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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 Scott D Southard @SDSouthard
There is usually nothing more important to me than the music I have playing while writing a book. Music can inspire me, engage me, keep my energy up when I need it to be up. It sets the mood for me, and the right song can pull the right levers to get me to go from point A to point B in a plot. It has also been known to drive the people that live with me crazy since while I am writing I may play a CD a few too many times (Just ask my wife about the writing of My Problem With Doors and my nonstop playing of O by Damien Rice; an album I am forbidden to play in her presence again). But what I used for A Jane Austen Daydream was something surprisingly contemporary. This was not something for Liz Bennet to dance to (but she might if given the chance).
A Jane Austen Daydream, my latest novel, was inspired by two ideas.
The first was the desire to fix a great injustice that fate had bestowed on Jane. Jane Austen did not have a romance, she did not find the happiness she gave so many of her characters; instead she died in her early 40s, far too soon, with work still to complete and no love to mourn her. That’s where my book comes in; in it, I re-imagine her life as one of her novels. Trying to guess the story she would have liked for herself, filling the missing little holes with characters from her books and plots she created as well.
Over the course of the novel (filled with adventures, wit, proposals, misunderstandings, and surprises) we follow Jane as she grows in her understanding of love and becomes the writer the world holds dear… and then there is the love affair (the second idea), but that is a major literary twist I don’t want to ruin here. There is a chance it might be the first time it was attempted in a novel.
Looking over the catalog of Belle & Sebastian (and I am a fan, owning everything I can get my hands on), desperation seems to be one of the themes that never leaves Stuart Murdoch (the main songwriter) and his songs. Belle & Sebastian are truly a band made for writers, since their songs are little stories, little character vignettes. He wants to find meaning (and so does his characters), understand what is going on in the world. And just like Jane in my book he seems to believe that there is some great truth to discover, to fall back on. If life was only that simple, Stuart.
I can’t escape my novel when I listen to their CD The Life Pursuit and certain songs stir emotions bringing me right back to the creation of the book. See, right from the opening of Act of the Apostle, Part 1 I feel myself returning to that time, as if on cue that old writing part of my brain kicking in. Starting up the right CD to begin writing is a ritual for me, from pressing play to the cracking of my knuckles.
The moments ‘borrowed’ from music
One favorite song from the CD is Funny Little Frog. A lonely and depressing love story sold around a song that almost has a Motown feel to it (even with horns). When I was writing the first part of the book, in which Jane convinces herself she is in love (she is not) and the questionable male is as well (he is not), this song screamed at me; and I know there were evenings where it was on constant repeat. And, I must admit, some of the song sneaked into the section, with Jane imagining futures with this man, allowing her creative mind to run away with her (just like the character in the song). The song truly was infused throughout that writing, right from the beginning to its wonderful last line.
Another song that brings me right back to my writing desk is For the Price of a Cup of Tea and I’m pretty sure this song inspired something unique to Jane’s books. See, in my novel I try to keep every setting from her books, there is nothing foreign really there… Well, except the tea shop in her hometown. This was a device/location I used it in each volume of the book for Jane to meet with her friend Harriet. If that tea shop existed in reality, this song would be on the stereos in the background since the metre and pace of the song feels like those scenes. (Wait, did I just say there would be a stereo in the 19th century? Bangs head on desk, in embarrassment.)
Oh, and when I hear White Collar Boy I picture Jane running through a field. It doesn’t make sense at all. I know that, but that’s creativity and inspiration for you.
Scott D. Southard’s most recent novel is A Jane Austen Daydream (Both available in print as an eBook); his other novels are My Problem With Doors and Megan. He can be found on the internet via his writing blog ‘The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard‘ where he writes on topics ranging from writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. Scott received his Master’s in writing from the University of Southern California. He is also on Twitter and Facebook.
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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 Hollywood screenwriter Mark Staufer @MarkStaufer
A few years back, I wanted to break out of my screenwriting comfort zone. I decided to confront the issue that bemused me the most of all: acting.
As a screenwriter, I’ve always viewed actors with a certain amount of trepidation and — I’ll get shot for this — a smidgen of superiority. I mean, we’re the clever ones, right? We writers conjure universes and characters and astonishing dialogue from our super-awesome-God-anointed well-spring of transcendental brilliance. And we do all this in three acts — not exceeding 90 minutes for a comedy and two hours for a drama — and we always deliver on time and don’t require a Buddhist Lama or a manicurist written into our contract. Unless we’re that Joe Ezsterhas-from-the-80s guy.
