Posts Tagged Bruce Springsteen

The Undercover Soundtrack – Will Overby

for logo‘The thoughts start flowing again’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by horror and thriller writer Will Overby @Will_Overby

Soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen, U2, Benny Goodman, Julie London, Kryzysztof Penderecki, Gyorgy Ligeti, Brett Rosenberg

I have never understood how anyone can write in total silence.  Call me crazy, but there’s something about writing to music that frees up the flow of thought, that takes my mind to places I wouldn’t ordinarily visit, that presents me with sudden, surprising inspiration.

WDO-The Killing VisionI first noticed this back in 1984.  I had just graduated high school and I was working on what would turn out to be my first completed novel, August.  That summer I purchased Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and listened to it most days when I was writing.  As the weeks went by, I quickly realized that it was becoming a soundtrack of sorts to the book.  Songs like Downbound Train and I’m On Fire helped me add a particularly gritty feel to the character of Brian DeCanto and gave him a depth I couldn’t have achieved otherwise.

This was a revelation.  Subsequent stories and novels continued to have soundtracks, including a never-to-be-published young adult novel inspired completely by the music of U2.  Back in the day I would make mix tapes to play while writing.  I still have a couple of those tapes, and it’s really interesting to go back now and see what inspired me 15 and 20 years ago.  Nowadays I just cue up a playlist on my computer, and I can add and delete selections at my whim.

While writing this post I’m listening to the music I used for inspiration while working on my novel The Island.  In this story two friends, Sarah and Amy, travel to a Caribbean island for a getaway but end up being caught up in a vodou cult complete with zombie rituals and mysterious disappearances.  There is also a touch of romance, as Amy falls for a local tour-boat operator, David.

When first developing this book, I would often listen to the type of music I imagined the characters would enjoy.  Sarah and her fiancé, for instance, are into big band music, so much of her characterization involved immersing myself in songs like Goody Goody by Benny Goodman.  David, on the other hand, collects vinyl records and is especially fond of 50s jazz; John Coltrane seems to be his favorite for reflection, but as his and Amy’s love affair blossomed, I found myself drawn to sultry numbers by Julie London like I’m in the Mood for Love to accentuate their growing sexual attraction.

The Island (Small)When it came to the meat of the book, I relied on instrumental pieces – both modern classical and film soundtracks – for inspiration.  The zombie ritual near the end of the book, for example, is set to Kryzysztof Penderecki’s Polymorphia – a creepier piece of music I’ve never heard; you can almost feel skeletal fingers closing in around your throat as the pizzicato strings play a frenetic path up and down the scale.  Likewise, his The Dream of Jacob was sometimes set to repeat when I needed a feel of dread and unease.  For scenes early in the book when Sarah is having hallucinations and nightmares, Gyorgy Ligeti’s Lontano wonderfully portrays the outward appearance of calm while panic and horror gnaw inside.

No music was a greater inspiration, though, than Brett Rosenberg’s soundtrack to the 2006 film, Half Light.  While the more horrific music seemed to mirror some of the Penderecki pieces to great effect, the quieter more melodic passages were fantastic in helping me round out the character of Sarah.  The heart-rending solo violin selection Girl in the Storm, for example, perfectly captures Sarah’s sense of loss and loneliness.

For those of us writers who use it, music can be a great motivator.  I know if I’m having trouble getting in the mood of the story I can turn on the book’s playlist and the thoughts start flowing again.  If you happen to be one of those who can’t write with the distraction of music, I urge you to try listening to some pieces to set your mood before you write.  You may just be surprised at what springs into your mind.  And onto your page.

Will Overby has spent 30 years in the boardrooms and glass offices of retail banking. Between dodging mergers and drafting policies he publishes novels. He and his wife live far from the corporate world in rural western Kentucky.  They have two grown children, a dog, and a menagerie of cats.  A graduate of Indiana University, Will is an avid Hoosiers football fan. Connect with Will on his website, www.willoverby.com, on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter

