Music, Noise, Work

The Society

Walking the dogs this morning, Matchbox 20’s Disease came through my earbuds, and I found myself thinking of The Society again. That was one of Delgado’s songs.

Man, I was so young when I wrote that. A few discerning fans had fun untangling the X-Men references in it, and I still like to think about Rowan and Del every once in a while. I didn’t extend the series because if I had, a character I like very much would have had to die, and I don’t want to feel it in my own body.

Best just to leave things precariously balanced where Hunter, Healer left off.

I do know what happens after all my books end. Sometimes I keep the information locked up in my head, a private playground. Other times I turn the situation a certain number of degrees and look at its contours, and another story tentatively pokes its head out, whispering have you considered it this way? Write about this.

Then Florence + the Machine’s Breath of Life came up, and I found myself thinking about The Black God’s Heart; I think that song is probably Nat’s. You haven’t met Nat yet; I haven’t written the book. But I’ve made a good start and I’m stealing time to work on it in the evenings, when I’m tired from the day and needing something I enjoy, not just a slog.

You can tell I’m serious about a book when the soundtrack starts to coalesce. It’s only a single indicator–I’ve written other books without soundtracks, just not very often. I do have just-plain-writing music, but certain songs help me slither into a character’s skin.

Writing is an exercise in focused, critical empathy. Imagining myself so deeply and profoundly in someone else’s shoes is on the one hand difficult, requiring imagination and stamina; on the other hand, it’s the easiest thing in the world because, well, empathy. It’s a normal human skill, most often shown in the flinch when we see someone else get a sharp pain.

I know there are plenty of empathy-challenged people. I also think even a grain of it can be strengthened with practice and care. Writers, of course, can gain a massive, overblown sensitivity.

It’s no wonder so many of us drink to deaden it. The cray that is publishing doesn’t help either, I suppose.

Music isn’t an absolute necessity; some books do very well with silence or some variant of white noise. (I also use the Noizio app sometimes, when I want a little sound but not tunes.) I find songs are most helpful when I’m, building a book–walking or doing housework while the subconscious engines work on arranging the story for me.

Writing isn’t solely about the typing, although that is an extremely necessary part. It also takes a lot of relaxed focus, letting the machinery below conscious floorboards grind away with enough fuel and grist to keep from overheating.

Anyway, the world is afire with greed and plague, but I’m still writing. There’s not much else I can do, and people need stories now more than ever.

Time to get back to work.


It’s Thursday, which means my paid Haggard Feathers subscribers have an open thread to ask questions and give comments on. Also, Crow’s Nest, Nest Egg, and Serial Time subscribers are about to get some very cool stuff in their inboxes this week…

Soundtrack Monday: Perry, in Love

Yesterday, the iTunes algorithm kept trying to force Pink Martini’s Amado Mio on me until I broke down and listened to it. Now, I love Pink Martini with the flame of a thousand suns… but so did Perry from the Kismet series.

The first bars of Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love send a chill up my spine, because I could reliably play it and Perry would lift his head in the Monde, smiling his bland, appreciative smile. It’s what’s playing inside his hellbreed head when he’s strapped into the metal frame and Jill’s at work with the knives.

I suppose it doesn’t help that in my head Perry looks a lot like a young Max Raabe, especially in the short story where he meets Jack Karma. Raabe in a tuxedo with his hair slicked back is exactly what Perry looks like when he’s wanting to impress, look harmless to, or seduce someone. Of course I know Mr Raabe is a nice fellow and Perry only chose that particular form to send s shiver through me…

…but it worked. It worked really well.

Enjoy the music, my friends. I know Hyperion-Pericles-Perry does.

Soundtrack Monday: Helena Beat

I listened to a lot of Foster the People while writing what I call the Human Tales, which the publisher insisted on tagging Tales of Beauty and Madness. (But the covers were beautiful; it’s a shame the books didn’t sell very well. Teen readers liked them, adults did some pearl-clutching, you know the drill.)

Foster the People is very much the music Ruby likes while driving like a bat out of hell, even though her beloved Tommy Triton is more like a mix between them and Daft Punk’s Instant Crush. One particular song, though–Helena Beat–was very much Cami’s. I took a sip of something poison but I’ll be all right…

Working with fairytales was… troubling. The stories are deep and they are bloody; one had best be prepared to face one’s own demons when invoking them. Behind the driving beat of many songs I loved when I was young lies a great deal of loneliness and uncertainty, too. Helena Beat came too late for that, but I could recapture some of the feeling while listening, especially when Cami visits the club with Tor, or when Ellie finds just a moment of peace in her busy day while the music is turned up, or while Ruby is driving fast to escape her own fears.

When you’re new, and terrified, and your heart is in your mouth because pure youth is telling you you’re immortal but you can’t imagine living forever with the pain of what adults are doing to you every day, the beat that picks you up and shakes you out of yourself is a blessing. It gives you some small space to breathe, and sometimes that space is the difference between being broken and surviving with at least some psychological integrity.

A lot of my books are, deep down, about how to survive. A lot of the music I love is about finding a fraction of joy if one’s forced to live under a terrible regime. When I was very young, enduring the indignity of living required any joy I could lay my hands on, in books, in music, anywhere. It was a necessary inoculation against the despair of trying to survive an inhospitable environment (to put it lightly).

Turn it up, feel the beat, shake the world. Remember feeling young, both immortal and vulnerable?

