Posts Tagged soundtracks

The Undercover Soundtrack – Roz Morris

‘Music, the language of souls’

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 it’s my turn, and I’m talking about the music behind My Memories of a Future Life . And below you have a chance to win a very special version of the print edition….

Soundtrack by Grieg, Beethoven, Michael Nyman, Bill Nelson, Daryl Runswick, Joe Jackson, Meredith Monk, Seal, Handel, Massive Attack, Emeli Sande, George Michael

Begin, like my narrator Carol, lying on a floor trying to think of nothing. Her brain’s like a searching radio, snatching music out of the smallest sound, or the footsteps of the yoga teacher walking around her.

That’s me too. If you’re talking to me and I detect music, no matter how quiet, my brain will align to it and you’ll become the background.

My brain is also a noisy beast. It crackles with images, connections and ideas, but far too fast for its poor operator to catch. Music freezes the hurricane and allows me to play with an idea, stop time and rewind so I can examine and explore. So it’s pretty much essential to my writing.

A life steeped in music

My Memories of a Future Life is a novel steeped in music. Its narrator, Carol, is a classical pianist. In the story there are a number of standard pieces that have special meaning for her (Ludwig Van’s Moonlight SonataGrieg’s piano concerto in A minor – which I marinated in so long that I developed absolute pitch).  But to write Carol I needed to understand what it meant to devote your life to an instrument. An obvious place to start was Michael Nyman’s theme for The Piano, a windswept reel where a piano speaks for a person. But under Carol’s classical poise is a more raucous urge. Enter Bill Nelson’s Scala, an operatic aria gone feral. I listen to that cliff of sound and it tells me the joy of connection that Carol feels at her instrument:

Their faces weren’t critical. They were soft and open. Music, the language of souls. That was why we played. To do that to each other.

I’ve never worked out if Scala is, in fact, a joyous song. The lyrics might even be Bill Nelson’s shopping list. It does not matter. When I’m writing, music guides my gut, not my head.

Mysterious pain

Carol’s career is halted by a mysterious injury. She’s desperate to play again but medicine can’t give her any answers. So she seeks them from an unusual source – herself in a future incarnation. The story splits into two threads: Carol now, and her next life.

One of my earliest decisions was how the two narratives would work together. I found a guide in Joe Jackson’s Lullaby. It’s a slow snow-fall of a song with a flavour of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and a floating female vocal. It made me think of blue hallucinations and deepest winter. For a long time I planned the modern-day action to take place at the bitterest time of year, frozen like Carol’s life. But once the characters were setting their own agenda, the quality of winter became a person: Carol’s hypnotist Gene Winter, a complex, mesmeric man who has

a soul of solid steel. A surgeon’s soul.

The dreamy blue from Lullaby became an underwater city in the future. There, Carol’s future self, Andreq, is a healer struggling to cover up a secret. He needed his own voice and soul, distinct from her. His eerie composure came from the extraordinary composer-vocalist Meredith Monk in this track, Lost Wind.   Even her track titles made me want to write – especially Travel Dream Song.

Crazy daydream

Of course, what Carol is going through is pretty odd. She’s experiencing her future self, and increasingly questioning the influence of Gene, who’s teasing it out of her. I was out driving one day, my favourite mode for daydreaming, and Seal’s Crazy swam out of the radio. Crazy is so famous you probably don’t have to click the link. Certainly I knew it well from its days in the charts. But once a song crosses into my undercover soundtrack, it’s like hearing it for the first time.

That song created, in sound, a scene I had been feeling for. A party in a darkened house, where everyone is ‘dancing to not be there’ and Carol realises she is hoping for miracles.

‘As the music swept everything away I imagined that I could talk to Gene about what we were doing, that we could slip off our inhibitions like these people here, that we could talk about what was me and what was him and what was neither’

Searching

What is Carol searching for? At one point she thinks she’s got it. Handel’s brooding, thrilling aria Ombra Cara, from Radamisto examined the moment perfectly, in the music at least. What the words are, I haven’t a clue.

