About a year after moving to Nashville I awoke from a dream one morning with an idea for a novel. The story would be about a washed up country star named Kelly Grace Pickens who is ditched at the alter and ends up on a reality TV show akin to the Bachelor. And to sweeten the plot, I’d have her writing a song that develops as the story unfolds.
The only problem: how can a person who doesn’t even listen to country music write about a country singer, much less come up with the lyrics to a country song?
She can’t, that’s how.
You see I was raised on rock-n-roll—Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, The Cure . . . a true music lover, always believing that nothing spoke volumes to the soul like a well-written song. However, for the sake of my story I would abandon my rock-n-roll roots and turn my car stereo to one of Nashville’s many country stations. Okay so now I was listening to songs about drinking, hooking up, eight-second rides and big green tractors. And I might be reading too much into his song, but is Jason Aldean singing about an actual piece of farm equipment or is his “tractor” really a metaphor for something else? I’m just sayin’ is all.
Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before I was reminded of my teenaged years and how grownups often warned us kids not to listen to rock music because the lyrics would undoubtedly lead us straight to hell. And wondering how country music had managed to fly under the moral radar all those years?
But as I continued my research into the genre of country music, I soon found that most of the songs were about love, family, and forgiveness—downright heart trending material.
Try as I might, after a month or so of paying close attention to the themes and structure of the songs, the fact still remained—I was just not a music writer. A simple solution to my dilemma would have been to change Kelly’s character but I seem to have an inexplicable aversion to taking the easy road. So in order to create something resembling a country ballad, I turned to a couple of singer/song writer friends, Brad Hull from the country band, Due West, and Aaron McBride.
A few weeks later I was sitting in my living room across from two scruffy boot wearing, guitar-toting men, and as long as I kept the kettle corn and jellybeans coming, they were happy to just hang out bouncing tunes and lyrics off each other. Watching them work, and the way the music flowed naturally from their minds to their fingertips, was truly magical. It was kind of how narration and dialogue sometimes flow effortlessly through me as if being sent from a special place I have yet to discover—like my own little miracle. Only with these guys, the process looked way cooler. And when they allowed me to write a line or two, the whole experience got even better.
Of all the works I’ve had a hand in creating, I think I’m most proud of the song, Who I Am. This experience was likely my first, and last, delve into writing lyrics, but I will carry the memory, and the knowledge that I helped create a real-live song, with me for the rest of my life.