The Three-Goddesses Chat: Book Soundtracks

This is the fifth in a series of Three Goddess Chats, brought to you by Krissie (aka Anne Stuart and Kristina Douglas), Lucy (Lucy March aka Lani Diane Rich), and Jenny (Jenny Crusie), who meet in a chat-room called ThreeGoddesses to talk about everything. Most writers have discovery methods, techniques they use to brainstorm their stories and keep them in the world of the book. The Three Goddesses favor soundtracks and collage, so these next two chats are on music and pictures. Today’s topic: Soundtracks.

Jenny: So let’s talk about brainstorming. You both use soundtracks for your books, right?

Lani: I start with the soundtrack, because listening to music and saying, “Yes,” or “No,” to a particular song helps me narrow down my story. It helps me know what I want out of it, when a particular song harmonizes.

Jenny: When you say “narrow down a story” do you mean plot? Or mood?

Lani: It can be anything. I’ll hear a line from a song that works and think of a plot point, but mostly, it’s tone. It keeps me on track during those early days when I tend to be all over the place.

Krissie: Yes on tone. Mood, tone, whatever.

Lani: It also really helps me when I’m feeling the story sag, to add new songs and cut old ones that aren’t working. As I get to know my book better, the soundtrack changes. It’s kind of an evolving, living thing.

Jenny: Do you pick songs for individual scenes, or for the book as a whole?

Krissie: I get plot points out of lyrics. Sometimes it will clarify characterization. Certain songs will really crystallize who a character is. Which got weird when I went through a spell of mainly listening to j-rock. No words that I knew. Not even fuckin’ sale.

Lani: Can be either. I’ll pick some songs to represent a character, a scene, a setting, a moment. It depends. I always pick a “credit roll” song, that happy ending song that keeps me connected to the happy ending I’m shooting for.

Krissie: Oh, I love that idea. I’ve had it happen, of course. But never consciously. There was a fleetwood Mac song for the end of my first series romance. “Back in the Highlife Again” or “Roll with it” by Stevie Windwood. That looks wrong. Oh, Winwood.

Jenny: I tend to do character themes. If I can find a song my character connects to, it helps me get into her head.

Lani: Music often plays a huge role in your books. I remember all the Dusty Springfield.

Jenny: Yeah, Dusty was huge in Welcome to Tempation because their mother had played Dusty all the time, so it was a connector.

Krissie: And Fleetwood Mac in Crazy for You.

Jenny: That was character again, it was what Nick used to seduce his dates.

Krissie: It’s really nice when a character can connect to music. Mine often do. I finish a draft and I often turn something up and dance.

Lani: I finish a draft and fall face-first into my desk. But that’s just me. I had characters dance to a Sam Cooke song that I had in my soundtrack; that was a fun scene.

Krissie: Must have been “You Send Me.”

Jenny: Terri Clark has a great song called “Easy on the Eyes” that goes “Easy on the eyes, hard on the heart,” and “if you told me some lies it would be like old times,” but the music is peppy and irresistible. I used that for Cash in Lavender’s Blue
Krissie: I had characters fuck to Sexual Healing .

Jenny: Oh, good, actually using a song in a scene. Let’s talk about that. What characters in what books to what songs and why?

Krissie: The heroine was doing a good job resisting the hero until “Sexual Healing” came on. Then she was lost.

Lani: The music is huge for discovery. I build a soundtrack and listen to it while doing the dishes, the laundry, knitting, driving… anything I can do kind of on auto-pilot. I make sure to think of the book while listening to it, and then the soundtrack bonds with the book, and any time I hear those songs – boom, back in that world.

Krissie: Let’s take turns to make it easier on Jenny.

Jenny: Let’s pick a topic to make it easier on Jenny. Discovery, character themes, actually using the music in a scene, and whole story themes. Does that sound good?

Krissie: Sure. I just told you how using a song in a scene worked for me. I had my 1930s couple dance to “I Can’t Get Started” (great song).

Jenny: Which book?

Krissie: But the “Sexual Healing” drove the action (so to speak).



Jenny: Thank you. Do you want to start with Discovery since that comes first? Then move to characters which is a more focused kind of discovery?

Lani: Sure, that sounds good.

Krissie: In my romantic suspense there isn’t much time to listen to music. The heroine might think in terms of a song but they seldom get to turn on the radio. . . Sorry, I was already typing that. I’ll be good.

Jenny: LOL.

Krissie: You want me on discovery?

Jenny: So you use the music to build the world, Lani? Absolutely, Krissie.

Krissie: I’ll wait.

Lani: Songs have an incredibly strong associative power. When I was in college, I took a sound design course where the teacher told us we couldn’t use familiar songs. The idea was, if it was a very popular, overused song, people would already have associations with it, and it would muddy your soundtrack.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, I agree with that.

Lani: So, using that, I pick one or two songs I know, but not too well. They can’t already have associations. Then I listen to Pandora for the kinds of songs I’m looking for, and when I stumble across one that’s right, I buy it on iTunes and add it in.

Jenny: I use the iTunes Genius picks the same way.

Krissie: And yet I find a bunch of my music from soundtracks. Particularly those songs that play toward the end of a TV show. It’s usually reflecting some emotion that strikes a chord with what I’m writing.

Jenny: TV shows can be great for that. Joss Whedon was good at picking not-well-known artists and songs. That’s how I first found Michelle Branch.

Lani: Anyway, by using unfamiliar songs, I can “stick” them to the book easier, and then if I listen to it when I’m in Discovery or writing, it connects with the book world, and brings me right back in. The Carmina Burana is a great piece of music, but it’s so overused that it can only work ironically now. You have to be careful about what you use.

