Night Visions started with a haunting melody. For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to the stunning beauty and imagination of Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations. The lulling, pastoral quality of the opening aria can soothe any troubled mind, and over the years, I've turned to it for exactly that—to relax, to meditate, to immerse myself in the intricacy of the music.
I didn't become aware of its unusual origins until I began studying Bach in more depth in college. According to Bach's first biographer, Johann Forkel, a man named Count Keyserlingk commissioned the composer to write a kind of keyboard soporific. The Count suffered from terrible bouts of insomnia, and he hoped that a clavier piece of "soft and somewhat lively character" would help him through his sleepless nights. Long after Bach delivered the manuscript in the fall of 1741, Count Keyserlingk relied on this piece for solace, often saying to his musician-in-service, Johann Goldberg, "do play me one of my variations."
Goldberg, a gifted pupil of Bach's, was only fourteen years old at the time, and if we believe this story, he must have been a talented player. In Night Visions, my Goldberg is older and trapped by the Count in a cold, isolated castle. Transformed by sleeplessness and exhaustion, Keyserlingk has become violent and cruel in his desperate search for sleep. He is even willing to kill. His murderous rage leaves a legacy of violence that haunts the main character, Samantha Ranvali, over two hundred years later. Samantha, an insomniac herself, falls asleep the first time she hears the Goldberg Variations, and as she learns more about its history, she wonders how sleeplessness and pain will change her.
When I started writing Night Visions, I became interested in telling a story - a series of stories, actually - that would connect an event in history with a present-day crime. This intersection between past and present is at the heart of the novel. The main characters not only confront a series of chilling murders that are linked with the Goldberg Variations, but in the process they must also confront some of the suffering in their own pasts.
Night Visions is the first of a five-book series featuring the same three characters—Samantha Ranvali, Frank Bennett, and Donald Tarnas. All of the novels deal with crimes that involve some event or artifact from the past with tragic consequences for the present.