Posts Tagged Joni Mitchell

The Undercover Soundtrack – Kim Cleary

for logo‘I write about love and hope’

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 my guest is urban fantasy author Kim Cleary @KimClearyWriter

Soundtrack by Choir of Hard Knocks, Joni Mitchell, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Leonard Cohen, Linkin Park

I love jazz, rock and soulful ballads. I enjoy a scratchy recording of Billie Holiday singing Fine and Mellow, as much as a glossy Youtube of Linkin Park performing From the Inside.

authorheadshot2Music is an essential component of my creative environment, but I prefer to write in silence, or in such a busy place it’s easy to shut out the noise. I find myself listening to the story in the music rather than the story in my head and it’s too easy to get distracted.

Back to age 18

In preparation for this post for Roz Morris’s marvellous blog, I’ve thought about the music that sustained me while I wrote, and rewrote, my debut novel Path Unchosen. Remembering the music has helped me to relive the writing of the book. It’s written in the first person so I often found myself falling into the head of my 18-year-old heroine. When Judy first discovers she’s a necromancer she wants to deny who she is.

Playing the music again has brought back so many emotions. The sense of awe as Judy discovers what she can do. The fear of losing everything she’s gained. The pain of an intimate betrayal. Music reaches into my soul, finds the memories I’ve hidden away, and yanks the emotions to the surface.

I write about love and hope, so it’s no surprise most of the music that has affected my writing is about finding or losing love! In Path Unchosen, I write about the love between a daughter and a father; between friends as close as sisters; the naïve love between a student and her teacher; the first stirrings of desire; and a deep compassion for all creatures that feel pain, hope, and fear. Love and hope.

Sometimes I hear a snatch of lyrics and a scene immediately starts playing in my head. From Otherside, by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers I knew Judy would face the chilling realisation that she can’t go back, she can’t stop being a necromancer. I saw the scene play out between Judy and her spirit guide, in a forest dulled grey and soundless.

A whole relationship

With Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, the mesmerising chorus triggered not just one scene, but the whole bitter and sweet relationship between Judy and her father. We played the song at my own father’s funeral not many years ago. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that Judy finds the spirit of her father in a workshop and smithy not unlike my father’s.

Leonard Cohen sings Anthem like a man who has been on his knees in despair. Judy despairs too, but she never gives up hope. Not even in a specially created dark, cold, and silent prison, designed to cut her off from the dead who sustain her.

At other times, I use music to trigger emotion to get into Judy’s head. Linkin Park’s From the Inside is a powerful way to stir emotions of lost love and betrayal, especially when sung very loud in an empty house.

dfw-kc-pu-cover-largeWhen I am very lucky, sometimes while listening to my favourite music, I become Judy. I dance my way across the soundtrack to her life, and ideas for the scene percolate like notes from a symphony. I fight for my life to pounding rock music like Chicgao’s 25 or 6 to 4, Deep Purple’s Black Night, The Red Hot Chili Peppers By the Way, and anything by Led Zeppelin!

I had to stop writing this blog post to sing along to the Choir of Hard Knocks’s version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The arrangement showcases untrained voices, marred by poverty, substance abuse and illness. I was lucky enough to see them perform live and stood with everyone else in an ovation of several minutes. It was as if strength, integrity and hope, somehow transferred themselves from the singers to the audience. Just like it does in the best stories. The ones we love to read, and hope to write.

It’s a broken hallelujah. But it’s still a hallelujah.

Kim Cleary grew up in Birmingham, UK, studied medieval history and psychology at Adelaide University in South Australia and has worked all over Australia and in London. She now lives with her husband and a cocker spaniel in Melbourne, Australia. Find her on Facebook, Twitter (@KimClearyWriter), her blog and Amazon.

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‘I write about love and hope’ – Kim Cleary

for logoMy guest this week says she writes about love and hope – and that her writing is in thrall to songs about finding or losing love. She describes her novels as urban fantasy for anyone who longs to discover they are extraordinary, and her musical companions are a soulful, heartfelt ensemble – Joni Mitchell, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Leonard Cohen. She is Kim Cleary, she has published her first novel Path Unchosen, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – TJ Cooke

for logo‘Searching for truth’

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 crime novelist TJ Cooke @Timscribe

Soundtrack by The Who, Talking Heads, Captain Beefheart, Jon and Vangelis, Joni Mitchell, Deep Forest, Marta Sebestyen, Squeeze, Louis Armstrong, John Lennon

There is rarely a day when I don’t listen to music. Occasionally I listen whilst actually writing, but rarely, as I find it too distracting. However I will often be listening to something just before a stint at the PC or laptop.

