Writers thrive on words; writers are limited by having to use words. What a paradox. Sounds are all around us, but the only “sounds” we get from reading a book are the pages turning. With a Kindle, not even that. (Sounds inside your head don’t count.)
We writers work around this in several ways. Obviously, we use words to describe a sound. Some writers make sure we know what’s playing on the character’s radio or TV. Jazz, classical, choral works, we “cite” them as part of a character’s persona. This works, but mainly because it requires the reader call to mind the actual musical number. The Brits and Canadians do this better, I think, than my fellow US authors. Still, it’s a workaround.
I was reminded of this twice this week. Apple recently provided a free iBook application whereby “inside” the e-book product you can drag music, photos, videos, practically anything that enhances the text. It’s quite sensational. Intended primarily for educational texts, no reason you couldn’t do a very different edition of your e-book. Apple lists your product free on a website. If you want to sell the product, Apple takes a fee, but otherwise the application is entirely free.
The Icelandic singer Bjork, guesting on The Colbert Raport (you have to watch the program to know why it’s spelled that way), explained that she wrote musical numbers for a recent album with a radically new part of the CD package: a digital piece that accompanies the book if read on, say, an iPad. Funky. Fun.
Right now, I’m trying to find some way of musically painting (with words) scenes from my book-in-progress. It’s a tough task if you want to do more than mention Verdi or Bjork. My standard comes from Michael Mann’s wonderful film The Insider, the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (one of my personal heroes). Mann recreates the controversy of Wigand’s revelations about the tobacco industry and the politics of airing the show on 60 Minutes. Toward the end, when CBS has agree to release the unedited interviews, The New York Times publishes the whole story and as a bundle of newspapers hits the New York street . . .
Three notes from a tenor sax pierce your mind, your heart, your very soul. And then . . . again! There can’t be more than eight bars of music, but that sax blows my mind; it possesses the same power and magnificence as the Verdi Requiem. Imagine if you can, combining into three thrashing notes all of Dies Irae, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Lux aeterna, and Libera me.
All the tension and intrigues of the Wigand story are presented and resolved with that sax. As I write, I can’t get the notes out of my head.
But I can’t write them.
David Cole is overcoming five years of procrastinations and is finally attacking his eighth novel, Ransom My Soul - a somewhat bleak novel of home invasions, drug cartels and human smuggling in southern Arizona, tempered (hopefully) with a fine romance and love story. David's short story, JaneJohnDoe.com, is featured in Indian Country Noir (Akashic Press); he's also working on several non-fiction books about law enforcement, including The Blue Ceiling, a compilation of personal stories about women in law enforcement.