Inspired by Music

I don’t talk much about writing on my blog, but writing has been pretty much all I can think about for the past month or more. Today I was reflecting on how there’s usually one song that I heard at some point while writing each of my stories that, when I hear it, reminds me of that novel and puts me right back into the feel of that story.

Curious what songs inspire my writing?

Well, I’d been writing bits and pieces of The Lost Empire for a while when, one day, on a KEXP Music That Matters podcast, I heard Home by Villagers and something just clicked.

Oh, man. The feels in that song. Dang. There are a couple of lines that definitely get right at what I wanted to write in this novel. I listen to it whenever I want to remember that.

Before I finished TLE, I started another crazy novel that has a bananas narrative structure that somehow fits with the world. It was based on a writing exercise I did for one of my UC Berkeley Extension writing classes. When I heard Witchcraft by Pendulum, one of the scenes just popped into my head.

I didn’t know where that scene went in the story, but I could vividly see it in my imagination. I nicknamed that novel “Falling” and wrote nearly the whole thing during NaNoWriMo 2013. It still needs work, and every time I hear that song, I want to dive back into that world.

This past NaNoWriMo, it happened again. I was working on what I eventually named Godda’s War, and I heard Sweater Weather by The Neighbourhood and something just clicked.

There is so much about this song that reminds me of Drew (one of the two POV characters). I just want to curl this song around me and play it over and over again when I work on this novel.

If you’re curious, you can read blurbs about these stories by clicking on my “Writing” page. None of these are currently published, so you can’t buy them anywhere, yet. I’m working on that. 🙂

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Reading inbox-outbox: Week of 15 June

June hasn’t been an epically amazing month for books so far. I’m enjoying what I’m reading, but I haven’t been blown away by anything yet…

Inbox (books acquired)

  • I didn’t acquire *any* new books this week, but I did listen to the All the Books! podcast again this week and it resulted in me adding three more books to my wish list:
  • And (unrelated) I bought some new music (yes, some people still BUY music…)
    • I’ve been loving Chemical Brothers’ “Go” and Hot Chip’s “Huarache Lights” — they even have a very similar sound — I bought the MP3 singles so I can listen to them offline
    • And of course I had to have the new Of Monsters and Men album

Outbox (books finished)

  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (Kindle, library) — This book is crazy. I think I read the entire thing with my teeth clenched. There is so much tension and so much gossipy badness from so many of the characters. I kept shaking my head and thinking, is it really like this? It’s basically a family drama and a love story. But it takes place in a culture that was completely new to me. I appreciated the untranslated slang, but the footnotes explaining everything were a bit distracting. I mean, you mostly get the point in context, so you don’t really need an exact translation. (Side note: Maybe it was just annoying because of how footnotes work on the Kindle apps. On my Kindle Voyage they appear as a pop-up, which is great. But footnotes on the apps are touchy. They flip you around in the book and sometimes it’s hard to get back to where you were. I do wish the Kindle interface was uniform across all the devices / apps. They may all sync seamlessly, but I have to keep re-teaching myself how to navigate them every time I switch between my Voyage, my tablet, and my phone.)
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (paperback, re-read) — The work book club picked this to read in June. Since I read it back in high school, I decided it was time for a re-read. I remember this book being the high school assigned reading equivalent for me of what Catcher in the Rye is for other people (I never did like Holden Caulfield all that much). I remember freaking loving this book and immediately wanting to read everything else by Vonnegut. He became my favorite author for a while (at least until I read Dune at the end of college… ). He’s still in my top-five. Still, this re-read got off to a slow start, and I wasn’t really connecting with it as much as I did twenty(ish) years ago. But by the time I got to the middle, I was laughing out loud and wishing I had a highlighter. There are some really great lines, and insights into humanity, in this book. Bottom line? I still love it. It’s still one of my all-time favorite books.
  • Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark (audiobook, library) — Man this guy is wordy and repetitive. I mean, just look at the title of this book, for example. I really loved the story, though. It was such an interesting time in American history. Yes, we were awful to those already living here. And to the environment (all those animals killed for basically fashion and profit!). But there is something about the story of explorers braving and surviving the wilderness — especially in my “adopted home” of the Pacific Northwest — that fascinates and inspires me. This worked really well on audiobook and kept us entertained through two long road trips (it’s a really long book). And the author’s note at the end offers some interesting context about why he wrote this book and how he got interested in this area.