Jenny: The key for me is that the music puts me back in the book. But I’d never thought about the importance of unfamiliar songs for building a brand new world.

Lani: Anyway, now, whenever I hear a song from a soundtrack I’ve used – boom, back in that world. I never re-use music, either; if something belongs to a particular book, then its power is already used up. So I need to find fresh music each time.

Jenny: Yeah, Dusty always puts me back in WTT. Well, the Dusty songs I used there. I used her for D&G, too, but different songs. I recycle some. But never for characters, only for a particular mood for a particular kind of scene.

Lani: I used “Lady Magic” by Ben Taylor for D&G, and now it brings me right back whenever I hear it. I kind of love that. Shopping in a store and a song comes on, and you’re back in that space. It’s like visiting with an old friend.

Jenny: That always makes me think of Daisy in D&G, too.

Krissie: Hmmm. I reuse songs. I probably shouldn’t. But when you’re writing a series it just makes sense.

Jenny: I recycle some. But never for characters, only for a particular mood for a particular kind of scene.

Krissie: Yes, recycle for mood.

Lani: No, you should do what works for you.

Jenny: Well, use again for a series, absolutely, Krissie. I’m reusing stuff through the four Liz books. But that’s the same world and the same characters.

Lani: Same world, same characters, you’re good. Krissie, you have a separate group of songs for sex scenes, right?

Krissie: Yes I most certainly do.

Jenny: Don’t we all?

Lani: I don’t. I have songs for that book, and that’s it. New sexy song for a new sexy book.

Krissie: The funny thing is, one of my favorites is completely embarrasing. But it does it for me.


Lani: Oh, I know that one. You played it for me on the ride to Columbus.

Krissie: No, not “Closer,” Though I do love that one.

Lani: Oh. Well, what’s the embarrassing one?

Krissie: “Closer” is the one that says “you let me penetrate you, you let me violate you … let me fuck you like an animal … your sex I can smell … you bring me closer to god.” That’s NOT the embarrassing one.

Jenny: Oh, good.

Krissie: It’s “Music of Passion” by Yanni. [hiding head in shame]

Jenny: Oh, THAT kind of embarrassing. Hey, my go-to song is from Sugababes. I’m not judging.

Krissie: But “Music of Passion” is soaring and lyrical. I use the Sugababes song too. You told me about it.

Lani: Yanni? Well… you know, if it works for you. Have no shame. Okay… I’m gonna go listen…

Jenny: I didn’t tell you about Yanni.

Krissie: It moves. It starts slow, and then it builds, and then falls back … Got the right dynamic.

Jenny: Must have been Lani with the secret Yanni stash. Like porn, only not.

Krissie: You or Lani did. We brainstormed sex soundtracks once. No, not the Yanni, the Sugababes song.

Jenny: Oh, yeah, I’m responsible for Sugababes. I remember that sex-song brainstorming session. As I remember, you both laughed at my picks.

Lani: I have no secret Yanni stash. I’m listening to it now, though.

Krissie: It just works.

Lani: I love iTunes. Hey, if it works, that’s awesome. And you know, it’s not bad.

Jenny: Ooooh. I’ll listen, too.

Lani: It’s “Reflections of Passion.”

Krissie: It’s romantic sex. Not raunchy sex. Because good sex is both romantic and raunchy or maybe great sex. Good sex can be either.

Jenny: (listening to Yanni) You know, that’s not the way my characters have sex. I wouldn’t have picked it for yours, either, Krissie.

Krissie: My characters have sex all sorts of ways. Usually by the end of the book they make love instead of fuck, and then the song works. Earlier on “Closer” is closer.

Jenny: Yeah, the Yanni song builds, but I keep seeing Ariel with the sea splashing against her rock. I think I need something with a heavier beat. More pounding.

Krissie: I think it came out before Ariel. But yeah, Yanni is an embarrassment. But I connect it with sex.

Lani: Which Sugababes song? I’m fascinated by the sex soundtrack.

Krissie: “Too Lost in You.”

Jenny: Lani, you don’t have sex scene soundtracks?

Lani: Nope; my soundtracks are for the book. I might have a song that represents the sex, but I don’t separate it out, and I don’t reuse. But that’s just me.

Krissie: Oh, “Night in My Veins” is a great one too (the Pretenders). Very Spike and Buffy.

Jenny: “Hallelujah” is another one for me. I know, weird. But it’s incredibly hot. “Layla.” Especially the acoustic. “Concrete and Clay.”

Krissie: Jesus. “Hallelujah”‘s a weeper. Can’t imagine that for sex.

Jenny: Slow intense sex? I can.

Krissie: I’m trying to remember the FM song that’s great for sex.

Jenny: He did a song about oral sex that’s hot, too. Hang on. “Light As the Breeze.”

Lani: Leonard Cohen?

Jenny: Yep.

Lani: Yes, “Light as the Breeze.” That’s sexy.

Krissie: That didn’t do it for me.

Jenny: Although I love KD Lang’s version of “Hallelujah” more, it’s not as hot.

Krissie: Interesting how we all react so differently to music.

Jenny: It is.

Lani: Well, it’s very individual.

Jenny: I think it’s reflective of how different our books are. What we’re drawn to as the juice of the story.

Lani: You have to find what works for you, what gets you in the zone of the book.

Krissie: Indeed. And what can stimulate the story

Jenny: The thing that says, “THIS is my story,” is the same thing that says, “And THIS is the song.” In fact, sometimes the song says it first. Tell Me Lies was essentially a novelization of “Thunder Road.” Funny how some of that stays with you long after the book is done. That’s when you know it was really powerful for you.

