Thursday, October 6, 2011

Guest Post by Joe Vasicek: On Music and Writing

So today we have a guest post by Joe Vasicek, an independent writer who happens to be a friend of mine. His books are already up on Amazon, along with several of his short stories that he has graciously allowed you to obtain for free. Go check them out!

And without further introduction, here's Joe!

I have a mild case of ADHD, which means that I alternate between being hyperfocused on an activity to being distracted by anything and everything. As a writer, this can make things difficult, especially when I’m slogging through the middle of a draft where everything seems to suck. But when I get on a roll, the writing comes much easier, provided I can train myself to focus.

Music has tremendous power to cut through the distractions and focus my thoughts on the story I'm trying to write. For that reason, I usually put together a soundtrack for each of my books, and listen to it repeatedly while writing them. Over time, I gradually come to associate certain tracks with certain characters or scenes, so that all I have to do is hit play and let my mind take off with the story.

The trick is finding the right music. For any given soundtrack, there will usually be only two or three songs that really trigger that state of hyperfocus for me, while the rest just help keep me from getting distracted. It's partially about finding the song that evokes the right emotion, but it's also a matter of personal association and things that might have very little to do with the music itself.

For example, when I was writing an early draft of Bringing Stella Home, I saw this clip from Il Mercenario. The scene struck me powerfully, because it features a downtrodden, defeated rebel who is given a second chance and uses it to face his demons like a man.

In a broad sense, that's very similar to James McCoy's struggle from my book: his older brother and sister have been captured by spacefaring barbarians, and all he wants is a chance to prove himself and get them back. Just like the rebel from the movie, James gets knocked down repeatedly--and always gets back up.

As soon as I'd made that connection, I knew that song would have to be in the soundtrack for my novel. For the next two or three drafts, it became the first track I'd listen to--the one that triggered me to start writing.

This song from the Halo 2 soundtrack makes me think of the mercenary team from the novel, who take James in and give him that chance he's been looking for. I remember listening to this on the Washington DC Metro while I was at my K Street internship, thinking of all the things I would put into the story as I worked on the third draft. Music can be great for focusing my thoughts in the prewriting stage, which is often just as important as the writing itself.

Another major song was this remix of a track from Shinobi III, featured on overclocked remix. I had my mp3 player on shuffle and this track came on just as I finished the last chapter of one of the early drafts of the novel. The bittersweet emotion evoked by the music paralled the emotion of the book's ending so perfectly, I can't listen to this song anymore without thinking about Bringing Stella Home.

A lot of these connections are so personal they probably wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to someone just listening to the music, but that's okay--these homemade soundtracks aren't for the reader so much as they are for the writer. In that sense, finding and listening to the right music can be a great writing technique.

In college, I got most of my music from Overcocked Remix. The site features over two thousand fan-made remixes and arrangements of video game music, and not only is it all free, but the quality is amazing. My favorite remixers are Zircon, bLiNd, and Phr4cture; they've also produced some independent stuff that is quite good, Zircon in particular. Well worth checking out.

Nowadays, I get my music from a variety of places. I've recently taken a liking to trance and progressive, with artists such as Armin Van Buuren, Tenishia, Protoculture, tyDi, Jaren, and others. Trance is all about emotion, and so is fiction--that's why we have genre categories like "romance," "thriller," and "fantasy" which revolve around the emotion the stories are supposed to evoke.

But really, it all depends. Every project is different, as the wide variety of the music in my homemade soundtracks attests. When everything clicks and the story just flows, it's pure magic.

To kick off the release of my novel Bringing Stella Home, I'd like to give away a free copy of the companion novella, Sholpan. When the spacefaring Hameji barbarians capture Stella McCoy and make her a concubine to their chief overlord, it seems as if she is powerless to resist. But by refusing to compromise her values, she finds friends in unexpected places, even as the dangerous world of harem politics threatens to destroy her.

To download a free copy, select your preferred format from the story's Smashwords page and input the following coupon code: SN58S (not caps sensitive). The offer expires in a week, however, so be sure to pick it up before the 13th.

Joe's blog is at He has all sorts of interesting posts over there, so check that out as well. In any case, your regularly scheduled nerd stuff will be back on Saturday. See you then!

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