Posts Tagged music for writers

‘An expectant silence, a connection to something greater’ – Kathryn Craft

for logoI have been looking forward to sharing this Soundtrack with you. I’ve known the writer for a number of years on social media as we’ve moved in the same Venn diagrams, but when I saw the pre-publicity for her latest novel I had to approach her for this series. One of the hallmarks of these posts is that they are deeply personal journeys, and this novel is perhaps an ultimate example – it’s based on true events, the suicide of her husband. Do you recognise her already? If you’re in our Venn diagrams, perhaps you do. Before I confirm her name, let me say a little more about the music. This Soundtrack is a series of songs that reached out of the radio at the right time, to comfort, add perspective or share a moment; to make it possible to create a novel out of such a happening. She is Kathryn Craft, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack to The Far End of Happy.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jim Ruland

for logo‘An anxious, urgent sound: the music of chance’

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 books columnist and writer Jim Ruland @JimVermin

Soundtrack by Jay Reatard, The Lost Sounds, Dillinger Four, The Stitches, AA Bondy, Kurt Vile, Mind Spiders

For a book with such an upbeat title, Forest of Fortune was drenched in despair.

The first draft was written in a frenzy. The novel has three points of view. I’d work on a scene, get a character into trouble I didn’t know how to get out of, and move on to the next character. By the time I made it back to that first character, I’d have thought of a solution and start the process over again.

The novel is set in an Indian casino. At the time, I worked in an Indian casino. If the first draft has a soundtrack, it’s the chiming of the slot machines, calling out to be played, jangling their jackpots, paying out their plunder.

JimThe music a slot machine makes when no one is playing it is called an attract sequence. It’s an anxious, urgent sound. The music of chance. That’s what the novel felt like: a machine that promised big rewards if I just stayed in the chair.

I don’t remember much about those days, but then the calendar flipped and I wish I could forget the days that followed.

Music to grieve to

When I lost a close friend to a drug overdose, I mourned his passing by listening to the dark, violent punk rock music we loved.

My first choice was Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions, an album as disturbing as the title implies. My friend’s name was JJ and we had seen Jay Reatard together and the aggressive, menacing songs matched my anger over losing my friend.

That led me back to The Lost Sounds, Jay Reatard’s former band. Their self-titled record is filled with songs like I Get Nervous. Frantic guitars, wailing keyboards, droning feedback. It’s music to get lost to, which is what I did with the help of a steady supply of vodka and cocaine. I succumbed to the seduction of lostness.

When the anger passed and the sadness moved in I turned to Dillinger Four’s Civil War, the saddest punk rock record I’ve ever heard. The songs are suffused with melancholy that I drank up like the cheap vodka I drank on the long drive to and from the Indian reservation every day.

I tried to write about the record but after repeated listens, a little beer and a lot of blow, I wasn’t sure I knew what a record review was anymore. Civil War made me intensely sad, and that sadness made me feel close to JJ. I never wanted that feeling to go away.

A better way

One of JJ’s favorite songs was Better Off Dead by the Stitches. They played the song at his benefit show about a month after he passed away. It’s one of the last things I remember about that weekend. The rest is lost to a blackout.

When I came to, I knew I was done with the drinking and the drugs. I asked for help and I got it. I got sober and stayed sober.

Eventually, I returned to the novel. One of the characters in Forest of Fortune is a Caucasian copywriter with a severe drug and alcohol problem. Suddenly, his behavior didn’t seem so mysterious anymore. I could see his problems so clearly.

The revision process was slow, deliberately so. Jay Reatard released a new album called Watch Me Fall. It was softer, slower and poppier than his previous album. I didn’t really like it but it liked me. It got its hooks into me and its melodies pulled me along.

Then the calendar flipped and tragedy struck again. This time it was Jay Reatard who overdosed. Another life senselessly lost. I went back to his music, but I didn’t let it derail me. I stayed on the sunny side of the street.

I sought and found solace in nurturing my novel along to completion. Without realizing it I found myself listening to music that was more soothing than shocking. A swampy mix of AA Bondy’s lush guitars on Believers and Kurt Vile’s wry but barely there vocals on Smoke Ring for my Halo.

It was music I could listen to over and over again as the final pieces of my novel fell into place.

FoF_CvrThe haunted casino

I had changed a great deal since I’d invented the characters that inhabit Forest of Fortune’s haunted casino. Part of me wanted to take them on a journey that would turn their lives around – just as I had – but their fates were already sealed.

I quit the casino not long after I sold the book. I didn’t sell it for a lot of money, but finishing the book and knowing it was going to be published gave me an immense feeling of freedom. Freedom to quit a job I didn’t like. Freedom to try new things. Freedom to live.

When it came time to choose a song for the book trailer, I asked Mark Ryan of Mind Spiders to come up with something. He wrote a song that captures in 90 seconds what it takes me 300 pages to accomplish, a spooky shriek and mournful lamentation for my autobiographical ghost story.

