The Undercover Soundtrack – Theresa Milstein

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 MG/YA novelist and vignettist Theresa Milstein @theresamilstein

Soundtrack by Coldplay, Madonna, Seal, Nik Kershaw, the Smiths, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure, Colin Hay, Seatbelts, Arcade Fire

My new collection of vignettes, Time & Circumstance, was written over the span of five years, so many songs influenced its creation. I honored this connection when I named the two sections of the book. The first section, filled with prose pieces, Tempo Adagio, evokes a slower pace. The second section, filled with poetry, Tempo Allegro, evokes a brisk pace. I couldn’t imagine this collection coming together without musical influence.

Coldplay’s song Violet Hill inspired my early flash fiction piece Violet’s Hill. The darker sound and the first lyrics about a bleak December and his plea during the melody set the right mood for the story of unrequited love. I originally wrote the piece for an anthology, 100 RPM: 100 Stories Inspired by Music.

For the short story Injustices, a stalker is watching a woman dancing in the apartment across the alley as he imagines her listening to Madonna. I heard the song Like a Prayer because it has the right tempo for someone getting ready for work in the morning. Although it’s different than the music I usually listen to, the song helped me pictured the scene more vividly.

When I wrote the story Left-Behind about death and Birthday about a miscarriage I experienced, I listened to Seal’s 1994 album, especially the song, Don’t Cry. A few songs are about mourning, which helped me deal with the feelings of loss.

The poem 1986 brought back my days as a punk girl hanging in New York City. Because I mention the movie Pretty in Pink, I thought about the soundtrack’s influence on me. Two songs from the soundtrack I especially connected with are Wouldn’t it Be Good by Nik Kershaw and Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths. I was an angst-ridden teen.

Steam Punk is about a caustic relationship. To get in the mood for that, I listened to one of my favorite songs, A Forest by The Cure because of the strong beat and mood.

I recalled my first years of marriage when I wrote First Apartment. Grunge was big then, and I especially loved Smashing Pumpkins. Their album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness played when I wrote it. My favorite song from that album is 1979. It was a coming of age into adolescence song for songwriter and singer, Billy Corgan, and here I am using it as a coming of age into adulthood song for me in the 90s. We’re both experiencing nostalgia.

I actually credit the song Waiting for My Real Life to Begin by Colin Hay for the Revision poem, which humorously portrays writer’s block. In a moment when I was feeling particularly down about my work and thought I’d never become published, I listened to his song over and over.

The song Measure is about my son practising his sax. When he joined jazz band, he always warmed up with the same tune. One day, it struck me how much he’d improved. The song started as an intrusion into our home, and then became pleasant background. When he goes off to college, I will miss it. I don’t have a clip of him practising, but I do have Tank by the Seatbelts.

The last song in the collection that inspired me was The Suburbs  by Arcade Fire from the album The Suburbs for the poem Boundaries. I wrote it in response to the hateful political rhetoric I’d been hearing to contrast it with my experience working with immigrant children in a school and also compared it with my children’s experience living in a suburb. For me, the song symbolizes the destruction of the west. It became the perfect background for the feelings I needed to express.

The back cover of Time & Circumstance states: ‘the unrelenting passage of time connects the vignettes’. Reviewing my song choices as a soundtrack, I have a strong sense of nostalgia tying the collection together. It was nice to relive some of my favorite teen songs when writing some of these pieces. I also appreciate the tone of the songs reflecting the many poignant moments throughout the collection.

Theresa Milstein writes middle grade and YA, but poetry is her secret passion. Her vignette collection, Time & Circumstance, is published by Vine Leaves Press. She lives near Boston Massachusetts with her husband, two children, a dog-like cat, and a cat-like dog. For her day job, she works as a special education teacher in a public school, which gives her ample opportunity to observe teens and tweens in their natural habitat. Find her website here, contact her on Facebook, or tweet her @theresamilstein.

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  1. #1 by Theresa Milstein on March 29, 2017 - 1:56 pm

    Thank you so much for hosting me. Rereading the book and reminding myself of all the musical influences was so much fun. And then to find the clips and listen while I worked was even better!

  2. #3 by Jonathan Gunson (@JonathanGunson) on April 2, 2017 - 12:44 pm

    Dearest Theresa (and Roz).
    I’d forgotten all about Coldplay’s ‘Voilet Hill’ … evocative, emotional. Thank you for bringing that back.
    Jonathan

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 2, 2017 - 5:57 pm

      Lovely to see you ehre, Jonathan. And yes, Coldplay is a favourite among Undercover Soundtrackers.

    • #5 by Theresa Milstein on April 4, 2017 - 1:53 pm

      Jonathan, I love the tone of that song, and it worked perfectly for the mood of my piece.

  3. #6 by mrb on April 13, 2017 - 11:48 am

    Hi Theresa,

    Enjoyed your 80’s 90’s music injections that motivate the writing vignettes and characters you create, and so appropriate for 100 RPM: 100 Stories Inspired by Music. Agree about The Forest – an amazing concert in the dark shades of the Cure. And then the Smiths (Had to use https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T8R_VDTOYQ as copyright blocked it in the USA). Lots of nostalgia for the Smashing Pumpkins song + video/1979.

    The Suburbs is what it is – a helpful summons about that environ – good choice, though Edward Scissorhands might do for an alt-suburb.

    Big shouts of laughter for the Seatbelts ‘Cowboy Bebop.’ That was new and thoroughly enjoyable. Going into my Roz-Tox manifesto playlist on YouTube, a channel devoted to songs Roz introduces at the Undercover Soundtrack.

    Sorry to hear about your miscarriage and glad you found a curative in Seal.

    With every best wish, Mark

  1. ‘The unrelenting passage of time’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Theresa Milstein | Nail Your Novel

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