Posts Tagged Seal

The Undercover Soundtrack – Roz Morris

‘Music, the language of souls’

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 it’s my turn, and I’m talking about the music behind My Memories of a Future Life . And below you have a chance to win a very special version of the print edition….

Soundtrack by Grieg, Beethoven, Michael Nyman, Bill Nelson, Daryl Runswick, Joe Jackson, Meredith Monk, Seal, Handel, Massive Attack, Emeli Sande, George Michael

Begin, like my narrator Carol, lying on a floor trying to think of nothing. Her brain’s like a searching radio, snatching music out of the smallest sound, or the footsteps of the yoga teacher walking around her.

That’s me too. If you’re talking to me and I detect music, no matter how quiet, my brain will align to it and you’ll become the background.

My brain is also a noisy beast. It crackles with images, connections and ideas, but far too fast for its poor operator to catch. Music freezes the hurricane and allows me to play with an idea, stop time and rewind so I can examine and explore. So it’s pretty much essential to my writing.

A life steeped in music

My Memories of a Future Life is a novel steeped in music. Its narrator, Carol, is a classical pianist. In the story there are a number of standard pieces that have special meaning for her (Ludwig Van’s Moonlight SonataGrieg’s piano concerto in A minor – which I marinated in so long that I developed absolute pitch).  But to write Carol I needed to understand what it meant to devote your life to an instrument. An obvious place to start was Michael Nyman’s theme for The Piano, a windswept reel where a piano speaks for a person. But under Carol’s classical poise is a more raucous urge. Enter Bill Nelson’s Scala, an operatic aria gone feral. I listen to that cliff of sound and it tells me the joy of connection that Carol feels at her instrument:

Their faces weren’t critical. They were soft and open. Music, the language of souls. That was why we played. To do that to each other.

I’ve never worked out if Scala is, in fact, a joyous song. The lyrics might even be Bill Nelson’s shopping list. It does not matter. When I’m writing, music guides my gut, not my head.

Mysterious pain

Carol’s career is halted by a mysterious injury. She’s desperate to play again but medicine can’t give her any answers. So she seeks them from an unusual source – herself in a future incarnation. The story splits into two threads: Carol now, and her next life.

One of my earliest decisions was how the two narratives would work together. I found a guide in Joe Jackson’s Lullaby. It’s a slow snow-fall of a song with a flavour of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and a floating female vocal. It made me think of blue hallucinations and deepest winter. For a long time I planned the modern-day action to take place at the bitterest time of year, frozen like Carol’s life. But once the characters were setting their own agenda, the quality of winter became a person: Carol’s hypnotist Gene Winter, a complex, mesmeric man who has

a soul of solid steel. A surgeon’s soul.

The dreamy blue from Lullaby became an underwater city in the future. There, Carol’s future self, Andreq, is a healer struggling to cover up a secret. He needed his own voice and soul, distinct from her. His eerie composure came from the extraordinary composer-vocalist Meredith Monk in this track, Lost Wind.   Even her track titles made me want to write – especially Travel Dream Song.

Crazy daydream

Of course, what Carol is going through is pretty odd. She’s experiencing her future self, and increasingly questioning the influence of Gene, who’s teasing it out of her. I was out driving one day, my favourite mode for daydreaming, and Seal’s Crazy swam out of the radio. Crazy is so famous you probably don’t have to click the link. Certainly I knew it well from its days in the charts. But once a song crosses into my undercover soundtrack, it’s like hearing it for the first time.

That song created, in sound, a scene I had been feeling for. A party in a darkened house, where everyone is ‘dancing to not be there’ and Carol realises she is hoping for miracles.

‘As the music swept everything away I imagined that I could talk to Gene about what we were doing, that we could slip off our inhibitions like these people here, that we could talk about what was me and what was him and what was neither’

Searching

What is Carol searching for? At one point she thinks she’s got it. Handel’s brooding, thrilling aria Ombra Cara, from Radamisto examined the moment perfectly, in the music at least. What the words are, I haven’t a clue.

Much of the novel’s action is at night, a 3am desert where normal rules are suspended. When I needed to loosen my bones I’d go running. I liked to go out after dark, listening to songs that were too invasive to write to but kept me in Carol’s mind. One was Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy for its restlessness. Last summer, on final edits it was joined by Emeli Sande and Heaven - which to me sounds like Unfinished Sympathy cloned in helium.

Long before I knew what the end should be, I knew how it should feel. It came from George Michael and this fragment from his album Older. It has only one lyric. I had it on repeat while I ran in the dark, mile after mile, searching for the way there. Like Carol.

