The Soundtrack of Prose and Other Story Timeline Anchors

CaveatThis is some crazy shit, writing a 2400-word blog post when I’m only three chapters away from the end of my novel.
If it wasn’t for the massive road block in Chapter 50, this word spillage would’ve never happened. Take it as you will. It’s okay to just look at the pictures. I’m no expert on any of this stuff. But here it is, another clambake celebrating my writing process.

Just for fun I thought I’d go foraging through my novel for musical treasures. One of the fringe benefits of writing a story like mine—historical 20th century epic fantasy with no rev limiter—is I get to be my own music supervisor. I’m responsible for the interludes that underscore, reflect, and juxtapose emotional states of my characters. I decide when and how to lyrically and musically emboss the printed word and lingual atmosphere. Excellent!

My song delivery devices are often automobiles. The ones in my novel would now be considered très vintage. Chapter one begins on Sunday morning, August 13, 1978. By the end of the first paragraph, my main character is turning up the volume on his 8-track player while driving his 1966 blue Chevy Impala down a Southern Minnesota highway:
Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

I’m sidewinding a bit into ancillary sound tricks: emotional sound effects in the words. One way to describe it is: listening to the tone of the sentences. Is my character sinking deep into soul (feminine energy—earth—sorrow, beautiful sadness, gentle, tender, courageous), or lifting high to access spirit (masculine energy—sky—inspired, protective, determined, and standing on that watchtower)? What about writing an unremitting ostinato to build tension? Or, what does a gentle breeze sound like when it causes ripples over the surface water?

Often I read aloud, to see if a sentence flows musically. Though, in writing, it is not preferable to have a string of sentences with a repetitive cadence. There are exceptions. For example: writing a chase scene, where cropped sentences with similar rhythmic patterns can stimulate speed or urgency. Flow in writing is mostly not the same as flow in music, and maybe a connecting bridge might be the flow of poetry. However, the poet boundary dweller is not how all writers function. Sometimes writers are painters, spilling words like liquid color over canvas. Sometimes they are philosophers, thoughtful in delivery, seekers of love and truth. And then sometimes the writer is a musician boundary dweller, striking a balance between the dark and light, soul and spirit, dissonance and consonance.

To read more: poet boundary dweller.

I do think about—or overthink—sentence arrangement, like words as railway carriages on a passenger train. The delivery of story information is obviously important, but the vista-dome lounge car needs to be nestled between coach seating and the dining car. At the rear of the train, is there another observation car before the sleeping cars? Does the engine come first? Is the real gem of the scene pulling the train? Maybe. Maybe not. Which arrangement best unfolds the mystery, or suits the character’s POV?

And then there are the in-between narratives that—if a novel were to be scripted for a TV series, let’s say—would need a music soundtrack to underpin these interconnecting components of story. And since I am the music supervisor for my novel, maybe I’d be consulted for any expatiation of these undocumented storylines. I’m just doing a little fantasizing here. Dreaming is the only way I’m going to be published in the first place—with fifty chapters and 120,000 words and counting. (That’s for another post.)

What is she talking about? What does she mean by in-between narratives??

There is plenty of backstory and forward story, and tangential story, which doesn’t get included in a completed work of fiction, except where the author decides she must aim the arrow for clarification—walking a thin tightrope. On one side is the danger of falling into the dreaded reader feeder that brings the story to a screeching halt. On the other side: if something becomes unclear, the reader is gonna invariably ask questions that would also stop the flow.

The overall goal is: revealing only what is needed to unfold and keep the mystery alive while advancing the story and enticing your book devourers into wanting more. Basically—doing everything possible to prevent readers from surfacing out of your world and back into theirs. And that is no small feat!

Some of what the author knows about her characters and events remains on the cutting room floor. That deeper connection is a sumptuous component of intimacy. These forays and abandoned tidbits might be fodder for those additional episodes for that TV series. You see? 🙂

As the selector of songs for my novel, it doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a pro musician since 1969—well, until I fell off that moonlit hayride at the onset of the pandemic, leaving me to walk home by the silvery glow, right back into my novel, which I’d shelved in 2011.

photo credit: Primrose Farm, Illinois—moonlit hayrides begin October 5

As a musician and songwriter, choosing songs to include in the narrative is particularly fun, especially since the main storyline is set in the late 1970s—at the height of my touring days as a rock keyboardist. However, the novel’s not about musicians—except one secondary character who doesn’t appear until the end of chapter forty. The story’s main thoroughfare crosses through Southern Minnesota in August of 1978—same location as the prominent backstory in August of 1962. In between is Vietnam, important to my main character and two other important Veterans in the story. The reader gets glimpses into some of what they experienced as soldiers, but it is not where the story resides.