Much of the novel’s action is at night, a 3am desert where normal rules are suspended. When I needed to loosen my bones I’d go running. I liked to go out after dark, listening to songs that were too invasive to write to but kept me in Carol’s mind. One was Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy for its restlessness. Last summer, on final edits it was joined by Emeli Sande and Heaven – which to me sounds like Unfinished Sympathy cloned in helium.

Long before I knew what the end should be, I knew how it should feel. It came from George Michael and this fragment from his album Older. It has only one lyric. I had it on repeat while I ran in the dark, mile after mile, searching for the way there. Like Carol.

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COMPETITION Win a very limited print edition of My Memories of a Future Life

Special album sleeves are de rigeur in music, so I thought I’d try it in books. I’ve made a special version of My Memories of a Future Life with an adventurous variation on the cover. (And yes, it goes around the back too.)

The text inside is the same as the red edition, except this has an inscription about the cover and its own ISBN. It’s not for sale, it’s a one-off piece of authorly whimsy. I’m giving away two copies, which I’ll sign and number.
To enter, leave a comment here by 8am UK time on Sunday 16th September – although you can enter no matter where in the world you’re based. If you mention this post on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or any other corner of the known etherverse, that counts as another entry – but make sure to tell me here. Each comment or mention counts as an entry, within reason – in other words, don’t spam… (of course you won’t…)

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UPDATE

WINNERS! Thanks for all your entries and your energetic tweeting, googling and hooting. The entries have been shuffled, stuffed in a fancy cardboard churn and scrumpled again. The two winners, plucked from the mass with due solemnity, are Aine and Debbie Steg. Congratulations – and email me at rozmorriswriter at gmail dot com

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Fiona Walker

‘The Greatest Love Songs In The World…was the most awful writing track’

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 bestselling romantic novelist Fiona Walker @fionawalkeruk

Soundtrack by Bo Diddley, Christy Moore, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Jan Garbarek

If I know I’m not going to be overheard, I sing – in the bath, on long dog walks, and when writing, or more realistically the thinking pauses between writing. This habitual distraction is also creative inspiration. It’s no coincidence that characters sing in many of my books, from my first novel French Relations in which dinner party guests gather around a piano to perform Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, to my twelfth novel The Love Letter, where my heroine inadvertently finds herself duetting an old Bo Diddley number with her ex boyfriend in the local pub. That song, You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover, is a joyful riot of old-time rhythm and blues that also feeds into the themes of a novel in which characters are not as they first appear, most especially a reclusive writer who hides his identity behind a pen name.

Just no

As a romantic novelist with a reputation for raunchy romps, I appreciate Bo Diddley is a far cry from a power ballad, but I once bought The Greatest Love Songs In The World…Ever to listen to when writing passionate scenes – much to my husband’s hilarity – and it was the most awful backing track from which to seek inspiration, like writing on the dance-floor at an over-40s singles night. Most of the music I listen to when I write is white noise, and if I’m on a roll I don’t notice it at all, until that one song sticks, and that’s when inspiration strikes.

When a song connects with a book’s plot, I often play it – and sing it – day and night, and it occasionally even gets woven into the text. This means that I have to be very careful what I listen to when writing. It once cost me almost as much as a new car to gain permission to quote six lines of a Jim Steinman track that I couldn’t get out of my head, after which I not only stopped featuring heroines who were Meatloaf fans, but also monitored my listening habits and now tailor them to each book. I keep a limited number of CDs ripped to my computer, so if I’m not listening to the radio, I’m going through the same albums on a loop, many of them instrumental. The energetic Brazilian guitarist/percussion combo Rodrigo y Gabriela fuelled the first draft of The Love Letter; the sultry Gotan Project added tempo; saxophonist Jan Garbarek injected cool, and I played endless Mozart for jollity and Bach for comfort.

