Music Inspiring Writing: Sumiko Saulson
by Emerian Rich
Welcome to my blog series all about how ♫ Music Inspires Writing ♫
Today my guest is Sumiko Saulson, a writer and music lover. She has taken this opportunity to let one of her character speak for her in a very amusing and entertaining post. Enjoy!
Why my favorite band isn’t the same as my author’s
By Flynn Keahi
(With apologies to my writer, Sumiko Saulson)
My name is Flynn Keahi. I am thirty-two years old today, but I was twenty-six years old when I was born two years ago in 2014. I’m not a time traveler, not exactly. I’m a fictional character. My biological mother’s name is Samantha Keahi, but my literary mother is Sumiko Saulson. I’m the central protagonist in her novel Happiness and Other Diseases, the first book in a dark fantasy trilogy called Somnalia.
While I am not Sumiko herself, I am influenced by her choices, thoughts, preferences and actions. For example, she’s looking over my shoulder while I write this article, editing my sentences, making sure I don’t issue any spoiler alerts.
Love and Rockets “Mirror People”
Sumiko’s favorite bands have varied over the years. Depending on which decade you asked her, she might have told you Joy Division, Public Image Limited, Love and Rockets, or… nothing, really. She tells me she was so upset when Love and Rockets broke up that she stopped having favorite bands. Her loss, if you ask me.
I asked her what her favorite Love and Rockets song was, and although she couldn’t give me a definitive answer, she did tell me that she though Mirror People would be appropriate for this article.
She says that in a way, I am her mirror. I’m a reflection of how she feels about her existence in her world as a person with bipolar disorder. She also says that I’m the person she sees when she looks in the mirror who isn’t exactly herself. She tells me I’m an aspect of her personality, but to be completely honest, I refuse to believe her. I think I’ve taken on a life of my own, and I refuse to be reabsorbed into the Sumiko borg mind complex.
Red Hot Chili Peppers “Otherside”
As for me, my favorite band is The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I like other bands, don’t get me wrong. I’m into System of a Down and Slipknot, and I know what you’re thinking, RHCP is kind of old school. But I love me some Flea and that funky slap bass. Besides, my author kept playing “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” while she was driving up and down I-80 writing me. It reminds her of her hometown, Los Angeles. It also reminds her of her family. Her brother Scott loves the Chili Peppers, and he sings Chili Pepper songs with his daughter Franchesca at karaoke.
My preferences help her remember who I am as an individual character. They keep me distinct from other characters she has written in the past. They help her remember ways in which I am a separate entity even though I stem from the same source. They keep me real for her.
“Otherside” isn’t my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers song… that’s “Snow (Hey Oh),” which Sumiko says is annoying as hell. She refuses to let me link it to this article. She’s such a snob. So I picked my second favorite song, “Otherside,” which is very portentous, if you’ve read Happiness and Other Diseases. I can’t tell you exactly why without spoilers, but it does have something to do with the dream world and the world outside of dreams where we materially exist. You’ll find out when you read my story.
The Cure “Charlotte Sometimes”
Today, I told Sumiko that my favorite song is “Charlotte Sometimes” by The Cure. That might seem odd to you, given that I just said RCHP is my favorite band. It doesn’t seem that strange to Sumiko because she knows my love interest in Happiness and Other Diseases is Charlotte Metaxas. The song reminds Sumiko of us, and not just because Charlotte was named after the song. The lyrics of the song also remind her of our love story.
In Happiness and Other Diseases, I’m in a lot of trouble because I’m under attack by Greco-Roman dream spirits called oneiroi and somnalia, respectively. They are the sons and grandchildren of Somnus, the god of sleep. Not content to remain in their dream world, they try to enter the waking world in corporeal form through nefarious means, such as human and animal blood sacrifice. I’m one of the few human beings aware that they are real, but no one believes me because I’m bipolar.
The reason I love “Charlotte Sometimes” is that I know that Sumiko used to play it on the jukebox at Sparky’s 24 Hour Diner in San Francisco over and over again when she was sick after 9/11. Like many songs Sumiko loves, “Charlotte Sometimes” was written about a novel by another writer. The book, by Penelope Farmer, is about a girl named Charlotte who communicates with another girl named Clare from another time through a diary. After a while, she starts to have trouble remembering who she actually is.
