Music, Music, Music…and Books ~ by Catherine Astolfo

Catherine Astolfo“She looks like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone.” What does this tell you about the character of a woman who thinks this about her friend? (Especially since that friend has just careened off their balcony to her death.)

Sweet KarolineIn Sweet Karoline, I used this line from the song, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, to both shock the reader and give some insight into my protagonist’s state of mind.

Lots of authors do the same. The Journal of Music and Meaning (JMM) states: “Music has played an important role in the fictional novel for centuries.” References to a song or a style of music can provide important information in a creative, interesting way. For instance, the reader might learn a great deal about the character’s emotions, tastes or age. Depending on the era of the music, we might deduce “the generation a character is from” (JMM). Or we might draw some conclusions about his or her mental health (or not).

Canadian author Peter Robinson refers so often to his main character’s musical interests that he includes playlists on his website.

Another Canadian, Rick Blechta, embeds music right into the plots, characters and setting ( I’m sure you can think of dozens of other examples.

Many of our own Mesdames of Mayhem also use music in their writing. Below, you’ll get your chance to match up the author with the quote.

Whenever I read lyrics within a novel, I supply the music in my head. I believe this is the reason employing songs to enhance the experience is so successful. Suddenly the narrative is suffused with sensuality, danger, tenderness, comedy or grief. As Gerry Smyth says, “Standing for the un-writable and inexpressible, the novelist’s references to music nonetheless express emotions beyond the text, increasing the writer’s affective power by sleight of hand.”

An author can also lead a character back to a meaningful place and time through the use of a song. Haven’t we all got a lyric or melody that reminds us of a painful or hilarious or wonderful event? “Hearing” music in a book can connect us more closely to the narrative, the characters, or the time and place. Our experience is deepened. Our imaginations, our ability to visualize and relate, can be enhanced. After all, the creative side of our being loves any kind of stimulation, and combining two arts can certainly be stimulating.

I’m sure you know what to do with this little puzzle below. Connect the author to the quote. Send your answers to me at If you get it right, I’ll gift you with a free ebook!

Melodie Campbell “I’ll be using Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight by Steeleye Span in my novel.”
Joan O’Callaghan “I used Mozart’s Requiem.”
Donna Carrick “I used Beethoven’s Fur Elise in my short story.”
Cheryl Freedman “My books are full of music, from k.d. lang to Vivaldi.”
Jane Burfield “I used a song lyric for one of my titles!”
Rosemary McCracken “I do in almost every book! Mostly Italian!”
Catherine Astolfo “My main character plays the clarinet; there’s a spiritual connection to ancient music.”

Thirteen, an anthology of Crime StoriesCatherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries and Sweet
Karoline, published by Imajin Books. In 2012, she won the Arthur Ellis Award for
Best Short Crime Story in Canada. She’s a Past President and Derrick Murdoch
Award winner for service to Crime Writers of Canada. She’s a member of Mesdames of Mayhem and has a story in Thirteen (Carrick Publishing, 2013).

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