Writing With Music: We All Do It


You know that song. That one song that created vivid thoughts and ideas in your head. Did it contribute to a story? It happens all the time, we writers find inspiration everywhere. Some while mediating after Yoga or breaking into their own house after you forgot your keys. “That would make a great story.” Most of the time it’s almost uncontrollable, but if you manipulate your surroundings I believe you can set yourself in the right mind set. It’s like a rockstar listening to music before the go out on stage. That’s what you are a writing rockstar. Besides a little exercise the right music is also essential to clearing the mind and focusing.

What I listen To.

Depending on the genre I find different music useful. For example, a good sci-fi story with the ambiance of some techno perhaps some dubstep really let’s my dive into those scenes, especially those cyber punk clubs with the insane dj’s and rockstars. The UK makes the best dubstep and I’m also a huge Dillion Francis fan.

Now speculative fiction seems easier to write with some poppy punk music for me. Throw me some MXPX, The Offspring or even some Ramones. Why? I have no clue.

Horror, is usually heavy or violent. Combichrist, Three Days Grace or The Misfits.

I started writing noir. Seems like everyone is doing it and everyone keeps sending my pulp fic and noir books to read. So now I’m there, typing about a man who’s a total jerk, but he’s gotta win, well very few people win in my stories. Anyways, Alkaline Trio or Tom Waits.

Why It Helps.

That constant mood, it’s not always there. I’ll write 1/3 of my story in the john and another while I watch television. Days later it’s finished throughout the day, either between waiting for someone or something, eating, or doing who knows what. But every time the mood is different. I always regret not writing in one sitting. It’s not always possible, but if you started an album or genre of music and used it every time you began to write again, it has a better grip on that mood you were in.

Everyone is different, but I think you should try it and let me know. Perhaps give me a tip on writing other genres.

-L. Vera

Interview: Andrez Bergen

I’m pleased to say that today’s guest is Andrez Bergen. Born in Melbourne, Andrez Bergen is an expatriate Australian author, journalist, DJ, photographer and musician, who has been based in Tokyo, Japan, over the past eleven years. His forthcoming novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude follows up on the splash made by his first iconoclast offering, The Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.

KAL: What do you write on? Computer, pad o’ paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I’m an all-rounder, though I have yet to include an iPad or smartphone in the mix. Not that I’m afraid of technology; I just prefer to wait for a bit before squandering hard-earned cash on new stuff. Mostly I use my Mac desktop at home, and when I’m not home I busily scrawl notes on bits and pieces of scrap paper – anything blank I can find in my bag. I do this on the train, on the street, sitting on the edge of the gutter (really). Years ago I had a postbox-red Olivetti manual typewriter, and that’s the one I used to start writing my first novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, but I tossed it out the window once when I was late on a university deadline and the ribbon ran out. My mother has it on her wall back in Melbourne. Calls it art.

KAL: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

Yep, I do, though usually not while I’m working on the desktop at home – unless my six-year-old daughter Cocoa is practicing the piano (which she’s actually doing right now). On the train I lug my iPod Nano everywhere, and I’m often listening to rousing classical stuff, soundtrack music by people like Clint Mansell, Kenji Kawai, Hans Zimmer, Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, old 1940s jazz and big band numbers, plus techno and experimental electronic music that (a) I’m working on or (b) is made by mates. All of it influences what I write. Often pivotal scenes get conjured up in my head while I tune out to somebody’s brilliant music.

KAL: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

I think I do both. Short bursts in between stations on the train going to work, and long stints at home. I did a mad two-week dash to polish off One Hundred Years of Vicissitude at the end of March. Nearly killed me. It is a habit of late, bordering on a vice, since I should be spending this time entertaining my daughter more than I am right now. I tell her it’s my homework, but I’m not sure she believes me.

KAL: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

God, what a tough question. Living, or dead? I think I’d like Raymond Chandler to read my stuff, but I’m equally terrified by that notion. The guy is one of my all-time literary heroes. Alternatively, L. Ron Hubbard. If he said he hated it, then I’d die happy.

KAL: On the days where the writing doesn’t go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

I wish I was better with movie making, something I started in university but never really following through on. Movies are my big love – one of the reasons I ended up writing about them.

KAL: What do you read? What do you re-read?

Re-read first: Anything by Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Isabel Allende’s Zorro, Colin Harrison’s Manhattan Nocturne, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Nicholas Christopher’s Veronica, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, Ryū Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and Robert M. Eversz’s Shooting Elvis – the first and easily the best Nina Zero novel. With my daughter we’re constantly reading Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I love old 1960s Marvel comics.

New stuff? I’m always on the look out for new noir and sci-fi – and I love raiding the local bookshop here in Tokyo, where they sell second-hand English novels for ¥200 – about £1.60. A lot of it’s complete crap, but I do stumble upon some unknown doozies on occasion.

KAL: Where did the idea for One Hundred Years of Vicissitude come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

Well, I think just as Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat wore Blade Runner and Raymond Chandler on its sleeve, the new novel owes a truckload to the past eleven years I’ve spent living in Tokyo. I love this city and the people, along with the culture, and in some ways it’s my celebration of that affection. I’m indebted to the cinematic work of Satoshi Kon, Akira Kurosawa and Seijun Suzuki, actors Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, and the wonderful 1940s boogie woogie of Shizuko Kasagi. The real-life story of identical twin Japanese centenarians served as the initial spark, and a fantastic visit to Kyoto last year added fuel to the fire. Add in Sean Connery’s James Bond and the crazy antics of the Japanese Red Army. Lots, really.

