Saturday, January 24, 2009

If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On...

The Grip is thrilled to welcome the lovely Lisabet Sarai!

I couldn’t live without music. But I can’t write with it. The reason, I think, is that I tend to focus on lyrics above melody. (This might have something to do with my past incarnation as a poet. I wrote tons of poetry when I was young, single, and overflowing with angst and lust.) The words of a song will interfere with the words in my head that I’m trying to squeeze out onto the page.

(My husband, in contrast, focuses entirely on the music. He barely hears the lyrics. Needless to say, our opinions of a particular piece of music are frequently quite different!)

I suppose that I could try purely instrumental music – I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Mozart made an effective background for writing – but I certainly don’t need external music when I’m working on a writing project. My attention is elsewhere – on the characters and their trials and tribulations. I need to listen to their conversations, not to mention their screams and groans of ecstasy.

I do use music quite a lot in my stories, however, usually songs that are among my favorites. In Raw Silk, Kate dances in a Thai go go bar to the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”. Appropriate for a BDSM novel, right? Actually, I remember dancing in Patpong, the Bangkok red light district, to that very song, twisting and shaking and getting turned on by the fact that people were watching me. I could hear it quite clearly as I wrote that scene.

In Exposure, my erotic thriller coming next month from Phaze, the main character Stella works as a stripper. She exercises to vintage Supremes: “Stop in the Name of Love”. She performs to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. “Strange what desire will make foolish people do...” Actually, that could be a tag line for the novel.

Recently I submitted a short story about a trio of classical musicians to one of my publishers. I had to do quite a bit of research for that tale. I know classical music, a bit, but I’m no expert. I knew I wanted to include one Bach piece that I adore (a solo cello piece) but I had no idea what it was called. The characters play Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Boradin. I figured that if I got anything wrong in this story, I’d have some readers yelling for my blood.

Brynn’s strategy of creating a soundtrack for each of her books is a totally new notion for me. I’m not completely clear on whether she imagines the soundtrack as a background for her plot as it unfolds, or simply a set of cues for her own imagination.

I can certainly understand how a song can trigger story ideas; I’ve had that happen. My stories aren’t like movies though, at least not the way I experience them when I’m writing. My books don’t have soundtracks – I doubt I could create one, even retrospectively.

Some of my favorite recordings are soundtracks though. I blush to admit that I’ve always loved musicals. South Pacific. Sweet Charity. Hair. Recently I’ve been listening again to movie soundtrack from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which had a huge influence on me when I was younger and wilder:

“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh.
Erotic nightmares beyond any measure,
And sensual daydreams to treasure forever
Don’t dream it, be it.”

This could be a theme song for erotic romance, don’t you think?


  1. Hi Lisabet,
    Great post. I am not a music lover I have to admit, except for country and western. But I can understand that for some people it can be soothing or arousing. You mentioned Bangkok. One of my favourite holiday destinations.

  2. Hi Lisabet, I listen to music but usually only when driving. I play it at home but only intermitently, I guess I find it too distracting while reading. Funny how phrases can trigger whole new connections and integrate ideas in new ways. Interesting post.

  3. Hello Lisabet
    What a fascinating post. Because I write historical fiction, I have downloaded Baroque tunes on my pc and when alone-I would never get away with it with the family at home - I play them while writing. Listening to the sound of a time helps put me there. I don't know if it improves the writing, but I enjoy it.

  4. Margaret! If you like Bangkok, you should read RAW SILK, which is set in the Thai "City of Angels".

    Anita - I recently wrote a story set in Elizabethan times. I probably should have put on some Dowland.

    Thanks for dropping by!


  5. I might think of the song... but nope--I couldn't listen to it while writing. Very interesting post!

  6. Hi Lisabet,

    I'm with you. I adore music, almost any kind of music, and it inspires me tremendously at times, but I can't listen to it when I'm writing. There have been a couple of songs over the years that caused story ideas to run rampant, Where the Wild Rose Grows' is still driving me crazy, but when I listen to it, I can't write. I have tried listening to the song a few times and then scrambling to write... and that just makes me want to scream. LOL Something will happen with it when it's the right time.

    Great post!


  7. Hi Lisabet,
    Great post! Music has always been a large part of my life; can't drive anywhere in the car without the radio blaring, but I can't write to it. The man I married is the first person I've ever met who NEVER listened to music by choice. Rides in silence...if you can believe that. Road noise! NOT for me.

    The only lyrics he previously knew were "Lay lady lay," and believe me when I say that was it! Some people can't carry a tune in a bucket... he can't carry the bucket. *lol*

    We've been together thirteen years and he's developed an appreciation for music. It's either listen to the radio or me nagging him when we're in the car. He's always the one who turns on the tunes now. *lol*


  8. Hi Lisabet. I can only listen to certain songs when I write, and I find that if I'm writing well, I tune those songs out, anyway. If I'm on a jag a whole cd might have played and I won't remember it.

    Depending on my mood, I do like to have music playing when I'm brainstorming or writing.

    Great post!


  9. Hi Lisabet! I love music. Anything and everything with the exceptions of country or rap. I think I may be a mix of you and your husband. Some songs, it's the mood or the melody which strikes me. Others it's the meaning of the words.

    I listen to music so much my mom told me at a time when she had to care for my cat for two years that everytime she put on music, Missy would come out to be friendly. :)

  10. I wonder if music is a Mars/Venus thing, because I hear lyrics and my husband focuses on music. He's also known for belting out lyrics without considering who's listening. Doesn't hit him what all those words together mean. To him, it's the BEAT that counts, baby!

    As for writing and music, I don't do it, either...except once. Wrote a book listening to this one instrumental that had the right mood...just played it over and over. I consider that piece the book's soundtrack. LOL. Guess the no-lyrics thing helped.

    I do listen to music beforehand, sometimes, to get in a certain mood I need for a scene. But that's the exception, not the rule.

    There was another benefit to my "soundtrack" experience...having headphones on while writing helps drown out household distractions.

  11. Great post, Lisabet and I love, love, love the ending -'Don't dream it, be it.' I've been trying to listen to more jazz as of late 'cuz I like the cadence and strength of the music. It helps motivate me to write great sentences when I sit down to write. I've always been one of those writers who intuitively knows how many words or sentences are necessary to finish a piece. I just hear it in my head the way musicians must hear lyrics to a song. Best to you, Lisabet, I always learn something when I read one of your posts! Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, 'The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget' and the novel-in-progress 'Night Surfing - A Story of Love & Wonder in the Waves of Malibu'

  12. Thanks to all of you for commenting!

    Ginger, you had me chuckling as usual. My husband loves music - I've learned a lot from him about classical, opera and classic rock that was a bit before my time. But I've never even heard him hum!

    Music is part of my life - I couldn't take a shower or do the dishes without singing - but when I sit down to write, I don't really crave it.

  13. I think the reason music IS a good topic to a story is the fact that it focuses on lyrics... and I know a lot of people who disagree with you and me on that subject. Just look what Somtow has done with his stories, especially those with Timmy Valentine... also several of the Christopher Stasheff novels...

    But what do I know? I only write articles, poetry, and songs...


  14. Interestingly, the concept of music being an inspiration for writing is not an old one (as I'm certain you're aware), and the title from my most recent publication through Phaze came from the lyrics to a song by one of my favorite bands. Imagine: a 12K+ word novella, plus a book video from two simple terms...granted, they're in the midst of a rather energetic musical endeavor, but still...the soundscape and gestalt of the sensations provided by that track are still very motivating to me.


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