‘Things are not what they seem – and I seek songs where melody and lyrics don’t quite match’
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 Kim Wright, author of Love In Mid Air
Soundtrack by Nick Lowe, 3 Doors Down, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Costello, Chris Isaak, Van Morrison, Diana Krall
For some reason, I’ve always had a penchant for songs that sound upbeat on the surface but that have, when you stop to listen, dark or menacing lyrics. When I was writing Love in Mid Air, I listened to Nick Lowe’s Cruel to Be Kind and I also liked Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down. It makes sense, because the novel is about a woman who seems to have the perfect life, but who has this sarcastic, discontent, wounded inner voice.
Manic energy and heartbreak
I read somewhere that there’s only one theme in literature, which is ‘Things are not what they seem’. Maybe it’s not the only theme in literature, but it’s a good one, which might be why I like songs where the melody and the lyrics don’t quite match. Lately I’ve fallen in love with Valerie by Amy Winehouse, especially the live version. It’s the epitome of using manic energy to cover up heartbreak and it punches me smack in the gut every time I hear it.
In my head, my heroine Elyse had a theme song, which was The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes by Elvis Costello. It seemed to speak to Elyse’s obsession with turning 40 and her sense that time was running out – and the fact she’s so determined to seize life that she’s almost prepared to make a pact with the devil. The reference never made it into the book, but I’m working on the sequel now, which is told from the point of view of Elyse’s best friend Kelly, and there’s a scene where Kelly comes downstairs one morning and finds Elyse in the kitchen frying eggs and singing the Costello song.
For the wicked scenes
Sex scenes require something really different. Usually I write them in public spaces, like a Starbucks or sushi bar, and I have absolutely no theory on that one. Having a crowd around me seems to break down my inhibitions, although I worry sometimes that I’ll leave my laptop to go to the bathroom and come back to find I’ve been arrested on some sort of morals charge. When I’m home I play either Wicked Game by Chris Isaak – who I met one time and, incidentally, he’s just as hot as his song – or, if the scene calls for something more domestic or tender, Warm Love by Van Morrison. Van Morrison might be a patron saint for writers in general. His lyrics are terrific.
When I was doing a lot of magazine writing, we always worked way ahead of schedule – I was writing articles about the dangers of sunburns in December and tips for New Year’s entertaining in July. Music was a way for me to trick myself into the seasonal switch. In Love in Mid Air, Elyse throws a big Christmas party and I was working on that scene down at my mom’s beach house in the dead of summer. I specifically remember listening to Diana Krall singing Sleigh Ride one afternoon while I was walking my dog on the beach and it was like 100 degrees.
Headspace and rituals
It’s funny how often writers use these weird little tricks to get themselves into a certain headspace- to reset their thoughts to another place or time or mood. Developing rituals around your writing seems to be a key part of the job and I’ve often thought that the writers who claim they never get blocked are those who have created very specific signals to their subconscious that say ‘Sit down and shut up, because it’s now time to write’. Music can be a big part of this; it’s like a shortcut between certain parts of the brain.