They are a community of the creative, a like-minded legion of the lyrical. Like a sprawling family, they often know each other, follow each other’s work, contribute to each other’s projects. And they flock to this city by the thousands in hopes the patron goddess of this place, Athena (or is it Patsy, or Dolly?) will grant them a boon: Fortune. Fame. An agent. A contract.
I could be describing L.A. or New York or this year’s gathering in Atlanta of the Romance Writers of America. But I’m actually describing the musicians, singers and songwriters in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. I’d just never realized how much in common we as writers had to our creative brothers and sisters in Music City, USA until I went home for a visit after many years away.
A lot had changed in the years since I’d last visited Nashville. Growth and urban renewal had reshaped the contours of downtown. The floods of 2010 had forced the restructuring of roads and neighborhoods. A new energy and civic pride had followed on the discovery of the city by followers of New South art, culture and cuisine. In the once empty and forlorn replica of the Parthenon that dominates a downtown park, a new 41-foot-tall statue of Athena stood, gilded in real gold leaf, a symbol of Nashville’s artistic Renaissance.
But some things were still the same. The houses and the neighborhoods in which I had once lived were all still there, virtually untouched by time. Oh, some of the old apartment buildings were looking a little the worse for wear. But I could still find them. And maybe more importantly, the locations for all the scenes in my books were still legitimate. My memory hadn’t supplied something that wasn’t there—or that was no longer there.
People were still friendly, though this was no longer the small town it once was. They still spoke with an accent you could cut with a knife. I came back to Virginia talking like I’d just come down from the hills. I’d fit right in on Justified. Or better yet, the new show dedicated to the city I’d just come from, Nashville.
Most of all, the city is still Mecca for those young singers, songwriters and musicians seeking a way into the music business, particularly, but not exclusively, the country music business. Since its humble beginnings as a one-hour “barn dance” radio show on WSM Radio in 1925, the Grand Ole Opry has served as a showcase for country music’s biggest stars and a magnet for all that want to follow in their footsteps. As a result, Nashville has become known worldwide as a place to find the finest studio musicians, backup singers, songwriters, house bands, bluegrass pickers and technicians. For as long as I can remember, every restaurant, bar and venue in town has boasted live music, and in the old days, it was often free of cover charges—there were just that many unemployed musicians around.
I’d just never realized how much I had in common with that hoard of seekers until my husband and I stumbled upon a CD-release party at the Station Inn, a venue widely-known for excellent bluegrass. The place was packed and, having already spent our money to park, we had to beg to be let in, but this being Nashville, the guy on the door took pity on us. We shuffled toward the bar, where a man about our age (who turned out to be the band leader’s father) insisted on finding us two stools to sit on. We ended up sitting next to the woman who’d penned the title song of the CD, Born Bad, which she said had started out life as a rock song and was given a bluegrass turn by the band.
So there we were and I was transported back to the book release party of a certain friend of mine (ahem, Sharon Lynn Fisher, Ghost Planet!) The place was full of friends, family, well-wishers, musicians hoping some of that success would rub off on them. Everyone was excited and happy for the members of the band, who had worked so hard to get to this point. All the musicians seemed to know each other. Some of them had played on the CD. It was a community. The only thing that was different from a book release was that we got to hear the music. I think we should encourage more readings at conferences and release parties, though, don’t you? (By the way, the CD is Born Bad, by the Tina Adair Band, TAB Music Group--bluegrass, with a Christian rock flair.)
Now, of course, we all know that there is competition, as well as collaboration, in every creative endeavor. We may all know each other, we may even work together occasionally, but we don’t always get along. But it’s better when we do. The energy of a place—or a project or a genre of writing--benefits when people encourage each other and celebrate their triumphs. That’s what I saw that night in Nashville. That’s what I see at RWA conferences and online at SFR Brigade or The Galaxy Express--a community of the creative, and lots of positive energy.
Chris Gerwhal of Amazing Stories has written a great series of blog posts about the challenges SFR faces in capturing the interest of a wider market audience at http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/02/crossroads-science-fiction-romance-a-niche-before-its-time/ He mentions the work of both Heather Massey and our own Sharon Lynn Fisher in his insightful discussion. Check it out!