Monday, May 22, 2017

Playlists by Patty Blount

All this month, we're blogging about music.

I'm super-pumped for this topic because I have a new book coming out this August -- my first in two years. It's called THE WAY IT HURTS and is about two teens who want more than anything to become famous. He's got a rock band called Ride Out and she has her heart set on Broadway.

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After I pitched and sold this idea, it suddenly hit me -- a guy in a rock band is gonna need um, you know, songs to sing. Which means...I had to write them.

Yeah, that turned out to be harder than writing the book.

I have no idea how to write songs and figured I should approach that the same way I did writing books -- by immersing myself in the sort of work I enjoyed. I listened to old songs and new and concluded that songs, like books, became my favorites because they spoke to me on some emotional level.

For example, Say Something by A Great Big World, is a song that makes me ache. Full disclosure, I have a hard time keeping friends. I make them easily, but none stick around. My friends tend to be transient. They're here for a few years and then, they disappear from my life. There's no big scene or drama. They simply ghost away. I've had this happen so many times now, where people refuse to speak to me, refuse to tell me what it was that I did (or didn't!) do, and don't hold me in high enough regard to even grant me a trial before they convict and punish.

This happened with friends my husband and I had met through our sons' hockey teams. Our boys grew up together and for about a decade or so, we were tight.

And then, they disappeared, ignored messages and cards.

A few months later, my husband and I were on vacation in Montauk. I was sitting on a near-empty beach listening to the waves crashing and gulls crying when a fire alarm pierced my ear drums. I'd grown deaf to that sound back home, but the change of scenery somehow opened my mind to it and a new book idea formed for what would become NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, a story about teens who volunteer at their local fire house.

And then, I happened to be station-surfing in the car one day and heard Say Something. The song just broke me in two. I had to pull over and sob for several minutes. I'm always the one people give up on and would LOVE if once, just once, I'd be given the chance to say something before they leave. Suddenly, the character of Reece formed in my mind. He's a broken kid -- the object of his father's blame and hate for his brother's death. Reece is giving up on his dad. But before he leaves for good, he's going to give his dad that chance to say something.

This book remains my favorite of all my titles to date. It's also been my least successful, which hurts on a whole other level.

In THE WAY IT HURTS, my main characters bond over a song by Seether called Words As Weapons. I'm delighted that Seether granted me permission to quote their song in this book. The story is about two teens whose personal quests for fame suddenly combine after a tweet goes viral. The resulting backlash gives them more fame than they can handle. I'm proud to tell you this book was inspired by a conversation I had with our own Kimberly Sabatini. Her encouragement compelled me to write the story.

When I was writing SOME BOYS, the Eminem/Rihanna song Love The Way You Lie was part of my inspiration for writing Grace and Ian. This is significant because I despise rap music and ordinarily change the station when Eminem plays. But one day, I happened to hear the Rihanna part of that song and it spoke to me. That song was entirely responsible for a scene in Some Boys set in the school cafeteria a week after Grace and Ian bond. Ian betrays Grace because his friends are watching.

Dan in SEND loved rock music. I listened to tons of Stone Sour, Metallica, and Slipknot to find the right head space for him. The song Snuff is the one I used to help me write the violent climax of the book, where Dan finally faces Liam Murphy's father, a man determined to kill him for what Dan did to his son.

My own taste in music is impossible to pin down. The songs on my iPod run from Neil Diamond to Drowning Pool. I might listen to instrumentals, country, and then hard rock in a single sitting.

Music, they say, is a piece of art that goes in the ears and straight to the heart.

I hope I've been able to do that with this new book. Here is the original song I wrote for it, The Way It Hurts. It's a loud hard rock hot mess in my head. Elijah sings the lead and Kristen sings the end.

The Way It Hurts by Elijah Hamilton and Kristen Cartwright (Patty Blount)

It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts

(him) Don’t know how it all went wrong
Thought what we had was so damn strong
I showed you my heart, tore down my defenses
They said I’m a jerk, said I’m offensive
And you just turned away

(chorus) What can I say?
What can I do?
Everything I am means nothing much to you.
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts.
I got nothing but my name
Nothing but my songs
Feelin’ so much pain but the words still come out wrong
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts

(Her) You’re wrong and baby, I’m sorry.
but there’s a whole other side to this story.
The hell with the fame, keep all the glory
Just don’t turn away.
What else can I say?
What else can I scream?
The man that you are is everything to me
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts.

