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  • Heather McVea

Play It Again... and Again...

A quick note, this won’t be a particularly long post as I have a couple other writing projects in queue right now. In particular, I am working on a guest blog post for Women and Words. It will publish this Sunday (03.05.17), and then there’s that other little project… Forgotten Elements, book three in the Elements series. Just a few odds and ends [wink wink]. Now, let’s get to it…

Have you ever tried to incite a mood? You know, make yourself feel something not organic to the situation? I don’t know your life; so, I won’t speculate wildly (the best kind of speculation by the way) about why you may need to make yourself feel something you otherwise wouldn’t, but as an author, I do it all the time.

To be clear, I’m not talking about lying. I’m not talking about feeling verklempt over that toilet plunger cozy your mom bought you for holiday, but squealing with feigned delight when you pull the knitted tragedy from its glittery gift bag. I’m talking about triggering a physiological response… effectively, giving yourself feels.

Think about the books you’ve read that have left you in tears, laughing out loud, or eerily unsettled. Behind that is an author who went through the same range of emotions you did, but had to manage a spot of typing and storytelling in the middle of it. Well, it isn’t easy to put yourself in the emotional headspace of a character, and I’ve used several tricks over the years to help me along. The most effective has been music.

If you’ve read any of my books you have probably noticed the playlist at the beginning of the book. It may surprise you to know I can’t listen to music while I write. I’ve tried, and I just end up breaking into spontaneous song and/or dance. Though amusing, it’s not conducive to writing books.

The playlist are the songs I listened to at various points to incite the necessary mood to write a scene. In some cases, a song has helped me develop a book’s entire theme.

Dying Forever is the fourth book in my Waking Forever series. Readers had asked me to continue the series, but honestly, I wasn’t sure I had anything left to say. Then one afternoon I was listening to satellite radio, and Florence + The Machine’s song Shake It Out played. The first line hummed from the speakers, regrets collect like old friends, here to relive your darkest moments, and I felt the hair on my arms stand up. Florence, in her vibrato voice, continued, I've been a fool and I've been blind I can never leave the past behind. This repressive weight pressed down on me, and when Florence declared I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart, I knew what Dying would be about. Regret and redemption.

Music’s effects on my writing aren’t always so literal. Take for example November’s End, my stand alone fairytale set in turn of the century Baltimore. Hozier’s Take Me to Church was on repeat for a good portion of that book’s inception. Not because of the lyrics, though the there is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin resonated with me so that I placed it as a quote at the beginning of the book. No, the quiet desperation Andrew Hozier-Byrne emotes throughout the song put me in the emotional frame of mind to guide the two protagonists through the perils of their story.

Then there are the playlists the reader isn’t privy to. The lists I compile to invoke a general mood. Take for example my Dark Moods playlist (I’m very subtle in how I title stuff). Whenever I reach a point in the crafting of a book where I need to feel gloomy, I turn to this list. Boy, are there some real tear jerkers: Say Something (A Great Big World), A Whiter Shade of Pale (Annie Lennox), and Jar of Hearts (Christina Perri) just to name a few. I even have a Sad Dialogue (again, I’m subtle) playlist that helps me – you guessed it – get the sad feels for sad dialogue. Think Lovestain (Jose Gonzalez) and The Hanging Tree (James Newton Howard, feat. Jennifer Lawrence).

You might be wondering if I have any cheer or exuberance inducing playlists. The answer is no. I’ve never had any trouble feeling gleeful or ecstatic. I suppose I should count my blessings for that.

Over the years, I come to think of these playlists, particularly the book specific ones, as almost soundtracks for their respective books. Much as the music in a movie can help set the tone (watch a horror movie on mute… not so scary anymore), the songs I listen to while writing help set my tone and my mood. So, don’t just swipe past those playlist links at the beginning of my books. Take a few minutes, settle in, and listen. I think it will add an additional layer to your reading experience, and hopefully one you will enjoy.

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