Tis the Season for Music

By Joe Moore

A few years back I posted a blog about listening to music while writing, particularly motion picture scores. I hear that many of them are recorded through amazing phono preamps, similar to Graham Slee HiFi exclusive phono preamps. It works for me, and judging by the comments at the time, many others like to use music when they write, too. Music is an amazingly powerful force in the world and can add to your memories of special times—there’s that tune from your first date, or the one you danced to as a newlywed on your wedding day. And so many countless other occasions.

One of the times of year I look forward to most is the Christmas season. And a big reason is, I love Christmas music. It must be playing throughout our house while we put up our decorations. And on Christmas day, it is nonstop in every room. There are so many great Holiday tunes to choose from; whether your tastes lean toward the traditional religious songs or the commercial pop hits, they all paint a warm and happy time of year.

My favorite has always been I’ll Be Home For Christmas, a poignant, emotional tune that never fails to bring back memories of Christmas past. It’s a short story with a surprise ending perfectly written for maximum impact.

From the Rock era, there are hundreds of great tunes, but few can get you smiling and moving like All I Want For Christmas Is You. And there’s no one that can belt it out better than the grand diva herself, Mariah Carey, who by the way also wrote the song. So take a short break from what you’re doing, sit back and let Ms. C entertain you. If you’re not smiling by the time it’s over, check your pulse for vital signs. http://youtu.be/RengWX0P5KA

Since TKZ will be on vacation from December 22 through January 4, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you next year.

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“Cotton Stone is a heroine for the ages.” – Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author.

3D-collection1Perfect Holiday gift: THE COTTEN STONE OMNIBUS. The collection includes the complete bestselling series: THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY, THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT and THE 731 LEGACY. All 4 thrillers for only $7.99. Download now for yourself or gift it to a friend!

Dum da dum dum…

I am writing this while sitting in a hotel located in what is known as the Central Business District of the open-air insane asylum called New Orleans. I am here for a music law seminar, listening to people much brighter than myself (and yes, a couple who, well, aren’t) discuss how to build a bigger butterfly net to use when chasing the fewer and fewer dollars that are available in the music industry. My mind was starting to wander this afternoon when one of the seminar speakers brought me back on task by saying, “And here’s another revenue stream. You all have heard of e-books? And Kindle? There’s talk of adding music to e-books.”

Whoa.

Now, newer versions of Kindle have an application which will let the user upload (download? Sometimes it’s not clear in which direction the digital river flows) music to the unit to play while reading. You connect your precious up to your computer via a USB port and uplo…er…downl…uh, transfer the music from computer to Kindle. What the speaker was talking about, however, sounds like something else entirely. This is music that would come with the e-book. As contemplated, it would be 1) genre appropriate (romantic for romance books; spooky for horror novels; and heavy metal for John Gilstrap); and 2) instrumental, so as not to distract those of us who cannot walk across the room and hold a thought at the same time.

This raises a couple of questions: 1) where is the music going to come from? 2) who is going to pay for it? and 3) will the author have controlling, or at least some, input into whether they want their precious to have musical accompaniment? It is questions 2 and 3 which should concern the wordsmiths out there. If you have signed away control of how your e-books are marketed, the answer to #3 may be “no.” And as for the answer to question 2, it may or may not be the author who is passed the check directly or indirectly, depending on how things shake out on the whole thing. Music on television and in movies and video games is not free; someone paid a lot of money to put that catchy song you walk around humming into a commercial, or at the beginning of CSI: Miami. It won’t be free for e-books either.

It is not my intent to give you something else to worry about. But authors: keep your collective ear to the ground. And you eyes open.

