Posts Tagged suspense

The Undercover Soundtrack – Sanjida Kay

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 might be familiar to you; she’s been here before as Sanjida O’Connell @SanjidaOConnell. She’s turned her hand to thrillers for her latest release and is wearing a new writing persona, Sanjida Kay

Soundtrack by David Gray, Coldplay, The Choir of Young Believers, Massive Attack, Faithless, Sandi Thom

The Undercover Soundtrack Sanjida Kay 1What would you do if you found out that your child was being bullied? Laura, newly divorced and relocated to Bristol, learns that her nine-year-old daughter, Autumn, is being bullied at her primary school. When no one takes Laura seriously, she tries to protect Autumn from the bully – and makes the situation much, much worse. This is the start of my first psychological thriller, Bone by Bone. The story is told from the point of view of the mother, Laura, as well as her daughter.

I found getting into Autumn’s head the hardest part of the process. After all, it’s a long time since I was nine! I wanted to get across what it felt like to be nine as well as the change that being bullied can wreak on a person’s character. Autumn is a shy, sweet child. She loves painting, misses her best friend, Cleo, and likes Mozart and ‘Bark’.

Listening to classical music and looking at Giacomettis didn’t help me understand what it felt like to be Autumn. I started playing Sandi Thom’s I wish I was a punk rocker. Autumn, a slightly other-worldly child, is certainly not a punk rocker – in exactly the same way that Thom sings about punk with the nostalgia of one who never experienced its raw anarchy; aching for a world that never was, whilst wearing flowers in her hair.

Laura, Autumn’s mother, is also shy and introverted. She lacks confidence and is vulnerable and isolated, yet, like any parent, loves her daughter with all her heart.

When Autumn was born, it was as if she recognized her, as if she’d always known that it would be her, this little person who had come to live with her and reside permanently in her heart. It was a love unlike any other: fierce and powerful.

The song that most helped me get into this zone was The one I love by David Gray with its notes of hope and fear.

Because of Laura’s personality and circumstances, she feels powerless to put a stop to some of the terrible events happening to her and Autumn. But at some point in the novel, she needs to overcome her lack of confidence and find inner strength. One of the triggers for this shift was inspired by a Coldplay song, Viva la Vida; a heart-heavy march of reluctant triumphalism.

The Undercover Soundtrack Sanjida Kay 2Bone by Bone is set in Bristol where I live. What I wanted to capture was the juxtaposition of the city as gritty, grafitti-ridden yet woven through with green spaces like The Downs and Narroways, the urban nature reserve where much of the action takes place.

Bristol is a vibrant, culturally-rich and ethnically- diverse place to live; it’s also riven with divisions between classes and races, rich and poor, and I wanted to imbibe the novel with that edginess. The tracks I chose that summed up what Bristol means to me for the purpose of writing are by Bristolian bands, Massive Attack, Safe from Harm and Insomnia by Tricky of Faithless. Safe from Harm seems to embody that uneasiness, its melodic voice and hopefulness undercut with darkness; this track combined with the restlessness of Insomnia were perfect for what I was trying to do with Bone by Bone: create a relentless ratcheting up of tension.

The Undercover Soundtrack - Bone by BoneBone by Bone is set over a period of ten days, covering Halloween and Bonfire Night. It’s grey, cold, icy: I wanted to develop an atmosphere that was taut, tense, sinister. To get me in the right frame of mind, particularly on days when the sky was bright blue and sunshine flooded my office, I would listen to this lyrical, haunting and disturbing single – Hollow Talk by The Choir of Young Believers – now made famous by The Bridge.

The lines began to sing, a shrill, electric song, and then the cacophony of the train roared out of the darkness. The carriages were almost empty and painfully bright as they hurtled along the tracks to the heart of the city. In the fleeting light she saw the meadow, dotted with stunted hawthorns, their twisted limbs dense with red berries, and then a shape: achingly familiar, child-sized, shockingly still.

