magician, read around the rainbow, writing

read around the rainbow: how does music/noise affect your writing?

The theme for this month’s Read Around the Rainbow posts is about music (and other things): specifically, how does music and/or sounds, noise, etc, affect or impact how you write?

Well—we all know I’ve always got playlists, at least mental ones, so… *laughs* This might be a long post! And it’s sort of about how I write, and how I think about character, so it might be a bit rambly! But I’ll try to behave. *puts on some Pansy Division, settles in* Right, let’s go.

I do almost always have some sort of sound; my brain needs that, when I have to stop and stare into the middle distance and work something out—plot point, phrasing—for a while. I need something that’s just enough of a distraction to be not-the-story for a sec—letting whatever’s working itself out just float around in my head, while on the surface I’m listening to Pete Shelley or Billie Joe Armstrong for a minute or three. Too much quiet is…too quiet. Unnerving. Can’t do it.

I sometimes just put on ambient noise, especially thunderstorm and rain sounds, or something like autumn showers in a medieval village, or dripping rain on a Victorian street at night, if I’m a) trying to focus hard, in which case I can’t have lyrics or anything I want to listen to, or b) if I really want to feel a mood or atmosphere. (I did this for The Featherbed Puzzle, for instance, and actually I’ve got something called “Graveyard Keeper’s House Halloween Ambience With Relaxing Rain and Thunderstorm Sounds” on right now, on the Autumn Cozy channel on YouTube, because the morning was finally overcast and I had pumpkin spice coffee this morning and the Halloween cravings hit early and powerfully. I did have some Pansy Division on earlier, though, for going over copy-edits! Gotta get that queer nineties pop-punk in there…)

I have, like I’ve said, at least mental playlists for all my stories—often that’s unofficial, in the sense that I’m not actively making Spotify playlists for characters! But I do tend to have songs in mind for them—things I’ve heard recently while writing, a song that makes me go, “oh YES”—or sometimes the other way around: writing a particular emotion, and my brain pulls up a certain song: “oh, this, it’s perfect…” So my book playlists tend to be very character-driven and also a combination of what I’ve been listening to at the time plus songs that jump into my head as just right. Or, on occasion, songs I’ve actively written into the story! (A Demon for Midwinter has the most song/band references—well, of course it does, considering that it’s basically a classic rock homage! There’re Def Leppard, Green Day, Foo Fighters, New York Dolls, and Incubus references—and many, many more…)

I also tend to like punk rock and various attendant subgenres, antecedents, stepsiblings, and musical relations, if you’ve not noticed by now. (*laughs more in X-Ray Spex-themed notes*) So you’ll probably see a range, from Buddy Holly to Bruce Springsteen, from The Proclaimers to The Pretty Reckless, from Richie Valens to Against Me!, from Grumpster to Tegan & Sara, but with a center sort of coalescing around punk/classic/indie/queer/nineties/early 2000s rock. (Have I managed to get Sum-41 on a playlist yet? Ah, nostalgia…)

As an example, here’s my annotated playlist from Magician. (I’d love to break down the Character Bleed trilogy playlists—I have very strong feelings about a lot of those, especially the Psychedelic Furs’ “Heartbreak Beat” for Colby and the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” at the end—but that would cover three books and would get really long…ask me about it sometime!) But, here, for Magician

~Against Me!, “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” (I love Laura Jane Grace, and this one is such a Lorre song: do you remember when you were young, and you wanted to set the world on fire…? Young Lorre wanted to change the world. Older Lorre is very tired, and much less sure of himself. It’s first on this list because it sets the tone for Lorre in terms of past and present, and also I like starting with something high-energy!)

~The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?” (This is also a Lorre song, for these lines especially: how can you say / I go about things the wrong way? / I am human and I need to be loved / just like everybody else does…)

~The Cars, “Magic” (This one’s obvious, given magic and fantasy, but The Cars always add upbeat fun!)

~Volbeat, “Immortal But Destructible” (I was on a big Volbeat kick around this time—it’s also noticeable in the playlist for Spells & Sensibility, with K.S. Murphy—and this one’s such a Lorre song: he is essentially immortal, but he’s also hurting.)

~”Helpless,” from the Hamilton soundtrack (Gareth + Lorre might not be insta-love, exactly, but it’s instant…something! Interest, perhaps. They both find each other fascinating, even if Lorre’s grumpy about it.)

~Buzzcocks, “Point of No Return” (This one’s for them setting out on their journey, and we had to get some Buzzcocks in here; one of my favorite bands, so I’m legitimately probably listening to or have recently listened to them while writing.)

