- Roz’s blog
- THE NOVEL
- Who’s Roz?
Posts Tagged speculative fiction
There’s a shelf chez Morris that holds a set of books with such exquisite titles as Midwinterblood, White Crow, Floodland and, of course, the one quoted in the catchline of this post. So shall I cut to the chase and state that I’m honoured that he’s my guest this week? His novels blend folktales, myth and sometimes futuristic speculation, and music is a significant companion in the writing – from the mournful and joyous gypsy and folk ballads of Eastern European to the romantic compositions of Gustav Mahler. For his latest novel, The Ghosts of Heaven, no music would fit – so he composed his own. Do join me tomorrow for the Undercover Soundtrack of multi-award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick.
authors, award-winning, Blue Peter Book Award, Booktrust Teenage Prize, Carnegie Medal, Costa Book Awards, Desert Island Discs, drama, Edgar Allan Poe Award, entertainment, fantasy, Floodland, Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, literary novels, male writers, Marcus Sedgwick, Midwinterblood, music, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, My Sword Hand Is Singing, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Printz Award, Revolver, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, spirals, The Ghosts of Heaven, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, White Crow, writers, writing, writing to music, YA, young adult, young adult novels, young adult thriller
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 apocalyptic thriller author Josh Malerman @JoshMalerman
Soundtrack by Slumber Party Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, The Fog, Creepshow, Beetlejuice, Danny Elfman, John Carpenter, birdsong
I think Bird Box was written in a trance… a glorious madman’s marathon that most writers are gunning for… the uninterrupted completion of a rough draft that didn’t see a single day’s work end in a question mark. There wasn’t any writing myself-into-a-corner (I’m more likely to do that here, writing this, than I was on that run), no cold sweats, no freak-outs. What a month! Bird Box was written in 26 days. But the awesome bedbug-tapping of the keys and the way I talk to myself as I write weren’t the only sounds that propelled it.
At first, it wasn’t my own. Wasn’t any that I owned, I mean. And some of it wasn’t really music at all. Here’s what I mean.
I’d rented the third-floor attic (former servants’ quarters?) of a mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood. The owner of the home, a musician, a woman, occupied the rest of the house. But I had my corner; a kitchen up there, a bathtub, a bedroom. And birds. Finches. Five of them. I couldn’t bring myself to keep them caged so they flew freely about the space (a thing that ended poorly for some, but was really nice while it lasted.) I had an idea for a book. A different kind of monster. Fuck vampires, I used to think. And fuck the blues. Both so boring! Gimme something new. A monster burst forth! Splitting the idea-ether, lopping the head off the self-governor quickly. It was infinity, personified, the incomprehensible standing on the front porch, swinging on the porch-swing. Yes! Infinity would chase my Malorie through the foggy black and white world of Bird Box as the birds in my rooms sang out, seven o’clock in the morning, flying from one bookshelf to another.
And how their voices spurred me on.
I bought an album, Birds of North America, to play in the intervals, those rare times when the finches grew tired and simply stared, didn’t sing. The sing-song sounds of wild birds spun on the record player, giving my rooms a new feel, and a wider landscape to the book. When Malorie turned her blind head toward the trees, the limbs stretched out farther than they used to. The sky was higher. Room, you see, for all these birds. And there was more. Yes! More music! The landlady played classical guitar downstairs, attempting to revisit a lost passion of hers… writing dreamy-fantastic songs, though she hadn’t written a batch in so long.
Ah, what a place of inspiration! And who would stop there? I’d discovered, for myself, the magnificence of mood, the way an album could influence the words on the page, actually making its way into the work of art. How had I not known it before? How could I have listened to talk radio while typing the rough drafts that came before Bird Box?
Can you hear it?
Can you hear the opening of the Creepshow soundtrack in Bird Box? Can you hear it in my book? I can. It’s in there. No, not at the beginning of Bird Box, not where it appears in the movie Creepshow, but all over the place… as if the book is beginning once again… over and over… letting you know something is starting something is starting I thought it’d already begun but something is starting.
