Writer’s Toolbox: Playlists

In today’s discussion about one of the many tools available to writers, I’m lucky to have author Janine Spendlove joining me. When I reached the end of her novel War of Seasons: Book One: The Human, I found her playlist. This is a tool that has been indispensable to me on my journey to completing Wynde, and it was exciting to see another author share hers. Then I asked Janine if she would like to talk about why a playlist is useful to her, and today’s post was born.

Tricia: Growing up a trained dancer and musician – I played the piano, the flute, and French horn – music was an integral part of my life, and it still is. I noticed in War of Seasons that several of the characters played instruments, sang, or danced. What is your background in music?

Janine: When I was 8 years old I suffered through a year of piano lessons. Around that time I also attempted a year of ballet. I say attempt because I believe I looked more like a spider monkey flailing around in a tutu. My next attempt at any form of musicality was in 2006 after a fun night of singing Beatles songs with Maggie Allen while she played them on her guitar. After she left I picked up my husband’s guitar, claimed it as my own and said “I’m going to learn how to play this.” And I did. No formal lessons or anything, just me doodling around and learning some passable guitar. That said I’ve always loved music. Love listening to it, love singing it, love blasting it. I really don’t like a quiet room; I love to have music playing no matter what I’m doing.

Tricia: I’m not as productive in a quiet room. It tends to distract me more than if I have the television on with a movie in the background or some of my favorite writing tunes belting from the stereo. The playlist at the end of your novel was a nice surprise. When I write, I have a list of about twenty songs that I cycle through at night before I go to bed. That is my witching hour, when all the ideas for the novel want to whisper in my ear. Is there a specific time you use yours?

Janine: My schedule is so hectic and fluid that I don’t ever have a designated time to write, so what I do have are certain artists, albums, or songs (it’s all project specific) that I’ll put on when I do sit down to write. It gets to the point where I trick my brain into thinking “Oh, writing music is playing, I need to write!” It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dogs – heck, just today while I was cleaning my house Adele’s 21 came on and I had this burning urge to sit AND WRITE WRITE WRITE. I actually had to skip the song because I was having a hard time overcoming the urge.

Tricia: Each song represents something different to me.  Some are anthems for a specific character, others express a theme or a relationship, and a few represent specific moments in the story. For instance, Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath” is my heroine’s anthem. It’s a song about trying to find yourself in the midst of the craziness that can be life, and in Vespa’s case, a very public life. When I listen to it, I feel it captures her experience in Wynde. Another song, “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias, represents the budding relationship between Vespa and Badge, who is a man from a far-off land. I can actually envision a music video of moments with the characters. Unfortunately some of those moments are in the second novel, so it’s not all written down yet!

How do the songs on your playlist assist you as a writer?

Janine: Can I just say word! So many of the songs on my playlist at this point have become the background music to integral scenes in my books. Like you, I can envision music videos with my characters. It was to the point where for my second book in the War of the Seasons trilogy I chose a song that set the tone/theme/mood of the chapter and I used that song title as my chapter title. Music is hugely integral to the construction of nearly all my writing.

Tricia: Lyrics are fascinating to me as a writer. A lyricist might have a melody already set, which constrains them into a set number of words, but they twist words and find clever ways to capture an emotion or idea within the melody’s structure. Have certain lyrics ever inspired you specifically in your writing?

Janine: Oh absolutely. In fact, a sharp eye can often find where bits of lyric find their way into the dialogue of my stories – and sometime it’s purely accidental! A great example is Don Mclean’s “Crossroads” (from his “American Pie album). I feel like if any song was Story’s theme song in War of the Seasons: The Half-blood, it would be this one. Every single lyric of this song perfectly describes what she is feeling and going through. All the inner turmoil, self-doubt, and eventual acceptance of how her choices have put her in the situation she finds herself in. Plus it’s just a lovely song.

Tricia: I listened to “Crossroads” and I totally felt the spirit of that book in it. Some of my favorite songs that I connect with my stories come from female singers like P!nk, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson. I feel like they let their guard down and really bare their emotions. “Just Give Me a Reason” by P!nk is a song that is about two people who love each other who seem to have lost touch with that emotion, or at least aren’t on the same wavelength. Every time I listen to the words, my heroine’s parents Daemyn and Utara come to mind. All three of those singers also have quite a few songs that promote girl-power, such as Perry’s “Firework.”

