Posts Tagged Mystery

The Undercover Soundtrack – Anne Allen

for logo‘Tragedy and loss are cornerstones of my story’

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 romance mystery novelist Anne Allen @AnneAllen21

Soundtrack by Philip Chapman, Denis Quinn, Medwyn Goodall, Terry Oldfield, Johann Pachelbel, Rod Stewart

Thanks, Roz, for allowing me to air my thoughts on the music that influences me while I write. Your series has shown how varied the music is that writers listen to in their search for creativity. My own selection is quite limited in comparison but it did inspire me while writing my first novel.

Iphoto for emailA meditative space

I do love music but there are also times when it seems to get in the way; I find myself so drawn into the music, particularly vocal, that I literally lose the plot! Music helps to create the mood, spark the creativity but then must either be less noticeable or pertinent to what I’m writing at that time. My normal listening taste is quite eclectic; Michael Jackson, Adele, Nina Simone, Pavarotti, 1812 Overture, Chris Rea… And I love the more meditative New Age music which always formed a backdrop to my sessions when I practised as a hypnotherapist.

While writing my first novel Dangerous Waters I started off by playing New World Collection Relaxation II, a compilation of different artists playing hauntingly beautiful music which fed my soul while I stepped into the unknown as a writer. The first track, Wisdom by Philip Chapman, is played on a piano but with strings in the background and always calms me. My central character, Jeanne Le Page, is a young woman returning to her island home of Guernsey for the first time in 15 years, after fleeing to England as a girl of 16. She had lost her family in a tragic accident and now returns after the death of her grandmother, while also mourning the end of a long-term relationship. Tragedy and loss are the cornerstones to the story but as time goes on, hope of a fresh start and new love appear and the mood changes. My favourite track on this album, Soldier of Love by Denis Quinn, is in harmony with this change and provided the ideal background for the latter part of the writing process.

Seeking catharsis

Jeanne experiences so many conflicting emotions through the story and music helped me to identify with them. I cried at times too, the words and music encouraging me to release my own grief as I wrote. I had lost two people I had loved and writing Dangerous Waters proved a catharsis. Another favourite of mine is the Pachelbel Canon which I found inspirational as I grappled with difficult chapters. Bearing in mind that this was the first time I’d written anything more substantial than a 500-word true-life story, I was in a constant state of insecurity; totally untutored. Entering the heads of other characters was also challenging, but I could empathise with some more than others. Molly, a character in the book, was based on a family friend. She was also a hypnotherapist who played a part in helping Jeanne to recover the memory lost after the accident and I played tracks such as Dream by Medwyn Goodall and Wings of the Morning by Terry Oldfield during the hypnosis sessions in the story to evoke the right ambience. At least there I was on known territory!

dangerouswaters_anneallenAs Jeanne began to blossom and a new man- actually men! – appeared on the scene, I felt the need for different inspiration and listened to a Rod Stewart album. I know, I know! A bit off piste, perhaps, but it was fun and sexy and that’s what I, or rather Jeanne, needed. The album was If We Fall In Love Tonight. The title says it all, but there were particular tracks that, ahem, helped with certain scenes, such as Tonight’s the Night and Sometimes When We Touch. Rod’s gravelly voice provided, I have to say, both a distracting but complementary background to the writing.

We all respond to music in one way or another. Memories, both good and bad, are triggered by hearing even just a few bars of a tune that resonated with us at one time. Perhaps we take it for granted that it’s there, in the background of our lives, not always listening. But I’m convinced we would miss it if it was no longer there in our world and we have the composers, lyricists and artists to thank for offering us such a rich choice for our inspiration and comfort. Like books, music enriches our lives and I wouldn’t be without it.

Anne Allen lives by the sea in Devon, UK, having finally settled down; perhaps. She spent many years working as a psychotherapist but knew the ‘creative’ in her had to escape one day. In the past two years she has published two novels, Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother; her third book, Guernsey Retreat, is due out later in 2014. Her genre is romance/mystery and romance/family drama and Dangerous Waters won Silver in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2012. Her website is www.anneallen.co.uk and she can be found on Twitter as @AnneAllen21.

