Playlists that Inspire Me: Beth White, Author of "A Reluctant Belle"
My bio states right up front that my day job is teaching music in an inner-city high school in historic Mobile, Alabama. People ask me which art I love more—music or the written word—and I’ve never been able to settle on one or the other. I am an educator, a rigid disciplinarian, a creator and dreamer—all aspects of my personality fueling both music and writing, and both arts sustaining each other.
My iTunes collection is ridiculous. I listen to everything from spirituals to country-western to opera to movie themes to contemporary Christian; from rap and alternative rock to Motown and 70’s pop. But music for me is not background noise (unless I’m in my favorite café, where I can, by some personality quirk, tune out the Muzak). I can listen to instrumental music like the movie soundtracks I’ve purchased—The Chronicles of Narnia or The Last of the Mohicans, for example—and find myself inspired to write battle scenes.
But lyrics must be paid attention to.
The artist had something to say, and I am compelled to absorb the psychological source of the words. Here are a few lines that have burned me enough to jolt story ideas or character arcs.
“I don’t know why I would go in front of you and hide my soul.
Cause you’re the only one who knows it.
I’m standing in front of you, trying to be so cool,
Everything together, trying to be so cool.”
Twenty-One Pilots—“Screen” from Vessel
“I’m gonna buy this place and see it burn
And do back to you the things it did to you in return.”
Coldplay—“A Rush of Blood to the Head” from A Rush of Blood to the Head
“I begin to assemble what weapons I can find,
’Cause sometimes to stay alive you gotta kill your mind.”
Twenty-One Pilots—“Migraine” from Vessel
“We shatter devices, exit the stage.
We stop masquerading, to rattle the cage.”
Jars of Clay—“Heaven” from The Long Fall Back to Earth
If those particular lyrics sound a bit violent, that’s because I work hard to make my male characters—especially Christian males—real men. The male protagonists of my stories generally have something to prove. Some goal of either protection or revenge or justice. In the course of achieving that goal, I have to turn them—or, more usually, they turn themselves—in a holy direction of purification and submission to God.
As I wrote A Reluctant Belle, the hero, Schuyler Beaumont, began as a wealthy, happy-go-lucky playboy. He’s sort of haphazardly in love with longtime family friend Joelle Daughtry, but he thinks there’s plenty of time to get serious…someday in the faaaaar distant future. Then his beloved father is assassinated during a post-Civil War race riot, and Schuyler is catapulted into an undercover investigation of Ku Klux Klan activity that somehow involves Joelle—who has dangerous secrets of her own. To win her and solve his father’s murder, he makes a life-changing decision: quit playing games, become radically transparent to God and the people he loves, and let both physical and emotional courage transform him into a man worthy of Joelle’s respect and admiration.
Every day for quite a while, Twenty-One Pilots’ album Vessel was on repeat in my car. The more I listened, the more intrigued I became by the unique musical sound (though rap is not my first choice of genre!) and gut-honest lyrics. And then I found fragments of those songs winding through the soul of a 19th Century young man named Schuyler Beaumont. I hope my readers will find Schuyler compelling, real, and heroic. If they do, I have to give credit to a couple of twenty-something musicians living and writing in the iTunes age. I’m grateful for their gift which fuels mine.
Beth White's day job is teaching music at an inner-city high school in historic Mobile, Alabama. A native Mississippian, she writes historical romance with a Southern drawl and is the author of The Pelican Bride, The Creole Princess, The Magnolia Duchess, and A Rebel Heart. Her novels have won the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, the RT Book Club Reviewers' Choice Award, and the Inspirational Reader's Choice Award. Learn more at www.bethwhite.net.