Lani: And you really have to listen to a lot of music, and wait for that, “That’s it!” moment. Once you assemble a handful of those, you’re set.

Jenny: “Some of Your Lovin” and “I Only Want To Be With You” are Welcome to Tempation songs forever.

Lani: “Wreck of the Day” by Anna Nalick is A Little Ray of Sunshine for me. Brings me right back.

Jenny: Yes. I use the music more specifically, too. Like songs that become connectors for people. “Hallelujah” for Liz and Vince. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” for Liz and Peri.

Lani: Yeah, you do. I remember you using “She” by Elvis Costello in Bet Me. You use music as very strong references within a story. Oh, and you used “What Love Can Do” by John Hiatt in Wild Ride. You really do that a lot.

Krissie: I started long ago with soundtracks. Made one for Night of the Phantom (1991) with a cassette mix.

Jenny: Wow, you were an early soundtracker. Yeah, I like using music in a scene.

Krissie: That’s because I was (and am) a music junkie.

Lani: Oh! Cassette mix tapes! I remember those!

Jenny: Music characterizes. It’s like the places your characters live, or the animals they have, or the friendships they make.

Lani: It really does. I don’t use it specifically as often, though. I always worry that if the reader doesn’t know the song, it’ll throw her out. For me, the music is all about reaching that tone, accessing the things that I love most about the book.

Jenny: Sometimes music just sticks to a book because of character and tone. There are three Pink Martini songs in Liz.

Krissie: Sometimes my songs are obvious and direct, sometimes they’re more subtle. For instance, for Night of the Phantom (available in Anne Stuart’s Out of Print Gems or whatever they call it) I used “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera and “Beauty and the Beast” from Stevie Nicks (before the movie of B&B came out). Other times it’s just a line or the mood of the song.

Jenny: Overall tone then? Not individual moments?

Krissie: Individual moments as well.

Lani: Sometimes it’s individual moments. But for me, I use the soundtrack to keep my eye on the big picture. I can get lost in the moments as I’m writing; the soundtrack helps keep me grounded.

Krissie: Like in Housebound.

Lani: Soundtrack is for character, backstory, setting, mood. If there’s a song for individual moments (like Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change My Love For You” in Crazy in Love) it’s pretty rare for me.

Jenny: For me, it’s mostly about the moment. I use the music to arc the character, too. Liz drives into town to “Bigger Windows” but she leaves to “Don’t Hold Me Down.”

Krissie: Oh, it wasn’t “You Send Me?” Good for you.

Jenny: Oh, the lesser-known song. That’s such a good point.

Lani: Nope, wasn’t “You Send Me.” I love Sam Cooke, and that’s good, but not my favorite.

Jenny: Also, too famous, right? Sam Cooke is the best.

Lani: A song that’s too well-known carries too much weight on it. “Carmina Burana,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Born in the U.S.A.” They’re muddy songs, soundtrack-wise.

Krissie: I’m just remembering. Back in 1984, I had a sound track for Against the Wind. With the obvious song, plus a lot of Bruce Cockburn’s Stealing Fire CD. In fact, lemme tell you a story. I was trying to decide what to write. Should I work on something I knew would bring me money, or should I drop everything and write one more Ice book for free. And I got in the car, turned on the radio and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” came on. I shrieked with glee. You don’t often get such an obvious answer from the universe. I use a lot of Warren Zevon, of course. For mercenaries and desperate people.

Jenny: I love it when that happens. Leap and the song will appear.

Krissie: You know, I don’t agree with you, Lani.

Lani: About what?

Krissie: If a song means something to you, like “Against the Wind,” then it works, whether it’s obvious or not. Same with “You Send Me.” Of course, the question is, do you name it or just hear it in your own head.

Jenny: I like the idea of kind of muddy songs. But if I have strong associations with a song, though, I can’t use it.

Lani: Right, for you. If it’s not already overused for you, and it still carries power, then it’s fine.

Krissie: I more often hear the songs but don’t name them. Jenny names them.

Jenny: I’ll never use “I Only Want To Be With You” again. It’s muddy with WTT. Or maybe “tagged” is a better word. Tagged with WTT.

Krissie: Yeah, my association with ATW is my book.

Lani: For me, some songs are too strongly associated with other things in my life, and I can’t use them. So, for soundtracks, it’s really about what works for you. For me, muddy songs carry other associations into my book, and that screws with me.

Krissie: Hmmm. Interesting. Don’t know if that happens with me.

Jenny: Same with names. Somebody on Argh suggested I call the You Again hero Adam. And it’s a good name but I can’t. It’s too strongly tagged. I think music is the same way.

Krissie: Oh, so true with names.

Lani: I had a soundtrack for A Little Night Magic, which I was writing during my divorce. At a certain point, those songs became more about my divorce, and I had to do a whole new soundtrack. That’s what I’m talking about.

Krissie: I can see that happening.

Jenny: Right. The tag has to be to the story, not to anything else. Although I suppose you can re-tag.

Lani: And well-known songs tend to bring those associations. If those associations work for your book, that’s fine, but it’s a danger. At least for me. I need new songs for a new book. You can re-tag; that’s what happened to my original ALNM soundtrack. But it takes a lot of persistence and effort, and I’m too lazy to re-tag a song.

Krissie: I love satellite radio for hearing new songs that get my brain going. I’ve picked up so much new stuff from Sirius.

Jenny: I tend to get my new stuff from the genius recommendations in iTunes and from TV and movies.

Lani: Krissie, absolutely. Satellite radio, Pandora, iTunes Genius – it’s wonderful how much access we have to new stuff.

Jenny: I’ve done key word searches in iTunes. That’s always interesting. “Ghost.”

