‘This album makes me feel that anything is possible’
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 debut science fiction novelist Chele Cooke @CheleCooke
Soundtrack by Matchbox Twenty, Nickelback, John Mayer
There is a theory that you will never connect more to music than you did as a middle teenager, around age 14 to 16. The theory is that the music we listened to at that age will be the music we always come back to. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but it is true for me, and it’s definitely true for writing my first novel, Dead and Buryd.
I’m very particular when it comes to having music on while writing. It has to music I know by heart, otherwise it distracts me. Even when I’m writing in a new place, having something so familiar around me is comforting.
I was about 14 when I began writing in earnest, and at that time, I had just begun listening to Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty. To this day, it is my favourite album. Matchbox Twenty speaks to me in a way no other artist has managed, both with their interesting melodies and their emotion-catching lyrics. I carried that CD with me everywhere, listened to it every day for a month. Still, a month does not go by where I don’t listen to it at least once, and mostly, while I’m writing.
This album lifts me, and as cliché as it sounds, makes me believe that anything is possible. The Technicolour dreams of Black and White People, speaks to exactly that. From the first twang of a chord, I feel happier, and I feel more productive. It’s a song about music lifting you and clearing your head, about how life gets you down but your dreams are far more beautiful than the drab life sometimes handed to us. It is exactly how I feel about my writing. Writing Dead and Buryd is like stepping into that technicolour dream, and each time I listen, this song reminds me of that.
There is a certain element of grunge in Out of Orbit, of which Dead and Buryd is the first instalment. The story revolves around a revolution on a planet with a very hostile environment. There are parts that are gritty and dirty, and nothing is as simple as you’d like it to be. Nothing gets me in mood to write those grungy scenes like Nickelback, another band I listened to as a teenager. These days, it’s their later albums, Dark Horse and Here and Now. The first song of Here and Now, This Means War, is perfect for my characters and plot. The characters are fighting impossible odds and are technologically inferior to their enemy. This Means War really calls out that fire in the characters, knowing that they’ll probably lose, but going at it with all they have anyway.
As a writer, descriptions are very important to me. Getting the right level description in a story brings it alive, and sometimes a few choice words can be better than entire paragraphs. John Mayer is a talented artist who has an incredible affinity for words. He paints entire scenes in a few short lines. This song, 3×5, is from the album Room for Squares. The song is about not wanting to take photographs because he wants to experience the world fully instead of behind a lens. Instead, in writing a letter, he describes the things he is seeing.
In this song Mayer really speaks to my mantra on writing. I have to describe the stories I’ve thought of because I can’t take photographs of them and hand them out. No piece of art will ever truly capture the images in my head, and so I have to describe them instead.
I often listen to John Mayer while editing. I remember that my audience needs to be able to see what I’m thinking. Mayer’s music reminds me just how much you can do. If he can do it in a three-minute song, I can certainly manage it in a novel.
Chele Cooke is the author of Dead and Buryd of the Out of Orbit sci-fi series, which she describes as grungy, character focused, and accessible to readers who don’t usually pick up the genre. Living in London, Chele often dreams that she’s back in San Francisco, where she spent many of her teenage years. Aside from writing, Chele loves immersing herself in television shows, movies, music, cross-stitching, knitting, travelling, and cheese jokes. You can find more about Chele at her website, http://chelecooke.com, on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.