Posts Tagged My Memories of a Future Life

The Undercover Soundtrack – Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

for logo‘Everyone is haunted by something’

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 UCLA tutor, Harold Ribelow Award nominee and professional psychic Rochelle Jewel Shapiro @RJShapiro

Soundtrack by Tanya Davis

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, everyone is haunted by something. When my Viennese mother-in-law slid into senescence, she began to hear strains of her favorite operetta, Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. It played in her mind, non-stop, at full volume. She’d press her palms over her ears, and still she’d hear it. She would ask her neighbors in her assisted living complex if they were perhaps playing it on the radio. When they said no, she invited them in.

IMG_1187‘Do you hear it?’ she’d ask, hopefully. ‘Do you hear Die Fledermaus?

They just blinked at her.

According to Dr Victor Aziz of St Cadoc’s Hospital in Wales, musical hallucinations tend to happen to women over 73 who are living alone and have hearing impairment. In their mostly silent worlds, the brain stimulates itself to in order to hear sounds stored in the memory.

If this should ever happen to me (ptui, ptui, ptui, as my Russian grandmother would say to ward off bad fortune) the song that would probably come to me is Art by award-winning Canadian folk, pop, rock singer-songwriter, storyteller, and poet, Tanya Davis. It has become my anthem for creativity. I watch the video each morning before I begin writing. When I get stuck, I play it again. Art is a deceptively simple manifesto, a fetching love song to art, to what it means to be an artist and dedicate your life to it. In her quirky, endearing voice, Davis exposes the writer’s vulnerable heart, all the doubts, the worry if it’s worth it, if you’re worth it, whether people will appreciate your work, the whole caboodle that happens no matter how many times you’ve published.

Art, its childlike delivery, the girl painting as it’s sung, brings me back to my childhood bedroom, its floor printed with nursery rhymes, where I sat at the small desk my mother had painted red, drawing and writing stories, the tip of my tongue sticking out of the corner of my mouth in concentration. Every now and then, I’d call out to my mother, ‘How do you write flower? Princess?’ When she holler-spelled the word from the kitchen, I would write most of the letters backwards. No one required me to draw or to write. And I didn’t expect anything further to come out of it. I just had a drive to create and I worked at my illustrated stories every day without thinking of it as work or even as play. It was instinct.

The child’s voice is the truth

As Davis’s lyrics tell us, this innocence, this grace, doesn’t last long. But Art can help you pick up the child’s voice, which is where you have to dig to in order to get to the truth of any character.

KAYLEEGHOSTCOVERIn my newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost, a domestic drama spanning five generations about life here on earth and after we’ve passed on, is written in four voices. One is the voice of five-year-old Violet, a beautiful and sensitive child who seems to be psychic like her grandmother, Miriam. Miriam wants the chance to mentor Violet to help develop the gift as her own grandmother, her Russian bubbie, had done when she was a child. But Cara, Violet’s mother, a modern businesswoman who knows all too well the pitfalls of growing up with a psychic mother, digs in her heels. As things become more fractious, Miriam’s gift backfires, bringing terrible danger to those she loves and anxiety to the reader who has to worry about whether or not Miriam can make things right in time or whether it is already too late.

A young child speaks with urgency, without guile, amped feeling in every word. The feelings are real, naked, and make absolute sense according to the child’s logic and experience. In order to know an adult character, you have to not just know the events of his childhood, you have to imagine what he was like as a child. As Wordsworth said, ‘The child is the father of the man’.

Art, Art, Art, you haunt me when I don’t write and you worry me when I do. You are the best part of my childhood. Please be with me until the end. Whether or not the world can live without my writing, I can’t live without you.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is a phone psychic and an award-winning writer who teaches at UCLA Extension.  Her first novel, Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) was nominated for the Harold Ribelow Award. Her newest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook, 2012) was an Indie Finalist. Articles have been written about her psychic gift in such places as Redbook, The Jerusalem Post, the Dutch Magazine, TV GID, and the Long Island section of the New York Times. She’s chronicled her own psychic experiences in Newsweek (My Turn), and The New York Times (Lives) which can be read on her website. Find her on Twitter @RJShapiro