Jim Ruland is the author of the novel, Forest of Fortune, the short story collection Big Lonesome and is currently collaborating with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, on his memoir My Damage, which will be published in the fall of 2016. Jim is the books columnist for San Diego CityBeat and his column, The Floating Library, appears every three weeks. He also writes for the Los Angeles Times and Razorcake – America’s only non-profit independent music zine. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Esquire, Granta, Hobart and Oxford American, and his work has received awards from Canteen, Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts. He runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its eleventh year. Tweet him as @JimVermin and find his website here.

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‘An anxious, urgent sound: the music of chance’ – Jim Ruland

for logoThis week’s Undercover Soundtrack is so raw and honest. Although all great books are personal journeys for the writer as well as the reader, this one has a truly traumatic back story. The writer lost a dear friend while he was drafting it, and his soundtrack is as much a journey of grief and recovery as it is the story of the novel’s making. He is award-winning books columnist and writer Jim Ruland, and he’ll be here on Wednesday.

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‘A horse, a hat and a fight for freedom’ – Tanya Landman

for logoMy guest this week grew up in thrall to wild west movies, especially the ones with epic theme music. Many years later, she was reading some history books as research and stumbled across the freed slaves who were conscripted to fight the Indian Wars. Those early movie memories with their sweeping soundscapes came back to her, along with a more bitter kind of song – gospel music and spirituals by Nina Simone, Paul Robeson and Sam Cooke. She emerged with a mission to, as she puts it, tell the story of the Civil War from the other side. She is Tanya Landman and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘The distraction of silence’ – Louise Marley

for logoThis week’s guest discovered by accident how music could be such a useful a creative partner. She found that whenever she got stuck on a scene or a character, the most distracting thing would be the silence around her. She began playing music purely so she wouldn’t hear it – and magical things started to happen. The novel she’s talking about in her post is a romantic suspense with a whiff of murder, and her first book was a finalist in the Poolbeg Write A Bestseller competition. She also writes short stories for the UK women’s magazines Take a Break and My Weekly. She is Louise Marley and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘Unending feelings of loss and loneliness’ – Chrissie Parker

for logoMy guest this week has a historical novel with two timelines, each of them full of loss and turmoil. Music by Portishead, Jem and The Moxy defined the characters and their dilemmas, hurling her into their lives and channeling their emotions as she wrote. Modern Greek music by Elena Paprizou and Glykeria inspired the setting – the island of Zakynthos. She also writes short stories and poems and performed at the 100 poems by 100 women event at the Bath International Literary Festival 2013. She is Chrissie Parker and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Nadine Matheson

for logo‘Everyone walks around with their own theme tune’

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 Nadine Matheson @nadinematheson

Soundtrack by Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Odell

Personally, I’m not committed to one genre of music. I will listen to anything and writing the story of The Sisters was also an opportunity to look back at my history with music. There is a scene where Lucinda is shopping in Portobello Market with her manager and she picks up a Jim Reeves album. Now, Jim Reeves was a 50s/60s country singer and my dad would play him on a Sunday morning and then move on to soul or reggae while my mum would be playing David Bowie or reminding me about the giant Marc Bolan poster that she had on her bedroom door when she was teenager. That’s how eclectic my own musical journey was and it was an important part of my own journey when writing this book.

3L3A6406 copy 2In my head, I think that everyone walks around with their own theme tune. I like to think that Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic or All Along the Watchtower is being blasted out of speakers every time I enter a room or walk down the street. The same warped principle applies when I begin to write. The idea of writing in complete silence fills me with dread and when I’m planning my book’s I always play All Along the Watchtower. The start of the song is about formulating a plan and that there has to be an escape. That’s how I feel about the process of writing a book. There has to be a way out of this story I’ve created. There has to be an end.

Misunderstood

The underlying theme of The Sisters is transitions and the effects of misunderstanding. Just like a good book, music is both transitional and emotive. The first character that I could see as a fully rounded person was Lucinda and the only singer that I could hear in my head was Nina Simone and one of my favourite songs Don’t let me be misunderstood. As I began to write Lucinda, I had an immense dislike for her and I initially thought that she was one dimensional but I kept playing Nina Simone’s Don’t let me be misunderstood.

I kept replaying that song because not only did it become the character’s mantra but it also reminded me that this was a character with many facets and not the resident one-dimensional baddie of the book. There is a scene in The Sisters when Lucinda says that she wants her music to be stripped back – that is Nina Simone’s reminder to me that for Lucinda to make her transition, I had to show her vulnerabilities. A favourite quote of mine from Nina Simone is ‘Sometimes I sound like gravel and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.’

Because I was writing about sisters who were in an R’n’B band in the 90s, I made a conscious effort not to listen to any music from that time period, that the sisters would have been playing/singing. I think that would have pigeonholed the characters and not allow them to grow.

nadineMisunderstandings

There are lot of misunderstandings in The Sisters and the classic syndrome of people covering up how they really feel. When I was writing a scene that involved the sisters finally acknowledging what was going on both internally and with their own relationships I would play Tom Odell’s Can’t Pretend. It is haunting but when you listen to the lyrics it’s not the end of the world, as if all hope is gone. There needed to be a strong sense of authenticity in The Sisters and while writing the book, I chose music where there was a clear complexity in the lyrics. I wanted to show that life isn’t a glossy manufactured package and that there is always more to us than what you first see when we walk into a room.

