After first publishing Cigarettes & Wine (see review in Symbolic Interaction) and later beginning my own independent series of sociological and queer based southern stories with Essence, I released my second research-based novel in the Social Fictions Series earlier this month – Homecoming Queens. Like Cigarettes & Wine and other works in the Social Fictions Series, this novel is a sociological narrative built upon observations and interviews (formal and informal). In this case, these data points come from LGBTQIA people, people of color, and working-class people in the southeastern United States utilized in combination with my own endeavors and formal studies as a sociological, interactionist, and queer mixed-methodological researcher. Written in the dual forms of a southern gothic novel and an observational account from a main character, the novel traces the experiences of a bi+ poly marital trio as they move from a large southern city back to the small town where two-thirds of the marital union grew up in their youth, and traces the ways the past influences and becomes relevant in the present for southern LGBTQIA people, small towns, families, relationships, and patterns of social inequality.
As I did with the release of Cigarettes & Wine, I have found myself thinking a lot about the ways music shaped this composition and release in much the same way it does with everything I write, publish, and / or promote following publication. While I have written about the process of creating the work elsewhere, here I want to return an earlier discussion of the soundtracking of existence – or the ways people may use music to make sense of their lives, creative scientific, artistic, or otherwise works and selves, and experiences over time. In this case, this novel owes largely to the release of Brandy Clark’s second studio album Big Day in a Small Town. While I use musical references to situate experiences throughout the book as I do in other books, in this case, the primary music that played as I took the varied data points and intertwined them into a narrative was this album. I specifically organized every aspect of the novel around homecomings of varied sorts, and this idea came to me initially as I listened to Clark’s song “homecoming queen,” and remembered the story and experience of a homecoming queen I knew from my years on the planet. As I composed the novel, I kept spinning Clark’s album as a kind of soundtrack to the story the same way I have with other records when writing other works.
This brings me back to the discussions on this site earlier in the year about the ways music may serve as a background expectation or illustration of varied feelings, thoughts, and landscapes we experience throughout our lives. Earlier this year, I wrote about this as a process of soundtracking existence in ways that make our narratives and selves more meaningful and emotionally coherent to us as well as more easily translatable to others. In the months since, I have also noted that I have begun some scholarly writing on this idea that I will share more about as it develops over time. The point I wish to return to here is the theoretical and empirical question of the ways people may engage in such tactics, consciously or otherwise, throughout their lives and in relation to whatever musical materials they come in contact with over time. I think these could be fascinating questions for interactionists and broader sociologies to explore concerning the role of arts and music specifically in the social construction and dissemination of who we are, how we do things, what we feel things mean in our lives at a given time or place in the life course. As such, I simply use this post to introduce my latest book, and remind us of a potentially fascinating question that could be explored in many social contexts throughout the world today.
J. Sumerau is an interactionist scholar and novelist, for more information on their novels and research, visit http://www.jsumerau.com.