I’m a longtime fan of a series by Carrie Vaughn about Kitty the werewolf. Kitty works in radio, and each book leads off with a short playlist. I always liked that idea.

Since I started learning to dance I’m always looking for new music. The obvious places are shows like SYTYCD and DWTS, movie soundtracks, and ‘people who bought X also bought Y.’ But finding new music through books is also a thing.

Music is everywhere. Elevators, churches, retail establishments, restaurants. Life has a soundtrack. When writers acknowledge that, I appreciate it. To me, the kind of music a character responds to says a lot. Music helps set the scene (place and time) and the mood.

I started publishing The L.A. Stories in 2012. It wasn’t until 2017 that I started taking the whole thing seriously. My awesomesauce sister (the only person on Earth aside from me who has read all my stuff) appointed herself Marketing Guru. A website, a new and consistent cover design, and a few other things followed. One of those things was a series rewrite. I had to go back to the beginning and bring the early stories up to the level of the later ones. As I did that, I gave each one a playlist. These playlists always have something to do with the story.

There have been times when a certain song actually sparked a story idea. Chief example: ‘Iris,’ a pop waltz by the band Goo Goo Dolls, which was a hit off the soundtrack to the movie City of Angels. This song is key to my novel Lost & Found. For that book’s playlist, I narrowed the song choices to a collection of pop waltzes. People may recognize the songs without noticing they are all in three-quarter time, but it pleased me.

Other times there is a project at the heart of a story, and that project has its own soundtrack. Such a case is the novel Face the Music, in which the main characters have an important date at a narrative dance concert retelling the Beowulf story.

For a current work-in-progress novel, I’m using the playlist of another in-story project, this one a narrative tango show called ‘Gaucho.’ My main characters in the new book are not performers, but they are both learning to dance tango. It’s a thing that connects them at a time when very little else does.

When characters are performers, music tends to play (ha!) a large part in the story. It should! I don’t know any singers, dancers, or musicians who are not completely obsessed with music. My character Janis Vaughn (A Secret Chord and A Braid of Love) is a professional jazz singer and pianist à la Diana Krall. Music is huge in her stories; it has to be. Or there’s Gino Corsetti from Here to Stay: He’s a singer with a Sinatra tribute show in Las Vegas, so his playlist is all Sinatra hits.

I try to reference music that can be found and purchased fairly easily. Sometimes I fail. A recent novella about a trumpet player (Take a Note) has playlist tracks that I was only able to find via YouTube.

The irony? I can’t really listen to music while I’m writing, or while I’m logged in to the day job. It’s a distraction, because I like to listen to music – it’s not simply background for me. For a while there I had 2.5 hours a day of slow-moving car commute in which to listen to music. Right now I’m trying to think of a way to build it back into my life. Because some songs can go on more than one playlist, but I like to keep mixing it up.

Dabney Grinnan
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Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.