Sanjida Kay’s debut thriller, Bone by Bone, is published by Corvus Books. She lives in Bristol with her husband and her daughter. Find her on her website, Facebook  and Twitter @SanjidaOConnell.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – AJ Waines

for logoThe Undercover Soundtrack is a regular 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’s guest is psychological thriller author AJ Waines @AJWaines

Soundtrack by Ane Brun, Angelo Badalamenti, Johan Söderqvist, Bach, Elgar, Pet Shop Boys

Music has always played a key role in my life; I started playing the piano at five (before I could reach the pedals) and the cello at nine. On a professional and recreational basis I’ve played in all of the main London concert halls; for the Queen and also for the Prime Minister at Whitehall. But it’s not just classical; my taste ranges from the early Baroque composer Allegri, through Shostakovich to the Pet Shop Boys.

AJ Waines 3As it happens, I turned to my music training to help me to learn how to write fiction and set about looking at a psychological thriller like a piece of music. It’s not hard to see instant parallels between music and writing; structure, voice, texture, layering, strands brought to the fore at any one point and strands kept simmering away in the background – they are all essential to both. Now as a writer, I tend to tune into elements such as the flow of phrases and placing of punctuation. Sentences, the building blocks of writing, have their own rhythm – you can have clunky sentences and well-paced ones. The words can suddenly stop. Start again. They can draw attention to themselves, be deliberately clunky and rough around the edges or be smooth and mellifluous. Just like music.

My father died while I was writing my third novel, Dark Place To Hide, and I found myself listening to certain soulful pieces of music that had a direct influence on the core moods in the story. Dark Place to Hide is all about secrets and betrayal entwined around two disappearances in one village. The perfect inspiration behind the first chapters, which focus on loss and confusion, came from an episode of the TV series Wallender, The Opening, by Ane Brun.

This sublime song helped to crystallise sections such as this:

I wake and in those first fuddled moments forget you’re not here. I must have been dreaming about you – a tense, erotic dream. I reach out in bed to the place where your body should be. It’s cold and there is no hollow. Even the bed is forgetting you.

The song is about trying to move forward when you find yourself utterly stuck; exactly the position Harper finds himself in when his wife not only has a miscarriage (after he’s just found out he’s infertile), but then goes missing. The police have no evidence and they can only conclude that she has taken off with her lover. ‘Sometimes it’s just a small step or a short conversation – or sometimes just a single word,’ Brun the composer explains, ‘that can set off the necessary process of change.’ This is particularly resonant for Harper. Having sunk into despair, it takes a missing child from the same village to shake him out of his torpor and spark his unique criminology skills into life.

Another song, Mysteries of Love by Angelo Badalamenti (featured in David Lynch’s 1986 film, Blue Velvet) gave me an emotional source for exploring Harper’s relationship with his wife, Diane. David Lynch, the director of the film, apparently asked for a soundtrack that was beautiful and dark ‘and a little bit scary’. Because Diane goes missing right at the start, it means we see their relationship largely through Harper’s eyes in the form of flashbacks and back story. His assumption is that their relationship is built on a solid foundation of trust and deep connection, but he feels betrayed, thrown into disarray and suspicion – the music here, like the film, provoked the bewildered feelings I wanted to convey of love that’s become tainted, unsettled and impure.

AJ Waines 2

Eli’s Theme from the Swedish film Let the Right One In, by Johan Söderqvist, was exactly the right feel for the point in the novel when Clara, the plucky but vulnerable little girl disappears. The grief in the music also reflects Eli’s sense (in the film) of being forever an outsider and while Eli is a little older than Clara, I wanted to convey the same experience of ‘being a bit different’. Hopefully, I’ve portrayed Clara as a quirky little girl, climbing into places she shouldn’t go, because she’s exploring her world without the usual parental boundaries. The music reminds me of Mahler and pulls at the heartstrings, just right for taking me into the emotional world of Clara’s mother, who is dying and unable to search for her daughter, herself.

DARKLargeEBookHope, striving and enlightenment

When the real chase kicks in, Harper tries to work out the meaning behind the fairy-tales into which Clara retreated before she went missing – then discovers there’s a connection between Clara and his wife. Between long stints at the writing desk, I listened to music that stoked up the emotions surrounding hope, striving and enlightenment. I was looking for a relentless tone and came up with Elgar’s orchestral arrangement of Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in C minor BWV 537, which combines a driving pulse with melancholy. The fugue explodes with layers and threads that intertwine and overlap with a growing sense of urgency, which I hope is reflected in the book.