Queue (what I’m reading next)

I’m starting to make my list of what I’m planning to read on vacation in July. I’m trying to decide between going exclusively with Kindle books (easier to pack and more options), or bringing along a few paperbacks from my TBR — ones that I might be able to “free” after reading (so at least I wouldn’t have to pack them home)… Decisions, decisions. But no stress because deciding what to read is really my favorite decision to make. 🙂

 

(Reminder: the format for my weekly inbox/outbox posts was adopted from Book Riot’s weekly column of the same name…)

New music binge…

After having a conversation with some coworkers yesterday about concerts — mostly them sharing which ones they’re going to or have attended — and trying to explain why I don’t go to concerts (partly because I’m a cheapskate, and partly because it’s rarely much fun to listen to music in a huge crowd of sweaty strangers while standing on a stale-beer sticky floor… for additional reasons see also the article “Concerts? I’ll Pass” which I may have linked to before…), I decided to just check to see if any bands I like were playing any reasonably priced concerts near me soon. This led, as you would expect, to a long trip down the music rabbit hole on the Interwebs. The result is, I now have tickets for two to an upcoming concert (not until November), and I’ve purchased eight new albums (digital) on Amazon (with gift card money… Thanks, Mom!).

I’ve been obsessing over this band called First Aid Kit for the past month, or maybe more. I heard their first release off their second album (“My Silver Lining” off Stay Gold).

I bought the album as soon as it came out, and I’ve been listening to it over and over. It’s so good. And, they’re on tour. So, I decided we’d better go see them live. Hooray! First concert since going to see The Infamous Stringdusters for my birthday last year!

Next up, I decided to branch out a bit and get some new music. I remembered a band that John Richards from KEXP‘s morning show (Seattle, 90.3 FM) has been going on about for the past week or so — French Style Furs. So I listened to the samples from their (newly released) album (Is Exotic Bait) and decided to buy it… along with:

  • Lost in the Dream — The War on Drugs (currently playing while I write this…)
  • Turn Blue — The Black Keys
  • Let’s Be Still — The Head and the Heart (plus their first, self-titled album which I never bought even though “Lost in My Mind” is one of my favorite songs)
  • Too True — Dum Dum Girls
  • Instinct — Niki and the Dove (also Swedish, like First Aid Kit, and I’ve been obsessed with “The Fox” and “DJ, Ease My Mind” for what seems like forever…)
  • Trouble in Paradise — La Roux

Music geeks, or people familiar with my music taste, might notice that this is a very Sub Pop heavy list… There is just something about that “Seattle” sound (and apparently also Iceland and now Sweden), that sounds good to me. Maybe it’s because my formative music years were 90s grunge. That, plus “classic alternative” — which explains why my favorite Sirius XM station is “1st Wave” (we got a free trial of Sirius XM with our new car… Millions of channels and I gravitate towards two, Lithium and 1st Wave).

Now that I have hours and hours of new music to listen to, and a concert to look forward to, I should probably get back to work on that writing project, huh? Procrastination, my old friend…

By the Numbers: January 2014

Let it be known, for the record, that 2014 and I did not get off to a good start. I almost don’t even want to recap January, because January and I didn’t get along so well. Needless to say, I’m really glad that January is over, and I’m hoping for a New Year “re-boot” with the Lunar New Year.

Books

Total read so far this year: 3
(target = 36 total in 2014)

I didn’t write a long blog post about books this month. I haven’t felt much like writing anything (more on that in the next section). I did read three books, even though, for a while there, I thought I wouldn’t get through any books this month. I kept picking up books, starting them, getting bored, and putting them down.

The first book I finished (but not the first I started) was The Circle by Dave Eggers. I read it for a book club at work, but then didn’t get to go to the book club because I was sick. The book is about “the horrors” of living in a world with social media. The company in the book appears to be a poorly disguised version of Google. And, the entire thing comes off like a luddite hipster rant about the evils of technology. I have a lot of thoughts on that one, but they probably deserve their own post… one that I should have written when I didn’t go to that book club.