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‘Dread, unease, loss and loneliness’ – Will Overby

for logoI’m finding it so curious to see how many novelists in this series are inspired by Bruce Springsteen. He’s probably not the kind of artiste people would imagine if you mentioned using music as a muse to write, but he’s behind so many characters and character dilemmas. My guest this week has compiled writing soundtracks ever since he was at school, and still keeps mixtapes from that time. He revisits them occasionally out of amused curiosity, and says that Springsteen gave his characters a gritty humanity he couldn’t otherwise have found. Decades on, he’s using soundtracks just as much as ever – sometimes not to write, but to fill himself with the book’s mood before he sits down at the keyboard. He is Will Overby and he’ll be here with his Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Denise Kahn

for logo‘Music to unite and reunite’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by Denise Kahn @DKpolyglot

Soundtrack by Brahms, Chinese Guqin music, Walter Kirchoff, Wagner, Sacred Spirit – Yeha Noha, throat singers, Nana Mouskouri, Bruce Springsteen,

My very first memory of life was the sound of my mother’s glorious voice singing to me, most likely a Brahms lullaby.   I’m convinced that is why music always has a delicious way of creeping into my writing, and becomes one of the most important elements. I find that music is almost synonymous with being in a state of trance, and that is how I become when I write.  I get very focused, and live the scenes with my characters.  As each mise en scène blooms music envelopes my mind with a melisma, or a melody that already exists.

Denise Kahn photoPeace of Music

I wrote my book Peace of Music for my son, so that he could have the story of his ancestral family.  It became a novel (much more fun that way) as I could take a few liberties, such as the scenes in China’s 13th century Song (what else?) Dynasty.  One of the scenes is of a blind potter who is commissioned by Quan Yin, his Goddess, to make a special vase, but he doesn’t know how.  Chinese Gugin music was the key to the scene.

…From the back of See-Fu’s house a soft melody rang out.  It came from Lotus Blossom’s room.  Her long delicate fingers plucked her qin.  Her performance was ethereal See-Fu thought, a combination of earth’s gentleness and mysteries of the night.  Every once in a while Lotus Blossom accompanied the harmonics with a song, an ancient love poem.  See-Fu felt his entire body mellow as his daughter’s voice reminded him of birds, and the melody painted the portrait of nature’s beauty where they had collected his ingredients.  He smiled triumphantly and delicately touched the statue of his Goddess.  He now knew.  He remembered Quan Yin’s guidance:  “When the music is played, your heart will be your eyes.”

While about 10 percent is fiction (like China), the rest is fact, and since the characters/family members were opera singers and concert pianists I thought their stories would make a good novel.  My tag line is ‘Spreading the Power of Music through Words’, and in this book music proves how it can unite and keep people together and strong, especially in difficult circumstances.  Throughout the book, music is the glue that keeps this family saga together.  One of my favorite scenes takes place on Christmas Eve during WWI, the true ‘silent night’ of that horrific war.  The only sounds were that of soldiers, from both sides, singing Christmas carols together, all started by two brilliant tenors, one German, the other French.

Split-Second Lifetime

The second book that I published was Split-Second Lifetime.  I was visiting some friends in New Mexico.  We went to see some Native American dancers and I was mesmerized by their throat singing—a very unique form of song.  I did some research, and found that the only other people that sing that way are the indigenous people of Tuva, in eastern Siberia.  I also saw this attractive woman, in jeans and jacket, standing very regal.  As I watched her she suddenly morphed into an elegant mountain lioness.  And then I saw the entire story, frame by frame, as if playing on an old moviola, all of it surrounded by the music in the background.  This is what came out of that moment in time:

The main protagonist (Jebby) is an ethnomusicologist, who roams the world recording indigenous music.  On a plane to her next destination she meets her seat mate (Dodi), who seems to trigger past life memories from the old American Southwest.  As they travel through Uzbekistan, Jebby realizes that in a past lifetime they were man and wife as members of the Hopi tribe. As she encounters some magnificent musicians each one seems to give her a new ‘clue’, or vision, into that past life.

split_second_coverThe book is filled with scenes of music and musicians:  Nana Mouskouri at the Royal Albert Hall in London; an Uzbek, with a horrible English accent, trying to imitate Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, while traveling in the middle of a desert; traditional and modern Uzbek music; and even elements of Rumi in a Dervish ceremony.

I journey with the protagonists on their voyage, as they discover the beauty of other cultures and their musical traditions. It is food for my passion and my senses, as it travels down to my fingers on the keyboard.