1979-Tysa with Blue Max
Tysa – 1979, with Blue Max at Lou & Jerry’s, Lafayette, Indiana

I don’t ever want my readers to be pulled forward in time, so not only is the language I use a barometer for the story’s time period, but also the music selections—all being anchors to the timeline.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie Somewhere in Time, DON’T READ the next two paragraphs UNTIL you do—which I highly recommend.]

To say it in a different way: I don’t want my book readers to be a casualty of the 1979 penny from the great film narrative Somewhere In Time. Christopher Reeve’s character is a successful playwright who has writer’s block, so he sets out on a road trip in search of inspiration. He is led to the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, and is then drawn into a photograph of a famous actress from sixty years prior. He finds a way to go back in time from 1980 to 1912 to find her. But he must wear the proper clothing of the time, use the correct coinage, have the appropriate haircut, and remove all evidence of the current time period—including anything in the pockets of his vintage suit. As he goes to sleep in the hotel, he listens to a recording he’d made on a General Electric P-ST cassette recorder—his own voice repeating truisms: that he’s lying in his bed at the Grand Hotel, and it is six o’clock in the evening on June 27, 1912.

After an unsuccessful restless night, he ends up hiding that current-day machine under the bed. He repeats the mantras as he goes to sleep and wakes up in 1912, meets her, falls in love, and in a merry morning-after, she teases him about his old suit. He overshot his backward in time clothing. As he teases her back, showing off all the wonderful hidden pockets, he pulls out the 1979 penny. And the rest, as they say, is history. He is sucked back into 1980 and basically dies of heartbreak.

Moral of the story (the writing of): Check all the freaking pockets of your vintage clothing if you’re gonna go back in time!!

So yeah, language, music, historical references, and all timeline anchors must be authentic to the story’s time period. Good note to end on. Here are my musical anchors:

Chapter One (August 13, 1978): Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” In my story, someone is looking out for this Vietnam Veteran. But who?

Chapter Three (July 30, 1962): Brian Hyland’s “Sealed with a Kiss,” played by radio DJ Chuck Friendly on KDWB, Minneapolis, wafting from the radio of a 1958 Plymouth Station Wagon.

Chapter Five (late summer, 1960), The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me,” song playing on the radio inside Crosby’s Coffee Shop and Bar on the shore of Pyramid Lake, NV.

Chapter Six (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty,” car radio of a beige 1973 Dodge Dart.

Chapter Seven (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): “What Now My Love” – a song being sung by a rest area janitor as he cleans the bathrooms, his unrestrained tenor streaming out through waffled air-holes under the facility roof, reminding my main character—who waits inside his 1966 Chevy Impala—of his first day in Vietnam (November 10, 1967), when Mitch Ryder’s voice drifted from the officer’s tent as John stood before his new lieutenant, wearing crisp new fatigues.

Chapter Nine (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): My secondary character bursts into song while driving her 1973 Dodge Dart—the Fritos jingle: Munch-a bunch-a munch-a bunch-a munch-a bunch-a munch-a bunch-a, Fritos go with lunch.

Chapter Thirteen – a story between time, before time, as told by my main character (who is half Ojibwe American Indian) to his childhood friend on the fourth day of their knowing each other—Thursday, August 2, 1962. In the story, the song is sung by a dashing memegwesi (hairy-faced nature spirit) on the fourth day of the boy being trapped inside thunder mountain. When the song is over, the mountain opens up. Between narratives are flashforwards to Vietnam.

Chapter Fifteen (reference to “I’m a little Teapot” children’s song)

Chapter Nineteen (Tuesday, August 15, 1978): Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road.” Cindy wanted to lose time, stop time, hold time back, study his face like an album cover, first song to last, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Goodbye Emma June. Time was moving too fast. The Flintstones glasses were empty, and now she was helping John lift the object out of the fishing box.

Chapter Nineteen – Her thoughts descended like glitter in water, until they landed as an epiphany: she had already come right to it. She said it so fast, “Three days after you made me sing ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,’ she hadn’t noticed him summoning those memories out of her. Not until she took a breath.

