Soundtracks

Music is important to me. In a lot of ways music is important to me. It is key to my writing (more on that in a moment), but it also plays a role in every aspect of my life, and in who I am as a person. The more I learn about music, the more music I experience, the deeper my life becomes.

All art has power: a Pollock painting speaks with power about certain themes and realities…a walk through the Bargello Museum will teach you a shit-ton about the impact and communication of sculpture…but there is nothing to compare with a night of live music.

Everyone has their own tastes in music just as they do in any other art form. I have my own definite musical preferences, but I can see the attraction and emotional content in just about everything. I don’t care if you’re talking about death metal, punk, rap, jazz, or chamber music…every style has its worth and its own incomparable “must-listens”. I listen to a little of (almost) everything, but for me the trophy goes to good, old-school blues. Give me a small, dark blues bar and a good drink and I am the happiest guy on Earth. Throw in a cigar and I’ll…have a hangover.

Yep, I’m definitely getting older.

Now, to tie that love of music into writing. Err, that’s easy: I can’t write without music. Period. Fade to black. Exeunt omnes.

Every single thing I write has a “soundtrack”. In some cases that is simply music that sets a tone and mood for me, and for what I am working on. In other cases, however, it becomes (or defines) a key part of the story. Wrath & Tears is a good example of that – more specifically, the end of the book. In the last scene I wrote the final, painful image: one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken, kid. That image ends the book, but in my mind the scene fades to black and the “credits” start to roll. There is, as we fade out, a song playing that sums up that final scene, sums up Connor & Oz’s relationship, sums up the entire story…

Note – yep, I’m going back to my marketing roots and “teasing” the end of the post. Hah! Take that!

What you listen to very much has an effect on what you write – and how you write it. Every book – hell, every scene – has a mood and tone, and the music has to reflect and support that. You don’t believe me? Go ahead, write a love scene while listening to Five Finger Death Punch…or write a huge, bloody battle while listening to Bob Marley…

See? I told you so.

You have to know what tone you are trying to set. More importantly, you have to know and understand (harder than it sounds) what subtext you are trying to communicate in your story. Just because a story is about Little Red Riding Hood in the woods doesn’t mean that story is ABOUT Little Red Riding Hood.

Okay…not gonna dive deeper into that particular pool. I could spend the next couple of weeks just trying to expound on subtext, symbolism, allegory, metaphor and meaning…and any of a dozen more ways for a writer to express what he or she really means.

That’s not today’s topic…for which, Thank God! I’m not even close to ready to tackle something like that today (or this week…or this month, for that matter).

The right soundtrack helps me to write and work and create things that are right where I need them to be. The wrong music? The wrong music makes things hard – very hard. Invariably, if I choose the wrong music, the tone and pace of the scene is wrong. Wrong means revising – heavy revising – or just plain starting that scene over. Starting over is generally easier.

Below is an example of what I’m talking about: the music I listened to as I wrote Wrath & Tears. I actually have a list of specific songs and albums, but I’ll spare you that detail. It really only matters to me, anyway (well, except a couple I’ll mention at the end of this post). The full list is longer, but the main artists are:
The Fray
Gaslight Anthem
Dave Hause
Mumford & Sons
Chuck Ragan
The Veer Union

And the occasional side trips into: Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Angels & Airwaves, Blink 182, J Mascis, and even the odd foray into Death Cab for Cutie.

Some songs have been important enough to the tone and resolution to deserve specific mention:
That song I described as playing during the “end credits”? “Be Still” by The Fray (honorable mentions here for “Break Your Heart” by Gaslight Anthem and “For All We Care” by Chuck Ragan).

And finally the song that kicked me in the ass and helped everything to start to come together? “Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford & Sons.

As a final note, the conspiracy theory book does have its own soundtrack building…a very, very different soundtrack. To fit the mood of that book, I have been listening to stuff like the Pogues, DaVinci’s Notebook, Dropkick Murphys, etc… A vastly different feeling. Good. I want a different feeling – I need a different feeling. I do not need sad, intense, dark, bitter or any other of Connor’s failings…not yet, anyway.

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