I don’t want to give away the ending of the novel, but Footsteps by the Pet Shop Boys hits the spot.

AJ Waines was a psychotherapist for 15 years, during which time she worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, giving her a rare insight into abnormal psychology. She is now a full-time novelist and has publishing deals in France and Germany (Random House). Both her debut novels, The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train have been number one in Murder and Psychological Thrillers in the UK Kindle charts. In 2015, she was ranked in the Top 100 UK authors on Amazon KDP. Her new psychological thriller, Dark Place to Hide, was released in July 2015. Alison lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter as @AJWaines and Facebook.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Louise Marley

for logo‘The distraction of silence’

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 romantic comedy and romantic suspense writer Louise Marley @LouiseMarley

Soundtrack by Robbie Williams, Alesha Dixon, Pulp, Little Boots, Eliza Doolittle, Damian Marley

I’ve always been good at blocking out any distracting noise, whether I’m writing or reading. The distraction of silence is another matter, particularly if I’ve become stuck writing a scene, but I’ve learned to work around this by playing music.

Louise MarleyIt took me a while to realise the music I chose influenced my writing. I was listening to whatever was in the charts, but the music didn’t always fit the scene I was trying to create and would sometimes take me right out of it. So I got into the habit of creating playlists.

Nemesis, my most recent novel, starts with a flashback to 1998. Natalie is 15 and furious because her parents have forbidden her to go to the carnival. So she’s watching from her bedroom window, hoping to see enough to pretend she was there. Instead she spots her sister, Sarah, sneaking out to meet a man waiting in the shadows. It’s the last time Natalie will see Sarah alive. A quick way for me to take the reader back to 1998 was to reference Robbie William’s Let Me Entertain You, but the song is also about rebellion and infidelity, and these became Sarah’s motivations for running away.

Music also helps me develop my characters by providing them their own ‘theme tune’. Natalie’s became Knockdown by Alesha Dixon. This song, as the title suggests, is about a girl realising that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you have to pick yourself up and carry on. Natalie’s mother neglects her, her father is a violent bully and her sister was murdered. Despite all this Natalie works hard, educates herself and now has a successful career as a thriller writer. She feels it’s the perfect time to finally find out who killed her sister – by using herself as bait.

Understandably Natalie’s boyfriend, Simon, thinks she’s insane to put herself in such a dangerous situation. His character was inspired by Common People by Pulp (the song is also playing when they first meet, back in 1998). The track is really about a rich girl who wants to play at being poor but I twisted the meaning to create Simon, who is one of those people who is never happy with his own life. He hates being one of the ‘common people’. He wants to be rich and successful, and he blames everyone else for the fact he isn’t. Simon is jealous of Natalie’s friend because she lives in a castle, he hates another character because he got the job he wanted, and he’s even bitter about Natalie having the more successful career:

Look at everything you’ve achieved, all those books you’ve sold, the millions you’ve made. But while you’re living up here in your ivory tower, do you ever consider the rest of us? Do you ever think about what it must be like to be me, stuck at that bloody school forever and never progressing, all because of my relationship with you?’

As well as ‘theme tunes’, music helps me work out the characters’ relationships to each other. Remedy by Little Boots, with its line about dancing with the enemy, inspired the relationship between Natalie and Bryn – the man the police suspect of killing Sarah. Bryn’s cousin disappeared the same time Sarah died and he’s convinced the two incidents are connected. Natalie can’t make up her mind as to whether she thinks he’s guilty or innocent.

Despite the police warning her off, Natalie agrees to work with Bryn but, as they follow up one false lead after another, the body of another young woman is found in identical circumstances to Sarah. Natalie is devastated.

She was so small, so slight – so young. I was the one who started this. It should have been me.’