Damn actors, though, they simply wander in and rearrange their photogenic facial expressions and move their well-toned bodies like puppets, parroting the words we maestro-minds have spent months bleeding over and creating. And rewriting. Again. And…
Wait. Just, before I die, let me finish…
So, I confronted my fear and wrote a script with one of those bloody annoying actors. You may know Josh Stewart from Third Watch or Dirt or The Dark Knight Rises — to me, he was a friend first, and a scary, Brando-esque methody-actor second. As we worked on the script together — he as committed as I was — it became (painfully) apparent that I was learning a whole new dimension in screenwriting. Sure, I was fucking superb at writing and scenes and structure and ‘creating universes’ and theoretical whatnot, but Josh, as an actor, slipped into characters and dialogue like an eel. He was like a specialist fine-tuning these parts of the body, while I resembled something akin to your garden variety local GP.
Josh taught me so much about the most important parts of screenwriting — characters; motivation; showing, not telling; use of the semicolon; minimal big-print — that I feel totally embarrassed about the whole ‘rearranging expressions’ statement a while back. Oh, if you want to read our magnificent script about an archeologist-turned-grave-robber… Give me a yell.
And a similar thing has happened with music and writing with The Numinous Place. Not that I’ve ever been quite so damning about music and composers — but I’ve learned so much from actually listening, and listening hard to music, and musicians, that it’s completely transformed my approach to writing as well.
You see, in the middle of the night, about a decade ago I awoke from a most wondrous and startling dream and immediately thought to myself, how cool would it be if we developed the technology to film dreams. That was the spark that hovered and wormed its way into my consciousness until I finally dragged myself into the dark room and began work five years later on (gulp) my life’s work. By that stage I’d been researching like crazy, the characters and plot were pretty much fully formed, my entire belief system had been turned upside-down, and I knew I needed to tell this particular story in an utterly different way.
For maximum impact, I needed to create an authentic storyworld about the scientific discovery of the afterlife using all storytelling techniques: first-person narrative, audio, video, web and magazine articles, comic, photographs, diagrams… Nothing less would suffice than every narrative device we’ve used since cave-painting began 40,000 years ago.
Reading is visceral
There was no gimmickry involved in this decision to create in a multidimensional fashion. It’s just that I believe a reader’s response to realistic artifacts and information is more visceral — it’s a case of showing not telling (remember what Josh taught me?). As the narrative unfolded I didn’t want anyone to have to suspend their disbelief for a moment. Everyone really needed to believe that science had indeed discovered the afterlife. And for that to happen, it was going to be necessary to present them with all the relevant evidence — totally believable evidence I’d gathered from since the beginning of time. Here’s the newspaper article, take a look at the news report, here’s the page in Wikipedia… Seeing is believing.
I also wanted to include a soundtrack with the book. With the technique of lucid dreaming — becoming conscious in your dreamworld and controlling it — at the core of the narrative it was important to be able to conjure an immediate response with readers. And music is by far the best way to do this.
It was necessary for my writing, too. Music was what helped me tap into my subconscious and those other realities in which my narrative and characters already existed. Music was the bridge to the worlds of archetypes and parallel universes where every story lives and waits to be told in the here and now by someone like you.
There’s a fantastic music site called A Closer Listen which supplied me with many leads and from there I discovered a bunch of musical geniuses whose ethereal compositions sang to my subconscious and allowed me to bring the dreamworld into this reality. The darkly claustrophobic ambience of Adrian Aniol, the hauntingly cinematic music of Leonardo Rosado, the angelic pyrotechnics of Sorabji, the fiery minimalism of Italian composer Ezio Bosso and the wafty electronic otherworldiness of The Caretaker.
But what would an actual soundtrack to a book such as The Numinous Place sound like, and how would it work? Books aren’t movies or games — the reading experience is intimate and self-paced, and I don’t believe any reader wants music or sound effects blasting away behind every word. How could I make music an evocative part of the experience, integrate it into the storyworld and allow it to accentuate the narrative?
Under the guidance of composer/sound designer Walter Werzowa it was decided the music — like the tech and design by Dean Johnson and the team at digital agency Brandwidth — would be used strategically. Pieces would be composed by Maestro Werzowa to specifically enhance the narrative, underscore the emotional intensity and act as scene-breakers.
