BROKEN CHORDS was born because I had to pee in the middle of the night while camping on Martha’s Vineyard with my husband. Literally.
If you’ve ever gone camping, you know the bathrooms are never conveniently located. The fastest route from our site was through the property’s playground. So, there I am, wee hours of the night (no pun intended—okay, pun intended), and it’s all cold and misty; and I think: If those swings start moving right now, I’m so out of here.
Lucky for me (and my bladder), that didn’t happen, but once I was safely back in my tent, I knew I’d write a story about a haunted playground someday.
The second inspiration for BROKEN CHORDS is musical. I wanted my book to feel the way certain favorite traditional acoustic songs sound.
Before I get into the songs, let’s talk about the third inspiration for my book: Greyfox Music Festival. If you’ve attended and you read BROKEN CHORDS, you will recognize it all: the layout, the campgrounds, the crepes and gyros, the unique and creative individual site set-ups, even the creek behind the clearing in the woods—it’s all inspired by that festival.
The two songs that were my biggest inspiration are “Wind and Rain” and “Undone in Sorrow.”
“Wind and Rain” is based on ballad that is literally thousands of years old (here’s a great article about it), and it’s so creepy. The content has remained largely the same over the years, though it’s known by several names including: “The Twa Sisters,” “Rollin’ a-Rollin’,” and “Binnorie.” It’s about two sisters, and the older one pushes the younger one into a river because they’re both in love with the same man, and he happens to prefer the younger sister. Not surprisingly, the sister drowns, which is twisted by itself. Then a fiddler comes out of the woods, and he takes the drowned sister’s bones and hair, and he makes a fiddle out of them. When the fiddle is played, it reveals the identity of her murderer.
One line goes like this:
And he made fiddle pegs of her long finger bones.
Oh, the wind and rain.
I mean, shiver. Right? That song is the anthem of some of my creepiest entities in BROKEN CHORDS (actually, the very ghost children who haunt my playground). Probably the most chilling version of “Wind and Rain” is THIS ONE, an acapella version, by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, & David Steele. But if you want to hear the one Crooked Still did, which also features a fiddle—I mean, apropos, right?—you can hear that HERE. (This version also features Rushad Eggleston, their original cellist, who is incredible.)
The other song that features in this book is “Undone in Sorrow,” which was originally written by a woman named Ola Belle Reed. That one is still under copyright, so I couldn’t use the words in BROKEN CHORDS, but when you read the book and Lenny and Jeb talk about playing their song, that’s the one. Crooked Still’s version is my favorite. It’s so haunting and sad. There’s a cello in their band, and the cello solo is one of my favorite musical moments of all time. Then the fiddle comes in and it literally sounds like the embodiment of a tortured heart. Add Aoifa O’Donovan’s ethereal vocals, and it’s a chiller of a song.
Those of you familiar with this genre will know that the cello isn’t typical for bluegrass, but it’s their inclusion of a cello that makes some of their songs so haunting. And readers of BROKEN CHORDS will know that I gave a nod to this when I made Lenny’s mom a cellist.
Lastly, I mention the Greencards, an Australian-based band, that definitely takes the progressive in Progressive Bluegrass to the next level. As they like to say, some of their songs are “weird ones.” But they’re incredible too. Here’s one of my favorites from them, “Wind and Water,” and this version also happens to feature Brittany Haas from Crooked Still on fiddle. Their version of “Davy Jones” is another of my favorites, and it definitely crosses the line into more progressive territory.
Of course, BROKEN CHORDS was also inspired by some of my favorite horror themes and films (I like to call it acoustic Poltergeist), but the heart of the book is its setting, and there’s so much that I love captured within it.
If you check out any of the performances or artists PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE tell me what you think. There’s nothing I love more than sharing music I love with people who love it back. (And if you want more song recs from these fabulous artists, I may just have a couple more where this came from. Hehehe.)