Monday, October 12, 2015

Broadening Horizons

Jamie’s Children

In my upcoming book, working title Jamie’s Children, I follow the stories of a brother and sister whose lives take very different paths. Their father, Jamie Logan, is an opera singer. His daughter, Laura, is discovered at the age of four to be a prodigiously gifted violinist. Laura’s brother Niall, younger by not quite two years, says at one point in the story: “Laura touched a violin at the age of four and the heavens opened up and announced what her life would be.” Niall battles the demons of bipolar disorder as he tries to understand who he is and how he fits into this family which is defined by music.

I’ve set myself quite a challenge with these two characters. In Eli’s Heart, Eli Levin was a prodigy, an immensely gifted pianist with a frightening congenital heart disorder, Tetralogy of Fallot. While I don’t consider myself a pianist, I spent many years studying piano and learned enough to be aware of the talent and dedication necessary for a career as a pianist.  And as a singer, I learned to appreciate the special skills required by a good accompanist. Eli Levin became a great accompanist. This was territory I entered fairly comfortably.

Laura plays violin. While I love the sound of the instrument, I’ve never played one. Fortunately, among my good friends I count a fine violinist, Chris Souza, who is my “go to” person for questions about the world of string music. Laura has isolated herself because of her genius, despite her family’s best efforts. She has to work through her own emotional problems to try to free herself from her self-imposed ivory tower.

Niall plays acoustic guitar, another instrument I know little about. I am learning what an aspiring folk singer needs to do to break into the field, thanks to a former voice student. Nate Taylor is in the process of doing what Niall thinks he might like to try, and Nate has generously shared some of his experiences with me. (He’s very good, by the way, and I’m going to include his website so you can hear Nate's music ─ As a classical musician, it’s good for me to broaden my horizons with this music, and I’m listening to a lot of great folk artists these days.

The most difficult task of all is trying to gain an understanding of Niall’s terrible burden of bipolar disorder. To write a character, I have to know him. I have to be able to get inside his head. Niall’s bouts of mania and depression are something I thankfully have never experienced.

Writing about Niall’s first manic experience wasn’t easy, and will no doubt be rewritten, possibly more than once. It’s difficult to understand how Niall’s mind works because it doesn’t work at all the way mine does. Whether Niall’s music will help him live the kind of life he wants remains to be seen. My belief is that music is a powerful force in our lives; indeed, in the universe.

It was invaluable to have a cardiologist as my guide when writing about Eli Levin’s heart disease. For Jamie’s Children I’m fortunate to have a young friend who is a medical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital whose specialty is mental illness, bipolar disorder in particular. Dr. Andrew Rennekamp has provided me with a wealth of information about the condition.

Bipolar disorder presents in many ways, and it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. Medication is just one part of treatment ─ therapy, the support of friends and family, and the patient’s strength of will all must combine to make a productive and happy life even a possibility. 

People with bipolar disorder are suffering from a life-threatening illness. Far too many of them become overwhelmed and end their own lives. Somehow, we have to find a way to make that stop. It’s heartening to know there are researchers like Dr. Andrew who are working hard to provide more answers and more help.

While you’re waiting to read more about Niall and Laura, you can
 meet their parents in the third book of my Carousel Trilogy.
You Are My Song is about Jamie Logan’s journey in the world of opera
and the professional and personal challenges he must face along his way.
Here's the link to the book:

Nate Taylor
photo by Lauren Peters-Collaer