Krissie: I listen to a couple of the diverse channels, the Spectrum and the Loft. I hear great stuff that can stimulate all sorts of plot and charcter ideas.

Lani: But I don’t listen to regular radio anymore, so I really depend on Pandora to find me new stuff.

Krissie: Though it’s hard to write down the name with I’m watching the road.

Jenny: I wrote down a bunch of stuff on an envelope on the way back from NJ. Then I couldn’t read the envelope.

Lani: Voice recordings. If I’m driving, I use my iPhone to record a voice memo.

Krissie: iTunes Genius doesn’t work for me because my taste is too broad. Same with Pandora. I listen to it for enjoyment (and they had an interesting Angel channel when I didn’t hav e iTunes on this computer) but they aren’t as diverse.

Jenny: And now iTunes Genius thinks I like Yanni.

Krissie: Heh heh heh.

Lani: Well, maybe you will like Yanni. And mimes. That’ll learn you to tease Krissie.

Jenny: You have to say this for her: she doesn’t allow public opinion to sway her. Yanni and mimes.

Krissie: You betcha. I have no shame.

Jenny: It’s interesting that as a story drifts and changes as you write it, the music has to change. I thought Liz was going to drive out of town to the same song she drove in on. But the book changed.

Lani: I love that she enters and leaves on two different songs. It’s a nice way of using music to get something across.

Jenny: I think so, too. They’re similar, but the focus is a little different. She’s angry driving in and thoughtful but happy driving out.

Lani: Diversity is really key; getting to songs that can access all the corners of your book. It’s a wonderful way to use music to tell the story.

Krissie: I’ve been lazy with soundtracks recently, since I’ve been writing series books.I think I need to do more books specific one instead of recycling.

Lani: I sometimes scour soundtracks that already exist. The soundtrack from 10 Things I Hate About You was good for the current book, and the song lists from Grey’s Anatomy work really well when I’m looking for something more emotional. Grey’s Anatomy song lists from the individual episodes get me a lot of music.

Krissie: Grey’s Anatomy has some great stuff.

Jenny: Life had some great music, but then they changed it for the DVD. Soundtracks help me so much. Well music in general helps when I get tense, but when I really get blocked, playing those songs and seeing the scenes they go with in my head really opens things up.

Lani: It helps for me to have a creative hobby I know really well – like knitting socks – to keep my active brain occupied while I listen. Soundtracks are great for discovering while doing chores like dishes and laundry, too.

Krissie: Here’s a question — do you actually listen to the soundtracks while you write? With words?

Jenny: If it’s a song that’s playing during the scene, yes. Just listening to the whole soundtrack of the book, no.

Lani: Yes, I listen to the songs while I write. Not always, and less now than before, but I usually do.

Jenny: That thinking-through-the-book time is when the soundtrack really helps.

Lani: I listen to the soundtrack over and over while I write, just shuffle it and repeat.

Krissie: Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. As you know I’m addicted to High Focus so I switch over to that if I’m getting distracted.

Lani: I use High Focus, too! On occasion, when I’m really having trouble, I use that. I need something to block out the rest of the world, though, so I can go into my own space to write.

Jenny: I usually write in silence. I need to hear the words in my head. But if the music is actually in the scene, then it helps. It’s been helpful in the series, too, because when I find a song that’s going to be good in the later books, I put it in that books playlist. It’s another way of note-keeping for the sequels.

Lani: The soundtrack is my crutch the whole way through. And when I need new energy, usually about halfway through, I weed a little and add a little, and it really helps.

Krissie: I’ll tell you one danger of soundtracks. I used Richard Thompson for Nightfall almost exclusively. For other things as well. And I react so strongly to his music, so powerfully, that I wonder whether my emotional reaction to a scene I write is because I hear the music, and that the scene isn’t really that powerhouse a scene. I just sort of vibrate to RT, like to a tuning fork. He’s MY music.

Lani: Hmm, I’ve never worried about that before. Will now, though. Thanks. 🙂

Krissie: No, I don’t think it’s true, Lani. I just worry.

Jenny: Whoa. I hadn’t thought of that. Wait a minute. I don’t have anything called High Focus. What is it?

Lani: It’s a concentration audio by Kelly Howell/Brain Sync.

Krissie: I swear by High Focus. God, I love it. It’s supposed to get your brain waves moving in a certain way. At worst, it’s white noise that helps you concentrate.

Lani: It’s basically white noise, but it helps separate me from the rest of the world. Of course, my world is full of kids, so there’s a reason I need to separate.

Krissie: I’ve also found some other creative/concentration stuff on the internet that I like. My creative brain just clicks in when I put it on. I’ve probably been using it 15 years.

Lani: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff out there that work with certain brain waves, and I’m not sure I buy it, but white noise/relaxation/classical music helps when I just need to clear my brain.

Jenny: It’s ten bucks on iTunes, but if you both like it, I’ll bite.

Krissie: Yup. Whether you buy the brain waves thing, at least it’s white noise.

Jenny: Ten bucks for white noise? I’ll pretend I believe in the brain waves.

Lani: It’s white noise that does voodoo to your brain waves.

Krissie: I use Increase Creativity too. I listen to them on a loop. You know how fast I write, and I use High Focus. Try it.

Jenny: Yes, ma’am, I will try it. Now tell me about the way you’ve used music in one specific book.

Krissie: Okay, On Thin Ice. It was years since I’d done an Ice book so I had a lot of new stuff. I used to hate “Roland the Headless Thompson Drummer,” but that song worked for On Thin Ice, since my hero is part mercenary. I listened to (don’t judge) “Sober” by Kelly clarkson, a great strong, mournful song, for my strong heroine. “Windows are Rolled Down” by Amos Lee was movement. I used a bit of Tom Waits, the obvious “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You,” and “Hold on.” Never used him before, but he fit with my world-weary hero. Tom Waits when he was world-weary, Richard Thompson when he was cynical.

