Today on the blog I am very excited to be the next stop on the MOSQUITOLAND blog tour. Author David Arnold has stopped by to share a behind the scenes look at his life before writing became his Main Thing. Recently I discovered his music and fell in love with the sound. There's a melody to his craft that begs to be heard, a lot like his storytelling. Please welcome David to the blog!
For years, music was my Main Thing. When I wasn’t playing shows with my band, I was writing/recording in my home studio, building songs from the ground up. I did a lot of freelance work for indie films, youth camp videos, even a few commercials. It was my creative outlet, and, I assumed, my life’s work. In short: things were going swimmingly.
Exit: things going swimmingly.
Shortly after my wife and I discovered we were going to have a baby, it was decided I would be a stay-at-home dad, and guess what you can’t do while taking care of an infant? Bye-bye recording. Hello diapers. Hello burp rags and bottles. Hello Elmo and Sophie the Giraffe and all things elephant. Hello new appreciation for those glorious few hours called NAPTIME.
Prior to the little game changer, I had tried my hand at various forms of creative writing. I wrote some short stories, some screenplays, even a few picture books. I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) who taught me that one couldn’t have multiple subplots and an ensemble cast of characters in one’s picture books. I shifted to middle grade, but those manuscripts always took a back seat to my music. So when the music suddenly got tossed out the window, I channeled all my creative energy into writing a novel I’d been too afraid to start.
I spent about two years writing Mosquitoland, and during that time, music played three important roles:
1. Character playlists. Early on, I realized that creating a playlist, not for my book, but for my characters, afforded me an extra conduit into their heads. I would hear Calgary by Bon Iver, or Undertaker by M. Ward, or Jon Brion’s brilliant soundtrack to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and feel myself being shoved into the same space as Mim. (This sounds slightly uncomfortable, but there is no such thing as personal space when attempting to write an authentic character.)
2. Companion record. I wrote and recorded nine songs, then released them on my music website (cinemacycle.bandcamp.com) as a companion album to Mosquitoland and my second novel (still a work in progress). Some of the songs were recorded a long time ago, but contained ideas or lyrics that somehow made their way into my novels on the front end. Others were recorded after we discovered a baby was on the way, but before he got here, and some were recorded after he arrived, late at night when the house was quiet. The record happened organically, which is to say, I never set out to write a companion record. But it was almost impossible not to write songs that were at least partially inspired by these characters I was spending so much time with.
3. Education. Of the three ways music influenced my writing, this is by far the most important. In the acknowledgments section of my book, I thank Elliott Smith for teaching me that “an honest voice is more compelling than a pretty one.” In my opinion, too many artists set out to create something perfect. But that’s not art. Whether it’s a song, or a painting, or a book, art should reflect something inside the artist, something human. It should get messy when things are messy, lift you up when things are good, reflect beauty and joy and tragedy when things are beautiful, joyful, tragic. I think there is inherent value in such complexity, while striving to create some technically perfect product negates that value. It’s a process, and I’m still learning, but the origin of my education is rooted in music. And while I rarely record these days, this application of honesty in art is something I’ve tried to carry into my novels.
Music may no longer be my Main Thing, but it is still a Thing, and I have every intention of getting back to it one day. Though probably when there are fewer diapers and elephants.
Let your ears listen to the goodness of David's melodies:
(if player does not show for you, click this link: http://cinemacycle.bandcamp.com/)
About the book: "I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange."
After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the "wastelands" of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.
So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.
Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, "Mosquitoland" is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.
About the author: Hi. I'm David.
I write stories and songs. I like pesto, Arcade Fire, indie bookstores, Middle-earth, GARP, Elliott Smith, Christmastime, and all things Sorkin. I don't like olives, liars, or wet socks. My debut novel, MOSQUITOLAND, will be published by Viking/Penguin in Winter 2015. My second book, KIDS OF APPETITE, is tentatively set for a Fall 2016 release. I am represented by Dan Lazar at Writers House. [goodreads]
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