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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by debut novelist Lydia Netzer @lostcheerio, author of Shine, Shine Shine
Shine, Shine, Shine
My novel’s title was inspired by a song by Carbon Leaf, and the title of the song is Shine. Listening to this song caused my fist to involuntarily pump at times during the chorus: ‘It’s time to shine shine shine!’ and my teeth would grind together with determination. It became, in my mind, an anthem for the book’s housewives, who were furiously sublimating their authentic selves into perfect, acceptable automatons. It also became an anthem for me to write and finish the book, as in, ‘Get your head out of the diaper pail, girl. Bang the drum. Fee fi fo fum. Enough silence and subordination and blending in with the wallpaper.’
My characters fell in love as children, really, though at the time it was more a bonding of two weirdos to face the world together. So their love song is very sweet and sort of ridiculous: Pure by The Lightning Seeds. You may remember this song from 1990 — it was sort of a last brave gasp of the 80s before grunge came to eat our faces off. This song helped me think about my characters Maxon and Sunny in their origins, as little kids playing in the woods, looking at the stars, and grounded me in that original innocence and acceptance, when Sunny’s attitude toward Maxon was pure love and gratitude, and she hadn’t thought to measure him yet against the world.
Like I said, my characters met as children and ended up married with children of their own. So they had to go through a transition between the pure, innocent love of childhood and a more complicated, ragged, sexual love as adults. The song Come Here Boy by Imogen Heap was what I turned to as I was writing about their awakening, and how Sunny transformed from a dreamy, disconnected child into sort of a sexual aggressor. In fact, at one point in the story, she actually says the words, ‘Come here, boy’. And that’s because I had this song on repeat while writing that scene.
There are several tragedies in the novel. Several deaths. The song Parasol by Tori Amos captured for me the paralysis of loss, the horror of getting that awful call, but also the way you can react with strength and move on. There’s almost a steeliness about the character in the song, and I needed my characters to behave with the same resolve, not get knuckled under by grief, protect themselves and keep living. This song probably has more plays on my iTunes than any other song – I kept it on repeat a lot while I was writing the later chapters of the book.
Maxon is on his way to the moon to colonise it with robots. In his world, robots can be as much like humans as he wants them to be — it’s just a matter of more circuits, more if/then statements, more programming. But Maxon sees love as an irrational preference, and while they can laugh, cry, and dream like humans, he hasn’t programmed his robots to love. While he recognises that he himself does it, he starts the book not really knowing why. By the end, he understands his humanity, and his robots, on a deeper level.
When I first heard Selfmachine from I Blame Coco I was in the passenger seat of a car, and we were driving in Rome. This song came on the radio and I was electrified. When it finished, I turned to Dan and said, ‘I need that song in my ears at all times immediately’. Of course although Coco is British and the song was in English, the DJ was speaking Italian and we couldn’t figure out the name of the band. When we got back to our place that night, Dan searched around via snatches of lyrics and found the song for me. A few days later he had bought me the CD, and that’s when my addiction to Selfmachine really took off, as my children can attest. Their attesting might sound like, ‘OH NO, NOT LONELY ROBOT! Anything but that!’ While I had already sold the book at this point, I still had developmental editing ahead of me, and line editing, and many changes and tweaks to make. Selfmachine became a celebratory song, but for me it also meant surrendering the story and characters to the world.
I wrote my own songs to go with this novel, and the two that are included on the audiobook are also about robots: Bad Machine and Robots. Here’s a music video for Robots which also works as book promotion for the novel.
Writing songs from my characters’ perspective, about my novel’s themes, was a lot of fun. As a happily married woman in comfortable circumstances, it’s hard for me to write rock and roll songs about angst, despair, mean men, and the fight against authority. So borrowing my characters’ angst and despair was really useful! And it also helped me open windows into their worlds that I might not have been able to really see through words alone. Here’s Bad Machine, which is about the feeling of loving someone who is robotic and unemotional, the way Maxon is in the book.
Lydia Netzer’s first novel is Shine Shine Shine, published by St Martin’s Press. It is a People’s Pick in People Magazine, a Spotlight Book of the Month on Amazon, and is a love story with a side of robots and maths. Lydia lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, and plays the electric guitar in a band called The Virginia Janes. You can find her on Twitter (@lostcheerio), Facebook, and on her web site.
GIVEAWAY! Lydia is offering a copy of the Shine Shine Shine audiobook to one random commenter. The audiobook is read by the NYT bestselling author and award-winning audiobook narrator Joshilyn Jackson, and includes Robots and Bad Machine by The Virginia Janes. Leave your calling card in the comments for a chance to win.
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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'