The Undercover Soundtrack - distraction of silenceNatalie has spent years trying to bring her sister’s murderer to justice. She’s so used to bouncing back from all those knockdowns she hardly notices them anymore, but this is one knockdown there’s no getting up from. Go Home by Eliza Doolittle, about a girl who is in denial about being in trouble, helped me get into Natalie’s head at this point, revealing why she feels she has to finally give up on this obsession.

Natalie might have given up on her sister’s murderer but unfortunately he hasn’t given up on her.

There was no one there; of course there wasn’t. The front door had remained locked and the chain was even in place. She was spooking herself.

Then the music started.’

I don’t mention the track by name but inside my head it was All Night by Damian Marley, about a man exasperated by his girlfriend. I had the idea that anyone would feel freaked out by music echoing throughout an empty apartment in the middle of the night, wouldn’t they?

Unless they were a writer, in which case it might just kick-start their imagination.

Louise Marley writes romantic comedy and romantic suspense, and sometimes she mixes the two. She lives in Wales, surrounded by fields of sheep, and has a beautiful view of Snowdon from her window. Her first published novel was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which was a finalist in Poolbeg’s ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition. She has also written articles for the Irish press and short stories for UK women’s magazines such as Take a Break and My Weekly. Nemesis is available here. Her website is here, her blog is here. She tweets as @LouiseMarley.

 

 

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‘The distraction of silence’ – Louise Marley

for logoThis week’s guest discovered by accident how music could be such a useful a creative partner. She found that whenever she got stuck on a scene or a character, the most distracting thing would be the silence around her. She began playing music purely so she wouldn’t hear it – and magical things started to happen. The novel she’s talking about in her post is a romantic suspense with a whiff of murder, and her first book was a finalist in the Poolbeg Write A Bestseller competition. She also writes short stories for the UK women’s magazines Take a Break and My Weekly. She is Louise Marley and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Candace Austin

for logo‘The perfect song to help my characters flourish’

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

Soundtrack by Brandi Carlile, Jamie Cullum, Michael Johns and Brooke White, The Beatles, John Lennon

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.

CandaceClosup

Past lives

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.

NOOK _ THE LAYERS COVERDavid 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.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Kathryn Guare

for logo‘Intensity, wildness and urban mayhem’

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 debut suspense author Kathryn Guare @KGuare

Soundtrack by Great Courses audio seminars, sound of rain, sound of thunder, Secret Garden, Solas, Arbaaz Khan, Rory Gallagher, Mychael Danna, Luka Bloom, Samuel Barber

When I first began writing what would eventually become my debut suspense novel, Deceptive Cadence, I started it at the end.  I just didn’t realize it.

The book tells the story of Conor McBride, an Irish musician turned reluctant undercover operative. The beginning details his recruitment for a very personal mission to India to find and capture his own brother, but the first scene that came to me ended up as the beginning of its final chapter.  At the time I knew little about the protagonist. He didn’t even have a name. I knew he was Irish, and was emerging from a traumatic, life-changing ordeal. He was physically depleted, emotionally raw, and frightened. Why? I didn’t know. To find out, I kept writing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile random scenes and bits of dialogue were popping into my head, I was commuting two hours a day to my job—and going through my local library’s inventory of audio books at a rapid rate—when I happened upon a Great Courses audio seminar called How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.  To say it had an influence on my writing life would be a vast understatement. Not only did it influence the title of the book (explained here), it also inspired one of the central features of its hero—he’s a virtuoso violinist. Once I had that aspect of his character nailed down, Conor McBride’s personality and all his complexity began to come alive. Many readers of Deceptive Cadence tell me Conor is quite a departure from the typical, stock heroes of suspense/thrillers. He’s a complicated character that they want to know better. I owe that to the Great Courses, and the moment I decided he needed to be a gifted musician.

Thunder

I’m easily distracted by music. The only thing I can have playing in the background while I’m writing are those ‘sounds of nature’ tracks—rain water, thunder, bells tolling, monks chanting—but when looking for inspiration I go walking with my ipod, my music choices driven by whatever theme I’m concentrating on in a given scene.