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‘Everyone is haunted by something’ – Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

for logoNo matter how many of these Undercover Soundtrack pieces I post – and by now it’s nearly 300 – I still get a thrill from reading a new one. There is such pleasure in delving into the essence of a writer’s creative soul, to be reminded that what we are doing is taking the personal and making it an experience we can invite the reader into. This week’s is no exception. It begins with the writer’s mother-in-law having hallucinations that she is hearing opera – a typical occurrence for elderly women living alone with impaired hearing. Then we progress to a haunted child narrator, who is unabashedly the essence of her writer-creator. Her first novel was nominated for the Harold Ribelow Award and she teaches at UCLA. She is also a renowned psychic. Her name is Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and she’ll be here with her Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Wendy Storer

for logo‘Drumming is my heartbeat’

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 Mslexia award-winning YA novelist Wendy Storer @WendyStorer

Soundtrack by Metallica, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Avenged Sevenfold, Rush, Green Day, Razorlight, The Killers, Blink 182, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Who, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Sugarcult, Rise Against, Arvo Part, Willie Nelson, Seafood

Bring Me Sunshine is the story of a young musician, Daisy, a wannabe rock drummer thwarted in her ambition by her dad’s resistance to noise. She’s 15 when she realises his bizarre behaviour and increasing number of memory lapses might be due to more than a quirky personality, and as the story unfolds the impact of Dad’s dementia on Daisy’s life is uncovered.

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Hope, direction and power

I couldn’t have written this story without immersing myself in the sort of music Daisy loved and aspired to play.

Drumming is my heartbeat…

she says; it gives her hope, direction and power. When she can no longer play, she is lost.

I listened to hours, days, weeks’ worth of music in order to put myself in Daisy’s shoes. I found myself thinking ‘Daisy would LOVE this’, or ‘this isn’t Daisy at all’. I discovered bands like Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Avenged Sevenfold and Rush, and made myself a playlist of their music. Other bands on the list were Green Day, Razorlight, The Killers, Blink 182, as well as the rock gods of my own teen years: Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Who, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica…

Daisy’s playlist took me back in time to the memory of what it was like to be a teenager, (messing up at school, falling in love for the first time, wanting something so terribly badly that just didn’t seem possible) and helped me connect to her life now.

Bring Me Sunshine is a sad story, but it’s also a story of hope, of living in the moment and how that sets Daisy free, so the music I chose to listen to was often tinged with sadness, always powerful and at times liberating.

This song for example – Nothing Else Matters by Metallica – never failed to put me in touch with Daisy. I imagined her wrestling with her fears, afraid of the consequences of both truth and lies, then hearing Metallica’s power ballad about the need to trust in ourselves and be true to who we really are, before coming down on the side of truth.

Songs for resonance

Each chapter is a song title, and every single song was chosen deliberately for its emotional resonance. Daisy listens to: Numb by Linkin Park when she first starts to realise something is wrong with Dad; I Miss You by Blink 182 when she’s remembering her mum; Memory by Sugarcult when Dad remembers his brother Ziggy; No Prayer for the Dying by Iron Maiden when Daisy and little brother Sam go out into the stormy night to search for their lost dad. These are all powerful pieces of music with a touch of melancholy, and mean something in the context of Daisy’s experiences in the book. This is Letting Go by Rise Against has a more hopeful vibe and it’s what Daisy (and I) listen to when Daisy finally faces up to her problems and tells someone what’s going on at home.

And so my playlist, my undercover soundtrack, is also Daisy’s. Apart from this one piece of music – Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka by Arvo Pärt. I would often listen to this while out on Kendal Castle with my dogs. It’s a piano solo, which begins with a simple melody and builds into something more complete and rounded. There was something about the quiet minimalism of this tune which always helped me get back to the story. There’s still that hint of melancholy in the beginning, but as the tune builds, the deliberateness and focus somehow takes over. On reflection there is something about this tune which mirrors Daisy’s journey. I did not know until I wrote this post that the title means Variations for the Healing of Arinushka. I couldn’t find anything about the history if this piece but I completely ‘get’ how the healing quality of this piece has always led me back to Daisy’s story.

New Bring Me Sunshine-KindleThe referenced title track of Bring Me Sunshine is an acoustic version of the song by Willie Nelson.  Sunshine (both literally and metaphorically) is what Daisy needs in her life.

If I had to choose one song from Daisy’s playlist to represent the story, I would choose this one – This Is Not An Exit, by Seafood with Caroline Banks on drums. It comes near the end of the story, when Daisy has started to play the drums again and is able to listen to tracks with female drummers once more. This song captures the mood of the book for me. There’s something about the quality of the sound, the chord dynamics and the lyrics also, which resonates with the Daisy in me, in a way that the other songs don’t quite. When I hear this, I can feel Daisy fighting back, finding herself and knowing that whatever has happened in the past, and whatever else happens in the future, she will find a way to be happy.

