The Undercover Soundtrack – Melissa Foster

‘Molly is a bundle of strength and emotions… the lyrics embodied all of her’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is award-winning bestselling author, indie champion and women’s advocate Melissa Foster @Melissa_Foster

Soundtrack by Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Darius Rucker, Glee, Madonna, Katy Perry, The Fray, Panic! At the Disco, Pussycat Dolls,

Thank you, Roz, for sharing your virtual space with me today. I love what you are doing with this series, and I have a feeling that many of your followers will find my musical selections odd, lame, or just plain telling-of-my-age. Here goes…

I’m a music fanatic, but not in the normal sense of the term. I cannot write in silence. I need the beat of a good tune to be able to feel my stories, and the particular beat doesn’t matter. It’s not uncommon to find me with F.M. Hot 99.5 playing so loud that I cannot hear anyone speaking to me. It’s also not uncommon to find me listening to an iTunes mash-up of Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Darius Rucker, Glee (yes, I am almost 46 years old, and this is my guilty pleasure). Even Madonna and Katy Perry make an appearance. The difference between me and most music fanatics is that I rarely know who is singing the songs I listen to, and often, I can’t tell you the title.

When I was writing Chasing Amanda, my typical mash-up wasn’t quite working. I found my inspiration on my iPod, which my stepdaughter had filled with songs when she was about 15 years old, ranging from head-banging heavy metal to rap and top 40 hits. I gravitated toward three songs that pulled me through the manuscript — I was a runner at the time, and these songs were played over and over during my runs as I worked through the storyline of each character: How to Save A Life by The Fray, I Write Sins Not Tragedies, by Panic! At The Disco, and Buttons, by the Pussycat Dolls.

Emotional stakes

Each song helped me to see Molly Tanner, the main character, a little more clearly. She’s a bundle of strength and emotions wrapped up in sensitive skin. The lyrics embodied all of her. Buttons helped bring out the fun side of Molly, which is so easily lost in stressful situations. Buttons inspired the sexier side of Molly, it was a gentle reminder that she was feminine, though strong, helping me grasp her vulnerability when she was searching for the abductor, alone at night.  Sins helped me to remember that she was on a very powerful hunt, where she could lose everything, and Life, well, it’s pretty clear. Molly valued her life, but because she had unknowingly witnessed an abduction, and then the little girl’s body was found, when Tracey went missing, she was willing to forgo her own life to save another.

I drew from the song How To Save A Life on many levels. That particular song carried over to many of the characters. It exposed the search for Tracey as something much deeper than simply a simple search mission. The song is made of passion and longing, which brought life to Hannah Slate’s forgotten past. Hannah Slate, Pastor Lett, and Newton Carr each had deep-rooted secrets that could have crushed them as individuals, but they drew strength from one another, just as the song talks about staying up all night, each of them had been there at all hours for each others. The love that blossomed from their friendship carried them forward through lives of deceit. I didn’t watch the video when I wrote the book, and I’m glad that I didn’t.  I found different meaning in the words each time I listened.

A softer side

Molly’s husband, Cole, was a doctor, and a very serious one, who believed in tangible facts rather than Molly’s clairvoyance. Buttons helped me to find his softer, sexier side, and think of him as a man rather than just a husband and physician, and by doing so, allowed another layer of the story to form.

Music enhances my senses and tempts me to reach beyond characters’ looks and the way they move. Music draws me in to think about their emotional state in each scene, and as you can see from my musical choices, there is no rhyme or reason to the tunes that I choose. Music does so much more than just inspire me, it is woven into the fabric of my life, enabling me to see most things in life more clearly, and to remain in a place of light. If you visit me, you’ll find an intercom system that plays music in every room, all day long. Music, even when it has sad lyrics, makes me happy.

What does music do for you?

Award-winning, bestselling author Melissa Foster is a touchstone for the indie publishing community and a tireless advocate for women. Her novels are Megan’s Way, Chasing Amanda and Come Back to Me. She is the founder of the World Literary Café, Fostering Success, and The Women’s Nest. Melissa writes emotionally-driven contemporary fiction and suspense with passionate characters that remain with the reader long after they’ve read the last words. Melissa is a friend, mentor, brownie connoisseur, and book fiend. Connect with her on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter @Melissa_Foster


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  1. #1 by Lynn C. Willis on November 14, 2012 - 12:52 pm

    Before I type the first word, I create a playlist of five to ten songs that put me “there” in the setting, mood, emotions, etc…then while writing that particular novel, that playlist is played on a loop. I share the playlist on Pinterest and readers and followers are involved with me from the onset of the book. Great post!

  2. #5 by Anne Trager - Le French Book on November 14, 2012 - 4:09 pm

    Thanks for this post. It is so interesting to read something by someone “who cannot write in silence,” when I’m pretty much the opposite. However, I recently translated a police procedural/thriller–The 7th Woman–by the French author Frédérique Molay into English, and she told me that she too writes with the music on (AC/DC, AC/DC, Springsteen, Sade, Queen, Frankies goes to Hollywood, Chromeo, The XX, Liza Minnelli, Franck Sinatra, Zazie). “It’s a question of pace and sensations” she says. She also says that she needs the lyrics to be in English so they do not interfere with her writing in French. It’s so interesting how minds work.

    • #6 by Melissa Foster on November 14, 2012 - 7:51 pm

      Hi Anne, I tried to write in silence about two weeks ago and just about went bonkers. We’re all different, and that’s what makes books so wonderful – just like the creative process is different for every writer, so are the products. Thanks for commenting.

      • #7 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 14, 2012 - 8:49 pm

        ‘Pace and sensations..’ yes, what a good way to describe it. And how interesting about the language question. I heard an interview the other day where Chuck Wendig was saying that a writer’s choice of metaphor is a real window to their soul. I think our use of creative triggers is too.

        • #8 by Melissa Foster on November 15, 2012 - 1:03 am

          I would agree with Chuck’s comment. Roz, thank you for featuring me today. I really enjoy this series!

  3. #9 by Beth Rudetsky on November 14, 2012 - 7:09 pm

    Great piece Melissa! I’m obsessed with “How To Save A Life” too! I probably listen to it at least a few times a week. The song makes me feel sad and personally resonates for me when years back I tried to in vain to help someone I knew who gave up on himself and turned to alcohol to numb the pain of his emotions.

    • #10 by Melissa Foster on November 14, 2012 - 7:52 pm

      Beth, that is my “go to” song when my manuscript needs a deep emotional pull. I don’t know why, but there is definitely something with the words and pace of that song. You sound like a good friend, and I’m sure your friend appreciated your help.

  4. #12 by Sheila Deeth on November 14, 2012 - 11:08 pm

    I never got the knack of listening to music when I write, though I sometimes finding I’m hearing it in my head–usually when the characters want me to go for a walk and listen to them for a while.

  1. ‘Each song helped me see the main character a little more clearly’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Melissa Foster « Nail Your Novel

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