Archive for category My Memories of a Future Life

Reader’s Choice Award at Underground Book Reviews

Last month My Memories of a Future Life was up for an award at Underground Book Reviews. This month I’m thrilled to be told that it made their Summer Reading List 2012, as voted by readers. If you were one of the voters, thank you very much indeed.

 

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World Book Night – and The Red Season is free

Originally, My Memories of a Future Life was released as four 25,000-word novellasThe Red Season, Rachmaninov and Ruin, Like Ruby and The Storm.  Tonight and tomorrow – or depending on your time zone perhaps a bit of both – I’m giving away Kindle copies of The Red Season to mark World Book Night.

If you’re in the UK, get it here. US customers, find it here. If you know anyone who might like it, spread the word. And happy World Book Night.

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‘The last days of Nazi Germany did not play out to Wagner, but sentimental hits about love and hope’ – Leslie Wilson

My guest this week drew on the music of 1930s Germany to flesh out her story of a girl who hides her Jewish boyfriend from the authorities. She even wrote lyrics in the style of the time. The novel, Saving Rafael, has been nominated for no fewer than four awards and Leslie Wilson will be here on Wednesday talking about its Undercover Soundtrack

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The Undercover Soundtrack – James Scott Bell

‘This wonderful, startling alchemy when music meets the writer’s brain’

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 bestselling suspense author and writing coach James Scott Bell @JamesScottBell

Soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, Thomas Newman, Hugo Friedhofer, Mark Isham, Jerry Goldsmith, Alfred Newman, Steely Dan, Steve Miller Band

‘Of all noises,’ Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘I think music is the least disagreeable.’ I’ll go along with that. I like to write in public, mostly at Starbucks, with a little bit of ‘white noise’ around me. But when I have to get deep into a project or scene, I pop on the Bose headphones and fire up iTunes.

Music has a way of snapping the creative synapses. I once saw the whole plot of a story unfold because of a piece of music. I was thinking of my characters when it came on, and the emotional impact of the tune came in and mixed with my imagination and created something new. I doubt I could have gotten to that place any other way.

And that’s the point. There is a wonderful, startling alchemy when music meets the writer’s brain.

In the mood

That’s why I have created a collection of ‘mood tunes’. They come in three categories: suspense, heart and inspiration.

Since I’m usually writing suspenseful scenes, I have this collection going constantly, on a random basis. The foundation of this collection is Bernard Herrmann and his Hitchcock scores. Over the years I’ve added to it, of course. A few that work well for me: The Road to Perdition (Thomas Newman), Burn After Reading (Carter Burwell) and Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer).

If I need to get warm, I go to scores like The Best Years of Our Lives (Hugo Friedhofer) October Sky (Mark Isham) and various selections from classic Hollywood.

Not in the mood

But there is another way I use music, and this is when I’m tired or just not feeling motivated to write. A professional writer believes what Peter DeVries once said: ‘I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9am.’

So I have some ‘pump me up’ tunes to get me going on days when I’m dragging. There’s the football tryout theme from Rudy (Jerry Goldsmith) and the opening credits from How the West Was Won. But I don’t limit myself to movie scores. I’ll sneak in a little classic rock, like Bodhisattva (Steely Dan) and Jungle Love (Steve Miller).

As I listen to these selections I think of writing as an athletic contest. My competition is with myself. If I don’t write, the books won’t get done. I put in a weekly quota, and have for twenty years. The pages accumulate, almost by magic, but only if you show up each day ready to write.

Music can help you get there.

James Scott Bell is a bestselling suspense author and writing coach. His books for Writers Digest Books are Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, Conflict & Suspense and The Art of War for Writers. Writing as K. Bennett, he is the author of the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He blogs each Sunday at The Kill Zone. Follow him on Twitter as @jamesscottbell and find him at his website 

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‘Striking, beautiful and right’ – at Awfully Big Reviews

‘I have had to wrestle with monsters of professional jealousy to review this book.’ Susan Price at Awfully Big Reviews seems to have quite liked My Memories of a Future LifeHer review is here

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Random discoveries to fire up your writing – 3 weeks of maverick music at Q2

You know I’m a sucker for soundtracks to write by. Sometimes I like to choose them with deliberate care. Sometimes I put something on because the cover looked good, the track names are luscious and I really have no idea what will knock on my eardrums. The odder the better, obviously. It’s hit and miss, but occasionally something blazes out of the headphones and becomes indispensable.

If you’re like that too, and contemporary classical is your bag, you might like the American Mavericks season at Q2 Music. It’s running for three weeks, featuring collections curated by contemporary music icons such as David Byrne and Aaron Copland. All free, by the way. If you’re listening for random discoveries to fire up a session of writing, you couldn’t be in better hands.