*****
My New Orleans sojourn is part of a ten day trip which began with three days in Franklin, Tennessee at Killer Nashville. A smaller conference which is very user friendly, Killer Nashville is aimed primarily at hopeful authors and is a wonderful way to network and learn writing tradecraft. P.J. Parrish was seemingly on every panel (that’s an exaggeration, but not by much) and showed us how a P.J. Parrish book created. Different color Post-It notes affixed to a cardboard backing are involved and it was truly a wonder to look at. It was an extremely interesting and marvelous over-the-shoulder glance at how the collective Parrish team gets the job done. Jeffrey Deaver was the guest of honor, and was extremely friendly and easily accessible to all, including his multitude on Number One Fans. He generously spent over an hour telling a jammed-to-capacity ballroom how he works his magic, from idea through completion. Jeffrey began his presentation with a basic premise that is sometimes forgotten: writing is a business. He spends eight months outlining and four months writing and when he is done and turns in the manuscript he sits down and does it all again. There is more to it than that of course but it was great to hear a strong and basic fundamental advocated so forcefully.

****

What I’m reading: THE THOUSAND by Kevin Guilfoile. Pythagoras meets a girl with a dragon tattoo who kicked a hornet’s nest while playing with fire. If I hadn’t been so busy these past ten days I would have read it in one night.

Next time: The coolest place in the world is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Seriously.

All I Want For Christmas . . .

By Joe Moore

Last week I posted a blog about listening to music while writing, particularly motion picture scores. It works for me, and judging by the comments, many others like to use music when they write, too. Music is an amazingly powerful force in the world and can add to your memories of special times—there’s that tune from your first date, or the one you danced to as a newlywed on your wedding day. And so many countless other occasions.

One of the times of year I look forward to most is the Christmas season. And a big reason is, I love Christmas music. It must be playing throughout our house while we put up our decorations. And on Christmas day, it is nonstop in every room. There are so many great Holiday tunes to choose from; whether your tastes lean toward the traditional religious songs or the commercial pop hits, they all paint a warm and happy time of year.

My favorite has always been I’ll Be Home For Christmas, a poignant, emotional tune that never fails to bring back memories of a Christmas past with (hopefully) fond memories. It’s a short story with a surprise ending perfectly written for maximum impact.

From the Rock era, there are hundreds of great tunes, but few can get you smiling and moving like All I Want For Christmas Is You. And there’s no one that can belt it out better than the grand diva herself, Mariah Carey. So take a short break from what you’re doing, sit back and let Ms. C entertain you. If you’re not smiling by the time it’s over, check your pulse for vital signs.

Since TKZ will be on vacation from December 21 through January 3, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you next year.

The Big Score

By Joe Moore

Over at Murderati, my friend Brett Battles  recently blogged about writing while listening to music. Since I’m a big believer in doing it, I thought I’d add my two cents to the topic.

Lets start by looking at the cinema. Arguably, a movie would lose its impact without music. Even in the days of silent movies, there was a live piano player in the theater whose job was to add drama to each scene. You can have the greatest photography, acting, direction, set design and script, but without music, the movie would probably fall flat. Not to be confused with what some call movie soundtracks–usually a collection contemporary tunes–movie scores are written and orchestrated pieces of original music specifically score designed for a particular scene. They enhance and  support the visual images. If you listen to a movie score isolated from the visuals, it can verge on being classical in nature. As a matter of fact, I consider names like Trevor Jones, Randy Edelman, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, James Horner, John Williams, Howard Shore, and many others to be our modern day classical composers.

I discovered many years ago that I could also use the element of music to help me write. Someone gave me the CD score to THE MISSION with Robert De Niro. It happened to be playing on my stereo as I started a new chapter, and I realized that the music set exactly the same mood as the scene on which I was working. So from then on, as I watched movies I would pay particular attention to the scores. If they evoked the type of mood I sought in my WIP, or just set a very cool, dramatic, romantic or spooky mood, I would order the CD and rip it to MP3.

I now have a huge collection of scores on my computer and rarely sit down to write without my MP3 player on “shuffle”. I don’t use any music with lyrics since I find that other people’s words distract me. That’s why scores work so well—in most cases they are instrumental.

