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The Undercover Soundtrack – Christina Banach

for logo‘Is there life after death?’

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 YA paranormal novelist Christina Banach @ChristinaBanach

Soundtrack by Iggy Pop, Evanescence, Cyndi Lauper, Robbie Williams, Samuel Barber

I find background noise somewhat distracting when I’m working, so my normal practice is to squirrel myself away in my study and write in silence. However this doesn’t mean that music plays no part in my creative process – far from it. Even in the initial stages of brainstorming ideas and exploring characters I find lyrics and melodies filtering through my consciousness and seeping into the story I’m trying to tell. It’s at that point that I compile the playlist that I will listen to, time and again, when I’m not actually writing, that is. Then, as I work through the revisions, shaping my manuscript, this music spools in my mind, helping to deepen character and clarify – and intensify – plot points. This was especially true when I was writing Minty.

005Loss of a twin

Although the book is shot through with humour, Minty is undoubtedly an emotive read, a true emotional roller coaster according to its reviewers. It centres around one of life’s big questions – is there life after death? – and deals with love, loss, friendship and redemption. Above all it is a book about hope. With such weighty themes it is no surprise that much of the music that informed the story is haunting, thought-provoking and stirring.
At the beginning of the book the protagonist, Minty, and her sister, Jess, are ordinary girls who are in love with life. As I grew familiar with their characters one song began to fill my head – Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life.

However, these typical teenagers are also identical twins, girls who are bound by a steadfast bond, one that is jeopardised when Minty drowns during a family trip to the coast. Yet the sisters’ connection isn’t broken, for Minty finds herself trapped between life and death, forced to watch Jess’s spiralling grief.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident Jess is desperate to catch Minty’s last breath (the twins are fascinated with the customs of ancient Rome). My readers tell me this is an intensely emotional scene. It was certainly emotional to write and this is partly due to the song that ran through my mind as I crafted it – Evanescence’s My Last Breath. It speaks to me of Jess’s despair, and Minty’s full appreciation of the situation she is now in.

Jess’s lament

Indeed, Evanescence features highly in the Minty playlist, for it is their songs that influenced the development of Jess and Minty’s character arcs. For instance, My Immortal could have been written specially for this book. It is this song that helped me drill down into Jess’s core and uncover not only the pain she feels now that she has to live without her sister, but also the agony of Minty’s presence still lingering in her mind. It’s Jess’s lament, if you like.
Then there is Bring Me To Life. I tend to think of this as the Minty anthem because, even although it is Minty who is deceased, the twins are both dead to some extent. In their separate, and very different, ways they need to be saved from themselves. Bring Me To Life helped me clarify this.

Why can’t I grasp it? Cos I’m nothing – a shade, a ghost, whatever I want to call it. I am a big fat zero. I should be used to that by now – being in this world but not of it. The thought sickens me. This existence sickens me.

Which brings me to my final Evanescence song, the beautifully haunting, Missing. It is this song that helped me tap into Minty’s pain and confusion at a particular juncture in the story, a plot point that is all the more poignant because it comes hard on the heels of an uplifting episode, featuring Jess and her friends. Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun was the musical inspiration for writing that light-hearted scene.

And yet writing Minty wasn’t purely a full-on Evanescence fest, the music of other artists also wormed their way into my subconscious and aided the creative flow, and I don’t only mean Cyndi Lauper although another of her songs, True Colours, assisted me greatly in pinning down Jess and Minty’s characters.

MINTY - KDPThe funeral

Cue Robbie Williams and Angels. This well-known song  is actually mentioned several times throughout the novel. In fact, it has a significant role in three of the pivotal moments in the narrative. One of these is Minty’s funeral, a chapter that stood unchanged through drafts one to eight of the revision process. I reckon that this song helped me nail it first time. Another of Robbie’s songs, Nan’s Song, was the soundtrack to one of my favourite scenes in the book, a scene based on something rather mysterious and perplexing that had happened to me many years ago. Listening to the music playing out in my head allowed me to capture that moment and transplant it into Minty’s story.