Wendy Storer is the author of YA stories Bring Me Sunshine and Where Bluebirds Fly. Bring Me Sunshine was a finalist in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012. She is interested in stories which tug at the heart strings and the amazing resilience of people who battle through desperate situations to come out the other side, happier. Originally from Essex, Wendy now lives in Cumbria where she teaches creative writing to adults and children, and offers editorial help to writers through Magic Beans literary service. When not writing, Wendy likes to walk her dogs, spend time with her family, and find new and exciting food combinations involving peanut butter. Find her on her website, blog, and on Twitter as @WendyStorer

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‘Drumming is my heartbeat’ – Wendy Storer

for logoThis striking phrase is a manifesto for a character who lives, breathes and seeks refuge in music. She is Daisy, an aspiring musician coping with a family member who is slipping into dementia. In the early stages of writing, her creator found that she would judge every piece of music she heard on whether Daisy would love it or not – and so the character was created by a series of instinctual responses. Memory is necessarily a theme here too, which became strangely real for the author as the music of her teens brought back the times she messed up at school, fell in love and wanted something so badly it didn’t seem possible. She is Wendy Storer and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Rebecca Cantrell

for logo‘This song says it’s time to get serious’

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 NYT bestselling historical thriller author Rebecca Cantrell @RebeccaCantrell

Soundtrack by Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo, Dakota Staton, Lotte Lenya, Dagmar Krause, Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Macy Gray

When I start writing a new novel, one of the first things I do is put together a playlist for it. I’ll start with just a few songs and then add them as time goes on, so I might start out with 20 minutes of music and then end up with an hour and half to two hours by the end. I listen to this playlist almost every day while writing the book. At the beginning, I hear every word, but after a while the music becomes background while I’m writing in some Berlin café.

cantrell_450pixcolorMood and world

My latest Hannah Vogel novel is A City of Broken Glass and it’s set during Kristallnacht in 1938, so I listened to some modern stuff to establish the right mood and some historical stuff to put me straight in Hannah’s word.

The first song on my playlist is the theme from the BBC series Wallander sung by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. It’s haunting and sad and reminds me that it’s time to get serious, to slow down and leave all of my thoughts outside of the writing room and get to work.

The next song was written in 1926, but I think it was more popular during World War II, and it reminds me that Hannah is always trying to help others as they try to escape the burgeoning Nazi menace, even at the cost of her own life. It’s Someone to Watch Over Me sung by Dakota Staton. It’s a love song, and if I’m working on a romantic scene, sometimes I’ll play that song a couple of times in a row. Hannah and Lars both watch out for each other, so it’s not as sexist as it might seem. Or so I tell myself.

After that, I move on to Song of a German Mother, sung by Lotte Lenya with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. All of them lived in Berlin at the same time as Hannah, and all of them fled to the United States during the Nazi years. It’s a very grim song about a mother who lost her son to the Nazis because she didn’t understand what would happen. It’s a warning to Hannah and a reminder to me that the Germans, too, suffered terrible losses and had deep regrets, even before they lost the war. I try to paint a nuanced picture of all the characters, because few things were as simple then as we like to think they were when we look back on it. I couldn’t find Lotte Lenya singing this on YouTube (although she sings other songs there, all worth listening to—she has a wonderful smoky voice), but here it is sung by Dagmar Krause.

Light relief

After this, I need something a little lighter and more fun, so I have Mack the Knife, which was also has lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. I have a version sung by Lotte Lenya as well, where she teams up with Louis Armstrong.  Mack the Knife was part of the The Threepenny Opera and was first performed on stage in Berlin in 1928 (with Lotte Lenya and Peter Lorre!).  I think Hannah would have scraped together the cast to go and see it. Its message of violence under the smooth surface was prescient. And Louis Armstrong is always fantastic. I could follow that voice anywhere.

City of Broken Glass Paperback CoverThe next song is It’s Only a Paper Moon by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. I got it off a CD called A Time to Remember 1934 that was in the birthday card section of a gift shop in Hawaii. I always buy one for the year each book is set, although I don’t know what I’ll do now that I’ve moved to Berlin and can’t get to that gift shop. I played a lot of those songs when I was writing the book set in 1934, but this one stuck with even after and moved on to this later playlist, probably because I have Hannah herself sing it while under the influence in A Night of Long Knives. I think it’s been remade many times over the years, but here’s the oldie version because I think that one is still the most fun:

There are various songs in between, some historical and some not, but all of them hopefully speaking to my subconscious and keeping me in Hannah’s world. The soundtrack ends with Beauty in the World by Macy Gray, as it brings me back to the 21st century. And lunch.

