I’ve always heard that life comes with a soundtrack, but I’m beginning to realize books do, too.
I don’t listen to music when I write. If the sun’s up, I’m serenaded by the sound of my dogs chasing each other around the house and the cat yowling for yet another snack (yes, she’s spoiled, but we love her). Once night falls, I have the TV on, but I usually leave the sound off so I can listen to Dita and the kids snoring while I type. I mean, so I can concentrate on crafting witty dialogue and a plausible plot. Yeah, that. Love you, honey.
Ahem. What was I saying?
Ah, yes. Music.
I have a full-time job so any writing I do during the week is done at night. During the day, I play tunes on my iPod while I’m sitting at my desk in my office. Just because I’m not writing during that time doesn’t mean I’m not communicating with my characters, however. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’m channeling them. I say that because my favorite songs tend to change depending on the book I’m writing at the moment.
When I was writing Love’s Bounty, I think I listened to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” every day for two months to help me stay in the mindset of my main characters, a lobster boat captain and the greenhorn she hires for the season. Now I can’t hear the song without thinking about Jake and Shy checking their traps off the coast of Maine while their friends and family anxiously await their safe return.
When I was writing The War Within, which is partially set during the Vietnam War, I turned to songs and artists that were popular during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. As a result, I had the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, and Creedence Clearwater Revival in heavy rotation. Every time I hear the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” I picture Army nurses Meredith and Natalie dodging bullets while they try to patch up wounded soldiers.
Which brings me to my latest release.
Written under my Mason Dixon pen name, 21 Questions is set in Miami. I’ve always wanted to visit uber-hip South Beach, but I’ve only gotten close enough to wave at it as Dita and I skirted the heavier traffic on I-95 as we made our way to Key West. When I came up with the idea for the book, I did tons of research to get a feel for the area, but that wasn’t enough to help me capture the characters. Naturally, I turned to music to help me solve the dilemma.
Creating co-protagonist Kenya Davis was easy. I pictured her as a smooth, polished corporate professional with a hankering for old-fashioneds and classic soul. So I turned to my trusty iPod, found the Motown box set and allowed myself to be serenaded by Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, and the like. The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” became Kenya’s theme song. In more ways than one.
Simone, the other main character in 21 Questions, was harder to pin down. I knew I wanted her to be younger—she’s 28 and Kenya’s 36—and I knew I wanted her to be a bartender because it’s such a sexy profession (duh), but that wasn’t enough to turn her from a character into a person. Once I decided to make give her Jamaican roots, everything started to come together. Bartending is what she does, but it isn’t who she is. She has dreams of becoming a music producer but doesn’t know how to make those dreams come true—or how to convince Kenya that she’s a better catch than her multimillionaire boss. To capture Simone’s energy, I turned to the reggae and Caribbean music on my iPod and put them on repeat. In fact, I played Rihanna’s songs so much I ended up writing one of them into a scene. “Don’t Stop the Music,” indeed.
I am currently working on Tailor Made, a New York-set love story featuring a woman who makes custom suits and a female bicycle messenger who moonlights as a male model. You know that means, don’t you? Yep, you guessed it. It’s time to break out the iPod.