Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Life Imitating Art?

Coincidence or Something More?

Jamie’s Children follows the paths of brother and sister, Niall and Laura Logan, as they use the music in their souls to deal with life’s challenges. I challenged myself when I chose to make Laura a violin prodigy and Niall a gifted singer-songwriter who was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

My challenge with Laura was learning more about the instrument, what is required to be a successful performer, and studying violin literature. My good friend Chris Souza, an exceptional violinist himself as well as an outstanding teacher, has been a great help with this. I’ve listened to some wonderful music. I’d heard many of these pieces before but never listened to them quite the way I needed to in order to better understand Laura.

Chris suggested I listen to American violinist Hilary Hahn, and I found her impressive and appealing. Reading her history was kind of astounding, actually. The path Hilary Hahn had followed is much like that of my fictional character. Laura’s genius as a violinist is discovered when she is four – the same age as Hahn. In my book, Laura begins her professional career at nineteen, a few years older than Hahn began hers. Both women complete a college program, Laura at Juilliard and Hahn at Curtis, both venerable musical institutions. How was it that I made choices for my character that parallel the professional life of the real violinist, choices that were made months before I became aware of Hilary Hahn?

Niall’s gift is as a folk singer-songwriter, another genre of music which I knew little about. More opportunities to be introduced not just to fine performances, but an opportunity to revisit some artists I was familiar with and an introduction to some I had not been aware of. Fortunately, I had another guide to help me with this – a former private voice student who is making inroads in his quest for just such a career, Nate Taylor. During the course of the book, Niall writes several songs, or at least the lyrics for songs. Maybe a subject for a future blog post?

Now my friend Ashleigh Evans has sent me a message about a young man currently competing on the television show “American Idol.” Dalton Rappatoni was diagnosed young with bipolar disorder, and apparently what has been his salvation has been the guitar someone gave him and his love of music which followed. My character Niall finds his passion for folk music before he is diagnosed, but that passion is vital to him. Another coincidence? Again, I created Niall well over a year ago when I first began research on bipolar disorder – a terrible chronic disease which has taken many months of study to begin to understand.

How do these things happen? I would think I am not alone in experiencing this – creating a character and inventing their life, only to learn of an actual person who has at least some of the qualities we’ve given our fictional character. Dalton is fortunate that he is living in the twenty-first century and is able to share his journey openly. My character Niall was born in 1969 and when he is diagnosed at the age of twenty-five in 1990, most people are unable to understand his illness and don’t want to hear about it.

Coincidence or something else? Shakespeare commented in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth than we have dreamed of.”  (Paraphrased; apologies to W.S.) Do we as writers somehow tap into a Muse which provides us with these ideas?