I’m an accomplished jazz musician (piano) and bandleader. And I’m an author of fiction. I’ve published my novel, CHINA SEA – an espionage thriller with settings in some of the Asian locations where I have lived for 30+ years. And during the writing process, the likeness of improvising music and creating fiction has become apparent. Here is my take.
One can study theory, proper form and technique in music schools and become a very good classical musician. But the schools cannot teach the emotion or the hard-to-define “soul” that one needs to become a first-rate jazz soloist. It’s a talent that is really not teachable. It only develops through a lot of listening and life’s experience.
A jazz musician does of course learn about form. He or she, for example, needs to be able to improvise confidently on the twelve-bar blues form and on the thirty-two bar popular standards form. But what made Miles Davis a great jazz musician, not just a very good one, was his ability to tell a unique story on those basic forms.
And so it goes with writing fiction. Gurus can teach technique-plot, structure and so on and so forth-to the point where one’s eyes glaze. However, I’ve become convinced, as I write, that it is really all about very good STORYTELLING. You have it (Somerset Maugham had it) or you don’t. And without having lived the life of which you write, and done a great deal of reading in your genre, the odds are you don’t.
I do strive to tell a story, to entertain – whether improvising on a soulful minor blues or writing the next chapter of second novel, a sequel, JAVA SEA.
So enjoy the journey. We’ll swing around Asia – some of the scenes off the beaten track, the cultures and a bit of the politics. And may I suggest that you play your favorite music in the background as you read. That’s what I’ll be doing as I write.
ITUNES: Search for China Sea by Stanton Swafford on your iPad or iPhone.