N is for Nocturne

Music plays a significant part of  my writing, perhaps because I’m a musician. I studied at music college many years ago. While I didn’t reach my ambition to become a band director or another kind of music teacher, I’ve never lost my adoration of the art.

In The Journeymen, there’s  no shortage of musicians, too. The nice thing about being an author is that you have the opportunity to build a world where you’re allowed to have a bit of wish fulfillment. I didn’t finish music school, but I could make my characters far more successful in these endeavors.

Sarah, my female lead, and her mother, Tina, are both pianists. I had constructed a scene in which Sarah plays piano for her new friend, Giovanni, that was so lovely and moving he has a moment when all his misfortune comes crashing down on him. The scene isn’t as dramatic as I had originally envisioned it, but it may actually be better for it.

First things first, though. I needed music.

The scene screamed Chopin to me. That was odd, because Chopin is such mellow music, usually. Worse, I reached for his Nocturnes. These are generally rather gentle piano pieces and aren’t really conducive to heavy duty emotional moments. They are much more like lullabies.

But it was so perfect! Nocturne No. 21 is Chopin’s last nocturne, released posthumously. It has a great deal of restraint that only comes from maturity. It also has a hidden sense of whimsy, or at least as much as you can have with a piece in a minor key. It spins a slow waltz through arpeggios and carries the listener to a tender place.

It was perfect. A fairly short piece that an amateur pianist could conceivably have memorized. But certainly not just that. The restraint of the piece isn’t an emotional bombshell, and that was perfect. No music could have forced Giovanni to face his inner demons. But a tender touch, a caress, and gentle lead, even a deceptive dance, could bring him to his knees before he could ever know what hit him.

For real, books need soundtracks.

Even if you aren’t into classical music or piano music, I hope you’ll give this one a listen. It’s beautiful and you don’t have to invest your whole existence into it. I think it says a lot about Sarah, too. Sweet and twirly with a bit of a dark side.

Nocturne #21, by Frederick Chopin


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M is for Mysterious Ways

I’ll be brief today. This song is great and speaks for itself.


The amazing beat and instrumentals came first, so naturally it’s what we tend to focus on. But like other U2 songs, the lyrics are amazing, too. They have that deeper meaning of being comfortable in both secular and sacred settings.

Yes, the words refer to a woman as seen from a man who lives underground and eats from a can. Love is confusing and it’s so much easier to run from it.

But look deeper and see if you see a more spiritual aspect to it. Especially if you know Bono gravitates toward those aspects.

So often in life, we put an insurmountable wall between our earthly lives and our beliefs, as though one threatens the other. I don’t think they do. I think they enhance each other, bring each other closer to a more complete understanding of the whole.

Earlier this week, Notre Dame in Paris had its devastating fire. In the aftermath, a woman pointed out the shining cross that had survived and attributed it to a miracle of God. A scientist pointed out the boil point of gold to explain the miracle. Both sides seemed smug.

I couldn’t figure out what the difference was.

Science doesn’t disprove religion and vice versa. Brought together, they make a magnificent whole. Kissing the sky requires learning to kneel, you might say.

Anyway. Had to say something and social media is a poor place to be philosophical. Life is yin and yang separating them only limits us, gives us only part of a story.

Maybe you’ll hear something beyond a fabulous beat. Let me know.

Mysterious Ways, by U2


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L is for Layla

I really should refrain from asking my husband about songs that start with a certain L.

I could have used him when I write my K piece, because that was a yawning gap in my writing. Instead, I asked him for L. Oh, the silly things we do off the cuff.

No, instead my L song had been chosen a while back, but it had turned out there are not only a lot of L songs, but L songs that indicate time. That was painful.

I chose Layla because addresses a perceived love triangle in my first pair of novels. In fact, it only qualifies as a love triangle at all because perception is indeed a strange kind of reality. Sort of.

If you read my B post, you know The Beatles is my favorite band. So, as you can imagine, I know the whole story about George and Pattie Harrison, and how Eric Clapton composed the song to her because of his feelings for her. It’s actually based on an ancient Arabian love story that’s not only lovely, but hauntingly familiar.