Into chaos

One theme of the book is the paradox of an honorable man forced by circumstance to reinvent himself into something less so. Conor disappears into an assumed identity and enters a world of cold-blooded deception and violence. And finds he is good at it. The internal chaos this creates is mirrored by the literal chaos of his external surroundings. India is a kettle perpetually at full boil, vibrant and desperate, cunning and guileless, its teeming humanity contributing to an overwhelming sensory experience of sights, sounds and smells.

Secret Garden’s atmospheric piece Moving captured that internal and external tumult for me, almost a theme song for Conor’s entire journey, so that I ended up including it in my book trailer. It begins with an ominous drumbeat underlying a melody of violin and soaring flutes, evoking the Irish sea coast, but the intensity grows, creating a cascading sense of wildness, perfectly symbolizing the physical and psychic movement from idyllic country setting to exotic, urban mayhem.

The Irish-American group Solas does a cover of Jesse Colin Young’s moody Darkness Darkness that inspired me as I watched Conor falling farther from himself. After committing an act of violence that revolts him, he wanders the dark streets of Mumbai, wrestling with guilt, and I thought of this song as I wrote that scene.

For the Indian side of the equation, Munni Badnam by Arbaaz Khaan from the 2010 Bollywood blockbuster Dabaang, is a song with a driving urban beat that conjures the modern, kaleidoscopic frenzy of Mumbai’s crowded streets and throbbing nightlife. At the 1:06 mark, you even get a taste of something like a mash-up of a Hindi-Irish reel!

I’ve also belatedly discovered the legendary Irish rocker Rory Gallagher, and for some pure, tongue-in-cheek fun, his Philby is perfect for epitomising some of Conor’s disdain for the world of secret intelligence and the testy relationship with his American control officer. Ironically, Rory offers some fierce, sitar-like plucking at the song’s mid-point.

Touching the mystical

Another important theme of the book is Conor’s connection to the mystical, and the special relationship he feels with some of the people in his life – his near-psychic mother, and the tiny Indian mafia wife and guru who becomes a spiritual anchor for him. Turning again to Indian cinema, Love and Marigolds from Monsoon Wedding instantly puts me in the right space for this theme, as does Luka Bloom’s Sanctuary, and Secret Garden’s Hymn to Hope.

Back to classical

dfw-kg-dc-cover-midFor the most emotional and climactic scenes of the book, I went back to the classical realm and the second movement of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14. I never make it through this without crying, almost from the opening notes of its poignant clarinet solo. The entire movement, with a discordant violin gradually resolving into gorgeous melody, seems like an ode to sorrowful loss that is somehow balanced against a staggering, awe-struck wonder. I won’t reveal details, but suffice it to say this is Conor experiencing a powerful moment of grace even as he is shaken by the reality of grief.

I would like to say I’m a connoisseur of music, but that would be giving myself too much credit. I am more like a committed dilettante. I’m a curious listener and lover of diverse forms, which I experience with emotional enthusiasm rather than any depth of expertise, but at least I can say that the Great Courses seminar worked. I now can listen to and understand great music, and it fuels every creative effort I undertake.

Kathryn Guare is back in the town of Montpelier, VT where she grew up after many years of globetrotting. She spent 10 years as an executive with a global health membership organization, worked as a travel agency tour coordinator, and her extensive travels inspire her writing. Deceptive Cadence is her first novel, available now at Amazon and other online retailers, and distributed through Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. Visit her website for more pictures, music and fun facts about the book, and connect with her online on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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‘Intensity, wildness and urban mayhem’ – Kathryn Guare

for logoMy guest this week began her debut novel with very little sense of where she was going.  All she had was a powerful scene and a yen to explore it. While she was experimenting, she happened on an audio seminar on understanding classical music. Suddenly she realised her character should be a virtuoso violinist – and the novel came alive. (Readers of My Memories of a Future Life will recognise a kindred spirit here. When I heard about her novel I had to recruit her.) She carried on collecting music to explore her character’s world and the result is a suspense novel with a rather unusual protagonist. She is Kathryn Guare and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Reb MacRath

for logo‘I played the song repeatedly, allowing it to dictate what I said and left unsaid’

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 my guest is award-winning commercial novelist and reborn indie Reb MacRath @Rebmacrath

Soundtrack by Rod Stewart

It’s a drag, without doubt, but we all must admit:  We’re not allowed to have our cake and toss our cookies too.  Still, I found myself starting to do that in a book called Southern Scotch.  And if I hadn’t been saved by Rod Stewart, I’d never have finished the novel or gone on to write the sequel.

