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, writing mentor and novelist KM Weiland returns with the soundtrack for her new novel Dreamlander @kmweiland
Soundtrack by Nightwish
I see my stories like movies in my head. When I was a kid, before I even knew I wanted to do this crazy thing called writing, I would call the stories I told myself “my movies.” Great acting, gorgeous cinematography, haunting soundtrack, they’re all there. When I started writing Dreamlander, my first foray into the fantasy genre, I knew exactly what the story soundtrack should sound like.
Dreamlander spans two worlds—modern-day Chicago, where my protagonist Chris Redston starts out as a restless, unfulfilled journalist, and the fantasy world Lael, which is a gorgeous but raw 17th-century-esque world of fading feudalism and dawning technology. Dreamlander is really a story about these two worlds colliding, and I could hear that collision in the music in my head: aggressive heavy metal guitar riffs and driving percussions contrasted with the melancholy lyricism of early Celtic folk songs.
I could hear it, but I’d never heard it. My best description for what I was listening to in my head was Celtic Rock, but the likes of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Then, one day, there it was . . . I sat up in my desk chair, electrified. From another room came the strains of what I’d been hearing in my head all those months while working on Dreamlander.
I rushed right over and demanded to know what I was I hearing. And that’s where it all started. Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score began my love affair with symphonic metal and brought the story in my head swirling to life on the lush bellicosity of soaring string sections, operatic vocals, hard-hitting rhythms, and, under it all that, slightly jarring, always compelling hint of folk music.
In a sense, all of Nightwish’s music left its mark on Dreamlander, but several songs in particular seem to have been written just for me. The lyrics from Ever Dream, on the Century Child album, express my female lead’s perspective with eerie precision. In the dream world, she is the Searcher, charged with finding and discovering the Gifted, who cross over the worlds, even though she’s terrified he will repeat the mistakes of the first Gifted, whom she aided when still just a child:
Her lungs quivered. She couldn’t mistake this strange rhythmic quiver deep within her brain, this almost magnetic pull, driving her to get up, to move, to search. She had been nine years old when last she felt it. The Garowai had told her then it meant a Gifted had arrived in Lael.
Eyes closed, she crimped her fist in the letter to her father. What she needed to do was relax and let the taste of the Gifted wash over her brain. She needed to get a sense of this man who had been summoned here to do . . . something. To save Lael? Or to plunge it even deeper into darkness than had his predecessor?
Last of the Wilds, on the Dark Passion Play album, would ultimately become what I think of as the book’s theme song. An instrumental, it expresses perfectly all the elements I originally heard in my head when imagining the book’s soundtrack. When I listen to it, I can see the story playing out: the desperate sword fights, the horses galloping through the snow, the love that grows between the two main characters, and the loss that tears them all in some way. I can only describe it as magic, and its perfection is almost unnerving.
When I hear these songs, I see the flawless story I wanted to write. No matter what I’m writing, my words never live up to the music that inspires and influences them, but when I listen to the music, it makes me better than I am. It makes me remember the color and the power I’m trying to share with my readers. It makes me ache inside with the beauty of it all and thank God that I get to try to capture a little piece of it.
KM Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. Find her on Twitter @kmweiland
The Undercover Soundtrack will take a short break for Christmas and will return in January.