Still, it came as a bit of surprise to hear my character Matt in the lyrics. But Sarah, my female lead, is left behind while her boyfriend, Giovanni, traipses off to Italy. She’s devastated and finds comfort with Giovanni’s cousin, Matt, who feels just as abandoned but can’t really say so. You know, manly reasons. Matt tries to find some consolation as Sarah’s friend, and soon we have an awkward triangle.

Two incarnations of Layla are on the playlist. I don’t know which I like better, since with the exception of chords and lyrics, they are two different songs. Let’s do the new one first so you can hear the lyrics better.

Layla, by Eric Clapton

And the amazing classic rock version.

Layla, by Derek and the Dominoes

Not an easy song after the end of season three of The Grand Tour in its old format. I so love that show…

And, of course, this song has a runner up. Worse, the runner up is, in my never-withheld opinion, a much better song. From The Beatles (the white album), sung by George and not nearly as well known as Eric’s song. Haunting and gorgeous, I can’t refrain from putting it up. Its quiet magnificence speaks for itself.

Long Long Long, by The Beatles

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K is for Kyrie

(I’m a bit behind on my A to Z Challenge, but there are oh so many songs…)

I didn’t have a K song in my Journeymen listening collection. No Killing Me Softly songs, no Kiss You All Over songs.

Actually, that last was very nearly the K song out of sheer desperation, until I saw this one.

It was just after high school when I hear Mr. Mister sing kyrie elaison down the road that I must travel. I thought, wait, what did he say?

Maybe it was because I studied Latin in high school (but this is Greek), or maybe I really dig Catholic masses in ancient languages. In fact, I lived across the street from a Catholic church that did a 12:00 high mass in Latin, not to mention another mass in Croation.

Chicago was like that, very splintered into ethnic neighborhoods. I live in Austin now. They don’t understand here.

I’m rambling. Suffice to say, it was the coolest thing ever that I knew they were saying Lord have mercy in Greek. It was even cooler that so many people didn’t know.

My love of classical languages and Catholic high masses seems to show up in my books more than 70s classics that I love. I mean, Sarah? Emilia? Most of the plot to La Dotta? (You don’t know that yet.)

And I saw Richard Page of Mr. Mister (with Ringo Starr… marvelous) and never saw Exile. So, here it is.

Kyrie, by Mr. Mister

And because I can’t not. The sexy 70s, ladies and gentlemen.

Kiss You All Over, by Exile

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J is for Journeyman

Well, this is kind of perfect for an author writing a series called The Journeymen.

This band, Blackmore’s Night, very conveniently made it about a journeying person, a person going somewhere. It’s tiring, the road never ends. You know, like a time traveler.

It’s not about an experienced craftsman, but I’m happy to throw that pun into my books.

BN is Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple amazing guitarist fame, and his wife Candice Night, who sings and plays recorder and only looks like a trophy wife. No jealousy there, nope.

Here’s the thing… they often play medieval songs, or songs that sound vaguely medieval. So while Blackmore may be a classic rocker extraordinaire, you won’t hear this band on your favorite classic station.

But they’re great!

Thanks and props to my hubby who loves Deep Purple and Rainbow and Blackmore’s Night because he knows more about prog rock than pretty much all of us.

Have a listen. They’re one of my go-to bands when I need something pre-modern. It was sure nice of them to put this song together for me. <wink>

Journeyman, by Blackmore’s Night

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I is for I’ll Keep You Safe

I think I looked forward to this day most of all because of this song. And now I’m listening to it and I have no words. But this is my blog and I’m supposed to write, so I’ll try.

If my stories, my writing, had a theme song, this would be it.

Sleeping At Last is really just Ryan O’Neil. It was a band, now it’s more just his musical project. But there is something about his voice, his poems, that are beyond… Beyond is a good word. Transcendent. I don’t know. For a writer, I’m pretty lousy at communication. Maybe that’s why I listen to songs so much.

I discovered this band and song from the fact that I had made one of my characters an insomniac. I don’t know what that’s like. I sleep terribly well. So I did a Google search, and found a band ironically called Sleeping At Last.

Then, I used this video because it has the lyrics, and I really want you to read them. Especially the part about clock makers fixing time. Because holy cow. Are you kidding? I loved the song, then I heard that, and it became Official. At least to me.

