Unexpected Inspiration

Me: *relaxing with a bit of YouTubing at the end of the day, watching music videos*

Me: *watches K/DA’s “Villain” once again*

Brain: *poke poke* Oh hey…you know what would be a great villain idea for a sequel to In My Blue World?

Me: Oh COME ON —

Brain: I’m picturing a pirate, a woman with the ability to steal magic from multiple worlds —

Me: WILL YOU STOP THAT I’M TOO BUSY ALREA–

Brain: And she’s like, super strong and almost invincible, and Zuze needs Diana’s help in fighting her off —

Me: … *sigh* FINE. *writes 1500-word synopsis*

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PSA: Listening to music and being inspired to write yet another novel can be hazardous to your health.

Keep Coming Back

I mentioned over at Welcome to Bridgetown that I find myself once again returning to the 80s (surprise surprise), via an old story I started my senior year in high school and attempted to revive numerous times over the ensuing decades. This is the story that went through so many different titles, versions and mutations that it has its own report binder here in the file department of Spare Oom.

And here I am, half-seriously coming back to it. Again.

I mean, this is the same story that also inspired my much more recent nonfic book idea that shares the name of this blog, Walk in Silence. The college rock era of the late 80s will always be near and dear to my heart for many reasons.

So why bring up this old story again, you ask? To answer that, I’d need to explain why it failed so many times in the past, and it’s called roman à clef. Each time I resurrected it, I made the mistake of wanting to write it as a self-insert piece of fiction, and therein lies the problem: my life back then wasn’t nearly as exciting as I often make it out to be. A lot of silliness and a lot of gloominess and everything in between, but not enough to make it an excitable read. So what’s different now? Well, thirty years on I’ve learned a thing or two about how to write fiction and realized roman à clef is not what was needed here. I knew what I wanted to write, but real life self-inserting wasn’t the way to go.

I’m not taking this project too seriously at the moment, as I’m already focusing on a few other things, but I’m letting myself devote an hour or two a day for it anyway, making notes and revisiting mixtapes and looking at discographies and chronologies. I’m also resurrecting a writing style I haven’t used since those same 80s days: using music to inspire and influence certain scenes, Michael Mann style. The difference here is that I’m not leaning heavy on memory here. I’m taking ideas from the songs I loved and expanding on what images and thoughts they inspire and evoke in me. Sure, there’ll be a few self-inserts in there — there always are in my books — but it won’t be as obvious this time out. And I’m making an expanded mixtape that’ll have both the obvious (say, “Under the Milky Way”) and the deep cut (such as the below Love Tractor song). That, of course, is the most fun part of this project so far.

I have no deadline for this particular story, but I am looking forward to spending more time on it if and when I can!

Mixtapes for writing projects

I’ve made mixtape ‘soundtracks’ for pretty much every writing project I’ve worked on, even for those that I ended up trunking. When I’m coming up with a new story, I will usually already know what mood the story will take. For Meet the Lidwells I already planned for the story to take place in the 90s, so I gathered a number of my favorite songs from that decade that I knew would fit the feel of the story, not to mention what The Lidwells’ music itself would sound like. (“Grapevine”, for instance, is a mash-up between The House of Love’s “You Don’t Understand” and The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection”, both of which are on the mixtape.)

Theadia is no different. This story is going to be a bit different from anything else I’ve written, so the sounds are going to be a bit futuristic, maybe a bit weird and dreamlike. There are a number of dance tunes on there as well, which is very unlike me in terms of mixtapes…I use a lot of electronica and its numerous offshoots in my mixes, but rarely of the “get on the floor” type. Even the slow and shoegazey tunes seem more uplifting and less moody.

Here are a few selections from Theadia: Music from the Waystation. Enjoy!

Secret Machines’ “3 4 5 Let’s Stay Alive” has that Epic Opening Track sound: heavy, grand, and loud. But it also has an overwhelmingly positive message, which is what I was looking for.

Haelos; “End of World Party” is the kind of dance track I’m talking about above. There are a couple of tracks from this band on this particular mix.

