I am excited beyond containment to have Ilsa J. Bick stop by while on her blog tour at I Blog, You Read. I was curious if there was any musical influence for Ilsa while writing her Ashes Trilogy. Whenever I head to work I have a long drive and often listen to music. While listening I think of possible stories and more often think of books that I have read that remind me of random songs I hear on my drive. The Ashes Trilogy is so unique it made me wonder what type of music Ilsa might listen to. How does she gain inspiration for her league of characters? I recently took the advice of another writer friend of mine to listen to film scores when trying to keep an emotional scene’s momentum up while writing. Ilsa speaks of this very topic and I find it a pleasant coincidence and will have to thank my friend, again.
ILSA J. BICK
I know the trend is for people to talk about playlists and what music they listened to in drafting a novel or perhaps something that inspired them to write a certain scene a certain way. Unfortunately, I don’t fit into that demographic at all. I don’t listen to music as I write or before, in preparation, to write, and never have. For me, writing is all consuming. Reading requires every scrap of my attention. My need to listen to the characters in my head is so pointed that music (or just about any non-natural noise, and even then the cats are a dicey proposition) is simply too distracting.
In fact, I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as “multi-tasking,” the very fashionable term people give to listening to music while writing or doing homework while texting while Tweeting while . . . fill in the blank. There’s plenty of good research out there to indicate that multi-tasking is, in many senses, a synonym for doing many things, not very well.
That I have a kind of moratorium on music, though, is a little odd because I sing in a symphony chorus, so it’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with music. But I’ve found that as I’ve gotten more deeply into writing, I simply can’t listen to music anymore. Again, odd for someone who went to Oberlin because of the conservatory; took harpsichord; routinely had that radio going 24/7; used to be able to identify composers or, failing that, the period in which a certain piece was written just by listening to a couple bars. My music library was huge, and we’re talking records. (Yes: that old.)
The only music I’ll listen to nowadays is in preparation for a concert. In fact, if I listen to anything while I’m writing, it’s to only natural sounds: ocean waves, a thunderstorm, forest sounds. The occasional Tibetan bell. I guess you could call it a Buddhist kind of immersive quality of being in the natural world because the natural world has its own music and rhythms that require a special ear.
Having said that, I can say that there are two instances I can recall where music helped just . . . set the mood. One was years back, when I was writing my very first, very intense, highly choreographed battle sequences for a Mechwarrior novel. Having studied and written about film, I’ve always found film scores to be fabulously intriguing. (I really am an intensely visual person. The movie in my head is almost always looping.) Try to imagine a really good action movie without a distinctive score to get your blood pumping or set the mood. The score is crucial. So there’s this one highly percussive, pulse-pounding sequence by James Horner in Aliens, where Ripley’s rescuing the Marines, that I listened to over and over again, at an ear-splitting volume (so loud my poor husband and kids came in to shout at me to turn the darned thing down), to get me revved while I mapped out who was blasting whom.
The second instance happened when I settled down to write ASHES. Now I have no idea why I thought of this particular piece, but I’d heard Leonard Cohen’s, “Everybody Knows,” way back in Atom Egoyan’s absolutely brilliant1994 film, Exotica (and then, again, in Pump Up the Volume (1990), not as brilliant but a nice film with a young Christian Slater after he went all Jack Nicholson-wannabe in Heathers two years before). While not Cohen’s most famous song, it’s the one that I like best. There’s just something about the bleak, pessimistic, metronomic quality that perfectly captures Alex’s mindset and the pervasive mood of the book (and series):
So it’s not that I’m a curmudgeonly Freudian who doesn’t or can’t enjoy music. In point of fact and much to his regret, Freud loathed music, which is strange for a guy who lived in Vienna, a major music capital, hugely important in its day. Freud wasn’t indifferent to music either, or ignorant of it. Not only did he recognize Gustav Mahler’s genius, he treated the guy! Bruno Walter, very famous, German-born conductor, credits Freud with saving his career. It’s just that Freud had . . . no ear for music.