Words and music
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
Sounds lend a strong hand in shaping the plots, characters and the circumstances that drive both in my stories. They are, in some cases, as vital to the creative inspirations that move my typing fingers along the keyboard as the images conjured up from the innards of my brain. In the case of “The Crossing Point,” two songs were instrumental in painting the portraits of two very different sets of characters: Gotham and Ava Delacroux, and Jacob and Wray.
Now, I did not consciously go out looking for two random songs to act as a sort of paintbrush to bring color to these two couples. In fact, I’ve always found mentioning songs people may or may not be familiar with in the writing of a story to be, to put it bluntly, dumb. That’s because the written word doesn’t allow the reader the ability to hear the mentioned song. So what made me ignore my own personal feelings on the matter? Simply, both songs played an intricate role in shaping the characters in how they eventually came to life on the page and the relationships they have with one another, not to mention the trajectory their paths will lead them in future books as the series unfolds. For that alone, I felt they deserved, if nothing else, a passing mention for what is, to me, an inspiring contribution.
And, for those readers who have not had the pleasure of having the full sound on while reading “The Crossing Point,” this blog post seeks to remedy that.
‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix.
The character of Ava Delacroux did not start out as a former singing sensation of the opera world, but rather just your average, everyday grandmother. Of course, there’s nothing average or everyday about a woman whose great love turns out to be an angel and whose child (and later, grandchild) ends up being a Nephilim. It was quite by accident that I heard this song from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera “Samson et Delila,” and I was immediately captivated by the singing I found both beautiful and haunting at the same time. It was in the course of hearing that song for the first time that Ava became something completely different from how I first had written her, and the tragedy of her childhood during the second world war literally unfolded itself for me in that first listening. This is the version that brought Ava and her relationship with Gotham to life, along with a chapter except from “The Crossing Point”:
“Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix.” The song had long ago ingrained itself into Gotham’s very core. Yet beautiful as it was, the song’s true power rested in the voice singing it, like the swirling euphoria residing with deceptive stealth in the sweet bouquet of a fine wine. Resting beside the turntable was the album’s empty cardboard sleeve emblazoned with composer Camille Saint-Saens’ name in white lettering across the top followed underneath by the title of his opera in a much larger orange banner, “Samson et Delila.” It was the striking portrait of the beautiful woman, however, that made Gotham pick up the cover. He instantly became transfixed by the image staring back at him as he continued to listen to the music. His fingers followed the direction of the woman’s upswept auburn hair that fell in ringlets around her face. The delicate features of beauty staring back were almost too much for Gotham to lay eyes upon and not feel a deep anguish well up within him: the piercing green eyes, of which the real Delilah, herself, would have gouged to possess; the scarlet mouth poised with the ability to conquer the greatest of empires and bring the most hardened of souls to their knees with a single note. Gotham found himself cursing the glossy surface beneath his touch that denied him the smoothness of the porcelain skin forever embedded in his fingertips that continued their way across the bare feminine shoulders peering out from beneath a thin, silk turquoise dress before coming to rest at the top of another name also stretched in orange across the bottom of the album cover like a marquee: Ava Delacroux.
Gotham placed the album cover back on the shelf face down, hoping that by denying his eyes the sight of such loveliness he might manage to exorcize the ghosts inside his head that were beginning to awaken from their long sleep and unravel the tapestries in their guarded possession which held the dusty remnants of memories he had long struggled to forget. Yet what may have been easy to put out of sight, proved an impossible challenge to cast out of mind, not so long as the voice spilling from the turntable continued to ring in his ears.
Like some ethereal embodiment, it seemed to move about Gotham, circling him, in sweeping, swirling movements of resurrected life, as if the surrounding four walls were the construct of some grand ballroom raised up for the sole purpose of accommodating its haunting waltz. It taunted Gotham, this unrelenting spirit of the past, keeping its distance with flirty flourishes before rushing him straight on, attempting to take him prisoner with nothing but a heart-binding sound that continued to soar radiantly with untrammeled longing.
Ainsi qu’on des bles les epis onduler
sous la brise legere, ainsi fremit mon coeur, pret a se consoler,
a ta voix qui m’est chere!
Gotham remembered when he first heard it as if it were yesterday and, in more ways than one, to him, it was. The stirring song managed to find him in the grasp of a snowy gray day and guide him down a narrow, cold German street to an ice-frosted window where the source of the lovely sound was found to be coming from a girl not a day older than ten, whose voice conspired with the flickering fire coming from the hearth to warm the small gathering of family and friends seated around her quietly listening. And then, in the dim of darkness brought by the second world war, he would hear it again. Only this time, it would call out for him in a weakened murmur, as withered, and nearly devoid of life, as the numerous corpses whose decaying stench fought to smother this last gasp of hope in a place where all hope had long been methodically incinerated. He would never forget the sight of her, unrecognizable, and yet instantly recognizable, struggling to exist as would a flower attempting to grow from the muck of an unspeakable cesspool of sewage and filth.