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COMPETITION Win a very limited print edition of My Memories of a Future Life

Special album sleeves are de rigeur in music, so I thought I’d try it in books. I’ve made a special version of My Memories of a Future Life with an adventurous variation on the cover. (And yes, it goes around the back too.)

The text inside is the same as the red edition, except this has an inscription about the cover and its own ISBN. It’s not for sale, it’s a one-off piece of authorly whimsy. I’m giving away two copies, which I’ll sign and number.
To enter, leave a comment here by 8am UK time on Sunday 16th September – although you can enter no matter where in the world you’re based. If you mention this post on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or any other corner of the known etherverse, that counts as another entry – but make sure to tell me here. Each comment or mention counts as an entry, within reason – in other words, don’t spam… (of course you won’t…)

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UPDATE

WINNERS! Thanks for all your entries and your energetic tweeting, googling and hooting. The entries have been shuffled, stuffed in a fancy cardboard churn and scrumpled again. The two winners, plucked from the mass with due solemnity, are Aine and Debbie Steg. Congratulations – and email me at rozmorriswriter at gmail dot com

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Joni Rodgers

‘I listened, eyes closed, hands on the keyboard, remembering the *why* of this book’

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 New York Times bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers @jonirodgers

Soundtrack by Doug Kershaw, Rockin’ Sidney, Hadley Castille and L’Angelus, Michael Doucet, Patti LaBelle and Moby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Bob Dylan c/o Frenchy Burrito, Seal,

Volunteering with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, I heard a New Orleans police officer comment that this was perfect weather for con artists and media people. The story hammer hit me. I saw a scientist obsessed with storms, a con artist using chaos as cover for murder and identity theft, a hungry reporter hot on her trail.

To keep the original vision

The bones of a novel always come that quickly for me, but it takes years to lay on muscle. I do a variety of other things between (sometimes during) each draft – researching, editing, ghostwriting, living my life – but the novel is always present in my head, and on a daily basis, something resonates with it, revealing something the story needs. Quite often, that’s a song, which I store in a playlist that instantly returns me to those insights and keeps my original vision for the book intact.

The main character in The Hurricane Lover, Dr. Corbin Thibodeaux, is a hard-drinking New Orleans climatologist and hurricane specialist. An old video of Doug Kershaw doing Louisiana Man on the Tonight show gave me Corbin’s nerdy brilliance. He’s awkward and lanky with a large nose, huge passion and bounding, houndish energy.

Cajun music like Rockin’ Sidney’s Don’t Mess With My Toot Toot and Hadley Castille and L’Angelus Le Swing Cajun defined Corbin’s raucous family and the raw southern charm of New Orleans. The traditional Cajun lullaby La Petite Poule Blanche brought tears to my eyes, because I realized that for Corbin, the destruction of New Orleans was no less than the death of his mother.

Underlying sorrow

Climatologists and engineers had been saying for decades that a hurricane would eventually wipe out New Orleans. No one would listen. One of These Mornings by Patti LaBelle and Moby told me I had to build in the emotional component of that. Beyond the science was the sorrow Corbin felt as he tried (and failed) for years to make people understand what was at stake.

Corbin’s longtime on-off lover, Shay Hoovestahl, is an ambitious journalist, struggling to overcome her beauty pageant past. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy clarified her classy bad-girl vibe. She’s a Texas rich girl who knows how to use her assets, a character who’d be easy to hate. ZZ Top’s Legs told me how to give her the likeable feistiness and joie de vivre Corbin finds irresistible.

The recitation of small casualties in Bob Dylan’s Everything is Broken (I like the Frenchy Burrito cover version) made me rewrite everything about the flood. Instead of the typical big drama, I wrote about the seemingly insignificant chairs, dishes, baby shoes and water bottles that add up to a lost civilisation and good intentions that crumble into broken hearts.

Through many revisions, Seal’s Love’s Divine provided a solid conceptual anchor for this novel. When the plot was a tangle, subplots in shreds, I listened, eyes closed, hands on the keyboard, remembering the *why* of this book, mindful that the goal was a place of redemption, a moment when these characters could move beyond how deeply they’d screwed up and disappointed each other.

Shay and Corbin’s relationship is a microcosm of what happened that summer in New Orleans and Houston. The Hurricane Lover is a tale of two cities, one ruled by denial, the other by fear. The rolling thunder at the beginning and the end of Love’s Divine brought the story home and reminded me to invest it with a sense of future.