Damned before the music

rebI ‘d begun with Pete McGregor, a drunken Scottish lout who’s mistaken for somebody else in the South and beaten half to death.  Five years later he returns as Boss MacTavin:  rich, thin, brutal and hell-bent on revenge.  Now, I saw a strong hook there and liked it.  But a big problem came with it:  Advance readers hated both Fat Loser Pete and the Mike Hammerish Boss.  The character had to be far more sympathetic in both incarnations because dark waters lay ahead:  the porn trade in Atlanta.  I tried every trick, but failed…

Enter the wee mighty Rodster reborn

The Great American Songbooks volumes 1-5. Rod’s soulful takes on the classics contained the qualities required:  sweetness and light … streetsmart sophistication … tenderness, toughness and heart. If these qualities suffused the book, we might be spared tossed cookies.

And the singer also called to me.  The Rodster had been written off as a commercial sell-out — two or three great albums followed by slush.  Now here he was, singing old songs that he loved while he plotted his greatest rock album.*

And here I was, a writer who’d once had the whole world before him — four novels with two big houses … an international award and film option — scrambling in the ebook jungle. Writing the sort of book I love to read.  And hoping, like Rod, that my best lay ahead.

And, hooray now, here came my changed hero:  no longer a fat, drunken slob at the start — a man who’d known greatness and crashed but still dreamed … a man who returned as a bit of a thug — but also a complex and admirable soul.

Well, yes, all right.  That’s well and good.  But, Reb baby, please — some specifics?

Hokay!

Background inspiration

I immersed myself in the five albums.  For the most part, I felt more concerned with absorbing the qualities mentioned than with providing a soundtrack.  As I absorbed these qualities, I began to grow more skillful at infusing my character with them as well.  But a few songs had added importance for me.  In these I heard the rocker’s growth through mastery of the classics. Blue Moon by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. That Old Black Magic by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Beyond the Sea by Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence.

The Very Soul songs

Pete’s dream girl, Tina, dies in a plane crash.  Boss needed to be haunted still by the aching sense of loss I heard in We’ll Be Together Again by Carl T. Fischer. I played it repeatedly, allowing it to dictate what I said and left unsaid.  The song is present on each page, though it’s mentioned by name only once.

Scotch200 (5)For an epic brawl with six bikers, I wanted a far different mood.  Again one song inspired me: I Get a Kick Out of You by Cole Porter.

Rod’s a consonantal singer, not a voweler like Sinatra.  With Rod it’s not ‘Iiiiii get a kiiiiick’, but ‘I gggggettttt a kkkkkickkkkk’.  And his version of this tune packs an exceptional wallop, one I hoped to channel. I wanted bounce in Boss’s step, sass and pow in every punch.  I wanted a Yeah, Baby feeling without even mentioning the song.

How the Rodster helped me build my bridge

The sequel, The Alcatraz Correction, takes place three years later.  And Boss is a changed man, who’s fallen in love.  Still, we need consistency in a series character.  So I always had one of the Songbooks playing in the background so I’d run into the old Boss in unfamiliar places.

*Rod may have the last laugh on Rolling Stone and the old fans who’ve trashed him.  Coming later this year: a CD of hard blues and rock.  Go, Rod!

