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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Words & Music

I am passionate about music.
This doesn’t mean I would ever attempt to create music. Or lyrics.
It does mean that I have music playing nearly every hour of the day – from the time I awake until I sleep, especially when I write.
I used to insist on the correct music before I would even read. I remember wearing out the soundtracks for EXODUS and GONE WITH The WIND in the course of reading the books.
Now days, I am more concerned with music when I write than when I read. When I say I am concerned, it is more accurate to use the term “obsessed.” I use music as a crutch, creating a soundtrack for each book. This helps me, like Pavlov’s dog, to respond appropriately to stimuli. When I put on the music, it is time to write. If you do this morning after morning, resistance becomes futile. Cue music; hands on keyboard. (To write, not to play!)
For writers who are tempted to kick and scream before coming to the page, this is very helpful. It also helps when, months after you released the manuscript to the editor, it comes back and you need to revisit the story for certain, uh, enhancements. Put on your “soundtrack,” you are back in the story.
I try to be faithful to the time period and choose music that my characters might have actually heard, but since I write in the fourteenth century, this creates certain challenges. The truth is, our approximation of what people in that era heard is only that: an approximation. Sometimes, I settle for music with the “feel” of the story or the period I’m writing.
But for my current release, IN The MASTER’S BED, music was of particular importance. The book is the story of a heroine who runs away from home, disguised as a man, to study at the university, where women are forbidden. She meets the hero, who, thinking she is a he, takes the “lad” under his wing. The hero plays a “gittern,” a sort of medieval guitar. In the course of the story, his music, from drinking songs for the young scholars to a love song for the heroine, plays an important role. While I knew I couldn’t convey the music to my readers with words, I at least wanted to hear some myself so I would know what it was like.
How could I write what I had never heard?
Luckily, I found the answer, a CD titled “Songs from the Taverne: Ballads and drinking song from the time of Chaucer.” The time period was perfect. My students spent lots of time in taverns. And Chaucer even mentions “gyternes,” so there were several played on the disc.
Was the final result worth the search? Can you hear the music on the page that I wrote? Well, I can only hope that some of it came through. I’ll give a copy of IN The MASTER’S BED to one lucky commenter and you’ll be able to decide for yourself.
What about you? Do you use music, either as a reader or as a writer, to get into the mood? Or do you prefer to read or write in silence?

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Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I write in silence. I'm much to susceptable to music, and if it has words I'm singing. It's the Irish, I swear. I can't help it.

However, just about everything else in my life has accompaniment. Cleaning, gardening, baking, the music is on. I hate it when my dh is home because the idiot box takes precedence so everything comes to a halt. That's when I read.

Anonymous said...

If I do play music I will usually play an instrumental. Hearing someones words in a song usually distracts me from my work.

The music I play reflects the mood of the piece i am working on.For example, if it's horror I have the soundtrack from Dracula. If it's romance I may use the Braveheart music. For Erotica i use Enigma and for tragedy I use Gladiator.

I also have the Meatloaf album Bat Out Of Hell...that's what I when I want do the housework fast. Trust me...it works. :-)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hi, Blythe! I'm music-addicted also. Good thing my music-related works are set in the modern age or I'd be in trouble. I can't imagine someone in your books with an electric guitar and spandex pants...

No need to enter me, although I need to read this now that I've followed you on your blog tour and have gotten to know you! I sense a bookstore in my future.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Blythe,

Lovely post! I'm with Gwynlyn, however, because I get lost in the music and my fingers would be perched over the keyboard while I drift off into dreamland! And that's just music. If there are words, I cannot concentrate at all. So silence is best for me. However, to get into the mood, I do have many soundtracks that I listen to. Since I write western historicals I enjoy soundtracks from The Big Country, Legends of the Fall, Man from Snowy River, Zorro, the list goes on and on...there are so many good ones. I'm looking forward to reading this book! The cover is very sensual...

californiameaghan said...

music doesnt really affect me one way or the other as far as reading goes but i definitely prefer to have something in the background when i'm writing. doesn't have to be anything particular thoguh.

booklover1335 said...

Hi Blythe,
I am always amazed when writers can write while listening to music, because when I read I like it to be quite so that I can loose myself in the world I am reading about. I think if I were a writer it would be the same so that I could listen to my inner voice. I guess I'm just not a multitasker :)

Blythe Gifford said...

Gwynlyn, somehow, without music, it's too easy for my brain to wander off to think of something besides the work in progress. Music keeps me focussed.
Coffewithkate, I don't listen to anything with words unless they are Latin or French and I won't understand them!

Blythe Gifford said...

Susan, thanks for saying hi! It's been fun to "see" you throughout the blog tour. Kathryn, one of my favorite soundtracks is The Magnificent Seven. It makes me want to write a western! You've got great music. Californiameaghan, try creating your own soundtrack and see how it works for me. I swear it helps! Booklover, the music really helps take me away from the 20th century and lets me get lost in the 14th.

Mari said...

I prefer to read and write in silence. I agree with Gwynlyn in that I have the music on when doing housework, cleaning and cooking.

Blythe Gifford said...

Mari, I live in a city, so I'm not sure that I could ever have true silence! Sounds wonderful.

Mari said...

Blythe, I grew up in the city, so I know what you mean. When I moved "to the country" as my friends who still live in the city call it, I had to get used to the lack of certain noises, like cars driving by, honking, moms with kids walking past, car stereos blasting, etc. But after a while, a whole slew of wonder sounds encroached into that space. Crickets at night, wind through the trees, the warblers in the morning...
I love living here! Although sometimes I do miss the fast pace of the big city! Going to stage plays, wine tasting at a piano bar, seeing concerts. Good Times!

Armenia said...

Blythe, very nice post.

I'm listening to DeLovely Soundtrack while I am blogging to you. Its so soothing, so I know what you mean about music being a conduit to the right feeling and mood.

Although, when I am writing I don't listen to music, too many distractions for me. But when I read, I listen to classical.

I would love to read IN THE MASTER'S BED with "Songs from the Tavern." Thanks for the recommendation, I think it would be delightful.

armiefox at yahoo dot com

etirv said...

Just saying Hi Blythe, no need enter me, I plan to read my copy very soon, thank you again! I enjoyed your post here! I can work with or without music but the older I got, the more I prefer silence while working!

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Hi Blythe. Ejoyable blog. I have taught a technique in my meditation and self empowerment classes for years that I use myself to get into my right brain: a hot, scented bath with one candle and soft music particular to my writing intention. Pretty soon I am no longer thinking and slip "into the flow" - that's when my characters come alive and "talk" to me. From there I go directly to my computer with either the music still playing or silence, depending on scene/mood. Outdoor scene? No music - nature sounds abound. Indoors? Music (no lyrics), especially in love scenes, with one exception: to gear up for an aggressive hot scene I like to step away from the writing and play Celine's The Power of Love as loud as the neighbors can tolerate and afterwad hit the keyboard again. Whew!

Blythe Gifford said...

Hi, Armenia. Cole Porter is terrific, isn't he? Hi, Etirv. You're so nice to stop in and say hi. Kathleen, can't wait to try your technique! I used to write love scenes to Sade. Worked pretty well.

Thanks to everyone. It was fun to be here.

Anonymous said...

I listen to music when I read-usually the Yanni type music or I put on a Willie Nelson tune when I read a western
JWIsley(at)aol(dot) com