And, since reading is more about choices than, say, watching a film — the reader can choose to listen immediately, or save the piece and listen later.
Dreamworlds move at their own pace
Because the dreamworld itself moves at a different pace from this reality and is often so difficult to recall, Walter set to work reimagining well-known classical pieces that evoke the moods experienced in the dreamworld by the book’s hero, Henry Meat. You can hear an example here, along with Walter’s magnificent Agnus.
And, just like James Bond films, The Numinous Place needed a theme song. For this I approached fellow-Kiwi Alicia Merz who records under the name Birds of Passage. Alicia’s compellingly hypnotic theme for The Numinous Place captures the atmosphere of the storyworld perfectly — it evokes the dreamworld in a way words often struggle to achieve.
Music being such an integral part of both the creative process and finished product has also assisted me in an unanticipated way. The structural multidimensionality of The Numinous Place means there are a lot of balls in the air during writing. Similar to music — cadence and rhythm and texture are incredibly important — and I’ve learned from all those composers on my soundtrack during this journey.
I’ve learned that, just like acting, it’s the silences between the notes that are equally as important as the notes themselves.
And it is the same with words.
Hollywood screenwriter Mark Staufer is the curator/creator of an ambitious new way of storytelling, a supernatural thriller called The Numinous Place which will be available later this year. Staufer is a former head of production at Universal Studios Networks in London and has been working on his “destiny project” for more than a decade. You can follow him on twitter @MarkStaufer and @NuminousPlace and the lead character in the book @HenryMeat.
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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 multi-genre novelist and indie publisher Devon Flaherty @devtflaherty
Soundtrack by Barenaked Ladies, Alanis Morissette, Gungor, Passion, Tom Waits, She & Him, The Sing Team, Adele, Waterdeep, Glen Hansard, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Brothers and Sisters, The City Harmonic, Trouvere, Lowland Hum, Over The Rhine, Putumayo, Belinda Carlisle
I have to admit, ever since I started staying at home with babies/small children, my interaction with music has been different. Not only do I have to put up with terrible kid music (with the exception of BNL’s Snacktime) and avoid music I formerly loved with questionable lyrics or themes, but I also have the occupational challenge of keeping my ears open, all the time, listening for a breach of boundary, a breaking glass, a sibling fight. Most of the writing of my recently published book, Benevolent, has taken place in this music vacuum—stealing moments of Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill while driving alone to a friend’s home.
But this has been a really big month for me. On section two of my next novel, The Family Elephant’s Jewels, my husband has graduated nursing school, my son has been registered for kindergarten, and mommy has been given — by the appreciative husband — an iPod Nano! Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead without my Discman, but an iPod seemed a little extraneous with my loveable cling-ons. And now? It’s truly wonderful.
Last night, while listening to Gungor’s Dry Bones and folding clothes (and doing air pumps and some orchestra conducting), I saw the vision for my much-needed book trailer. The music just flowed through me. And I don’t know about you, but when I get really carried away with a song, visions break out like fireworks on my inner retina, making music videos of my creativity, my thought-life. Which is why, for me, music is such an integral part of the writing process.
I have been known to say, in recent interviews, that my ideas often come from moments in life when something small and extraordinary jumps out at me. I can’t begin to count, even during my music-starved twenties, the times that that small and extraordinary moment was fueled by music. My future fantasy trilogy Spin was almost completely born out of the song White Flag by Passion (which is kid-friendly). I have a whole story built around Tom Waits’s A Little Drop of Poison (which happens to be on the Shrek soundtrack).
Oh for Bose
So now that I am planning long hours lost behind noise-cancelling headphones — and the eventual transfer to a Bose stereo that I can blast when I am the only one home ‘working’ — I plan on creating the townscapes of The Family Elephant’s Jewels with the juice-flowing inspiration of all my latest (and greatest) favorite bands: She & Him, Sing Team, Adele, Waterdeep, Glen Hansard, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Brothers and Sisters, The City Harmonic, Trouvere, Lowland Hum, and many others, many as yet undiscovered by me.
The truth is, that even without music playing all the time (which it had for the first twenty-five years of my life), music was still inspiring me as I wrote Benevolent. It’s evident when I reach out and bring in a very specific piece of music, even in the prose. Gaby is listening to Over the Rhine’s Good Dog, Bad Dog as she rumbles bus-bound through Jerusalem, thinking about her romantic attachments. Putumayo’s Gypsy Groove lilts on the air during a disastrous scene near the end of the book (no spoilers!), but I had to change the title (Mali to Memphis) due to time differences. Heck, Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth was the song that got me in the whole 80s and 90s mood to begin with. And let’s not forget the one I made up (because that’s how story and legend often convey):
And The Queen and her lover
ran for cover
Holding each other tight.