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‘Tragedy and loss are cornerstones of my story’ – Anne Allen

for logoOne of the special pleasures of hosting The Undercover Soundtrack is the honesty of the writing. My guests are ready to delve into their innermost creative spaces and share the bare, exacting process of turning memories, experiences and feelings into stories. My guest this week is one of those writers who drew on raw times to create the novel she shares with us. Music helped her examine two tragic losses, with their conflicting emotions and struggling hours. The soundtrack is haunting and melancholic, but is also rakish and fun – Rod Stewart makes a welcome appearance as life recovers and warms up again. The author is romantic mystery novelist Anne Allen and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘Everyone is haunted by something’ – Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

for logoNo matter how many of these Undercover Soundtrack pieces I post – and by now it’s nearly 300 – I still get a thrill from reading a new one. There is such pleasure in delving into the essence of a writer’s creative soul, to be reminded that what we are doing is taking the personal and making it an experience we can invite the reader into. This week’s is no exception. It begins with the writer’s mother-in-law having hallucinations that she is hearing opera – a typical occurrence for elderly women living alone with impaired hearing. Then we progress to a haunted child narrator, who is unabashedly the essence of her writer-creator. Her first novel was nominated for the Harold Ribelow Award and she teaches at UCLA. She is also a renowned psychic. Her name is Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and she’ll be here with her Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Rebecca Cantrell

for logo‘This song says it’s time to get serious’

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 NYT bestselling historical thriller author Rebecca Cantrell @RebeccaCantrell

Soundtrack by Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo, Dakota Staton, Lotte Lenya, Dagmar Krause, Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Macy Gray

When I start writing a new novel, one of the first things I do is put together a playlist for it. I’ll start with just a few songs and then add them as time goes on, so I might start out with 20 minutes of music and then end up with an hour and half to two hours by the end. I listen to this playlist almost every day while writing the book. At the beginning, I hear every word, but after a while the music becomes background while I’m writing in some Berlin café.

cantrell_450pixcolorMood and world

My latest Hannah Vogel novel is A City of Broken Glass and it’s set during Kristallnacht in 1938, so I listened to some modern stuff to establish the right mood and some historical stuff to put me straight in Hannah’s word.

The first song on my playlist is the theme from the BBC series Wallander sung by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. It’s haunting and sad and reminds me that it’s time to get serious, to slow down and leave all of my thoughts outside of the writing room and get to work.

The next song was written in 1926, but I think it was more popular during World War II, and it reminds me that Hannah is always trying to help others as they try to escape the burgeoning Nazi menace, even at the cost of her own life. It’s Someone to Watch Over Me sung by Dakota Staton. It’s a love song, and if I’m working on a romantic scene, sometimes I’ll play that song a couple of times in a row. Hannah and Lars both watch out for each other, so it’s not as sexist as it might seem. Or so I tell myself.

After that, I move on to Song of a German Mother, sung by Lotte Lenya with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. All of them lived in Berlin at the same time as Hannah, and all of them fled to the United States during the Nazi years. It’s a very grim song about a mother who lost her son to the Nazis because she didn’t understand what would happen. It’s a warning to Hannah and a reminder to me that the Germans, too, suffered terrible losses and had deep regrets, even before they lost the war. I try to paint a nuanced picture of all the characters, because few things were as simple then as we like to think they were when we look back on it. I couldn’t find Lotte Lenya singing this on YouTube (although she sings other songs there, all worth listening to—she has a wonderful smoky voice), but here it is sung by Dagmar Krause.

Light relief

After this, I need something a little lighter and more fun, so I have Mack the Knife, which was also has lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. I have a version sung by Lotte Lenya as well, where she teams up with Louis Armstrong.  Mack the Knife was part of the The Threepenny Opera and was first performed on stage in Berlin in 1928 (with Lotte Lenya and Peter Lorre!).  I think Hannah would have scraped together the cast to go and see it. Its message of violence under the smooth surface was prescient. And Louis Armstrong is always fantastic. I could follow that voice anywhere.

City of Broken Glass Paperback CoverThe next song is It’s Only a Paper Moon by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. I got it off a CD called A Time to Remember 1934 that was in the birthday card section of a gift shop in Hawaii. I always buy one for the year each book is set, although I don’t know what I’ll do now that I’ve moved to Berlin and can’t get to that gift shop. I played a lot of those songs when I was writing the book set in 1934, but this one stuck with even after and moved on to this later playlist, probably because I have Hannah herself sing it while under the influence in A Night of Long Knives. I think it’s been remade many times over the years, but here’s the oldie version because I think that one is still the most fun:

There are various songs in between, some historical and some not, but all of them hopefully speaking to my subconscious and keeping me in Hannah’s world. The soundtrack ends with Beauty in the World by Macy Gray, as it brings me back to the 21st century. And lunch.

