Paranoid and told me, "You have to hear this". I've dabbled in piano and violin and even spent a few ill-fated months trying to learn the flute. I listen to music while working at my day job, while driving, while cleaning, while working out. And I listen to music while writing. Especially while writing.

Since music has worked its way into my life in so many other ways, it only stands to reason that it would become part of my writing routine as well. I know that every author is different in this respect, but I just can't write without music playing - I think simply having it on helps unlock the creative parts of my brain to get the words flowing.

Many authors make playlists for their novels or works in progress, and I do as well, though The Violinist of Venice was the first project where I really got serious about doing so. I'm a bit obsessive about it, actually. I like to find just the right song to go with most scenes (especially the important ones!) as well as songs that fit with the theme and feel of the story generally. I start compiling the playlist from the time I first conceive of the idea, and keep at it all through revisions and edits and pretty much every part of the process. One song on the playlist for The Violinist of Venice, Kamelot's Under Gray Skies, got added when I was reading through the pass pages for the novel - basically at the very last moment that I as the author had my creative hands on the book.

Sometimes I'll know just the right song for a scene before or as I'm writing it; sometimes I'll hear a new song for the first time and realise right away that it fits in with a scene or character; and sometimes one will fit in by happy accident: something that I happen to be playing will end up fitting in perfectly with the scene that I'm writing at a given moment (this happened with another Kamelot song, Veil of Elysium, when I was writing the very end of my second novel, and it was magical).

Other than the playlists just being a fun thing to compile and to have, for me they've also become a very useful writing tool and an integral part of my writing process. I load up the playlists onto my iPod and will often listen to the playlist for whatever I'm working on while at my day job, and that helps me keep my head in the game even when I can't be writing or revising. Too, listening to and thinking about a song in relation to a certain scene or it can help me clarify what a character's motivations might be, or what may be happening in that scene beneath the surface. One scene in Violinist took a complete left hand turn on me in revision because I was listening to Lacuna Coil's song End of Time while working on it. That song - which is beautiful and bittersweet and about the end of a relationship - changed what was previously a happy, lighthearted moment into something very stark and real and painful. It changed, to a degree, some of what needed to come afterwards in the relationship between my two main characters. And it improved the scene exponentially. That was what needed to be happening there, at that point in the story, as it turned out. To this day those are some of my favourite paragraphs in the book.

And I just love writing about music, about a specific piece of music, about a certain melody or orchestral part or ornament or vocal line. The passages in which I'm describing music are also some of my favourite sections of the book.

Two of the vocal pieces in the novel - the first movement of the Stabat Mater and the aria Cosi potessi anch'io from the opera Orlando furioso - I have actually performed myself, When I chose to learn Cosi potessi anch'io I knew that it would fit into a later scene in the novel that I hadn't written yet, so that was another form of research in and of itself. The Stabat Mater I confess that I worked into the novel just because I love it so much - to this day it's one of my favourite things I've ever sung. Of course, when I started writing the scene with that piece I realised that it fit what was happening in my heroine's life better than I had originally anticipated!

Every writer has many different wells that we draw from for inspiration: our own lives and experiences, other books, our education, movies and television. I draw from all these wells too, but music is the well that I draw from the most often, and I'm happy to have it so. I'm definitely not done writing about music and its effects on people and their lives; but whether I'm writing about it or not, it will always be a part of my writing.

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