You can listen on Q2’s website or on this fab widget, wizarded up by my friend Porter Anderson. I’m attempting to paste it here too but have no idea if it will work, so those of you receiving through RSS, where edits are not possible, might get a kooky bit of code at the end of this post. If it looks like nonsense, ignore it and I’ll be deleting it at MMOAFL HQ. But if you’re lucky, you might get American Mavericks one click closer. Happy writing
http://www.wqxr.org/embeddable_player/?stream=q2&showPlaylist=true

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Anne R Allen

”He hummed Cole Porter – so anachronistic in those days of psychedelic rock’n’roll’

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 comic mystery author Anne R Allen.

Soundtrack by Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter

I don’t write with background music, although I do occasionally use a CD of rain or ocean sounds to block neighbourhood noise.

When I was writing Sherwood Ltd. which is set in the soggy English Midlands—I often put on a CD of rainstorm sounds to conjure my memories of living in a 200-year-old warehouse in rainy Lincolnshire. An epic flood figures strongly in the plot. I don’t know if that CD is to blame, but I’m sure it gave some inspiration.

His own jazz age

But when I was brainstorming ideas for my Hollywood mystery, The Gatsby Game, I often listened to big band jazz, especially Cole Porter tunes. The anti-hero, Alistair, is a charming, self-destructive loser who tries to live as if he’s a character in a Fitzgerald novel. Although the story is set in the 1970s, Alistair inhabits his own private, imaginary Jazz Age.

The character was inspired by David Whiting, a man I knew in college—who died mysteriously on the set of a Burt Reynolds movie. The mystery of David’s death has never been solved, but I’ve always had a theory of how it might have happened.

I was finally inspired to write about it last year, when I was going through some old college papers and found an ancient note David had left in my dorm room one night, hidden under my pillow. It said, ‘While you were out, you had a visitor…wearing spats, and a straw boater, perhaps, and humming a Cole Porter tune…maybe the ghost of Jay Gatsby?’

It brought a vivid memory of David. He was always humming those tunes—so completely anachronistic in the days of psychedelic rock and roll. David’s image came to me in perfect clarity—with all his theatrical charm, narcissism, and the tragic pain that always showed just under the surface.

That was when I knew I had to write his story—and listening to Cole Porter helped me keep in touch with the memories.

De- lovely

I think the greatest recording of the Cole Porter songbook is Ella Fitzgerald’s iconic Verve recording from 1956. I played it a lot while I was writing The Gatsby Game.

The music itself appears in several scenes. When the narrator, Nicky Conway (yeah, a little homage to Fitzgerald’s Nick Carroway there) first meets Alistair, she finds him charming but evasive. He’s constantly bursting into song to avoid conversation. As he drives her away from her Bryn Mawr dorm to who-knows-where, he responds to each of her questions by singing another line from You’re the Top—appearing to compliment her while he’s bullying her into silence.

Later, when she introduces him to her über-wealthy relatives, she finds Alistair romancing her (very married) aunt to the tune of Begin the Beguine. Throughout the story, Nicky is never quite sure how much Beguining Alistair got up to with her aunt—and/or if some Beguining went on with her uncle as well.

Alistair often retreats into silliness, making clever puns and wordplay to avoid real communication. I imagine him as one of the ‘silly gigolos’ Cole Porter talks about in Anything Goes. I could also imagine Alistair responding to Nicky’s pleas for more intimacy with the line from It’s Too Darn Hot:  ‘Mr. Pants, for romance, with his cutie pie, is not.’

As I played that 1950s recording, I realized it might have been a favorite of Alistair’s mother, whom I imagined as a kind of high-class hooker. Alistair’s primary relationship is always his love/hate enmeshment with his mother—whom he calls ‘the Gorgon’.

It’s delectable, it’s delerious, it’s de-limit

She made him into her surrogate partner whenever she was between ’employers’, which is why he dresses and behaves like a member of her generation instead of his own. The rest of the time, she abandoned him in expensive boarding schools where he rubbed elbows with the children of the glittering ultra-rich Fitzgerald and Cole Porter wrote about—perhaps triggering Alistair’s compulsive social climbing.

In the end, the Gorgon doesn’t even pay for Alistair’s funeral, so he becomes a tragic figure in spite of the shallow Cole Porter-character persona he invented for himself. The honest, direct perfection of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice combined with the brilliant silliness of Porter’s lyrics conveys to me that same tragicomic reality.