Jenny: I was going to say, that’s a dark soundtrack, but that makes sense.

Krissie: You remember what I write, don’t you?

Jenny: I never thought of looking at a soundtrack as a compilation, but that really nails your book. Do you use mostly male artists since your books are so male-centric?

Krissie: I had Katy Perry and “Fireworks,” definitely my heroine.

Jenny: Oh, “Fireworks” is a departure. That’s very positive and cheerleader-y.

Krissie: My heroine’s a powerhouse.

Jenny: Good theme for her, then. There’s an innocence to that song. It’s very youthful. It’s too young and optimistic for anything I’d write.

Krissie: One of my darkest, sexiest books, Into the Fire, (which is brilliant and much under-apreciated) was written listening to Sarah McLachlan. That’s even where the title came from. That and J-rock. “Fireworks” had the right mood, the exuberance I needed for a certain part in the book as Beth was coming into her own, claiming herself.

Jenny: So it fits the character of your heroine. Young and optimistic. You like young heroines usually, don’t you?

Krissie: No, it fit her journey. Late twenties/early thirties usually.

Jenny: It’s a virginal song, if you will.

Krissie: My heroines tend to be emotional virgins. “Everybody’s got to Learn Sometimes” (the Beck version) is also key to that book. The mournful tone of it. But we have to end with triumph. And there’s humor. You need songs that reflect the humor in a book. Or I do, since you noticed how dark my soundtrack was.

Lani: What songs did you use for humor in On Thin Ice?

Krissie: I’m looking. Hold on. “Chaiyya Chaiyaa.” And Van Morrison’s “Sense of Wonder.”

Lani: Oh, neat. I love Van Morrison. Used him in The Comeback Kiss.

Krissie: Not funny songs, but fit a funny mood. Plus Richard Thompson is hysterical in a very dark way. Plus Warren Zevon’s funny. “Lawyer’s Guns and Money?” Perfect. “Chaiyya Chaiyaa” is from The Inside Man (the Clive Owen movie) though there are lots of versions. It’s Indian.

Lani: I’ve never thought of Richard Thompson as funny. I go to Jason Mraz and the Barenaked Ladies for funny. It’s great, a really fun energy.

Jenny: I love “Lawyers Guns and Money.” You need a few light songs to balance the dark. Like I need intense songs to balance the light.

Krissie: Yup.

Lani: Yeah, me, too – finding the intensity is always a thing for me. Although now I’m listening to Richard Thompson on Pandora and I see what Krissie’s talking about. 🙂

Krissie: So that’s what I used for On Thin Ice. For historicals it’s a little different (neither of you write them, of course)

Jenny: How is it different for historicals?

Lani: Do you use period music?

Krissie: A bit. I’ve got a great cd of Georgian Regency dance music which I listened to when I wrote a dance scene. Give me a second and I’ll find my soundtrack. I’ve got some opera, I’ve got “Not Pretty Enough” by Kasey Chambers which you hated but is sooo my heroines and sooo not yours.

Jenny: Me or Lani?

Krissie: You. I also listen to Immediate Music, which sounds like soundtracks. Apparently they do music for trailers. I don’t use hard rock for historicals. I’ll use a lot of Celtic music.

Jenny: Not hard rock for your rakes? I thought that would be an obvious tie, but too much of an anachronism probably.

Krissie: Oh, there’s a great one that really clarified a hero. It’s “Golden Golden” by Silly Wizard, and it’s about being afraid to fall in love (of course).

Jenny: That’s your hero.

Lani: There you go.

Krissie: The words and the music really clarified my somewhat muddy hero, and I was just listening to the song for fun.

Jenny: I think that’s the key to music and writing: the clarification.

Lani: The music kind of fills in the edges.

Jenny: Pulls you back to the center of the character and the scene.

Krissie: “Golden Golden” is a new song. There are a lot of Celtic musicians who write new stuff that I’ve used, like the Cranberries, and October Project. I use those. It’s such a joy when you find a song that does that. I find that I can waste time though, looking too hard for the right song and never being able to find it.

Jenny: But finding the right music is like being handed a lifeline to the story. Lani, how about you? Tell us about the soundtrack for a book you did.

Lani: I had one song by Eric Hutchinson, “You Don’t Have to Believe Me,” that became the theme for A Little Night Magic.

Krissie: You know such different music than I do, Lani.

Jenny: Love that. It’s kind of the non-musical theme of the book, too.

Lani: There was the literal reading of, “No one’s going to believe this,” along with that bouncy element that was just Liv’s personality, from top to bottom. Then I was watching Private Practice, and a Katie Costello song came on, and I discovered her, and she was the bulk of the soundtrack from there. Really quirky and interesting and vulnerable; love her.

Jenny: I will have to check her out. So specifics. Tie the music to the book. You don’t do character themes, you said.

Lani: I do character work with it. But mostly it’s tone, mood, emotional moments. There’s a song by Missy Higgins, “Unbroken,” which is this very defiant, you-will-not-keep-me-down song that was great for when Liv picked up from her dark moment and decided to keep fighting. I also have a song by Jill Scott, “Hate On Me,” which was Davina’s theme song, since she’ll do what she has to do and to hell with anyone in her way.

Jenny: What’s the love theme? Don’t you usually have a love theme?

Lani: I’m looking through my list… hang on…

Jenny: Krissie, do you have specifics tied to scenes in the book that you want to talk about?

