By Rebecca Snow, author of Glassmusic
I was honored to give a book talk and reading of Glassmusic at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, for their Nordic Nights event on July 2. In my presentation, I spoke about how my own family history helped inform the book, and I explained the process I went through to formulate the story. You can read more about my family’s history at my website, as well as a written version of my presentation. Below is a shortened version of my talk:
Seattle and the Nordic Heritage Museum hold some special connections for me. My mother, Målfrid Hoddevik, immigrated to Seattle from Norway in 1948 at the age of four. She grew up in Ballard, site of the Nordic Heritage Museum and a neighborhood rich in Norwegian-American history. My “Bestefar,” my mother’s father, was a fisherman who frequented the Ballard Locks in a small commercial fishing boat owned by his brother, on their way to and from Alaska to fish cod.
My sister, Rachael Pearson, performed violin at the Nordic Heritage Museum as a child, and I visited the museum several times while growing up to learn more about my heritage, so it was especially meaningful to give a book talk there. Attendants were allowed free tours of the museum before the event, and I enjoyed showing my 16-year-old son the Norwegian room for the first time.
I started Glassmusic over two decades ago for my MFA thesis at the University of Montana. The summer before I graduated in 1993, I was in Norway for two incredible months. The landscape, my family history, and particularly my great-grandfather, Matias Orheim, first inspired my novel. Orheim was a blind musician, minister, composer, and writer. He received the king’s medal of merit in gold for his life’s work in 1953.
I heard a lot of stories about him when I was a child, and when I was able to see the little museum dedicated to him in his home village, my fascination grew. I thought it would be interesting to write from the point of view of a blind man; although, as I revised the manuscript years later, the musician’s youngest daughter became the main character instead. Still, Oskar Solheim, based loosely on Matias Orheim, is a central character in the novel. Family tensions emerge with his focus on his ministry and the long weeks away from home.
When I felt ready to return to the manuscript, I workshopped it for a few years at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in my current home city of Denver, Colorado. Classes there helped me realize the story was more about Ingrid, based loosely on my grandmother. It was hard giving up the blind point of view, which I had really enjoyed writing, but the story goes where it needs to go, and I found myself focused and inspired until the book’s completion when Ingrid became the protagonist. The novel is now very much fictionalized, though some of the characters and events are still loosely based on family history.
Many thanks to the Nordic Heritage Museum, especially Stina Cowen, Public Programs Coordinator, who organized the event, gave me a wonderful introduction, and didn’t fail to announce that my novel was shortlisted for the 2015 International Rubery Book Award!Tags: book talk, Denver, Glassmusic, Nordic Heritage Museum, Norway, Reading, Rebecca Snow, Seattle