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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, writing mentor and novelist KM Weiland returns with the soundtrack for her new novel Dreamlander @kmweiland
Soundtrack by Nightwish
I see my stories like movies in my head. When I was a kid, before I even knew I wanted to do this crazy thing called writing, I would call the stories I told myself “my movies.” Great acting, gorgeous cinematography, haunting soundtrack, they’re all there. When I started writing Dreamlander, my first foray into the fantasy genre, I knew exactly what the story soundtrack should sound like.
Dreamlander spans two worlds—modern-day Chicago, where my protagonist Chris Redston starts out as a restless, unfulfilled journalist, and the fantasy world Lael, which is a gorgeous but raw 17th-century-esque world of fading feudalism and dawning technology. Dreamlander is really a story about these two worlds colliding, and I could hear that collision in the music in my head: aggressive heavy metal guitar riffs and driving percussions contrasted with the melancholy lyricism of early Celtic folk songs.
I could hear it, but I’d never heard it. My best description for what I was listening to in my head was Celtic Rock, but the likes of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Then, one day, there it was . . . I sat up in my desk chair, electrified. From another room came the strains of what I’d been hearing in my head all those months while working on Dreamlander.
I rushed right over and demanded to know what I was I hearing. And that’s where it all started. Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score began my love affair with symphonic metal and brought the story in my head swirling to life on the lush bellicosity of soaring string sections, operatic vocals, hard-hitting rhythms, and, under it all that, slightly jarring, always compelling hint of folk music.
In a sense, all of Nightwish’s music left its mark on Dreamlander, but several songs in particular seem to have been written just for me. The lyrics from Ever Dream, on the Century Child album, express my female lead’s perspective with eerie precision. In the dream world, she is the Searcher, charged with finding and discovering the Gifted, who cross over the worlds, even though she’s terrified he will repeat the mistakes of the first Gifted, whom she aided when still just a child:
Her lungs quivered. She couldn’t mistake this strange rhythmic quiver deep within her brain, this almost magnetic pull, driving her to get up, to move, to search. She had been nine years old when last she felt it. The Garowai had told her then it meant a Gifted had arrived in Lael.
Eyes closed, she crimped her fist in the letter to her father. What she needed to do was relax and let the taste of the Gifted wash over her brain. She needed to get a sense of this man who had been summoned here to do . . . something. To save Lael? Or to plunge it even deeper into darkness than had his predecessor?
Last of the Wilds, on the Dark Passion Play album, would ultimately become what I think of as the book’s theme song. An instrumental, it expresses perfectly all the elements I originally heard in my head when imagining the book’s soundtrack. When I listen to it, I can see the story playing out: the desperate sword fights, the horses galloping through the snow, the love that grows between the two main characters, and the loss that tears them all in some way. I can only describe it as magic, and its perfection is almost unnerving.
When I hear these songs, I see the flawless story I wanted to write. No matter what I’m writing, my words never live up to the music that inspires and influences them, but when I listen to the music, it makes me better than I am. It makes me remember the color and the power I’m trying to share with my readers. It makes me ache inside with the beauty of it all and thank God that I get to try to capture a little piece of it.
KM Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. Find her on Twitter @kmweiland
The Undercover Soundtrack will take a short break for Christmas and will return in January.
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One of my earliest Undercover Soundtrack guests returns this week with a brand-new novel – and another beguiling musical journey. The story features a character whose life spans two timelines, which she envisaged in her head as having a soundtrack of two personalities. Aggressive guitar, driving percussion – softened by the melancholy lyricism of early Celtic folk songs. But she’d never heard such a thing in real life – until a chance listen one day expressed exactly what she’d been looking for. She is KM Weiland and she’ll be here on Wednesday talking about the Undercover Soundtrack for her newest release, Dreamlander.
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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 historical and speculative fiction author KM Weiland.
I’m a total non-musician. People ask me if I play, and my glib reply is always, ‘Sure, I play the radio’. My musical accomplishments span the gamut from plucking out My Dog Has Fleas on the guitar, a wheezy rendition of When the Saints Come Marching in on the harmonica (so long as I have the Harmonica Playing for the Spectacularly Untalented propped open in front of me), and pretty much any song you’d like to hear on the kazoo. (What’s that? You can’t think of a song you’d like to hear on the kazoo? Me neither.)
But for all of my very unmusicalness, I am a music drunkard. I am intoxicated by the magic of sound. Even more, I am endlessly fascinated by the power music possesses to tell perfect stories. Even the best of authors require hundreds of words to convey character, emotion, and theme. Musicians share their stories effortlessly and organically in just a few notes. As a writer, I’m determined to steal a little of that magic by imbibing copious amounts of music when writing.
For every story I write, there’s always a soundtrack of particular songs that influenced its evolution. For my medieval novel Behold the Dawn, those songs included everything from Loreena McKennitt’s simultaneously aggressive and dreamy Prologue / The Mummer’s Dance to Within Temptation’s tragic The Truth Beneath the Rose and Ronan Hardiman’s simple love song Take Me With You.
But probably the single greatest musical influence on this story was Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator soundtrack.
At the time of Behold the Dawn’s conception, I hadn’t seen the movie yet, so I knew next to nothing about the plot and was free to speculate according to the music. The story that arose whenever I listened was one of revenge and redemption, tragedy and love. The music—that brutal, sawing, bloody, thundering waltz of The Battle and Barbarian Horde and the earthy primal call of tracks such as The Wheat and Elysium —told the story growing in my head better than I could ever tell it on paper. The callused, hurting warrior knight Marcus Annan and the battered but unbroken noblewoman Lady Mairead lived within the music Zimmer wrote for a very different story. Themes danced in colors of olive green, yellowed sand, and blue as brilliant as the Middle Eastern sky. In one note, I could hear the whole story, see it spinning out in front of me to infinitude, then disappearing in the next instant as the music thundered on.
I took those feelings—and that music—to the keyboard with me, and I wrote it into my story. In so many ways the writing of that book was a special experience (one that often makes me wonder if it was unrepeatable), and I credit it to the music as much as anything else. I finally did get around to watching (and loving) Gladiator and was awed by the entirely different tale that had given birth to the music that had helped me give birth to my own story.
Every story I write is a journey through music. This melding of the arts gives me a power in my stories beyond my own ability with words. The deep emotion of the music breathes life into the characters and the themes to the point that I’m almost not creating at all, so much as transcribing the feelings in my chest. That’s the gift of music. That’s why I listen.
K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. You can find her on Twitter as @kmweiland
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My guest on The Undercover Soundtrack this week claims not to be musical in the slightest, but ‘endlessly fascinated by the power music has to tell perfect stories’. She is KM Weiland and she’ll be here on Wednesday, talking about the aggressive, dreamy soundtrack that beat, thudded and swelled behind her medieval novel Behold the Dawn. Join me here then
Meanwhile, I’m planning a newsletter – if you’d like to sign up, add your name to the mailing list here.
- 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'