I was listening to Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” on the radio the other day, and it got me to thinking about how music and storytelling are related.
The story behind this particular piece of music, as related by the radio announcer, is interesting in itself. It seems that Tchaikovsky took a room at a small hotel in Italy – hoping, perhaps, to find some quiet and solitude to do his composing – and learned to his chagrin that it was located next door to an Italian cavalry regiment. Every morning at the crack of dawn, a bugler blasted the quiet solitude, calling the soldiers from their bunks to duty. But rather than let the surprise ruin his visit, Tchaikovsky put it to use. “Capriccio Italien” begins in rousing fashion with trumpets, summoning the listener to a stirring and beautiful piece of music.
A thought I had after listening to the music was how creative people use what they have at hand, and throw nothing away. Maybe it’s because when they are young, their mothers admonished them to clean their plates at the dinner table. More likely, it’s because they form the habit of weaving the bits and pieces of life into the fabric of their stories, making something much more than the bits and pieces would be by themselves – a whole, much greater than the sum of its parts.
I think of my mind as a closet – the junkiest closet in the house. We all have a space like that where we toss stuff we don’t really have a place for. Each morning when I sit down to write, I open the closet door and stuff falls out. I use what I can in that day’s business and cram the rest back in, to possibly be useful another day. What goes into that closet? Who I am – the sum of everything I’ve seen and done, every person I’ve met, everything I’ve read. Is my fiction autobiographical? Of course, because it’s the result of all of that stuff that’s in my closet. It flows out of who I am.
My new novel, The Governor’s Lady, due in September, is a good example. It has a background of southern politics, a subject I know something about after a career in journalism, much of it covering politics and politicians, and even a brief stint years ago working for a southern governor. My central character is a feisty, independent woman – and I’ve known a fair number of those, including my dear wife. The characters and story all came from my closet, and there’s a good deal of me in the result.
And now, there’s a fine piece of music by Tchaikovsky in my closet. Some day, it may come tumbling out and find its way into a story. Probably, when I least expect it.
Robert Inman’s novels are available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo e-readers.