Posts Tagged Snow Patrol

The Undercover Soundtrack – Leslie Welch

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 novelist Leslie Welch @Leslie_Welch

Soundtrack by Dave Bielanko, Christine Smith, Chris Rattie, Gus Smith, Snow Patrol, Coldplay, The Temper Trap, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Imagine Dragons

‘We’re recording these old songs at a church in Millheim. You should stop by.’

Intrigued by the invitation, my husband and I made the 22-mile drive from our hotel in State College to the post-industrial town. Back then, Millheim was growing into the unlikely heart of a serious music scene in Central Pennsylvania. That visit would eventually work its way into a novel I didn’t know I was going to write.

Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith (of Marah fame) had enlisted our friend Chris Rattie to play drums on Mountain Minstrelsy—a collection of old mountain songs they had resurrected with new music. Given the people involved, I expected the session to be different, but we walked into an all-out revolt against modern recording. Recording based on intuition instead of algorithms. My internal monologue alternated between, ‘This is so freaking cool’ and ‘How can this possibly work?’

A tangle of cords, amps, and a giant mixing board crowded the back of the sanctuary where greeters used to welcome people to worship. Mics were set up wherever there was good, natural reverb. Not a computer in sight.

A prodigy

Two towheaded boys chased each other through the pews in loops around us as we checked out the set-up.

‘Who are the kids?’ I asked.

‘The taller one is our fiddle player,’ Chris said. ‘Hey, Gus! Come over and play something.’

Eight-year-old Gus scooped up his fiddle and ripped out a quick melody that sucked me into a serious religious moment. The kind of experience that makes you doubt you could ever be good at anything in your life. That’s what happens when you experience a prodigy in person. Here’s Gus Smith.

Gus, undoubtedly used to these impromptu performances, gave us a look that asked if that was enough of a demo. Before our claps faded into the narthex, he was back to the business of chasing his brother around the church.

While the idea for my novel The Goodbyes wouldn’t come for a few months, I collected plenty of inspiration at that session. Fast forward to November of 2014.

Searching for a Soundtrack

With an idea begging for a blank document and a NaNoWriMo deadline, I sat down to write. Since the story was about Webb Turner, a rock star who races through a blizzard to possibly say a final ‘goodbye’ to the girl who inspired his songs, I packed my writing playlist with songs I thought Webb might write. Snow Patrol, Coldplay, and The Temper Trap dominated the two-hour loop. But when I pressed ‘play’, I found myself skipping each track after a few seconds.

I switched over to my music library, hoping the universe would step in. Song after song, nothing kept me writing for more than a sentence until I skipped my way to the one thing I would have never chosen—Tibetan Monks chanting. Yes, really. I didn’t care what it was, it shifted me into the zone. I tapped out a chapter or two on the train ride home.

When I wasn’t writing, I listened to popular music from the 90s and early 2000s. Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, even Kanye West and Nickelback transported me back to the spirit of that time. These songs play in the background of a lot of scenes in the book. They’re important to the characters, too.

Changing tunes

I finished the first draft in a month. Once I had let it rest for a few weeks, I started the slow and painful process of editing. It wasn’t long before I realised that I needed more than ‘Oms’ to paint the flesh onto the bones of the story. My filmmaker husband suggested listening to movie soundtracks for some momentum. I quickly discovered that these epic melodies, swelling and crashing without apology, are gold for writers who want to add drama to key scenes. The Great Expectations soundtrack hit an especially sweet spot for me.

When it comes to creating a writing playlist, what works for one book might not work for the next. My current manuscript likes The Lightning Strike by Snow Patrol and Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. It’s a nice change, but in the end, the most important thing is finding anything that inspires me to keep moving until I can punch out the two best words in a writer’s journey: The End.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Leslie Welch spent most of her youth concocting elaborate stories. Her high school English teacher encouraged her to turn these creative lies into creative fiction. Today, Leslie writes at least 1000 words a day on DC Metro orange line trains. She co-wrote her first book in Harrisburg hotel rooms and diners with her best friend, and in 2016 she released her first solo novel, The Goodbyes, published by Blue Moon. When she’s not off exploring the world, Leslie lives in a house full of laughter outside of Washington, DC, with her soulmate, two cats, two dogs, two fish, and a teenager. Find her website here and tweet her as @Leslie_Welch

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Kelly Simmons

‘Music for telling the darkest secrets’

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 thriller writer Kelly Simmons @kellysimmons

Soundtrack by Snow Patrol, Philip Glass, Alabama 3 et al, Psapp et al

Of all the issues that divide writers – to tweet or delete, to Skype or to not, handwritten first drafts?  Are you kidding me?—the greatest dividing line seems to be between those who write with music, and those who don’t.

I have a foot in both camps.  I don’t listen to anything during the first draft – I don noise-cancelling headphones because even relaxing sounds like birds or waves irritate the crap out of me —but I crank it up during revisions.

Kelly Simmons: started using music when she was writing about a mob wife in Philadelphia

There is something about the enormity of the revision task that requires pumping up, like music during a marathon run.  And like many writers, I enjoy pairing the music to the task.

My favorite secret weapon is soundtracks.  Soundtracks from movies and TV help me think visually, help frame out scenes.  It all started when I was writing an unpublished novel about a mob wife in South Philly.  The Sopranos soundtrack was an unbelievable inspiration to me over three years of revisions.  It kept me focused on the violence, but also the humanity, of that world.

For my first published novel, Standing Still, about a woman with panic attacks who offers her life in exchange for her daughter’s mid-kidnapping, I relied on soundtracks with plenty of tension and pathos – and surprisingly, the soundtrack to Grey’s Anatomy, with its wealth of new artists, proved helpful and poignant.  The lyrics to Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars  still go through my head when I think of the kidnapper and kidnappee telling each other their darkest secrets in a motel room.

Another great side benefit of the soundtrack is that while some of the selects will have lyrics, many will be instrumental.  An instrumental piece doesn’t crowd into my thinking space the way songs with lyrics do.  For my latest novel, The Bird House, about a grandmother with Alzheimer’s struggling to connect with her granddaughter and remember the secrets of her past while chasing down a mystery with her daughter-in-law and son, I listened to the Philip Glass soundtrack to the movie Notes On a Scandal, which offered just the right amount of tension for the scenes in my book when the grandmother steals her daughter in law’s phone, and follows her after seeing her kiss a strange man on a jogging path.

Characters and plot beats

Listening to music from that film, movie, particularly since it starred Judi Dench, who could easily step in to the role of Ann in The Bird House, helped me think about the characters and plot beats differently – more like a screenwriter.  And that keeps your novel taut and faster paced.

Like storyboarding on Pinterest – another helpful obsession – music can inspire a novel to feel more cinematic. And if that leads to a movie deal, well, cue the Rocky soundtrack on that, and I’ll run up the stairs at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Kelly Simmons is the proud recipient of starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for her novels from Simon & Schuster:  Standing Still and The Bird House.  She is a former journalist and advertising creative director. Her website and blog live at www.bykellysimmons.com  And she quips on Twitter: @kellysimmons

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