So if you’d like to try writing dramatic scenes to music, here’s a short list of my favorite CDs that seem to have it all when it comes to creating a mood found in most mysteries and thrillers.

A Beautiful Mind, James Horner

The Bone Collector, Craig Armstrong

Breach, Mychael Danna

Burn After Reading, Carter Burwell

Crash, Howard Shore

Diabolique, Rand Edelman

A Very Long Engagement, Angelo Badalamenti

The Forgotten, James Horner

Gothika, John Ottman

House of Sand and Fog, James Horner

The Human Stain, Rachel Portman

The Illusionist, Philip Glass

The Lives of Others, Gabriel Yared

March of the Penguins, Alex Wurman

Munich, John Williams

One Hour Photo, Reinhold Heil

Passengers, Edward Shearmur

Premonition, Klaus Badelt

Runaway Jury, Christopher Young

The Sentinel, Christophe Beck

The Hours, Philip Glass

The Missing, James Horner

Unfaithful, Jan Kaczmarek

Amazon lets you sample the tracks before you purchase, so enjoy listening then find the one that fits your WIP.

Do you write to music? Lyrics or instrumental. What are your top five CDs for background music while you write?

The Soundtrack of Suspense: How Music Influences My Words

Our guest today is best-selling author Robert Liparulo, a former journalist with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His novels include COMES A HORSEMAN, GERM, DEADFALL, and this year’s DEADLOCK, as well as the young adult series, DREAMHOUSE KINGS (the latest of which is TIMESCAPE, releases July 7). He is currently writing, simultaneously, an original screenplay and novel, with the director Andrew Davis (THE FUGITIVE, THE GUARDIAN).

By Robert Liparulo

Liparulo Pace. Rhythm. Tension. It’s no coincidence these terms describe both stories and music. In fact, for me, music has always helped me create stories. When someone mentions a favorite scene from one of my novels, more often than not, I immediately remember the music that was playing in my headphones when I wrote it: Olaf’s attack on Brady and his son in Comes a Horseman (“Elk Hunt” from Last of the Mohicans); Stephen’s confrontation with the killer Atropos in Germ (“The Battle” from Gladiator); Hutch’s apprehensive readiness to rise from charred ground and fight at the end of Deadfall (“Death is the Road to Awe” from The Fountain). Music gets me in the mind-set to write specific scenes—its rhythm reminds me of the pace I’m looking for as I work to find just the right words; its mood holds me in a sort of suspended animation within the scene, regardless of outside distractions or the time it takes to write it.

Years ago, as movie critic, I’d sometimes see films before they were finished, without a musical score. At one screening, the director stood in the aisle humming the music that would accompany each scene. That was more distracting than the film’s symphonic nakedness, but I understood the poor man’s panic over having his film seen that way: music can make or break a movie. It not only adds a rich layer of enjoyment to the viewing experience, it cues the audience to the filmmaker’s intentions—“OK, time to get scared” or “In case this guy’s mask made out of human skin isn’t enough to let you know, he’s the bad guy!” That’s why the tracks of musical score are called “cues.”

Timescape (I’ve dreamed of including a playlist—even the actual music in digital form—with my novels. Readers could then start a soundtrack with each chapter, heightening their experience of the story. Of course, individual reading speeds make that impractical; few things are worse than out-of-synch audio tracks. And, yes, I realize it’s part of the author’s job to create the same emotional response in readers that music does, using only words. Still, I sometimes imagine myself acting like that director: leaning over a reader’s shoulder, and at the right moment going, “Da-da-da!”)

It’s hard for me to experience a story, in any medium, without musical accompaniment—whether in my ears or my head.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to music as I wrote—through years of writing magazine articles and intermittent screenplays. It started as a way of deadening the sounds of screaming kids, vacuum cleaners, and when I rented an outside office, the shouts coming from the divorce attorney’s office next door. Then I started writing novels, and the type of music I played suddenly mattered.