While the tall story man
and his evil war band
Chased down the beautiful knight.
Where have all the heroes gone?
I want a stately red-headed queen
to make love to angels
and wield a sure sword
And Jaden to save the day,
Oh-oh Jaden to save the day.
I like to bring my readers all the way into a story, and that means engaging all the senses, if possible. They are seeing a dingy 1980s dining room, eating chicken, smelling old carpet, feeling a chink in porcelain under their fingertip and the roughness of a tuxedo jacket against their arm, listening to—what? Besides Nadine yammering on? Besides the humming of the fridge and the clink of silverware? In Gaby’s opening scene, I have music everywhere: being rudely interrupted, then bursting out again, ‘in the foreground and background and off the walls,’ Stellar crooning obnoxiously to Bette Midler.
And I like to be immersed, myself, into life. I like to see, feel, smell, taste, and hear when I walk through the woods, when I take my husband on a date, when I read a book, and definitely, most definitely, when I write it.
Devon Flaherty is a writer in Durham, North Carolina. Originally from metropolitan Detroit, she is a mother, a wife, a hobby yogi, photographer, painter, and foodie. She has been writing seriously since her very earliest brushes with literature, and has published articles, poems, and photography in literary journals and magazines. She received a bachelors in philosophy and was an assistant editor, freelancer, and blogger, until she founded a publishing company, Owl and Zebra Press, and launched her novelist career with Benevolent. Follow her on Twitter @devtflaherty, at her blog The Starving Artist, or by signing up for her E-Newsletter. You can buy Benevolent here (or plenty of other places).
GIVEAWAY Devon is giving away a signed copy of Benevolent and also a copy of She & Him’s new CD, which Devon says is the kind of music her protagonists would be listening to today. You can enter both these giveaways via the links on Rafflecopter. For the signed copy of Benevolent go here, and for the She & Him CD go here. (And she’d probably appreciate it all the more if you also share the post!)
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My guest this week describes inspiration as those moments when something small suddenly leaps out and becomes significant. And countless times, the trigger has been music. An entire fantasy trilogy conjured itself when a song took root in her mind. She says she’s sometimes had to hide her soundtracks in case her young children come across unsuitable lyrics, but would not be separated from the songs that feed her imagination so richly. She is Devon Flaherty and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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A change of gear this week. This is the first time I’ve hosted a writer who is talking about short stories. A lot of music lurks behind his award-winning first collection, inspiring the plot, mood and characters. Various signature songs have passed through his imagination to become a tightrope-walking couple, a doomed relationship, a person given the eyes of a serial killer and a haunting piece of music derived from nature. His name is Jonathan Pinnock and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
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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 Caroline Smailes @Caroline_S
When writing my first four novels, my creative process didn’t involve music. Children shouting, laughing, crying and even dogs barking, then yes I could write. But the minute I played any kind of music I become distracted, lost in the music, unable to commit a word to paper.
Writing The Drowning of Arthur Braxton
Then came the creative process of writing The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. To my surprise music became part of the writing method. The difference seemed to be that the book was about music. It was a novel that had music at its very core, it looked at how music could lure, I even found myself considering how music sounded when being played under water.
The novel has a soundtrack through it, a whistle and a singing nymph, thus for me to populate that mysterious place I had to bring background music into the creative equation.
In one of the first scenes I wrote, Arthur Braxton is fleeing with his pants around his ankles from a group of teenagers. He’d been promised sexual fulfilment by the girl of his dreams. However, it was a trick and he found himself exposed, ambushed by a barrage of flashing mobile phones which instantly uploaded embarrassing images of him to Facebook. The scene ended with him running away, with suicidal thoughts smothering him.
That was the start, it was also when music, for the first time, began to influence the story I was writing.
Have you ever heard a single lyric that inspired you, stopped you in your tracks, and made you catch your breath?
There’s a single line is Gaspard Royant’s Yours: ‘I’ve got a whole world where you’ll never find me’. This was the line that changed The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. It sneaked into my thought processes as I wrote. I wondered what it would be like if a place existed that could keep a chosen few safe, a place that not everyone could find.