Reb MacRath published four horror novels under the name Kelley Wilde, with Tor Books and Dell. His first book, The Suiting, won a Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was optioned for film. After the fourth book, he retired from horror and went to the desert to learn how to write the sort of books he loved to read: high-octane blends of style, humor, romance and suspense. In 2012 Reb returned to publish the four ebooks listed on his blog. Four more will be published in 2013. Contact him on Twitter @Rebmacrath

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Melissa Foster

‘Molly is a bundle of strength and emotions… the lyrics embodied all of her’

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’s guest is award-winning bestselling author, indie champion and women’s advocate Melissa Foster @Melissa_Foster

Soundtrack by Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Darius Rucker, Glee, Madonna, Katy Perry, The Fray, Panic! At the Disco, Pussycat Dolls,

Thank you, Roz, for sharing your virtual space with me today. I love what you are doing with this series, and I have a feeling that many of your followers will find my musical selections odd, lame, or just plain telling-of-my-age. Here goes…

I’m a music fanatic, but not in the normal sense of the term. I cannot write in silence. I need the beat of a good tune to be able to feel my stories, and the particular beat doesn’t matter. It’s not uncommon to find me with F.M. Hot 99.5 playing so loud that I cannot hear anyone speaking to me. It’s also not uncommon to find me listening to an iTunes mash-up of Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Darius Rucker, Glee (yes, I am almost 46 years old, and this is my guilty pleasure). Even Madonna and Katy Perry make an appearance. The difference between me and most music fanatics is that I rarely know who is singing the songs I listen to, and often, I can’t tell you the title.

When I was writing Chasing Amanda, my typical mash-up wasn’t quite working. I found my inspiration on my iPod, which my stepdaughter had filled with songs when she was about 15 years old, ranging from head-banging heavy metal to rap and top 40 hits. I gravitated toward three songs that pulled me through the manuscript — I was a runner at the time, and these songs were played over and over during my runs as I worked through the storyline of each character: How to Save A Life by The Fray, I Write Sins Not Tragedies, by Panic! At The Disco, and Buttons, by the Pussycat Dolls.

Emotional stakes

Each song helped me to see Molly Tanner, the main character, a little more clearly. She’s a bundle of strength and emotions wrapped up in sensitive skin. The lyrics embodied all of her. Buttons helped bring out the fun side of Molly, which is so easily lost in stressful situations. Buttons inspired the sexier side of Molly, it was a gentle reminder that she was feminine, though strong, helping me grasp her vulnerability when she was searching for the abductor, alone at night.  Sins helped me to remember that she was on a very powerful hunt, where she could lose everything, and Life, well, it’s pretty clear. Molly valued her life, but because she had unknowingly witnessed an abduction, and then the little girl’s body was found, when Tracey went missing, she was willing to forgo her own life to save another.

I drew from the song How To Save A Life on many levels. That particular song carried over to many of the characters. It exposed the search for Tracey as something much deeper than simply a simple search mission. The song is made of passion and longing, which brought life to Hannah Slate’s forgotten past. Hannah Slate, Pastor Lett, and Newton Carr each had deep-rooted secrets that could have crushed them as individuals, but they drew strength from one another, just as the song talks about staying up all night, each of them had been there at all hours for each others. The love that blossomed from their friendship carried them forward through lives of deceit. I didn’t watch the video when I wrote the book, and I’m glad that I didn’t.  I found different meaning in the words each time I listened.

A softer side

Molly’s husband, Cole, was a doctor, and a very serious one, who believed in tangible facts rather than Molly’s clairvoyance. Buttons helped me to find his softer, sexier side, and think of him as a man rather than just a husband and physician, and by doing so, allowed another layer of the story to form.

Music enhances my senses and tempts me to reach beyond characters’ looks and the way they move. Music draws me in to think about their emotional state in each scene, and as you can see from my musical choices, there is no rhyme or reason to the tunes that I choose. Music does so much more than just inspire me, it is woven into the fabric of my life, enabling me to see most things in life more clearly, and to remain in a place of light. If you visit me, you’ll find an intercom system that plays music in every room, all day long. Music, even when it has sad lyrics, makes me happy.

What does music do for you?

Award-winning, bestselling author Melissa Foster is a touchstone for the indie publishing community and a tireless advocate for women. Her novels are Megan’s Way, Chasing Amanda and Come Back to Me. She is the founder of the World Literary Café, Fostering Success, and The Women’s Nest. Melissa writes emotionally-driven contemporary fiction and suspense with passionate characters that remain with the reader long after they’ve read the last words. Melissa is a friend, mentor, brownie connoisseur, and book fiend. Connect with her on FacebookGoodreads and Twitter @Melissa_Foster


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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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