Rebecca Cantrell is a New York Times bestselling thriller author. Her novels include the Order of Sanguines series, starting with The Blood Gospel, the award-winning Hannah Vogel mystery series, starting with A Trace of Smoke and the Joe Tesla thrillers, starting with The World Beneath. She, her husband, and son left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Berlin. Find Rebecca Cantrell on Facebook, Twitter, and at www.rebeccacantrell.com

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Ted Oswald

for logo‘They are protest songs and this is a protest novel’

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 attorney-turned aid worker and novelist Ted Oswald @Because_We_Are

Soundtrack provided by Ludovic Lamothe, Martha Jean-Claude, Sten Kellman, Djakout #1, T-Vice, Wyclef Jean, Boukman Eksperyans, Atis Indepandan, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots

Haitian culture is intoxicating, a blend of influences transmuted into something utterly unique and notable. Haitian music is no different.

Ted Headshot BWServing as the perfect fuel for the writing of my first book, Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti – a murder mystery set against the backdrop of modern-day Port-au-Prince – I often drew upon an amazing library of past and contemporary music for inspiration. Here’s the book’s trailer since it fills in a lot of the back story. For those unable to watch, in 2010, I was a law student and interned in Haiti months after the earthquake. The story is set in the community in which I worked, a notorious slum called Cité Soleil, and follows two unlikely detectives—children: brash Libète and brilliant Jak—as they try to solve the mystery behind a murdered mother and her infant child. But more than that, it’s a story about bigger themes: friendship, the struggle for justice in the face of impunity, sacrifice for the community, faith and doubt in light of tragedy, and the foolishness of scarcity in a world of plenty.

During the drafting and revision stages, completed primarily in the US, I relied upon particular albums and songs to snap me right back to Haiti; to again feel the unrelenting sun baking my skin, to get lost in a sea of spoken Kreyol, to recall hours spent walking vibrant city streets. But beyond a cheap return trip, the music often helped to define my characters and themes.

Nibo

Special mention is reserved for the track used in my book trailer, a song entitled Nibo. This version is inspired by a piece written by Haitian composer Ludovic Lamothe, the original recording of which was captured by famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax during a trip to Haiti. Martha Jean-Claude recorded a version with lyrics in the 70s that immediately captured my imagination. More recently, Nibo has been given new life as a choral piece, Gede Nibo, by composer Sten Kellman. Every time I hear the song’s melody — whether brought to life by a plinking piano or a 40-person acapella ensemble — it powerfully captures the mood, tone, and mystery of Because We Are.

Vodou and rock

But I didn’t just listen to this song on repeat. Konpa is a modern-day mérengue played by prominent Haitian artists like Djakout #1, T-Vice, and sometimes Wyclef Jean (of The Fugees fame). Along with MizikRasin (roots music) which blends folk Vodou elements and rock (of which Boukman Eksperyans is one notable group), acts like these could be heard emanating from countless radios across Port-au-Prince. I was particularly moved by Atis Indepandan’s folk album from the mid-70s called Ki-Sa Pou-N Fe? or What is to be Done?. Listening to any of these strains of Haitian music helped to capture the manic intensity, humor, romance, suffering, piety, resilience, ribaldry, pain, joy, and sadness that so often comingle day-to-day.

Cover_5_Final-01A story of protest

Lastly, Because We Are is a story of protest. When volunteering in Cite Soleil, I taught a regular English class for young men using socially-conscious rap and hip-hop songs. Though they weren’t Haitian, artists like Talib Kweli (The Beautiful Struggle), Mos Def (New World Water), and The Roots (Dear God 2.0) capture a view of the world from the bottom up, reflecting the lived experience of my characters Libète and Jak and the young men I taught. I often found myself coming back to these artists and songs for inspiration along the way.

While scratching only the surface, I truly hope my Undercover Soundtrack might lead you to explore some new music and delve deeper into the amazing depths of Haitian music and culture.

