November 4, 2006 at 6:57 PM
The idea for the novel comes to you during a random moment in the day and quickly takes shape in your mind. Eventually, you set it to paper. You research, you immerse. You dream and imagine. You fall in love and nurture this newfound character and story, the object of your affection, your obsession. You craft, you build, you tear down, you revise.
My violinist. Her violin world. Such a foreign land for me. Such a challenge, to learn as much as I can in fifteen months’ time. And yet, what an exquisite, sensual world I’ve discovered.
You polish. You distill. You set your baby aside to age. She re-emerges as a teenager. You start getting on each others’ nerves. You disagree. The work gets more painful. But you persevere. Then you polish some more. Distill some more. Until one day the story is perfect. It resonates and echoes with a geometric precision, like a Bach partita.
Your job is done. You open the doors to the sanctuary where you’ve holed up with your character for the past fifteen months and you nudge her out. For a few seconds, she flounders, unsure of what to do with so much space, so much freedom. Then she spreads her newly developed wings and takes off. Flies away with a call over her shoulder that she’ll be back to visit. Maybe. And you watch her until she is nothing but a speck in the sky. You turn back to regard your sanctuary, now empty, drained of color and warmth. Then all you can do is pick up the pieces and await the arrival of the next seed.
One thing alone soothes the soul. And fortunately I hold a ticket that allows me, two days later, to hunker in my symphony seat and listen to Midori play Britten’s Violin Concerto.
A “war requiem,” the program notes describe it, composed and completed on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. Britten was greatly influenced, as well, by the tragic events of the Spanish Civil War, which took the lives of 600,000 people. The violin concerto that has sounded mildly appealing to me in the past now springs to life with searing new significance.
The violin concerto as requiem. I couldn’t have been in more agreement. Never before has each passage of this music made so much sense. So much beauty and loss. The Spanish Civil War. World War II. The latter, in particular, has begun to creep into my heart with an unmistakable heaviness, and I know it will play a part in my next novel, whether I want to go there or not.
Midori is a genius with contemporary music. Britten’s intention fills the concert hall through her playing. You can feel it in the air. The violin’s lament becomes his; it becomes the 600,000 departed souls, the 23 million people who perished in World War II. Davies Symphony Hall is crowded with ghosts and patrons alike. Tears dribble down my face, unabashed and unabated. A requiem, I suppose, will do that to you.
But oh, how sweet, the violin concerto requiem. Helping me both celebrate and grieve that world which is now lost.
Jennifer - thanks for the nice words, and I love the way you write, too.
PS - Sydney, feel free to join us in CA any time! (We Kansas girls need to stick together.)
Congratulations on "finishing" your novel. I love the way you describe the process. I know what you mean about the emptiness. You MUST tell us all when this book is going to be published, because I'm sure I'm not the only one who will want to read it. (And I do know what a process it is getting things published). But your writing always moves me. I STILL think about the woman in the story about the violin in the attic, and it humming, and how it felt under her hands, and her not understanding husband and her emptiness, and what the violin filled, and how it really WAS an inheritance, even though the violin wasn't worth all that much. (And in case you didn't know, which I know you do--THAT really says something, for a story and its characters to stick in someone's head).
How's it going with your new violin? I'm really starting to think I need a new violin too. I think I've finally gotten better than my instrument (my battered old "camp" fiddle)--it simply doesn't have any range or breadth--though it's very sweet. I'm scared to start looking, because I know I could end up spending far more than I can afford.
Are you still loving your new instrument? You ARE going to keep playing, even if you're no longer in that world in your writing, right?
This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Violinist.com Summer Music Programs Directory
Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine