Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by debut novelist Lydia Netzer @lostcheerio, author of Shine, Shine Shine
Shine, Shine, Shine
My novel’s title was inspired by a song by Carbon Leaf, and the title of the song is Shine. Listening to this song caused my fist to involuntarily pump at times during the chorus: ‘It’s time to shine shine shine!’ and my teeth would grind together with determination. It became, in my mind, an anthem for the book’s housewives, who were furiously sublimating their authentic selves into perfect, acceptable automatons. It also became an anthem for me to write and finish the book, as in, ‘Get your head out of the diaper pail, girl. Bang the drum. Fee fi fo fum. Enough silence and subordination and blending in with the wallpaper.’
My characters fell in love as children, really, though at the time it was more a bonding of two weirdos to face the world together. So their love song is very sweet and sort of ridiculous: Pure by The Lightning Seeds. You may remember this song from 1990 — it was sort of a last brave gasp of the 80s before grunge came to eat our faces off. This song helped me think about my characters Maxon and Sunny in their origins, as little kids playing in the woods, looking at the stars, and grounded me in that original innocence and acceptance, when Sunny’s attitude toward Maxon was pure love and gratitude, and she hadn’t thought to measure him yet against the world.
Like I said, my characters met as children and ended up married with children of their own. So they had to go through a transition between the pure, innocent love of childhood and a more complicated, ragged, sexual love as adults. The song Come Here Boy by Imogen Heap was what I turned to as I was writing about their awakening, and how Sunny transformed from a dreamy, disconnected child into sort of a sexual aggressor. In fact, at one point in the story, she actually says the words, ‘Come here, boy’. And that’s because I had this song on repeat while writing that scene.
There are several tragedies in the novel. Several deaths. The song Parasol by Tori Amos captured for me the paralysis of loss, the horror of getting that awful call, but also the way you can react with strength and move on. There’s almost a steeliness about the character in the song, and I needed my characters to behave with the same resolve, not get knuckled under by grief, protect themselves and keep living. This song probably has more plays on my iTunes than any other song – I kept it on repeat a lot while I was writing the later chapters of the book.
Maxon is on his way to the moon to colonise it with robots. In his world, robots can be as much like humans as he wants them to be — it’s just a matter of more circuits, more if/then statements, more programming. But Maxon sees love as an irrational preference, and while they can laugh, cry, and dream like humans, he hasn’t programmed his robots to love. While he recognises that he himself does it, he starts the book not really knowing why. By the end, he understands his humanity, and his robots, on a deeper level.
When I first heard Selfmachine from I Blame Coco I was in the passenger seat of a car, and we were driving in Rome. This song came on the radio and I was electrified. When it finished, I turned to Dan and said, ‘I need that song in my ears at all times immediately’. Of course although Coco is British and the song was in English, the DJ was speaking Italian and we couldn’t figure out the name of the band. When we got back to our place that night, Dan searched around via snatches of lyrics and found the song for me. A few days later he had bought me the CD, and that’s when my addiction to Selfmachine really took off, as my children can attest. Their attesting might sound like, ‘OH NO, NOT LONELY ROBOT! Anything but that!’ While I had already sold the book at this point, I still had developmental editing ahead of me, and line editing, and many changes and tweaks to make. Selfmachine became a celebratory song, but for me it also meant surrendering the story and characters to the world.
I wrote my own songs to go with this novel, and the two that are included on the audiobook are also about robots: Bad Machine and Robots. Here’s a music video for Robots which also works as book promotion for the novel.
Writing songs from my characters’ perspective, about my novel’s themes, was a lot of fun. As a happily married woman in comfortable circumstances, it’s hard for me to write rock and roll songs about angst, despair, mean men, and the fight against authority. So borrowing my characters’ angst and despair was really useful! And it also helped me open windows into their worlds that I might not have been able to really see through words alone. Here’s Bad Machine, which is about the feeling of loving someone who is robotic and unemotional, the way Maxon is in the book.
Lydia Netzer’s first novel is Shine Shine Shine, published by St Martin’s Press. It is a People’s Pick in People Magazine, a Spotlight Book of the Month on Amazon, and is a love story with a side of robots and maths. Lydia lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, and plays the electric guitar in a band called The Virginia Janes. You can find her on Twitter (@lostcheerio), Facebook, and on her web site.
GIVEAWAY! Lydia is offering a copy of the Shine Shine Shine audiobook to one random commenter. The audiobook is read by the NYT bestselling author and award-winning audiobook narrator Joshilyn Jackson, and includes Robots and Bad Machine by The Virginia Janes. Leave your calling card in the comments for a chance to win.