When the rough plot of The Love Letter was in place, that tailor-made compilation changed to vintage Kate Bush, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Bjork and Birdy, all inspiring the book’s larger than life characters, comic melodrama and coastal setting, as well as a very long, flirty seduction in a fairytale tower. Yet it was when googling something entirely unconnected that I found the Bo Diddley song that fitted the story so well that I couldn’t stop playing it.

Secret doors

If I hit upon a theme-tune for a plot or its characters, I know I have a secret entrance into the book, and although the album or song itself may never appear on the page, you can guarantee I’ve listened to it hundreds of times when writing certain scenes. One of my novels was written whilst listening to Damien Rice almost non-stop, another to Alison Krauss – and when a romantic hero who always made me think of Christy Moore’s Ride On featured in a sequel 10 years after his first appearance, I only had to listen to the song to find him coming to life again.  Although many of these songs get honourable mentions in the books, only the very special few are performed by me and my characters; You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover is still being sung loudly in Worcestershire.

Fiona Walker became a best-selling novelist in her 20s and her books have sold over two million copies worldwide to date. Dubbed ‘The Jilly Cooper of the Cosmo generation’ she is renowned for her large casts, addictive plots and sharp wit. She lives in rural Worcestershire with her partner Sam who is a dressage trainer and their two daughters. Her twelfth novel, The Love Letter, is published by Sphere.Find her on her blog and on Twitter @FionaWalkeruk

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Zoe Sharp

‘I wanted music that was angry and soulful, both at the same time.’

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 multi-award-winning crime author Zoe Sharp @AuthorZoeSharp

Soundtrack by Beth Rudetsky, Linkin Park, Moby, Breaking Benjamin, A Fine Frenzy, Nirvana, Pink

Music has always played a big part in my creative process, usually at a low volume in the background so it goes in on an almost subliminal level while I write. My CD collection contains wildly varying music from Gregorian chants and opera to Cajun and Zydeco. And just about everything in between.

Anger and wounds

For Fifth Victim: Charlie Fox book nine, it was particularly relevant. The whole theme of the book is not knowing what you’ve got until it’s too late.  I wanted music that was angry and soulful, both at the same time.

By this stage in the series Charlie Fox is back at her close-protection job as a means to bury personal tragedy. She welcomes the dangers involved, despite the concerns of those closest to her. I listened to songs that stoked up those emotions while I worked, and the volume was cranked much higher than usual for most of the time. I was looking for an almost resentful tone, like that in Breaking Benjamin’s Breath.

Fifth Victim is a story told on a deadline — it has a ticking clock of kidnap and ransom where the outcome is not at all certain. The relentless beat of Nirvana’s Come As You Are really seemed to work with that. The MTV Unplugged live version is one that gets into your head and stays there all day. I revisited it while writing this piece, and it’s stuck there again now.

All through this story Charlie is working under pressure, constantly improvising and reacting. For those action scenes I needed a soundtrack with energy and raw power that also spoke of experience and loss. Linkin Park’s New Divide got a real hammering, as did Moby’s Extreme Ways.

But there are quieter, more reflective moments. Tasked to protect Dina Willner, the daughter of a wealthy Long Island doyenne, Charlie is asked if she’s prepared to sacrifice herself for her principal. At the time, Charlie says she hopes it won’t come to that. But later, at the hospital bedside of her lover — fellow bodyguard Sean Meyer — who has been in a coma for over three months after a near-fatal shooting, she thinks differently:

It didn’t give any comfort that Sean had gone down in the line of duty, as he would have seen it. Doing his job. Hesitation had never been a possibility with him and it seemed that to hesitate now would be to let down everything he’d stood for. So if it came to it, I thought fiercely, then yes, I would die to protect Dina Willner, as her mother had asked.