I do. So let’s dance.

Soundtrack Monday: Chrysalis Heart

There were a lot of songs on the Incorruptible playlist. (I am now hearing Pete Puma say “a whoooooole lotta lumps.”) But pride of place for that particular book has got to be taken by Delerium’s Chrysalis Heart.

I listen to a lot of Delerium while writing. Sometimes it’s just background, but other times a song will slide through my ears and pierce the throbbing heart of a story, and this was one of those times. I had Michael Gabon first, of course, Jenna had to hang back and see if she could trust me before she’d consent to let a few scenes be told from her point of view.

Reliably, though, I could pop some Delerium on, wait for this particular track, and Jenna would come creeping softly like a stray cat from her hiding place. Patience was rewarded, for once–give her time, Michael kept saying, but dammit, I had a book to write.

In any case, I’m trying to shoehorn another Legion book in this year’s schedule. There’s a certain sassy EMT who knows to keep her mouth shut when strange things happen, and I think a certain Decurion’s going to stumble across her. Those two just need to marinate a little longer before I can find their through-line, I think.

In the meantime, enjoy the tunes.

Soundtrack Monday: Wondering Where the Lions Are

Welcome to another edition of Soundtrack Monday! We’re doing this song again, because last time was just a short skim.

Plus, I was looking at old book soundtracks this morning, and came across Carcajou, which is what I wanted Weasel Boy to be titled. (Even I understood Weasel Boy wouldn’t be quite be, uh, romantic.) It eventually ended up as Taken, which was all right… but in my heart, it will always be Weasel Boy.

And one of the first songs on the soundtrack is Bruce Cockburn’s Wondering Where the Lions Are. Cockburn excels at finding warmth and gentleness even in the worst of situations. (He also did the fantastic If I Had a Rocket Launcher, which is not gentle but is very understandable.)

Much of Zach’s tension and growth in Weasel Boy comes from him finding out where his particular lions are, so to speak. He knows what he has to do, he’s just… afraid. When you know that your anger literally will not let you stop until you’re dead or victorious, you learn a healthy respect for that anger–and an unwillingness to let it rule you. This is at the heart of many (though not all, by any means) modern werewolf or shifter stories, a lesson quite unlike their “original” meanings.1

I’ve often held that werewolf and vampire stories, like many myths, are somewhat blank screens for us to project our own cultural anxieties onto, and they survive in direct proportion to how well they adapt to that projection.

Which is why they’re so much fun to work with, frankly.

Anyway, Wondering Where the Lions Are is a beautiful song, and even though Cockburn probably wouldn’t like the use I put it to, it’s fabulous material. I suspect he might think it’s a serious song meant for serious things instead of for a romance novel, but there are plenty of serious themes in romance novels, even this one.2

Zach knew he was strong enough, that wasn’t the problem. He suspected he wasn’t gentle enough, and the tension in the song between living in a war zone (polished and precise like the mind behind the gun should be…) and finding a moment of beauty and clarity (But some kind of ecstasy’s got a hold on me…) resonated with both me and the imaginary hero inside my head.

Anyway, I could natter on forever about the mythological, psychological, and musical underpinnings of Weasel Boy, but there’s work to be done and more stories to tell. Enjoy the tune, and have a lovely holiday Monday.

Soundtrack Monday: Erase, Rewind

Selene

Monday here is quiet except for the rain, and very cold. I just finished a rather difficult revise on The Poison Prince, book two of what I call Hostage to Empire–the publisher calls it something different, but I don’t let that trouble me. Today, therefore, is somewhat of a two-fer, but not in the usual way.

The Cardigans’ Erase/Rewind figures on not one but two of my book soundtracks. First, it leapt onto the very first book soundtrack I ever did, for smoke. It plays as Rose is frantically scrambling to escape things she can only vaguely sense after the murder that kicks the book into high gear; then it cropped up on Selene‘s soundtrack as she tries so hard to swallow her grief and unravel the mystery of Danny’s death.

Very few songs make it onto two soundtracks; this one was a surprise to me because I rarely listen to the Cardigans at all. But it’s catchy, and it speaks to all of us, trapped as we are in a flow of time only going one way. There’s also a certain sadness in both characters–no matter how hard Rose or Selene wish for it, they can’t go back.

Nobody can.

Enjoy the tunes, dear Readers. I’ll be back on the usual schedule tomorrow.

Soundtrack Monday: Take Me Out

The Society

It’s a brand-new year, and time for another Soundtrack Monday! Today we’re visiting the Society series–in particular, Hunter, Healer.

I did a fair amount of research on Vegas casinos for the scene where Rowan and Delgado finally see each other again. And while writing their reunion (bullets flying, adrenaline roaring, homemade Molotov cocktails) I listened, over and over again, to Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out.

I know I won’t be leaving here… with you.

Delgado is an interesting case; he and Preston (from The Marked) center on the human hunger for touch. Delgado can’t touch anyone mentally without excruciating pain, Press can’t touch anyone at all without draining them. When you find someone who can give that most important, basic thing–sheer simple contact–all of a sudden the world reforms and priorities reshuffle.

It’s probably my massage-therapy training that makes me focus so much on touch. (That, and the fact that human contact was perilous at best for most of my own life.) Anyway, this is the tune that particular shootout in Vegas is set to in my head. The ability to mentally set a casino on fire was, I’m not going to lie, extremely satisfying while I was writing it.

Enjoy!