JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: One of our regular backbloggers, Karen from Ohio, mentioned Tuesday that she could read almost anything while writing, but had to be very careful about what music she listened to, since she had a penchant for earworms, those snatches of melody and lyric that embed themselves in your conscious and Will. Not. Leave. (I once had a dear friend who would sing Karma Chameleon to me for the sole purpose of implanting the worm.)
Karen got me thinking about music and writers. We have a long history of being inspired by songs - in fanfiction, there's a whole form known as "songfic." When I was working on my sixth book, I SHALL NOT WANT, I was deeply entrenched in Bill Deasy's music, especially his Good Day No Rain, which felt like a soundtrack to the story I was writing. I actually changed a pivotal scene in that novel because one of his songs created such a powerful sense of place and mood--I wanted to explore that further.
Like many authors, I make up playlists for my characters, usually with songs particular to the individual book. It's a way of intertwining fiction with music that's only been available since the advent of digital music and easy-to-use playlists (there may have been some determined authors back in the day recording mix tapes on cassette for their characters, but that strikes me as the same obsessive attention to detail that leads to map-drawing and cutting out costumes from magazines, i.e., thankfully uncommon.)
I also insert songs into the work itself, all of which have meaning and deliver an extra message to the reader ("Let him who has ears, listen..") For instance, in my second mystery, A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD, Clare is snooping around a guest bedroom and has to hide in the en-suite bath. During the whole scene she is listening to the Dave Matthews Band on the suspect's CD player. The name of the album is Crash, which is exactly what's going to happen about a hundred pages on. The first song she registers is So Much to Say, which begins, "I say my hell is the closet/ I'm stuck inside/ Can't see the light/ And my heaven is a nice house/ In the sky..." It's a bit of a poke at the fact she's literally stuck in a [water] closet, but it's meant to echo her own constraints- she's in the closet as to her feelings for the town's chief of police, and she will continue to have to "Keep it locked inside/ Don't talk about it."
Yeah, as soon as we get ebooks with add-in soundtracks, I will be all over that. How about you, Reds? Music: inspiration, while working, in the story, out of the story? What's your preference?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Thank you, not, for Karma Chameleon. Which is now in my head. I was also, for a time, a sad victim to Let It Go--let it GO!--and now it's going to happen again, I fear.
JULIA: I know, right? All you have to do is see the title and it's 1984 again and Boy George is hanging out in your head.
HANK: I am so suggestible, I cannot have one bit of music when I write. Not even without words. It's too distracting, WITH words, completely impossible, as the words take over my brain. Without words, is...okay. But I'd rather have quiet.
Music while reading? Nope. (I've seen Jonathan, though, read and hum along to classical. Even--read and conduct. No way could I do that.)
LUCY BURDETTE: I'm with Hank, can not, absolutely not listen to music while writing. My characters don't have playlists and neither do the books, for better or worse. The only time I've really gotten hooked on using a bit of song is for the forthcoming FATAL RESERVATIONS. I was in the Miami airport and saw these words tattooed on a young man's arm: I used to disregard regret, but there are some things I can't forget.
I was so taken by the words, I had to ask him about it. Turns out this is a line from a song by MAKE DO AND MEND, a band I'd never heard of. So it's not the music that became an important part of the book, it was the words.
It's always all about the words, one by one. Sigh.
And it's kind of interesting, because in my reporter job, it's constant chaos and noise ,and it doesn't bother me at all. And thinking about it, I can write in a coffee shop, or on a plane or train. So conversation around me, I can tune out. Music, I can't. Wonder why that is?
HALLIE EPHRON: Music while writing? Me neither. Nope. Never.
And right now Taylor Swift's Shake It Off has wormed its way into my head, along with Carole King's PIERRE from her songs for Really Rosie. DO NOT listen to it. You will never shake it off.
HANK: Players gonna play play play play play play.... Sigh. ALL DAY.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: It's so funny that all of us are the same — can't work with music on! Like Hank, I can work anywhere — airport, train station, cafe, and conversation is no big deal. But music? No, absolutely not.
Funny side note — we live near and know Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson Lopez, who wrote "Let It Go," and Kiddo used to play with their daughter, who sang the first few lines of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" in the film/soundtrack. (OK, great, now I'll be singing that all day...)
RHYS BOWEN: I'm with the other Reds. I have to have silence when I write. But my grandson did an interesting experiment at school last year. He gave a math test to students with silence, with music in the background that they knew or with music that they didn't know. Turns out they scored highest when music that they knew was played. If it was music they weren't familiar with they paid attention to it.
I am a huge victim of earworms. If I get a song in my head it won't go away, haunting me day and night. Yes, I wake up singing it. Right now I've been so focused on tax that there hasn't been a square inch of brain for even an earworm song.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been very inspired by different kinds of music when writing specific books--several books revolve around music (opera, Gregorian chant, and rock. Go figure.) --but I CANNOT actually listen to music when I write. Not even Bach or Mozart, the things that are supposed to trigger creative centers in your brain. Sigh. So frustrating. (And so interesting about the studies, Julia.)
But I love the whole play list idea, and actually made one for The Sound of Broken Glass. My favorite song for that book was Good Riddance by Green Day. Now I have to go play it so that I can dislodge the latest earworm--Wherever You Will Go by The Calling. Rick is learning it on the guitar and now I hear it in my sleep... Maybe it will go in the NEXT book.
JULIA: You know, Rhys, there is that song about the Taxman by George Harrison...
How about you, dear readers? How do you combine - or separate - words and music?