Denise Kahn spent 20 years in Europe because of her father, who was with the US Diplomatic Corps, and her mother who was an opera singer. She worked mainly as a simultaneous interpreter and translator as she is a linguist and speaks several languages, five of which are fluent. Because of her exposure to people of different nations her writing includes many foreign settings and cultures. She is a proud mother of a gallant Marine who served in Iraq, and among the members of her household is Louie the cat, so named because of his clawing love of Louis XV and XVI furniture, and surely thinks he must have been a fearless Marine in one of his former lives. Her books are here, her website is here and you can find her on Twitter as @DKpolyglot

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Terrence McCauley

for logo‘Through the cold, lonely streets of NYC’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning crime writer Terrence McCauley @tmccauley_nyc

Soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen, 3 Doors Down, Everlast, Rolling Stones, Hinder, The Heavy, Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, The Band Perry, House of Pain, Rob Zombie

People who know me or have read my work may be surprised by how much music influences my writing. I don’t listen to music when I write or even edit, but at other times, a chance song on the radio or browsing the musical selection on my phone can help spark an idea for a scene or an entire story line.

Footsteps and car hornsme hat

The best examples are the novels I’ve written. The first – Prohibition – is a crime novel set in 1930 with an opening scene of the protagonist stalking someone through the cold, lonely streets of New York City. One could be forgiven for believing that scene was inspired by any number of noir movies – of which I am a huge fan – but in this case, they’d be wrong. The opening scene was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song Murder Incorporated. When I heard that song for the first time, the drum beats that open the song reminded me of footsteps echoing on an empty street as someone is fleeing for their life. The sax sounded like car horns blaring past the unfortunate man now on the run.

The ending of the novel (which I won’t give away here) was inspired by 3 Doors Down’s Love Me When I’m Gone, a mournful tune that fit the ending of the book rather nicely.

Hard luck cases

My novella Fight Card: Against the Ropes is a prequel to Prohibition and details the protagonist’s boxing career before he became a mob enforcer. The protagonist – Quinn – has always had his own soundtrack in my mind that was different from the over all soundtrack of whatever story in which he appears. In Against The Ropes, Quinn’s soundtrack comes to the fore: Everlast’s What It’s Like is a song about hard luck hard cases, a description that fits the Quinn character nicely. The ending of the book, where Quinn accepts the inevitable end of his boxing career and agrees to become an enforcer for the very men who have ruined his career, was inspired by the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. The crafty, patient villainy of the song seemed appropriate for Quinn’s acquiescence of a life of crime.

The third book I have out now, Slow Burn by Noir Nation Books, is also set in 1930s New York, but the protagonist is a police detective named Charlie Doherty. He’s a corrupt, impure Tammany Hall hack and a man whose life is on a downward spiral. His wife left him, his career is ending in ignominy and he’s running out of reasons to get up in the morning. The melancholy, yet strong song Better than Me by Hinder suited Doherty well and I wrote the story with that tune in mind. Some people who have read Slow Burn think Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head inspired the ending. But I thought of a more triumphant, slightly cocky song. How You Like Me Now by The Heavy worked best and it gave me inspiration for the ending scenes.

Slow Burn CoverRedemptions

Music doesn’t only influence the beginning and ends of my books. I also draw inspiration from music for other types of scenes I write. For more sentimental scenes, I listen to the theme from The Shawshank Redemption soundtrack or Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Gladiator soundtrack. The Band Perry’s If I Die Young inspired me to write a few scenes for a western I’m working on now called The Devil’s Cut.

My work tends to have a lot of violence and action, and music plays a role in my crafting of those scenes as well. House of Pain’s Jump Around as well as Rob Zombie’s Super Charger Heaven have hard, edgy, fast-moving tempos that get the juices flowing and help me create scenes that pop.