How about the soundtrack for John Carpenter’s The Fog? That ought to be easier to locate. What with the fog that inspired Malorie to leave her house, one might simply point to the page and declare, I hear it! I hear the atmospheric synth sounds of John Carpenter, the Made Man of horror.Yes, as my collection of horror movie soundtracks ballooned (it’s flat out awesome now), so did the story of the book, most pages colored by Slumber Party Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby and Beetlejuice (if you can’t write to Danny Elfman then… then nothing…then I guess you can’t write to Danny Elfman… )
I had no reservations replaying these soundtracks over and over as the birds sang and the homeowner strummed downstairs.
Twenty-six days isn’t long enough to go through too many phases. You get into certain music… certain tracks… and live ‘em for a month.
And yet, the attic scene needed something more.
I wish I could cite the songs used for that frantic scene, but I can’t. I’d have to call radio stations, talk dates and times, extricate one piece from another. Because, for the attic, I wrote to two songs playing at once. As the local classical music station bellowed, the horror movie soundtracks spun on the table by the radio. Oh, the glory of two unrelated pieces sounding at once.
How can I locate a link for such a sound? Maybe we can try. Go ahead and turn your computer speakers as loud as they’ll go. Then play any song you’ve got on there. Absolutely any song. Now turn on your radio and turn it to the classical station. Blast that fucker, too. Situate yourself somewhere in the middle. Sit down where the twain shall meet and begin typing.
Are you into horror? Do you like writing freaky stories? Are you looking for a new thought… a freshie… something you think you aren’t capable of inventing? So am I. Always. And one place to find it is in music. Impossible music… abhorrent combinations.
Why… I’m listening to something like that now… as the door to the office balcony is wide open, the birds sing outside, my girl Allison dribbles a basketball in the driveway… and the soundtrack for Under the Skin spins beside me.
Can you write a novel without music? Of course. But have you tried it with it? Listen closely… you can hear the scope of your story expanding, the boundaries stretching outward, out… until they are as invisible as the medium itself…
Oh, fear not as the music writes the story for you. You are only a conduit. The machine by which those frightening tones will become words… those words sentences… but not before being born as letters. Letters first. Just like the individual notes of the songs that propel you.
Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box and the singer/songwriter for the rock band the High Strung (whose song The Luck You Got can be heard as the theme song to Showtime’s hit show Shameless). If you’re in the US, you can see him interviewed by @Porter_Anderson (the very first Undercover Soundtrack guest) at the Writer’s Digest Novel-Writing Conference in August. Find him on Twitter as @joshmalerman and on Facebook.
apocalyptic, authors, Beetlejuice, Bird Box, birds, birdsong, classical music, Creepshow, Danny Elfman, Desert Island Discs, Detroit, drama, entertainment, future, futuristic, High Strung, John Carpenter, Josh Malerman, literary novels, male writers, medium, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rosemary's Baby, Roz Morris, Shameless, Slumber Party Massacre, speculative fiction, The Fog, The High Strung, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, wild birds, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week says his novel was written in a trance. He rented an attic from a musician, who he could hear practising in the rooms downstairs, brought along a cageful of finches and set them free to fly around him as he typed. You’ll see from the title why they seemed like a good idea. These avian muses were also treated to the soundtracks of several movies – Rosemary’s Baby, The Fog and Creepshow – which doubtless helped them get further into character. When he needed to crank up the intensity, there would be two songs howling at once – the radio at one end of the room, classical music at the other. My guest reports that sometimes his birds got tired and stared at him. This endearing aural vandal is Josh Malerman, his novel is the post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box, and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
apocalyptic, authors, Bird Box, birdsong, classical music, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, future, futuristic, Josh Malerman, literary novels, male writers, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, wild birds, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week is a percussionist who has worked with an astonishing list of world-class musicians – Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong – and more. He found that his music fuelled a desire to write a novel, and after a good gig he would rush back to his hotel room, eager to pour out the next chapter. He says he wanted to take a simple starting point and construct an epic journey that ventured outside the normal – bringing together birth, death, the afterlife, reincarnation and immortality into new coherence, and echoing the journey he takes when working with musicians. The result is A Survivor’s Guide to Eternity; he is Pete Lockett and he’ll be here with his Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.
