Thursday, July 9, 2009

My favorite song is the one I'm singing.

Currently listening to: Firecracker by The Wailin' Jennys
Best lines I read this week: Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December:
/And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. - from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

I just finished doing a short (written) online interview for el booko. This is the question I was asked ("asked" :):

Who are your influences or sources of inspiration?

And this is my answer (mostly. I'll probably shorten it a bit.):
One of the sources where I found the most inspiration for Paperdoll was, weirdly enough, in mountain music. I’m a bluegrass fan anyway, but I listened to it a great deal while I was writing the book. Bluegrass is a very honest, melancholy kind of art; it’s like it’s born out of this broken place but hits the air as something beautiful. Similarly, another place I found inspiration for this project was a documentary called Awake, My Soul, about Sacred Harp singing. The community aspect to sacred harp singing is endearing. The way they sing is so tender and affectionate toward God but also a little bit unrestrained. It left me breathless ... and I was only watching it! Both art forms gave me a new picture of what it might look like to worship "in spirit and in truth". Both taught me something about what worship really is, and how it can look in my life. And both made me want to be a better artist.
Whenever I finish a writing project, there is always at least one experience (one I didn't see coming ... or didn't think would be a big deal) that makes a big impression on me. Sometimes there's a trip I take as "research"*, or a person I meet, or an old graveyard I explore. I'm learning to play guitar** and my initial reasoning was that a character I'm writing (next :) plays guitar. I thought it would be cool to know more about it. When I play guitar, the sound evokes something like a car in need of new brakes. But I'm having fun ;) When it comes to Paperdoll, there were several cool moments like that. One of the best experiences attached to Paperdoll is Awake, My Soul.
The film wasn't meant to be part of my research. My mom gave me a copy for Christmas last year. By the time I finished watching the documentary, I was in tears. Not flimsy tears; mascera stripes down my face tears (waterproof, bah!). It was a good cry.

I don't mention the film in my book, but it influenced my writing (especially in the "Pianos and Paintbrushes" chapter) in a big way. I think it probably always will.

Here's a part of the review Matthew Moyer wrote about Awake, My Soul for Ink19:

More Phil Spector than the Gaither Family, more Velvet Underground than Mormon Tabernacle Choir, this is a wall of human sound, all booming, discordant exuberance. The imperfections in one human voice could be turned into a thing of sanctified beauty when belted out unabashedly and multiplied by the many. If enough people are singing together wrong, it can suddenly become so right. (You can read the full review here. Warning: there's f-word in the second paragraph).

When I first heard Sacred Harp singing***, I thought it was something like scat, like vonlenska; a non-instrumental sigor ros sort of thing. The more I read, and listened, the more I realized this is not so: the part that sounds mostly syllabic is when they're singing a scale. They sing songs too though. Sacred Harp singing revolves around an acapella four part harmony and its one of the oldest (if not the oldest) forms of singing in the US. You can learn how to do it but, according to participants, there's no practicing and no performing. You meet up. And you sing.

If you like music, I bet you'll like it. If you're interested in southern/Appalachian culture, I bet you'll like it. If you're re-thinking what worship means, watch it. If none of that sounds appealing, at least take a look at the preview. This documentary is so worth owning. The songs will keep vibrating in your heart days after you first hear them.

By the way, the term "sacred harp" refers to the human voice.

What's inspiring you these days?

You can buy it here.
You can read more about the film at
A fun note: the filmmakers are young. They met in college, where she majored in English and Film. She came up with the idea. Seven years later,
they completed it together. Sweet much? :)

* I no longer justify getting coffee with Sarah or shopping with Melanie as "research". But both are necessary for my sanity.
** To say I "play guitar" is really pushing it. I mostly play G and the emo chord (E minor). Tom, my
You Tube teacher, tells me I can learn four chords and be able to play songs. We'll see ...
*** The first time I heard it was in the movie Cold Mountain. Maybe Jude Law singing Sacred Harp aided in the sudden heart palpitations I experienced? ;)
My mom explained what Sacred Harp was. Mom knows all.