Ted Oswald is a public interest attorney living in Philadelphia with his wife Katharine. Written while living in Haiti, after taking the bar exam, and before beginning his new job as a lawyer, Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti is Ted’s first foray into fiction. The book is published by Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. It’s available on audiobook here Follow updates about the book and its mission as a ‘nonprofit novel’ on Twitter and Facebook. Ted can be reached by email at ted.oswald@becauseweare.com.

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‘Intensity, humor, romance, piety, mystery – and protest’ – Ted Oswald

for logoFasten your seatbelts for a trip to Haiti. My guest this week was inspired to write his first novel by a spell as a volunteer after the 2010 earthquake. When he returned to the US he began to write a story of friendship, the struggle for justice in the face of impunity, sacrifice for the community and the foolishness of scarcity in a world of plenty. To recreate that distinctive place and define his characters, he returned to the music he heard pouring out of the radios in Port-au-Prince – folk, rock, rap and hip-hop. He says his work is a protest novel and so he’s donating the proceeds to aid organisations he worked with to help further education, advocacy, justice reform and prosecute human rights abuses. The novel is Because We Are; he is Ted Oswald and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Candace Austin

for logo‘The perfect song to help my characters flourish’

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 magical realist suspense novelist Candace Austin @caustinauthor

Soundtrack by Brandi Carlile, Jamie Cullum, Michael Johns and Brooke White, The Beatles, John Lennon

There are two things from which I abstain while writing—music and wine. I write better in silence while sober. Maybe this is why I work through a first draft fairly quickly?

I can reduce the bustling of my busy family to a low murmur with my thoughtful plotting, but music, I cannot. It’s captivating to me. Music does, however, play a huge role in the growth of my novels. Once my protagonists and their stories germinate in my brain, I set out in search of a song that will help them flourish. It never fails. I find a perfect song that speaks to their stories and tells me their secrets. It’s as if the song was created just for my characters—for me.

CandaceClosup

Past lives

My debut novel, The Layers, is the story of David Kiplinger, a 19-year-old living in a post-Unveiling age in which most everyone remembers past lives. When TheLayers.b4u website (think Facebook meets Ancestry.com for millennia past and present) reveals that David has lived exponentially more lives than anyone else on earth, he’s lifted to a level of fame reserved for the divine. To answer questions and diffuse the onslaught of attention, David agrees to an autobiography, but when he meets his ghostwriter, Holly Stone, he can’t help but wonder if she’s the woman who has lived alongside him, the one he has loved unconditionally, the one who killed him.

Regardless of David’s suspicions about Holly, theirs is a sweet and humorous story of unconditional, eternal love … and irony, there is irony. When I heard Brandi Carlile’s The Story, I knew it was their song. Ms. Carlile sings about the layers, the depth of our individual life stories and how immensely satisfying it is to find that one person who knows your story like the back of their hand and appreciates it for all that it is, and all that it’s not. It’s messy. It’s glorious. Life’s elation and misery are there in her lyrics. I often listened to it before I began my daily writing. The intensity with which she sings the song inspired me to elevate the emotions as I wrote, and I think The Layers turned out better for it. How this song was not a chart topper, I’ll never know.

Whimsical and inspiring

One song does not fit all, however. Much of The Layers is humorous, and I found that I needed to shift into another gear when writing the lighthearted scenes. Jamie Cullum’s remake of Ruby and the Romantic’s classic Our Day Will Come struck the perfect chord. The tune is whimsical and inspiring, hopeful and innocent, much like David.

NOOK _ THE LAYERS COVERDavid handles his complicated relationship, newfound fame, and status as the most reincarnated of men with a cheerful optimism. He likes to think that living is a gift, not a punishment. Life is Okay by Michael Johns and Brooke White embodies the guarded optimism that defines him.

Rounding out my playlist is In My Life by The Beatles and Imagine by John Lennon. Obviously, there’s a theme here—life. Music helps me contemplate life. Just imagine what life would be like if we remembered being someone else, somewhere else? (insert Twilight Zone theme). Would we launch into a new life knowing what to savor? Would the world improve because we understood without a doubt what is important?

Ooh. I will now listen to music with a glass of wine in-hand!