A Survivor's Guide to Eternity, authors, Bill Bruford, birth, Bjork, Craig Armstrong, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, death, Desert Island Discs, Dido, drama, drummer, entertainment, immortality, Jarvis Cocker, Jeff Beck, Lee Scratch Perry, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nelly Furtado, percussionist, Pete Lockett, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Primal Scream, reincarnation, Robert Plant, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, Survivor, Texas, the afterlife, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Verve, Thomas Lang, Trans-Global Underground, undercover soundtrack, Ustad Zakir Hussain, world-class musicians, writers, writing, writing to music
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 it’s my turn on the decks – with the Undercover Soundtrack for Lifeform Three
Lifeform Three is a fable in the tradition of Ray Bradbury, set in the near future, where global warming has shrunk the landmass and the countryside has been sacrificed for buildings and roads. One valley remains, of woods, trees and meadows, and is now kept as a theme park – The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall. My main character, Paftoo, is a groundsman there. He’s the odd one out; the only soul who’s uneasy in a world that everyone else accepts. You could say he lives in a utopia – but to him it’s a dystopia.
I knew the emotional beats of Lifeform Three before I knew the story. They came to me as pieces of music, a chain of albums and tracks that suggested the landmarks of the novel. I would load them into my MP3 player and take them running, puzzling over them as I pounded out the miles.
Paftoo is a bod – an artificial human who’s programmed to do menial tasks. To keep him efficient, his memory is regularly wiped, but he has inklings of other memories. We meet him after such an event (known as a ‘sharing’). My first beat was that state of newness, a world shining and fresh where you go out and do your tasks, content with simple instructions. In the beginning, Paftoo doesn’t even know his own name until he realises the sole of his boot has a number – 2 (his name is an alphanumeric, short for Park Asset Field Redo Bod 2).
Boards of Canada’s album Music Has The Right To Children told me the innocence of new, eager eyes, especially this track, An Eagle In Your Mind.
The novelty doesn’t last long. There’s a wildness in Paftoo and by the end of his first day, he’s made the others wary of him. He’s also frustrated. But worse is to come when night falls. While his companions go dormant and lifeless, Paftoo starts to dream.
Again, the idea came as a feeling from music – Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ suggested a tingling in the nerves, a meaning that must be grasped.
First he hears sounds; urgent and deep, like a heartbeat in the ground
The dream sequence was choreographed to that album. It starts with a sense of unease, then that beat gallops in like the thing you knew was coming.
Horses, flashing across the green hills in glorious gallop. Necks reaching, tails streaming. Riders on their backs, urging them faster.
Paftoo opens his eyes, shocked. He knows he’s not supposed to dream. He also knows that nobody rides horses now. They’re untamed animals in the fields (and known as Lifeform Three). But at the same time it makes perfect sense in his restless soul. From that moment, Paftoo has a mission. Every night, he goes looking for clues that might explain why he has these dreams and what happened to him before his mind was wiped. By day, he struggles to hide his true nature in case he’s wiped again.
In a small way the story is autobiographical. In winter 1995 I acquired a horse, which had been an ambition since I was a kid. Like the horse Paftoo later befriends, my horse was enormous, black and alarmingly excited to be alive – especially with the frost nipping his clipped skin. I was laughably incompetent on his back, especially when trying to stop him. While sceptical (and wise) folk waited for me to give up and sell him, I was determined to persevere. If I couldn’t handle my dream, what did that make me? That first winter, Enya’s Anywhere Is was in the charts. I wasn’t a fan of her music, but when I came to write Paftoo’s attempts to tame a horse I listened to Enya to capture that time. For some reason Caribbean Blue with its waltz rhythm brought back the sense of a wondrous adventure, the tentative courtship of a wild creature and the sense of being alone on a dumb-headed quest for something inexplicable and ideal.
