Originally posted on January 16, 2012
Some of you have wondered why I make so many references to music in my books. I’ll try to explain it here.
I love music. When I was a teenager, I discovered the music that spoke to my soul. You guessed it—it was metal music. I’d grown up listening to what the rest of my family listened to, genres like country, pop, and soft rock. But the first metal I heard, I fell in love. I remember it well. I was in the eighth grade. I heard AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” and I loved the guitar riff. It didn’t take me long to discover what I’d been missing. And I devoured it all. When I got my first job, my money went to gas for my car, clothes and makeup, and music. Lots and lots of music. Over the years, I’ve wondered why music has continued to be so important to me. I never felt like a hardcore outcast in school (like lots of other metalheads did), but I did feel left out on occasion and awkward a lot. But that wasn’t enough to explain why I was so drawn to it. So I’ve analyzed it over the years, trying to figure out why music is so important to me. Then I had a revelation when I read Sully Erna’s memoir, The Paths We Choose. He said,
I think most people underestimate how powerful music is. Did you ever sit down and actually think about why music affects you? Or how it changes your mood? Some may say it’s the lyrical content and how they relate to the story in relevance to their own situations. Maybe some of that is true. But I think that’s just a small part of it. I think the lyrics are just amplified by the music’s emotion….
Why is it that an instrumental can make you feel happy or sad, sexy or angry? There’s no words there; it’s just music you’re hearing, right? That’s where most people are wrong! You don’t hear music; you feel it with your soul. That’s where it all stems from.
He said more on the subject, but after I finished that chapter, I just set the book down for a while. Finally, one of my favorite musicians explained to me why I like the music I like. I had “felt it with my soul.” I’d tried explaining over and over to other people that the words in a song came second, and while I might respect what a lot of songs have to say, if the music doesn’t grab me, it’ll never be a favorite song. It’ll never speak to me. But Erna clarified it for me. The music’s the emotion; the music is speaking to me, and once it does, the words are the icing on the cake (or not, depending on the musician).
Writing about music in my books also stems from something another author once said. Stephen King instructs writers to write what they know. I know metal music. It’s been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. It’s been with me through good times and bad. In fact, there are times I’ll hear an old favorite song and it’ll trigger a memory, bringing it flooding into my mind like it was yesterday. So, since my books are in a sense “facets” of myself, I incorporate as much realism as I can. If a book feels real, the reader will get lost in its world. If it feels fake…well, it’s hard to stay with it. I used to write as “generically” as I could, stripping any identifiable elements from my writing. Why? Well, I didn’t want anyone to feel excluded. More than that, though, I wanted readers to be able to impose their own ideas and thoughts onto my writing. But I realized that it made for bland, soulless stories. To be vibrant and alive, I had to infuse reality into the story. Does everything that happens in my books seem totally realistic? Hell, no. I’m not silly enough to believe that. And I don’t expect my readers to put down every one of my books and think, “Wow. I bet that was based on real life.” No. Instead, I hope my readers think, “Wow. This character feels real. I understand why she feels jealous.” Or angry, or happy, or nervous… I want my characters to feel real, and I do that by writing what I know. My characters (sometimes) love what I love, and it keeps ‘em real.
I know not all of my readers are fans of metal music, but I hope they can enjoy the stories anyway. And those of you who are? Well, here’s hoping hearing that song in the back of your head enhances your experience. Just so y’know…not all but many songs in my books are placed there for a reason, to create a specific mood. Will it ruin the book if you don’t know the song? Not a chance. But who knows? Maybe it could enhance the book. I could call it Sound-o-rama…or not. But it sounded good when I wrote it.