Rebecca Cantrell is a New York Times bestselling thriller author. Her novels include the Order of Sanguines series, starting with The Blood Gospel, the award-winning Hannah Vogel mystery series, starting with A Trace of Smoke and the Joe Tesla thrillers, starting with The World Beneath. She, her husband, and son left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Berlin. Find Rebecca Cantrell on Facebook, Twitter, and at www.rebeccacantrell.com

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‘This song says it’s time to get serious’ – Rebecca Cantrell

for logoMy guest this week says she always begins a project by assembling a sequence of music tracks. To start with, she notices every word and note, but after a while they settle into a familiar environment – a mental writing room that claims her attention and tells her it’s time to immerse. The novel she’ll be sharing with us is set in 1938, so her soundtrack is a mix of her own favourite contemporary songs to help capture the mood, and then a lot of material from the period of her story to conjure the historical period. She is NYT bestselling thriller author Rebecca Cantrell, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Birgitte Rasine

for logo‘Music that flows into the marrow of the soul’

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 Birgitte Rasine @Birgitte_Rasine

Soundtrack by Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil, Manish Vyas, Desert Dwellers, Professor Trance, Kimba Arem

When I was in middle school, I remember proudly thinking I would be one of the world’s few teenagers completely unaffected by rock-n-roll.

That was, thankfully, a nanoblip in my life.

rasine_wide_colorI live and breathe music. I’m trying to be really good in this lifetime so that in the next one I get to go on stage and sing. In this lifetime, I’m a writer. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating music—on the contrary – as I said in this post on Joe Bunting’s The Write Practice.  In all of my literary career, I have not written a single story or book without piping the raw power of song through my veins.

I should cacao

My latest work, a historical fiction novel for young readers about the story of cacao, was written with a playlist you’re not likely to see anywhere else. What could Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil, and Manish Vyas possibly have in common?

They all flow directly into the marrow of the soul, through the ancestral stem of the brain. They all color the fierce romance (as I also said on The Write Practice) that is human existence. That, and they’re the musical backbone of my novel.

Guatemala

Set in contemporary Guatemala, the story is about a young American boy and his bee researcher dad and mum visiting an ecological research station (also known as a forest garden). There, our protagonist meets an enigmatic Maya girl his own age who introduces him to the wonders and mysteries of the rainforest, of growing and making chocolate… and an ancient cacao tree that neither one of them will ever forget. Intertwined into the narrative is a wild blend of Mesoamerican mythology, botanical and natural science facts, and flights of fantasy that make history soar to life.

Because my characters spend so much time in the jungle and the cacao grove, I needed the musical expression of the soul of the rainforest, of ancient plants and the cycles of life and death. I needed to be able to write passages like

He could see eyes everywhere; he could hear the breathing of a million different animals, birds, and insects; he could feel the living rhythms of the rainforest shifting from the energies of the day to those of the night. Nervous but thrilled to the marrow of his soul, he could feel all of his senses open up like the wide petals of an orchid: his skin electrified at the slightest brush of a leaf or wing of a passing insect, his pupils dilated to capture the luminescent pollen of the moon and stars filtering through the canopy, his ears tuned to the full range of chirps, clicks, sighs, drips, footsteps, and scratches, of the slitherings of scaled bodies, the flutterings of wings small and large, the stalkings of silent claws through the undergrowth. Body and soul surrendered to the jungle, and fear had to take a back seat.
For all of his hi-tech gear, Max felt completely naked in the darkness of the jungle.

A thousand plays

With the exception of the three Cirque du Soleil tracks, which only came in at the end of the book, I played the soundtrack over and over and OVER again while I wrote, probably a thousand times. I listened to them individually looped or in certain groupings, at certain points in the narrative. Lana Del Rey’s warm amber ballads stood by the characters during times of tension and uncertainty, supporting them in their deepest emotions, their rawest moments. For passages describing the rainforest, the cacao grove, and other physical surroundings, the instrumental pieces (Manish Vyas, Desert Dwellers, Professor Trance, Kimba Arem) painted a rich sensual background. Whenever I had to stay in a certain emotional state, I’d loop a song until the scene was done.

