In recent weeks I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with several new authors. It’s been so exciting—and eye-opening—to see how other writers approach some of the challenges I experience in my own writing—like capturing music in words on the page. For this month’s installment of my blog feature “Words & Music,” I’ve invited award-winning author (and super-cool chick) Patty Blount to talk about her experience in writing about music. Unlike me, Patty wasn’t writing about classical, she was writing about contemporary music—which I find absolutely terrifying! But she handles it beautifully in her YA novel, The Way it Hurts. Please welcome Patty as she takes over this week and be sure to check out her wonderful novels. —Lauren

 

Guest blog from Patty Blount:  The Way It Hurts

There may be two sides to every story, but sometimes there’s only one way to set things right…

Music is Elijah’s life. His band plays loud and hard, and he’ll do anything to get them a big break. He needs that success to help take care of his sister, who has special needs. So he’d rather be practicing when his friends drag him to a musical in the next town…until the lead starts to sing.

Kristen dreams of a career on stage like her grandmother’s. She knows she needs an edge to get into a competitive theater program–and being the star in her high school musical isn’t going to cut it. The applause and the attention only encourage her to work harder.

Elijah can’t take his eyes off of Kristen’s performance, and snaps a photo of her in costume that he posts online with a comment that everybody misunderstands. It goes viral. Suddenly, Elijah and Kristen are in a new spotlight as the online backlash spins out of control. And the consequences are bigger than they both could have ever imagined because these threats don’t stay online…they follow them into real life.

This book was a real challenge to write. First, I have zero musical ability. I don’t sing well and I don’t play any instruments. I can read music, but I can’t translate it to anything that resembles actual –er, music. So why I did I choose music as the theme for this book? I wish I had a good answer for you, but I don’t. As with Harry Potter’s wand, sometimes it’s the story that chooses the author, not the other way around.

I began tossing around this idea for a Twitter fire-storm story about three years ago. There had been a tremendous amount of online chatter about authors inserting their feet in their mouths, which several thousand people were only too happy to point out. In one instance, a teen was unfortunately involved when an unflattering comment she made on her own blog about a famous author made its way back to the author. He lashed out. There were additional instances, less well known, but which still carried the effect of reducing the online community to finger-pointing and virtual head slaps.

It occurred to me that I never would have heard about these instances had they not been endlessly dissected and shared and rehashed and blogged. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I suppose it could be good. But it feels like it skates way too close to the edge of bullying and I have issues with that. And this is where the idea for THE WAY IT HURTS was born. What if teens found themselves caught up in a Twitter battle? What if two regular teenagers became famous not for their talents but for a single post?

Once I began considering their fame vs. infamy, I knew they both needed to crave fame for some talent. I decided he’d have the garage band and she’d be the theater geek. (I’d originally had those roles reversed but because the viral tweet had to do with a theater costume, decided it played better with him ‘leering’ at her.)

Naming this rock band turned out to be incredibly challenging. I wanted to go with a single word because I wanted it to fit in a Twitter hashtag. I scoured Google for obscure band names and began putting things together. I love Ride Out because that became the guys’ plan – let’s ride out the fame for however long it lasts.

Next, I had to give them some original songs to perform. Remember when I admitted I’m not musical at all? No instrument, no singing voice? Yep.

Writing songs is hard, y’all.

Like harder than writing the book.

So…I talked to a few talented folks I know and when one pointed out that words have their own rhythm, I knew I had to use that line in the story. (Elijah actually says this at one point.) I used meter…remember learning about iambic pentameter? I used meter to write what were essentially poems.

 

The first song in the story is something Elijah literally composes as he’s trying to convince Kristen to give him another chance. I’ve always wondered if writing lyrics happens automatically for some musicians and decided, why not? Let’s have Elijah just rhyme on the fly. That led to this:

 

Born on the stage with mics in our hands.

You and me.


Strangers in the same land.

 

Personally, I thought it sucked, which would be why Elijah says: “Okay, so it’s not my best work.” Still it wasn’t bad for spur of the moment.

A few pages later, he just thinks this one up because Kristen has made some impression on him:

 

The girl wearin’ hot red boots

Pointed at me and said, “Hey.”


I stared at those end to end curves,

Pointed right back, and said, “’K.”

The song that becomes the band’s anthem, which is the song on which Elijah and Kristen collaborate, started off its life called Nothing Left To Say. This was the book’s original title. Because call-out culture seeks, in some part, to STOP people from saying something the crowd finds offensive or immoral, the song needed to be about trying to find the right words, the right way to say something important without pouring gasoline on a lit match.

I listened to two songs from Seether on repeat while I wrote this story. The first is called Words As Weapons. This song is so important, I contacted the band and got their permission to quote a portion of the song in the novel. Words As Weapons has real, personal meaning to these characters. It’s one of the first songs in his genre that Elijah plays for Kristen… that they sing together. Later in the story, after Kristen’s grandmother has a stroke, the lyrics take on an even deeper, more layered meaning.

