Friday, August 12, 2011

Mozart and the skate punks

One of the things I love best about my day job is the opportunity to spend my lunch hour gazing out over this:

I snapped that yesterday from a lovely little courtyard where I like to sit and read on warm summer days:

Besides being an attractive place for a marketing geek/romance author with an hour to kill, the courtyard also serves as a magnet to area skate punks. The skate punks take turns lounging on the benches, spitting, smoking, cursing at each other, and occasionally attempting skateboard tricks (a process that involves several of the aforementioned activities).

During the months I’ve been visiting the courtyard to read, I’ve grown surprisingly fond of the skate punks. In my mind, we all belong to a gang.

This became the running joke with a girlfriend who owns a handbag boutique nearby. Since I generally stop by her shop en route to my reading spot, I make sure to keep her apprised of my gang activities.

“Sorry, can’t stay long,” I told her a few weeks ago. “My gang is teaching me to give tattoos with a safety pin and a ballpoint pen.”

“I understand completely. Make sure they show you how to hack those big loogies that stick to the sidewalk.”

“Will do. You want me to call you when they start the lesson on using a switchblade?”

And so on.

I was just starting to regard my gang as a vital part of my afternoon entertainment when everything changed.

Apparently, not everyone enjoyed the skate punks like I did. Tourists, in particular, weren’t fond of the spitting and cursing, so the downtown business association devised a plan to chase the skate punks away. They didn’t use police or pellet guns or tear gas.

They used Mozart.

The first few days after they started piping loud classical music through a state-of-the-art sound system, my gang looked confused. They sat on the wall with their chins in their hands seeming a little glum.

After a few days of that, they moved on. I’m not sure where they went, but apparently loud blasts of Bach weren’t creating the right mood for skateboarding and spitting.

I’m a little sad to see them go, and also reminded of how crucial music can be in setting the mood for anything.

As a writer, I need a constant stream of music to keep my butt in my chair and my fingers clicking away at the keyboard. When I’m focused on a particular book, I’ll create a playlist of songs that inspire certain scenes.

Life was a little less than ideal when I was writing the third book in my contract, Let it Breathe. The book came together while my marriage was coming apart, a process that (not surprisingly) resulted in a romantic comedy that wasn’t particularly romantic or funny.

Don’t worry – I whipped it into shape with the help of my fearless critique partners, beta readers, and amazing agent. There’s still some tweaking to do, but the book is in good shape now.

Recently, I was thumbing through the original iTunes playlist for Let it Breathe on my iPod. Halfway through the mix, the pal in the car with me frowned. “This music is kind of depressing.”

And damn if he wasn’t right.

Certainly my mood at the time I was writing the story impacted my musical choices, but it also stands to reason my musical choices impacted my writing.

I still have some tweaking to do on Let it Breathe before I hand it off to my editor, and you can be damn sure I’ll add some more upbeat songs to my playlist before that.

How does your mood impact your musical choices? How do your musical choices impact your writing? Please share!

And please let me know if you’ve seen my gang. They left without saying goodbye, and I really wanted to learn how to do an ollie on my longboard.


Unknown said...

I completely agree. Music is HUGE for me. And I like a lot of different kinds of music. But...the fantasy I'm writing doesn't really fit with the Eric Hutchinson (who you should really listen to)music that makes me want to dance and wear short skirts. I have to listen to edgier stuff to stay "in the mood" which is ok because I love that kind of music too. Good post.. :)

Sarah said...

This makes sense to me! I make playlists as well, but sometimes I'm indiscriminate when I put one on. I'll get a few paragraphs into writing and think, "what was I doing, choosing this music?" It just doesn't fit the mood of what I'm writing, so I have to go back and find the right music. I also try to choose music that fits what I'm beta-reading as well!

Sarah W said...

I have playlists for characters, scenes, emotions, action scenes, interludes . . . cleaning the bathroom (Black Eyed Peas and Skillet will get the job done, and done quickly)

I also owe many a scene to a song caught on the radio and located on iTunes later.

Alexa O said...