(chorus) What can I say?
What can I do?
Everything I am means nothing much to you.
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts.
I got nothing but my name
Nothing but my songs
Feelin’ so much pain but the words still come out wrong
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts

(him) I watch you battle your way through the night,
Every little thing puttin’ up a fight.
I’ll be there next to you, just for you, for the rest of my life

Baby, I’m yours
          (Her) I’m yours
but this is too tough.
                  Yeah, things got rough
Why am I not enough?
                  I’m sorry I messed up.

What else can I say?
                  What else can I say?
What else can I do?
                  What else can I scream?
Everything I am means nothing much to you.
                  The man that you are is everything to me
It can’t get worse, this is the way it hurts.

This is the way it hurts

Sunday, May 21, 2017


Every single time I tried to brainstorm a post about music, my mind just kept coming back to Bill. I originally wrote a post here at YAOTL about Bill in the summer of '14, and I decided to rerun it again. (I did include an additional video at the end of Bill onstage, as an added bonus.)


When I was sixteen, I took guitar lessons with Bill Brown.  This was a big, big deal in my world.  It was Bill Brown.  The first time I’d ever heard him was when I was fourteen, at the John Lennon tribute concert, which we once held annually here in Springfield, MO.  And I was blown away.  I had no idea that there were people who could play like that who were not on MTV. (I’m actually being completely serious about that.)  I spent the next year and a half going from venue to venue around town to listen to his various bands play (his best-known group was undoubtedly the Ozark Mountain Daredevils).

I was utterly starstruck when I took lessons with Bill.  To this day, I have never been around anyone so innately talented—actually, I think I could live to be two hundred, and meet the very best the world has to offer, and still never be around anyone as talented as Bill.  He was also hilarious.  And kind.  And goofy.  (He used to greet me when I came into the store by singing XTC's "Holly Up on Poppy."  He loved XTC.)  I can’t adequately describe how I looked forward to seeing him every Saturday, in the back room of Third Eye Guitars.

I’d already played piano for several years, and could read music.  But Bill also taught me about playing by ear…most importantly, he got me to bring in some of my poems, showed me some of the basics of songwriting.  
I totally stole this pic from the FB page for Bill's '80s band, The Misstakes.  It's very close to the way he looked when I knew him.

…This past week marked the tenth anniversary of Bill’s passing (he died in a house fire with Don Shipps, another Springfield musician).  Like I do every year on the anniversary, I got out my guitar and played a few Beatles songs in his honor.  I also played a few of the songs I wrote when I was a teenager.

There’s absolutely a rhythm to the written word—a music in language.  I can’t help but think, then, that those music lessons in Third Eye were early lessons in writing a novel.  And I can’t help but think that Bill’s influence is easy to find in my books.  

Here it is, the bonus vid I happened to find on YouTube. (Bill's on the left, with the long blond hair. Solos at 4 minutes and 10 minutes.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Should You Watch 13 Reasons? [Laurie Boyle Crompton]

Anyone who knows me knows that I love movies. And my favorite movies almost always have a great soundtrack. From THE BREAKFAST CLUB to PULP FICTION the best films maximize their impact with amazing songs. The new Netflix series 13 REASONS WHY similarly has a great soundtrack to go with its talented actors and realistic storytelling. Jay Asher's book is fantastic and I think this adaptation is perfect and true and it is also very hard to watch. It is supposed to be. It gives a glimpse into high school life today and too many adults want to flinch and look away or worse, express outrage on social media over a show they haven't even bothered watching. 13 REASONS is accused of glorifying uncomfortable subjects when it actually shines a spotlight on the permanence of devastating decisions in a way that can spark conversations and bring healing.

Teens today are dealing with a world that is completely different from past generations. The pressures they face are beyond belief. Their whole friggin' world needs a 'Trigger Warning' and the least we can do is respect a show that many teens claim is an accurate portrayal of their experience. As a YA author, I hate it when things are belittled just because teens like them and people acting outraged over a show without watching it is ridiculous. After biting my tongue over and over, I've drawn this handy helpful graphic to determine:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Queen of Merch (Alissa Grosso)

One thing about writers is that many of us have held all kinds of jobs a result of being non-conformists who also need a way to pay the bills. I'm no exception to that rule, and one of my more interesting ones was a job that I held during and in the few years just after college. Of course, I'm using the single word job here, though I should probably use a plural. I had a single employer but the jobs I did there were diverse: tavern wench, costumed interpreter (aka tour guide), office assistant and  event staff. It's the last I'm going to write about today, but first some background.

