When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air. You can never capture it again. Eric Dolphy
I began writing fiction over thirty-five years ago. My first attempt at a novel had a jazz saxophonist as a minor character. A description of that character walking across the Brooklyn Bridge as he played his horn was the only decent piece of writing in the story (and to be honest, I stole that idea from the life of Sonny Rollins). A few years later, I tried again, this time making a saxophonist the central character. I got further, but, well, that story didn’t work either. And the next novel? You get the picture.
It took me twenty-five years to get a novel published. Frustrating at the time, certainly, but in retrospect that’s how long it took me to learn the craft. Because I kept at it all that time. I got full marks for stamina. And even then, when I did publish my first novel, The Rizzoli Contract, ten years ago, it was (I see now) uneven and overwritten. So I’m still learning and still trying.
But one thing, as it happens, has been consistent. Without conscious intention, most of the fiction I have written has music at the center of the story. Jazz, mostly. And it’s not just that I love jazz – but also that good jazz has qualities of excitement, emotional depth, and complexity, which I believe are essential elements to good fiction. Jazz musicians, too, have often been intriguing characters, outsiders with passion and talent who can’t fit into the mainstream. Hipsters like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis. My heroes.
So my novel Song for Katya was about an ex-junkie jazz pianist who foolishly falls in love with a Soviet woman when his band visits Cold War Soviet Union. Reach the Shining River has characters inspired by Young, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Jimmy Rushing. And next year I have a young adult novel coming out with Little Island publishers about an Iraqi boy living an unsettled life in the American Midwest who finds solace in the playing of John Coltrane.
So call it inspiration or homage, but somehow my fiction has become a crossroads for my musical interests. Does it work for my readers? Time, I suppose, will tell.