Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The story behind 'The Christmas Violin'


The Christmas Violin and how it came to be:

I remember the morning as if it were minutes ago. Winter was tumbling into spring and I woke up from a dream that followed me like a shadow.

I was standing on the stone steps of a cemetery. A young woman with beautiful red hair played the violin in front of a small granite tombstone in the shape of a teddy bear. I was mesmerized, watching her slender fingers dance as the violin bow tickled the strings.  She was playing a lullaby, a beautiful lullaby.

From my perch, I saw an old homeless woman watching the violinist, peeking out of a cluster of arborvitae bushes. And I also saw a young man, dressed in a suit, watching the violinist from a few graves away.

That’s the image I woke up with and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Even when I tried pushing it aside to work on something else, it wouldn’t let me. It had a real attitude and, gosh darn it, I was going to listen.

So I did. I learned a long time ago not to fight my characters when they are insistent that I come out to play. So I stopped ignoring them and said, “Okay, if we’re going to do this, I need each of you to help me tell your story.”

I decided early-on that I wanted to structure the book like a violin concerto following the traditional three-movement format. And I knew I would include a short encore.

I also wanted the book to sound musical. I wanted readers to hear the music in their minds when they read the book. So I set out to accomplish this by varying sentence and paragraph lengths and by reading it out loud to make sure I was accomplishing my goal.

I also knew how the story would start (thanks to my dream) and how it would end. But I wasn’t certain what would happen in between. That, I would leave to my characters. I trusted them to take my hand and show me the way. And they did, often in ways that surprised me.

I made a deliberate decision not to name any of the characters in Movement 1. My goal was to introduce these three characters, their commonality (the cemetery) and have them follow tangential paths.

In movement two, I name the violinist and the young man but I decided the homeless woman would remain nameless. I did this because I wanted her name to be as lost as she was. I wanted the reader to feel the homeless woman’s emotions from her no-name character. I think not naming her added to her sense of hopelessness.

The reader does not learn the woman’s last name until the very end of the book. In fact, her name is the last line in the Encore, which is only a paragraph.

Again, I did this on purpose. I imagined that when readers learn what her name is that they will clap loudly -- just as they do when a performance concludes.

I really love how the book came together. I love the surprise at the end. And I love what the characters have taught me about the importance of living life.

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