That’s when I started writing about the derelict swimming baths called The Oracle. In the novel, for 16 years, the vast building has been closed. From the signs stuck to the erected fences around The Oracle, it is clear that there is a looming threat. Although it is a listed building, the council has sold it to an American company who are planning to demolish and rebuild. As Arthur is contemplating suicide, he finds himself outside The Oracle and that’s when he hears music – a girl’s voice, singing, the most beautiful singing he has ever heard.
Later, the reader discovers that the singing is from Madora, and later again it is revealed that she lives below the surface of the swimming baths in ‘the otherworld’. A secret world where humans don’t go, a whole other world where people cannot be found.
Would I have ever allowed my creative mind to escape into that other world without Gaspard’s lyric? I honestly don’t know.
I guess that one idea led to me thinking about the concept of home and Arthur Braxton’s lack of home, indeed his need for a home.
When these ideas were forming, I heard Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. I watched a YouTube video of a performance; it was when the two singers were still in a relationship. The way they interacted, that feeling that no one else in the room mattered, that absorbing of each other, inspired me. I wanted to take that feeling and apply it to a first love, the redemptive magic of that first love. It allowed for a deeper understanding of my characters.
And Home is a happy song, bouncy and full of energy. I like that about it. So, pulling on their lyrics and that overwhelming sense of home being wherever the two people were together, I let the music play and tried to explore the sense of true love being a returning home, a familiarity and safety.
Yet these were the only songs that I could listen to whilst writing.
There was no place in my creative experience for another song. I had compartmentalised these songs into being acceptable, into them being a tool to create. They played on a loop, almost echoes within the room.
So is this a new way of writing, is music my muse?
My next novel is about The Beatles, I’ve already tried writing to their songs and can’t. Perhaps The Drowning of Arthur Braxton will be my only novel that allows music to aid the creative process. I’ll let you know.
Caroline Smailes lives in the North West of England with her husband and three children. The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is her fifth novel. It is published by The Friday Project and is available in paperback and eBook. She can be found at her website and on Twitter as @Caroline_S.
Gaspard Royant lyric quoted with permission.
GIVEAWAY Caroline is excited to give away a print copy of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton to one commenter here. Extra entries if you share this post on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In or G+ – but be sure to leave a note here to let us know that you have!
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My guest this week says she always found music a distraction rather than a help in her writing. Until a lyric sneaked into her thought processes – and from then on the novel took its own turn. She started writing about a secret siren world in a derelict swimming baths, and a character who is looking for a home. She is Caroline Smailes, the novel is The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with its Undercover Soundtrack.
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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 Tom Bradley
Soundtrack by Alexander Scriabin
My current book (Family Romance) and my next (We’ll See Who Seduces Whom) are ekphrases. Ekphrasis is by definition synaesthetic: two or more art forms, under the aegides of disparate sense organs, mutually interpenetrate. And who is the greatest synaesthete of post-antiquity? Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin.
Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom are explicitly Scriabinesque in their merging of visuals and verbals. In both books I have accepted the challenge posed by stacks of preexisting art. Nick Patterson is my collaborator in the former book, David Aronson in the latter. Their pictures came first, and I made the fiction and poetry, respectively, around them.
My method was derived explicitly from Scriabin’s unfinished monstrosity: the Mysterium. It’s a week-long rite, an apocalyptic liturgy of ‘omni-art’ that absorbs and dissolves the entire sensorium: not just the visual, but auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and even the famous ‘sixth sense’ of the Buddhists, comprising manas and dharma. My particular art form, literary, can be said to engage the sixth sense most directly.
While our books are contained between covers, Scriabin’s Mysterium requires an entire gorge in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s meant to be celebrated in a strangely protean cathedral, built expressly for the occasion. This edifice will writhe and swell like a transcendent amoeba. Scriabin says: ‘…it will not be constructed of one single type of stone, but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium’. The architecture is made malleable with psychoactive aerosols and the rhythmic projection of colors by a tastiera per luce, or ‘keyboard of lights’. (Parts 2, 3, 4, 5 are here.)
Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom are less labor intensive and don’t require such a large budget, but the idea is the same: what corresponds to brick and mortar in a printed work becomes protoplasmic as Scriabin’s venue. The illustrations of Nick Patterson and David Aronson, while divergent in style, share this shape-shifting quality. Though static in the literal sense, the longer these images are stared at, the more motion they communicate. It’s only natural to intermingle them with prose and poetry: those two contrivances that traverse time and space more efficiently, and violate solidity more contemptuously, than any other human inventions.