***

Find Bergen on Twitter, Facebook as well as Amazon and Goodreads. Aside from specializing in Japanese culture, anime, movies, and electronic music’s various tangents for magazines like Geek (USA) and Impact (UK), along with newspapers The Age and The Yomiuri Shinbun, Bergen has written fiction for Another Sky Press, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp, Snubnose Press, Perfect Edge, Pulp Ink, Solarcide and Crime Factory, and collaborated on translating and reworking the English text for Japanese anime filmmakers Mamoru Oshii, Naoyoshi Shiotani and Kazuchika Kise.

Bergen released his debut novel, the noir/sci-fi-inclined Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, last year. He will publish a second novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, in October 2012. He is currently putting together an anthology of short stories, by himself and other writers and illustrators relating to the dystopia of TSMG, and he’s working on two novels, The Mercury Drinkers and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa.

 

THE PROLOGUE TO ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF VICISSITUDE:

It’s swing time, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers must be cooling their heels elsewhere.

In all honesty, I can’t distinguish swing from boogie-woogie—styles my grandparents would be better equipped to judge.

Though not wearing a tuxedo to match the music, I am blessed with a suave smoking jacket.

Anyhow, this jazz-inflected number continues to blare, doing seventy-eight rpm on brittle shellac, something warbled in Japanese about people having fun just by singing the zany song.

The whole package is strung together in a crackly, mono din that originates from a gramophone, housed in a lacquered wooden casket on the other side of the room.

Splayed on the floor before the music box lies a half-naked man, inert.

You’ll find me propped up on the bed. It boasts a hard, uncomfortable mattress and the quilts are awry, but who would fret, seated next to a young, exquisite geisha?

Not that she doesn’t have flaws.

This girl bears smudged makeup, a vivid red streak (blood) on one white cheek, and she’s wrapped in a twisted, half-open kimono that’s fallen off her shoulder.

I glimpse an ample amount of small, pale breast, as I reach over to light the cigarette she has pinioned between her teeth.

Eyes off, you ancient rotter.

It’s damnably humid in this small, spartan closet, and both of us are sweating. The temperature is something I doubt the fellow on the floor needs to concern himself with.

‘He’s dead?’ I pipe up, in a blustering voice that startles me.

‘As a doornail,’ the woman says, unruffled, and then she exhales a plume of smoke toward the ceiling.

‘So. What shall we do now?’

‘I have no idea about you, but I’m enjoying the song and this cigarette.’

‘You don’t mind sharing them with a man you just murdered?’

‘Well, I’d say he’s far more functional in this state.’

She places her bare feet on the corpse’s back, wriggles her toes, and then leans back to relax. There’s a smirk on her cherubic mouth.

‘That’s better. Who needs a footstool?’

 

Cyberpunk, A Lost Genre?

As a child I found myself reading a lot of science fiction. Even as as a kid in elementary school, I’d check out books by Isaac Asimov. Stuff like Venus or The Moon. I didn’t don’t recall a damn thing from those books, but as a kid I was fascinated by planets. Then I found myself nose deep in a book about Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. Yet, it wasn’t until my school had a program, where you could earn points reading books and taking a quiz on a computer to earn “Mcdonald Bucks”. I’m not sure if that’s what they were called, but I was earning money  to read. So I read lost of stuff. I even took quizes for other people and shared half the points. It was a good business for a kid that liked to read.

I stumbled upon Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology. How or why? I have no idea, but just those final words, “Cyberpunk” echoed in mind. At the time I was also heavy into Hackers, Terminator and the video game Shadowrun and this was the genre that I thought it was made just for me.

So what is cyberpunk? It’s a sub genre mixed in among hundreds of others, like steampunk or dystopian literature but this one is special, at least to me. Cyberpunk is a world where computer and technology has advanced to the point that it’s in everything. You could have implants that let you “jack” into the internet or an eye that zooms and can see the tiniest sand on the farthest beach from a tower miles away.

From Wikipedia:

“Cyberpunk is a postmodern and science fiction genre noted for its focus on “high tech and low life.” The name was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story “Cyberpunk,” published in 1983.It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.”

So I became a huge Bruce Sterling fan. I”ve read Globalhead, A Good Old-fashioned Future and Crystal Express. I’ve also been in the middle of Schismatrix for over ten years now. Maybe one day I’ll finish it but then what? Where did all the cyberpunk go?

I thought maybe it’s because we are living in that world. The internet has vastly improved, we can reach information at those super sonic speeds, we have devices installed on everything from refrigerators to our cars. Sure they’re not floating yet, but look at those silly Segways, or even motor bikes/cycles. Is that why we don’t see any mainstream cyberpunk anymore?

What about those other “sub-genres”? Steampunk? Do they have a place in today’s mainstream?

They do. So write them, because there are people out there just waiting for that book. Even if it’s in a genre that’s no longer “popular”. Screw vampires. I’m tired of them too. Someone write me some cyberpunk.

I do plan on reading the classics soon and looking for some good self-published stuff. Oh, and Bruce Sterling still knocks some stuff out every couple of years, but I want some home-runs. Any suggestions?

-L. Vera