Hmmm... I don't listen to music while I'm writing. I also can't read while riding in the car. My brain can't multi-task.

Which is why my 3-year-old is already doing her own laundry and cooking her own food...

PS Finally ordered the book! Can't wait!

Michelle Wolfson said...

As a longtime lover of classical music, it makes me sad to think that your gang deserted the courtyard. I prefer to think that they all secretly love the music but are afraid they'll be made fun of by their friends. Which is sad too, but gives me hope that someone will still fill the seats at classical music concerts someday, even if they are sporting cargo shorts and tattoos instead of sport coats and pocket squares.

Patty Blount said...

See, I still haven't tried the writing-to-music thing... I'm always afraid I'll end writing the lyrics into my dialogue.

I have certain songs in mind for different characters and when I hear music that reminds me of one, I often get inspired to write a new scene, so I have to believe it works.

Just have to put it into action.

Delia said...

I use soundtracks, too. I compile them while I'm getting the plot together and add or subtract as needed. They're a great tool for helping to get my head back into the story where it belongs.

The skate punks, though, they don't know what they're missing. A little creative choreography and they could have rocked Mozart's Symphony No. 25.

Patty Blount said...

Oops. forgot something:


Matthew MacNish said...

They pump country music out of the speakers outside the worst McDonald's in downtown Seattle to keep the gangsters away. The only problem is that there's a major bus stop half way down the block, so it doesn't work very well.

They should have used some Mahler or Strauss. The punks might have been able to groove to one of those.

Christi Goddard said...

I usually write in silence because my attention span gets lost in lyrics and I start singing along or googling things the lyrics talk about. But, when I feel focused enough, I put on Powerman 5000, the lead singer is Rob Zombie's little brother Spider. There's enough noise and techno to get my blood pounding, but not so much sensible lyrics to make me think distracting thoughts.

Isis Rushdan said...

Music definitely influences the way I write. I create several playlists for every book. A particular song will drop me right into a scene. There are tough moments when the lyrics become distracting. That's when I switch to instrumental.

Linda G. said...

Mozart as repellent? Brilliant!

And Happy Birthday (again). :)

Linda G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I can't concentrate on writing if I'm playing music, but if I need to set a mood, I definitely use music to do it.

I have all sorts of playlists - everything from barbershop harmony to death metal. It's actually kind of fun to mess with my own mind that way...

lora96 said...

As a longtime Beethoven chick, Mozart would sure repel me from my skate park of choice...were I a skater.

I listen to music at work in my classroom because it mellows the kids but when I'm writing it doesn't work for me. I do make a playlist that fits the story and listen to it while I drive or do housework to percolate ideas.

Sometimes this is counterproductive as when my now-defunct YA fantasy novel grew a bit angsty on a diet of too much Augustana.

Kim Mullican said...

Happy Birthday!

Debra Lazar Schubert said...

First of all, Happy Birthday, girlfriend!!! Secondly, I'm a singer/songwriter so I can't listen to music while I write. That may sound strange, but if music is on, it consumes me. I must have pure silence in order for my mind to be clear enough to write.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

First off, happy birthday.

I have to agree with Debra. I don;t listen to music when I write, either. I'mm to much of a music slut. Good music completely takes over my mind, and while that's great for relaxation or for setting a mood, it doesn't do much for creative thinking.

Finally got your book from B&N and read it last night. YAY!

mshatch said...

I usually can't write to music; it's too distracting for the most part. I like that idea (just the idea, not that it actually happened) of the business owners using music do drive the skaters away. I wonder if I could do the same to the tennis enthusiasts next door. A little NIN perhaps? Or maybe some TOOL.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I really like pop music by the singers that everyone else likes to make fun of, like Britney and Lady Gaga. But that music is better for when I'm working out than when I'm writing. I often write in coffeehouses, and they usually play good music there. I keep meaning to buy one of those CDs they sell in Starbucks. Or maybe they should sell a CD specifically for writers and market it as the Writer's Soundtrack or something; I bet it'd be a best-seller.