  1. Buffalo BrinkloinsJuly 9, 2009 at 9:01 PM

    Just a note regarding the *additions* on the bottom of your blog.

    First, I think shopping---especially with the attractive, smart, wonderful friend you mentioned---is always research.

    Second, I play guitar, too! Granted I must have an xbox and guitar hero to do so, but I still call it playing guitar!

  2. Buff, guitar hero TOTALLY counts! :) I really like the G-chord because it's easy to play (especially if a capo is involved) but the others are not as fun. I still have to look at the strings to see what I'm doing. If nothing else, it feels cool to hold it. Holding it counts as "playing", right? Guitar Hero totally counts!

  3. Sacred Harp... huh... I must learn more.

  4. Totally random question, but I was wondering...Way back, did you work with teen girls? Like in a small group type setting, or maybe a youth group? I seem to think that sounds about right. I remember something about you speaking in Florida at some point -- unless that's my imagination.

    PS Whenever you leave comments on my blog, they have to be approved by me before the world sees them. So if you were to leave your email, for instance, then I wouldn't have to continue this conversation on here necessarily. :)

  5. J, let me know if you watch Sacred Harp! The first time the music really stopped me in my tracks was when I was listening to the Cold Mountain soundtrack. The movie barely has enough to make you wonder what it is. The soundtrack has the "wall of sound" effect they keep referring to. Plus the soundtrack has Jack White singing Wayfaring Stranger. (That man is so darn talented.) Awake, My Soul really helped me get it though. It was so good on so many levels - respectful, beautiful, endearing, odd. I was surprised by my reaction to it. It feels like the best parts of home or something. I can't describe it it very well. Obviously :)

    Jessica, left you a comment with my email :)

  6. I just discovered Wailin' Jennys. Love them!

  7. Hey, Natalie, I just wanted to let you know how much I've been enjoying your blog. I always loved your articles in Brio magazine, and I've been enjoying them in Susie mag, too. I was so excited when I found out that you had a blog! =) What you write always seems to relate to something I'm going through at the time, and it's really inspiring. I just got "Paperdoll" today, and I'm so excited to start reading it. Thanks again!

  8. Hey, Natalie, I really didn't ditch your blog, but I haven't been on the computer much this summer. I soooo loved Paperdoll - thanks so much for sending it to me! I finished it the other night, and my mom wants to read it now, because I just kept telling her, "you've got to read this book!" I've been going through some rough times in my faith, but it's been getting so much better, and your book helped me feel closer to God. :)
    You asked what inspires me. Honestly, music and books inspire me. I love the Sacred Harp music! A friend of mine was telling me about their musical staff with each note having a different shape. I wish I could read music like that! I sing at school and church, and I sort of read music. I'd love to be part of a sacred harp choir. I'll definitely look at Awake My Soul.
    Hey, do you remember when you recommended reading Girl Meets God? I read it, and it was really good! I'm looking for Havah, but my public library doesn't have it...maybe I'll order it off Amazon.

  9. Kristin, I'm so glad you said hello! Thank you for your kind compliments. I'm glad the In Step articles were an encouragement to you. Your words were a big huge gigantic encouragement to me too. So glad you dropped in :) Hope you like Paperdoll!

    Rachael, I'm so glad you enjoyed the book! Your note made all the crazy edits so worth it ;) Hope your mom likes it! My mom and I pass books back and forth all the time too. Also cool that you read GMG. If you read Mudhouse Sabbath too, let me know what you think of it. I think I liked GMG better, but they're both thought provoking and beautifully written. And ... if you EVER do sacred harp you MUST let me know the result! :) I've heard it called shape note singing but, because I'm a little slow on the uptake, I didn't realize the notes were actually different shapes. So pretty! :) Thanks for saying hey!