Posts Tagged thrillers

‘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 – Terrence McCauley

for logo‘Through the cold, lonely streets of NYC’

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 crime writer Terrence McCauley @tmccauley_nyc

Soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen, 3 Doors Down, Everlast, Rolling Stones, Hinder, The Heavy, Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, The Band Perry, House of Pain, Rob Zombie

People who know me or have read my work may be surprised by how much music influences my writing. I don’t listen to music when I write or even edit, but at other times, a chance song on the radio or browsing the musical selection on my phone can help spark an idea for a scene or an entire story line.

Footsteps and car hornsme hat

The best examples are the novels I’ve written. The first – Prohibition – is a crime novel set in 1930 with an opening scene of the protagonist stalking someone through the cold, lonely streets of New York City. One could be forgiven for believing that scene was inspired by any number of noir movies – of which I am a huge fan – but in this case, they’d be wrong. The opening scene was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song Murder Incorporated. When I heard that song for the first time, the drum beats that open the song reminded me of footsteps echoing on an empty street as someone is fleeing for their life. The sax sounded like car horns blaring past the unfortunate man now on the run.

The ending of the novel (which I won’t give away here) was inspired by 3 Doors Down’s Love Me When I’m Gone, a mournful tune that fit the ending of the book rather nicely.

Hard luck cases

My novella Fight Card: Against the Ropes is a prequel to Prohibition and details the protagonist’s boxing career before he became a mob enforcer. The protagonist – Quinn – has always had his own soundtrack in my mind that was different from the over all soundtrack of whatever story in which he appears. In Against The Ropes, Quinn’s soundtrack comes to the fore: Everlast’s What It’s Like is a song about hard luck hard cases, a description that fits the Quinn character nicely. The ending of the book, where Quinn accepts the inevitable end of his boxing career and agrees to become an enforcer for the very men who have ruined his career, was inspired by the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. The crafty, patient villainy of the song seemed appropriate for Quinn’s acquiescence of a life of crime.

The third book I have out now, Slow Burn by Noir Nation Books, is also set in 1930s New York, but the protagonist is a police detective named Charlie Doherty. He’s a corrupt, impure Tammany Hall hack and a man whose life is on a downward spiral. His wife left him, his career is ending in ignominy and he’s running out of reasons to get up in the morning. The melancholy, yet strong song Better than Me by Hinder suited Doherty well and I wrote the story with that tune in mind. Some people who have read Slow Burn think Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head inspired the ending. But I thought of a more triumphant, slightly cocky song. How You Like Me Now by The Heavy worked best and it gave me inspiration for the ending scenes.

Slow Burn CoverRedemptions

Music doesn’t only influence the beginning and ends of my books. I also draw inspiration from music for other types of scenes I write. For more sentimental scenes, I listen to the theme from The Shawshank Redemption soundtrack or Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Gladiator soundtrack. The Band Perry’s If I Die Young inspired me to write a few scenes for a western I’m working on now called The Devil’s Cut.

My work tends to have a lot of violence and action, and music plays a role in my crafting of those scenes as well. House of Pain’s Jump Around as well as Rob Zombie’s Super Charger Heaven have hard, edgy, fast-moving tempos that get the juices flowing and help me create scenes that pop.

Terrence P. McCauley is an award winning crime writer. His latest novel, Slow Burn, is currently available in e-book format from Noir Nation Books on Amazon. His other books Prohibition, published by Airship 27, and Fight Card: Against the Ropes (Fight Card Books) are also available on Amazon. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter @tmccauley_nyc and Facebook.

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‘Footsteps and car horns’ – Terrence McCauley

for logoMy guest this week says his friends assume his crime novels are inspired by other noir thrillers, but in fact they’d be wrong. His novels have all come from songs. An opening scene sprang from Springsteen; the relentless grind of a fight from House of Pain; a tender moment from the soundtrack to Gladiator. He is Terrence McCauley and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Mark Staufer

for logo‘They sang to my subconscious’

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

Soundtrack by Walter Werzowa, Birds of Passage, Leonardo Rosado, Adrian Aniol, Kaikhosru Sorabji, The Caretaker, Ezio Bosso

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.

B&WversionDamn 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…

Bang!

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.

Music

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.

Why?

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.

Musical genius

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 soundTNPlogojpegtrack 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.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Timothy Hallinan

for logo‘A lyric I misheard…’

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 mystery and thriller novelist (and musician) Timothy Hallinan @TimHallinan

Soundtrack by Jack’s Mannequin, Ravel, Tegan and Sara, Fun. , Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Jon Fratelli, Emmylou Harris, Mindy Smith, Lindi Ortega, Over the Rhine

I could not write without music.

With more than 7,000 tracks on my hard drive and the best pair of earbuds money can buy, I can create a distraction-free workspace anywhere in the world.  That’s necessary because I like to write in public, usually in coffee-shops, where there’s already caffeine in the air and I can look up and steal a face whenever I need one.

