This is a confession. When I like something, er, someone, I’ll take them. It’s my job as an author to have well rounded characters. It so happens that along with writing music fiction that a music idol, or two…or three…or eighteen will seep into a story I’ve written. I won’t say who exactly. That’s for me to write, and for you to find out. Such is the case in how I wrote Marlboro Blues. That was my first novel. Well, it’s about music and I needed music related characters. I did use some actors. (counts on fingers) Four of them to be exact. One totally made up character. The rest were all inspired by musicians.
Now why in pray tell would I use musicians as inspiration? Here it goes. Actors pretend to be somebody else, they immerse themselves in a world which is not their own. In creating a character from an actor, you have to go through every film (including the torturous turkey) just to get a smidgen of who they really are. Try and pinpoint the similarities they bring to each role. Sometimes their interviews are better, but I tend to find many of the actors dull. All of the attraction is in their acting or the character they play. Musicians on the other hand, don’t pretend. They usually write songs from the heart. There’s nothing to hide behind. They are fully exposed (so to speak) and share their music, their art, their words and most of all, feelings with the world. An interview with them can be incredibly revealing, so can the lyrics they write. They can try to lie about certain subjects, but the truth is in their albums. I find musicians to be extremely fascinating. Not in a stereotypical rock star quality, but in human value. It’s in their character of where they’ve been, the past they had, what they have seen, and the things they can tell. I set the story in ’87 because by then, many people had survived the turbulent ’60s and excessive ’70s. By the late ’80s, these people were veterans of life, somewhere in their 40s. By then, one would hope to gain a little more maturity. Plus, they aged like fine wine.
I wanted to write about a singer who had survived her tumultuous past. With that would have to be a cast of characters which takes us from London to New York. Like her, they too have grown a little bit. The sarcastic Scottish bartender. The willing friend who lends an ear and advice. The willing friend’s husband who is nobody’s fool. The talented although iron and brick guarded music producer. Another producer who is doubly talented in both music and amusement. A third producer who provides comfort. A producer’s wife who shares a past of regret and redemption. The engineer’s suspicious wife. A poet who exudes cool cruelty. A salesman/fan who accepts the singer for who she is and the music she made in the past. A younger singer who has a sugary sunny disposition. A bass player who doesn’t mince words. Factory workers who push their luck. Sound guys, record store operators, airport personnel, various other singers. All were inspired by musicians, and/or pertaining to music in one way or another. They fit. When I was writing the story, I felt like I was shopping for characters. “I’ll take this one. I’ll take that one. Oh, that one would fit perfectly.” I just liked all of these people for their looks, attitude, style, and outward honesty of who they are or were. God willing, if I were to get stuck with a character, I could easily punch in the name of their matching inspiration on YouTube and watch one of their interviews to see if I could get a better grasp on them. If there’s one thing I’m a total stickler in making a character of any kind is, can I see them saying that? I never want to make a character that’s so far out of bounds to who they are from. I’m a cheater. I need a blueprint sometimes. I admit it. For Marlboro Blues being my first ever novel, I needed all the help I could get, and I truly love writing. I’ve seen other people who have claimed to be inspired by somebody they idolized, but when reading their story, I just couldn’t see it. Knowing who they fashioned a character after, to me fell flat. There is no right or wrong way in how to develop a character. This is only me and how my mind works. Maybe I’m a little too much of a realist and I need an exact match. There are other times I’ve seen stories get judged on lack of character. I am determined to never get stuck in that rut. Perhaps that exactness helped me finish my story in about nine months!
Dick Clark had the immortal words of “Music is the soundtrack of our lives.”
Can’t we say, “Music can also be included in the stories we read?”