Terrence P. McCauley is an award winning crime writer. His latest novel, Slow Burn, is currently available in e-book format from Noir Nation Books on Amazon. His other books Prohibition, published by Airship 27, and Fight Card: Against the Ropes (Fight Card Books) are also available on Amazon. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter @tmccauley_nyc and Facebook.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Terri Giuliano Long

‘She’s just a kid, flying high, full of imagination and life’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by journalist and award-winning debut novelist Terri Giuliano Long @TGLong

Soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson, Tom Petty, Radiohead, Mother Love Bone, Keith Jarrett, The Cowboy Junkies, Madonna, Oasis

Dave and I are in the car on our way home from dinner. He puts a Bruce Springsteen CD in the player, Greetings From Asbury Park. The song Growin’ Up strikes a nerve, and I ask him to hit replay. I listen to the song over and over. The song is still playing when we pull into the driveway 30 minutes later. In this song, I see Leah – a 16-year-old girl, pushing boundaries, horrifying the adults all around her. She’s just a kid, flying high, full of imagination and life, yearning for independence, trying to make her way in the world.

This song opens a door

Dave and I have four daughters. As I’m writing the novel, they’re all teens, and I see Leah from a mother’s perspective. I love her, but she frightens me. This song opens a door, shows me another side of her. I see tremendous energy and vulnerability so deep and true that it brings tears to my eyes. I try to integrate this new understanding into her scenes, but it’s not until late in the novel, after she’s run away from home, that it pays off.

When I wrote In Leah’s Wake, songs—like Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, Robbie Robertson’s Showdown at Big Sky and Tom Petty’s Face in the Crowd provided the emotional connection I needed to define certain scenes. The novel opens with Leah’s parents, Zoe and Will, playing poker—a metaphor I didn’t notice until the second draft, when I realized how much parenting teens resembles a poker game. Tupelo Honey spins on the player. After a spat, Will leaves the table and replaces the sweet love song with Zoe’s favorite song, Showdown at Big Sky. That night, alone, waiting for Leah, he listens to A Face In The Crowd, a haunting song that speaks to his profound loneliness, as he sits by the window, imagining the unthinkable horror that may have befallen his child.

Often, the instrumentals, the sound, the tone—the emotional energy—of a song put me into the scene. Paranoid Android, from Okay Computer by Radiohead, I’m On Fire, by Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Stardog Champion, from Stardog Champion by Mother Love Bone, I Loves You Porgy from Porgy and Bess, by Keith Jarrett on the CD The Melody At Night With You, and Misguided Angel from The Trinity Session by the Cowboy Junkies—all set an emotional stage for a scene I was working on.

In the lyric

Occasionally, the lyrics spoke to me, as was the case with Madonna’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, from the film Evita, released in 1996, a few years before I began In Leah’s Wake. Early in the book, Zoe is in the car, on her way home from work. She’s thinking about Leah, all the changes that have occurred of late. Leah’s behavior drives her out of her mind. She also feels guilty, selfish for putting her own needs and desires ahead of her family. ‘I love you,’ Madonna sings, echoing Zoe’s feelings. ‘And I hope you love me.’

The best writing moments occurred when – as with Growin’ Up – a song moved me emotionally and its lyrics gave me insight. Our house at the time was wired for sound. One morning, when I stepped out of the shower, Oasis’s Champagne Supernova from What’s the Story? Morning Glory, was playing. I was working on a pivotal scene: Leah’s 12-year-old sister, Justine, asks for a cigarette and Leah, hesitant at first, sees her sister as her equal for the first time and allows her to smoke. The song’s textured ethereal feel, for me, mirrored Leah’s state of mind. The lyrics, about getting high, people changing, felt right. The metaphor gave me psychological clarity, a window into Leah’s heart.

As I progressed through draft after draft, music, which had initially inspired me, took on a defining role in the book. Scenes where the characters were listening to music began to different feel from scenes that were virtually silent, except for the dialogue. To me, those silent scenes feel stark, and emotionally raw. Maybe that’s why they so often end with an argument or a crucial event that, to one of the characters, represents catastrophic change.

Without music, In Leah’s Wake would be a very different book. How do you identify with music? When you read a book, do you relate to songs or find them a distraction?

Terri Giuliano Long is a contributing writer for IndieReader and Her Circle eZine. She has written news and feature articles for numerous publications, including the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College. In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel, winner of the Coffee Time Reviewer Recommend Award, the Book Bundlz 2011 Book Pick, the Book Bundlz Book Club Favorite, 2012 – First Place and nominated for the Global eBook award. For more information, find her on her website. Or connect on Facebook, Twitter or Blog.

