Guest Blogger: Christine Johnson

I love music. All kinds of music, from punk to folk to blues to classical, I have a little bit of everything. No matter what kind of mood I’m in, there’s some album in my collection that fits. Like lots of writers, I listen to music when I write, but it has to be something that very specifically fits the atmosphere of whatever I’m working on. I didn’t start doing this until I wrote NOCTURNE, but now I’ve done it for both NOCTURNE and my next novel, THE GATHERING DARK.

I’ve tried creating playlists, but for both of those novels I ended up finding a particular album in my collection that just . . . . struck a chord. rimshot With NOCTURNE it was Amanda Palmer’s first solo album, WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER (WKAP). I literally listened to nothing else for three months while I wrote that book. When I finished, I went back to the rest of my music collection, listening randomly as I am wont to do. I didn’t think much of it, other than to be grateful that there was art out there that could inspire me so perfectly.

Then I started writing THE GATHERING DARK. About the same time, I discovered the band The Black Keys. I love their album BROTHERS, and I started listening to it while I wrote. And Holy Word Count, Batman, was it the right music for that novel. Like WKAP before it, I put that album on repeat and typed my little heart out. Somewhere during the drafting, I got a little stuck. I wondered if WKAP might shake me loose, since I’d found it so inspiring during NOCTURNE.

That’s when I realized what I had done.

I RUINED THE ALBUM. Done. Kaput. Toasted.

Any time I try to listen to it, I’m right back there with NOCTURNE. The album belongs to that book now. It’s not part of my general life. I love those songs, and now I can’t listen to them. They’re lost.

And, as you might have guessed, it turns out that the same is true for BROTHERS. That music is strictly the property of THE GATHERING DARK. I broke it as surely as I broke WKAP.

Once I started kvetching about it, I found out that I’m not the only author who’s ever done this. I talked with Saundra Mitchell about the whole thing, and she lost music to her novels, too. It is nice to know I’m not the only one, I guess.

I know that—if you’re doing it right—you give part of yourself to a book, even if there’s nothing autobiographical about it. But it never occurred to me that it would be so literal; that music I had loved would become unlistenable because it would belong so utterly to a novel.

It does make me wonder what other people have lost to their books—whether there’s something they can’t eat anymore, or wear, or smell. The writing process takes different things from all of us, and it makes me look at the books on my shelves with a new eye. It’s not just the words and paper and shiny covers up there. Those shelves are full of lost music, TV shows and coffee drinks, particular tables at the cafe where someone wrote.

If you’ve lost something particular to one of your works, let me know in the comments. I’ll add it to my virtual collage. I think I’ll call it: Sacrifice to the Muse.

Christine Johnson grew up in, moved away from, and finally came home to Indianapolis, Indiana. Now she lives in an old house in an old neighborhood with her husband and kids. She have too many books and a weakness for anything sweet. She loves yoga and cooking, but she’s not much of a movie person. She likes watching soccer, and always looks forward to the first sweater-worthy days in the fall. But mostly, she likes making things up and writing them down and having people read them. So that’s what she do, and she feels very, very lucky to be doing it!

One Comment:

  1. I’ve lost music to stories, though I find that if I wait long enough it gets reassigned. Songs associated for years with one character or one story may connect to something completely different later. I think it’s a product of doing serial fiction for so many years when I was a teen; whatever the last story took out of me, I knew I had to get back up and write another, and as Peter S. Beagle noted, “If the Muse is late for work, you start without her.” You use the resources you have, and sometimes that means repurposing music.

    Interestingly, writing has also GIVEN me music. My current favorite album has one song on it that I absolutely detest. Clearly the band disagreed–they even released it as a single, though it didn’t do well–but I can’t stand that track. Or I couldn’t stand it, until I accidentally heard it on shuffle this weekend and realized that, while I’d plotted and written my current novel to all the other songs on that album, that one song worked perfectly for a completely different story I was kicking around in the back of my mind. So I ended up liking it after all.

    Now, why the band put one song from a completely different story on an album of songs they clearly intended as the soundtrack to my novel is another question …

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