Sault’s “I Just Want to Dance” works for me because it happens to capture the thrill of the dance floor (in a very retro way, in this case) yet goes about it in a different and unique way.

The Pretenders’ “Message of Love” is an unexpected left turn for me, as it sticks out amongst all the other more recent tracks, but its gritty bounciness and its positivity works as one of the story’s themes.

Bob Moses’ “Hold Me Up” is similar to Haelos in that it’s a darker dance sound, and one that’s easy to get lost in.

Doves’ “Universal Want” is a moody rock tune hidden near the back end of the mixtape, put there on purpose as a way to say “we’ve sat through most of these songs and moods but this here is the main theme of the entire story.”

BRONSON’s “Dawn” is the last track for the same reason the Secret Machines track was the first: it’s a gorgeous and epic closer that serves as an ending theme. The “Never give it up / Save yourself from doubt” acapella coda is the theme of Theadia in a nutshell.

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Of course, as is typical for me, there is a chance there will be a Volume 2 mixtape. There almost always is. The Infamous War Novel had at least four different iterations. In My Blue World has two volumes. The Mendaihu Universe has…quite a few. Why do I make these, anyway? Well, mostly for something to listen to while I’m working on the project, to get me in the right frame of mind. But they’re also a lot of fun to listen to on their own, pretending they’re Official Motion Picture Soundtracks! Heh.

Updating the mp3 players

I’m ridiculously picky when it comes to updating my mp3 players. I currently have three, which I’ve acqured over the years: a Creative Zen Mozaic, an older SanDisk Sansa Clip, and a newer SanDisk Sport Plus. Do I use all three? Yes, of course I do! Normally I tend to have them filled up with specific themes or sounds; the Zen is usually reserved for new and recent releases plus the Beatles discography (because come on…do you know me?) while the Sansa Clip has older favorites.

Now that I work in an office again (grumble grumble), I’ve been putting all three to good use throughout the day. I don’t have direct access to my music library unless I use up a significant amount of phone data via our Plex server, so I make do with the old-school travel-sized players.

Lately I’ve been playing around with a new possible writing project (no promises yet) in which I sort of decided its soundtrack would be the music of the early 90s up to the early 00s. Why? Good question, but I won’t go into detail just yet. Suffice it to say, I’m going to start listening to these albums for first time without equating them to the Bridgetown Trilogy. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just happened that way. But in the process, I’m getting to revisit these songs with fresh ears and no prior influence.

But more importantly, I get to revisit these songs without the emotional attachment I’ve long had with most of them. I’ve written so many blog posts about those lean post-college years, and about the music I listened to during that time, but this time out I’m finally giving them a spin without getting caught up in all the personal drama. I’m listening to them in the context of what was going on in the world during the time of their release. [I suppose in a way you could say I’m purposely not making it all about me this time. Heh.]

Also, it’s kind of fun to revisit some of these songs and albums that I know pretty well but haven’t visited in ages. In particular, I’ve been making it a point to revisit some of the mainstream pop albums I enjoyed — the downside to being so into alt-rock is a habitual avoidance of all things pop — and getting something new out of them. It’s to the point that I’ve been tempted to do another visit to Amoeba Records’ dollar bin to find more of those albums that passed me by.

And who knows — maybe I’ll rediscover a few tracks that flew under my radar!

You’re messing with the enemy

I’ve been thinking lately about how I want to approach Book Four in the Mendaihu Universe (oh yes, there will be more of them!) and yes, I’ve even been gathering music for the writing soundtrack. And like all the other projects, I’m searching for a specific mood that fits the story I have in my head.

Recently I’ve been listening to Kasabian’s “Club Foot”, a) because it’s got one hell of a kickass bass riff, and b) the video is an homage to student revolt against government suppression, specifically the Prague Spring in 1969 and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It’s also an homage to pirate radio and Radio Free Europe.