The next book I finished was Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue by Hugh Howey. I’d started this shortly after the New Year, but got bogged down in the middle. I still haven’t read the series he’s become famous for (Wool). Eventually I will, but when I found out that his first series was a space opera featuring a sassy heroine who gets kicked out of her space fleet military academy, I knew I had to read that first. The story and the writing are a little rough, but overall I enjoyed it enough that I’ll probably pick up the others in the series. I think this was his first novel, so I imagine the writing gets better…

And then, last weekend, I finally finished Dare Me by Megan Abbott. I started this on New Year’s Eve and thought it would be a quick, fun read. Nope. This book just dragged on and on for me. Her descriptions of teenage girls are vivid and realistic. Her ability to get into the mind of these high school cheerleaders and write believably from their perspective is impressive. Still… something just didn’t click for me. I don’t think I ever really cared about the characters or their story. Or maybe I’m just not a fan of contemporary / realistic YA.

Overall, January was a disappointing reading month for me, if only because I didn’t read anything I really LOVED this month. It’s like I keep sampling all the chocolates in the box and, even though they’re chocolate, and what’s not to like about chocolate, they just aren’t satisfying my sweet tooth. I just can’t find my favorite flavor combination.

This last week I started craving real, paper books. I still love my Kindle, but I think I’m going to change it up and read some paperback books in February. I have a bunch in my TBR pile on the bookcase. So, maybe I’ll give my Kindle a rest this month…

Writing

Gah! I am embarrassed to say that I think I went backwards this month. I did almost no writing, and then, when I did squeeze in some writing time, I decided to pull an entire section of my draft out because it felt like a massive backstory dump. And then I got hung up in the middle of my story and completely stalled for weeks because I just didn’t know what needed to happen to bridge from point A to point B in the plot. In the end, I think I had a net increase of about 1000 words. Pitiful.

I keep asking myself if I just want to ditch this story and move on, but I still think there’s something there. I just need to finish this first (really bad) draft so I can start getting to work on fixing it. The problem is, I want to write it perfect the first time (impossible), which causes me to stall when I am unsure of the exact, perfect way forward. Sigh.

Swimming

This month I swam:

  • 12 of 31 days (target was ~18 days)
  • 24.3 miles (target was ~36 miles)

I couldn’t swim for the first 10 days of January because I got an ear infection on New Year’s Eve and had to take the anti-bacteria drops for the full cycle to get rid of the funk. Oddly enough, it didn’t really hurt at all. But apparently I had some serious junk up in there.

My first day back in the pool this year was the Santa Rosa Flower Power Swim Meet. I had signed up to swim all the 200s except 200 back. I ended up dropping time on my 200 free (my first race of the day), but swam horribly in all my other events. I tried hard to tell myself it didn’t matter, and it was completely understandable because I’d been out of the water for two weeks. But I couldn’t make myself listen.

Then, after that first race and about a week of training, I came down with a cold that kept me out of the water for several days leading up to my second meet of the year, the Fog City Quadrathon. After having been out of the pool for most of the week, I got one practice in the day before the race. Somehow I managed to beat all my seed times and swim personal bests in all four of the freestyle events in the meet, even though I was still congested. This renewed some of my hope for this racing season.

I’ve had too few practices this month, and most of them felt slow and crummy. The last two have felt really good, though. Today’s practice (technically a February swim) was particularly good, though I had to cut it short before I was really ready to get out of the pool.

Next weekend I have my third meet of the year, and my first chance to drop some time in my 100 breaststroke. At this point, I’m just hoping I can stay healthy and keep swimming strong practices through the rest of the season.

Pop Culture of the Month

I bought two new albums at the tail end of December, one of which I’ve been listening to almost every time I have a chance this month: My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men. I’m not sure why I like it so much. The story teller in me especially loves this video:

We watched five good but not great movies, and two fabulous, lovable, perfect episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, Season 3. I’m excited and sad to watch the final episode of this season tomorrow. I hate the long wait between new seasons of Sherlock!

So there you have it. January. Done. Here’s to the Year of the Horse!

Music from 2013

So this is the end of year post where I reveal my unsophisticated, white-suburban tastes in music…

I never really talk about music on this blog even though music has always been a big thing for me. It all started with those CD music clubs that allowed you to order CDs for discount prices. That was back in the day when Tower Music and mix tapes were still a thing, before most of the Millennials were even born. By the time I graduated college, when we were partying like it’s 1999 (because it was), I had hundreds of CDs.