A song called Caribbean Blue that takes me back to an English winter, riding horses? Like dreams, Undercover Soundtracks have a logic of their own. Or I take no notice of lyrics.
During the writing, my soundtracks had to become a time machine. Those first days with my oversized horse were, as you can probably see, long ago. Reader, I kept him, and he was now reaping the arthritic rewards of a vigorous life. I was having ghastly conversations with the vet because if her treatments didn’t work it was time for the gun. I clung to those music tracks to help me give his glory days to Paftoo while the real situation seemed so hopeless. Thankfully, he rallied and we gallop on (on a good day).
The horse awakens Paftoo’s sense of the natural world, which humanity seems to have lost. Again, music already contained what I needed to say. Vangelis’s Pulsar was the thrill of galloping feet
‘gathering up the miles and throwing them out behind’.
Electromantic La Baletta No 2 – by the Hungarian composer Gabor Presser had feisty, fertile joy, like a primitive spring ritual. It smells of untamed hair and corduroy. And whoever said electronic music lacked a soul? Both these tracks are entirely electronic, made from circuits and wave generators, yet they bound and leap like wild animals.
But there’s a lot more to Paftoo’s quest than riding and nature. They are merely the beginning; the gateway to a profound discovery of his own past and the people and creatures he loves. Now I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I can say that the more he recovers, the more he stands to lose and the more desperate his day life becomes. This impossibility was exquisitely insisted in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.
The piece was written in 1914 and 1920, in an England changed forever by the first World War. That period would also be the heyday of Harkaway Hall, the mansion that used to stand at the heart of the Lost Lands, where Paftoo now struggles to keep his memories. The Lark Ascending seems to say that what will be lost is more than just the loves of a few souls in a little story; it speaks for the loss of time, grace, of fallen walls in overgrown woods, bumps under the turf in an empty field. That violin seems to be shrilling from the skies: it won’t last. We won’t last. And how can Paftoo save it?
Roz Morris is, of course, your host on The Undercover Soundtrack. Find out more here, connect on Twitter as @Roz_Morris and on the writing advice blog Nail Your Novel. Her first novel was My Memories of a Future Life (Soundtrack here) and Lifeform Three is now available in all formats, including print.
authors, Boards of Canada, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, Downton Abbey, drama, electronic composers, electronic music, electronica, English mansions, entertainment, Enya, fantasy, Gabor Presser, horses, Life Form Three, Lifeform, Lifeform 3, Lifeform Three, literary fiction, literary novels, literature, Margaret Atwood, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ray Bradbury, reincarnation, robots, Roz Morris, Roz Morris fiction, science fiction, soundtrack, speculative fiction, synth music, synthesisers, The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Vangelis, vanished houses, vanished mansions, vanished mansions in England, wild horses, Women Writers, women writing women, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
My new novel isn’t set in the world of music and none of the characters are musicians. It’s a quirky take on the future dystopia/utopia, with a smattering of Arcadia too – misty woods, abandoned towns, a forbidden life by night; the scent of bygone days; and an enigmatic door in a dream. Behind the scenes, though, music did all the early work for me. The first, rough outline came to me from favourite tracks by Boards of Canada, Peter Gabriel, Vangelis, Enya, Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Hungarian electronica composer Gabor Presser. As I built the story I listened to them repeatedly, and now each of them represents a landmark on my main character’s journey. Join me here on Wednesday, when I’ll explain the Undercover Soundtrack for Lifeform Three.
