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Once a week 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 editor and author Aaron Sikes @SikesAaron
I go for instrumental over vocal music when I write. Spoken or sung lyrics are a distraction. My mind wants to catch the words and hold them long enough to get immersed in the experience of the song. But with orchestral or ambient electronic music, my imagination is free to roam through my story worlds.
My serialized novel, Gods of Chicago, was drafted to the title track of Joe Satriani’s Time Machine. Satch paints pictures with melody, and every one of his songs can bring an image to mind. Listening to Time Machine as I wrote brought to mind scenes of dirigibles soaring overhead while automatons march on the streets below. Radio signals beep and crackle through the air from spires and beacons. Bootleggers’ sedans rumble down back alleys, and my protagonist, a hard-boiled newshawk named Mitchell Brand, races around the city to find the answers nobody else seems to care about. Following on the tail of Time Machine, I happened upon a mind-blowing noir soundtrack by Josh Pfieffer of Vernian Process (DJ Fact.50). The Mixcloud of his DJ set, Noir Jazz and Swing, saw me through first round revisions.
As I moved into deeper revisions, I got turned onto three soundtracks. I started with Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight. The moody atmospheric quality of the music was a perfect fit for the noir landscape of my story, and the score really helped me get under Brand’s skin a lot better.
In early drafts of the character, I had him as a mashup of Edward R Murrow and Philip Marlowe as played by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. This gave Brand a rough exterior and a hard nose for news, but he lacked depth of feeling, and I couldn’t get into his motivation well enough to fix that problem. Once I had The Dark Knight soundtrack playing in the background, I quickly found Brand’s core as a WWI veteran, and much more than the ronin I’d originally thought him to be. He’s still a man obsessed with truth, but he’s also a would-be father to the three newsboys who answer to him. That puts a softer edge to the character, making him feel more like a real person.
I’ve also written to Zimmer’s score for Inception and Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron Legacy, which have been incredible for helping me visualize major action scenes, flight and escape scenes, and moments of peril faced by all the major characters in the story. The ambient symphonic quality of both soundtracks is also responsible for me discovering how much more my supporting cast has to say. Previous drafts were Brand-centric, but now I have two major POV characters in addition to Brand, and each supporting cast member gets a little air time of their own.
Last but not least, when it comes to editing, I change gears and go with Adrian Legg – Guitars and Other Cathedrals. The exacting and fluid brilliance of Legg’s fingerstyle playing calms down all thoughts of action and suspense and puts me right into editor mode, smoothing out clunky prose, fixing typos, and ensuring clarity.
Aaron Sikes has been writing and editing full-time since late 2011. Gods of Chicago is his first full-length novel and he has previously had three stories published in anthologies by independent presses. Find him on Twitter @SikesAaron or visit his website http://www.ajsikes.com. He is also one half of the editing/formatting duo, The Wordwrights, with fellow author Colin F Barnes.
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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 books podcaster and Nikolas & Company author Kevin McGill @kevinonpaper
It’s midwinter in Texas, which means mild winter. A buddy and I have done what my 13-year-old self did with a few crumpled up dollar bills in my pocket and a vacation day: see a movie.
Carlyle and I sit in the movie theater, chatting on about our expectations of Tron 2.0. Disney had taken a gamble on reviving the Tron franchise, hoping that my 34-year old nostalgia would translate into box office sales. As the movie plays on, Disney’s gamble pays off in an unexpected way. The soundtrack, which had been composed by Daft Punk – a band reminiscent of New Wave, flipped a switch. Suddenly, old childhood movies flicker across my mind’s eye. Blade Runner, Mad Max, Ghostbusters, E.T., Indiana Jones, Buckaroo Banzai, Stand By Me. Then came the bands. Talking Heads, The Ramones, REM, Madonna, Michael Jackson. Finally, it just starts pouring out: Punky Brewster, Family Ties, Pong, Alf, jelly shoes. Nite Brite! Hi tops! Sweat bands! By the power of grayskull, I have the power!!!
Yes, friends. I was a child-of-the-80s sleeper agent, and had been activated by the Tron 2.0 soundtrack.
As a writer, I use music constantly to activate emotions, mood, character qualities – it is a crutch I happily lean against. I used no less than 15 different albums and soundtracks to guide me through Nikolas & Company.
Earth: Paradise Lost
The first 100 pages of my story jumps between a fantastic version of Moon set in the past, and a dystopian version of future Earth. It is in this imagined Earth that we meet our hero, Nikolas, and his company. Since my main cast is made up of teens and preteens, I had a bit of a challenge. I had to find music that hinted at a space age, while also tapping into my 13-year-old self. And no, I don’t mean what 13-year-old boys have in their Ipods today. I needed to drum up those teenage feelings about life, adventure, and parents who just didn’t understand me. Oddly enough, the best music turned out to be retro New Wave and other slightly quirky bands. A few favorite songs from the list were Arcade Fire’s Wake Up, Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek (that’s for the girl scenes), and of course, Daft Punk’s Derezzed from Tron (which I’m listening to, right now). Also, the soundtrack for Firefly (Greg Edmonson) and the new Star Trek (Michael Giacchino) movie popped in and out.
Eventually, the story comes together in the magical world of Mon. For this fantastic version of Moon, Yann Teirsen and Bruno Coulais aided me in scenes about remedial classes filled with mythological students, half-marionette, half-arachnid guardians, and volcano-born nymphs. Loreena McKennitt and Zoe Keating provided the mystical, sombre moments. They got a lot of play during the winter months in Huron, or as Monites called it, Blue Moon days. Of course, let’s not forget the movie soundtracks. Any scenes where Nikolas is sleuthing or traipsing through the underground world of Huron required the new Sherlock Holmes’ Discombobulate (Hans Zimmer) and the Triplets of Belleville soundtrack (Benoit Charest).
What about you? What music awakens the sleeper agent in you? Where does it take you?
Kevin McGill is the mad writer of the Nikolas & Company series where the Moon is much more than we think, mermen walk on automaton legs and 14-year-old boys talk to cities in their heads. When not spinning Lunar yarns, Kevin hosts a weekly books podcast Guys Can Read along with his college buddy and co-host, Luke Navarro. Find Kevin’s blog here and contact him on Twitter @kevinonpaper
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- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 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
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2021. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
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 inspirational 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'