Songs and Stories and Scary Futures


When I sat down to write the first chapter of “And the Blackbirds Mock,” the entire story had already come together on a thirty page outline (though, of course, I discovered new and different things about the story and characters as I wrote chapters and deviated a few times from the outline). Sometimes I like to write with music in the background to get me in the story’s mood, and sometimes I need absolute silence.

That morning, I craved music. There was something meaningful in what I was about to do, I thought, and I wanted a fitting song to which to listen as I penned the story’s first words. I combed my iTunes music library for an appropriate song, and an album of Celtic hymns snagged my hungry gaze. I had not listened to most of the songs in the album, and I don’t even know when I acquired it, but one song in it had always taken a churn to my emotions and knocked them around (in a good way). The song, “Morning Has Broken,” had no words on the Celtic album, but I considered that, as it was a hymn, it likely had words. 

I did a Google search on the song and found not only the lyrics but a moving ‘music video’ of Cat Stevens (that WAS his name–he changed it to something else now), whom I’d never heard of, singing the hymn. Stevens did not write the song, but he made it popular. Here are the lyrics:

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

These lyrics carried me to the manuscript’s first sentences and broke the barrier between the story in my mind and its physical existence on paper as I listened to the song over and over (I can do that without getting sick of songs—it drives my family members nuts). Finally it became part of the delicious absorption that I love most about writing, the state of mind where nothing exists but the story and the characters and I am wholly where they are and not at all tired, stressed, and dreading a frightfully busy day. I am somewhere else. 

But I still used the song in the story. I felt that Okalee, one of the crucial characters, would adore a song about spring, and first mornings, and blackbirds speaking. And so in the first chapter, Polly (Okalee’s older sister) smiles and tries not to grimace at Okalee’s off-tune rendition of “Morning Has Broken” as they prepare for River Day. I’ll let you find out what River Day is if I ever get this manuscript published. 😉 

For my next project, which is still just a shimmery, nascent idea in my head, the song that plunges me into the story’s feeling is Nickel Creek’s “Elsie” (not an original song of theirs) from the band’s new album, A Dotted Line. I really shouldn’t start talking about Nickel Creek, because they are my favorite band and I have the delightful opportunity of seeing them in concert in May, and I could write about how wonderful their songs are forever…they’re considered a bluegrass band, but not pure bluegrass, and I’ve loved them since I was eleven.

Though “Elsie” really clicks with the new story idea, I can’t start writing the story yet because right now I am waiting on a few life-changing decisions to be made, both by me and by those whose minds I can’t control. Life is pretending it’s calm and sweet. I do, after all, get to spend all of my time reading and cooking right now (just look at the picture at the top of the post…lie on the towel and read every evening these days). But when I think of June, which is when Louis and I must leave our cottage and find somewhere else to live, I start to fight panic. I do not like not knowing what is going to happen to my family of two in the increasingly near future, and it makes me feel frozen and unable to create new stories. But that’s another day’s post. For now, I just let the idea cook as I read book after book after book.



I might write a post later about books I’ve either finished recently or am reading, and here they are if you want to try them for yourself:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (finished)

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (finished)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (currently reading)

Rekindled by Tamera Alexander (currently reading)


4 thoughts on “Songs and Stories and Scary Futures

  1. I just discovered Nickle Creek this week and I LOVE their music! I’m a huge fan of bluegrass in general, but to hear how they re-envision different genres of music with the traditionally bluegrass instruments is amazing. 🙂

  2. I have all four of their albums! They’re amazing! What are your other favorite bluegrass musicians? I’ve only listened to Nickel Creek and I’m always looking for new recommendations. 🙂

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