Arcadia, authors, Boards of Canada, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, fantasy, Gabor Presser, horses, Lifeform Three, literary fiction, literary novels, literature, Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall, misty woods, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, nature, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Roz Morris, Roz Morris fiction, sci-fi, science fiction, scifi, slipstream fiction, smattering, speculative fiction, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, vanished houses, wild horses, wild places, wildlife, Women Writers, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
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
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.
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.
David 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.
ancestry, authors, Brandi Carlile, Candace Austin, Chicago, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Facebook, fantasy, ghostwriter, Jamie Cullum, John Lennon, magical realism, Michael Johns and Brooke White, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Mystery, Nail Your Novel, past lives, playlist for writers, reincarnation, romance, Roz Morris, social media, social networks, speculative fiction, suspense, suspense author, The Beatles, The Layers, The Undercover Soundtrack, Twilight Zone, undercover soundtrack, who were you, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
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 award-winning urban fantasy author Leah Bobet @LeahBobet
Before I was a writer, which feels like eleventy billion years ago at this point, I was a musician. I played classical piano, guitar, and French horn, but my real instrument was voice, and my ambition, all through high school, was to get into the Performance Music program at University of Toronto and become an opera singer.
Obviously, this didn’t happen. Memo to future aspiring mezzo-sopranos: Do that theory homework or else. But it built an intimate relationship between music, and lyrics, and making for me. From the day I sat down at the keyboard and started messing around with fiction, I’ve never written without music — and never without the right music for the mood and cadence of a scene. And that music slowly became intertwined with every word I put to paper.
Above‘s roots are tonal. It started with a Matthew Good song.
Well, it started with a lot of things: A book of essays on living as a queer, blue-collar person with a disability; a nagging desire to pick a fight with the 1980s Beauty and the Beast; wanting to write a story where the people with the disabilities were the heroes, instead of the assistants; and the question of when you stop trying to save someone and just let them fall. But the thing that clicked all those thoughts together was Matthew Good’s The Fine Art of Falling Apart, and an April night when it just set me off bawling.
If this song I’d heard a thousand times was suddenly making me burst into tears, there was a story inside it. So I had to find out why.
Metaphors that find you
They grew together almost immediately: I have a habit of pulling ideas or metaphors from lyrics, ones that don’t quite explain themselves, and then explaining them into story. The second verse of The Fine Art of Falling Apart quickly turned into Ariel, a furious-frightened girl who turns into a bee, and whose wings change back last – in some ways, the linchpin for the whole novel.
Its grave, mourning resolve set the tone for her relationship to Matthew, Above‘s narrator and protagonist; the reason they stayed together came clear when I heard Gregory and the Hawk’s Boats and Birds on Internet radio a few weeks later.
Above‘s antagonist, and the people its protagonists risked becoming, appeared the moment I attached PJ Harvey’s Who Will Love Me Now? to the soundtrack.
But most of the book was written to the Ghosts album: Nine Inch Nails’s first instrumental. It came out while I was writing, and the sombre, melancholy, softly haunted halls of the opening tracks fit perfectly with the abandoned asylum halls and sewer tunnels and histories Matthew and Ariel navigated together. I spent the spring waiting until nightfall, lighting a candle on my desk, turning out the lights, and writing to Ghosts I. Its mood, its regret and acceptance, slowly nudged the tone of the novel into shadowier places. It made the book a different kind of music.
So in a sense writing, for me, is still opera: bits of story brought forward by music, by its tone and lyrics, and then there’s me, writing the recitatives that go between them so this jumbled collection of songs makes a coherent sense. Everything on the Above soundtrack was a found object. What made it into a novel, and the novel that it is, was searching for the way those songs connected, and stringing them together into a symphony.
Leah Bobet’s first novel, Above, was nominated for the 2013 Andre Norton Award and the 2013 Aurora Award. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she edits Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, picks urban apple trees, and works as a bookseller and civic engagement activist. Her second novel, On Roadstead Farm — a literary dustbowl fantasy where things blow up—will appear from Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in late 2014. Visit her website, or find her on Twitter at @leahbobet.