My taste in music usually leans to bands with that “Seattle” sound. I’ve loved the Pacific Northwest music scene since the days of punk and grunge. It’s not really a conscious thing. I just hear a band and like it and later learn that they hail from Seattle or they were signed by Sub Pop Records. Either that or they end up being from the UK / Australia / NZ. Typically, I listen to the handful of albums that I am currently in love with until I get sick of them. Then I cycle those out and find new ones that I love.

Lately I’ve been finding most of my new music by streaming KEXP (especially John “in the Morning” Richards and his Music That Matters podcasts). Or by listening to the yearly Sub Pop Sampler (2013’s is called First Losers) until some songs stick in my head and I seek out more by that artist. When I first listened to the 2012 sampler (Loss Opportunity), I didn’t like it as much as the 2011 sampler (23 This Year). Now, going through and trying to pick my favorites from Loss Opportunity, I realize that I like almost all of them. These samplers take more than one listen and they definitely grow on me. If forced to pick, off the 2012 sampler the following songs were my favorites:

The albums that I bought this year and couldn’t stop listening to:

  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist — This is pretty much my favorite album purchased in 2013. Sure, basically everyone is a Macklemore fan by now, but from his heartfelt, straight-edge lyrics, to his Seattle flavor, he’s kind of my artistic hero. Of course Thrift Shop was my first favorite, and Same Love and Can’t Hold Us are great. But I’d also like to shout out Make the Money (don’t let the money make you) and Ten Thousand Hours. And one of the my favorite lines in a song this year, “rather be a starving artist than succeed in getting fucked…” (Jimmy lovine). I could go on and on about the awesomeness of this album and these guys, and how I respect their efforts to make a stand about social issues (which Alyssa Rosenburg wrote about here). If you haven’t listened to the album, go now and listen to it. Seattle #represent!
  • Parov Stelar, Shine — Someone at work got me hooked on this album by introducing me to the title song, Shine. That song may still be my favorite on the album, but Lost in Amsterdam is definitely a close second. The sound is slightly haunting and moody. It’s become a go-to soundtrack for working or writing.
  • Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack — I just bought this in November, towards the end of NaNoWriMo, but it’s excellent writing music. I’ve always loved that first song on the album, Dawn, that plays at the opening of the movie, and that melody seems to repeat a lot through the album. I haven’t played it more than a few times so far, but I’m pretty sure this one will end up on steady rotation.
  • Florence + the Machine, Lungs and Ceremonials — I’m kind of late to the F+tM party, but WOW, love these albums. Loving F+tM is probably in some way equivalent to the college-girl-angsty-love of Sarah McLachlan and/or Ani DiFranco, right? Sigh.
  • Fleetwood Mac, Rumors and Greatest Hits — I’m kind of cheating here because I didn’t listen to these albums nearly as much as the other five listed here, but I wanted to add an honorable mention since these made a huge comeback this year. I searched through my ripped CDs to dig out these albums and added them back into circulation on my shuffle. These are Classics and pretty much the definition of Timeless music.

I usually don’t listen to a lot of pop music, but electronic / dance stuff is great background music for work, and my niece introduced me to a few new pop songs this year that kind of got stuck in my head on repeat. The year in terms of pop singles for me comes down to these five:

  1. Internet Friends — Knife Party
  2. Love is All I Got — Feed Me
  3. Wake Me Up — Avicii
  4. I Love It — Icona Pop
  5. Roar — Katy Perry

The last three on that list are all favorites of my niece who turned two this year. The first two are ones that my husband discovered on Spotify while blasting electronica as background music while he’s coding / hacking. Oddly enough, the combined lyrics from these five songs (as few and repetitive as they are) form a solid representation of my year — and not necessarily for the obvious reasons.

I’ve sort of stopped going to see live music. It’s sad, but true. I did get out to one show this year, The Infamous Stringdusters. They played at Terrapin Crossroads in Marin. The venue was small, like watching a live band in your friend’s basement. It was the second time I’d seen them live and they put on an energetic show. Their music is good, but it’s so much better live.

And that pretty much covers what I was listening to this year. Thanks for reading my little time capsule blog post. Let me know in the comments if you have an recommendations or albums you loved this year (or link to your own 2013 music post).