I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of rebellion. Sure, it grew out of my listening to punk and ‘that weird college radio stuff’ back in the 80s, but the fact that the whole point of that music was a form of rebellion against the norm attracted my interest. [Yeah, I’ll cop to not always outwardly showing it. But that’s for a different post.]

In the Bridgetown Trilogy, the Vigil group is there partly to play both roles: revolt against those in power, and its voice. But what of the new book? All I can say is that it’s a new game. It’s seventy years later and things have changed considerably on both sides. The rebellion shown in the Trilogy wouldn’t work this time out. Those books were all about accepting and maintaining a balance between two opposite forces.

This particular book, I think, is going to be more about Setting Things Right.

The “Club Foot” song and video got me thinking this morning, and I posted it as a tweet:
What would be today’s analogue of pirate radio as student revolt? How would people listen to it? Phone app? Internet streaming? Radio like in the past? How would its signals be secure/untraceable like a VPN?

Which brought up the next question: How would this kind of revolt happen in an age of social media (and multiple forms of media in general) that are chock full of white noise already? Is a digital/aural underground network even possible?

(Mind you, whenever I hear a question ending in “…is that even possible”, my brain immediately responds with “Of course there is. We just have to figure out what it is.” I’m an optimistic goofball that way.)

Things to think about while prepping for future writing projects.

Sifting through old data

I’ve been doing some major cleaning back here in Spare Oom thanks to buying new furniture, and let me tell you, it’s been a wild ride on the Wayback Machine lately.

One of the things I’ve been doing the last week or so is going through my old 3.5″ floppy disks; I had three file boxes full of them that have been collecting dust and slowly degrading, so I figured it was high time that I saved what I could to an external drive, deleted what I didn’t want, and recycle the whole lot once I’m done. The earliest of these date back to 1994 when my ex-gf and I were writing True Faith. Every document dated up to around 1999 was a WRI file, given that I used MS Write exclusively until I finally got a copy of MS Word.

So as you can imagine, I’ve got all these songs in my head from that era that fit nicely with The Future Is Internet. Some of the songs are from horrible-but-great SF films like Johnny Mnemonic and Strange Days and Virtuosityand Hackers, while others were part of my ongoing writing soundtracks for TF and thereafter into The Phoneix Effect.

Enjoy some mid-90s Tunage Of The Future!

Writing Session Music: A Recent Playlist

At the moment, I’m focusing almost completely on the revision of Diwa and Kaffi (yes, that’s the Apartment Complex book title now), which means that my writing session playlist has shifted accordingly. Right now it’s focusing mostly on lighter fare, to fit the mood of the novel. In particular, I find myself listening to a lot of synthpop and light alt-rock. Here’s a few albums that have been spinning lately here in Spare Oom…

White Lies, Five. This album kind of reminds me of the modern pop sound of the late 80s/early 90s that I used to listen to back in the day. It’s light but has just enough heft and emotion to it that it’s not throwaway.

The Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe. Great mood music I can get lost in. It’s quiet and lovely and just kind of floats everywhere, and I love it. This is the kind of stuff I listen to when I just need background but not exactly a specific mood.

UNKLE, The Road Part 2: Lost Highway. I can never go wrong with James Lavelle’s brilliant work. It’s dark and brooding, but it’s also quite expansive. (Having Tom Smith from Editors singing a few tunes is also really cool.) I usually reserve UNKLE for my Epic Novel sessions, but I’m such a huge fan of the band that they fit in quite nicely for any book I’m writing.

American Football, American Football (LP3). This is an AMAZING album, and it’s absolutely gorgeous and dreamy. This one’s been getting some heavy replays, almost on a daily basis, since it came out a little over a week ago. It’s just enough for me to get lost in the mood of the record without it interfering with the book proper.

The Sound of Arrows, Stay Free. This one’s a few years old but it’s been a huge influence on the book since I started writing it last year. (So much so that the title track plays during the ending credit sequence for the anime version in my head. Heh.) It’s a lovely and quite positive album to listen to, and it fits the mood of D&K perfectly.

