If you’re like me – and you should all be so lucky – then writing is a process that involves music. Lots of music. But not just any music! No, you must listen to specific songs or specific styles to help set the mood for your protagonist’s adventures. Or misadventures. Or what have you.
I have a constantly-evolving playlist on my phone of the songs I listen to while writing. Some are on there because they fit a specific scene, while others are more about describing the characters or the mood. The following playlist was developed while I was writing The Invisible Crown and another novel that will appear later in the series, tentatively called Death and the Dame (that one’s a love story. Sort of).
1. Anita Kelsey, “Sway”: There have been times I’ve just written to the Dark City Soundtrack. This is still one of my favorite songs off that collection.
2. Sting, “Perfect Love…Gone Wrong”: On there because of the smoky, steamy city jazz feel, and also the extended metaphor where Sting is a disgruntled dog amuses me to no end.
3. John Mellencamp, “The Full Catastrophe”: Perfect summation of my protagonist, Eddie Hazzard. His life is a bit of a rolling catastrophe, and there is a minor chance he was accidentally loving your wife while you were loving his.
4. Soul Coughing, “Fully Retractable”: One that’s on there for tone/mood. There’s a dark undercurrent, a sinister feel to this song that’s just really fitting.
5. Muddy Waters, “Rolling Stone”: Life in a blues song always sounds like it sucks. I imagine Eddie’s life is much the same way.
6. Bob Dylan, “What Was It You Wanted”: Either the narrator is stuck in a world that makes no sense, or the guy took a shot to the head. Either way, a Dylan song is a must-have on pretty much any playlist I put together.
7. Gorillaz, “M1A1”: Fight scene song! Love the energy, the staccato burst of the snare, the spiky guitars…great soundtrack to a fistfight.
8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand”: Another mood setter. Creepy, dark alley vibe that I dig.
9. EL VY, “Happiness, Missouri”: Like I said, a lot of songs I stick on these for the general mood they set. This one fits with the general feel of the city of Arcadia: dark, slightly mysterious, vaguely threatening and sinister.
10. Arcade Fire, “My Body is a Cage”: The contemplative, protagonist considers his actions and his destiny before launching into the story’s climactic scene song. Love the build of it, the sense of determination and all that.
11. The Dead Weather, “Hustle and Cuss”: Basically the Eddie Hazzard theme song. He has to be out there hustling, working his tail off, because his enemies are always a few steps ahead of him. And cussing…well, you have to express your frustration somehow.
12. David Gray, “Dead in the Water”: While The Invisible Crown might be the first of Eddie Hazzard’s cases, it certainly won’t be the last. I’ve got three other novels already written in the series, I’ve started working on the fifth novel, and I have plans for the sixth. The core idea for the sixth book came from a short story I wrote a couple years back about Eddie and a particularly disturbing case and a mis-remembering of a lyric from this song. Expect to see that book in…um…2022 or so, maybe? I dunno.
13. Adele, “Rumor Has It”: A private detective works with whatever information he can get. Sometimes, that information is merely rumors. Sometimes, those rumors turn out to be true.
14. Tom Waits, “Way Down in a Hole”: Tom Waits sounds too ludicrous to even be one of my characters, and I have one antagonist who’s a head in a jar named The Fish. Honestly, when developing characters, I just ask myself, “What would Tom Waits do?” and go from there. It’s served me pretty well so far.
15. Modest Mouse, “Bukowski”: This always struck me as driving music, the sort of thing you’d hear on the soundtrack if TIC was turned into a movie/TV series and they had a scene of him driving from the office to an informant or chasing down a lead.
That’s my playlist! What do you listen to when you’re writing?