Sometimes I choose a piece which tends to inspire creativity, to help develop a specific character, scene or location. On other occasions it works in reverse. I will actually be working on something and it will remind me of a specific piece of music. Either way music has always helped the creative juices flow.

Here are some examples from my novels Defending Elton and Kiss and Tell.

TJ CookeDefending Elton

Lead character Jim Harwood, who narrates, has a passionate but all too brief liaison with the seductive Sarena. Her sudden disappearance from his life is something he finds hard to come to terms with. This powerful song evokes both loss and desire. Not only does it resonate with his feelings, but also with a key location in the story, Beachy Head cliffs.  It is synonymous with the film Quadrophenia, being from the album of the same name, but conjures up far more.  I remember driving along the clifftop coast road with Love Reign O’er Me by The Who playing loudly… thinking about Sarena’s demise, and how Jim had lost his fleeting but passionate love.

I couldn’t write this without devoting a song to Elton. In a way he’s the star of the show and was based on a character I knew way back when. Elton doesn’t fit neatly into any box. He has serious mental health issues which manifest themselves into bizarre ‘episodes’. Sometime he will appear quite ‘normal, only to morph seconds later into a caricature who spouts random words, song lyrics and general ‘nonsense’. Lack of proper funding for the mentally ill means there are way too many Eltons trapped in the criminal justice system. Talking Heads often tackled challenging issues. I often listened to Once in a Lifetime before writing some of Elton’s more obscure dialogue.

I’m pretty sure that unorthodox lawyer Jim Harwood would be a Captain Beefheart fan, probably on the quiet. It fits in with his flippant and sometimes chaotic character, which grates against the rigid structures of the law. Jim’s own demons mean that he invariably seeks a place to escape from it all, his Clear Spot.

Jon Anderson’s unique voice, probably the antithesis of other ‘rock’ leads, has an earthy connectivity. There’s a section in the book where Jim is driving back from the south coast having just done something quite despicable. Traumatised by events, he starts to hallucinate as visions of Sarena’s dead body etch themselves onto his car windscreen. I’ll Find My Way Home would be playing on his CD, as his path to redemption kicks in.

What a voice Joni Mitchell has, and in The Pirate of Penzance she uses it skilfully to create a truly atmospheric piece of music. I recall listening to this song before penning some of the darker narrative in Defending Elton. It isn’t indicative of a specific moment, more of general mood. I always find it haunting.

 Kiss and Tell

Marta’s Song by Deep Forest and sung by Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen helped me to picture the character of Bella in Kiss and Tell. She is a Hungarian national who lost both parents in a car crash before coming to Britain with her brother. Her brother then abused her by forcing her to work for his drug smuggling ring. This piece of music is evocative of a lost soul.

elton-frontMany of my characters’ songs follow a particular journey in life. When I was trying to imagine what the character of Jimmy was like when younger,Squeeze’s Cool for Cats sprang to mind. Like many of their songs it has sharp urban lyrics. Jimmy was hiding his criminal exploits from Jill. His ‘Jack the lad’ image was just a front, but it had devastating consequences.

Louis Armstrong has a beautiful and distinctive voice. When we pick up Jill Shadow’s story 12 years on, with her ex Jimmy now released from prison, she is unsure how to deal with feelings reawakened. I listened to We Have All The Time In The World, which helped me to empathise with Jill. It conjures up the immense hope that is offered by young love. When we’re young we have little understanding of the realities of time or growing old, or of the frailty of our ‘first love’.

There are various themes of ‘truth’ throughout both Kiss and Tell and Defending Elton. It’s a theme I struggled with myself when younger. I had been denied truth by my adoptive parents, and could never understand why my adoption was treated as taboo. Some years later I worked in the criminal justice system, where I discovered that truth was often a football kicked about by both sides in an adversarial game. I became wary of accepting ‘truth’ at face value, and it’s no surprise that it features as a theme in my writing… Cue John Lennon and Gimme Some Truth.