Part of Debra Di Blasi’s program at her great synaesthetical Jaded Ibis Press is to add a soundtrack to each of the books she publishes. I am recommending she make our track Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, for he just happens, by coincidence, to have written the perfect music to help me encompass my job of explaining how the Pattersonian and Aronsonian bizarreries came to be juxtaposed.
If Scriabin is the inner ear of our books, he comprises the entire central nervous system of the Mysterium. Cast in the role of Celebrant, he is seated at his grand piano in the very apse of the gaseous temple, directing what sounds like an orchestra of thousands. They are playing the strangest, most terrifyingly delirious music. A gigantic brace of mixed antiphonal choirs produce a roar without words, identified spontaneously in my mind with certain moiling mobs who stomp through Nick Patterson’s paintings: grotesqueries with shoulder teeth, problematic crotches, and ostrich legs.
Physiologically peculiar choristers
I came to call these physiologically peculiar choristers, these inarticulate roarers, the Relic Amalekites. You might recall from the first book of Samuel the penalty of genocide having been declared upon their remote ancestors by Jehovah. Their vocalizations are often washed away as by a current of God-cursed blood, so I have placed the Relic Amalekites’ home turf — or, rather, home sand–on the banks of a river. When you listen to the Mysterium, you will understand why this waterway could only be called the Judeuphrates.
But from whose simultaneously super- and subhuman larynx issues the single voice that comes stabbing through the rout of Relic Amalekites? It’s a horrifically sublime soprano soloist, also unendowed with the capability of human speech. I knew, of course, that she could only be the aural counterpart of the naked woman who haunts so many of our books’ illustrations: a terrifying creature writhing and hemorrhaging across the pages.
I made her into the Kali-Avatar, the Tantric Initiatrix: sinister, ravenous, erotic Mom. Nude and protean, Mom often indulges a compulsion to mount other creatures and characters in Family Romance. She feeds her spawn a jejune diet consisting solely of psychoactive mushrooms, in a eucharistic shamanism answering to the entheogenically tinctured mists that cause the walls and niches of the Mysterium cathedral to undulate among the Himalayan foothils like a unicellular protozoon.
Meanwhile, bells the size of yacht hulls, alloyed of platinum and electrum, are hung from cumulonimbic clouds that swell among the oozing cathedral’s corbelled vaults. These clouds are engendered and seeded by entire metric tons of cinnamon and sandalwood, benzoin and mace, storax and galbanum, combusting in boundless bonfires and wafting over the attending multitudes. In their simultaneous week-long orgasm, Scriabin’s spectators and performers gradually become cloudlike themselves, indistinguishable one from another.
At this late point in my writing it became useful to supplement the Mysterium with another orchestral work, Prometheus: The Poem of Fire. Scriabin actually managed to finish this piece before he died, so it was consulted in the concoction of the climaxes and denouements of our Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom.
Up until the last chapters everything has been imbued with the famous Mystic Chord: C F# Bb E A D. All has been derived from iterations and inversions of this quartile pitch set, in endless permutations and combinations. Prometheus: The Poem of Fire miraculously, through a heroic act of will and faith on Scriabin’s part, draws the dissonance into a stable minor triad: F-sharp. This sonic normalcy rings out at the final moment, when Scriabin’s commixed congregation and clergy are atomized in the perfumed clouds and drugged mists.
The promethean mystery has popped its climax: nothing less than the annihilation of humanity and the engendering of a more vigorous race of beings from the primordial soup condensed in puddles among the cathedral cobbles. This corresponds perfectly to the moment, on the last page of Family Romance, where just such an extinction and transfiguration takes place within the consciousness of our protagonist. Nick Patterson depicts him as a blindfolded poet with huge hands, sweeping the strangest hieroglyphs upon a scroll that unfurls, roaring like a tidal wave. Scriabin can be sensed in that oglable roar.
Tom Bradley is the author, most recently, of Felicia’s Nose (MadHat Press), A Pleasure Jaunt With One of the Sex Workers Who Don’t Exist in the People’s Republic of China (Neopoiesis Press), Even the Dog Won’t Touch Me (Ahadada Press), Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch (Dog Horn Publishing), My Hands Were Clean (Unlikely Books) and Put It Down in a Book (The Drill Press), which was named 3:AM Magazine‘s Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2009. His next novel, with secret title and hidden nature, illustrated by the alchemical artist David Aronson, is coming next year from the occult publisher Mandrake of Oxford. He’s also a member of the League of Extraordinary Authors. Further curiosity can be indulged here.