The ultimate fragment in the soundtrack puzzle is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Several people have told me that Minty is an extremely filmic book, which is interesting because as I wrote it I saw it played out before me as if I were watching a movie on the big screen. This was never truer than when writing the closing scene of the final chapter. For me, it’s a moment of such poignancy, such beauty and high emotion – of hope. Perhaps Barber’s Adagio unleashed something in my psyche that enabled me to create the scene that needed to be written. I don’t know for sure, all I can tell you is that I cried each time I worked on it.
Christina Banach is an ex-head teacher who lives in Scotland, UK, with her husband and their two rescue dogs. Her debut novel, Minty, was the first acquisition of new publishing house Three Hares. She is currently working on her next book, a contemporary ghost story come psychological thriller set in and around the legendary village of Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. Find her on Twitter @ChristinaBanach, or on her website, or Pinterest. Cover of Minty by Serafim.com

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Rysa Walker

for logo‘Music is my cave, my TARDIS’

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 the winner of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA), Rysa Walker @RysaWalker

Soundtrack by The Section Quartet, The Jody Grind, John Philip Sousa, Scott Joplin, The Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, The Shins, A Fine Frenzy

I write in a house with two frequently noisy kids and a dog that seems to have missed the memo about golden retrievers being a quiet breed. Music is my writing cave in the midst of that chaos.  I have several carefully trained Pandora channels that keep me supplied with background music, either instrumentals or songs with lyrics I know so well that they cannot possibly distract me.  Instrumental covers of indie rock songs, by groups like The Section Quartet, along with albums I know by heart, like One Man’s Trash by now-defunct 1990s band The Jody Grind — these are the tunes that keep me company on days when I’m editing or revising.  While I don’t exactly hate those tasks, they are often tedious and if presented with any plausible excuse, my mind will stray.  If I listen to anything with lyrics I don’t know, a phrase will catch my ear, then I have to google it, and then I click on something else that’s bright and shiny.  Several hours later, I’m shaking my head trying to figure out where the time went.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn days when I need to actually create something new, however, music isn’t just a cave that shuts out the world.  On those days, music is my TARDIS.  The right song can evoke memories of events and emotions from my own past, and even take me to times and places I could never actually visit and that’s a vital tool when you write about time traveling historians. Sometimes I use period music to help set the mood while I’m writing, but songs from the era also shine light on the customs, social issues, and pop culture of an era, so it’s always part of my research.

The last third of Timebound, the first book in my Chronos Files series, is set at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair.  The Expo was home to the first Ferris wheel, which stood 264 feet high and could carry 60 people in each of the 36 passenger cars.  One of those cars was set aside to carry a full band that played songs like Sousa’s Gladiator March as the wheel rotated.  A bit farther down the Midway, a Broadway producer named Sol Bloom picked out this iconic tune while an exotic dancer billed as Little Egypt prepared to go on stage.  Visitors to the Exposition and the cafes surrounding the fair were also witness to the early work of ragtime great Scott Joplin, whose Maple Leaf Rag would take the world by storm a few years later.  A few recordings from the early 1890s are available online, like this very early rendition of Daisy, Daisy, but they’re all rather hard on the ears, so I relied heavily on covers by later artists.  I won’t claim that any of those songs from the 1890s is in heavy rotation on my iPod, but they definitely helped me get a feel for the era.

TimeboundCoverMusic is also vital for helping me manage another type of time travel.  Timebound is written from the perspective of Kate, who is 17.  When I was 17, many moons ago, I existed on a steady diet of pop music and could name every song in the Top 40 most weeks.  Thankfully, Kate is not autobiographical.  She’s more inclined toward indie artists. This is a very good thing, because otherwise I don’t think we could hang out together.   If I’m writing about Kate’s everyday life — school, friends, family — tunes by The Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, and The Shins help me climb inside her head.

There’s one last song I have to mention because I play it every few days—Borrowed Time by A Fine Frenzy.  I stumbled upon her album One Cell in the Sea when I was writing the second draft of Timebound, back when it was still called Time’s Twisted Arrow.   I love the entire album, but I’m deeply in debt to her for this particular song.  The voice, the lyrics and the music all combine magically to pull me into Kate’s reality every time I play Borrowed Time.