As inevitably happens, repetition paired with alignment creates active memory. Just as your body embeds certain movements into muscle memory when you practise a dance number, so your mind instantly drops you into the world you’ve taught it to associate with a certain song. For a writer, that’s gold. You don’t need a specific setting to write. You don’t need a certain time of day. You don’t need your lucky necklace or those sexy boots. None of that. All you need is your music and your mind. I wrote in cafés, on my sofa, in my bed, at the pool, in my car (parked, no worries!).

Riding the intense wave of concentration these songs swelled for me, I completed the novel, from initial research to final manuscript, in about six months, despite the constant and unavoidable forced pauses in writing courtesy of my toddler, clients, domestic responsibilities, and sleep. During the holidays, I endured two weeks of an excruciating sinus infection — but I soldiered on, writing each day, Manish Vyas et al flexing my pain and fatigue into a near trance-like state of focus.

Serpent-Jaguar_cover_72dpi (1)At the end, when I was on the last chapter, my brain needed a break. Yet I couldn’t take a break—I needed to deliver the book to my publisher; I was already past my original deadline. One night, my family tucked blissfully into bed, I allowed myself the guilty pleasure of drifting away from my MS Word manuscript and onto the web pages of Cirque du Soleil. I’d gotten tickets to Amaluna with my daughter and stumbled across the soundtrack to Totem, another Cirque show we’d gone to see a few years prior. The throbbing native American rhythms of Onta and Kunda Tayé soaked into my veins, pumping the critical end of the storyline with new vigour.

But there are two other songs that carry the very DNA of the storyline, that I haven’t revealed yet. A book has to stay quiet and sacred until the day of its birth. And so it is with its primary songs. Stay tuned…

Birgitte Rasine is the author of numerous works, including The Serpent and the Jaguar, Verse in Arabic, Confession and The Seventh Crane. Her upcoming novel about the history of chocolate will be released by new educational publisher Zoozil (check them out on Facebook and Twitter) later this year. Be the first to know when it’s out — and what the novel’s two headline songs are: sign up for Birgitte’s eletter, The Muse. Aside from wishing she were an opera singer, Birgitte did actually lend her body — if not her voice — to music: she has danced flamenco, tango, salsa, the swing, the waltz and the hustle to name a few of her faves. She can still tear up the floor if she can manage to get away on an evening. You can follow Birgitte on Twitter, Google +, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Or you can just become blissfully lost in her online visual soundtrack, er, website.

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‘Music that flows into the marrow of the soul’ – Birgitte Rasine

for logoOnce upon a time, a schoolgirl resolved to never be a slave to music. She says she is glad this promise never lasted, because she cannot imagine having a creative life without music to guide and inspire her. Her latest work is a historical novel for young readers about the story of cacao, and features a heady soundtrack of Lana Del Rey, Cirque du Soleil and Manish Vyas. She is multipublished author Birgitte Rasine and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – John Dutton

for logo‘Music to find inspired randomness’

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 YA fantasy author John Dutton @JohnBDutton

Soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, Blondie, Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, The Beatles

Creating a work of art is usually stochastic; a combination of logical planning and inspired randomness. A novelist needs to wobble across this stochastic tightrope from blank page to finished text.

John B Dutton colour official

Ideas

Original, unexpected ideas come from a variety of sources. Dreams, alcohol and drugs fueled writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William S. Boroughs. As for myself (and in the words of the great Meat Loaf) two out of three ain’t bad. The odd pint of Guinness has certainly helped my out of writer’s rut. And so have the even pints. Of course I would never take drugs as they are illegal, but fortunately dreaming is still allowed. I’m currently writing a trilogy of young adult novels like everyone else, and I even woke up one morning with the title of the second novel, Starley’s Rust, in my head.

But there’s another way to get those creative juices flowing, and that’s music. Either melody or lyrics can be inspirational. When I needed to write the introduction of a major character in book one of the trilogy, I was driving one morning with my iPod set to random. A song came on (I honestly don’t remember which one) but it may have been Simon and Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter. Suddenly the idea came to me to write this character introduction.

The Friday I met Aranara was a cold, cold day. My hometown of Lancaster, Wisconsin is in some kind of microclimate and we rarely got snow, even in the middle of winter, so I wasn’t expecting the betrayal that lurked in the air that early October in New York City.