And maybe I’d do it just a fraction more willingly than I might have done, a hundred days ago.’

The longing and loss of such moments was beautifully summed up by A Fine Frenzy’s Last Of Days, and by Pink’s Glitter In The Air.

Song for Charlie

But the biggest musical moment of Fifth Victim came between the final edits and publication. I was contacted by the hugely talented US singer/songwriter, Beth Rudetsky. She wanted to write a song inspired by the book. I was stunned when she sent me The Victim Won’t Be Me, for which the students of Vision West Notts then produced a terrific video. The song is an interpretation of the book, and the video is an interpretation of the song.

The resulting combination is beautiful and haunting. And it is definitely part of my soundtrack for the next instalment in the Charlie Fox series.

Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel when she was fifteen, and created the no-nonsense Charlie Fox after receiving death-threat letters as a photojournalist. Her work has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. The Charlie Fox series was optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV. Zoë blogs regularly on her own website, and on the acclaimed Murderati group blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp).

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Kevin McGill

‘I needed music to drum up those teen feelings about life, adventure and parents who didn’t understand’

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

Soundtrack by Daft Punk, Zoe Keating, Yann Tiersen, Loreena McKennitt, Hans Zimmer, Imogen Heap, Arcade Fire , Bruno Coulais, Benoit Charest, Greg Edmonson, Michael Giacchino

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.

Mon: The Cradle of all Magical Civilisation

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 – 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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The Undercover Soundtrack – James Scott Bell

‘This wonderful, startling alchemy when music meets the writer’s brain’

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 bestselling suspense author and writing coach James Scott Bell @JamesScottBell

Soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, Thomas Newman, Hugo Friedhofer, Mark Isham, Jerry Goldsmith, Alfred Newman, Steely Dan, Steve Miller Band

‘Of all noises,’ Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘I think music is the least disagreeable.’ I’ll go along with that. I like to write in public, mostly at Starbucks, with a little bit of ‘white noise’ around me. But when I have to get deep into a project or scene, I pop on the Bose headphones and fire up iTunes.

Music has a way of snapping the creative synapses. I once saw the whole plot of a story unfold because of a piece of music. I was thinking of my characters when it came on, and the emotional impact of the tune came in and mixed with my imagination and created something new. I doubt I could have gotten to that place any other way.

And that’s the point. There is a wonderful, startling alchemy when music meets the writer’s brain.

In the mood

That’s why I have created a collection of ‘mood tunes’. They come in three categories: suspense, heart and inspiration.

Since I’m usually writing suspenseful scenes, I have this collection going constantly, on a random basis. The foundation of this collection is Bernard Herrmann and his Hitchcock scores. Over the years I’ve added to it, of course. A few that work well for me: The Road to Perdition (Thomas Newman), Burn After Reading (Carter Burwell) and Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer).

If I need to get warm, I go to scores like The Best Years of Our Lives (Hugo Friedhofer) October Sky (Mark Isham) and various selections from classic Hollywood.

Not in the mood

But there is another way I use music, and this is when I’m tired or just not feeling motivated to write. A professional writer believes what Peter DeVries once said: ‘I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9am.’

So I have some ‘pump me up’ tunes to get me going on days when I’m dragging. There’s the football tryout theme from Rudy (Jerry Goldsmith) and the opening credits from How the West Was Won. But I don’t limit myself to movie scores. I’ll sneak in a little classic rock, like Bodhisattva (Steely Dan) and Jungle Love (Steve Miller).

As I listen to these selections I think of writing as an athletic contest. My competition is with myself. If I don’t write, the books won’t get done. I put in a weekly quota, and have for twenty years. The pages accumulate, almost by magic, but only if you show up each day ready to write.

Music can help you get there.

