Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Beats and Rhythms
By Tina Whittle

Tina Whittle headshotOne of the things I enjoy most about talking to other writers is learning about their writing processes. We’re creatures of various habits, we writers. Some of us plot; some of us pants it. Some of us are morning writers; other are night owls. And some of us adore writing while music flows around us, while others need absolute quiet.

I’m firmly in the latter camp. Even the most gentle strains of classical sonatas poke at my brain like a whiny toddler. And yet music is a necessary part of my writing process. I don’t know what I’d do without it during brainstorming — nothing gets the imagination pumping like a solitary road trip or an hour on the front porch swing, one of my mixes playing, the creative juices flowing.

I’ve created playlists for each of my main characters — one for Tai Randolph, my smart intrepid narrator, and one for Trey Seaver, her partner in both romance and crime-solving. Some of the songs represent personality traits; others call to mind specific plot points. I also made a playlist for them as a couple, songs that illustrate their relationship as it progresses (well, as best as a relationship can with all the murders I strew in their path).

Here’s a sample of my Tai and Trey mix.

“Bedroom Hymns” by Florence and the Machine — I need to fan myself for a minute just thinking about this song. Nothing captures the primal imperative of sex like driving percussion and pounding chords, but add Florence Welch’s throaty vocals, and lyrics that practically drip with sweat and need, and you’ve got a song that might catch your MP3 player on fire. This is one deep and passionate and hungry piece of music, and it reminds me that no matter what complication I throw at my protagonists, no matter how annoyed they get with each other, there’s heat humming between them.

“Little Black Mess” by Shivaree — Sexy, retro, and make-no-apologies manipulative, this song is a testament to the fact that even if Tai manages to tamper her way into an enormous problem, she can always count on Trey to show up for her (even if he doesn’t always bail her out). He’s promised to be there for her, no matter what. He meant it. And she knows it.

“Kryptonite” by Three Doors Down; “Strung” by Joe Henry and “Where Are You Going?” by Dave Matthews — These songs couldn’t be more different. The first is a post-grunge rock anthem with an infectious hook, the second is pure blues jazz salted with ache and desperation, and the last is a tender ballad. And yet together they define the personality of Trey, my psychologically complicated ex-SWAT hero. Damaged and haunted, strong yet vulnerable, Trey is a hero right to the middle of his bones, and listening to these songs is the solution to every “what would Trey do?” dilemma I have as a writer.

“She” by The London Suede, “Everybody Wants You” by Billy Squier and “Dani California” by Red Hot Chili Peppers — Every time I hear these songs, I think of my girl Tai. Hot-blooded, mouthy, and assertive to the point of reckless, she’s my heroine, and I love to watch her in action. These are the songs she’d listen to driving down a Low Country highway in her red Camaro, windows down, hair blowing in the hot summer wind.

“Do You Wanna Touch” by Joan Jett — Trey doesn’t listen to music anymore. The brain damage he suffered in a car accident damaged his auditory processing capacity. He can’t hear the beat, and so his cassette and CD collection sits in storage, getting dusty. I got to dig around in his basement for my fifth book, however, and I was fascinated to find a collection of hard rock down there, including every album Ms. Jett ever made. This song in particular, with its driving guitar and rough-edged lyrics, defines a part of his personality that has gone into hiding. I’m thinking his inner head-banger is still in there, though, under all that Armani. I’m thinking it’s going to emerge once again, like some resurrected goth butterfly.

What’s some of your favorite music, whether for composing, driving, getting inspired or just hanging out?

Comments

  1. I need silence when I’m writing. Otherwise, I either listen to a popular channel in the car or prefer classical music such as Mozart playing in the background.

    • tinawhittle says:

      And there are all these studies about how classical music is so good for your brain. And your overall well-being. I may have to try this again.

  2. maggietoussaint says:

    I am quite taken by both stories and music, but I can’t read or write a story while I’m listening to music. Too much distraction. I can see listening to a mood setting song and thinking up possible responses for a character during a song. But I think I’m an odd duck in this regard. Many authors have playlists for their characters, the story, or for writing in general. At one time, I studied to Led Zeppelin. Wonder what happened to that fun girl…

    • tinawhittle says:

      Those fun girls got grown-up brains, I have decided. Useful for many things, but not doing two things at once.

  3. Terry Ambrose says:

    Oh my, I think I need to go take a cold shower…I like music especially when I’m in creative mode. I can work with it in editing mode, but it can be distracting then. Right now, it the sound of silence…and not the song.

    • tinawhittle says:

      I’ve often wanted to see somebody with some expertise examine how different types of music affect different aspects of the creative process. I have my intuitive understandings of what works for me, but I would love to see some science on it.