Candace Austin is the author of The Layers and In Her Sleep. Her fast-paced, suspenseful novels use magical realism to explore love, life, and the humorous and heart-wrenching oddities in both. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Candace resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband of 20 years, two kids (one heading for college, the other kindergarten), a hefty Golden Retriever, and a Maine Coon Cat that comes and goes as he dang well pleases. When not writing, she enjoys NC State football games (particularly the tailgating), and traveling to Maine to spend time with her parents and family. Find her on her website and on Twitter as @caustinauthor

That’s the last Undercover Soundtrack for 2013! The series will return on 8 January.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – David Biddle

for logo‘Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll’

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 novelist and Talking Writing columnist David Biddle @dcbiddle

Soundtrack by Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Jim Croce, Robert Johnson, Jeff Buckley, Global Illage

My novel, Beyond the Will of God, is about many things: murder; rural Missouri in the heart of the summer; odd conspiracy theories; altered states of consciousness; and the realities of telepathy. Most importantly, though, this book is about the power of music and its connection to creativity, and what ultimately lies beyond death.

DCBiddle - HeadShot HiRezSorcerous Hendrix

The story begins as a murder mystery, but very early on the reader is confronted with the realization that there may be a sort of magic to music that we don’t understand — rock ’n’ roll music in particular. Understanding that magic is the real mystery of the book.

The idea came to me when I was 17 and had just discovered the sorcery of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar work. The first time I heard his masterpiece, 1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be), I became convinced that Hendrix had discovered a way to channel and tune human thought to a unified vibration. The title for my novel comes from a phrase in this song.

I wouldn’t start writing, though, for another 15 years. New Year’s Day 1990, I was listening to a radio special on Elvis Presley’s early career. Strains of acoustic guitar started up. A voice-over told us That’s Alright Mama was Elvis’s first hit. As I listened to The King of rock ’n’ roll, I saw a bar full of hard-drinking young people in rural Missouri listening to his first hit song, and an Amish boy sneaking in the back. I began to write. That work became the scene that is now in the middle of chapter one, ending with two characters lost in dark farm country hearing strange guitar music on the wind.

Sonic vibrations

I knew the story was a mystery-thriller, but it would also be about the power of sonic vibration of all kinds. The untimely deaths of so many great musicians and personalities in the 20th century would become the center of the plot I was concocting.

Whether we know it or not, our thoughts are connected to all the sound in our lives. One song I kept coming back to that helped me meld the CIA with the hippie search for ‘higher consciousness’ was The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. Even today, almost 50 years after it was recorded, the use of tape loops, sitar, non-standard rhythm, and Lennon’s lyrics can crack open the most stodgy artist’s mind.

Over time, as I wrote, I listened endlessly to music by artists who, like Jimi and Elvis, had all died before their time – Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Jim Croce, etc.  Blues legend Robert Johnson’s story of selling his soul to the devil is where the black magic of rock ’n’ roll got its start. He died at the age of 27. In the classic Come On In My Kitchen he is haunting and mystical. Johnson has an important part to play in Beyond the Will of God.

Ideas of immortality

In the spring of 1997, I read about a singer and musician I’d never heard of before named Jeff Buckley. He’d just drowned in a channel of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. As I read, it became obvious Buckley was important to my story. His highly regarded album, Grace, was a smorgasbord of new music inspiration. Last Goodbye is my favorite song, but the title track, Grace, speaks directly to the ethos of Beyond the Will of God. It is dark, swooning, and ponders the idea of immortality. The first draft would be completed shortly after discovering Buckley.

BWGNEWCoverBut I wouldn’t have been able to edit and re-write my first draft it if I hadn’t found the rather esoteric album, Sushilove Sessions, by the world beat-improvisational jazz combo Global Illage. There are no easily accessible renditions of Sushilove Sessions online, but check out this recent recording by two of the group’s musicians, talented drummer, Jim Hamilton, and guitarist extraordinaire, Tim Motzer. Here they are, recorded in the spring of 2013, improvising the composition As Real As Life.

I listened to Global Illage non-stop every night for 23 days doing the final re-write of Beyond the Will of God. It went from 450 pages down to 350. Sex, drugs, (metaphysics), and rock ’n’ roll all wrapped up in a murder mystery.