As you can probably guess, any place where I would have held such a diverse assortment of jobs must have been pretty interesting, and it certainly was. The quick and dirty explanation is that the place where I worked was a nineteenth century historic village/concert venue - because why wouldn't history and modern rock music fit perfectly together? For anyone that hails from northwest New Jersey, you might remember Waterloo Village in its heyday. Waterloo is still there, by the way, though things have changed a bit since when I worked there in the late 1990s.

Though the story is a bit more complicated than this, in general the explanation for the split personality at the historic village was that there was only so much money to be made in recreating history, so each summer a series of concerts brought in enough money to keep everything funded. As it was a relatively small place and a non-profit organization to boot, many of us wore different hats. So, that come Friday or Saturday night we would ditch our historic costumes or office attire (at different points in my Waterloo tenure I wore both) throw on an official event staff polo shirt and a backstage pass and transform ourselves into ticket sellers, ticket takers, ushers, t-shirt sellers, beer sellers and the like.

When Willie Nelson played Waterloo he had his own crew of merch sellers who joined me in my merch castle. They actually offered me a job going on the road with Willie selling t-shirts. I guess I could have added to my list of interesting jobs, but, alas, it wasn't something I was prepared to do at the time.

Again, at one point or another I did all of this and more, though perhaps the event staff position I held the longest was that of t-shirt seller, ahem, Queen of Merch. I don't remember which of my colleagues gave me my title, but I wore my metaphorical crown and my actual Queen of Merch backstage pass with pride. From my unique vantage point in the merch tent I heard a diverse array of concerts and met an even more diverse assortment of fans. As I took soggy twenty dollar bills from drunken concert-goers in exchange for t-shirts.

The concert experience for staff is wildly different than the experience attendees have. We still get to hear and even see a lot of the show, and sometimes even get the chance for some extra experiences. Did I once ask Jeff Beck when I happened upon him wandering around before the concert if he was with the band? Yes, embarrassingly, I did. Then there was the time that while I another coworker were making use of the still-clean stalls in the ladies room before a show, we heard George Carlin's unmistakeable voice reverberating through the empty room. "This is the ladies room!" my coworker shouted from the adjacent stall to which George Carlin shouted back, "What ladies? All I see are a bunch of cows?" By the time we got out to wash our hands, though, he was gone.

When local band From Good Homes played the 'Loo it was always a crazy  and chaotic night.

There's all the behind the scenes drama and near-disasters that fans are never aware of. Weird Al was playing Waterloo shortly after some big village staff changes, the fallout of which was that though we were supposed to hire two local dancers to perform on stage for his "Smells Like Nirvana" song the ball got dropped and as of one hour before showtime we still had no dancers. At the time my younger sister was helping me in the merch tent. She and another girl who was working in the ticket booth agreed to fill in. They hurried off backstage to change into their cheerleader costumes and figure out a dance routine on the fly. Were the fans any the wiser? I doubt it.

The fans differed so much from show to show. From the polite and orderly group that turned up to hear the Indigo Girls to the out of control yahoos that showed up for Lynyrd Skynyrd. That night there was a post-show brawl in the parking lot that led to a female fan punching a cop. We had to resort to a credit card machine for the 98 Degrees show where moms with Mastercards were willing to scoop up every last bit of merch for their boy-band-obsessed daughters. Likewise, we had so many underage kids showing up for Blink-182 that we set up a special parent drop-off area to help with the traffic flow.

One of the last shows I worked at Waterloo was a combined Bob  Dylan and Phil Lesh show. There was a mix up with the police directing traffic that night, and they ended up turning a bunch of ticket-holders away. The result was that we had to pay out a massive amount of refunds and our little non-profit organization took a big financial hit.

One thing about working at so many concerts, though, is that you kind of lose your taste for attending them as a paying guest. I think I've gone to all of one concert (Weezer, they, alas, never played the 'Loo) since my Queen of Merch days. These days, I'm content to listen to my music from the comfort of home, and sometimes when a certain song comes on I can almost smell the combined scent of stale beer, marijuana and body odor that seemed to linger over every one of those outdoor shows.

