Writing Soundtrack: Cher, Janelle Monae and Lesbian Fiction

While every one of my stories begins differently, each of them only reaches an end because of one action completely devoid of writing: every story has a soundtrack.

Sometimes, I can’t sink into the story enough to write it unless I’ve got the music firmly lodged in my head. Other times, the music calls me first – a particular song or melody will coalesce into a character, and I have to run to the nearest notepad or keyboard to get it all down before I forget.

Two fan fiction stories straight out of the “Lost Girl” series were an interesting dichotomy. “What You Want Now” was taken straight from “Here Comes The Night” (S5E07), which of course meant that Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is” played on a loop until the story posted.

That vignette (about 5000 words) was a deeper dive into Bo’s perspective and completely within canon, but her view only told one side of the story. The accompanying novella “What I Have To Do” had to be longer (over 60,000 words) because Lauren’s perspective on the series left way too much out of the story. Why on earth would Lauren choose the Dark? And since she did, how much of her story was left out? For weeks, I listened to Stabbing Westward’s “What Do I Have To Do” on a loop. (My daughter was not impressed.)

Which reminds me – when I’m writing, I play the associated mix all the damned time. While I’m writing. Driving in the car. Cooking in the kitchen. Playing in my head while I shower. The soundtrack is the story – when those characters walk through my head at all hours, the music plays along with them.

The original short story, “Grease Monkeys and Big City Blues” had four accompanying songs, but only one was the inspiration for the story itself.

“Meet Me In Montana” (Dan Seals and Marie Osmond) is one of those songs I hide that I love, but I know every word. That song is the starting place for both characters – Allison has a life she no longer wants, and Jane wants a life she’s never had. From the first moment at twilight in a small town, when Allison walks into a garage to the sound of a yodeling mechanic, until the final showdown in a small lakeside cabin, the story was about two people destined for a life together, but first they had to each acknowledge how much agency they needed to employ in their own lives.

The rest of the preliminary mix was filled out by “The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac), “Give In To Me” (Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester), and “Can’t Live Without Your Love” (Janelle Monae).

When I edited it for publication as BIG CITY BLUES, it acquired a fifth song. Jane’s lonely twilight on the ridge with a six-pack of beer where she sits trying to decide what to do next with her life was accompanied by Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”. It was an homage of sorts to the final scenes of the film “Fandango” – the moment Kevin Costner’s character raises a beer to the sky to toast the sunset.

I wanted to capture the emptiness that yawned before Jane, her fear and indecision but also her hope that things could be better.

“Second Impression” had a more general soundtrack – ’70s and ’80s classic rock. The moment that Bo decides that she doesn’t know Lauren at all and feels compelled to fill in the blanks was against the backdrop of songs like “Jungle Love” by Steve Miller Band and “Stone In Love” by Journey.

My latest work-in-progress, “Nowhere Left To Run”, is a darker and more desolate tale of Bo’s origins and first meetings with Lauren and the Fae. While the mix includes artists like (believe it or not) Cher (“Young and Pretty”), the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (Piano Concerto Number 2), Ivan Neville (“Why Can’t I Fall In Love”), Lone Justice (“Wheels”) and Ryan Adams (“Wonderwall”), the story’s soundtrack is dominated by Adam Hurst’s melancholy cello.

In fact, though not Hurst’s work, there’s a ten-hour “sad cello” mix on YouTube that is the most common backdrop when I’m working on this particular story.

One anomaly exists to date. “Season Finale” is a short story that was accepted for publication as part of Sapphire Books’ FANDOM TO FANTASY Anthology. I made no mix – I swear I was channeling the characters and they were able to speak for themselves instead of communicating through music.

My alter ego is a performing singer/songwriter. Perhaps this is what makes it possible for music to speak for my characters, and for the music to become the fabric of the stories themselves.

For the writers out there, do you do this as well? What music inspires or accompanies your writing? And readers – does this music match what you imagine when you read these stories? If not, what songs do you hear?

Be sure to include a valid email when you comment. I’ll pick one at random and send you a free copy of BIG CITY BLUES!

What do you think?