Lounging around with James Markert
Novelist and screenwriter James Makert's A White Wind Blew is set at the Waverly Hills tuberculosis sanatorium during Prohibition. He is stopping by the SheKnows Book Lounge to tell us more about his book and his writing process.
SheKnows: Can you tell the SheKnows readers a little about the premise of A White Wind Blew?
James Markert: A White Wind Blew is a moving story about the power of music. It takes place in the late 1920s at Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium, where most of the patients rest on the solarium porches to breathe in the fresh air, even during the snowy winters. Tuberculosis had no cure, so Dr. Wolfgang Pike turns to music to help heal their souls. Music is his refuge, his way of dealing with the haunting memory of his late wife. He feels in his bones that music can be an elixir, that it can heal broken patients and mend his own tattered heart. In an era of smooth jazz and devious disease, when cures are scarce and racial tensions run rampant, how do you cope with the devastating blows of faith? You form a choir and an orchestra, and pretty soon healing music soars over the wooded hillside.
SK: What about Waverly and the tuberculosis outbreak caught your attention?
JM: I grew up only a few miles from Waverly Hills, and was always intrigued by it because of its reputation as one of the most haunted buildings in the world. In high school, other students would sneak in the abandoned building and come back on Monday claiming they’d seen ghosts and were chased by crazy people. I actually believed at one point it was an insane asylum. I finally visited Waverly about five years ago, fully intending to write something scary about the place, but when I took the tour I was so overwhelmed by the history of the building and the disease that killed over 60,000 there that the haunts no longer mattered. The building is an architectural marvel, gothic and huge, expertly crafted. I stood on the fourth floor solarium porch and stared out over the surrounding woods and thought, “What if it is haunted? What if I am surrounded by ghosts? What is their story?” Waverly has been featured on Fox’s Scariest Places on Earth, The Travel Channel, FX. People all over the globe know of Waverly. But it was the building and the flesh-and-blood inhabitants that caught my attention, not the ghosts (although I sensed some strange things there), and I knew that whatever I wrote about Waverly should honor those who worked, lived, and died there during that horrible epidemic.
SK: Your main character, Wolfgang Pike, has a special relationship with music. Is this something you share with him? If not, how did this come to be part of his character?
JM: If I could choose to do anything without the chance of failure, I would be the lead singer in a rock band. I love music, but, unfortunately, I’m no musician. My sister-in-law is a music therapist, so her profession was always in my mind when I wrote the story. For whatever reason, the music was the first part of the story that came to me. On my visit to Waverly, standing on the open solarium overlooking the woods, the sound of a violin popped into my head. And then a piano. Right away I thought: They had no cure. Music could be their inspiration and their reason to have hope. Let the music be more contagious than the disease. Wolfgang can lead them! And after watching Amadeus in high school, I’d always wanted to write something with classical music, something moving and powerful, and I hope I did that here. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like music of some kind, and I don’t think I’m unique in that I like to listen to music whenever I need a boost—whether it be in mood, energy, driving, writing, working out, etc, I have to listen to music. I’m not a musician, but I love music, and I believe that music can do special things for the mind and body.
SK: You’re a screenwriter, as well as a novelist. How is your process different writing books versus movies?
JM: My process as far as creating a story is the same. I usually have a good idea what the story is going to be before I start writing, and it’s the same with the characters. I write down notes on pieces of paper until they become an organized pile of chaos. The notes might be ideas for scenes, lines of dialogue, research notes, and somehow I remember where they are and pull them out when I need them. And at the end of whatever I’m writing for that session, I’ll have a running page or two of notes of what will happen next. After I write the next part, then I’ll write more notes on what I want to write for the next scene or chapter. I really enjoy writing screenplays, and I was fortunate enough to have my first one made into a movie, but writing novels is my passion. Writing screenplays is more like work while writing novels is more fun. There’s so much more freedom to writing novels, as far as exposition and backstory and characters. Screenplays are much more structured and Hollywood is so specific with want they want, or can and can’t have. And I can write a screenplay anywhere—my laptop will travel from room to room—but when I write a novel I’ve got to sit in the same seat every time, entrenched with my piles of chaos around me. And, believe it or not, I still type with two fingers :)
SK: What books are on your nightstand right now?
JM: I always have a stack of books on deck to read, and when I finish one I replace it with another. I just finished Pat Conroy’s The Water Is Wide and it was a beautifully written story. I’m currently reading George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones). Love it, love it, love it! Next I plan on reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Then behind that I have Death in the City of Light by David King (research), The King of Lies by John Hart, The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin.
Let's hear from you!
Is music a powerful force in your life? If so, what genres or specific songs most move you?