Krissie: Not really. My books tend to be divided into acts, and songs for for certain acts. Like “Hold on Hope” from the Scrubs soundtrack and “How to Save a Life” were for the trip down the mountain. The period at the mission was mournful music. The boat more upbeat, the period ins spain action music. They didn’t have Yanni sex but then they didn’t have Nine Inch Nails sex. There’s was more Chris Isak Wicked Games sex. And Sugababes sex.

Lani: I don’t think I had any one particular love theme; I had a few songs that represented that relationship. “Isn’t it Lovely” by Katie Costello, “Smile” by Uncle Kracker, “Stupid for You,” by Marie Digby.

Jenny: I’m all over the place on the soundtrack, but I think mine is more about relationships than anything else.

Krissie: Examples?

Jenny: There’s a pair of Pink Martini songs for Liz and Cash that’ll be in the next book: “And Then You’re Gone” and “And Now I’m Back.”

Krissie: Great titles.

Jenny: They’re light in tone which is what I need or Cash just becomes a jerk and you don’t see what Liz sees in him.

Krissie: Are they meant to reflect each other (to Pink Martini, that is)

Jenny: I think they were. But they’re perfect for Liz and Cash, very upbeat and funny, no real emotion there.

Lani: What do you have in your soundtrack for Liz? Is there a love theme for her and Vince?

Jenny When she’s with Vince the different times, it’s Elvis’s “Such a Night” and “Hallelujah” and the fallback Sugababes. I don’t have a single love theme for them yet, but I will.

Krissie: Dare I say it, but I don’t care about Liz and Cash, I care about Liz and Vince.

Jenny: Yeah, I know, but Liz has to get by Cash before she gets to Vince. And Cash is really central to all four books. He was her first great love so he has to be on the page and he has to be there in contract to Vince, as a foil.

Lani: Well, if she needs to make that connection to Cash, then she needs it in her soundtrack. Otherwise, he becomes cardboard, and he’s a big thing for Liz.

Jenny: It’s that curse of the Old Boyfriend. If he’s awful, she’s an idiot. If he’s immature and she’s grown past him, then it’s understandable. And the Pink Martini songs sell that.

Krissie: Oh, I think one can be blinded by hormones.

Lani: Or if they’re just not right for each other.

Jenny: They were right for each other fifteen years ago. Pink Martini is frothy. They did the Coupling theme song and I love that. But I like characters choosing their own music within the story, too, because that characterizes them.

Krissie: I like that idea too. I’m going to work on that. Having a theme song for my characters. My trickster hero is so different from the other angels and yet I haven’t given him his own music. I’ve just been falling back on my angel soundtrack. I see fun work in my near future.

Jenny: Like Liz says she’s not getting married until she finds a guy who will let her have “My Life Would Suck Without You” as a wedding march, which means not only that he can’t take a wedding ceremony too seriously, he can’t take his music too seriously.

Lani: There you go.

Jenny: And she has “Birdhouse In Your Soul” as her iPhone ring, so that’s what she ends up teaching Peri when they’re stuck outside the bar. (Peri’s 12). And then later on, Peri makes up her own words to “Birdhouse” and sings them back, and Liz gets her a blue canary nightlight. So it’s all character. I think Liz’s theme is “Don’t Hold Me Down” although that seems a little on the nose. Oh, and at the third turning point when she’s pretty much lost everything, I play CeeLo’s “Fuck You.” I love that song.

Lani: I need to freshen up the soundtrack every now and again.

Krissie: It’s one of those things I worry about — that I’m just trying to avoid writing. I don’t trust non-word-producing work. Stupid, I know, but I’m stuck in that rut that only new words count. Revisions sort of count, but not really.

Lani: Yeah, no matter how good the work is that I’m doing, if I’m not producing actual new words, I always feel like a fraud. That’s why I’m usually in a good mood when I’m that phase of it.

Jenny: I find that more stuff like this I do, the easier it is later to get back into the book. It’s been interesting doing this soundtrack because I keep finding music that I have to move to later books. So I’m keeping the whole four book arc in my head musically because it has to be cohesive.

Lani: I think Lily Allen is going to be the music for Stacy.

Jenny: Oh, she’s perfect for Stacy. Terri Clark has been really good for Liz.

Lani: Okay, now I’m listening to Cee-lo. Stacy’s gonna need that, too. Boy, I’m glad we did this!

Jenny: LOL. CeeLo is good for EVERYTHING. Anybody got anything else to say about soundtracks? We need a closing line before we move on to collage.

Krissie: God bless iTunes.

Lucy March’s A Little Night Magic will be out from St. Martin’s Press on January 31, 2012.

Kristina Douglas’s Raziel and Demon are out now;Warrior will be out in April 2012.

Jenny Crusie’s You Again and Lavender’s Blue will be out from St. Martin’s Press a year after she finishes them; when is anybody’s guess.

31 thoughts on “The Three-Goddesses Chat: Book Soundtracks

  1. Wouldn’t it be cool icebound could have embedded links to songs so that they could play while we read?

    1. LOL, I thought it was some sort of new slang. Not just cool, but cool, icebound. (-: Old fashioned me thought it would be nice to have a list of songs mentioned in this post. But links would be frozen north.

      1. We were planning on doing lists of links, but then life intervened. I’m also planning on putting up the playlists on the website as we revamp it. It’s just a low priority right now.

        1. It’s OK. I could do it if I’d just take a few minutes to do it; if I wind up listening to them over the weekend, I’ll try and keep track.

  2. Strike that: it should have said, “wouldn’t it be cool if ebooks could have embedded links to songs so that they could play while we read?”

  3. I am convinced that sooner or later, ebooks will come with soundtracks. When the reader hits the sweet and tender scene, it will be time to cue the Buffy&Angel soundtrack, orr whatever the licensing contract has agreed will be played.