TJ Cooke, otherwise known as Tim, was formerly a lawyer before becoming a legal adviser to television dramas in the UK . He went on to write many hours of broadcast drama himself, notching up writing credits for some of UK’s most popular series. He is the author of two crime fiction novels Kiss and Tell and Defending Elton, and has an inventive take on the genre. Tim currently lives in Devon, UK. For further details, and to follow his blog, visit his website or follow on Twitter as @timscribe.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Dwight Okita

‘If I should ever lose her voice, Joni Mitchell can guide me back’

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 post is by poet and Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award finalist Dwight Okita @DwightOkita

Soundtrack by Sara Bareilles, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie and Queen, Ryuichi Sakamoto

I write in busy coffeehouses in Chicago and my iPod Shuffle is always close at hand. I like to be surrounded by the chaos of life because I am writing about life. The sound of side conversations and espresso machines are part of my undercover soundtrack, along with the music I immerse myself in and the voice of the novel’s narrator. The hardest writing period of my life was when I was awarded a week at a writer’s retreat in a quiet, idyllic setting in nature. It drove me nuts.

Wonder and curiosity

I tend to associate my main characters with certain songs. I find it helps me better envision them when I can hear them out loud. My first novel The Prospect of My Arrival is about a human embryo that’s allowed to preview the world before deciding whether to be born.  It’s soft sci-fi or literary. The main character Prospect is the embryo and he is full of wonder and curiosity, but he’s also very vulnerable, very susceptible.  (Disney Studios has taken a peek at my book along with indie filmmakers. It would be great to see Prospect on the big screen one day.)

The song I associate with my hero’s unique journey is Gravity by Sara Bareilles. The piano work is so clean and pretty, and there is something in the way Bareilles phrases as she sings that radiates wonder and urgency. The lyrics resonate with well with Prospect’s naivete. In the passage below, you can hear the newness of the world as he explores the swanky penthouse of a new acquaintance:

A chrome spiral staircase connects the main floor to the upper one. It reminds Prospect of a big strand of DNA. Once he’s out of the shower, he feels new. He opens a window. The gentle hush of traffic is surprisingly soothing. It is like putting a seashell to his ear, but instead of hearing an ocean, he hears a city and all its voices.

Here is Prospect’s book trailer.

The Hope Store

I’m currently working on another speculative novel called The Hope Store, which is about the opening of the first store in the world to sell hope.  The main character, Jada Upshaw, has been hope-starved all her life. (She is, by the way, the polar opposite of Prospect.) One song that makes me think of Jada – her voice, her predicament — is Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. Especially the haunting version Joni sang in 2000 as a mature woman.

But where Joni’s version has gravitas and love and wisdom, you have to imagine a mutated version in which the love and wisdom have been sucked dry, and you are only left with gravitas. And perhaps numbness. I hear the song as a kind of elegy to Jada’s life unlived. The gal is just barely hanging on by a thread. If she has a saving grace, it’s her black humor:

Living without hope for the past fifty years is kinda like wandering through a dark cave the size of the Grand Canyon with bats flapping overhead and not having a flashlight to your name. It’s a mystery to me how I survived this long, though I’m sure that bravery had nothing to do with it.

As I write and revise, it helps me to hold this song in my head as a talisman, for it reminds me of Jada’s essence. And if I should ever lose her voice, the song can help guide me back. This version of Both Sides Now has a meandering undertone, possibly it is a cello. Ms. Mitchell’s voice is husky as she sings about clouds that got in her way. That’s Jada Upshaw in a nutshell.  But what will happen when Jada gets her first new dose of hope at the Hope Store? You have to wait for the book’s publication for that. (You can subscribe to my blog ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Dwight’ if you’d like to be kept in the loop. And here’s the book’s trailer in advance of completion. )

As I work on significant revisions to the climax of The Hope Store, the song I plan to keep looping in my Shuffle is Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen. The song has the driving rhythm of a well-oiled machine. It is a rhythm that seems capable of eating anything in its way…the perfect music to write a climax to.

