Posts tagged with: music

Five Playlists to Keep You Focused and Productive

The world is a distracting place right now, isn’t it? What with all the jumping and running and biting and scampering across keyboards, I can hardly focus!!

I’m speaking, of course, of Captain Salty.

Captain Salty!

We have long fostered animals for our local pet shelters. Bunnies, chinchillas, turtles, guinea pigs, and dogs, we’ve done it all, but we mostly focus on kittens. Tough job, right?

Well, let me tell you: they make terrible co-workers. But I’m a glutton for punishment, and thus I have to find ways to focus even when there’s a wild-eyed monster climbing up my leg.

My favorite focusing tool is music, and I’ve developed several playlists to get me in the right writing mood.

POWER UP: “Who Run the World? Girls!” is a Spotify-compiled list that contains a surprisingly wide and ever-changing mix of music from women who are definitely writing their own stories, and will inspire you to write yours! My favorite playlist when I’m tired but I need to put on my big girl panties and get it done.

SENSUAL: “Get it On” is my master list of songs that say “sex” to me. Some of them whisper it–the first one, “Breathe,” is family-friendly. But I wouldn’t go playing “Falsetto” by The Dream around my mom. Put this on when its 9 AM and you’re halfway into your first coffee but you gotta crank out that big sex scene.

EMOTIONAL: “Country with Character” includes the songs I collected while writing a book about a small town with big personalities. With vivid characters like Reba MacEntire’s “Fancy” and tear-jerking stories like the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier,” this list inspires me to dig deeper for the pull-no-punches emotional impact that romance readers crave.

FOCUS: “chill.out.brain” is a soothing playlist made by Spotify that allows me to forget that I’m listening to music and just focus on whatever it is I need to do. Great for when you don’t know what to play, or haven’t really found your groove with a book yet. 

HAPPINESS: Finally, “Get Happy” is just the ticket for those days when the world really is getting you down. Filled with oldies and stuff I’ve never heard, there’s not a one that won’t make you smile. Get up and dance to release your stress, and then get your BICHOK!

Do you write to music? Share with us your favorite playlists and albums!

Art, Music, and Emotion

As a stoic, unsentimental Scandinavian, it takes a LOT to make me cry in real life , but when I’m listening to music? Or experiencing some kind of art combined with music? OMG, someone pass the Kleenex.

Music alone reliably opens my emotional floodgates, but combining great music with another type of art can tip the experience to transcendent.  Today, I’d like to talk about art that makes us cry.

Apologies in advance for what will certainly be a video-heavy post. I hope you’ll be able to come back to this post when you have a little time, experience some of the art that tugs at MY heartstrings, and also share your own.


I’m a long-time viewer of So You Think You Can Dance, the competitive reality show that’s given so many dancers an opportunity to strut their stuff to the world. After the season is over, many of the Top 20 dancers deservedly make the leap from amateur to professional, but I find myself most emotionally impacted by the auditions – no, not the emotionally manipulative “up close and personal” sob stories, which I fast-forward past – but the performances themselves… just an as-yet-unknown dancer, interpreting a song through movement, in their own little world, before any famous choreographer gets their hot little hands on them.

The musicality of these two SYTYCD auditions literally brings me to tears.

After her audition, Melanie Moore , the eventual Season 8 winner, not only received a standing ovation from her fellow competitors, but was told by one of the judges that Zeus himself would invite her to dance on Mt. Olympus.

Moore is dancing to “The Meadow” by Alexandre Desplat, from the Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.

Below, director/producer/choreographer and SYTYCD guest judge Adam Shankman gets a little verklempt watching Billy Bell’s audition. Adam wasn’t alone. (I’m a sympathetic crier, so this audition was a double-whammy.)

Billy is dancing to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately Bell sustained an injury partway through the season and had to leave the competition.


In my opinion, the last scene of the Six Feet Under series finale is the one of the most perfect pieces of television ever aired. In six sublime, fast-forwarded, largely dialogue-free minutes, we learn what the future holds for every member of the extended Fisher family as the youngest daughter, Claire, drives cross-country to start her first grown-up job. Given the Fishers run a funeral home, could the series really have ended any other way? Set to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” this scene and this song are forever entwined in my mind, combining to create a piece of art that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

FAIR WARNING: Some readers may find the montage’s subject matter – death – disturbing.


Every morning when I sit down to write, I choose an artist, song, album, or playlist that I think will transport me to the emotional head space of the character whose POV I’m writing from that day. (Music is that reliable a tool for me; there are some pieces that make my eyes sting every time I hear them.) Here are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, joined by Jason Bonham on drums, performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, with an arrangement I feel rivals the  original.

The chorus coming in at about 4:10? Talk about transcendent.


You wouldn’t expect that reading a rocker’s memoir would provoke much of an emotional reaction, but Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove, accomplished this rare feat. When Taylor described how his bandmate Simon LeBon sang “Save a Prayer” at John’s father’s funeral? Fellow Ruby Sister and Duran Duran superfan Vanessa B. and I both bawled like babies.