    Currently I’m rewriting a scene listening to Kelly Pettit’s INTO YOUR SEA (’cause what I listened to on the first run was obviously crap). But a good swathe of this m.s. has been written to Ray Lamontagne and various Sons of Anarchy soundtracks. Gritty and sometimes lyrical. Hard not to love a little Hamlet on a Harley.

  4. Parts of this discussion reminded me of a phone-in on national radio 15-20 years ago which was to identify the song most respondents liked to make love to. The Boys Next Door’s ‘Shiver’ was very popular, though parents were happy with anything by the Wiggles.

  5. Love these discussions. I’m more aware of the music that speaks to my H/H since taking Lani’s Discovery class.
    However, I’m almost done with the WIP and heard an old tune last week, then watched a Youtube video and had an aha! moment. That one song should be featured in both my opening and closing chapters, but for different reasons. Now I don’t know if I’ll include the song in the manuscript, or just keep the lyrics in my head as I type. We shall see. : )

  6. Definitely can’t reuse “I Only Want to Be With You.” I not only associate it too strongly with WTT, every time I hear it on the radio, I think specifically of the scene where his daughter is humming it in the car, and at first he can’t tell what it is because she’s so off-key, and then she suddenly belts out “Now listen honey,” and he stops the car to say, “WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT SONG?” (I too sing/hum off-key and love to belt out that one line at the top of my lungs.)

    “Glee” has been good for taking some songs out of an existing association and kind of freeing them up. I loved “Wicked” so of course “Defying Gravity” was just that, until I heard the Kurt/Rachel duet of “DG.” Though two of my good friends got divorced last year, so now “Defying Gravity” is really associated with divorce in my head (in a good way, to the extent divorce can be a good thing — I think they both were right to get out of those relationships.)

    If you’ve never heard the Melissa Etheridge duet with Springsteen on “Thunder Road,” I highly recommend it. And for those who don’t know the genius of the show “Coupling,” it’s on Netflix streaming!

    The point about TV shows bringing music that you might not otherwise hear is a good one. There was an episode of “House” that had “Good Man” on it, which introduced me to Josh Ritter (who is just a cool guy… I liked his short essay in the free book the New York Public Library produced for its anniversary), and two friends had it as their first dance at their wedding reception, so I associate it with them too.

    A thing that sometimes throws me off about music in romance novels is when an author *always* has characters whose favorite music is anachronistic for their age; I just don’t believe it if every single character 30 or younger only seems to listen to music made before 1985. SOMEONE has to like U2, or Sarah MacLachlan, or had sex in college to the Dave Matthews Band (especially intense sophomore sex to “Two Step”). Nora Roberts was one where that irked me for a while, but her more recent books seem to do better on it.

  7. I found it really interesting that Lani noted some songs have previous connotations, and those can conflict with the discovery process. That is the only thing I have a problem with when I collage. I can’t use someone famous as a placeholder. FREX George Clooney can only be GC; I have a hard time “seeing” him as a representation of a character. My visuals need to be “muddy” in this respect. I actually think this is ironic. Given how bad my eyesight is, and given the fact I have a hard time putting names and faces together, I’d think this wouldn’t be a problem at all. But I have to have unknown faces for my characters when I collage.
    Another irony is that for one of my characters, I have such a clear picture of her, but I also have many, many images for her collages.

    1. I usually use more than one placeholder; it’s more about the character in the photo than it is about the actual actor. And then once the book is rolling, I know what the people are like, and the placeholder falls away anyway. I think there are three different actors on the DLD board for Bob’s guy. Same with You Again (three different actors for Zelda, at least that many for the hero) and Vince in Lavender’s Blue. It’s attitude I’m looking at more than faces.

      1. That makes sense. I think maybe that I have a problem with faces earlier on, when my character is more muddy. Also, when I went to CherryCon in 07, I realized as we were working that I had a character with negative goals, and I suspect that was part of the whole issue with her story, and the problem with finding the correct attitude was really probably an indication of the inherent flaws (or lack of development) for her as well as the story. I’m just actually piecing this together as I type, but it helps explain why one character and collage was very sticky, while once I started with a stronger character, I was able to make more connections and find more images. I like the idea of the placeholder changing, and thought it was an interesting point that you three mentioned that the soundtrack can change as well. I lost several soundtracks when I switched from Windows to my Mac, which is also the same time I received a hand-me-down Ipod. Now I have recreated some, but found some songs were getting stale or I was just plain sick of them. Ironically, it didn’t occur to me to allow myself to go mix it up. I was afraid I’d lose focus if I did.

  8. I’m working on a historical, but I find modern music can pull me out of the period. Music from the period doesn’t always speak to me, so I’ve been using Kevin MacLeod’s royalty free music at It’s instrumental and made for soundtracks, so I make picks like I’m scoring my story. You can search the music by keywords and feel.

  9. This was so helpful. I’m so scared of the new book taking shape in my head. I’m going to have to write something other than dialog. I may have to channel Barbara Samuel O’Neal or Melissa Senate or something. I think the soundtrack will help.
    You ladies are so generous with your knowledge. I feel blessed.

  10. I love hearing how each of you have, and contine, to use soundtrack. It’s helpful to feel permission to use music in whatever way works or even find a new one. Just shows that we’re all still learning.

