I learned not to force the writing with my first novel Will’s Music. Forcing led to indecision and confusion. Killer frustration. The more I pushed th...
The Writing of Will's Music
November 8, 2014
I was resting against a wall of sandbags and forcing down cold spaghetti and meatballs from a C-Ration can when I noticed her sitting on her hind legs...
April 14, 2014
My novel Will’s Music comes out in the coming weeks, published by Figlo Press, and I am bursting with anticipation.
No writer really knows how readers...
November 8, 2014
Looking back on Will's Music
May 7, 2015
By Obie Yadgar
I’m a sucker for a good love story. Sweet and sentimental. A wee bit old fashioned, too, maybe. And passionate, of course. Oh yes, especially that. I mean what’s a love story without that luscious recipe? Then give me a rainy day, a samovar of tea and a rocking chair — and I’m content like a bloke after a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Exactly the state of bliss I wanted for myself as well as the reader when I began writing Will’s Music, published by Figlo Press. The story had to have those ingredients to fulfill me as the writer, because anything less would have left me empty. I put heart and soul into the story. Reading the novel now, I can’t help but feel that I accomplished what I set out to do. I couldn’t be happier with what I have.
Will’s Music is set in the world of radio and dance, in San Francisco. I didn’t go looking for the setting; San Francisco was natural. I have thought back a few times and wondered if another city would have provided a better setting. Nope. San Francisco was the perfect setting. I had lived in that beautiful city in the 1960s, in the Haight-Ashbury days, the Fillmore East days, where great rock concerts were held. Not that I was a rocker, but rock played a great part in the San Francisco of the 1960s.
I remember a writer friend of mine had just interviewed a rock group and wouldn’t stop talking about them.
“What’s the group?” I finally said.
“Strange name,” he said. “The Grateful Dead.”
Those of us who lived the San Francisco of the 1960s came away all the richer with life.
The Flower Children didn’t do much for me. Mine was the world of the beatniks and jazz a little bit earlier. It was toward the end of the Beat Generation, my San Francisco of the 1960s, when Mike’s Pool Hall was still around in North Beach, and so was the Jazz Workshop. Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore in North Beach stood as a beacon to the printed page. All that plus the big Vietnam War demonstrations — my world when I lived in the city.
The novel is set in San Francisco of today, however, but the mood hints, ever so lightly, at the flavor of the bygone days. Of my San Francisco.
Nor did I go looking for the story. It found me. Then it evolved. The novel is set in the world of radio and dance. That, too, was an easy choice, because I spent 30 years behind the radio microphone, and I love dance, am passionate about it, especially classical ballet. Yes, classical ballet is my favorite of all the performing arts.
“Girly stuff,” said a young acquaintance when I waxed about my love of ballet.
“Sure,” I said, “all of us Vietnam veterans like girly stuff.”
So then I was not so much writing about what I knew; rather, writing about what I loved. After all, what better subject matter than something you love?
Will’s Music evolved from an intended short story. In Francisco, in the 1960s, before going to Vietnam, I had dropped out of college and was working as a clerk and messenger in a little shipping office. It was the greatest job I’ve ever hand, and I’ve had a parade of them, including an all night gig of changing fluorescent light bulbs at Kmart. What a job that was. Oy!
My little clerk and messenger job in downtown San Francisco was heaven sent, the precious experience any writer, newbie or pro, would find welcome. Delivering bank and shipping documents to various offices downtown turned out to be a goldmine of fascinating people and beautiful women. The streets were a treasure of stories, where dialogue flowed and all I had to do was to absorb as much of as I could. The British composer Sir Edward Elgar said music was everywhere around him and all he had to do was to reach out and take what he needed. Amen.
My little shipping office itself offered priceless stories from a co-worker, an elderly gentleman who at one time had been a professional dancer and, with his female partner, danced some of the greatest ballrooms around the country, including the famed Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. He had danced to Xavier Cougat’s orchestra and many others that were a staple at these legendary dance spots. We often talked about his life. I should say, I usually prodded him with some question and then listened. One of the greatest traits a writer must have is the ability to listen. Thank God I do.
I started a short story with this man in mind, but invariably by the third or fourth paragraph his character kept turning into a female. That was frustrating. Obviously, something was not working with my story. My approach was wrong, possibly, and I really lacked focus. Sure, there was much to write about, but with no focus, I was casting the line and hoping to catch something. What was I writing? What was I trying to say? Yet, something tugged at me to write this short story, whatever it was, but after a while, it was obvious I wasn’t getting anywhere, and that perhaps the story had some growing to do in my head. Not only that, but something told me a much bigger story was locked in my brain and struggled to find its way into my heart. A novel like Will’s Music you don’t write with your head; you write it with your heart. What’s more, a short story wouldn’t do; I needed to write this story as a novel.
After several tries I put the unfinished manuscript aside. Then life got in the way. Vietnam came along — I served as U.S. Army combat correspondent. Afterwards radio took me to San Diego, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago. There was also the family. I made no attempt at fiction, but did write for newspapers and magazines. Yet the story often came back to me like a recurring dream. It haunted me.
One day I started writing the story as a novel. I just sat down, uncapped my Pelikan fountain pen and started writing. By then, the story had matured in my head and sunk into my heart — deep into my heart. The first paragraph left me hungry for the second, chapter one for chapter two, and I kept going. The story kept falling in place, the characters trickling in and telling me what to write about them. Before long they were writing my story and I was on the ride of my life. Two drafts later, I tried to have the novel published, but that was as frustrating as trying to hold on to your hat on a windy day. It was a good book, I was sure, but there were no takers. So I published it myself.
Last year Figlo Press read the novel and here we are. I am ecstatic with the new version thanks to my editor Matthew and my publisher Sandy. It’s a handsome book, too. Will’s Music is my kind of love story, and it’s written from the heart. It’s a love story that deserves a rainy day, a samovar of tea and a rocking chair.
(To order Will's Music, please click on the book cover on the home page.)