My Love of Music

Do you want proof that God has a sense of humor?

I’m a writer, and nothing drives me battier than the sound of typing on a keyboard. I can handle it for a little while, but after five minutes or so, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Oh, and when I’m not writing (day job), I do a lot of developing and programming. Yeah, the irony is palpable. This, combined with the fact I’m very visual in my writing—I “see” the stories like a movie playing in my head, and transcribe what I see—is why music is so important to me when I write. What’s a good movie without a killer soundtrack? It’s a bonus that it also drowns out the maddening sound of striking keys. Argh, even thinking about it puts my teeth on edge!

For every book I’ve written, I’ve made multiple playlists. They typically surround characters, or specific scenes. Sometimes, when I’m working on a particularly powerful scene, I’ll put a single song on a loop and listen to it continually till I’m done. Music is so important to me that all my characters have favorite musicians and songs. Listening to those artists fuels me emotionally and also helps me get into my characters’ heads. Edward is a Tom Waits fan, followed closely by Diana Krall, Leonard Cohen, and Dave Brubeck. For Caitlin it’s Gaelic Storm, The Elders, Sarah McLachlan, and The Cowboy Junkies. Brendan leans towards The Pogues, The Wolfe Tones, and, despite his anachronistic tendencies, Dropkick Murphy, Flogging Molly, and Flatfoot 56. Dante is more eclectic as a result of his age, and his tastes range from Vivaldi (he’s a sucker for a solid cello concerto) to Daft Punk and The Crystal Method.

Wraith was a bit more complicated. As I worked on The Forgotten, the music was more about the story. The songs were dark and brooding. “Ain’t no Grave,” by Johnny Cash saw quite a lot of play, and if you’ve read The Forgotten, you’ll understand why. It made sense I wasn’t focused on music for Wraith as a character. After all, she was a homeless kid struggling to keep sane from one day to the next. She didn’t have a lot of time to listen to music. That changed when I started writing Three Promises. Wraith came to life in a way I never imagined, or dared to hope. Her story opens in the aftermath of The Forgotten and I knew she’d be battling severe depression and trying to find a sense of purpose. As someone who has struggled with that since I was a teenager,  I knew personally how much music can help. I wanted Wraith to have the same experience, to find refuge, and possibly hope, in music. But what songs? What artists? When I found not just the artist, but the song, it was so perfect, that I knew I had to include some of the lyrics in the story itself. The song was “Wonder (Wonder Woman Song)” by The Doubleclicks.

I was introduced to The Doubleclicks through John Scalzi’s blog when he posted the video to “Nothing to Prove.” It’s perhaps their most famous song; an anthem for geek girls. The song is awesome, and the video is not just powerful, it’s empowering. Fans of Angela and Aubrey, the sisters who make up The Doubleclicks, know that most of their songs are all kinds of nerdy fun. They sing about cats, board games, dinosaurs, burritos, lasers… well, you get the idea. But some of their songs are more personal, and are deeply moving. Their song “Bad Memories” really resonated with me and their cover of “In the Middle” is amazing. I thought about using “Nothing to Prove” to give Wraith hope, but it just didn’t seem right for her. Then I heard “Wonder (Wonder Woman Song)” and I knew that was Wraith’s song. How does a song about a super-powered Amazon inspire a homeless girl fighting depression? You’ll have to read the story, and I suggest listening to the song as well. Not because you’ll need to know it, just because it’s an awesome song.

For The Returned, I wanted something that fit the broad mix of amazing music New Orleans—the setting for the book—had to offer. I chose songs you might hear street musicians playing on the corners of cities anywhere; songs filled with power and emotion. Wraith however is still a diehard Doubleclicks fan. So when a particularly important scene came up, I knew where to turn. This time it was the song “Godzilla.” The song is sad, but tinged with humor, and fit who Wraith was becoming perfectly. For both The Returned and Three Promises, The Doubleclicks were good enough to let me license the lyrics, and I was thrilled to be able to (legally) include them in the stories.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of music. Like any art form, it’s emotionally evocative. Most people know the shameless joy of singing to a favorite song at the top of their lungs while driving, not caring who sees you. We find solace and comfort in songs when we have a broken heart. We celebrate with music and dancing; though if you’re like me, it can only loosely be called dancing. We find comfort in our sad times with the perfect track. Songs mark the passing of the years like signposts. And sometimes, just sometimes, you hear a song and it reaches into your soul from the very first time you hear it. For me, those songs tend to be the bittersweet ones; sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. What can I say, I’m a romantic. The emotion, the magic, the power of music fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, every kind of art, it all serves to connect us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. The stories in my books are my snapshots and The Returned feels like my best work yet. I hope you read it, and that you enjoy it, maybe connect with it or the characters within. If you’d like, I’d be happy to suggest some music to set the mood before you start reading.

