How to Write Music by Rebecca Halsey, Author of Notes of Temptation

NotesOfTemptation72lg_coverTitle: Notes of Temptation
Author: Rebecca Halsey
Genre: Historical Romance

Hollywood Jazz, Book 1

When Carrie Cooper leaves her small gold-mining town to seek her fortune, it’s not until she arrives in L.A. that she learns her college certificate is a fraud. The only work available is in a less-than-respectable speakeasy.

The job comes with the opportunity to take the stage with Oz Dean, the club’s captivating bandleader. But rivals out for her blood along with her place in the spotlight lurk behind the curtain.

Oz Dean has the rare ability to “see” music as brilliant colors, but nothing has ever dazzled him like Carrie’s pure, choirgirl voice. With a mob debt hanging over his head like a guillotine, he organizes a revue that will launch them all to stardom. Unfortunately, his bold move attracts exactly the kind of criminal attention he’d like to avoid.

Mired in Hollywood’s underbelly, caught off-guard by their growing attraction, Carrie and Oz are forced to consider the cost of success. Or their one chance to make beautiful music together could be their last.

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How to Write Music

From the get-go the concept for NOTES OF TEMPTATION started with music. I heard an interview with the neurosurgeon and author Oliver Sacks where he talked about how the brain processes music. After picking up Sacks’ book Musicophilia, I came up with my hero, Oz Dean—a Jazz Age musician who has synesthesia allowing him to see the music he plays, and most importantly, the heroine Carrie Cooper’s voice.

So I couldn’t get around writing about music, not for this story. And because I’m not a professional musician, I tackled this challenge in three ways:

  1. I listened to a lot of music.

Is this too obvious? Maybe, but I mean A LOT of music. Every kind of jazz you can think of—from the early post-ragtime stuff to electro-swing. I went beyond making playlists. I watched old Jazz Age performances on YouTube.

I really wanted to hear how a song was constructed. If it was a solo artist, how fast did they play? Could I hear them take a breath? Were they playing an instrument, then singing? If it was an ensemble piece, when did a new instrument join the melody or harmony?

  1. I played music.

Like I said, I’m not a professional musician, but I was a band geek at one time. I can remember—barely—how to play the clarinet and what it felt like to be part of a band. Even better, I still know how to play the piano. I dusted off that Mozart sheet music and tried picking up Jazz piano (again, thanks to YouTube).

  1. I researched the musician life.

I read about the usual Jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. And while this helped me understand the period better, the most useful account was from my stepbrother Jonathan Meiburg. He tours with his band Shearwater. Listening to him talk about life on the road was invaluable. I don’t think I fully understood what it took to go from composing to recording to touring until hearing it first-hand from Jonathan.

That’s one of my favorite things about writing—jumping into a topic and trying to understand it from the inside-out.


Oz sat down at the piano and indicated Carrie should sit next to him on the bench. He ran his fingers over the keys. No prim and proper pastor’s wife here. Oz’s playing was decidedly masculine. His hand rested casually across the keys as if prepared to pounce but not indicating any eagerness about it. Carrie briefly entertained the thought of those hands flying over her with the same intensity.

“You play the piano too?” she asked.

He paused and gave her the smile. That smile. The kind that deepened the shine in his dark brown eyes. “As long as I’ve played the trumpet, though no one can play like Ellison does.”

“Ellison, he’s your piano player?”

“Righty-o, and partner, brother nearly. Been playing with him for as long as I can remember.”

He tore through the opening bars of a song, working from one key to another. When he settled on a sound, he fell into a rhythmic one-two-three progression across chords. Watching him work the music was so engrossing, Carrie didn’t expect what came next—his voice, a tenor. Quiet compared to the piano, but with a resonating tone that hinted at the power that he held inside him.

“It wasn’t music,” he sang. “Only drums.” He pounded the low keys for emphasis. “Of hearts beating, machines pinging, the roll of a cat’s purr…”

The piano interrupted with an interlude. His mouth tweaked up apologetically, and his eyes looked over her face. Carrie realized he searched for the next words. This was no mere recital. This was composition. She scanned the room and saw Vesta’s white egg timer.

“Clocks ticking?” she offered.

The tipanic tock of clocks,” he improvised.

The piano hovered around the same one-two-three, one-two-three. Hearts beating indeed. Carrie felt her own rattling against her ribcage.

About the Author

Rebecca Halsey author photoUnquenchably curious, Rebecca Halsey travels around the country looking for souvenirs and experiences to include in her fiction. For Notes of Temptation she curated mementos from a voodoo museum in New Orleans, a ghost town in Arizona, and the beach at Santa Monica.

She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Georgia. When not writing, she works in cybersecurity and enjoys running, cooking, and painting portraits. She resides in Maryland with her husband and three children, all of whom tolerate her immersion into jazz music and black-and-white movies.

Notes of Temptation is her debut novel.


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