I also love old-school boy band music – Backstreet Boys, NSync, 98 Degrees. Their songs often touched on relationships. Too, after watching all three make a comeback, I am reminded of how important the relationship with the fanbase is. So when their songs come up on my playlist I find myself pondering if I’ve done enough today to engage fans, to tell them thanks for reading my blog or picking up the Star Wars Insider. I hope to bring that same attitude when Wynde launches in the near future. (And yes, to those who have been asking an announcement is looming, so stay tuned!) So it turns out one of my playlist songs is on your playlist – “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys. It’s got this perfect pop angst vibe that gets me in the mood to ramp up the emotion in my writing. Often, that’s what I can find hardest to do. You know, those hard days at work and you just want to relax, but that next scene niggling to be written has emotions maybe you’d prefer not to tap at the end of a tough day?

I know this song came to your playlist for a different sort of reason. Would you like to share?

Janine: I must confess that I loathed the Backstreet Boys & the other 90s/2000s boy bands the first time around. When I was in high school and college if it was classic rock or ska I didn’t listen to it/thought it was crap. Cut to nearly a decade later when my friend Michelle gave me a mixed CD for Christmas and I put it on to listen to while I was writing War of the Seasons: The Human. Not only was the CD a brilliant combination, but I’d say at least 1/3 of the songs on my “Human” playlist came from that CD. One of the songs was “I Want it that Way” which was this perfect argument between two people who clearly care about each other, but while one is hopeful/excited, the other is completely afraid of being hurt. I remember hearing the song as if for the first time and vividly seeing in my mind Story and… another character (spoilers!) having pretty much this very argument. I still listen to a lot of classic rock, but my music tastes have definitely broadened, for the better, I think.

Tricia: Finally, I also use music as a visualization technique for my horse showing, where I have competed at the national level. It’s a sports psychology technique I was taught – to put on music to listen to as I practice the course. The trick is to pick the right music for the horse I’m riding and the course I’m preparing for. One horse I showed was pretty hyper, and I found that some of the slower Lord of the Rings songs like “Lothlórien” worked well. Ganner the Jedi Horse, my current partner in the show ring, is really lazy, so I tend to choose more intense music like “Duel of the Fates” from The Phantom Menace. I was curious, if as a pilot or a runner, you use visualization techniques?

Janine: As a pilot I do what’s called “chair flying” where you literally sit in a chair and pretend to fly, to include doing the motions, checklists, radio calls, everything. If that’s not a visualization technique, I don’t know what is. For running, it’s a bit different. Running is my time of calm and peace. It’s where I’m alone in my head and can zone out and do nothing. Usually I listen to music when I run because I’ve found that being able to just zone out and focus on the beat is a mental break for me, whereas I spend the rest of my waking hours working/worrying/making mental lists of what I need to do, etc. I don’t listen to music when I fly or chair fly, but some of my favorite songs to listen to when I run are: “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis, “Pump it” by the Black Eyed Peas, “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, and so many others.

Tricia: Thanks, Janine, for talking about how you use music as a tool in your writing. Where can people find more out about you and your books?

Janine: I’m all over the internet – if there’s a social media platform I’m there as either JanineSpendlove or JanineKSpendlove (depending on how many characters they allow your user name to be). My website is JanineSpendlove.com (and links to all my social media), and has a shop if you want to purchase any of my work. You can also find me on Amazon.com, or your local bookstore (if they don’t currently carry my books, just ask them to). For those interested, a kickstarter for the final book in my War of the Seasons trilogy: The Hunter is being launched by my publisher, Silence in the Library Publishing on October 8th (that’s right around the corner). Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk music, Tricia! And I very much look forward to Wynde.

You can find Janine Spendlove’s War of the Seasons on Amazon and Kindle or purchase a print copy through Silence in the Library.

Tricia is putting the finishing touches on her first novel, Wynde – a military science fiction with a fantastical twist that features heroines Vespa and Gemini. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.

For updates on all things FANgirl follow @FANgirlcantina on Twitter or like FANgirl Zone on Facebook. At times she tries the Tumblr.



Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.