Crossing With The Light

Lastly, I wanted to mention that I started my writer’s life as a poet.  In the early days, I loved performing poems aloud to music. Crossing With The Light is the culmination of 10 years of my poetry writing as a young man. Probably my favorite pairing of music and words was when I would read In Response to Executive Order 9066 to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s gorgeous piece Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

9066 is one of my most widely published poems. It deals with a Japanese American teenage girl who is being forced by the US government to move with her family into an internment camp. The music and poem complement each other perfectly. Here is a poetry video I made back in the 1980s in honour of my poetry book.

Even back then, notions of an undercover soundtrack were very natural for me. Much thanks to Roz for inviting me to share this musical post with you all.

Dwight Okita is the author of The Prospect of My Arrival which was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2008, and the poetry book Crossing with the Light which was nominated for best Asian American literature book by the Association of Asian American Studies in 1993. He also designs websites, blogs and video trailers. He blogs at Dwightland and can also be found on Twitter (@DwightOkita) and Facebook

GIVEAWAY Dwight is offering his poetry book Crossing With The Light and an autographed copy of his novel The Prospect of My Arrival to one reader who writes a comment here that strikes his fancy. To win you must live in the UK, the US or Canada. Good luck.

 

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jessica Bell

‘I didn’t only want the words to describe the music; I wanted them to sound like music’

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 literary writer Jessica Bell @MsBessieBell, author of String Bridge

Soundtrack by Jessica Bell, Erika Bach/Hard Candy, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Nightmares on Wax, Enigma

Today I’m not only going to talk about how music influenced the creation of my debut novel, String Bridge. I’m also going to talk about how String Bridge influenced the creation of its own soundtrack, Melody Hill: On the Other Side.

The Music

Melody, the main character in the novel, is a musician, who struggles to revive her passion to pursue a career in music after the role of mother and wife stunted its growth. The songs that appear in the book started off as poems. But then I thought, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be song lyrics? And so, I converted the poems into lyrics. Then it occurred to me that I could create and produce an album conceptually written by Melody. Being a singer/songwriter/guitarist myself, and having written and recorded countless songs over the years, meant it was a task that I could definitely undertake. But I became even more convinced of the idea after listening to one of my mother’s songs on YouTube, which conveniently portrayed my main character’s mindset.

Now, I was more than inspired.

Push and pull

The lyrics of this song are about the push and pull a mother feels from her family to her desires, from her need to be a ‘good’ person, to the pit of guilt and depression that haunts and feeds the creative mind. ‘Do you really want to be this famous?’ is the last line of the song—a question I’m sure every potentially famous person asks themselves at some point or another. Is there anything in this world worth the sacrifice of one’s true identity?

I eventually rerecorded this song with my own voice for my book trailer. It’s also in the album. (Thank you to my mother, Erika Bach, once again, for allowing me to do this.)

Once I finished the final revisions to String Bridge, I sat down with my guitar and wrote music to the four songs that appear in the book by channelling Melody’s musical influences (PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Nightmares on Wax, Enigma) and combining their styles of rock, pop, folk, and ambience to create an atmospheric grunge CD that is also a visceral lyrical story. Once those were done, I wrote five more songs in the same vein to complete the album, and had the album professionally recorded and produced. You can hear samples on iTunes.

The Writing

I’m often asked whether being a musician benefits my writing. And I have to say yes. For one, I think sound is a very difficult thing to describe. And even for me, it is not easy. I spent a long time trying to perfect the parts of the novel where music is illustrated. I didn’t only want the words to describe music; I wanted them to sound like music. Being a poet also, I adore playing around with different words and sounds and hearing how they roll off my tongue like a velvety tune. I thrive on constructing sentences with cadence. It’s like singing without a melody—writing to a tempo.

That being said, writing also benefits my songwriting. Over the past seven or so years, since actively writing novels, I’ve noticed a huge change in the way I approach writing lyrics. So I suppose both skills feed off each other. I can’t imagine my life without either of them.

And do you want to know something funny? I need silence when I write. If there is music playing, all I want to do is sing.

Jessica Bell is a literary women’s fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the ’80s and early ’90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece, and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide and is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Jessica has published a book of poetry Twisted Velvet Chains, and a novel String Bridge, with Lucky Press, LLC. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. Please visit the site to register. Find her on Facebook and Twitter @MsBessieBell

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