The struggle to maintain one’s own identity while living in a dream world is one I can both literally and figuratively relate to. In my life, I’m under attack by real supernatural entities, but I also deal with a psychological disorder. Both of those things make it difficult for me to assert who I am and maintain my identity. As a character, I have a single identity, but as the product of an author, I experience a certain duality. Sumiko is and is not my Charlotte. She isn’t me, but I’m not in the position to tell my own story without her. She’s my author and I can only communicate through her. It’s confusing for both of us, and Charlotte, sometimes.
Siouxsie and the Banshees “Melt”
“Melt” is a song my author listened to over and over again when she was writing me. “Melting man” was actually a nickname that one of the other characters in the book gave me at one point. I’m reluctant to get into it, since she wrote me as a somewhat shy and closeted sexually submissive man, but the song has some connection to my romantic relationship with Charlotte. It also has something to do with how I got into trouble with the Greco-Roman pantheon in the first place. Come to think of it, I’m too embarrassed to talk about it. Let’s change the subject to another Siouxsie and the Banshees song instead.
Generally speaking, Sumiko listened to more Siouxsie than anything else when she wrote me. One other song of particular significance was “Sick Child,” which discusses melancholia. That’s what they used to call depressive disorders, especially bipolar disorder. My author was never able to determine a specific historical or literary reference for the subject matter. However, it is notable that the song’s lyrics are consistent with 17th Century views of the disorder, its causes and treatments. They are particularly evocative of Robert Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy.” References to music, touch, and snuff use as treatments are specific examples of this. John Keats said “The Anatomy of Melancholy” was his favorite book.
I didn’t really like these songs when Sumiko first started playing them for me, but she keeps singing them to me and Charlotte. I have to admit, that’s pretty romantic. I bet you wish you had an author to sing love songs to you.
By the time Sumiko got around to writing the sequels to Happiness and Other Diseases, she and I were both feeling a little more agro, for reasons. I’m not allowed to get into the “reasons” because spoilers or some such nonsense. Let me just say, my girl Charlotte’s family is half Greco-Roman gods, and they’re nasty business. Once you get on their radar, all kinds of bad starts to happen in your life. I could blame it all on them, but Sumiko’s my author. I’ve been giving her a lot of attitude lately. Can you blame me?
She keeps telling me to tone it down. She says, “It could have been worse. How would you have liked being written by George RR Martin, or Stephen King?”
I’m like, “Woman, you’ve got to be kidding me. Not every author is a serial killer. I could have been written by Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte, or Anne Rice.”
But Sumiko insists that I’m developing pretentions, and none of those writers are the least bit interested in me. These writers have a lot of attitude. They’re very difficult to deal with.
“Duality” is a much more angry sounding song I relate to as a person with a mental illness. That’s just for starters, because I don’t want to even get started talking about the Flynn Keahi/Sumiko Saulson identity crisis. At first, Sumiko was happy that I was helping her to write a well-received series. I helped this woman to develop a following, but does she appreciate me? Oh no! She says that Sera, the protagonist of “Warmth” was popular before I was ever born. She says I’m too demanding, always pestering her for sequels. She says I’m giving her a headache.
For one thing, she told me that Somnalia was going to be a trilogy. I don’t think it should be a trilogy. I think she should just keep writing sequels. She gets pissed off at me, and insists I’m taking up valuable real estate in her brain. She argues with me a lot, and I’m not trying to say anything, but since she’s the only one people can see, everyone assumes she’s insane. They’re prescribing her antipsychotics to get rid of me. I’m a little ticked off about that.
Luckily, I have some good music to listen to while Sumiko tries to get rid of me.
I’m hoping that you can do me a solid, and write her an email or leave a blog comment protesting her nefarious attempts to write about other characters. She’s really pissing me off.
Flynn Keahi biography: Born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in San Mateo, California, Flynn a fictional character who is half Chinese and half Hawaiian. He attended UC Davis before symptoms of bipolar disorder forced him to drop out. He went on to work in a series of computer graphics temp jobs before being attacked by hostile Greco-Roman dream spirits that wanted to drain all of his psychic energy and leave him a lifeless hulk.
Sumiko Saulson is the author of three sci-fi/horror novels, Solitude, Warmth, and The Moon Cried Blood, and short story anthology Things That Go Bump in My Head. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian, and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area.
Thank you Flynn (and Sumiko!) for sharing your thoughts!
So what music inspires you to write? Share yours in the comments below and tune in here next time when one of my friends shares their music inspirations.