 

#SFWAPRO

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A New Author Retrospective

I know, I know. Just stay with me on this.
I’m a big fan of Mumford and Sons. I first heard them in an Irish pub somewhere—on the stereo, not live—and was immediately drawn in by their sound and lyrics. I recently picked up their third album, Wilder Minds, and I’ve really been enjoying it. Obviously I like some songs more than others; “Ditmas” is currently my favorite . If you’re not familiar with the band, they have a very cool sound: mostly acoustic, with a banjo and rarely anything more than a kick drum for percussion. That all changed in this new album, and based on some of the reviews I saw, some people weren’t happy about the change. The album definitely sounds more “rock” than the folksy style they had before, but I think you can still hear the soul of the band there. Apparently plenty of people disagree with me. At first, their unhappiness made me think of the stories about when Bob Dylan went electric. This got me thinking, though. As a fan, I completely understand wanting to hear more of the music you love from an artist. But expecting the same thing in perpetuity isn’t really fair or realistic. As people, we grow, we change, we mature, and our view of the world changes to reflect that. Since artists are ultimately expressing themselves, it’s only natural their art will change and grow with them. You might not be growing the same way, or in the same direction, or at the same speed. That means you might drift away from the artist, and that’s just part of the deal. It’s certainly happened to me. At the least, though, you always have the earlier works.

This also got me thinking about my own art (my books), since I’ve got a healthy ego and everything ultimately comes back to me. If you think you detected a bit of sarcasm in that last line, you’re right, there is just a touch of it. As some of you know, I’m working on the fourth book in the American Faerie Tale series. No, you don’t get to know the name or what it’s about. Not yet. If it goes out on schedule, I’ll have been a writer for just about two years. Now, I’m not noting that to brag. Okay, I’m not noting that JUST to brag. I’m now a little more than a year into this professional writer thing, which gives me some perspective. I also recently got another bad review—one which mentioned a criticism another review had noted—and these things together got me looking back. To summarize the criticism, it revolved around the lack of female characters in The Stolen, or the lack of agency with those it did have. And the truth is, that’s a fair criticism.

The Stolen was my first book. I finished the first draft for it about five years ago, give or take. Then I spent a few years editing to get it to where I was happy with it, and then it went to Harper Voyager for their open submission window. Up to that point, I’d pretty much been writing in a vacuum. I didn’t have beta readers. I wasn’t part of a writing group. I wasn’t into social media. My involvement in the world of books, and geekery in general, was me reading books (or rather listening, as I’ve been focused on audiobooks for a while now). It wasn’t until I started venturing out into the world, so to speak, that I saw the tropes and stereotypes that I’d taken as the norm. Kameron Hurley does an excellent job discussing these stereotypes here. More importantly, I saw why giving into these isn’t just bad (in many, many ways), but also limited me as a writer. This is where, for lack of a better term, I checked my privilege. I want my books to be filled with powerful characters (of all genders) that have agency and that readers will love. I looked back and, like many authors, saw all the things I could’ve done to improve my first book. By this time I’d heard from Harper and was preparing for the release of The Stolen. I should note that I’m very proud of The Stolen and its characters, I truly am. I believe it’s the best story I could’ve written at the time, but I also think it’s just a good story. I love the characters in it, with all their faults and flaws. But could I write a better story now? Better characters? Absolutely! And I think I have. But then, I’ve been writing much more intently since The Stolen was finished. So, since I can’t go back and change my first book—and frankly, I wouldn’t even if I could—I did the only thing I could do: I looked forward, took those lessons, and applied them to my next book. Isn’t that the goal of every artist, or really, every person: to grow, to learn, and to improve ourselves? I think I succeeded with The Forgotten and continued that progression with Three Promises. I’ve never made any secret of the fact I struggled with Caitlin in the first book. Looking back, I think I tried too hard. I was so focused on writing a (cringe warning) strong female character, that I lost sight of just making the best character I could. She doesn’t have much screen time in The Forgotten, but I think she’s improved in that story and even more so in Three Promises, as have all the characters. When I wrote Wraith, the protagonist in The Forgotten, she came to life for me, and all the hard lessons I learned from writing The Stolen paid off.

