Part 3: iTunes and the Pen

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If you missed Part 1 of iTunes and the pen, click here. If you missed Part 2, click here.

Former storySouth editor and science fiction/fantasy author Jason Sanford often uses “spacey music” to inspire his work. “Sounds funny, but I find that music's contemplative and expansive focus exactly what I need when I'm writing SF,” he says. Sometimes, though, he uses certain types of heavy metal (like Black Sabbath's self-titled debut album) and world music. He uses these aural tones to help with his process: “In all these cases, the music helps inspire the tone of my story. Or maybe I select the music based on the tone of my story. Not sure which is which.” Jason is like a lot of the other authors I’ve spoken with, in that he tries to avoid music with distinct lyrics. He explains, “The one thing I avoid with my writing music is anything with a heavy focus on lyrics, which interferes with the words I'm trying to write. If the lyrics are more ambient or tied into the overall background music, as with Ozzy Osbourne's singing on the Black Sabbath album, that's not a problem. But anything catchy that starts me singing along with the music is bad for writing.”

Karl Koweski, poet and writer of the “Observations of a Dumb Pollock” column at Zygote in My Coffee, is a mixed bag. “There are times when I don't like to listen to music at all when I'm writing,” he says, “there are certain songs and artists I can listen to evoke certain memories and emotions.” He equates “Elvis Perkins in Dearland” to “falling in love.” “When I wanna write about my youth, it's Iron Maiden or Dio,” he adds. Like many others, he finds that “Leonard Cohen is nice mood music to get in the spirit to write,” but he continues, “then a lot of time's I'll fade it out.” The times he doesn’t listen to music, it’s for “anything that's dialogue heavy,” then “I'll tune the music out.” He doesn’t think the music he listens to bleeds into his words, but he admits it can “throw off the cadence.”

Indie upstart at Goodloe Byron made quite an impact with his Zero Dollar Tour, where he traveled around the country and gave away copies of his debut, The Abstract. These days, Byron does most of his writing outdoors, “so I don't really get to choose my musical selection.” When he does have access to music, it’s usually Townes Van Zandt for “nice moody introspective mindset” or Dmitri Shostakovich.

Aldo Calcagno, editor of the noir journals Darkest Before The Dawn and Powder Burn Flash, and an associate of CrimeWav, needs his music to be “soothing and not distracting.” He goes to the classics of jazz, “Miles Davis and John Coltrane” and others for this task. “Sometimes I use music as a kind of white noise, to block out all the other aural distractions around me,” Minor says. His debut collection, In the Devil's Territory, was recently published by Dzanc Books. “Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, Leonard Cohen's Greatest Hits, Radiohead's In Rainbows, Jeff Buckley's Grace, and Allison Krauss and Union Station's Lonely Runs Both Ways,” are the records that “facilitate the move from the kind of everyday consciousness that welcomes to whole world in, and into the kind of deeper consciousness that makes a new world from inside myself,” he says.

Not everyone listens to music however. Some, like Aaron Gwyn, author of The World Beneath, need the silence. Gwyn says, “I don't listen to nothing while I'm writing. I go to listening to music, well, I'm liable to start in dancing. Dancing, plus writing equals an emergency room visit.”

Lance Olsen, whose latest, Head in Flames, comes out on Chiasmus this fall, is also a proponent of quiet with his writing. “These days I'm all weirdly monkish at the keyboard--shades drawn, door closed, phone off, silence on,” he says. Music is a disturbance for him and his words. “For me it's more distracting than helpful, since I find myself having to struggle to keep the musician's rhythms and aural flavors (not to mention lyrics) out of my prose, which has its own sonic agenda," Olsen explains. “Music is an extraordinarily powerful art form,” he says, “and if you don't look out it'll infect whatever it is you're working on.”

To be continued.

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