(Taken from a recent online chat)
A bit about my guests this week:
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, Grizzly Season, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, Crosswise, is available now from Down & Out Books.
He blogs at Badcitizencorporation.com.
Jeff Reeds is a science fiction writer who lives in Seattle.
Thanks for weighing in on this topic, guys.
Steve I was thinking during our discussions both before and after the reading we did for Noir on the Air at Left Coast Crime, how music seemed to really heavily inform the work several of us were doing, especially early on in our development as writers. And you referenced your own experiences in the L.A. underground scene.
There were two things I wanted to do with my life when I was a teenager: play in a touring rock band and write books. I chased the first one into my early thirties, with varying degrees of success and failure. I plan to chase the second into my grave—or until I get bored. Since those dreams were born at the same time, it makes sense that they are colliding now.
Music really turned on for me when I stopped accepting the heavy metal my older brothers were introducing me to, and started discovering music on my own and through my friends. Punk and post-punk mostly, but plenty of other stuff too. I was drawn to lyrics early on and remember being blown away by the clash of anger and energy from bands like The Replacements, The Minutemen, The Clash, Husker Du, Dead Kennedys, 7 Seconds, Black Flag, etc.
At the same time, I’ve always had a soft spot for power pop like Cheap Trick and Big Star, and glam rock like David Bowie, T. Rex and New York Dolls. Now I mostly listen to Taylor Swift, thanks to my kids.
Sorry about the whole Taylor Swift thing.
Have you considered trying to get some relief by getting your kids to listen to Ryan Adams' cover album where he reworked every single song on Swift ' s 1989 album?
It's actually not so bad. I genuinely like Taylor Swift's music. As for Ryan Adams--my wife and I are huge fans and have played him for our kids a lot. In fact, when we aren't indulging their pop predilections, we play quite a bit of old school country, roots rock and Americana at them. I knew we were doing something right when I realized they knew all the words to "Rhinestone Cowboy."
It’s the small things.
Jeff, what about you?
I love creating playlists. Several of them are geared around what I'm writing (I also title some of them rather creatively). When I was trying to write a song that one of my characters sings, I put together the playlist, "Another night at the Old Sand HIll" filled with troubadours like Neil Young, Bon Iver, and J.J.Cale. "Looking out a pub window at the rain" has Band of Horses, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Horse Feathers. My general writing playlist is "Nectar for the pen" with bands like Massive Attack, Radiohead, and The Cure. It's all to help me snuggle up next to the muse.
Maybe it's my historical mystery writer roots showing, but I have a playlist o western theme music, think 1960s westerns, like How the West Was Won, The Comancheros, The Sons of Katie Elder, etc cetera. I listen to this when I do either action or fight scenes.
That’s cool. I’d like to hear that playlist!
I can’t listen to music when I write, but I do when I edit. Especially if I am trying to tweak the vibe of a specific scene.
I've heard many writers say they can't have music on when they write. I almost have to have it on. Not sure why. But you hit on the point of the vibe of something. Many of the artists I listen to while I write have a certain beat--the trip hop genre more so than others (Massive Attack, DJ Shadow). So is there something vibrational to writing? Does the creative part of our minds flow better when getting hit with certain vibrations? I think scientifically speaking there's been some work on that. Certain brain processes occur more at certain frequencies.
I'm too easily distrac--SQUIRREL!!!
Kidding aside, I do find that music is a great short cut to developing a character or a scene. The example I've been using is that a character in a Hall & Oates t-shirt is different than a character in a Black Flag t-shirt. That example lacks subtlety, but demonstrates the point. And (to paraphrase something Brian said in a previous conversation): The character becomes even more complicated when they like both bands.
I think the awesome Vancouver crime writer Sam Wiebe originally planted that seed in my impressionable brain.
First: yes, Sam Wiebe is, in fact, AWESOME.
(To take a look at Sam's latest book, Invisible Dead, which just came out, click here.)
Second: sure Jeff, I'm happy to share that playlist.
Third: I feel constrained to add that although I listened to music relentlessly when I first started writing, and still do when writing either nonfiction or fight/action scenes, I have moved into the "can't listen to music when writing fiction camp" in the intervening years.
(Editing, that's another deal).
Fourth: yes, music can be wonderful short-hand for showing character.
Especially if you're poking fun at tropes.
Think Michael Bolton, the computer programmer from Office Space, a nebishy white guy who blasts gangsta rap in the car, knows all the words, and yet still meekly rolls up his window when approached by a black guy panhandling for change and offering to wash windows.
(Check back in two weeks as we wrap this conversation. Any comments/questions left in the comment section will be addressed then as well!)