I did not know about this song when I developed the plot, mind you. It would be somewhat inaccurate to say that this song, or really any song, influenced the actual overarching story of Tall Tales directly (as stated previously, this is not always true for specific story arcs). However, I have found that when I find something that resonates with some aspect of the story, it is much easier to get into the mode of thinking about the story. Even if I don't borrow any details from the song, the fact that the song makes the story more accessible to me is itself a massive benefit to my inspiration.
This is probably true of all writers, really. I can't imagine I'm saying anything as yet that is particularly unique. The point is that "The Yawning Grave" is that kind of story. The central conflict of the song, a human encroaching into affairs that they should understand but may not and drawing the ire of some great entity, is the central conflict of Tall Tales. This was sufficient for me to draw a great deal of help from the song, by listening to it and drifting off into thinking of Matteson and his enemy.
As the story progresses, I would encourage you to occasionally come back and listen to this song and think about how things are playing out, and let your speculations run wild about what is coming. Maybe, if you're lucky, you'll see some of the same things I have.
As I was trying to work out some more details about the story, I came across "The Stable Song" by Gregory Alan Isakov, which I have included in this post. Feel free to take a listen. The song evoked something in me, and I latched onto it immediately. As I learned the lyrics, I found myself imagining situations that would suit the song. I considered the idea of doing a short story called "The Stable Song" and directly translating the story to the world of Tall Tales, if I could secure permission from Isakov. I never actually reached out to him, I don't know how I would have even done that, but as I was thinking through what that would even look like I began to see some ways to fill holes in the plot I had been working on for Joanna.
The story I originally developed based on the lyrics and feel of the song were heavily adapted. Most parts were scrapped entirely. Some were changed so that the general imagery still worked, but it was absolutely not the same details. One detail that remained fairly well intact was the line "ring out those ghosts on the Ohio" which became a silver bell, etched with strange markings, that disturbed a river spirit from its slumber. The end result is a story that doesn't really quite fit with the song, but I think the song's influence can still be felt. They are closely related in my mind, now. I can imagine scenes of Joanna and Aaboukingon when I hear the song, I can hear the song in my head when I'm writing the story. Listen, and read, and see if you can find some of the same connections.
What is this?
Worldbuilding Wednesdays is a real-world blog, written by Tim McLaughlin, that gives a little peek behind the curtain of Tall Tales. That includes the process of creating the story and world, influences, world rules, and even the occasional story.