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My guest this week is part of a program that publishes unusual fiction that drenches all the senses. He describes Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin as both the ‘inner ear’ and the central nervous system of his novels which were written as collaborations with artists. His Undercover Soundtrack is wonderful, eerie, apocalyptic and elastic; his name is Tom Bradley – and you can meet him here on Wednesday.
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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 mystery and thriller novelist (and musician) Timothy Hallinan @TimHallinan
I could not write without music.
With more than 7,000 tracks on my hard drive and the best pair of earbuds money can buy, I can create a distraction-free workspace anywhere in the world. That’s necessary because I like to write in public, usually in coffee-shops, where there’s already caffeine in the air and I can look up and steal a face whenever I need one.
I work to playlists with different qualities, most of them 400-1,000 songs long. (My current all-purpose playlist has 1,356 songs on it, heavy on Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Jon Fratelli, Emmylou Harris, Mindy Smith, Lindi Ortega, Over the Rhine, etc.) Generally, music seals me off from distraction, provides a source of energy, and, depending on what I’m writing and the playlist I’ve chosen, an actual entry point to certain emotions and even imagery.
I virtually never write without those earphones plugged in. (I’m listening to Jack’s Mannequin right now.) About half the time I work to the all-purpose playlist, which changes all the time as I add new stuff and yank the old. But occasionally a piece of music will emerge and take over the writing of a book.
In my fourth Poke Rafferty novel, The Queen of Patpong, a young woman has leapt from a boat into the dark Andaman Sea near three large rocks called The Sisters. It’s the middle of the night, rain is pouring down, and the water bristles with sea-wasps, a particularly lethal jellyfish. The man in the boat has brought her there specifically to kill her. This is the turning point of the book, and it became the longest action scene I’ve ever written. A few pages in, Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand kicked in, and I immediately put it on a loop. I wrote to it for several days. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, I wrote:
the chapter when Rose is in the water was written mostly to Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, a piece of music that’s got dark water running all the way through it.
I mention the music I use most at the close of practically every book, and many, many people have emailed me to suggest new artistes. I get a lot of good music that way.
The forthcoming Rafferty book, For The Dead, is largely about a 13-year-old girl having her carefully constructed and entirely fictional identity ripped from her, revealing her to the kids in her exclusive school as a former street child who’s befriended them under false pretences. Much of it was written to Tegan and Sara, who create great, hooky, irresistible rock about girls and young women. They were the primary soundtrack for Miaow’s sections of the story.
But early in the writing process, I began to listen to Fun., and their music crystallized certain aspects of Miaow’s story. At the beginning of the book a phrase from a Fun. song called Benson Hedges, We all float until we sink, keeps running through her mind, and that also song provided the titles of the first two sections of the book: We All Float . . . and . . . Until We Sink. The third section is Drowning Girls, which is a lyric I actually misheard, but there was no way to drop it because it worked so well, and the fourth section is Aim and Ignite, which is the title of a Fun. album.
Finally, in the new Junior Bender book (due out July 2), The Fame Thief, Junior is hired to find out who destroyed the career (and the life) of a young actress in 1950. The central section of the book departs from Junior’s first-person to take us back to the 40s and the early 50s, and for this section I listened to pop music from the day, which had a real impact on both the dialogue and the visual landscape.
If anyone who reads this has some recommendations for me, please comment below or email me at email@example.com And thanks in advance.
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- 'Constant murmur of pouring rain, piano chords and a stormy sea'
- 'A spellbindingly good yarn'
- 'Simple, beautiful - gripping'
- 'So original it's in a class of its own'
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
- Carol is a concert pianist until an injury threatens her career. Desperate for a cure she discovers her future incarnation - or is he a psychological figment? And can he help her recover?
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- @wolfpascoe I wrote about the poetry of medical names here ow.ly/m9SKy (Scroll down to 'what's in a name') 8 hours ago
- @wolfpascoe I used to be a staff editor on a medical magazine and now freelance there. So your book on the art of anaesthesia caught my eye 8 hours ago
- Thanks for RT @mischievousmali: Are You Ready To Use Self-Publishing Services? writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice… | #selfpub #indiepub #amediting 4 hours ago
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What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in writing music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'