“Music curled up from the instrument, profound and alive, intertwining melodies and counter melodies, with harmonies so intricate they made her ache. Layers of sound washed over her and crept into her. She’d never heard anything more beautiful, more haunting, in all her life, and she felt like she was glimpsing Wen’s true self.”
I seem to be incapable of writing a book that doesn’t prominently feature 1) music and 2) stories. Probably because those have always been my twin passions. I started playing the violin at age six and piano at nine, and wrote my very first story at seven. I relinquished violin in favor of piano at fifteen, having fallen madly and irrevocably in love with Chopin. Meanwhile, I was constantly writing stories and poems, submitting them to various publications that accepted material from children (and some that didn’t!), entering contests, and, the year I was sixteen, putting out my own kids’ writing magazine. I studied music in college, taking multiple theory and composition courses, and got my degree in piano performance. I continued writing during the summer, and finished my first novel a few months after graduating.
I think what touches me so deeply in both music and stories are the emotions they evoke, the depth of raw feeling and beauty they stir inside of me. Every time I listen to the middle movement of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto I get teary—it’s so profoundly beautiful it makes me ache. I try to emulate those same feelings in my writing. My favorite kind of writing has music in it, each word and sentence and paragraph crafted with an ear to its cadence, rhythm, lyricism. For me, the line between prose and poetry is a fine one.
Beneath the Haunting Sea was steeped in music from the beginning. Wen, one of the central characters, is a pianist and a composer—his dream is to go to University and write and play music for the rest of his life. I like to think of him as his world’s Chopin. Talia hears the music of the waves calling to her throughout the course of the novel. The music haunts her, it won’t let go, and serves as one of the main things that compels her to unravel the mystery of the myths and the sea.
While I was brainstorming and outlining Beneath the Haunting Sea, the KEANE album Under the Iron Sea was hugely influential. I listened to it on loop for months, and it inspired much of the mood and several scenes/elements for the novel. It’s still one of my favorite albums. I was also inspired by singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt, especially her songs “Dante’s Prayer” and “The Old Ways.” I tried to capture the emotions of both McKennitt and KEANE in Sea.
While revising Sea for my agent and then my editor, I listened to the band Of Monsters and Men so much I heard their music in my sleep. Both their albums, My Head is an Animal and Beneath the Skin are steeped with references to water and the sea, and they got me through countless editing sessions.
Beneath the Haunting Sea has changed a lot over the eleven years that passed from first to final draft, but its heart has remained the same—it’s my love letter to music and words, each one shaping the other, just as they shaped me.