Chapter Nineteen (Sunday, August 5, 1962): Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” played by radio DJ Chuck Friendly on KDWB, Minneapolis, wafting into a 1958 Plymouth Station Wagon. The song on the radio was fading out, but Cindy kept singing along with Little Eva, to distract her dad from the I-Spy-John game.

Chapter Twenty-Seven (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): Barry Manilow’s “Even Now,” played on a transistor radio on top of filing cabinets against the wall of a bare-basic park recreation office in Waterville, Minnesota. Station: 830 AM WCCO, Minneapolis. Cindy tried to ignore it, but the song’s languid tempo agitated her. The words too close, clinging like saran wrap

Chapter Twenty-Seven (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me,” still on that transistor radio atop filing cabinets. The song ignited her free-spirited spark and changed everything, the way music does, reminding her of what a soul wants, and what a soul needs. And what Cindy needed were some answers, just like Carly.

Chapter Thirty (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): Cream’s “White Room,” a song blaring from John’s 1966 blue Chevy Impala’s radio – The lyrics were poetic, more than in other rock songs. John never talked about his poetry, or about the stash of hand-written poems in his old knapsack, some of which had survived through Vietnam.

Chapter Thirty (Wednesday, August 16, 1978): The Romantics’s “Talking in Your Sleep,” another song playing on the ‘66 Chevy Impala’s radio, after being punched to 830 AM by its passenger wanting to get the Minnesota Twins’ game time. An unfortunate song dribbled out like a leaky faucet with a happy beat, something about talking in your sleep. “I’m not listening to that shit.”

Chapter Thirty-Five (Wednesday, August 16, 1978 – A memory of one of two women who reside in a Montana Otherworld. Elizabeth closed her eyes, and let the dancing flames take her back to the little girl with the long black braids, to the laughter that knew no bounds echoing across the Canadian countryside, to her father circling the campfire, holding his daughter, splashes of color and jingles ringing everywhere on the people as the drums played and songs sung to the evening sky.

Chapter Thirty-Eight (Thursday, August 17, 1978): They stood around the Dodge’s trunk, feasting on a spread of scrambled eggs, sausage links, biscuits and gravy, and home fried potatoes. The moment was wordless except for Eric Clapton’s voice singing “I Shot the Sheriff,” wafting out from John’s 8-track player into the morning air.

Chapter Thirty-Eight (Thursday, August 17, 1978): Again, Eric Clapton. Silence hung in the balance, a space between songs on the 8-track. Then the atmosphere filled with the opening blues guitar riff for “I Can’t Hold Out,” dismantling John’s last line of defense. It was Marty’s favorite song.

Chapter Forty-One (Sunday, August 20, 1978): Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a song being performed live at a soldier’s funeral, by his little sister, Sarah. Quote from this scene below the dove photo. 

Chapter Forty-Four (Sunday, August 20, 1978): Original song, music written by Sarah, to the lyrics of one of John’s poems. “One Less Soldier.” I have yet to finish the poetry and the music for this song. It’s different channeling my character through poetry and music, rather than prose. An interesting challenge, but one I am honored to take on. 

Chapter Forty-One excerpt:

I’m ready to go anywhere. I’m ready for to fade, into my own parade. Cast your dancing spell my way. I promise I’ll go under it.

Suddenly, a sound resembling a fluttering flute crossed the space in a blur, until the mourning dove landed on the ground between Sarah and John, and started to bob its head and walk in a circle. Sarah kept playing, looking at the dove, her voice holding steady. The soft-feathered spirit seemed content to have her serenade him. Then his mate cooed from a distant tree branch, until another flutter of wings brought them together in the grass, an implausible spectacle.

Sarah was a trooper, even as she kept it together to the last refrain: Hey Mister Tambourine man, play a song for me, in the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following

The last word was never sung. Silence swallowed the void. Sarah stood up, and the doves flew away.

* * *

2 Responses to “The Soundtrack of Prose and Other Story Timeline Anchors”

  1. Teresa Torres Says:

    Tysa this is extraordinary I’m completely blown away with your depth and attention to detail , just fabulous The photographs are also magnificent, they truly transported me to an enchanted place, each and every one of them in its own right ( hope that makes sense ) You are so complex in your writing , your Substance is so thick and enticing . It just drew me in and YES I wanted more , sooo much more , where is this going ??how will it end ? I felt in their Present , in their moment , you inspired me profuoundly I could keep going , 🙂 Keep up the good work , it reflects YOU very well All my love , always Teresa PS Got to LA this week wanna get together ? Would love to celebrate your upcoming Birthday!!

    Sent from my iPhone


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