Anne R. Allen is the author of five comic mysteries debuting in 2011 with two publishers: Popcorn Press and Mark Williams international Digital Publishing.Food of Love (September 2011) The Gatsby Game (October 2011 – and now available on Nook as well as Kindle) Ghostwriters in the Sky (October 2011) Sherwood Ltd (December 2011) and The Best Revenge (December 2011) She is also working on a self-help guide for writers with Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde. Anne has a blog for writers at http://annerallen.blogspot.com, where she blogs with NYT bestselling author, Ruth Harris. She can be found on Twitter as @annerallen


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‘A romance and thriller in one – a first-class page-turner’ – review at What Am I Reading?

Kathleen Jones reviewed My Memories of a Future Life on her reading blog this week. One of the comparisons she made was with Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, which explores the murky world of charlatan psychic healers who prey on the weak and vulnerable.

When I was kicking around ideas for MMOAFL, I did a lot of research into that world. A stand-out was going to a show where a spiritualist claimed to be contacting the dead relatives of people in the audience – but was obviously grasping ideas out of thin air and finding vulnerable people who would play along. Beyond Black was on my reading list, but somehow I never got round to it – perhaps I’d seen so much charlatanry in reality that I didn’t need to read fiction about it too. So Beyond Black descended further and further down my Amazon wish list, until here it is mentioned in Kathleen’s review … It has to be a sign…

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Kim Wright

‘Things are not what they seem – and I seek songs where melody and lyrics don’t quite match’

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  Kim Wright, author of Love In Mid Air

Soundtrack by Nick Lowe, 3 Doors Down, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Costello, Chris Isaak, Van Morrison, Diana Krall

For some reason, I’ve always had a penchant for songs that sound upbeat on the surface but that have, when you stop to listen, dark or menacing lyrics. When I was writing Love in Mid Air, I listened to Nick Lowe’s Cruel to Be Kind and I also liked Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down. It makes sense, because the novel is about a woman who seems to have the perfect life, but who has this sarcastic, discontent, wounded inner voice.

Manic energy and heartbreak

I read somewhere that there’s only one theme in literature, which is ‘Things are not what they seem’.  Maybe it’s not the only theme in literature, but it’s a good one, which might be why I like songs where the melody and the lyrics don’t quite match. Lately I’ve fallen in love with Valerie by Amy Winehouse, especially the live version. It’s the epitome of using manic energy to cover up heartbreak and it punches me smack in the gut every time I hear it.

In my head, my heroine Elyse had a theme song, which was The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes by Elvis Costello. It seemed to speak to Elyse’s obsession with turning 40 and her sense that time was running out – and the fact she’s so determined to seize life that she’s almost prepared to make a pact with the devil.  The reference never made it into the book, but I’m working on the sequel now, which is told from the point of view of Elyse’s best friend Kelly, and there’s a scene where Kelly comes downstairs one morning and finds Elyse in the kitchen frying eggs and singing the Costello song.

For the wicked scenes

Sex scenes require something really different. Usually I write them in public spaces, like a Starbucks or sushi bar, and I have absolutely no theory on that one.  Having a crowd around me seems to break down my inhibitions, although I worry sometimes that I’ll leave my laptop to go to the bathroom and come back to find I’ve been arrested on some sort of morals charge.  When I’m home I play either Wicked Game by Chris Isaak –  who I met one time and, incidentally, he’s  just as hot as his song  –  or, if the scene calls for something more domestic or tender, Warm Love by Van Morrison.  Van Morrison might be a patron saint for writers in general. His lyrics are terrific.

When I was doing a lot of magazine writing, we always worked way ahead of schedule – I was writing articles about the dangers of sunburns in December and tips for New Year’s entertaining in July. Music was a way for me to trick myself into the seasonal switch. In Love in Mid Air, Elyse throws a big Christmas party and I was working on that scene down at my mom’s beach house in the dead of summer. I specifically remember listening to Diana Krall singing Sleigh Ride one afternoon while I was walking my dog on the beach and it was like 100 degrees.

Headspace and rituals

It’s funny how often writers use these weird little tricks to get themselves into a certain headspace- to reset their thoughts to another place or time or mood.  Developing rituals around your writing seems to be a key part of the job and I’ve often thought that the writers who claim they never get blocked are those who have created very specific signals to their subconscious that say ‘Sit down and shut up, because it’s now time to write’.  Music can be a big part of this; it’s like a shortcut between certain parts of the brain.

Kim Wright is the author of the novel Love in Mid Air (Grand Cental) and the writing guide Your Path to Publication (Press 53) .  She lives in Charlotte, NC and her hobbies include travel and ballroom dancing. Find her on Twitter at @Kim_Wright_W


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Thinking like a musician and creating Carol’s future life – interview and review

You might have seen this already if you follow the purple blog, but this week I was interviewed by Amy Riddle of Underground Book Reviews. She dug into the writing process behind My Memories of a Future Life, asking how I developed the underwater world of the Soothesayers, and what experience I drew on to create Carol herself. More here, at Underground Book Reviews…

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