Posts Tagged Steely Dan

The Undercover Soundtrack – Camille Griep

for logoThe 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 short story writer, cultural magazine editor and speculative fiction author Camille Griep @camillethegriep

Soundtrack by Steely Dan, Amanda McBroom, Esthero, London Grammar, Paul Simon, Jonatha Brooke, Thomas Tallis, Vaughan Williams, Phox, Eliza Carthy, George Michael, Weekend Players, Florence + the Machine, Nick Cave

The Undercover Soundtrack Camille Griep 1I have long been an aficionado of the journey (not to be confused with Journey), the treks taken between a home we love and a home we’ve yet to build. I’ve spent countless miles on mountain passes between my Montana birthplace and eventual homes in other parts of the state, to Los Angeles, San Francisco, even northwest Ohio. These places eventually became, and in some cases still are, home.

Journeys are an integral part of the fantasy genre, whether the travels are real or allegory. In my most recent novel, New Charity Blues, I set out to not only examine the pull one feels between an old home and a new one, but the coming of age that accompanies the realization that home is rarely static, and even if it is, the person going there is rarely unchanged from the journey itself.

When I sat down to write this book, a reimagining of the Trojan War, I listened to Steely Dan’s Home at Last on repeat. In New Charity Blues, Syd (aka Cressyda) travels from her home in the ruined City to her hometown, a walled-off bastion of perfection in a world trying to rebuild from a post-pandemic disaster. Once there, she finds herself at odds with her once best friend, the seer Cas (aka Cassandra). Home at Last holds lyrical meaning for both characters, a study of Odysseus, so changed by his journey that he can’t bring himself to disembark his ship. I played it as often as I needed in order to remember the aversion to melding worlds and experiences – a commonality for most of us who eventually leave home.

Home changes, and we ourselves are changed

I also basked in Amanda McBroom’s Dorothy, a song lamenting the Wizard of Oz heroine’s return to Kansas. In some ways, New Charity, the bastion Syd is pushed toward and enveloped in, is a sort of Oz. It’s a self-sustaining community full of safety and secrets. The magic that once imbued the town now protects the water Syd’s City so badly needs. But she’s torn, too. Memories of home, the assurance of love, the temptation of ease gives her pause – which home is home?

Like so many of us from small places, Syd is of two minds about New Charity itself. Listening to Esthero’s Country Living allowed me to remember what it was like to be in a small place, hoping to get out. Syd’s trajectory led her out and up, and, returning, she find New Charity is too narrow and too slow. She misses the sharp angles of the City and the people who had become her family. London Grammar’s Metal & Dust was a beautiful accompaniment to the character’s unrest.

These realisations – the pull between the people Syd loves, the town she once knew, and the City she promised to save were served Paul Simon’s beautifully sad Further to Fly. The song, as well as the pull of the characters, are a clear reminder that, though unrealistic, sometimes, it’s only human to want everything.

The Undercover Soundtrack Camille Griep 2

Outside the sanctuary

The relationship between best friends Syd and Cas is tested from the moment Syd arrives in New Charity. Cas all at once understands the threat Syd poses to the stasis New Charity has achieved and, at the same time, she begins to think outside the hermetic box of the Sanctuary, a religion devoted to the Spirit of the land headed up by a darkly mysterious Bishop. Though she wants to protect her friend and her home, it seems she cannot do both. She pleads with Syd to consider the consequences of her plans, and I imagine her doing so with Jonatha Brooke’s Because I Told You So playing in the background – a song that soothed me through many a tough conversation over the years.

Unlike Syd, whose circumstances of loss and need accelerated her adulthood, Cas is in some ways still a young girl. We meet her looking out over the green hills of New Charity, reflecting on the horizon. In her head, I imagine the Tallis Fantasia playing, the whole thing, from its beginning so quiet you have to sit next to the speakers to hear it to the heartswell at the eighth minute. I know this because I have felt this same swell for a piece of land, a vista, a connection and I think Cas feels it, too. As Cas falters with her identity – once so closely tied to being a twin, I listened carefully to more lush instrumental brilliance within Laura by Phox and Poor Little Me by Eliza Carthy.

Cas and Syd’s friendship is further displaced by the romance between Cas’s older brother, Troy. In her capacity as prophetess, she can see the beginning of the end, and, if she knew the song, she’d be singing George Michael’s Cowboys and Angels to both her friend and her brother.

New Charity BluesAs in life, circumstances and characters beyond their control complicate Syd and Cas’s eventual unearthing of the town’s secrets. Syd falls in love and finally allies with Cas. After a night under the stars with Troy, she wakes up knowing what to do. Crafting this scene, I studied the lyrics of Higher Ground by The Weekend Players and Rabbit Heart by Florence + the Machine.

The die is cast for the town of New Charity. In the dark moments, which I’ll not spoil here, Nick Cave’s O’Children guided the necessary tears of both characters and the writer.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to make arts by the grace of other artists like the ones above – and, of course, the countless others. Though we don’t always know whose lives – whose homes – we touch with our art, it is reassuring to know we are always building another space in which to feel free.

Camille Griep is the author of two novels: Letters to Zell (July 2015) and New Charity Blues (April 2016), both from 47North. Her recent short-form work has been featured in Synaesthesia, The Vignette Review, and Under the Gum Tree, among others. She edits the literary magazines Easy Street and The Lascaux Review and lives north of Seattle with her partner Adam and a spoiled bulldog named Dutch. She is agented by Cameron McClure at Donald Maass Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter @camillethegriep or at

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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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