Lest you think I’m trying to dissuade you from picking up The Stolen, if you haven’t already, I’m not. As I said, I think it’s a good book and a good start to the series, with good characters. There are things in it I know some people won’t like that I’m entirely happy with. But anyone who really thinks they can write something everyone will love is deluding themselves. Even Harry Potter got one star reviews. That being said, I also recognize it’s my first book, and I’m a stronger writer now. I see the places I can improve and strive to do just that in the next book. I’m sure at some point I’ll look back on The Forgotten and Three Promises the same way. What’s more, that’s kind of the point of a first book in the series. And here’s why I wouldn’t change The Stolen even if I could. It isn’t just me that’s growing and changing, it’s the characters themselves. Caitlin isn’t the same in Three Promises as she was in The Stolen. None of the characters are from one book to the next, and neither am I.

All this brings me back to where I started this post. In the years since my first book, I’ve grown, as writer, as a person, and as an artist. Consequently, my books (and the characters in them) have changed to reflect the changes in me. So if you find yourself reading a book that you really don’t like, perhaps passionately, take note if it’s the author’s first book or the first in a series. As a writer, I ask you to give the next book a shot. We’re all of us ever changing, ever growing. You never know where the author might be when you pick up that next book. It might just turn out to be exactly what you were hoping to find, or never thought you would. If, however, you so passionately disliked the book that you refuse to ever touch another by the author, that’s your option and I respect that. If The Stolen was that book for you, or any of the subsequent books in the series, I humbly thank you for your time (and money) and wish you well on your journey to find a book you love. There are tons of them out there, and I’ll be noting some of them below.

I can’t speak for every writer, obviously, but when I sit down to write a story, I want it to be the best it can be. I want it to be the book you can’t wait to tell everyone you know about. For some people, I’ve done that (woo hoo!), for others, well, not so much. But I’ll keep trying. Some people will think I’ve succeeded, some will see it as an abysmal failure. And they’ll both be right.

As promised, here’s a list of some great books you can check out (in no particular order). These writers, like myself, are new and growing with each new word they type. You might not like them all, but then again, you might.

Darkhaven by AFE Smith
A Fairy-Tale Ending by Jack Heckel
Desert Rising & The Obsidian Temple by Kelley Grant
Grey by Christi J. Whitney
The Ark by Laura Liddell Nolan
Ignite the Shadows by Ingrid Seymour
Belt Three by John Ayliff
Unexpected Rain by Jason LaPier
Hero Born by Andy Livingstone
Stealing into Winter by Graeme K. Talboys
The Machinery by Gerrard Cowan
Supervision by Alison Stine
Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf by Terry Newman
The Day Before by Liana Brooks
The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson
Dark Alchemy & Mercury Retrograde by Laura Bickle
Superheroes Anonymous & Supervillains Anonymous by Lexie Dunne
The Iron Ring & Iron and Blood by Auston Habershaw
The God Hunter & Devil in the Wires by Tim Lees
Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy
Among Wolves by Nancy K. Wallace
Graynelore by Stephen Moore
Thorn Jack & The Briar Queen by Katherine Harbour
Veiled Empire by Nathan Garrison

Merry Christmas

Today’s post is short and sweet. If you know me, my song choice for Christmas day is no surprise. Fairy Tale of New York by The Pogues has been voted one of the best Christmas songs of all time. It’s sad, but still filled with it’s own kind of hope and love. I’m of the belief that without Kirsty MacColl’s contrast to Shane MacGowan’s this song wouldn’t be nearly as magical. Even when things are dark, there is light and hope in the most unlikely places. There is gold in the darkness if you look for it.

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

Merry Christmas-Eve

I hope everyone reading this is having a wonderful time with family and friends, that your cares are few and your troubles forgotten, even if only for a few days. If you’ve followed this blog, you know I like me some Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and since it’s Christmas-eve (and I couldn’t choose just one song) here are a few selections that I challenge you not to dance to!

A Party For Santa Claus

Last Night (I went out with Santa Claus)

Rockabilly Christmas

Happy December 23rd

Today you get a two-fer! First a reminder I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Santee CA from 12pm to 2pm. You can get a copy of The Stolen signed, or I’ll sign someone else’s book if that’s your thing. I’ll have some neat stuff to give away, and if you get there early, I’ll even have cookies! Come and say hi.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled Advent Blog. Today I’m going traditional. I’m not overtly religious, but there some carols I think are truly beautiful. Carol of the Bells is one of those songs. This version even comes with a rather spectacular light show!

O Holy Night is another song that I find almost haunting, especially when sung by a children’s choir.