I’ll Keep you Safe, by Sleeping At Last

Awhile back, my dear friend told me about the Enneagram, a personality type. Being a person who creates characters and their personalities, I studied up a bit. My friend said I had to hear the songs, because they were gorgeous. Turns out, they were Sleeping At Last. Coincidence? Not even a little. Talk about a poet who has his finger on the pulse of love and vulnerability.

So, this one is most definitely Giovanni.

Two, by Sleeping At Last

And this one, I think, is Sarah. She’s harder, but perhaps that’s why having her be a five makes more sense.

Five, by Sleeping At Last

I really don’t want him to reach Nine, though. I think that’s me. I’m scared to know. Maybe he won’t get there. Or, well, maybe that’s why I’m a nine.

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H is for Hearts a Mess

You guys remember when that Gotye song with the xylophone and Kimbra and it was all over the radio? Like, every third song? Why does the radio do that? Why do we keep listening? Well, “Somebody that I Used to Know” is a good song. Now. I wish they’d play it again.

I thought that Gotye, Wally De Backer, was basically a one-hit wonder. I was mistaken. He has way better songs out there, mostly tucked away in Australia. When I heard today’s H song, though, I was hooked. Get it? H? Hooked?


GotyeI sort of discovered Gotye because of his picture. He has something of a Giovanni look to him, a little, so I looked him up. And listened. Wow. Why are they not Ed Sheeraning these other songs, too? And yes, that is a verb.

“Heart’s a Mess” is also in that musical version of The Great Gatsby I’ve worked hard not to see, so the song may be familiar to you. But do go listen to some of his other stuff, it’s awesome. Oh, and he’s in a band called The Basics, too. Very not like his solo stuff, much more fun, too good to be missed.

The lyrics to the song make a lot of sense to a Giovanni who can’t figure out a Sarah and he just wants to occupy her mind. The music is lush and haunting. The words are marvelous. The video is cool and just weird enough to say, “What the <bleep> did I just watch?” The whole thing. Brilliant. Seriously, go find him.

Hearts a Mess, by Gotye

You might as well grab another H by The Basics while you’re at it. It’s a demo. It’s rough. It’s very catchy. I’m still singing it and tearing out my voice.

Hard for You, by The Basics


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G is for “Go All the Way”

It was the best of the 70s, it was the worst of the 70s.

Like most of the rest of the planet, I might have forgotten about Eric Carmen’s band, The Raspberries, if it weren’t for the two Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks that revived this and so many other great songs.

That lead guitar and bass interaction, can I just say? And don’t you want to sing Come on all day?

When I heard this song again a few years ago, I remembered how much I loved it. And then I had the extra context of Niccolo and Emilia, my sixteenth-century couple gone wrong in Shadow of the Portico.

Granted. Emilia telling Niccolo to go all the way with her is nothing short of horrifying in its scale of anachronism. But a good novel is a moment of change. So is this song. The singer is pretty much heartless until his girl kisses him and says I love you. She also suggests that they continue their affection, as it were. There may well be a moment when my ex-nun suggests something similar to Niccolo. I won’t give it away, though.

So, yep. Another Niccolo song. Somehow he became my favorite character. See D for more.

I used the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack as my link to this song because the sound quality is good. However, I thought about putting up lyrics so you could take a good look and decide if I’m just crazy. Worse, I really wanted to put up the Mike Douglas Show so you could see Eric Carmen in all his big hair/shiny clothes glory. Oh, the 1970s. If you want to punish yourself, by all means go find that. In the meantime, here’s something more recent.

Go All the Way, by The Raspberries

Okay, while you’re here. N is taken, so I have to tell you this here. Hubby and I were at a symphonic concert in Austin, enjoying the music and being lulled by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s second symphony. Then, I recognized a melody in a middle movement somewhere. I elbowed my husband (“Was I snoring?”) and asked what is it? I know it, what is it? ARG! He said I had lost a marble or two. But I was right. It was the refrain of this song. In fact, Eric Carmen gave Rachy cowriting status in it. Dig it. This video version shows Eric’s big hair, but at least it appears to be live and not synched.