New York Times bestselling author/ghostwriter Joni Rodgers lives in Houston, Texas. After a dozen books with corporate publishers, she opted to go indie for The Hurricane Lover with her own digital imprint, Stella Link Books. Rodgers continues to work on ghost projects with NY publishers and is the founder of The League of Extraordinary Authors, an international coalition of authors blurring the boundaries between old school and new world publishing. Find her on Twitter @JoniRodgers

The Undercover Soundtrack is taking a short break but will be back on 6 June. If you can’t wait that long for your next fix, you can now search through the archives by musician, composer or artiste – and find out who writes to what. See you soon

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jennie Coughlin

‘Rhythm taps into the part of my brain that lets the words flow’

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 author and journalist Jennie Coughlin @jenniecoughlin

Soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, Seal, Greg Laswell, Brian Kirk, Lady Antebellum, John McCutcheon, Stop Making Friends, Missy Higgins

It was almost 15 years ago, as a rookie reporter, that I discovered Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer made the words flow on deadline. Even today, when I’m on deadline for my fiction writing I’ll put it on repeat on my iPod.

Music has always been part of my writing toolkit. Since I first joined my parish’s children’s choir in third grade, music has been something I use to connect more deeply in many aspects of my life. When it comes to writing, it’s probably the second most-useful tool in my toolbox.

For the rhythm

Music is versatile. Sometimes I’ll use it for the rhythm, because that taps into the part of my brain that lets the words flow. The Boxer is my go-to song for this, but while drafting the novel I’m in rewrites on, I found Seal’s Amazing helped one day when I was stuck. Greg Laswell’s Off I Go falls into this category, too. My sister maintains that if I were a kid today, I’d be diagnosed with Asperger’s, and this is one of those instances where I agree with her — when I’m using music for its rhythm, I’ll put it on repeat, sometimes for hours if that’s how long I’m writing. I call it my brain’s musical marinade.

I don’t just use repeat for rhythm, either. The revisions I’m working on now involve a lot of tension-building, and I’ve had Brian Kirk’s Vance’s Dossier from the NCIS Score album on repeat. It’s one of the few occasions I’ll use a completely instrumental piece. Probably because of my background in singing, I tend to choose my writing playlist based on song lyrics. But Vance’s Dossier has that creepy “something’s not right” feel I’m trying to thread through the story I’m telling.

It’s a contrast to what I consider my theme song for Exeter, the small town where my series is set: Lady Antebellum’s Hello World. You can see it in the opening of my short story collection Thrown Out: Stories from Exeter as Riordan sits on the porch, enjoying a quiet late summer day. And then a different side later in the book when newcomer Chris has to decide if he can trust people in Exeter not to hurt him in the “broken, like I’m never gonna heal” line:

Joe was still running his mouth as he stood a few feet down the third base line, waiting for a chance to score, but Dan seemed to be ignoring him. Chris felt the tension ease from his shoulders that the impending fight had been so easily defused.

Chris rubbed his hand over the scar on his arm. He was suddenly glad there was no alcohol allowed on school grounds, that the scent of stale beer was only in his head. He pressed his hand onto the warm bleacher, the ridged metal as far from chipped brick as possible.

When I’m trying to get into Riordan’s head, the lawyer/town storyteller, I’ll put on John McCutcheon — his Last First Kiss captures how Riordan feels about his unique relationship with Becca that starts in Thrown Out. When he’s in storytelling mode, it’s McCutcheon’s Greatest Story Never Told.

Lyrics lead to scenes

Because my storytelling is character driven, lyrics often spark thoughts about the characters. The journey of the characters in the novel I’m revising is perfectly captured by Stop Making Friends’s Fear. And when I was honing my writing skills on fanfiction, Missy Higgins’s Where I Stood was the theme song for my first novel-length work. I was three chapters from the end, wrestling with a key scene. And as I listened to the song while working on something else, it clicked. I was trying to write it between the wrong two characters — the ex-lovers — when it needed to be the ex- and the current partner having the conversation. I’d heard the piece a few thousand times at that point, but it wasn’t until my brain had soaked in for that long that the pieces fell into place.

Jennie Coughlin was raised in Franklin, Massachusetts and the author of Thrown Out: Stories from Exeter. Her first short story was the final project for a local history unit in middle school, and it sparked a love of both fiction writing and local history that continues to this day. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She has worked as a reporter and editor for community newspapers based in Massachusetts and Virginia. A life of living in small college towns with lots of history and strong arts communities comes through in her stories about Exeter, a small mill town in the Blackstone Valley of Massachusetts. The name is a nod to her hometown’s history, but Exeter isn’t based on Franklin or any of the other small towns she’s lived in — reality in those places is far too unbelievable to make good fiction. Find her on Twitter @jenniecoughlin

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