Alissa Grosso aka The Queen of Merch is  the author of the YA novels Shallow PondFerocity Summer (in which her old employer Waterloo get a mention)  and Popular. You can find out more about her and her books at

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why Can't Life Be Like a Musical? (by Jody Casella)

When I was a kid, I loved musicals.

One of my earliest memories is going with an aunt to see The Sound of Music. And going to see it again, and again. Favorite part: the Von Trapp kids gallivanting around Austria dangling out of trees and tromping through fountains in their play-clothes made out of drapery while singing "Do Re Mi."

Five year old me was obsessed Fiddle on the Roof. I knew all the words to "If I Were a Rich Man," and "Match Maker." I was enamored with the prancing violin player and the men who did that cool Russian kicking dance on their knees while balancing bottles on their heads.

And don't get me started on my love affair with West Side Story. From the very first moment when the rival gangs snap their fingers and do their rumble ballet on the streets of New York, I was glued to my TV.

When I was a teenager, I put away my musical soundtrack albums for a while and replaced them with angsty-er fare. Hard rock and heavy metal. My favorite album though, was Pink Floyd's The Wall. Age thirteen, I pretty much lived in my room, splayed out on my bed with the album cover propped in front of me and the songs blasting out of my stereo. (Fun fact: The Wall was made into a musical of sorts-- weird and psychedelic, true-- but with an overarching narrative and characters breaking into song.)

It occurs to me as I write this that all of the musicals I loved had a dark, tragic story at the core. A family fleeing the Nazis in Sound of Music. Vicious Antisemitism in Fiddler on the Roof. Prejudice and violence in West Side Story. Crazed, drug-addicted/conflicted-about-his-mother guy in The Wall. 
There was a part of me that understood the darkness of these stories, even at a young age, but what drew me to them in the first place, and what made me continue to watch and listen, was the music. 

I wanted to live in a world where perfect strangers burst into song and people in color coordinated costumes danced on rooftops and spun around in meadows.

I still do actually.

A few months ago I went with my daughter to see La La Land. In the very first scene people are stuck in their cars in a traffic jam. In real life that would be the end of the story. A hot day. A boring, irritating commute into the city.

But in this world, strangers open their doors and step out onto the highway. They dance together on the roofs of their cars. They belt out a song that they all know the words to, and that is when the story begins.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I Could Totally Fake It, But... (Sydney Salter)

Topic: Music 😬

I felt the same way when that 10 Concerts meme soared around Facebook last week.

I actually go to a lot of concerts.

After seeing My Morning Jacket for the first time in Salt Lake City, we drove to Reno, dropped the kids off with grandma, and drove to San Francisco to see the band again. That was back when Jim James was so shy that he sang with his shaggy blond hair covering his face. But I'd have to admit that the chance to see the Pier 39 sea lions probably thrilled me more.

On the night I saw The Frames, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were fighting, so she left the stage after singing each of her parts. I quickly saw that the Once romance was soon to be Once Upon A Time...  So much drama!

I'm in the mosh pit of The Offspring's "Gotta Get Away" video. Drenched in the sweat of teenage boys. Oh, was I glad to be old enough to go buy a cold beer afterwards! 🍺

But -

The concerts I've attended say less about me, and more about my husband. He LOVES music. Lives, breathes music. He trekked to Coachella long before young Hollywood made it cool. He's the "Dad" seeing the hot new band in the grungy little club.

Before I met my husband, I had notoriously bad, or, so I'm teased, taste in music. Those concerts? Howard Jones. Huey Lewis And The News. The Cars. I loved Billy Ocean - permanently disqualifying me from any music criticism, according to my husband.

I often tag along to shows to spend time with my husband. To watch him enjoy something he loves. I do like to dance. The people watching is usually excellent. Shoving teenage boys around: a bonus. I also enjoy being present with someone else's creativity.

Watching Prince onstage was simply inspiring. So much passion! I identified with that creative energy. I even figured out a solution for a problem in my WIP during that concert.

I just don't have strong opinions about music. I can't name the bands who sing songs I like. It's all background to me. One the plus side, that does make me an excellent road trip companion. Play whatever you like!

Monday, May 8, 2017

This Gift of Music by Kimberly Sabatini

Music plays a very specific role in my writing process...