Above, American fantasy, Andre Norton Award, Aurora Award, authors, Chris Cornell, Clarion Books, Desert Island Discs, drama, dustbowl fantasy, entertainment, Gregory and the Hawk, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, Leah Bobet, literary dustbowl fantasy, Madrugada, Matthew Good, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nine Inch Nails, On Roadstead Farm, PJ Harvey, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Von Bondies, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
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 Hollywood screenwriter Mark Staufer @MarkStaufer
A few years back, I wanted to break out of my screenwriting comfort zone. I decided to confront the issue that bemused me the most of all: acting.
As a screenwriter, I’ve always viewed actors with a certain amount of trepidation and — I’ll get shot for this — a smidgen of superiority. I mean, we’re the clever ones, right? We writers conjure universes and characters and astonishing dialogue from our super-awesome-God-anointed well-spring of transcendental brilliance. And we do all this in three acts — not exceeding 90 minutes for a comedy and two hours for a drama — and we always deliver on time and don’t require a Buddhist Lama or a manicurist written into our contract. Unless we’re that Joe Ezsterhas-from-the-80s guy.
Damn actors, though, they simply wander in and rearrange their photogenic facial expressions and move their well-toned bodies like puppets, parroting the words we maestro-minds have spent months bleeding over and creating. And rewriting. Again. And…
Wait. Just, before I die, let me finish…
So, I confronted my fear and wrote a script with one of those bloody annoying actors. You may know Josh Stewart from Third Watch or Dirt or The Dark Knight Rises — to me, he was a friend first, and a scary, Brando-esque methody-actor second. As we worked on the script together — he as committed as I was — it became (painfully) apparent that I was learning a whole new dimension in screenwriting. Sure, I was fucking superb at writing and scenes and structure and ‘creating universes’ and theoretical whatnot, but Josh, as an actor, slipped into characters and dialogue like an eel. He was like a specialist fine-tuning these parts of the body, while I resembled something akin to your garden variety local GP.
Josh taught me so much about the most important parts of screenwriting — characters; motivation; showing, not telling; use of the semicolon; minimal big-print — that I feel totally embarrassed about the whole ‘rearranging expressions’ statement a while back. Oh, if you want to read our magnificent script about an archeologist-turned-grave-robber… Give me a yell.
And a similar thing has happened with music and writing with The Numinous Place. Not that I’ve ever been quite so damning about music and composers — but I’ve learned so much from actually listening, and listening hard to music, and musicians, that it’s completely transformed my approach to writing as well.
You see, in the middle of the night, about a decade ago I awoke from a most wondrous and startling dream and immediately thought to myself, how cool would it be if we developed the technology to film dreams. That was the spark that hovered and wormed its way into my consciousness until I finally dragged myself into the dark room and began work five years later on (gulp) my life’s work. By that stage I’d been researching like crazy, the characters and plot were pretty much fully formed, my entire belief system had been turned upside-down, and I knew I needed to tell this particular story in an utterly different way.
For maximum impact, I needed to create an authentic storyworld about the scientific discovery of the afterlife using all storytelling techniques: first-person narrative, audio, video, web and magazine articles, comic, photographs, diagrams… Nothing less would suffice than every narrative device we’ve used since cave-painting began 40,000 years ago.
Reading is visceral
There was no gimmickry involved in this decision to create in a multidimensional fashion. It’s just that I believe a reader’s response to realistic artifacts and information is more visceral — it’s a case of showing not telling (remember what Josh taught me?). As the narrative unfolded I didn’t want anyone to have to suspend their disbelief for a moment. Everyone really needed to believe that science had indeed discovered the afterlife. And for that to happen, it was going to be necessary to present them with all the relevant evidence — totally believable evidence I’d gathered from since the beginning of time. Here’s the newspaper article, take a look at the news report, here’s the page in Wikipedia… Seeing is believing.
