Saturday, May 1, 2010

The ups and downs of writing by ear

All of my published works have been titled by songs:

Where Souls Collide, the title of my first novel, was discovered while listening to a song by Kem. In “Heaven,” he sang about a man who’s turned his whole life around for the love of a woman. While writing, with his wonderful voice in the background one night (I’d heard this tune a hundred times), it was as if he paused and cleared his throat before belting out, “in this place where two souls collide.”

Wow, what’d he say? I thought, and replayed the song once more. Bam! (as Emeril might say). After a dozen title changes for that book, I had the one that stuck. The song fit the quest of the hero and heroine and summed up their heart’s pursuits – and the paranormal parallel universe they lived in. Cool.

After that, I was head over heels about Robin Thicke when the assignment for The Holiday Inn anthology rolled around. I tossed around all kinds of magical titles – even dragged my children into the debate. Again, on my way to work, stuck in traffic, I’m listening to Robin ask the question, “When all that you’ve got is doubt, and no one to pull you out, your heart is slowing down, can you believe?”

Again, Bam! Here was a story about a couple faced with the end of a marriage they thought was perfectly fine. Could they overcome the prediction by changing their present even though the future looked so grim? Can You Believe. (Of course, my children grumbled and groaned that I had pulled them from their latest Harry Potter books and Christmas video games for a title that had been right in my face the whole time.)

The title for the Holiday Brides novella, “” comes from a Keyshia Cole song of the same title, though throughout the song she says, "sent from heaven." Once I heard the song, I figured I just had to write something that fit those thoughts. Who doesn’t think the love of their life is heaven sent? Okay, well lots of people probably, but for literary sake I needed to believe otherwise. In this instance, when the assignment came along, the title was set, I just had to figure out a story to support the sentiment.

It was the same with my current WIP – now in revision stages – and set for release in January. This set of lyrics has been in my head since I was 10 years old.

Rewind to Elton John’s oversized glasses, outlandish costume days and envision him pounding out “Bennie and the Jets.” Only thing is, I may have seen him on American Bandstand or something, but mostly I heard that song on radio; a really bad transistor radio that made everything sound like static-filled AM even if it was FM. And usually I heard it in a car with my three younger brothers (then aged seven and four (twins) with my mother fussing at us about something over the din.

Despite the chaos, I ferreted out a favorite stanza, which came after the really high pitched part that went (in my head) Candy and Ronnie somethingsomethingsomething so spaced out BENNIE AND THE JETS something oh, the wicked and the wonderful somethingsomething electric boots a mohair suit.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I hear Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s song again with a new ear. What a cool book title! And so, my WIP that became The Wicked and The Wonderful, was pitched, sold, and (FINALLY) completed.

So about six months ago, I go online and look up the lyrics for my kids who have no more idea what the heck Elton is singing than I did 30+ years ago. Lo and behold, I discover the line is “Oh, the WEIRD and the wonderful.” Not wicked at all. Hmpf.

All these years. My favorite line. I’ve been singing it totally wrong. Yet, my bad ears spawned a whole realm from the mistake. I’m not changing the title, but I do sing the song correctly now.


Liane Spicer said...

Congrats on completing another story, Stefanie!

It seems quite a few of us have musical inspiration for our stories and titles. I can't recall this happening with my first, but the second, definitely. George Benson gave me the title and set the mood that I hoped to capture.

Farrah Rochon said...

Stefanie, the book I'm currently writing, HER FAVORITE MISTAKE, came to me after hearing a Sheryl Crow song with a similar name. I was in the car (as always) and immediately started taking verbal notes into my phone's recorder.

KeVin K. said...

I have a title that needs a story. I’ve been carrying it around for years hoping to find a character/plot to do it justice. It's my wife's miss-hear of an old Culture Club tune, which she still sings cheerfully from time to time: Karma Comedian.