I became a music journalist because my husband gave me guitar lessons as a birthday present. It was a lovely gesture that led to an obsession.

When I was young, my father sat at the piano practicing every night after dinner, and I twirled and leaped around the living room, dancing to Chopin. My father had just begun giving me lessons when he died. I was 10, derailed from a musical path, but the love of music was deeply imbedded. Then, at a picnic when I was 14, I heard a boy playing flamenco guitar, and fell head over heels—for the fiery romantic music, not the boy. Determined, I went into Manhattan from the outskirts of Queens, on my own, and bought a cheap classical guitar. I tried to apply my rudimentary music knowledge to teaching myself and saved babysitting money for lessons. But I could afford only a few, and, as those who have tried surely know, classical guitar is almost impossible to self-teach. Over the years I would pick up the guitar and struggle through the music book, but it was frustrating and unsatisfying.

Fast forward to my 50th birthday, and my husband’s gift. He had overheard me telling a friend, who had started studying guitar, how I’d always longed to play. But by that point in my life my focus was entirely on fiction; I’d earned an MA in Creative Writing, seen my short stories appear in print, and was working in the publishing industry. I was dismayed at the time commitment lessons would take. I figured I’d take just a few to please my thoughtful husband, and that would be that.

Instead I went a little crazy.

Classical guitar is a difficult pursuit when you’re young; when you’re older it’s beyond daunting. Your hands don’t have as much stretch and your brain doesn’t work as quickly. You feel, quite frankly, as inappropriate as you might imagine a middle-aged, overweight woman would feel twirling around in a tutu. Still I loved every frustrating second of it.  And I discovered that although I am a hyper-impatient person, I have infinite patience with the most tedious practice drills: I nearly self-hypnotize with the metronome. I practiced daily and diligently. It was all I wanted to do.

Oh yes, play and talk about it.  I read, researched, studied, listened—basically inhaled everything I could—not just about classical guitar but about all kinds of “roots” music. My husband and I had always enjoyed folk and bluegrass festivals and concerts, but now we ramped up. The deeper I went, the more fascinated I became. I wanted to understand how music evolved from medieval to contemporary times, wanted to tease out the strands of disparate cultures in what I heard, to ferret the connections, say, between Middle Eastern and Celtic, African and blues. I became driven to understand why one song’s melody would stick in my head and another would not, with what made such a difference to a particular guitar player’s tone. One day, as I went on incessantly to a friend, he interrupted and said, “You should try writing about this.”

It was so obvious it took my breath away. But although I knew the ropes when it came to fiction, I didn’t know a thing about how to go about writing for this market. But passion (OK, obsession), gave me courage.

I researched the music journalism market and crafted a query to do a profile of a guitarist I admired. I got a response from the editor of Acoustic Guitar, one of the top national music magazines, asking if I’d like to write a review. I’ve never sweated a piece of writing more than I did those 250 words. That review led to others, to being asked to be a regular contributor there and at other magazines, and later to write longer pieces for which I interviewed and profiled individual musicians and bands. I learned to research, interview, tape and transcribe, and craft coherent stories from the material. I loved the kind of extensive work and deep listening all this required. I loved talking with musicians and learning about their lives, on the road and in the studio, and discovering their methods and artistic intentions, from the technical to the intangible.

I found that I could use my fictional imagination in my nonfiction, particularly in describing how music sounds. At the same time, the nonfiction, and the new music landscape that had opened up to me, circled back and began to percolate in my fiction. I wanted to explore both the lives of working musicians as well as the transformative power of music. In my second novel, Play for Me, music becomes a catalyst for my character Lily. At a concert she hears music that unleashes something in her, long buried. She joins a touring folk-rock band as their videographer, leaving job and marriage behind in an attempt to find a second chance at life, passion, and art.

So there is synergy among the fiction, playing guitar, and music journalism. They are entwined, something like melody, countermelody, and harmony.