James Scott Bell is a bestselling suspense author and writing coach. His books for Writers Digest Books are Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, Conflict & Suspense and The Art of War for Writers. Writing as K. Bennett, he is the author of the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He blogs each Sunday at The Kill Zone. Follow him on Twitter as @jamesscottbell and find him at his website 

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The Undercover Soundtrack – MJ Rose

‘In that song I finally started to see the character who would introduce my story’

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 mystery romance author MJ Rose @MJRose

Soundtrack by Doug Scofield, Edith Piaf, Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur, The Rolling Stones, Green Day

It’s not very often that an author has an in-house composer. But I’m very lucky. My husband, Doug Scofield, is a singer/songwriter. The song he wrote for The Book of Lost Fragrances became my way into the book, it became my anthem.

While I was studying the past and present perfume industry, Doug became almost as interested in fragrance as I did. He traveled to Grasse and Paris with me, meeting with manufactures and perfumers.  He visited department store counters and willingly sniffed endless tester strips. Without complaining, he traipsed through flea markets with me as I searched for the vintage, lost fragrances I’d become obsessed with.

Lost

When I was time for me to start to write, I was overwhelmed by all the information I’d amassed. And in my frustration, I couldn’t find a way into the book. I’d walk into my office, sit down at the computer and try to disappear into the story. But writing in another time isn’t always simple. Especially not with the phone and the internet and the world going on around you.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite find the right voice for this book. I had kept writing first chapters and throwing them all out.

And then one day, Doug gave me a CD. There was only one song on it – Together.

The music is ethereal, the word are prophetic. The spirit of the song captures the magic of time and connections between people that I was trying to capture in my novel.

I played the song over and over that first day and almost without knowing it, finally started to see the character who would introduce my story, the 19th century French perfumer whose love story is at the heart of the novel.

Timeslips

Once I had my mantra, I began to assemble a play list of different pieces. Writing in and out of so many time periods and tracking quite a few stories, it was helpful beyond measure to switch the music when I switched times. La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf’s version on Hallmark ) to center me in Paris at night walking by the Seine, to another of Doug’s songs, Hunt you Down when I was dealing with the Chinese mafia stalking my main character though the catacombs.

When we meet Marie-Genevieve Moreau first in Paris at the dawn of the 19th century, she is attending mass with her parents. From that innocent morning we follow her into the French Revolution where she travels through a Hieronymus Bosch kind of twisted, turned-inside-out hell. To find Marie-Genevieve and stay with her I played Gregorian chants. (My two top albums are Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos and  Slave Regina by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur. )

Music in a strange land

For another character, Xie Ping, a sensitive, secretive Chinese calligrapher with a curious past, I played popular rock music from the Rolling Stones (Let it Bleed and Beggars Banquet) to Greenday (International Superhits). Xie is on a journey during the novel – out of China to London and Paris. The music he hears is one of the few things he can relate to in these  strange lands. In China, the music tantalised him and made him dream. Now that he is outside his homeland, that same American and British rock gives him courage.

The Book of Lost Fragrances was a journey for me too… one that had music in the background every step of the way.

MJ Rose is the international bestselling author of 11 novel: Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, The Hypnotist and The Book of Lost Fragrances. She is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online, and with Doug Clegg of Buzz Your Book. She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She runs two popular blogs; Buzz, Balls & Hype and Backstory. She lives in Connecticut.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Sanjida O’Connell

‘Blues took me to the swamps of the deep south, and the heart-rending misery Emily encounters’

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 Sanjida O’Connell @sanjidaoconnell

Soundtrack by: Jace Everett, Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, Moby

In my fourth novel, Sugar Island, Emily Harris is a glamorous young English actress who arrives in America in 1859, determined to make enough money to save her father’s theatre company. But while she’s there, her father dies, leaving her alone and, in her vulnerable state, a charming Southern gentleman, Charles Earl Brook, sweeps her off her feet and into matrimony. It’s during their honeymoon that she discovers his terrible secret: he owns a plantation in Savannah, Georgia, run by seven hundred slaves.

