Lots of authors write to music, and I'm no exception. But I go a step farther. I create a soundtrack for every one of my books. Much like a movie soundtrack, my novel's soundtrack has music to fit every mood of the story: the "meet cute," the first crisis, the simple solution, the first kiss, the humorous secondary characters, the black moment, the climax, and the happily-ever-after. I find that certain songs, whether because of their lyrics, their melody, or both, light my creative spark
I begin with my working title, which is always based on a song title to help inspire me right from the start. For example, take ETERNALLY YOURS, Book I of the Afterlife Series. Here’s the blurb for that particular story:
After one too many disappointments, Jodie Devlin took her own life. Too bad her suicide is only the beginning of her troubles. Until a new future can be created for her, Jodie will serve as one of Death’s bounty hunters, retrieving souls who haunt Earth. She’ll need smarts, charm, and trickery to convince these specters to give up the ghost and move on. Of course, these same skills will come in handy for verbally sparring with her bull-headed, know-it-all trainer.
It's no wonder Luc Asante is so bitter toward women. His former wife ordered him taken off life support, condemning him to employment in the Afterlife. Now he has a trainee—a female trainee who’s as soft-hearted as he is hard, as impulsive as he is methodical. In a place where perfection is the norm, she flaunts her flaws just to drive him nuts.
The working title for ETERNALLY YOURS was “Across the Universe,” so that particular Beatles song was first on my playlist. Now, admittedly, writing a story where all my main characters are dead, most of them by suicide—and making that story funny—was a great challenge. Building the world of the Afterlife, a realm that means a great deal to people from all walks of life, would have been impossible without some instrumental music from such classics as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), Korsakov’s Sheherazade, and Bach’s Magnificat.
At the beginning of the book, when my heroine, Jodie, kills herself and finds herself landing in the Afterlife, “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John seemed like the perfect sonnet to her pain and confusion. When I introduce Luc, my hero, who is all attitude and ego, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon is ideal. But much later in the story, when he discovers how his decisions in his lifetime affected Jodie in hers, Berlin’s “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” mixed with “Have a Little Faith in Me” from Joe Cocker and Secondhand Serenade’s “Why” help me set the right mood. “True Love” by Angels and Airwaves had a nice, ethereal feel for love scenes.
The music I choose is as unusual and varied as my characters and plots. Red Jumpsuit Apparatus crooning “Your Guardian Angel” made the list, as did “Everything We Had” from The Academy Is…, and Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” While I wrote one particular scene, when Jodie and Luc are sent to Earth to retrieve a dead punk rock star from a hotel similar to New York’s Chelsea, “Train in Vain” from The Clash and “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger led a continuous loop of more hardcore punk-style music. (I avoided anything with The Sex Pistols, due to the tragedy at the Chelsea involving Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.)
Secondary characters, like Sean Martino (who gets his own story in Book II, IN YOUR DREAMS) also had theme songs. Robbie Williams’s version of “Mack the Knife” gave Sean his swagger and dark humor. Elder Counselor, Serenity, received inspiration from Natalie Merchant singing “Life is Sweet.”
In total, my "Across the Universe" soundtrack consisted of eighty-eight songs/symphonies. Eighty-eight pieces of inspiration, passion, emotion, and romance all jam-packed into my iPod.
It may seem crazy, but this is as close as I get to plotting. I generally start a book with two character names, a place, and one scenario. Everything builds from there. How? Through the music! Each book gets its own soundtrack. With my headphones in place, I can lose myself in my writing, picture my characters, and experience all those moments that create their story. And when (if) I get blocked on a scene, I can listen to the tunes I've assigned to my characters to figure out where they're headed next and push them there. Lyrics often bring me new insight for a character. Instrumentals provide drama and the opportunity to allow my muse free rein in a garden of ideas.
Luckily, you don't need a soundtrack to read any of my books. But if you want to try, grab your favorite music of choice. If you prefer classical instrumentals to avoid singing along with the lyrics, you can check out “Music for Reading” on YouTube for some lovely snippets from Chopin, Debussy, Mozart, Schubert, and others or, on Pandora, find the Hans Zimmer channel. Curl up in a comfy spot and read while you listen. Who knows? It might just make the journey to The End even more enjoyable!
***Two lucky readers who comment on my blog post will be randomly selected to receive copies of both ETERNALLY YOURS and IN YOUR DREAMS (the first two books in the Afterlife Series)! Good luck!***