January 31, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Margot Berwin's novel Scent of Darkness is a paranormal mystery both YA and adult readers will enjoy.
Writing is an active practice for me, especially when I'm working on a first draft. I like to walk around my kitchen, drinking, thinking, listening to music, and saying stuff out loud that I hope my roommate doesn't hear.
Music is a really important part of that process. Once I have the feeling of the piece I'm working on, once I really understand it, I'll gravitate to music with that same mood to keep me locked in. To keep my mind from drifting into a different space.
My novel Scent of Darkness started on Thanksgiving Day 2010 in the upstate house of actor/singer/writer Alan Cumming. Alan didn't know me, but he's a friend of a friend so he lent me one of the beautiful guesthouses on his property so that I could attend the dinner at my friend's place nearby.
I turned on the CD player and heard David Gray singing "Gutters Full of Rain." I'd never heard of him but I listened to that song about a hundred times that weekend and started writing my novel right then and there. Thank you Alan and David Gray.
The second half of the book takes place in New Orleans--purely by accident. I was at work, writing websites for an ad agency, bitching about how I couldn't find a quiet place to write in the city, when a co-worker and friend offered to rent me his apartment in the French Quarter. He was swamped with work and couldn't get out of NYC. He handed me the keys and just like that I was living in NOLA--the most musical city I've ever been to anywhere, ever. I spent my days writing Scent of Darkness and my night seeing live bands. Good times!
David Gray - "Gutters Full of Rain"
I won't be quoting lyrics from every song I list, but "Gutters Full of Rain" was the first song I listened to on the very first day I started writing this book and it really helped me set the tone.
In spite of all the shame
Sometimes I hear your name
I think of us when we were younger
Then I'm shutting out the noise
And I'm trying to hear the voice
That used to tell me love was Stronger
Looking at the lyrics now I'm not sure they do the song justice. It's the pain in Gray's voice when he lowers it way down and says "in spite of all the shame,"-- his tone and phrasing knocked me out for days.
Nina Simone - "Wild is the Wind"
This has always been one of my favorite songs. She didn't write it, but she definitely owns it. It was introduced to me by my first love and it brings me back to he and I in our tiny studio with the fireplace and the mattress on the floor, near Central Park. It goes with me no matter what book I'm writing. It always works. Always pulls me inward and into a writing mood.
Dolly Parton - "Jolene"
There's a part in my novel where one woman steals another's man--(as if a man can really be stolen--as if he has no say )--but anyway, Jolene captures the feeling perfectly. The knowledge that another woman is simply more beautiful and desirable and can easily have your man...it contains the feeling of imminent threat.
Plus I love Dolly Parton. I Just caught a documentary of her on TV--WOW!!
Leonard Cohen - "Tower of Song"
I could see you standing on the other side,
don't know how the river got so wide.
It's just such a perfect metaphor for the end of a relationship when two people simply grow apart but still love each other.
U2 - "So Cruel"
Ah, what can I say about this song. As a writer I think the lyrics are Dylan-esque, Young-esque, Springsteen-esque--right up there with the words of the greatest singer/songwriters. I've been listening to this song for years. I never tire of it. Actually, I think Achtung Baby is a masterpiece of writing from start to finish. My novel has a lot to do with cruelty in love. This song was a natural fit and I sat in many cafes in the Quarter, headphones plugged into my computer, listening to this one for mood.
Mazzy Star - "Into Dust"
Just a beautiful, beautiful song about death. Moody, dreamy, painful, lush and drawn-out. In Scent of Darkness I have a sentence that reads: "Jasmine smells like the body in its final hours, like the sweet, sweet, scent of decay. Get used to it, Evangeline, and death will never surprise you." For me, Into Dust, feels like the heavy scent of jasmine. It has the density I was looking for in certain chapters.
The National - "Wasp Nest and Lucky You"
I was really into these two songs when I was in New Orleans. Actually I listened to both CDs, Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Cherry Tree, over and over. They're both dark pieces about love and it helped me, along with alcohol, to stay in the dark place while writing.
Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here"
I was never a huge Floyd fan although everyone around me was. I didn't really relate to them until I was older. But then I heard "Wish You Were Here" and everything changed. This song perfectly captured the sense of longing I was trying to infuse into my novel. Now it's one of my favorite songs. I just re-read the lyrics this minute and I got chills and tears in my eyes. They are so completely relevant today. Maybe even more so.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in a war
For a lead role in a cage?
I mean come on--that's just flat out great writing even without the music.
Margot Berwin and Scent of Darkness links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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