Darkness, danger and charm

Like many writers, I rarely listen to music whilst I work but I found that soul-haunting and edgy blues tracks, such as Down to the River to Pray by Alison Krauss and Natural Blues by Moby, helped me write about this naïve British woman who suddenly finds herself into the lush swamps of the Deep South, and of the heart-rending misery that she encounters. I played Jace Everett’s Bad Things endlessly. It has the darkness and the dangerous charm that is at the core of Charles’s appeal to Emily, as well as an evocation of the south’s decadent glamour.

Emily glimpses St Simons Island, where her husband’s plantation is, for the first time:

‘…the marsh appeared to close in, the reeds brushing past the edge of the boat. The overriding smells were rotting fresh seawater, seaweed, fish on the edge of decomposition. To her right lay an island of dense deep green tangled jungle; the dark grey sky pressed in on them. She’d spent the whole journey trying to dissect her emotions and now she realized that at the heart of all her arguments was one very simple thing: she felt as if she were slowly being pushed into a trap.’

This is when Emily encounters slaves for the first time. A group of them row her, her husband and her husband’s brother, Emmanuel, to the plantation. As they do so, they sing:

Mother, master gone to sell we tomorrow?

Yes, yes, yes,

Oh, watch and pray.

Gone to sell we in Georgia?

Yes, yes, yes,

Oh, watch and pray.’

Emmanuel uses the song as a way of telling Emily about their slaves, which he does with relish.

‘That’s why they are so pleased that you are about to have a child,’ said Emmanuel quietly, leaning towards her, ‘It means our family – your child – will continue to own them in the future and their families won’t be split up by being sold at auction.’

‘Mother don’t grieve after me,

No, no, no,

Oh, watch and pray.’

Slave songs

I found this slave song on www.negrospirituals.com and then altered the words slightly to keep them in the dialect I used for the St Simons slaves. Originally, I was so taken with some of these lyrics, their poignancy and their way of expressing the emotions of the slaves in a way they could not, I used them frequently. My editor at John Murray quite rightly said that less is more.

Emily does her best to help the slaves, from pleading with Charles to make their lives less miserable, to cutting down a young girl who’s been strung up by her thumbs and whipped, to teaching one slave to read, which at the time was illegal. Ultimately, Charles will no longer sanction her actions and makes her choose between her freedom and her daughter.

The only other slave song now remaining is right at the end of the novel but it might give away too much of the plot to quote that one.

Once I’ve finished writing for the day, I tend to go for a run and listen to some completely head-banging, heart-pulsing music to blast me out of the Deep South, Emily’s horrific quandary and the chilling plight to the slaves – songs such as I Fought the Law by The Clash, Mr Brightside by The Killers, All My Life by the Foo Fighters and Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day.

Dr Sanjida O’Connell is a writer based in Bristol in the UK. She’s had four works of non-fiction and four novels published: Theory of Mind, Angel Bird (by Black Swan), The Naked Name of Love and Sugar Island (John Murray). She is on Twitter as @sanjidaoconnell

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Anne R Allen

”He hummed Cole Porter – so anachronistic in those days of psychedelic rock’n’roll’

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 comic mystery author Anne R Allen.

Soundtrack by Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter

I don’t write with background music, although I do occasionally use a CD of rain or ocean sounds to block neighbourhood noise.

When I was writing Sherwood Ltd. which is set in the soggy English Midlands—I often put on a CD of rainstorm sounds to conjure my memories of living in a 200-year-old warehouse in rainy Lincolnshire. An epic flood figures strongly in the plot. I don’t know if that CD is to blame, but I’m sure it gave some inspiration.

His own jazz age

But when I was brainstorming ideas for my Hollywood mystery, The Gatsby Game, I often listened to big band jazz, especially Cole Porter tunes. The anti-hero, Alistair, is a charming, self-destructive loser who tries to live as if he’s a character in a Fitzgerald novel. Although the story is set in the 1970s, Alistair inhabits his own private, imaginary Jazz Age.

