Have you ever read a novel and imagined what it would look or sound like in real life?
No longer limited to one dimensional words on a page, publishers are now incorporating visual media and music into the reading experience, thanks to the internet. “The Wheelhouse Café” (J. Boylston & Company Publishers, 2015) is such a project.
Conceived and written by native Greenport resident Yvonne Lieblein, The Wheelhouse Café was inspired by stories told to her by her husband, Josh Horton, about his time captaining a tugboat in the 1990’s. Horton, a former Southold Town supervisor, is also a musician and wrote songs during his maritime days. Lieblein incorporated those into the book as well as a music soundtrack, or songscape, as she calls it.
“I wrote “The Wheelhouse Cafe” to exemplify and bring to life this idea I’ve had since I was 12 of having a book with a soundtrack,” she said during an interview at Aldo’s Café in Greenport, where she wrote a portion of the novel. “In my book it is almost like a character. If you don’t listen to the music, you are missing an integral part of the book experience.”
Music has always played an important role in Lieblein’s life. She played the clarinet, piano and tenor saxophone in school. She also wrote stories and recorded songs off the radio that she thought best represented her stories.
“I taped songs from the Rolling Stones, the Who, AC/DC and put the music to the scene, thinking the music makes it happen,” she said. “All my life I’ve had playlists and soundtracks for aspects of my life. I think in terms of music.”
The concept of creating music for a book is now a reality thanks to internet playlists and music apps. Two weeks ago the New York Times reported that acclaimed writer Wally Lamb, known for best-sellers like “She’s Come Undone” and “I Know This Much is True” will release his new novel, “I’ll Take You There”, exclusively as a digital app. Along with the novel, the app will include an original soundtrack, a full cast audio narrative of the book and a documentary about Mr. Lamb.
Ironically “The Wheelhouse Café” is a reminder of what our lives were like before the digital age. Set in Greenport and New York City during the early 1990’s, the book takes place before cell phones became a way of life. Days spent aboard a tugboat were a lonely existence then, with little communication with the outside world.
Lieblein recounted a story of how her husband handled the isolation he experienced, stationed aboard a tugboat for weeks at a time. It became the catalyst for her first novel.
According to Lieblein, Horton would sing and play guitar in the boat’s wheelhouse with the radio turned to channel 68. Imagining that someone was listening to him helped him feel connected.
“He was a musician, so he would turn on the marine radio saying, ‘Security Call, Security Call, turn to channel 68 for the Wheelhouse Café,'” explained Lieblein. “Then he would turn the radio to that channel, tie off the mike, so it would dangle from a handle and he would play.”
Lieblein took that sense of isolation to write about two people, John Raymond, a lonely tugboat Captain and Arden McHale, a lonely Manhattan woman. Both are adrift in their own worlds, until their lives collide. Lieblein describes the novel as a love story, but not a romance novel. She also incorporated real Greenport locales like the Whisky Wind into the book, that’s where Raymond performs some of the songs which are written by Horton.
Lieblein says it’s entirely up to the reader as to how they want to experience the songs as they read the book. The songs are available online at TheWheelhousecafe.com and on Spotify.
“There are no rules,” she said. “You can read it before, during or after. At the end of the book are all the lyrics and the chapters that the songs go with. When a song is referenced, you’ll know it, but it’s not a musical. A song may be referenced to in the book or a character may be thinking of it, sometimes he is singing them at the Whiskey Wind, on the Wheelhouse Café or to Arden.
“It’s definitely a love story and a love affair with this place (Greenport),” said Lieblein. “I grew up here and did not expect to live here. I moved away for nine years, came back and stayed. There’s no place now that I’d rather be, it’s such a special place”
Lieblein runs her own marketing and PR firm, Lieblein Associates LLC. She plans to expand the music side of the novel by inviting musicians to join her book tour and perform the book’s songs during readings. She also plans to post the lyrics online, inviting musicians to collaborate online with their own renditions of the songs.
“That’s what this book is about, it so exemplifies being heard and connecting,” she said.
The Wheelhouse Café is available online at Amazon.com. Copies of the book will be available for sale at Burton’s Bookstore in Greenport in time for Christmas. For more information visit TheWheelhouse Café.com.