I usually can't draft to music, but when I'm in that creative place where I'm gathering bits and pieces of inspiration and connection from the universe--that's when music plays it's part.

I'll make a playlist of songs that contain many of the bits and pieces of ideas and feelings that are floating around inside my head and then I'll play them as I'm running and driving. 

Basically, they are the soundtrack to my daydreaming. 

Here's one of my favorite songs from my work in progress...

THIS GIFT by Glen Hansard

I hope music, writing and your creative process are a gift to you...

What one song is driving your current work in progress or your emotional life at the moment?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Sounds of Silence by Joy Preble

Hi. I'm Joy. And I have a confession. Every single time I am asked by a blogger or interviewer or on a panel, to share a playlist for one of my books, I freeze. Then I back track and make something up. Oh, I'm not clueless about thematically connected songs or ones that fit my characters or simply evoke the mood of the novel. I can give you lists of songs that remind me of all those things. I just don't seek them out.  I don't listen to them as I write. They are not part of my creative process.

There. Confession over. Are you still standing? Okay, good.

Here's the thing. For me, writing requires quiet. I need to be alone with my characters' voices, with their world, with the spiderweb of plot lines. I need to hear my world. Music, particularly music with lyrics, is an intrusion. I can listen to it before I write. I can listen to it after. I can delight in hearing a song and thinking aha! That's just like Jess or Jenna or Anne or whoever. But I cannot slip on headphones and listen while I write. (anyone else hate earbuds or find they constantly slip from one ear?)

One of my main characters in the WIP is a musician. I do hear his music in my head when I write, but only as part of the creative process, not pumped into my ears. I know his original songs and the ones he covers. He loves to find old songs that might otherwise be forgotten and I've listened to dozens of versions of those. But this happens in the moments my fingers are not on the laptop keys. The emotions of the songs linger even if they're not playing while I write.

I listen to music when I drive. I listen to music when I'm calculating my end of quarter receipts. I listen to music when I'm cleaning the house and when I'm walking or at the gym.

And yes, I admit, music does plays in the background if I'm working at a coffee shop, and I have to do my best to ignore it.

Writing, for me, requires at least a semi-silence.

How about you?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Liminal Space (Bill Cameron)

I’m a writer. I love to write. And when I say that, I don’t mean — as Dorothy Parker famously put it — “I love having written.” I mean, I love the actual process itself. I love getting lost in the act of creation, in building up a world and its people word by word.

And yet, I have to run all kinds of scams on myself to get into a writing frame of mind, to reach that liminal space where I’m past getting ready to write and simply writing. Sometimes that means picking a new location, going for a walk, or reading a passage in a book that inspires me. But often, it's choosing the right music.

Music has always been a key tool for me. I’ve written to music almost since I started writing, and from the beginning I associated certain songs and artists with each project. When I was in high school, it was always album-based, because my only options then were the radio, or my record collection. The radio was too random, and constantly interrupted by commercials and over-excited DJs. So I would pick a record to play while I wrote, and when I fell into that liminal space, the tone arm would get to the end of the side, lift, and return to the beginning over and over again. My mother would sometimes bang on my door and demand I put something else on.

I wrote my 11th grade term paper to Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. I wrote a short story about aliens who ate light to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” But things got really interesting when I finally got access to a tape deck. Project mix tapes, and then the Walkman, changed everything. I could curate each project’s musical tone and take it with me anywhere.

Today, of course, it’s even easier. With my music library in pocket and the ability to build playlists with my finger, I now can tweak my frame of mind with a tap. Every project has a playlist, and I have a number of general playlists for when I’m not sure what I want to work on.

For a project’s playlist, I choose songs based on associations with the characters, or an event in the story. Sometimes it’s music a character might listen to, but more often I select songs about how they feel or what they’ve experienced.

And my playlists change. Over the course of writing a novel, I’ll add, delete, and re-order songs based on changes in plot or character—or where I am in the narrative. That wasn’t really an option in the bad old days of mix tapes. Not that I couldn’t make a new tape, but that would take hours. Today, it takes seconds. And if I’m out and about and hear a song that I just know will work, I can buy and it add it to a playlist in a heartbeat.

Ultimately, though, it’s not about the music. It’s about the writing. And in the end, that means once I get into that liminal space where the words are flowing, I no longer hear the music. I simply write.