Never Gonna Fall in Love Again, by Eric Carmen

Did I mention that I really want to use this and the song below to emphasize the degree of misery experienced by Giovanni’s cousin Matt in his later novel? Here, let me sink you down to the depths with one more by Eric with a little help by Sergei. I hope the book is easier to write than it is to listen to this song. Pass the hankie, please… I can’t even…

All By Myself, by Eric Carmen  

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F is for “Susanna Fair”

Book two of my time travel series is called La Dotta and includes the story of Alfonso Ferrabosco. I think I gave a hint of who he is in last year’s F column. He was a musician and possible spy in Elizabeth I’s court whose religion left a big question mark. Also, he was a family friend to Gabriele Paleotti, who is a historical character in my books. Sometimes historical fiction gives authors pretty gifts with bows.

While a fascinating character, I want to focus on his music a bit. Ferrabosco is perhaps best known as a pioneer of sixteenth century madrigal music in England. Book two is much more about the music, so I put together a music list from the period.

Renaissance music is still considered early music, at best transitional, so there are quite a few unfamiliar elements that are beginning to coalesce into something much more familiar to us. The example is a madrigal, which is a multipart song. However, more than just harmonies, the madrigal actually has a number of different simultaneous moving parts to it. You’ll hear what I mean below. I found them difficult to sing for this reason. This and their secular lyrics give them a very different feel from earlier church music. This will transition into more modern Baroque music by 1600.

I’ll avoid a musicology lesson here. It’s not my strength, anyway. (Much as I’d love to play a viola da gamba or sing polyphonic choral music.) Since we’re doing a music list of my favorite Journeymen songs, I couldn’t resist including some of my sixteenth century list, and especially something by Ferrabosco the Elder.

That this song also includes the name of his wife, Susanna, didn’t slip by me either. Just saying.

Here is a piece from my favorite madrigal composer. Fascinating and even a little haunting, I hope you enjoy and will listen to much more. It’s gorgeous. And I usually don’t mention the videos, but this room. THIS ROOM.

Susanna Fair, by Alfonso Ferrabosco I


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E is for “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”

My D entry from yesterday talked about the difficulty of developing characters. There’s another difficulty, too. At least there was for me.

When I began to write my story, based solely on the idea that I am a decent functional writer so why not, I forgot to think about a conflict.

A conflict. A problem. I had characters and a meet-cute (still in chapter one, by the way), but no idea what to do with them.

I think it was my husband who suggested that now I needed a conflict, and all I could think was, uh-oh.

Despite that, a good thing happened. It forced me to think deeply about this little story I was constructing, and was soon thinking it’d be nice to make my modern characters squeeze into a historical context. The rest is time travel history.

While that’s a fascinating plot development, I didn’t think that was a conflict, per se.

(I’ve learned so much since then… external and internal conflicts, for one thing…)

I won’t veer off in that direction. Let’s just say that I needed a good reason–you know, other than doing a 500-year time jaunt–for Giovanni to leave the woman he loved.

As I wrote him, I wanted Giovanni to be a nice guy. Somebody who’d take the shirt off his back. (No, not that way. Well, maybe a little…) But it took a long time for me to figure out what that looked like. Ask my editor if you want more details on that mess. Then again, maybe don’t.

I came up with a million horrible things in Giovanni’s past. In fact, I did it to everyone. Their lives before were tragic, as the song says. As I did that, I realized some things.

Like, pretty much all our lives our tragic, and the backstory I was developing wasn’t so unusual. I really had to ease these backstories to help makes these characters more real.

Great, okay, so what could keep two people apart? And don’t get too complicated.  

What about fear? What about good intentions? Having good reasons to shut up, despite a compelling reason to speak up.

I won’t spoil it all, except to say the song below really inspired Giovanni’s inner conflict.

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, by The Police

I loved The Police when I saw them in concert in… wow… 1984. Good seats. Ruined my car getting tickets. I was 17–I didn’t know you had to put oil in the engine! These days, I watch the video and just think, oy, Sting is holding the bass bow wrong.

When did I get so old?

Don’t answer that.

Digging up that gem above led me to another. Same song, but covered by a band who I’ll talk about later, especially with letter I. When Sleeping At Last does a song, they have a way of making it their own. This version is even better, more yearning, more touching. I love this version. I can’t wait until we hit letter I.

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, by Sleeping At Last

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