I also wanted to include a soundtrack with the book. With the technique of lucid dreaming — becoming conscious in your dreamworld and controlling it — at the core of the narrative it was important to be able to conjure an immediate response with readers. And music is by far the best way to do this.
It was necessary for my writing, too. Music was what helped me tap into my subconscious and those other realities in which my narrative and characters already existed. Music was the bridge to the worlds of archetypes and parallel universes where every story lives and waits to be told in the here and now by someone like you.
There’s a fantastic music site called A Closer Listen which supplied me with many leads and from there I discovered a bunch of musical geniuses whose ethereal compositions sang to my subconscious and allowed me to bring the dreamworld into this reality. The darkly claustrophobic ambience of Adrian Aniol, the hauntingly cinematic music of Leonardo Rosado, the angelic pyrotechnics of Sorabji, the fiery minimalism of Italian composer Ezio Bosso and the wafty electronic otherworldiness of The Caretaker.
But what would an actual soundtrack to a book such as The Numinous Place sound like, and how would it work? Books aren’t movies or games — the reading experience is intimate and self-paced, and I don’t believe any reader wants music or sound effects blasting away behind every word. How could I make music an evocative part of the experience, integrate it into the storyworld and allow it to accentuate the narrative?
Under the guidance of composer/sound designer Walter Werzowa it was decided the music — like the tech and design by Dean Johnson and the team at digital agency Brandwidth — would be used strategically. Pieces would be composed by Maestro Werzowa to specifically enhance the narrative, underscore the emotional intensity and act as scene-breakers.
And, since reading is more about choices than, say, watching a film — the reader can choose to listen immediately, or save the piece and listen later.
Dreamworlds move at their own pace
Because the dreamworld itself moves at a different pace from this reality and is often so difficult to recall, Walter set to work reimagining well-known classical pieces that evoke the moods experienced in the dreamworld by the book’s hero, Henry Meat. You can hear an example here, along with Walter’s magnificent Agnus.
And, just like James Bond films, The Numinous Place needed a theme song. For this I approached fellow-Kiwi Alicia Merz who records under the name Birds of Passage. Alicia’s compellingly hypnotic theme for The Numinous Place captures the atmosphere of the storyworld perfectly — it evokes the dreamworld in a way words often struggle to achieve.
Music being such an integral part of both the creative process and finished product has also assisted me in an unanticipated way. The structural multidimensionality of The Numinous Place means there are a lot of balls in the air during writing. Similar to music — cadence and rhythm and texture are incredibly important — and I’ve learned from all those composers on my soundtrack during this journey.
I’ve learned that, just like acting, it’s the silences between the notes that are equally as important as the notes themselves.
And it is the same with words.
Hollywood screenwriter Mark Staufer is the curator/creator of an ambitious new way of storytelling, a supernatural thriller called The Numinous Place which will be available later this year. Staufer is a former head of production at Universal Studios Networks in London and has been working on his “destiny project” for more than a decade. You can follow him on twitter @MarkStaufer and @NuminousPlace and the lead character in the book @HenryMeat.
acting, actors, Adrian Aniol, afterlife, apps, authors, Birds of Passage, contemporary fiction, cross-media, Desert Island Discs, drama, dream worlds, dreams, entertainment, Ezio Bosso, facial expressions, gaming, hollywood screenwriter, how to record dreams, Kaikhosru Sorabji, Leonardo Rosado, literary apps, male writers, Mark Staufer, multimedia, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, screenwriting, scripts, scriptwriting, speculative fiction, storytelling, storyworlds, supernatural, supernatural thriller, The Caretaker, The Numinous Place, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, transmedia, undercover soundtrack, videogames, Walter Werzowa, writers, writing, writing to music
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 Caroline Smailes @Caroline_S
When writing my first four novels, my creative process didn’t involve music. Children shouting, laughing, crying and even dogs barking, then yes I could write. But the minute I played any kind of music I become distracted, lost in the music, unable to commit a word to paper.