The second song is called Nobody Praying For Me. The lyrics to this song aptly describe another characteristic to call-out culture that often upsets me… and that’s how so many people LOVE to see somebody get crushed.

As Kristen and Elijah begin composing The Way It Hurts, there are a dozen different emotions each character is wrestling with and music is an expression of those emotions. Their first attempts don’t strike the right note so they keep at it until they discover this song is best when it’s sung as a duet. However, the first time it’s performed, it’s after Elijah and Kristen break up. Elijah sings it solo and has changed the words and the mood to reflect and express his emotions: betrayal, bitterness, and pain.

Here it is. I’ll break it down for you with explanations next to a verse.

Lyric Who sings it? What it means
It can’t get worse; this is the way it hurts.

It can’t get worse; this is the way it hurts.

 

Elijah He’s not just angry, he’s bitter.
Don’t know how it all went wrong,
Thought what we had was so damn strong.
 Elijah He’s still trying to explain it.
I showed you my heart, tore down my defenses,

They said I’m a jerk, said I’m offensive,


And you just turned away.

 

Elijah The last line is screamed out, exposing Elijah’s broken heart.
You called me your friend, said you were sure,

Can’t believe I was that insecure.


I fell fast and fell so hard,


I was yours, now I’m just scars.

 

Elijah Tempo increases, the words are spit out.

More bitterness.

What can I say?


What can I do?


Everything I am means nothing much to you.

It can’t get worse; this is the way it hurts.


I got nothing but my name,


Nothing but my songs,

Feelin’ so much pain, but the words still come out wrong.

It can’t get worse; this is the way it hurts.

 

Elijah This is the chorus.

 

Before the title changed, this part was “I got nothin’ left to say, there’s nothin’ I can do…”

 

Here is Elijah’s hopelessness, exposed to all.

No!

You’re wrong, and baby, I’m sorry.


But there’s a whole other side to this story.

The hell with the fame, keep all the glory

Just don’t turn away.


What else can I say?


What else can I scream?


The man that you are is everything to me

It can’t get worse; this is the way it hurts.

 

Kristen She surprises him on stage during this performance by delivering the first word as a deep, guttural metal scream that almost immobilizes Elijah.

 

The rest of this verse is sung fast — not how they wrote or practiced the song.

 

It’s all improv on her part.

 

Can you hear how desperate she is for him to believe her?

I watch you battle your way through the night,
Every little thing puttin’ up a fight.
I’ll be there next to you, just for you, for the rest of my life.   Elijah Recovering from his shock, Elijah remembers the verse he wrote after he sat with Kristen in the hospital, following her grandmother’s stroke.

 

This is slow again. Softer. A promise.

Baby, I’m yours I’m yours but this is too tough.
 Elijah He wants to believe her, but isn’t sure yet.
Yeah, things got rough

 

Kristen She’s not giving up.
Why am I not enough?
 Elijah Does he dare believe her? Trust her? This is loud, almost a scream.
I’m sorry I messed up.

 

Kristen She keeps this soft in response.
What else can I say?

 

Elijah Screams his frustration.
What else can I say? Kristen Softly delivers her apology.
What else can I do? Elijah Still screaming.
What else can I scream? Kristen Hey, she reminds him, I finally screamed for you. What else do you want?
Everything I am means nothing much to you Elijah Bitter, but softer because he’s tired of fighting.
The man that you are is everything to me. Kristen Louder, full of conviction.
It can’t get worse.

This is the way it hurts.

Elijah and Kristen They’re acknowledging that love can hurt but by singing it together, they’re agreeing to try again.
This is the way it hurts. Elijah and Kristen Last line… soft and slow, holding that note. This is their promise.

 

 

So, that’s it. It was fun but I think I’ll stick to writing novels.

Have you read The Way It Hurts? Tell me what your favorite song was.

 

 

 

Patty Blount grew up quiet and somewhat invisible in Queens, NY, but found her voice writing smart and strong characters willing to fight for what’s right. Today, she’s the award-winning author of edgy, realistic, gut-wrenching contemporary and young adult romance. Still a bit introverted, she gets lost often, eats way too much chocolate, and tends to develop mad, passionate crushes on fictional characters…and Gilles Marini….and Sam Heughan. Let’s be real; Patty’s not nearly as cool as her characters, but she is a solid supporter of women’s rights and loves delivering school presentations. Patty is best known for her internet issues novels, including SOME BOYS, a 2015 CLMP Firecracker winner and SEND, a 2012 Junior Library Guild Fall Pick. Visit her website at pattyblount.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter. She blogs at YA Outside the Lines and is also active on Twitter and Facebook. When she’s not writing, Patty loves to watch bad sci-fi movies, live tweeting the hilarity, and scour Pinterest for ideas on awesome bookcases. Patty lives on Long Island with her family in a house that, sadly, lacks bookcases. She loves hearing from readers, especially when they tell her she’s cool (even though she knows it’s not true), and is easily bribed with chocolate. Never underestimate the power of chocolate.