I’m still on the first couple of chapters of this novel right now, and I’ve purposely not given myself a deadline; I’m already damn proud of this book and think it’s one of the best I’ve written (even better than the trilogy!), so I want to give this one as much TLC as I can before I decide whether I want to self-publish it or submit it to a professional house. I’m not even focusing on that right now, to be honest — I just want to give this one my all. Establishing a writing soundtrack, then, becomes an important part of my process; writing with music helps me focus on the work at hand, and it also mutes out any background noise that might distract. Creating this kind of playlist is one of my favorite parts of the process, as the music helps me achieve the mood of the story.

Songs from the Eden Cycle, Vol 5 (Under Construction)

What’s that, you say?  Is this an official follow-up to the original four compilation volumes from 1997-98?  Didn’t I make a bunch of semi-official compilations for the trilogy over the next decade and a half?  Am I just recycling the same damn mixes over and over again at this point?

What’s the diff, anyway?

Well, the original Songs from the Eden Cycle mixes were made when I was writing The Phoenix Effect and were used to get me inspired, rather than songs that were assigned to specific scenes (with a few exceptions).  The follow-up mixes, on the other hand, were when I wrote and revised the Bridgetown Trilogy and were specifically focused on those stories.

Thus, this new “Volume 5” is a return to the original reason for the series: music to get me inspired to write the new Mendaihu Universe book(s).  Like the original four, these will be mixes that will be made over an extended stretch of time, as certain tracks pop up.

Here are a few that I’ve gathered so far…

Blonde Redhead, “23”. This song popped up on my radar in 2015 when I was playing around with MU story ideas, and caught me at the right moment with its unrelenting, twisting power. Beauty and tension at the same time.

Kasabian, “Club Foot”. I’m surprised I never put this song anywhere on any of my major compilations other than a half-assed one I threw together in 2005, because it’s one of my favorite badass bass lines. Also surprised I never used it in any Mendaihu Universe stories, either. Admittedly the video (again, one of my favorites) did give me a bit of inspiration as well.

U2, “The Blackout”. Say what you will about U2’s last two albums, personally I still think they’re the best and strongest albums they’ve had in years. Pretty sure they’re both going to get a lot of play when I start writing the new stuff.

Editors, “No Harm”. These guys consistently blow my mind with each release. In Dream was quite the dark affair — not as creepy as In This Light and On This Evening, but emotionally raw — and got a hell of a lot of play when I was revising the original trilogy. Pretty sure it’s gonna get play here as well.

Dot Allison, “Message Personnel”. This track actually dates back to the original TPE/trilogy sessions and popped up on one of the “Mendaihu Universe” mixes, but I’ve chosen to add it to this one because it’s the soundtrack to one of the first scenes I’d come up with for the new story.  This is one of the few exceptions where I had a perfect song in mind for a specific scene.

The Horrors, “I See You”. I think I need to look into this band more, because they totally slipped under my radar until I heard their Luminous album a few years back. I love their dark post-punk sound, which fits in quite nicely with what I’m trying to achieve with the new story.

I’m still working on this one right now, and it is in fact a mix of newer and older songs (note: the original four volumes did in fact have the same type of content as well).  With the exception of maybe one or two songs, the rest of these haven’t been put on an official Eden Cycle mix as of yet.

Yes, I know…I’ve got two other novels I have to finish first before I can get anywhere serious with this new Mendaihu Universe novels, but it doesn’t hurt to get an early start with the notes and the soundtrack, right?

Writing Time

As I’d mentioned elsewhere, I’ll be quite busy this month working on revision for In My Blue World I’ll do my best to continue posting here regularly, though!  The entries might not be as intensive as normal, but never fear, I’ll always provide you with some fun tunage!

For now, I’ve got a bit of revision prep work to do these first few days of the month that’s gonna keep me occupied, so I’ll leave you with a few ELO tracks that inspired my new novel.

I’ll be doing my usual month-in-review post of June’s releases on Thursday and the Twenty/Thirty Years On series next week.  Thanks for waiting!