He chose, instead, to remember her the way he found her shortly after her deliverance from such a hell, when the darkness of war was no more, and her voice once more filled with the embers of life and passion would ring out and fill the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Closing his eyes, Gotham could still see her in all her radiant beauty. She was a young woman then, all of nineteen, but a woman, nonetheless, appearing so diminished on such a great stage until she opened her mouth and let loose her mesmerizing gift that instantly and wholly transfixed the audience.
Early on in “The Crossing Point,” Wray laments what she calls one of the music world’s great tragedies this Stevie Nicks “Belladonna”-era song never officially saw the light of day. I happen to agree. It’s a great song, and like Wray I’m grateful to the Internet gods I have more than a dozen versions of this unreleased gem in its various stages of development that, for whatever reason, was never deemed fit for release to the masses.
Unlike “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix,” I had heard ‘Sanctuary’ before I began seriously working on the book and in listening to it I had a crystal vision (to steal a phrase from another Stevie Nicks-penned song) of not only Jacob and Wray’s relationship in “The Crossing Point” but its flight path through future books of the series, Its mention comes the night of the high school homecoming dance before Jacob is to leave with Gotham on a journey from which he is uncertain when he will return. He shares a last dance with Wray who is oblivious to the fact Jacob is saying goodbye to her without saying the words. Only it’s not goodbye, and the prophetic lyrics to the song helped unveil to me the road not yet traveled by these two.
There are many, and quite different versions of ‘Sanctuary,’ This is the version I hear when I envision this chapter except from “The Crossing Point”:
Just when the silence was becoming unbearable, it passed and a familiar melody suddenly spilled its way from inside the gymnasium and grabbed Jacob’s attention by both ears. He gave Wray a sideways glance out of the corner of his eye.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The brief moment of seriousness that had gathered like some dark storm cloud over the couple’s head instantly dissipated. Wray, who was seated tight- lipped looking like a devious cat who had just swallowed a canary, gave a breezy shrug. Even she couldn’t hide her own surprise of hearing the song—that song—suddenly being played. And then a moment later the cooing vibrato of Stevie Nicks’ unmistakable voice swept out into the still night like a gentle breeze.
Jacob sat staring at Wray, a knowing smirk growing wider across his face.
“There’s no way this is some weird coincidence,” he said with a slight chuckle as the familiar words of “Sanctuary” came out and found the couple like it always had the habit of doing.
“What can I say? I happen to be friends with the DJ who just happens to share the same impeccable taste in music as I have,” said Wray. “That said, I had no idea you’d show up here tonight like you did. So the fact that this song is playing right now at this moment is not a coincidence.”
He couldn’t argue with her. Nor did he when she reached over, took his hand into her’s and, despite her rule regarding pretty girls, asked quietly in that warm, honey-sweet voice of hers, “Dance with me?”
“You don’t want to dance with me, trust me,” answered Jacob with a shy smile. “I would make Ty look like Fred Astaire.”
“Please?” Wray insisted.
“What about Yul? I doubt he’d like that too much.”
“Would I have asked if I cared?” answered Wray.
And in that moment neither did Jacob as he slowly got to his feet and followed her as she led the way to the gymnasium, her hand still clutching his. The instant they stepped through the glass doors, the song that had so subtly beckoned them inside guided them like a living chaperone through the crush of young teenagers swaying slowly in the dimly lit darkness to a spot near the center of the dance floor. There they turned to face one another and in a manner that was both noticeably self-conscious and bashful they paused before stiffly embracing.
Jacob’s feet were immediately clumsy in their first steps to move with the music, stepping squarely on Wray’s delicate toes more than once. It was enough to make him want to flee and disappear into the cover of the crowd. Wray prevented such an escape by tightening her hold on him.
“Just follow me,” she instructed with a reassuring softness.
Jacob hesitantly surrendered to her lead and slowly Wray felt his body begin to relax against her own. What had felt so awkward one minute, quickly became comfortable, and soon the two were moving together in an easy sway as if they had spent a lifetime spinning their way across an endless ballroom. The embarrassment Jacob felt over standing out from his classmates in his grubby street clothes evaporated and the only awareness he was left with was the inviting flowery scent that drew his nose closer to Wray’s soft golden hair.
Wray suddenly became conscious of Jacob’s hands moving downward across her back. She felt her breath catch in her chest as she waited for the inevitable to spoil what had been a pleasant moment. To her surprise, as well as hopeful expectation, Jacob’s hands traveled no further than her waist and came to a respectable and gentle rest at the small of her back.
“What is it?” asked Jacob when he felt her release a deep breath. She shook her head and smiled. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”