Writing My First Cozy Mystery: The Music: Writing the songs: Part One

When I first put pen to paper, I imagined I was writing the first in a series of musical mysteries. I wanted each of the books to have a music-related setting and to be filled with the sounds and experience of music-making. I wanted music to be woven like a golden thread through every story, lending a sparkle here, a gleam there...wrapping everything in a bit of magic.

I decided on a completely fictional music festival for the setting of my first book. With a visit to Bethel Woods fresh in my mind, I located the festival on a fictional farm called Oak Hill, somewhere in the Catskill Mountains of New York. You can read about the real-life musical events that influenced the festival's creation and particulars in a recent blog post on this site.

What I heard in my head as I began to write the story was music written by others. So, that is what I included in the first chapters I wrote.

In the opening pages of the first draft of my story, the main character, Sam Cook, drives her roommate Nia to the Oak Hill Folk Festival and they sing a bit of Graham Nash's fabulous "Marrakesh Express". A few pages later, Sam's dad opens the festival's first night jam with "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms", an American traditional song that may or may not be in the public domain.

The feedback from my writer's group was swift and decisive. Rabbi Moshe Rudin reminded me of something that I, as a songwriter, should have taken into consideration. Including the lyrics of other people's songs in my book would require permissions and royalties. It might make selling the book difficult or impossible. He suggested I remove them.

I knew he was right, but removing the music felt like a blow to the heart of what I was trying to create. Before that feeling could settle over me, however, a second one came close behind...I am a songwriter! I'll write my own songs!

I took "Marrakesh Express" out of the opening chapter and replaced it with a mention of Sam and Nia singing a song written by Sam. I removed the lyrics from "Roll in my Sweet Baby's Arms". Then, I set to work.

First, I needed a song to open the festival. I wanted it to be catchy and full of energy.  I wanted lots of instruments and voices - to capture the first night jam at Oak Hill as I imagined it - something like this version of "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" I looked through my own song catalog but found nothing that really fit the bill. So, I wrote "What'll I Do". In my mind, I could hear it in a "jam" setting - some banjos, fiddles, an upright bass, and lots of voices. That vision later changed, and the song ended up in a different place in the story - but that's a tale for another blog post.

As I continued to write, I began to see places where a song could fit naturally into the narrative. The main character, Sam Cook, is scheduled to play with her trio, Rambling Rose, on a stage for rising new performers at the Oak Hill Festival. So, I wrote "You Get Me Going", in her voice, for them to perform.

One of Sam's romantic interests in the story, Gavriel Biton, a singer-songwriter Sam had a fling with about six months before the first book begins, is also scheduled to play a set on the Up and Coming Stage at Oak Hill. I wrote "That You Are Mine" in his voice. He makes every woman in the audience swoon when he sings it.

There is a lot more to this musical story. I wrote two more songs for the book, then set out to find musical artists, whose sound embodied the characters, to record all the songs I had written.

Stop by on Thursday to read more about my vision for the music in my first cozy mystery novel and hear some more of the songs I wrote for the book. In fact, why not plan on stopping back every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday for a new blog post? 

And, don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for my mailing list. When I find a publisher for my book, you can say, "I know the back-story!".

#cozymystery #writinglife #amquerying


Leave a comment