And finally, from my own work. In my 2009 GH finalist/2011 debut novel TASTE ME, I killed off a secondary character that some readers thought was developed strongly enough to get her own book – and yeah, it hurt.

In this excerpt, a siren choir sings Annika Fontaine home:

A burst of wind buffeted the small group as they assembled on the edge of the rugged cliff. Lukas instinctively leaned in to shelter Scarlett with his larger body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father doing the same thing for Claudette as she stood in her family’s ancestral worship area like a poised ivory statue, her face locked in a rictus of control. In this thin, milky light, her hair looked more gray than red, and her mourning-white trench coat whipped around her legs. She cradled a fuchsia suede bag about the size and weight of a sack of sugar in both arms.

Her daughter’s ashes.

As opposed to her mother, Scarlett blazed with defiant color. She’d made no attempt to harness her hair, and it billowed behind her like a red sheet on a clothesline. Her calf-length wool coat was bright turquoise, her pink boots glowed, and her face was blotchy with tears.

Grief and sadness poured out of her like blood from a wound. Lukas clenched his jaw and held on to her hand as the siren choir gathered around them in a loose semicircle.

“Let us sing our sister home,” the Celebrant intoned. She turned her substantial body to the pounding sea and extended her arms to the sky and waves, singing the first haunting notes.

He thought he was prepared. He really did. But when the other women joined in… Jesus. Dissonant harmonies shrilled up and down his backbone, and he grasped Scarlett’s waist more tightly—whether to support her or to be supported, he didn’t really know. Scarlett was as much moaning as singing, her incomparable voice rising above the others as she extended her arms to the sea and tipped her head up to the sky. The collective mourning energy swirled above them like a whirlwind as the sirens sang the Fontaine family lineage, imploring the wind and the waves to accompany the brave siren Annika to her final resting place. Annika, daughter of Claudette, daughter of Signe, daughter of Siobhan, daughter of Siann, of Sorcha, of Catraoine. Of Sinead, Maire, Ceile, and Fiona. On and on, back through the generations, the sirens recited the names the unbroken Fontaine matrilineal line back to Canola, Goddess of the Harp.

It was now up to Scarlett to ensure continuity of the Fontaine line.

On and on the singing went, the sirens acknowledging sisters lost to history, sisters who’d protected their families and ensured their species’ survival by luring marauders’ ships into the cliffs with no weapon but their voices. Lukas surreptitiously popped an antacid and tried to distract himself by focusing on the waves pounding against the cliffs, the swooping gulls, the fall sumac blazing between the rocks, where the paparazzi crouched like fucking jackals. Something, anything, to distract himself from the taste of Scarlett’s saltwater mourning mixing with her mandarin essence.

How his seed boiled at the thought of fathering Scarlett’s child.

Finally, the plaintive song came to a close, and the Celebrant stepped back, gesturing to the churning water.

“I … can’t do this,” Scarlett whispered brokenly, the first words she’d spoken to him in nearly a week.

Lukas bracketed her chilly face in his warm hands, trying to pour whatever strength he could into her. “You can.”

She clutched his wrists with her hands for a long moment, her eyes locked on to his. Finally, she stepped away from the shelter of his body and joined her mother at the edge of the cliff. And as the other sirens chanted, “All that was…all that is…all that shall be,” they reached into the bag with their bare hands, casting Annika’s ashes to the wild, wild sea.

Oh yeah. That still makes me cry.

Is there a type or piece of art that makes you cry? Happy tears, sad tears, bittersweet tears? Feel like sharing?  




TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, has been nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace



Give Me Just One Reason

Ah, as I pen this post I’m surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday season.

Several weeks ago my husband and I climbed into the attic and trudged down with a bajillion boxes of Christmas decorations. There were wreaths, two trees, outside lights, centerpieces, stockings and fancy trappings of a holiday that seems to expand more and more each year. I dutifully fluffed branches, refastened glittering bows and searched for those darn ornament hooks (where DO those suckers disappear to every year?) And after a day and a half -and several trips to Lowes – I had festive, warm holiday décor from the guest bath to the front door. Christmas candles flickered almost in tune with the music streaming into the house via satellite radio. All was perfect, all was bright.

Except I felt nothing warm and festive.

In fact I actually had the thought (a very grinchy thought) that I wish Christmas wouldn’t come at all this year.

Yeah. First time EVER in my life I wished Christmas would have blown past without even honking its horn or tossing out a single gift.

Bah, humbug couldn’t touch what I felt. I wasn’t a Scrooge or a Grinch…or was I? I weathered the office party thrown at our house, bought all the Christmas gifts and wrapped them and still…nothing. I made gingerbread houses with the kids and faked the Christmas spirit the entire time, humming along to Bing and saying things like “Isn’t this fun?” But thing was…it wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me (and I won’t delve into my spiritual life because I KNOW very well what the true meaning of Christmas is). Was I tired? Had I finally grown up? Or maybe all the crap of Christmas blocked the joy for me.

I didn’t know.

Now, I know you’re thinking to yourself that this is supposed to be about writing. I’ll get there eventually, but first you have to hold on a bit more.