  11. Thanks yet again for sharing your processes and tools. And frustrations and triumphs!

  12. I LOVE this discussion, and I don’t even write! I was a mix-tape junkie, and I’ve just grown into mix-cds. 🙂 Two great resources for discovering music, if you guys haven’t tried them: the Shazam app for the iphone. It’s one of my favorite things, and “magical,” to boot: you press a button, it “listens” to whatever song is playing (on the radio, in a restaurant, on tv), and then it tells you what it is and all kinds of info. Great for being in the car and not having time to write stuff down. Also,
    , which lists all the songs played on most TV & movies. I find a lot of great stuff there, even if I’ve never watched some of the shows. Finally, I have to plug
    Jennie DeVoe
    , (full disclosure: I work for her, but I’m a fan first) her music & lyrics are really great–you guys should check her out! Esp. the cds “Fireworks & Karate Supplies” & “Ta Da.” All on iTunes. (And Lani, she’s independent, though just signed to Sony RED, so her music shouldn’t have any associations.)

  13. It’s amazing how music can hold memories and moments so strongly. Sonya Dada’s “You Don’t Treat Me No Good No More” always takes me back to the moment I realised that I was going to break up with my then-boyfriend, and that that was ok. Sting is a huge soundtrack of my life and writing, and I can’t hear “Every Little Thing She Does” without being back in a story I wrote and loved twenty years ago. And U2’s “All I Want is You” is all my big, life-changing moments rolled into one; it’s Our Song, and my husband and I danced to it at our wedding, I sang it to both of my sons when they were newborns, and it played at the funeral of a close friend’s baby girl. Love, life and death rolled into one song.

  14. Sometimes it throws me a little when an author names a song I don’t know in a scene, but I still like it in the long run. Maybe This Time introduced me to Eric Clapton (I’ve listened to country from the ’90s on my whole life), and I had a great time tracking down the ’60s songs from Faking It on YouTube. I’m rather lazy about finding music to listen to, and I get a lot of it from what I’m reading and watching (True Blood led me to Eric Lindell, and I never would have found him otherwise). So when an author mentions a song, it gives me something new to listen to, and once I’m familiar with it, it gets me even more into the scene on a re-read. So thanks for naming some of the songs in your books 🙂

  15. In Don’t Look Down you used Kirsty MacColl’s “Us Amazonians”, to great effect, in my opinion. I’d never heard the song before, and before I searched it out and listened I had a somewhat difficult time investing in the Lucy/Daisy/Pepper relationship. Once I listened to the song though, it all sort of clicked into place, especially the scenes in the motor home.

    On a completely different note, my go to sex scene song is Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ “If I Was From Paris” (the bonus track version from This Is Somewhere, not the autotuned one from the self-titled album). Something about the grinding guitars just reaches right into my brain and makes my hero and heroine start ripping each other’s clothes off. ;D

    1. Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues on “Fairytale of New York” is probably my favorite non-religious Christmas song ever. I love the swagger of it — both so Irish and so New York.

  16. “Krissie: I’ve also found some other creative/concentration stuff on the internet that I like. My creative brain just clicks in when I put it on. I’ve probably been using it 15 years.” If there’s anything free online that is not a sample only, but something usable – please post links here. I’d love to use something like this. I think I need it.

    Jenny, the social networks box is hovering over everything. I’m on mobile, so I can only see the bottom half. Can’t see the top bit to shut it down even when I zoom out full. Please help. I had to change to “column view” to type this. It wouldn’t let me hit submit – obscured the submit button when on page view. BUT I can’t see half of what -km typing in column view, so here goes.

  17. I don’t write stories. But I do soundtrack my driving and workouts and the like. A good setlist is indispensable. I have several lists I use just for mood (mello is my perenial favorite). I read once how if you’re trying to use music to change your mood, you first need to listen to a song that matches it, then you can ratchet up or down to the desired mood. Works great for me.

    As for driving, I’ve found that I can listen to almost anything but Soul Coughing. El Oso makes me tailgate and do other bad/mean/aggressive things. I’m no longer allowed to listen to that in the car. The surprise win recently was Sisters of Mercy Floodland (yeah, back from 1990 or so…) mostly the odd numbered tracks, but they’re long and fluid with a solid intensity. They keep me energized and assertive but not distracted or upset or mean. Come to think of it, so does much of NIN.

    I found out after a SoCal-NorCal roadtrip that when I packed a CD with all “cardio” songs, that I was exhausted after 90 minutes of just listening while driving. So I made a CD that starts out with things like Squirrel Nut Zippers, Pet Shop Boys, the Fratellis (from ipod commercial), “Milkshake” and the like and move to more calming things like Hem’s “Half Acre” (insurance commercial), Gillian Welch’s “I want to sing that rock and roll” and Death Cab for Cutie’s “I will follow you into the dark”. It’s amazing how many times I roll into my parking spot to the end of that CD. (Yes, it’s about 4-5 years old). This mix has lived in my car on and off for most of that time and I still love it.

    I do need a new one, though, to work in Parov Stelar’s “Booty Swing” (from Cosmopolitan Vegas commercial), Airborne Toxic Event’s “Sometime around Midnight”, Lindbergh Palace’s “Scary” (from Ringer via Not to mention Omarion’s “Hoodie” (from dance class), Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” (from True Blood), or some Florence and the Machine, Ditty Bops, Rhianna and I’ll stop now.

  18. Fun post & comments! Sorry this is a few days after the post…

    I am a music whore. I will listen to anything and everything (except kill-them-all or women-suck rap and yodeling country), and I always have music playing. When I am reading, I still have music on in the background. I love it when I get so sucked into a book that I don’t hear the music anymore.

    That being said, I have soundtracks for books that I’ve read based on what I was listening to at the time. For example – I read “Taliesin” by Stephen R. Lawhead, and was listening to Enya’s Shepherd Moons CD. And the book makes me think of the CD, and the music reminds me of the book. That would have been, oh, 1994. 🙂

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