Faster tempos do help keep the pace up—if not within the story, then at least with how fast my fingers move over a keyboard; but then, volume helps with that as well. The louder, the better. More important than tempo is how a piece of music makes me feel. A cue that starts off slow and builds to a triumphant crescendo can carry me through a fast-paced action sequence as well as any nonstop, staccato rhythm. “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code, for example: a hero’s theme if ever there was one.

Over time, I’ve built a library of music categorized by the mood it puts me in when I write. Take, for instance, Clint Mansell’s haunting music for Requiem for a Dream. Its cues seem to be teetering on the edge of something, without relief or execution. No wonder several of the titles have the word “Tense” in them. When I launch into a suspenseful scene, I’ll often queue up my Requiem playlist.

Here’s a specific example of a partial scene and the music I was listening to when I wrote it:

“With the speed and fluidity he had practiced a thousand times, Hutch drew back on the bowstring and released it, all in one, smooth two-second motion. He held still for another beat to make sure the arrow cleared the bow. Then he dropped his right arm to a second arrow rising from the ground beside him. His bow arm never moved. His head never moved. His eyes never came off of Bad. As the arrow sliced a groove through Bad’s skin at the temple, Hutch was already nocking the next arrow.”

Most likely, Quentin Tarantino would go with something fast and exotic, like NEU!’s “Super 16” from Kill Bill. Because the scene is a mix of suspense and action, I powered up “Betrayal” from Enemy at the Gates—from the scene in which they discover a young boy murdered and hanging from a crane. It’s emotive and heart-wrenching, and prior to the “discovery” almost painful in its anticipation.

My writing-music of choice is almost always film scores. It seems to me that movie moguls are the benefactors of today’s great composers, Hollywood the new Vienna. I also like that the structure of a good story—with its cycle of tension and relief, despair and triumph—forces a wide variation in music within one recording. I used to think the strong bond between a movie’s images and its music would cause me to think only of those images while listening to the score—Russell Crowe plucking his violin in Master and Commander. However, I’ve found that the spirit of the music takes over and I can claim it for my own. That’s why filmmakers often listen to other movies’ scores while on set. They’re not trying to imitate another movie’s scene; they’re letting the music help them get in the mood for their own scene. The director Ridley Scott is known for doing this.

Thankfully, most movie scores don’t have lyrics. I’m too much of a word geek to write with lyrics pounding into my eardrums: I’m always trying to listen to them. Every now and then, however, a song with lyrics is perfect for getting me into the groove of a scene (though usually it’s something in its rhythm, tempo or melody, rarely its words that attracts me to it). When that happens, I play it over and over until my mind stops Deadlock trying to catch every word and hears the vocals as it does any other instrument. Felix da Housecat’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” comes to mind; I listened to it while writing the scene that introduced Brendan Page, my latest novel Deadlock’s villain, a true sinnerman with a penchant for “cool,” which the song captures.

It’s all about what works for the individual writer. When writing action scenes, Meg Gardiner (The Memory Collector) says Gladiator, The Day After Tomorrow, Jarhead and 300 “get me in a fightin’ mood.” David Dun says he listened to “the womb-like sounds of a whirlpool hot tub with all the jets running” while writing The Black Silent. Whatever works.

When I write to music, it does more than nudged me into a specific pace or help me with atmosphere. It reminds me of quality, that musical notes, played on varied instruments in a specific order and speed can touch people in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. It can lift heavy spirits and wring tears from long-dry eyes. It can unsettle sad memories and tickle a laugh out of you when you need it most. It stirs the listener and paints unimaginably vivid pictures—exactly the things I want my words to do, as well.

Do you listen to music while you write? What are your favorite tunes?

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Watch for Sunday guest blogs from Julie Kramer, Anne Hawkins, and Grant Blackwood. And coming July 26. James Scott Bell joins the Kill Zone as our new fulltime Sunday blogger.