I work to playlists with different qualities, most of them 400-1,000 songs long.  (My current all-purpose playlist has 1,356 songs on it, heavy on Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Jon Fratelli, Emmylou Harris, Mindy Smith, Lindi Ortega, Over the Rhine, etc.)  Generally, music seals me off from distraction, provides a source of energy, and, depending on what I’m writing and the playlist I’ve chosen, an actual entry point to certain emotions and even imagery.

timcolor.jpg crop smallerI virtually never write without those earphones plugged in.  (I’m listening to Jack’s Mannequin right now.)  About half the time I work to the all-purpose playlist, which changes all the time as I add new stuff and yank the old.  But occasionally a piece of music will emerge and take over the writing of a book.

In my fourth Poke Rafferty novel, The Queen of Patpong, a young woman has leapt from a boat into the dark Andaman Sea near three large rocks called The Sisters.  It’s the middle of the night, rain is pouring down, and the water bristles with sea-wasps, a particularly lethal jellyfish.  The man in the boat has brought her there specifically to kill her.  This is the turning point of the book, and it became the longest action scene I’ve ever written.  A few pages in, Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand kicked in, and I immediately put it on a loop.  I wrote to it for several days.  In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, I wrote:

the chapter when Rose is in the water was written mostly to Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, a piece of music that’s got dark water running all the way through it.

I mention the music I use most at the close of practically every book, and many, many people have emailed me to suggest new artistes.  I get a lot of good music that way.

The forthcoming Rafferty book, For The Dead, is largely about a 13-year-old girl having her carefully constructed and entirely fictional identity ripped from her, revealing her to the kids in her exclusive school as a former street child who’s befriended them under false pretences. Much of it was written to Tegan and Sara, who create great, hooky, irresistible rock about girls and young women.  They were the primary soundtrack for Miaow’s sections of the story.

Fear Artist cov art smallBut early in the writing process, I began to listen to Fun., and their music crystallized certain aspects of Miaow’s story.  At the beginning of the book a phrase from a Fun. song called Benson Hedges, We all float until we sink, keeps running through her mind, and that also song provided the titles of the first two sections of the book: We All Float . . . and . . . Until We Sink.  The third section is Drowning Girls, which is a lyric I actually misheard, but there was no way to drop it because it worked so well, and the fourth section is Aim and Ignite, which is the title of a Fun. album.

Finally, in the new Junior Bender book (due out July 2), The Fame Thief, Junior is hired to find out who destroyed the career (and the life) of a young actress in 1950.  The central section of the book departs from Junior’s first-person to take us back to the 40s and the early 50s, and for this section I listened to pop music from the day, which had a real impact on both the dialogue and the visual landscape.

If anyone who reads this has some recommendations for me, please comment below or email me at thallinan@gmail.com  And thanks in advance.

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of two current series, the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers and the Junior Bender mysteries.  His musical roots run deep: back in the 1970s he was in a band that recorded an album for Universal and which ultimately, minus him, morphed into the gazillion-selling group Bread.  Songs Hallinan wrote were recorded by a number of top artists in several genres. The most recent Poke Rafferty book, The Fear Artist, was named in several ‘ten best’ lists in 2012, and the third Junior Bender, The Fame Thief, will be released this July.  The Bender series has been bought for film by Lionsgate.  Hallinan also wrote six Simeon Grist private eye mysteries in the 1990s and edited Shaken: Stories for Japan, an ebook collection of Japan-themed short stories that raises money for Japanese tsunami relief.  He’s also the editor of the Twenty-One Writers project, a series of books in which writers talk about their craft. He lives in Bangkok and Los Angeles. Find him on his blog and Twitter @timhallinan.

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‘Love, rock n roll, guns and quantum physics’ – Andrew James

for logoMy guest this week describes his novel as having a subliminal soundtrack that wormed into his head and influenced the period, the tone, characters and the ties that connect them. The novel, Blow Your Kiss Hello, is a mystery and a thriller with a bit of Other too. It’s the story of a man searching beyond the boundaries of here and now in the hope of finding his missing girlfriend. It’s set mostly in the 1990s with threads of 1640, a crossing that becomes apparent as Faithless meets Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aenas. He is Andrew James and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his 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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‘Emotive music explains the terror of the people’ – Liz Fisher-Frank

for logoMy guest this week turned to writing novels after long years as a children’s rights lawyer representing teenagers in care. Her fiction debut, Losing Agir, was launched on Human Rights Day and is a teen thriller about a child in care and a refugee who unite to seek justice. Music helped her connect with the realities of her displaced characters’ lives, especially experiences that most of us take for granted – such as a family Christmas. She is Liz Fisher-Frank and she will be here on Wednesday talking about Losing Agir and its Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘Music for serial killers’ – Ruby Barnes

Murder ballads and psychological thrillers? Surely it was only a matter of time before a writer put themselves under the influence of Nick Cave. My guest this week used music as his portable aural office, banishing the sounds of his fellow rail passengers on his daily commute to immerse in shady characters. Sometimes he scared the real-world folks in the carriage too. He is Ruby Barnes and he’ll be here on Wednesday talking about his novel The Baptist and its Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘The psychological disorder of the piece appealed to me’ – Niki Valentine

My guest this week set her psychological thriller in a music conservatoire. Two pieces of music brought the book to life for her – a Schubert song with a beguilingly vulnerable female vocal, and a Rachmaninov sonata that turned out to have an illuminating link with Goethe’s Faust. She is Niki Valentine and she’ll be here on Wednesday talking about the Undercover Soundtrack to her novel Possessed.

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