DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've just finished Tammy Kaehler's third Kate Reilly car racing mystery, AVOIDABLE CONTACT. Publishers Weekly says,"Snappy dialogue, a smart and affable heroine, and pacing reminiscent of 24 combine to make this entry as exciting as a spin around the speedway."
I say Tammy Kaehler's Kate Reilly books are the car racing answer to Dick and Felix Francis's horse racing books, with the bonus of a great female character, race car driver Kate Reilly! I love books that immerse you in the setting so deeply that it's a shock to put down the book, and when I read Tammy Kaehler I can hear the racetrack, smell the hot oil and rubber, and feel the vibration of Kate's Corvette. So I was fascinated by Tammy's description of one of the ways she brings the books to life. (I was also glad to hear that someone else has to clean out their office before they start a new book...)
TAMMY KAEHLER: I was cleaning out my office the other day—yes, that necessary prelude to starting to write a new book—and I opened iTunes on my computer, setting it to shuffle everything in the folder of music I’d purchased through iTunes inthe last 15 years.
With the first song, boom! I was struck by a vivid memory of place and time. John Mayer, “Bigger Than My Body,” a song I used to listen to while driving home from my very first writing group a decade ago. I remember being in the car, at a particular spot on a Northern California freeway, thinking “I’m going to finish this book about a racecar driver and get published.” Listening to the song the other day, I felt that ten-year-old upswelling of determination again.
Then the second song played: “Blue Moon on Monday,” by Duran Duran, which, for a reason I can’t explain, saved my life a couple times in the last couple years. My day job has been busy and stressful, as was the third book I wrote during the same timeframe. This song on repeat smoothed out some rough edges once in a while.
Third song: “Raise Your Glass” by P!nk, which I listened to in 2010 and 2011 as I was preparing forthe release of my first book and trying to figure out how to write my second—more, trying to figure out how to “be an author.” Something about the lyrics—“So raise your glass if you are wrong/In all the right ways, all my underdogs/We will never be, never be anything but loud”—helped me believe I could find my voice and write another book.
Fourth song: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas,” which I listened to on repeat for three hours last December when I finished the first draft of my third book. I didn’t listen to the whole song this August, but I was immediately transported back to the joy, pride, and sense of accomplishment I felt last December.
That’s when I realized: I was listening to the personal anthems of my thirties and forties.
Most of us probably know what researchers have spent numerous studies proving: music and rhyme help us remember things. Even patients with advanced Alzheimer’s dementia will sometimes sing along to a familiar song. Memory experts can remember huge lists of information by setting them to rhymes or music.
Some neuroscientists even think that our brains developed the ability to respond to music before the ability to respond to language; further, many of them believe we developed music and dance to aid in retrieving information. Bottom line: music stays with us. For proof, consider the dreaded “earworm,” that snippit of song that gets irritatingly stuck in your head.
All of which means it’s no wonder memory is highly coded to music. It’s no wonder we vividly remember sensation and emotion associated with a particular song. And I figure I can use this.
Why not use a particular song to change or bolster my emotional state? Sure, that was the next song in my playlist: Colbie Caillat’s “Try,” about not trying to be or look like something you’re not. Being happy with who you are. (I highly recommend the video, if you haven’t seen it; it has a wonderful message for all of us.)
I’m particularly susceptible to anthems these days, because I’m desperately externalizing my struggle to get started on my next book—starting a new book is hard enough to do at any time, but during a book release, it’s even harder! I find that every time I gather myself to launch into writing a book, I want inspirational quotes, I want jewelry with “you can do it”—or “bigger than my body”—messages. I want empowering anthems.
So what I’m listening to now is the Cobie Caillat song, Katy Perry’s “Roar” (“You hear my voice, you hear that sound/Like thunder gonna shake the ground” and “'Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar”), and “Let It Go” from “Frozen” (that one’s due to some more day job stress), as well as a bunch of current bubblegum pop that makes me cheerful enough to bounce in my chair. I swear, I’m going to start writing soon!
I know many authors talk about a soundtrack for their books, but I always think that’s music particularly associated with the content or the theme of the book. For example, another recent favorite of mine, “Girl in a Country Song,” (hilarious video, check it out!) won’t have anything to do with my next book, but its theme of women thumbing their noses at male stereotypes is making me laugh and reminding me of what Kate has to deal with in the racing world. Now that I think about it … maybe that is a soundtrack.
So here are my questions for Reds and readers. Do you have anthems? What do you use to pump yourself up—for writing, for cleaning the house, or for any tough task? And if you have a personal soundtrack, what songs are on it? What are your anthems?
(Credit for Tammy's great photo to S James Photography)
(Credit for Tammy's great photo to S James Photography)