“Life, Amplified”

By Karis Walsh

I’ve suffered for my art. I had to test drive a Mercedes on the steep and winding McMurray Road in Tacoma, Washington. What a drag! I’ve had to sample a variety of drinks, from scotch to beer to bourbon—including an (admittedly) enjoyable experiment with tequila, limes, and salt. Ouch! And I’ve had to endure a series of short trips to some of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, like the Olympic Peninsula and Cannon Beach and Spokane. Yes, some truly painful experiences. All in the name of research.

But since the time I started writing ImprovisationImprovisation 300 dpia spin-off from my first book, Harmony—my neighbors have been forced to suffer for my art as well because I bought a version of my character’s electric violin for myself. Tina Nelson is a violinist in Andy Taylor’s string quartet and an avid fiddle player who spends evenings in pubs playing her flame-red electric violin. Like Tina and Andy, I play the violin and viola. Unlike Tina and Andy, I don’t play very well, but I adore both instruments. I started with the violin when I was in the third grade, and it quickly became a family joke that everyone would evacuate the house when I started to practice. Luckily for my parents and sister, I rarely chose to do so. I stopped playing after a few years and started again as an adult, adding the viola to my caterwauling repertoire of instruments. The few people who are unfortunate enough to hear me play—including my music teacher and my wine-drinking adult chamber music group—would probably tell you that the last thing I need is to be hooked up to an amplifier when I play. But, using research for Improvisation as an excuse, I gave in to my long-repressed desire and bought a gorgeous maroon Yamaha electric violin.violin

Each book I write transports me to a new universe, and I bridge the two worlds by collecting objects I find in real life that remind me of the fictional one I’m creating. By the time I type “The End,” my desk will be cluttered with these things. This morning, I did a quick inventory of the stuff I’ve gathered since 2010, when I started writing Harmony. I have stacks of research books on a variety of subjects from raptors (for my upcoming novel Wingspan, February 2014) to polo rules and regulations (for Mounting Danger, October 2013). I have piles of sheet music, a tray covered with a collage of sea glass photos, maps from all over the Pacific Northwest, cigar bands, and geometry texts. Even better than these souvenirs from my imaginary voyages are the people I’ve collected along the way. New friends I’ve had the privilege of meeting on the internet and in person. More than royalty checks, more than the print books with my name on the cover, the readers and other authors I’ve met have been the true reward for the time I’ve spent writing and editing my books.

But the favorite inanimate object in my collection is definitely this five-string violin (in case you’re curious, the 5th string is a modified C-string, so I can play either the viola or violin parts). While it doesn’t seem logical to amplify the sounds created by a semi tone-deaf and rhythm-impaired musician, I actually play better when at a higher volume than I do on my acoustic instruments. The tentative, trying-not-to-make-a-mistake player fades away when I’m plugged into my amp. Maybe it’s the forgiving quality of a more rock-and-roll sound, or maybe it’s simply the joy of making music with gusto. Whatever the cause, enthusiasm and delight more than make up for the occasional missed note or awkward phrasing. And, funny as it sounds, the small mistakes and slides and sharp or flat tones don’t make the music sound wrong. They make it sound unique and interesting. This violin has taught me a lesson I plan to apply to my life—no matter whether I’m writing or loving, playing music or pursuing hobbies. What have I learned? To crank up the volume, push past the mistakes, and express myself with passion. To live life amplified.

41 Responses to ““Life, Amplified””

  1. 1 sandol April 30, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    I have to laugh at your descriptions.
    What do your horses think about it?


  2. 3 Ona Marae April 30, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    I haven’t had the collecting issue yet….but I live in a tiny apartment, so I would have to collect tiny things…maybe next novel!


  3. 5 S.A. April 30, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    Great blog! I just finished “Sea Glass Inn” and am looking forward to reading your other stories now, as well.


  4. 7 Donna April 30, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    just added Improvisations to the top of my wish list…


  5. 9 jo April 30, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Really enjoyed the book


  6. 11 Lilaine April 30, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    An amplified success to you, as well! 😀
    … and I hope not too many of your neighbors will experience, learn, and then apply the same kind of lesson as yours… at least not when playing music (or having any other noisy occupation, for that matter) is concerned.
    I have a couple of those, and, well, crank up is the word.. and cranky becomes the girl! 😉


  7. 14 Victoria Oldham April 30, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    You get cooler with every tid bit I learn about you. Rock on!


  8. 16 Lisa T. April 30, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    I really enjoyed the Sea Glass Inn and Harmony. Looking forward to reading Improvisation. It was interesting to read about your research for the book. 🙂


  9. 18 Brooke April 30, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Love this blog and that you shared a little bit of your process with us! I really enjoyed Harmony and just purchased Improvisation. The other books you are working on sound awesome as well 🙂 Can’t wait! Thanks for writing!!


  10. 20 Yvonne Heidt April 30, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    Oh, I loved this 🙂


  11. 22 Carol April 30, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    You go Karis.
    Music comes from the soul. Enjoy every note.



  12. 24 Sheri Campbell April 30, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and processes but especially your music talent, that I had forgotten about. I absorbed each word but I especially laughed at the couple of last sentences. .. cranking up the volume and living your life amplified to the fullest” That is what I want for myself.
    Thanks Karis….Love your work and wish you the best joy and life.


  13. 26 devlyn67 April 30, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    I too have a desire to be good at playing an instrument. My instrument of choice is the saxophone. As you can imagine a part-time, tone-deaf saxophone player is really a poor imitation for a strangled rat. Needless to say, my mother recently sold my saxophone as “you arent even any good at it” (her words). I thank you for sharing your musical talent with us through your words.


    • 27 kariswalsh April 30, 2013 at 11:41 PM

      Thank you for writing, Devlyn. The “strangle rat” image made me laugh 🙂 Learning to play any instrument is a very humbling experience, isn’t it? But worth every bruised eardrum.


  14. 28 Erin Saluta May 1, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    I just read your blog this morning and it made for a wonderful start to my day- laughing! I tortured my parents with random musical instruments that lasted maybe a month and then off to try something new. Loved the blog! Thanks for sharing your insight into research.


  15. 30 RJ May 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Karis, I can truely appreciate your enthusiasm for your music. Music is inspriational and often my muse. I loved Harmony and look forward to reading Improvisation. Tequila shots and living life amplified. Here, here!


  16. 32 Morgayne May 1, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Nicely blogged. Ah the joy and torture of writing:D


  17. 34 Terry Fountain May 1, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    Great blog! Love your style of researching, and how you use a tactile approach…simply awesome!
    Would love to read your work. Consider it added to my must read list. Cheers! Oh, and play away!! 🙂


  18. 36 Donna Landers May 1, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    To live life amplified, I like it and will do my best to honor it!!!


  19. 38 Denna May 1, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Wow, what an awesome looking instrument! I hope you don’t live in an apt 😉 I always said if reincarnation does exist I want to come back as a first chair violinist for the BSO 🙂 looking forward to reading your next story.


  20. 40 Kim May 2, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Karis, I look forward to reading this one as I loved Harmony and Sea Glass Inn. Thanks for the insight into your personal love of musical instruments for those of us who don’t even try you rock!


  21. 41 Charleene robinson June 1, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    Really enjoying your books and life amplified ! blog
    Your musical characters and descriptions are so real and fun!!
    I play Electronic wind instruments and have the same feelings of really fun and creativity as you describe
    Loved the sweet characters in Wotth the risk and the horse work with handicapped
    Keep up great writing!!
    I’m an old tg (m-f)
    and love your lesbians!!!
    Best Charleene


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