Writing The Drowning of Arthur Braxton
Then came the creative process of writing The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. To my surprise music became part of the writing method. The difference seemed to be that the book was about music. It was a novel that had music at its very core, it looked at how music could lure, I even found myself considering how music sounded when being played under water.
The novel has a soundtrack through it, a whistle and a singing nymph, thus for me to populate that mysterious place I had to bring background music into the creative equation.
In one of the first scenes I wrote, Arthur Braxton is fleeing with his pants around his ankles from a group of teenagers. He’d been promised sexual fulfilment by the girl of his dreams. However, it was a trick and he found himself exposed, ambushed by a barrage of flashing mobile phones which instantly uploaded embarrassing images of him to Facebook. The scene ended with him running away, with suicidal thoughts smothering him.
That was the start, it was also when music, for the first time, began to influence the story I was writing.
Have you ever heard a single lyric that inspired you, stopped you in your tracks, and made you catch your breath?
There’s a single line is Gaspard Royant’s Yours: ‘I’ve got a whole world where you’ll never find me’. This was the line that changed The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. It sneaked into my thought processes as I wrote. I wondered what it would be like if a place existed that could keep a chosen few safe, a place that not everyone could find.
That’s when I started writing about the derelict swimming baths called The Oracle. In the novel, for 16 years, the vast building has been closed. From the signs stuck to the erected fences around The Oracle, it is clear that there is a looming threat. Although it is a listed building, the council has sold it to an American company who are planning to demolish and rebuild. As Arthur is contemplating suicide, he finds himself outside The Oracle and that’s when he hears music – a girl’s voice, singing, the most beautiful singing he has ever heard.
Later, the reader discovers that the singing is from Madora, and later again it is revealed that she lives below the surface of the swimming baths in ‘the otherworld’. A secret world where humans don’t go, a whole other world where people cannot be found.
Would I have ever allowed my creative mind to escape into that other world without Gaspard’s lyric? I honestly don’t know.
I guess that one idea led to me thinking about the concept of home and Arthur Braxton’s lack of home, indeed his need for a home.
When these ideas were forming, I heard Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. I watched a YouTube video of a performance; it was when the two singers were still in a relationship. The way they interacted, that feeling that no one else in the room mattered, that absorbing of each other, inspired me. I wanted to take that feeling and apply it to a first love, the redemptive magic of that first love. It allowed for a deeper understanding of my characters.
And Home is a happy song, bouncy and full of energy. I like that about it. So, pulling on their lyrics and that overwhelming sense of home being wherever the two people were together, I let the music play and tried to explore the sense of true love being a returning home, a familiarity and safety.
Yet these were the only songs that I could listen to whilst writing.
There was no place in my creative experience for another song. I had compartmentalised these songs into being acceptable, into them being a tool to create. They played on a loop, almost echoes within the room.
So is this a new way of writing, is music my muse?
My next novel is about The Beatles, I’ve already tried writing to their songs and can’t. Perhaps The Drowning of Arthur Braxton will be my only novel that allows music to aid the creative process. I’ll let you know.
Caroline Smailes lives in the North West of England with her husband and three children. The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is her fifth novel. It is published by The Friday Project and is available in paperback and eBook. She can be found at her website and on Twitter as @Caroline_S.
Gaspard Royant lyric quoted with permission.
GIVEAWAY Caroline is excited to give away a print copy of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton to one commenter here. Extra entries if you share this post on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In or G+ – but be sure to leave a note here to let us know that you have!
authors, Caroline Smailes, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, entertainment, Gaspard Royant, Harper Collins, HarperCollins, literary fiction, literary novels, mermaids, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, siren song, speculative fiction, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, The Friday Project, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
- 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
Find something unforgettable
Sign up for my newsletter
- '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'