Music is critical to my writing process. When I sat down to work on THE LOST GIRLS, I’d turn on Pandora and hit the playlist I’d — unoriginally — named “The Lost Girls.” Out flowed a brooding soundtrack of melancholy, loss, helpless faith, and forlorn love that shivered all along my nerve endings to my fingertips. (Doesn’t that just make you want to race out and preorder the book right now??)
No matter what mood I’d been in when I sat down, that music opened the door to the ache I needed to write that story. It wound up being a mix of country/folk music with soul by artists like The Civil Wars, Judith Edelman, Ben Harper, Allison Krauss, Crystal Bowersox, The Cox Family, and Eva Cassidy, and old-time roots/gospel performed by people like the Wailin’ Jennys and Rhonda Vincent. Here are some of my favorites. Click the links to listen:
For a story about the many ways mothers can betray their daughters, the lacerating lament of Crystal Bowersox’s Farmer’s Daughter was perfect:
Remember back in high school, my brothers and me
Willie put his head through the door to find clarity
You’d come home with bourbon breath, Jack in the air
And when you broke my bones I told the school I fell down the stairs
All I ever wanted was for you to be there for me
All I ever needed was for you to be here for me
For a story about sisters figuring out the meaning of salvation, there was nothing better than Allison Krauss’ take on “Down to the River to Pray”:
O sisters let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O sisters let’s go down
Down in the river to pray
For a book about the burden of regret, and how it weighs upon the soul about to die, there was “I Am Weary,” the words written and performed by the incomparable Cox Family:
Through the years you’ve always loved me
And my life you’ve tried to save
But now I shall slumber sweetly
In a deep and lonely grave
For a story about the power of faith, for good and for bad, what could be better than Rhonda Vincent’s “Fishers of Men”?
Peter, John and James
Could never be the same
After they heard him say
I’ll make you fishers of men.
And, just for the breathtaking musicality of it, there was the cellist Paul Cordall performing “Redeemer” and “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing,” music that is a lost, unheard, desperate, yet beautiful prayer in and of itself.
None of the music I listened to found its way directly into the story, with one important exception. A rollickly, jazzy, and oddly creepy tune by the Boswell Sisters called “Shout Sister, Shout” features in a critical scene late in the book, and it is awesome. I could not have written a better song for that scene, and it’s from the exact era, too (part of the book is set in 1935, and the song was recorded in 1931):
If that old Devil should grab your hand,
Here’s one thing that he can’t stand:
Shout, sister, shout!
I’m writing book two now, which will require a new song list. I haven’t got very far with that yet, which may explain why I also haven’t gotten very far with book two.
Anybody else have a favorite writing song or two? Let me know it in the comment section!