~Ozzy Osborne feat. Elton John, “Ordinary Man” (I mean, it’s such a Lorre song it could’ve been written for him!)

~Greta Van Fleet, “Mountain of the Sun” (This one’s for Gareth. Kind of for both of them, but really for Gareth.)

~The Proclaimers, “Streets of Edinburgh” (It’s a Gareth song, of course—the Mountain Marches are heavily Scotland-influenced! I love Edinburgh. And I am a firm believer that we all need to listen to more Proclaimers songs than just “500 Miles,” not that I don’t love it, I do, I put it on the Character Bleed playlist, but come on, have you heard “Love Can Move Mountains”?))

~The Pretty Reckless feat. Matt Cameron & Kim Thayil, “Only Love Can Save Me Now” (I was also listening to The Pretty Reckless a lot. And it works, I think, for some of the themes of this novel, about love and connections and being human.)

~Prince, “I Would Die 4 U” (Prince, in all that dazzling glory and magic, that fluid shapeshifting persona, is a lot like Lorre? Maybe? They’d get along, at least. And maybe have sex.)

~Buzzcocks, “Hold Me Close” (More Buzzcocks. A love song.)

~Volbeat, “I Only Wanna Be With You” (One hundred percent for Gareth, thinking about how Lorre is both more extraordinary and more lonely than he ever could’ve guessed, and wanting to be there for his magician.)

~Greta Van Fleet, “You’re The One” (More love songs.)

~The Thompson Twins, “Hold Me Now” (Lorre and Gareth do argue, especially about Lorre being reckless without considering how that might make other people feel. And the line about “warm my cold and tired heart…” …well, yes.)

~The Pretty Reckless, “Heart” (More Pretty Reckless, for warmth.)

~Green Day, “Church On Sunday” (It’s very much a Lorre + Gareth song, about compromise, and also Gareth is sort of loosely religious, so: if I promise to go to church on Sunday, will you go with me on Friday night…)

~Buzzcocks, “What You Mean To Me” (Getting close to the end now, and the decisions Gareth and Lorre make about being together: let’s make history, Pete Shelley sings, I’m tired of sharing my loneliness alone…)

~The Proclaimers, “You Make Me Happy” (This one ends the main novel! It’s happy and joyous and Scottish and full of love.)

~The Fratellis, “Six Days In June” (On to the bonus story, in the Tenth Garden! Honestly, I was just also listening to the Fratellis quite a bit—I like their older stuff a little better, but this one’s catchy and I like it! I think Gareth would too. It’s not as thematically relevant, more on the “I had this album on a lot and so it’s associated in my head” side of the playlist spectrum, but it’s fun, and this bonus story is also fun.)

~The Proclaimers, “Let’s Get Married” (I mean…if you’ve read this bonus story, you know! Also more Proclaimers, for Gareth’s Scottishness. I mean, er, Mountain Marches. Right.)

~Volbeat, “Maybe I Believe” (This was always my ending song on this playlist—yes, I put songs in order, at least loosely! There’s usually an order that just ends up feeling right, though some of the middle can be flexible. But I’m usually pretty sure about beginning and ending songs, and this one always, always, was this one. (Er…you know what I mean.) From the opening lines—Starting to believe life is love / starting to believe that I can lose control / high and low with emotions—to the last—I believe / yeah, maybe I believe, to the whole operatic feel of it—true of a lot of Volbeat songs, actually!…it’s a Lorre song but also a song for where Lorre and Gareth are now and what they might become.)

…so that’s how I tend to think about songs and playlists: assemblages of character and emotion, influenced by whatever I’m currently listening to! It’s also sort of a peek into how I think about writing and character, I suppose.

I hope that all was interesting, at least—it is to me, but I’m sometimes a punk-rock nerd kid! And if you ask about the music choices I can usually go on for quite a while. (And nobody’s got all the references in Demon yet, as far as I know…)

And now I shall go and put on some Billy Idol (have you listened to “Rita Hayworth”? because it’s awesome—Billy Idol can still write a damn good pounding-fast punk rock anthem) and see about getting this post up and scheduled, and then poking at my work in progress, which is maybe a Jason/Colby story even though I said the next one (not the one currently at JMS in editorial hands, but the one I just finished writing) might be the last one; but this one’s kind of a Christmas special…oh, but spoilers. You’ll just have to think about that. Think about Jason’s magic Santa hat from Saint Nick Steel, and Jason and Colby’s love of role-play. Love you!

And – now that this is live – here’re the links for fellow Read Around the Rainbow bloggers, for this month’s posts!

Ofelia Grand

Addison Albright

Fiona Glass

Ellie Thomas

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