Nadine Matheson’s The Sisters was published last month. She has also contributed to the sci-fi anthology No Way Home. When she’s not writing, Nadine works as a criminal lawyer. Her crime novel Key Positions was shortlisted for the City Uni/David Higham Associates Crime Writing Competition 2014. She is planning another sci-fi short story as well as working on completing her crime novel. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter @NadineMatheson.

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‘Armour and post-punk lullabies’ – Guy Mankowski

for logoMy guest this week says his novel emerged as part of his creative writing PhD. He was inspired by the post-punk scene in Manchester, and drew on a soundtrack of The Manic Street Preachers, New Order, Ultravox, Savages and David Bowie to summon the grim streets of the city and the mindset of his troubled main character, a rock star who mysteriously disappears. He is Guy Mankowski and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘Demons, frustrations and betrayal’ – Scott D Southard

for logoMy guest this week is making a return appearance to the series. Last time he wrote about how he’d driven his wife bonkers by playing certain albums that evoked the souls of his characters. This poor spouse will surely be donning the earplugs again as his musical choice for his current novel is a striking album by Fiona Apple, which consists of drums, close-up vocals and percussive piano. He describes the pieces as having the feel of a therapy session, all raw emotion and obsession – and perfect for his characters who are all connected by an act of betrayal. He is Scott D Southard and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Glynis Smy

for logo‘I heard a song being played in an electrical store’

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 romantic novelist Glynis Smy @GlynisSmy

Soundtrack by Madonna, Roseanne Cash, Etta James, James Vincent McMorrow

Quite often a piece of music will transport me back to an emotional time in my life or a happy event and words flood into pea-brain. I don’t seek out music intentionally but often find inspiration within the lyrics or rhythm.

Music stimulates my creative juices. For my fourth novel The Penny Portrait, I tended to be more aware of music as a scene writing influence than in previous times.

10426557_10152287113790988_4736214646342535311_nI’ve been known to jot down notes in a supermarket when they are playing a piece of music that forms an image in my mind. This happened when I heard Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, being played inside a well-known electrical store during a visit to the UK. I sought out one of the assistants as I knew the original singer (Rose Royce) but didn’t recognise the version they played. It appeared the song was by Madonna. It triggered the base of a novel plot which eventually became The Penny Portrait. It is the emotional growth and survival of a sixteen-year-old Victorian girl abandoned by her parents. I could see Elle Buchanan, standing alone and forlorn and the rest is in the story.

When my father passed away I played one of his favourite pieces of music, Sea of Heartbreak by Roseanne Cash. I was living in Cyprus at the time and a dreadful wave of homesickness came over me. I altered the town where the novel was set. I took it back to my birth town, to where my father now rested by the sea. I had walked along a spot where we became trapped by a returning tide when I was a child and recalled how he carried me on his back to safety. This was where I eventually took my character. To the place my father had been my hero, to where I played with my best friend who passed away when we were 36 years old, and to the place where I walked with my boyfriend (now husband). A rugged pathway of emotions beside the sea – a sea of heartbreak and joy.

Return journey

The song triggered so much emotion in me that the decision was made for our return to the UK. In 2013 I walked along the path to the area I remembered and knew it was the right place to write my character’s journey through a difficult life. Elle Buchanan finds friendship here, she falls in love and also loses a friend in the area.

Browsing through Madonna’s video selection a few months later, I stumbled across, Frozen. Although I was writing an emotional scene at the time, another was triggered by the words at the start of the song. My characters Elle, and Matthew, took me on another journey and during that journey I created a project for Elle to pursue but couldn’t get her to grasp what I needed from her. She obviously prefers to listen to Etta James, as when I played Damn Your Eyes from Mother’s collection, Elle sent me images of what I needed to write so she could open up her artistic soul. A whole chapter and an ending came from a mix of inspirational words and visions they conjured up for me. Elle couldn’t express her feelings for Matthew during the creation of a painting and left only black eyes as windows for his soul. Her French friend despaired of her and basically told her she had frozen her soul to ignore the facts.

Kindle front ppWhile researching the railway service of our town I played my YouTube listing as I browsed endless snippets of information but all I gathered were dates. Useful but not the wow factor I required to inspire me that particular day. Around two hours into the project I tapped my foot to This Old Dark Machine by James Vincent McMorrow. Bam! The chapter of Elle and her mentor Angus, rose to the fore, although the words did not relate to what I’d been researching the title and rhythm of the song triggered a chapter about the first steam train ride for Elle.

Glynis Smy lives in the UK, in the seaside town of, Dovercourt, Harwich. She writes historical romance with a twist. The Victorian era fascinates her and she says the best part of writing a novel is often the research. She also writes poetry and short stories. Proud writing moments in her life include being shortlisted for the Festival of Romance Fiction 2014 New Talent Award –  and reaching the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014. When she is not writing, she enjoys making greetings cards, cross stitch, fishing and the company of her granddaughter. Her blog is here, and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter @GlynisSmy.

 

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