The character was inspired by David Whiting, a man I knew in college—who died mysteriously on the set of a Burt Reynolds movie. The mystery of David’s death has never been solved, but I’ve always had a theory of how it might have happened.

I was finally inspired to write about it last year, when I was going through some old college papers and found an ancient note David had left in my dorm room one night, hidden under my pillow. It said, ‘While you were out, you had a visitor…wearing spats, and a straw boater, perhaps, and humming a Cole Porter tune…maybe the ghost of Jay Gatsby?’

It brought a vivid memory of David. He was always humming those tunes—so completely anachronistic in the days of psychedelic rock and roll. David’s image came to me in perfect clarity—with all his theatrical charm, narcissism, and the tragic pain that always showed just under the surface.

That was when I knew I had to write his story—and listening to Cole Porter helped me keep in touch with the memories.

De- lovely

I think the greatest recording of the Cole Porter songbook is Ella Fitzgerald’s iconic Verve recording from 1956. I played it a lot while I was writing The Gatsby Game.

The music itself appears in several scenes. When the narrator, Nicky Conway (yeah, a little homage to Fitzgerald’s Nick Carroway there) first meets Alistair, she finds him charming but evasive. He’s constantly bursting into song to avoid conversation. As he drives her away from her Bryn Mawr dorm to who-knows-where, he responds to each of her questions by singing another line from You’re the Top—appearing to compliment her while he’s bullying her into silence.

Later, when she introduces him to her über-wealthy relatives, she finds Alistair romancing her (very married) aunt to the tune of Begin the Beguine. Throughout the story, Nicky is never quite sure how much Beguining Alistair got up to with her aunt—and/or if some Beguining went on with her uncle as well.

Alistair often retreats into silliness, making clever puns and wordplay to avoid real communication. I imagine him as one of the ‘silly gigolos’ Cole Porter talks about in Anything Goes. I could also imagine Alistair responding to Nicky’s pleas for more intimacy with the line from It’s Too Darn Hot:  ‘Mr. Pants, for romance, with his cutie pie, is not.’

As I played that 1950s recording, I realized it might have been a favorite of Alistair’s mother, whom I imagined as a kind of high-class hooker. Alistair’s primary relationship is always his love/hate enmeshment with his mother—whom he calls ‘the Gorgon’.

It’s delectable, it’s delerious, it’s de-limit

She made him into her surrogate partner whenever she was between ’employers’, which is why he dresses and behaves like a member of her generation instead of his own. The rest of the time, she abandoned him in expensive boarding schools where he rubbed elbows with the children of the glittering ultra-rich Fitzgerald and Cole Porter wrote about—perhaps triggering Alistair’s compulsive social climbing.

In the end, the Gorgon doesn’t even pay for Alistair’s funeral, so he becomes a tragic figure in spite of the shallow Cole Porter-character persona he invented for himself. The honest, direct perfection of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice combined with the brilliant silliness of Porter’s lyrics conveys to me that same tragicomic reality.

Anne R. Allen is the author of five comic mysteries debuting in 2011 with two publishers: Popcorn Press and Mark Williams international Digital Publishing.Food of Love (September 2011) The Gatsby Game (October 2011 – and now available on Nook as well as Kindle) Ghostwriters in the Sky (October 2011) Sherwood Ltd (December 2011) and The Best Revenge (December 2011) She is also working on a self-help guide for writers with Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde. Anne has a blog for writers at http://annerallen.blogspot.com, where she blogs with NYT bestselling author, Ruth Harris. She can be found on Twitter as @annerallen


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The Undercover Soundtrack – KM Weiland

‘I’m almost not creating, but transcribing the feelings the music gives me’

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.

Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Loreena McKennitt, Within Temptation, Ronan Hardiman

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.)

Musical intoxication

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.

Thank you for the music

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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