 
 

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Matthew Dicks

‘I wanted music that a certain breed of men might like but would rarely admit to liking’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by contemporary novelist Matthew Dicks

Soundtrack by Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Supertramp, Wham!, Abba, Nena

At the heart of Unexpectedly, Milo is a road trip.  The protagonist, Milo Slade, heads south in search of a woman who may or may not be alive, and since music has always played a large role in every road trip that I have ever taken, I felt like it should play a role in this book as well.

Savants and self-awareness

I wanted the choice of music to say something about Milo as a person, and so I enlisted the help of my wife, who is a near savant when it comes to music, to help me choose the playlist.  Milo first begins by burning a CD with the type of classic road trip music that you might hear in a movie.  He is a movie buff, and in many ways, he views himself as a character within a film, so includes songs like Bob Seger’s Against the Wind, Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run on his playlist.

He doesn’t necessarily like this music, but it is what he thinks he is supposed to play, which is in many ways Milo’s problem.  He has spent his life pretending to be the person he thinks he is supposed to be instead of the oddball that he truly is.

Unlike a film, where a three-minute song can fill an entire road trip montage, Milo is surprised to discover that his carefully constructed playlist runs out before he is even able to leave the state of Connecticut.

Guilty pleasures

Milo then turns to music that he likes but is too embarrassed to play around his soon-to-be ex-wife.  Bands like Supertramp, Wham! and Abba enter the rotation, and it was these choices of bands to which my wife assisted me.  I wanted music that a certain breed of men might like but would rarely admit to liking.  Not the toughest guys in the world, but not exactly wimps either.  Catchy tunes that an average guy like Milo might enjoy.  The guilty pleasures of the everyman.

It was also important that Milo kept his love for this kind of music hidden from his wife.  While Milo’s wife, Christine, is not the nicest of people, Milo is at least partially to blame for the failure of his marriage because of the number of secrets he has kept from his wife.  She knows nothing about his obsessive-compulsive nature, and this has required Milo to construct an elaborate and secretive life from her, undoubtedly causing barriers in their relationship.

In fact, music plays a large role in this secret life as well.  As an obsessive-compulsive, one of Milo’s compulsions is to sing the German karaoke version of the 1980s hit 99 Luftballons by Nena to an audience.  When the demand strikes, Milo’s mind cannot be put at ease until he takes the stage and performs the song.  As he prepares for his road trip south, he makes sure to have a copy of the 99 Luftballons karaoke CD in the event the compulsion strikes.

Karaoke bars tend not to have this song on hand.

The song originally chosen for this compulsion was The Hokey Pokey.  Milo’s compulsions often involve escalation and eventual release, and I liked the way The Hokey Pokey followed this model, adding one body part at a time until the dancer is permitted to truly hokey pokey.  But my agent wisely steered me away from this song, thinking it a little too over-the-top and silly to be realistic.  The more obscure but still well known song like 99 Luftballons worked well, especially when I decided to use the German version of the song, which was actually popular in the United States for quite a while.  It added to Milo’s oddity, and the fact that he was required to sing the German version further emphasized how little control he had over these compulsions.

The song ends up playing a key role at the end of the novel, though that came as a bit of a surprise.  It was one of those writes-itself moments, and I ended up loving the scene.  The novel has been optioned for film, and as the process grinds along slowly but surely, I am hoping that the writers, producers and director decide to keep 99 Luftballons as Milo’s song of choice.  It’s the song that plays in the back of my mind whenever I think about Milo and his story.

Matthew Dicks is not one for long, crafted sentences, preferring the stylings of Vonnegut over those of Saramago. He is an author whose works, to date, include the novels Something Missing, Unexpectedly Milo, and the as yet unpublished Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend; a blog; and a number of Op Ed pieces, all of which, at some level or another, tend to examine the outcomes of the quirky and/or rebellious individual when forced up against staid society; however, to say that he is an author is an understatement, for this husband and father from Newington, CT, who has faced a number of near-death experiences, lived in his car, and been tried for a crime that he did not commit, is also an acclaimed elementary teacher who has received the Teacher of the Year Award, is the co-owner of a DJ business, and still wishes that he could beat some of his friends at golf.

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