By Art Taylor
Meredith Cole tagged me earlier this week for the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up, a blog hop that I'm happy to be a part of! (And Paul D. Marks, I'm tagging you next, buddy.)
All the potential questions for the challenge are terrific, but I'm gonna zero in on this one: "Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?"—especially because of an article I saw trending on Facebook recently about how moderate noise (coffee shop chatter particularly) enhances creativity; this may not be the exact article, but it's similar subject matter.
I can't write in silence, and more than that, even without the study to back me up, I've always believed that a little bit of music helps to unlock something in my head and get both the imagination working and the keyboard click-clacking away. I usually listen to jazz, because anything with words to it messes up my own words (I'm highly susceptible to earworms, sadly), and most times I just put on Pandora and pull up my John Coltrane station and take whatever comes up. Right now, for example, I'm listening to Carmell Jones' "What Is This Thing Called Love?"—and no complaints there!
The Writer's Center, Ann Hagedorn, author of Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919, talked about her own writing process and mentioned that she listened to the same piece of music when she was writing a book—a different piece for each of her books as I recall, but in any case, the point was that whenever the music came on, it was a trigger of sorts that eased her into the project and into the writing day. I'm paraphrasing and perhaps not representing exactly what she said, but the idea did stick with me, and since then, whenever I'm working on longer projects (those failed novels or longer short stories), I've picked a single piece of music that I hoped matched the mood of that specific piece. For example, in the midst of working on a grittier darker piece, I spent several months listening each morning to Bob Belden's Black Dahlia—and that jolt that starts it up sure calls you to attention! For another piece, one set further in the past and drawing on some of my own childhood memories, I ended up playing Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth over and over and over again (and it holds up to repeated plays, that's for sure). It was a fascinating idea to have that same trigger music—and then to write for the length of the CD to make sure I did my daily dose—and while I haven't continued it faithfully, I'm sure it's a trend I'll come back to.
As for this week's Criminal Minds question—"What's your best research story?"—I can't let it pass without responding, because I've got a good one (though do need to mention a little bit of a spoiler alert ahead).
Back in 2007 (a key part of this story) when I was writing the first draft of "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants," I needed a little background on making ricin. Since I work at George Mason University, I naturally reached out via email to one of the faculty members here, a botanist, for some advice—and was very quickly told, "We should talk by phone about this."
After we did—and she offered some great help—she revealed that she had done some work for the government in chemical and biological weapons and felt that we'd be better not to email about it, since our correspondence had likely already been flagged and monitored.
Right, I thought. Like the government is paying any attention to random emails. Ha ha!
Little did I know....