When I wrote this atmospheric paragraph it was the middle of summer, so it was directly inspired by the song I was listening to. But my aural surroundings have to be just right for it to help my writing. I often write in a particular café here in Montreal where the music is good (in other words, I enjoy the songs they play) and not too loud. When I go to a café closer to home for various reasons I’m quickly reminded how hard it is to get this balance right by the annoying FM pap that blasts every good idea out of my mind before it can reach the keyboard.

Atmosphere for nowhere

Sometimes an entire album can create an atmosphere in your mind that helps you get inside the head of a character you are writing. This was the case for me when I wrote my (as yet unproduced) screenplay Rd 2 Nowhere. Originally inspired by the title of an amazingly atmospheric 1985 hit by the Talking Heads, this movie features a teenage girl who is uprooted from her Montreal home when her mother dies, finding herself in a medium-sized town where nothing much seems to happen. Of course, things do happen! The main character, Jen, is overtaken by grief-fueled ennui, and takes to hanging out with a bunch of kids at a makeshift skate park where an unfinished highway ends abruptly at a river. Her mental state and attitude towards others was perfectly reflected by the music of Arcade Fire’s albums Funeral and The Suburbs. As Jen’s mind found ways to escape her dull everyday reality (her everydull realiday?) I was listening to songs like Neighbourhood 1 (Tunnels) from Funeral and The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains). It’s not necessarily easy for a male writer in his 40s to get inside the head of a teenage girl, so I’m forever grateful to the helping hand my muse received from my local heroes.

I’m clearly more influenced by the lyrics of rock and pop songs than by classical or jazz music. It’s amazing how a random word in a song can trigger a chain reaction of mental associations.

Start making sense

Sometimes you’re writing something and you hear a song that you can actually incorporate into your work. One of my novels is called The New Sense. It’s an epistemology-themed epistolary mystery (which might explain its failure to attract readers as effectively as a YA fantasy) and one of the main characters claims to have, yes, a new sense that other humans don’t possess. I originally published the novel in the form of a blog, posting it ‘live’ in serial fashion every day or so. Since it deals with the issue of how we know what we think we know to be true, it was very important for me to make the blog as believable as possible. I must have accomplished this, because the fictional writer of the blog soon began to receive emails from real people who thought that she was also real and her story true.

I decided to continue the fiction-reality mashup by creating fictional emails from made-up people to post alongside the real ones. And that’s when I heard the Blondie song (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear. It contains a line about a person using an extra sense when playing cards. My character actually funds his lifestyle by using his sense to win at cards in the Montreal casino, so I used this line in a fictional reader email.

And sometimes music can be simply a source of fun that gets the mind working and creative juices flowing. I’ve been a fan of both the BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who and  popular pop-rock combo The Beatles since I was very young. My commercial writing self has recently been hired to write the new Cirque du Soleil website and I’ve been researching their shows, including one called The Beatles LOVE that is performed permanently in Las Vegas. My sudden re-immersion in the Fab Four’s music combined with Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary clearly sparked something in a strange corner of my mind, because I came up with the idea to create a Dalek-Beatles mixtape (the Daleks being the Doctor’s arch enemies).

Silent Symmetry cover hi-res V3For a day or two I had a permanent semi-smile on my face as I re-imagined Beatles classics as performed by evil Daleks. The resulting mix tape insert card is here for your enjoyment. You may then exterminate it from your mind if you like.

After graduating from film school in London, John emigrated to Montreal in 1987, where he still lives with his two young children and their even younger goldfish. He spent over a decade as a music TV director before moving into the advertising industry as an award-winning copywriter and translator. In parallel to his corporate work, John has written novels, short stories, blogs, screenplays and a stage play. He is currently writing a trilogy of young adult novels under the pen name JB Dutton, the first of which, Silent Symmetry, was published in early 2013 and features neither vampires, zombies nor wizards. John speaks four languages and has been married three times in three different countries in three different decades. Find his blog here, get his Facebook page here, and tweet him as @johnbdutton

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‘Music to find inspired randomness’ – John Dutton

for logoMy guest this week says that when he writes he chooses his aural environment carefully. There’s a cafe in his native Montreal that plays just the right music: not too loud, not too unfamiliar; exactly right for random creative loosening. He attributes one of his major characters to a chance playing of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade on Winter while he was driving on a midsummer day – the sudden meteorological transformation was exactly what he needed to start creating this pivotal player. He is YA writer John Dutton, and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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