A Playlist for the novel, Multiple Exposure

Recently, I traveled with my husband and baby to San Francisco for a wedding. When we arrived, I was overwhelmed by the stretch of city, in an engulfing stack that wasn’t my experience in Europe, even if Paris reached into the gray beyond. A quick walk, and we found ourselves at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and someone was singing one of my favorites–Blue Moon of Kentucky–a song on the playlist for my next novel, Poke Sallet Queen, but we’ll get to that book later.
Recently, I’ve been mourning the growth and calm from Multiple Exposure, rejecting all of the stimulants related to writing it, even the music that provided the background noise. It’s almost as if after publishing it, I’ve had to reject it in order to move forward. But standing there in San Francisco, I was moved by music–bucket drummers echoing under a bridge, swing dance with the stand-up bass, boom box beats groovin the roller skates, banjos and harmony on the horizon, a violin in the valley, band screamin’ on the top floor, his iPod shuffle bustles on the Muni and off again, the djembe making her middle jerk in the park, workin’ it any place…dance floor is the space under your feet.
Just like the variety of musical performances in the city, characters offer opportunities to listen with different ears. I even go so far as to imagine how their musical choices get on each other’s nerves. And, how they might use music–to elevate a mood, to seduce, to drown the cries of heartbreak into their pillows, to tune out the stranger next to them on an airplane…
I pressed play on the playlist for Multiple Exposure, and decided to share some of those songs here.

These were some of the songs on Ellen and David’s playlists:

1. You Turned the Tables on Me– Benny Goodman Orchestra with Helen Ward
2. You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby – Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with Edythe Wright
3. I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl– Nina Simone
4. Paranoia in B Flat Major– Avett Brothers
5. You Don’t Understand Me – The Raconteurs
6. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
7. Cheap Sunglasses – ZZ Top
8. Miss You – The Rolling Stones
9. Precious Memories – hymn
10. Blues Jumped the Rabbit – Karen Dalton
11. Under One Groove – Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain
12. In a State – UNKLE

Here’s a blog post I wrote about music and character development at Her Circle in 2011.

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Capturing Whispers

Today, I made good on a 6-month-old promise to visit my great-Uncle B and listen to his stories about making, selling and “running” corn whiskey. These stories are part of my novel-in-progress, Poke Sallet Queen. I walked down the hallway of the nursing home with a heavy heart. In January, when I first made the promise to visit, he was living at home. Until two weeks ago, he would have offered a seat on his couch to me. But today, I stood beside a hospital bed and listened as he struggled to talk, as he pushed his whispers up toward my ear, as he stopped to give his vocal chords a rest while I leaned over to listen.

They found a tumor, cancer, in the back of his throat. He’s over 80 and hasn’t missed a second of life, nor has he lost very many strands from his head of full, gray hair. Sharp, direct, funny– that’s still Uncle B, even in the nursing home. I learned new ways to hide a keg today. He said that he served 30 days in Montgomery, AL, then laughed, “I’ve always been proud of that.” He smiled. His deep, full strength voice broke in sometimes, like a radio signal momentarily playing clearly through the static. I asked questions to clarify previous stories I’ve heard. My great Aunt said to him, “You know Shana’s gonna write a book?”
He nodded. He knew and said, “Well, I hope she already is.”
“I have already written a lot,” I said.
He asked about my brother and then, we made plans to talk again in two weeks. His throat became tired.
He said, “When you come back, we can meet at my house and I’ll tell you more stories.”

Leaving, walking down the hallway, my voice caught while talking to my great Aunt, “I messed up,” I said. “I should’ve visited earlier.”

I repeated this statement to my Mom, then to my husband, who said, “Just go forward. Write and go forward.”

I used to tell my students to take every opportunity to record the stories told by their grandparents, and I failed to follow my own advice in the most thoughtful way. Thinking about my elderly relatives on the drive home, I vowed to start visiting them regularly in order to capture their voices above a whisper.