A Winter Lullaby: Liner Notes

Less than twenty minutes ago, I typed “END” at the bottom of a novel I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. I started the outline on December 5th, four years ago, and chugged away on a few chapters and one or two short insert scenes, including a prologue of sorts that don’t plan on adding to the final novel. (In fact, I refer to this lonely prologue as Nocturne and who knows, maybe I’ll put it out there as bonus content at some point.)

That novel is A WINTER LULLABY: A PUNK ROCK FABLE. Or simply A Winter Lullaby.

I loved the original concept. In fact, here’s the elevator pitch for it:

When his comeback tour falls apart beneath him, aging punk musician Calvin James Lincoln finds himself and a friend stranded on the sofa of his estranged sister in Western Connecticut. As he contemplates a life of fame denied and personal failures, the town of Devil’s Gap awaits the first snow of the year and the annual, secret pact that keeps the town “a great place to live.”

In fact, I loved it this concept much.

I was afraid that I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull it off. And that fear is death for an author.

So there it sat, something like 10,000 words or so. 15,000 tops. Neglected while I occupied myself with other stuff. I knew I wanted to finish it. Eventually. But I wasn’t ready.

Then the last year happened.

I lost the job I’d held for thirteen years, thrust into the uncertainty of prolonged unemployment. I turned 50, facing my own mortality and the inevitable creep of declining health. Add to that a mounting anxiety from a world that feels like it’s falling apart.

When one of my oldest friends and writing mentor gave me some career advice (one part of it being to write a non-Cobalt City novel to shop to an agent), it became glaringly obvious. I needed to finish A Winter Lullaby. There was no better time to do so than now.

Now I sit on the finished first draft of something I’m prouder of than anything I’ve ever written. Since the novel is about a musician, I figured some liner notes would be appropriate. So buckle up, kids. Here’s where the novel came from, for those who are curious.

The instigating spark for Calvin James Lincoln came from the documentary “A Band Called Death” from 2013. Chronicling a proto-punk band from 1973 Detroit made up of three black brothers who predated a lot of the music we think of as Punk that essentially vanished for over three decades until their music was rediscovered. I’ve always been a fan of musicians who I feel deserve a much bigger audience than they have. My playlists are jammed with them. The idea of a musician, heck, any artist, who continues to put out great art despite never finding their audience or getting their due–it’s kind of personal and I found it a compelling hook.

And then I came across a piece of art by illustrator and print maker Daniel Danger. There’s something haunting and amazing about his work, and one piece in particular, “We Wait Out the Storm,” really stuck with me. That piece inspired the town of Devil’s Gap, Connecticut and the conflict and secret lurking under the skin of the town.

So I had my hero. I had my hook. I needed to flesh it out a bit, and one thing I needed was a trusted ally. One of these days I’ll write a story about a loner, but by god, I love my dialogue. And I’ll be damned if I let Calvin take on this journey by himself. So I created a partner of sorts for him, another musician who is many years younger, influenced by some of my best friends who are at least 10-15 years my junior. In fact, Leah Gronsky, sound engineer/tour manger extraordinaire is very heavily influenced by my friend Rachel who is herself an accomplished musician and former show promoter around Seattle.

Their trusty steed, the “shitbox Subaru” is inspired by the many, MANY white Subaru hatchbacks in Seattle (including one owned by two of my best friends). While the descriptor “shitbox” in relation to a car comes directly from the friend and mentor who kicked me in the ass to finish this book.

Finally, I needed a playlist, because of course I do. I create one for every novel I write, and for A Winter Lullaby, it was particularly important. My initial instinct was to create a soundtrack of punk music to reflect Calvin and his former band, All American’t. But while that would reflect the kind of music he associated himself with, that he used to play, it didn’t reflect the mood of the novel or his own headspace. Then I heard Aldous Harding, a folk singer from New Zealand who honest to god sings like she’s mid-exorcism. There’s no other way to explain it. She’s absolutely incredible. From there, I built out a playlist composed of women singer/songwriters with a largely acoustic focus. I slipped a lot of songs about winter because it was thematically appropriate. It’s 33 songs, and 2 hrs 15 min long which is a perfect length for a writing sprint.

Now that I’m finished with the draft, I get to let it sit for a little while. I’ll use the time compiling notes of things I want to tweak, tighten, fill, and fix. I’ll also be putting together a list of agents to pitch to. Sometime in October, I hope to start sending it out.

And then we’ll see.

What I can say about it now, however, is that I’m prouder of A Winter Lullaby than anything I’ve ever written. I can hardly wait until it’s polished up and on its way to bookstores.

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