Got a long taxi ride: How Tori Amos inspired my novel, inadvertently.

To say I’m a fan of Tori Amos is an understatement. I’ve adored her since Silence All These Years came out. It was senior year and I can vividly recall a group of freshmen on the school bus singing to it on the radio, and I got visibly angry because they didn’t understand the pain she was singing about. But I did.

Me. Only me.

What the hell did I know? I was seventeen and stupid.

Every year a new album dropped, I immediately rushed to the record store (back when they existed) and purchased the cd (back when they existed too). I would save my money to make sure I could afford the deluxe edition. Or whatnot. I saved my money to see her in concert. Whatever I needed to do to be in her energy. It feeds me. I needed it the replenishment her music offered. It was my only salvation.

She frequently ends up on my writing playlist. There will be a block of her songs which inspire my writings, but none more than Taxi Ride. I have a special relationship with this song and the cd, Scarlet’s Walk. The day the cd came out, we buried my great-grandmother. We had driven down to the old hometown, and I was anxious because I knew the album was coming out. I had to get it.

Yes, yes I did think about the album on the way to my great-grandmother’s funeral. Don’t judge me.

On the day we buried her, I begged my father to make a stop on the way to the cemetery. Please stop at Turtle’s. It’s right there next to the cemetery. I’ll be five minutes. Just please let me buy this album. I’m going to die if I don’t get this cd RIGHT NOW. PLEASE. BUT IT’S TORI! DO YOU UNDERSTAND? TORI AMOS! I’ll be quick. I promise. The funeral isn’t starting for another fifteen minutes. We got time…

Yes, I made my father stop off to buy a cd. On the way to a graveside service. I have no shame.

I still have that cd too.

I wrote my check (back when those existed) as quickly as I could and ran out of the store with my prize: Tori’s new album. Sweet relief. I was intoxicated. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. On the six-hour drive home, I listened to Taxi Ride on repeat. Dad thought he was going to lose his mind if he heard the faint vocals of the song one more time. But it didn’t bother me. There was some relief being able to put my great-grandmother to rest, then hearing this song.

It resonated with me on a level I can’t explain. I always knew there was a story there, but it seemed just out of my reach. Words and feelings would manifest, but then evaporate under my watch, as I tried to wrap my mind around their cryptic meanings. It was on every playlist I made because I knew at some point the song would connect with a story, a character.

Finally, it did.

I had come up with this question: what would it be like to be in a very small town and see these random, big-name Hollywood actors just walk into your favorite eating establishment? The thought stayed with me for a while, until this song came on, and I heard the first stanza: Lily is dancing on the table/We’ve all been pushed too far/I guess on days like this/you know who your friends are…

Lily. Of course. Her name is Lily. She has red hair. How would Lily handle this situation?

I listened to the song on repeat, until the character of Lily Shaw became cemented into this world I was creating. She had been pushed too far. She had many bad days. And she knew who her friends were. She had been betrayed.

As the story developed, I began to notice that while the song was referencing the death of a gay friend and the betrayals which come from friends, even after death (according to Tori herself in Out Magazine, Nov 2002), the song seemed to embrace the struggles of all the characters in my story. It wasn’t a song about the death of a friend for me; to me, it was the song of the secrets of a group of people who become friends and how those secrets bind them together against those who would betray them.

The betrayal remains, in both case, because that is the root of both stories.

There is was. There was the story I heard sixteen years ago. The pieces were all in place.

So that one afternoon, when I bought a cd at Turtle’s, my life was heading in a certain direction that I could never foretell would lead to this. Lead to me finally having the story for this song. Turtle’s isn’t there anymore, probably because they never cashed the check I used to buy the cd so that inevitably bankrupted them. But the memory of stopping there, pissing my parents off because I unapologetically would not shut up about this cd, and listening to the same song for six hours has brought me to this place: Dacre, Georgia.

My fictional world.

My published fictional world.

Sixteen years ago, I knew there was a story in that song, a story within me. I just had to find the right characters to fit into the song. They are all now alive in my novel, and they are singing the song again, begging me to stop off at the computer and write the sequel.

Inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Mine comes from Tori Amos.