My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into its center. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.
My husband and I attended the San Francisco Symphony’s presentation of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto #1 featuring soloist Christian Tetzlaff on Sunday afternoon. The exhilarating performance is still reverberating within me, the work a stunning blend of instruments and tonal shifts. The opus also challenges any concert violinist to demonstrate his/her best relationship with his/her instrument and the score. Tezlaff not only lived up to the test, but he also surpassed it. He was one with the music and his instrument: in fact, he became the instrument.
I was particularly entranced by a long section where the violin has a dialogue with itself. One minute it sped along as if on a noisy interstate. In the next instance, there was an abrupt shift into a slower tempo and an almost imperceptible sound from the instrument itself. Back and forth this dynamic went. I felt I was overhearing Russia’s soul communicating with itself, the strident, militaristic aspect of the country’s life that its president Putin embodies, and the more melancholy, soulful quality of its great artists. It was electrifying from start to finish.
I left Davies Hall wondering how I, as a writer, could get a transfusion of Shostakovich’s dynamics into my writing. I would like to snare my readers right from the beginning and keep them enraptured with my characters and their movements as they (readers and characters) find their way through the narrative of a short story or novel. It’s a daunting task. At best, I might set off enough sparks and generate something of a fire that will infuse my fiction. But it takes a special verve and vision to sustain it. I would love to hear how other writers do it.
I do know that music is never far from my mind as I’m composing sentences and watching stories emerge from them. I’m aware of the phrasing and tonalities of various words, the differing textures that vowels and consonants create. Music seems to be at the heart of all good writing.