Along with his novel Beyond the Will of God, David Biddle has published two collections of short stories: Trying to Care (2011) and Implosions of America (2012). He has been writing professionally for over 30 years, publishing articles and essays in the likes of Harvard Business Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, In Business, Huffington Post, Kotori Magazine, and BioCycle. He writes the ‘Talking Indie’ column at the online magazine Talking Writing. You can track him down at http://davidbiddle.net. Tweet to him as @dcbiddle

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Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll – David Biddle

for logoMusic, dead rock gods, psychedelia consciousnesses and the CIA – this novel definitely had to feature on the Undercover Soundtrack. Its title came from a Jimi Hendrix song, and germinated when the writer was just 17 years old. It took him another 15 years to write, though, when an Elvis track kicked his imagination and gave him a vivid scene set in a bar in rural Missouri. The novel is Beyond the Will of God, the writer is Talking Writing columnist David Biddle, and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Joni Rodgers

for logo‘Whistling past the graveyard’

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 NYT bestselling author and ghostwriter Joni Rodgers @JoniRodgers

Soundtrack by Dick Dale & the Del Tones, The Playboys, Rockin’ Rebels, The Ventures, The Trashmen, The Tremolo Beer Gut, Propellerheads, Shirley Bassey, Fabulous Playboys, B-52s, Booker T & the MGs, Dave Brubeck, Archie Bell & the Drells, Caroline Savoie, Hanson, Cake, Nancy Sinatra, Duffy, Amy Winehouse,

joni rodgers bwKill Smartie Breedlove is the story of a Shep, a dishonored cop, and Smartie, a pulp fiction writer, who is convinced that Shep’s employer, divorce attorney Suri Fitch, is behind the murders of several of her clients’ inconvenient exes. It is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book – ever – and was born out of a pure pleasure reading/listening binge of pulp fiction (hardboiled mysteries of the 1930-60s) and ‘pulp music’: electric guitar and percussion-driven beats embodied by Dick Dale & the Del Tones’ Misirlou – which a lot of people associate with the movie Pulp Fiction. The Playboys’ Cheater Stomp actually gave me the original working title.

Reckless energy

As I absorbed a plotting masterclass from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the vaguely nerdy vibe of the music took me to a creative place that was fun and full of reckless energy, a semi-cool throw-back to horn-rimmed glasses and pencil pants. The Dick Dale channel on Pandora features The Ventures, Rockin’ Rebels and other old-timers along with gritty off-beat wonders like The Trashmen and a Danish band called The Tremolo Beer Gut. These instrumentals are driven machine-gun percussion and gritty electric guitar leads. They’re a bit reminiscent of the theme music from The Munsters – which might explain the macabre undertones that rumble and rise throughout the book, which has a lot of ‘whistling past the graveyard’.

Rhythm and sense memory

Two songs that anchored me to my original vision with rhythm, lyrics and sense-memory: Propellerheads (featuring Shirley Bassey) History Repeating and The Fabulous Playboys Nervous. Archie Bell and the Drells Tighten Up always reminds me of exactly what I love about Houston, which is very Southern but very urban.

Roam by the B-52s plugged me into the quirky artistic tourism that compels dysfunctional Smartie to observe people and extrapolate their backstories. Dave Brubeck’s classic Take Five and Booker T & the MGs’ Green Onions perfectly capture the plodding procedural aspect of Shep’s work and the patiently canny way he goes about his daily grind.

KILL SMARTIE B 13No sunshine

Both Shep and Smartie are widowed, and a collection of cover versions of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine kept me mindful of how that terrible loss motivated and defined them. Two of my favorite covers are Caroline Savoie and Hanson. (Seriously! As in ‘MmmBop’ Hanson. They grew up. Sort of.)

Divorce attorney Suri Fitch’s calculating brilliance (and Shep’s ill-timed attraction to her) steps out of Cake’s Short Skirt Long Jacket, while the transformative sorrow, betrayal and bitterness she sees (and generates) in her business are present in Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang, Duffy’s Stepping Stone and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was the chance to write about the publishing industry with a bit of the ol’ gimlet eye. Smartie and her critique-mates, a group of women authors called the Quilters, approach writing life with a wistful pragmatism best expressed by Nancy Sinatra remixing one of her dad’s standards, This Town.

In addition to her own critically acclaimed novels and memoirs, NYT bestselling author Joni Rodgers has collaborated as ghostwriter/ book doctor on a number of celebrity book projects, including Part Swan, Part Goose with Broadway icon Swoosie Kurtz (Perigee 2014). She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband of 30 years, mechanic/ winemaker/ voracious reader Gary Rodgers. Joni’s books and video book reviews can be found at www.jonirodgers.com. She is the founder of the League of Extraordinary Authors and you can also find her on Twitter @JoniRodgers.

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