Sunday, August 25, 2013

Playlists - Does Anyone *Really* Care?

We’re on our way back from Telluride today, driving through the rain on an unseasonably cool and misty morning. Yesterday we ate lunch by a firepit in the ski village and drank Irish coffee. Delightful, but possibly my coldest birthday celebration ever.

Feels like it could be an early fall. Makes me want to go out and pinch caterpillars to assess their furriness quotient.

This week’s topic is all about playlists. Do we make writing ones, do we make specific playlists for certain books, do our readers care.

I really wonder about that last one.

But, I’ll address the questions in order.

I do make writing playlists, but not nearly as often as I used to, and now usually only for specific reasons. 

When I first started writing novels, trying to build a consistent ritual of working and producing a reliable body of work each day, I used music as a tool. It was much more difficult for me then to get in the correct frame of mind to sink into the story and gather up the threads. I learned to rely on ritual to get me there – certain clothes, certain timing, a pattern of entry into that world. From very early on, I found that the soundtrack to The Mission would get me there. The opening strains of On Earth as It Is in Heaven, soft strings vibrating into life, would transport me and the words would flow.

For a long time I just played that, over and over. Then I added to it – the soundtrack from Master and Commander and then Billy Joel’s classical piano album, Fantasies and Delusions. To this day, the playlist sits in my iTunes, labeled “Writing Music.” A relic, in many ways.

Because I don’t really need it anymore.

Like a professional athlete, I’ve spent enough time and effort training now that I don’t need to trick myself into producing word count. In fact, nearly all of the time, I prefer total silence now. Not only do I not need the music, it’s a distraction.

The only exception is when I’m deliberately trying to create – or retrieve – a mood that I’m having trouble getting at. I did this last year, when I was writing Ruby, my New Orleans steamy romance that came out in May. I really wanted to capture that ineffable New Orleans vibe, so much of which comes from the music. The story mainly takes place in the French Quarter, in restaurants and clubs. There’s even dancing. So I made a Ruby playlist, composed of many of my old favorites. That meant buying a lot of the songs, as much of my collection had been on cassette tapes.

I also needed one song in particular that wasn’t Cajun or New Orleans. You’ll see why.

I only listened to it some. Once I got the groove, I went back to writing in the quiet, with the music playing in my head for just the characters to hear.

So here’s that playlist.

501 Boogie                                    Professor Longhair
Zydeco Gris Gris                            BeauSoleil
Tipitina                                           Professor Longhair
Thank You Pretty Baby                  Professor Longhair
She Walk Right In                          Professor Longhair
Ruby Tuesday                                The Rolling Stones
No Buts and No Maybes               Professor Longhair
Madame Bozo                               BeauSoleil
La Valse du Malchanceux               BeauSoleil
Kolinda                                          BeauSoleil
Junco Partner                                 Professor Longhair
Jongle a Moi                                  BeauSoleil
It's You I Love                               BeauSoleil
Hey Little Girl                                Professor Longhair
Gonna Leave This Town                Professor Longhair
Gone so Long                               Professor Longhair
G Jam                                           Professor Longhair
The Flame Will Never Die             BeauSoleil
Fais Pas Ca                                  BeauSoleil
Every Day I Have the Blues          Professor Longhair
Dr. Professor Longhair                  Professor Longhair
Dimanche Apres-Midi                   BeauSoleil
Chez Seychelles                            BeauSoleil
Cherry Pie                                    Professor Longhair
Cabbagehead                               Professor Longhair
Big Chief                                      Professor Longhair
Beausoleil Boogie                         BeauSoleil

So… now you tell me, lovely readers. Do you care? For those who haven’t read Ruby, does the playlist intrigue you? For those who have, is it fun knowing?

I’ll give a book away to a randomly selected winner – either one of mine or one from the pile ‘o books still left from summer conference season!


  1. "Pinching caterpillars to assess their furriness quotient" LOLolol. I love BeauSoleil so I probably heard the music in my head when reading RUBY anyway...

    1. BeauSoleil is one of my very faves! Glad you heard them in your head. :D

  2. I must say I think this post is very interesting, but usually I'm not interested in playlists, unless they play a role in the book. This may be because my musical tastes differ from most people, so I usually don't know half of the songs and don't like the other half.

    That being said: a band with the name Professor Longhair needs investigation.

    1. I'm joining Sullivan on the Professor Longhair investigation! I confess to being grossly undereducated in NoLa R&B.

    2. Sullivan, I stand breathlessly by to hear what you make of Professor Longhair!

      And KAK - I'm frankly shocked. And LEE-zard is disappointed. ;-)

  3. Hi Jeffe - I can't say that I care one way or the other about playlists. They are just another fun "extra" way to be connected to the story. Sometimes when I hear a song I might think back to a book I read in which the hero & heroine's story really fits that song. Sometimes I listen to songs authors put on their book playlists and get a better idea of what the author "sees." They are similar to hearing movie soundtracks. And not a movie score - but the soundtrack that has a particular song playing in the background of a scene. They are fun extras but I don't really care one way or the other if an author makes them available for readers. And don't enter me in to win a book since I have already won from your pile 'o books. :)

  4. Eh, I don't really care about what music a writer was listening to while they wrote their book - unless they use the song title as a chapter heading and then it's only interesting to see what the author thought was a pertinent song for a particular scene. I don't have playlists myself, but I do listen to music while I write. It used to be a distraction - now it prevents distractions. (Unless a really good song comes on and I'm at a place where I can afford to shift focus.) My headphones go on and I tune out the rest of the world. Back when I had a kid at home and lived where other people drove past the house with their stereos blaring, it was a necessity. Now it's a habit. Sometimes I'll hit my stride and then afterwards look at the songs Pandora threw at me. More often than not, I won't remember hearing half of what was played. (And sometimes I'll put my headphones on and type for several minutes before I realize I never pressed 'play'.)

  5. Sullivan! You win!! Pick the book of your choice!