For 3 years I DJ'd-- not at clubs-- at a real live radio station. Had my FCC license, learned to cue songs and splice tracks, and weave from 1 song to another like party DJs, but my gig was different. I was in a soundproof both in a radio station, headphones blocking all outside sound, and unless a couple of friends joined me, I was alone and free to spin my songs and words into a world that couldn't see me ... and that I couldn't see.
I had a couple of shows but my favorite was the late night one that started at 11:30 at night and went into the wee hours. Often the engineer and I were the only ones left in the studio. I named my show, "BARE WIRES," after a John Mayall blues tune: "These are bare wires of my life ..." My theme song was Van Morrison's "CARAVAN": "Turn it up, turn up the radio ... a little bit louder, a little bit louder."
From the beginning I wove a narrative-- a soundtrack to the movie playing in my mind. It took me a while to realize I was creating a world and a story as well as a persona: a woman speaking in the dark. As I spoke into the mic, I imagined my listeners ... driving, partying, lying in bed ... as I'm sure they imagined me. The freedom was dizzying. The responsibility, too. I couldn't allow an alien song or word trespass and ruin the mood.
Talking in the dark to people you don't see -- connecting to strangers with your voice and the songs you've chosen to play-- made me pretty fearless, the way you have to be when writing the first draft of a story or novel. Mine emerges as my hand steers a black pen across the white pages of a notebook. I hug the secret to myself for as long as I can before releasing the words to fly like blackbirds -- like lifting my finger from the vinyl record and letting the song spin from me to you.
Once Upon A Time
Saturday, August 3, 2013
In DARKTOWN BLUES-- the novel I just completed & am now revising-- I had to teach myself (with the help of wonderful mentors) how to navigate my way through a darkroom as well as through a jazz improvisation, how to run a restaurant & sue City Hall, and how to deal with a drive-by shooting & make a love spell.
Wonderful science fiction writer, Connie Willis, says, "I think that under the book you’ve written, you’re teaching yourself. You are your best reader. You are the one who really needs to read this book. Because you are trying to figure out things that you haven’t been able to figure out."
I can't explain why I probed my way through old blues recordings, searching for a clue to a mystery that had no guideposts, suspects, or solution. YET. But like a detective, I knew the instant I found it: an old song called "Darktown Strutters Ball," recorded by Fats Domino, among others. I didn't know where it was going or why it meant anything to me, but I filed it away with clues that were slowly gathering. And then one evening I went to a crazy little restaurant that served Russian food yet had a belly dancer, a forlorn woman in her seventies, who tried to wiggle to a mournful Russian dirge. When my husband & I left the restaurant, & I saw the belly dancer outside, cigarette in the corner of her mouth, waiting for the bus, I grabbed my husband's arm. Tingling with excitement, I mumbled something incoherent about clues, Russian belly dancers, & a strutters ball.
"Good," he said with a smile. He's been with me long enough to know what was happening.
I don't know how long it took between those first clues & the later ones, when the pieces of the puzzle began to come together in an unwieldy mass that would become a novel. It's a miracle & a mystery, & I've given up trying to solve it. Especially because during the revision process I realize I'm still in the process of finding clues to the mystery of why I wrote this book, & not another.
By the way, neither "Darktown Strutters Ball" nor Russian belly dancers appear in the novel, but ... wait a minute, there is a 61 year-old belly dancer, though she isn't Russian, & a song that might be called, "Darktown Blues."
All I can do is follow the "sparks" & clues wherever they lead. I sense new ones on the horizon, beckoning me toward the next book. If I told you how weird & random they are, you'd think I was ... well, you know. But I promise you there's something connecting them. I just haven't discovered it yet.