Rysa Walker is the author of Timebound, the first book in The Chronos Files series.  She grew up on a cattle ranch in the Deep South where the options for entertainment were talking to cows and reading books. On the rare occasion that she gained control of the television, she watched Star Trek and imagined living in the future, on distant planets, or at least in a town big enough to have a stop light. When not writing, she teaches history and government in North Carolina, where she shares an office with her husband, who heroically pays the mortgage each month, and a golden retriever named Lucy. She still doesn’t get control of the TV very often, thanks to two sports-obsessed kids. Find her website here, find the Chronos Files blog here, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@RysaWalker).

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Will Overby

for logo‘The thoughts start flowing again’

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’s post is by horror and thriller writer Will Overby @Will_Overby

Soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen, U2, Benny Goodman, Julie London, Kryzysztof Penderecki, Gyorgy Ligeti, Brett Rosenberg

I have never understood how anyone can write in total silence.  Call me crazy, but there’s something about writing to music that frees up the flow of thought, that takes my mind to places I wouldn’t ordinarily visit, that presents me with sudden, surprising inspiration.

WDO-The Killing VisionI first noticed this back in 1984.  I had just graduated high school and I was working on what would turn out to be my first completed novel, August.  That summer I purchased Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and listened to it most days when I was writing.  As the weeks went by, I quickly realized that it was becoming a soundtrack of sorts to the book.  Songs like Downbound Train and I’m On Fire helped me add a particularly gritty feel to the character of Brian DeCanto and gave him a depth I couldn’t have achieved otherwise.

This was a revelation.  Subsequent stories and novels continued to have soundtracks, including a never-to-be-published young adult novel inspired completely by the music of U2.  Back in the day I would make mix tapes to play while writing.  I still have a couple of those tapes, and it’s really interesting to go back now and see what inspired me 15 and 20 years ago.  Nowadays I just cue up a playlist on my computer, and I can add and delete selections at my whim.

While writing this post I’m listening to the music I used for inspiration while working on my novel The Island.  In this story two friends, Sarah and Amy, travel to a Caribbean island for a getaway but end up being caught up in a vodou cult complete with zombie rituals and mysterious disappearances.  There is also a touch of romance, as Amy falls for a local tour-boat operator, David.

When first developing this book, I would often listen to the type of music I imagined the characters would enjoy.  Sarah and her fiancé, for instance, are into big band music, so much of her characterization involved immersing myself in songs like Goody Goody by Benny Goodman.  David, on the other hand, collects vinyl records and is especially fond of 50s jazz; John Coltrane seems to be his favorite for reflection, but as his and Amy’s love affair blossomed, I found myself drawn to sultry numbers by Julie London like I’m in the Mood for Love to accentuate their growing sexual attraction.

The Island (Small)When it came to the meat of the book, I relied on instrumental pieces – both modern classical and film soundtracks – for inspiration.  The zombie ritual near the end of the book, for example, is set to Kryzysztof Penderecki’s Polymorphia – a creepier piece of music I’ve never heard; you can almost feel skeletal fingers closing in around your throat as the pizzicato strings play a frenetic path up and down the scale.  Likewise, his The Dream of Jacob was sometimes set to repeat when I needed a feel of dread and unease.  For scenes early in the book when Sarah is having hallucinations and nightmares, Gyorgy Ligeti’s Lontano wonderfully portrays the outward appearance of calm while panic and horror gnaw inside.

No music was a greater inspiration, though, than Brett Rosenberg’s soundtrack to the 2006 film, Half Light.  While the more horrific music seemed to mirror some of the Penderecki pieces to great effect, the quieter more melodic passages were fantastic in helping me round out the character of Sarah.  The heart-rending solo violin selection Girl in the Storm, for example, perfectly captures Sarah’s sense of loss and loneliness.

For those of us writers who use it, music can be a great motivator.  I know if I’m having trouble getting in the mood of the story I can turn on the book’s playlist and the thoughts start flowing again.  If you happen to be one of those who can’t write with the distraction of music, I urge you to try listening to some pieces to set your mood before you write.  You may just be surprised at what springs into your mind.  And onto your page.

Will Overby has spent 30 years in the boardrooms and glass offices of retail banking. Between dodging mergers and drafting policies he publishes novels. He and his wife live far from the corporate world in rural western Kentucky.  They have two grown children, a dog, and a menagerie of cats.  A graduate of Indiana University, Will is an avid Hoosiers football fan. Connect with Will on his website, www.willoverby.com, on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter

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