When the Musicians Spoke
I am fully swept up in this book launch (you can still pre-order here!) and have a mush brain right now where I can only just focus on The Book. In the mornings when I wake up I write in my little journal about my intentions for this book and this tour and how I want to connect with people and what good things I hope this book will accomplish and then I answer a bunch of emails and that’s it kids, that’s what my brain is good for right now. I wander around in a fog otherwise. The other day I actually put on a jacket inside out and wore it for several hours in public before I even noticed. My brain is toast.
So I was worried I would forget about this moment that happened while I was finishing the copy edits for my novel. And I definitely wanted to tell you about it, because I felt like learned something, or re-learned something. Because this newsletter is about process as much as it is about anything else. And if I write it down and tell you about it then it feels more real to me.
Over the holidays, I worked on my copy edits, finalizing the text the day after Christmas. On that last day I learned I had to make some changes that were not major but were unexpected nonetheless. It was a moment when I thought I should be done already. God, I’d done so much research and done so many drafts! But something in me told me I had a few more questions to ask. And I think it’s important to remain open to feedback with your work at all stages.
In my novel, there is a character who is an electronic music composer. I am obviously not one myself, but I have known many musicians in my life (that’s what she said) and I’d like to think I have a general understanding of how they spend their time, what they think about their art, how they consider the art of their peers, and what their process is. But then again what the fuck do I know? Like we think we know things, and we do. But also: we don’t know a lot.
So, duh, the real power is knowing what you don’t know. And thus it is good to have early (or in this case, late) readers who are more educated than you are on a topic. It is sometimes painful to get called out on your mistakes, but I’d much rather get called out in the edits stage than when the book is bound in covers and sitting on a shelf in a shop.
And I kept looking at this handful of moments in this character’s life and my gut was saying: I just don’t think you have this quite right yet.
I have a musician/producer friend here in New Orleans who studied composition, and I asked him to read a few specific sections featuring this character. A few sections were about her making and thinking about her own work, and another one was about attending a performance of another musician. My friend made a few suggestions on recording equipment she might own and a programming language he thought she would use, and he also offered some thoughts on how to describe the way a piece of music sounded.
I had also put out a call for help on social media and off that I made a new friend who is a composer and also an academic. I asked him to read the chapters, too, and he helped me fine tune some of the earlier edits from my New Orleans friend. He also clarified some nuances between using “noises” versus “sounds” which was extremely fascinating, and that note ended up impacting a couple of sentences throughout the book.
The suggestions from both of them were offered to me because they wanted to help me but also, I think, to honor this fictional woman’s craft, which is their craft, too. These two generous people made sure I was not just dumping words I might have found on the internet into her mouth. I am so grateful to them.
I felt a little panicky the day this was happening, even though I was in good hands. I wanted to do this right. Also I asked myself: why couldn’t I have done this months ago? But I suppose I didn’t know the right questions to ask yet. I hadn’t quite isolated the specific moments in this character’s life that needed to be examined. Only when all of the other screws in the book were tightened perfectly tight, could I see which areas were still a little too loose. The right answers (and questions) hopefully show up when you need them. Even if it’s sometimes at the last second.
People always want to know how you know when you’re done with a book or a story or a poem or a project or whatever it is you’re writing, and I have to say, this was how I knew. When I knew what questions were left to ask. And when the musicians answered them.
I hope you have a peaceful weekend.
p.s. In honor of the commencement of Carnival season this week, the donation is going to Backstreet Cultural Museum.