So this past weekend, I volunteered to take my 14 year old son and several of his friends down to New Orleans to see their high school play in the state football championship game. His historic high school has not been to the state championship in 51 years, so it was a big deal for the school. Almost everyone went down with cars painted purple and gold. Yellow Jackets were going to the Dome (Super Dome) and I was playing chaperone. And just like my attitude about Christmas, I was less than stoked. But I faked it. So we went to the game…and lost. And though I did enjoy cheering and wishing and praying the Jackets would pull off the upset, I wasn’t particularly emotional about the game. After very little sleep (did I mention five 14 year old boys?) we awoke and decided that before we headed home, we’d play a bit in the French Quarter. The day was cold but sunny, and after a terrific shrimp po’boy at Maspero’s and poking around the shops (and finding some cool historic NOLA t-shirts), we headed back to the ‘port (Shreveport). The five boys were in fine form, and -okay let me stop here and say this – my son has been particularly difficult lately. He’s been doing his whole independence thing which means he’s pretty much an ass most of the time. Those of you who have raised boys know this stage – they know everything, they disdain every suggestion you make and pretty much only need you when there are no more potato chips or they cut themselves shaving. So my former sweet-as-sugar, I-love-you-so-much-mommy boy has been not quite a horror show but close for the past five months. Okay, back to driving home. So we stopped and ate at Waffle House and after the boys got enough carbs and caffeine in their system, it was time to plug in the ox cord and sing.

Now this is totally crazy, but what happened over the next two hours changed my heart.

They started with regular teenage crap. You know, stuff that made me cringe. I had to decree no more music with the “F” word or one that called girls the word that rhymes with witch. And I didn’t care about freeing Lil Boosie. So then they moved on to Natasha Beddingfield. Yeah. They knew all the words. Then it was “Unwritten.” Honestly, I laughed till I cried. Then they went to John Denver’s “Country Road” and Celine Dion’s “The Heart Will Go On.” There was ecstatic moves to “All the Single Ladies” And as we exited off the interstate, finally home, they had saved the best song for last – “American Pie.” They knew ALL five minutes of the song.  It was several hours of sheer beauty. Not so great singing. But sheer wonderfulness.

And it was a good enough reason to have missed several hours of sleep, spent a couple hundo and failed at working on the novella I’d declared will be finished by Christmas.

Sometimes all we need is just one reason to smile. Just one reason to press on and to remember the good things in life…and in writing.

Writing is hard enough without worrying about the business of writing. If sitting down and writing a book that has great characterization, controlled pacing, brilliant plotting and hooks at the end of each chapter is hard, then releasing the book into the cold bitch world of publishing is the devil. You can control nothing and sometimes you feel as though you are washed up against rocks, your forehead tapping a rhythm against the wet sand. It’s hard and sometimes you wonder “Why am I doing this?” or you think “Why bother?”

But all you really need is one good reason. Maybe it’s cathartic and the only validation you need is the beauty of your own words. Or maybe it’s a contest final just when you wanted to trash the sonofabitch manuscript and call it quits. Or maybe it’s a reader letter that says just the right thing. Or a call from your agent telling you the editor wants to see the rest of the book. Or maybe its getting that first contract. Whatever it is, we writers exists for that one little reason to keep tapping away like a woodpecker on crack, creating, pouring our hearts into something worthwhile.

It’s a stretch. I know. Five kids singing “Drove my Chevy to the levee” made me feel good things were possible. Made me laugh. Made me look through the rain-spotted windshield and see the Christmas lights strung across houses in a different light. Perhaps it’s silly, but it was reason enough.

And, really, that all you need – just one reason to write your story today. Find that reason….and if you want me to send some silly 14 year old boys up to sing Cher (yeah, they did “Do You Believe in Love” too) I can arrange it for a fee.

Wishing you a happy holiday…and wishing you a bit of joy in the midst of the chaos!


Light in the Darkness

DEADLY BONDS, the third book in my romantic suspense Mindhunters series released today (hooray!). But rather than blog about the dark, chilling world of serial killers (as much as I enjoy writing villains), I’d like to focus on happier things. After all, despite the ominous vibes, my books are ultimately about hope and resilience. Light over darkness. Rainbows and puppies.

Okay, maybe you won’t find that last one in my books. But even in my characters’ dark world, light prevails and love conquers all.

The Power of Music – Rock on, Sistas!

Do you listen to music while you write?  It is my opinion that music is a great way to set the stage either before or during a writing session. It pumps up the volume to your creative talent. Heck, music can be used after a writing session like a victory lap. Think Chariots of heels guitar

Music is a great way to get your muse in the mood. Not unlike how sultry tunes rouse some couples into a romantic mood. Bow chicka wow wow.  The harmonies act as an accompaniment to any scene being written.

Take a moment to conjure up a favorite TV show. Theme songs like Law & Order, CSI, Friends, Cheers, and even SpongeBob immediately sets you in a disposition for what you are about to watch. You settle in expecting serious drama, quirky comedy or mind-numbing cartoonish entertainment (a guilty pleasure).

What would movies be without music stealthily layered into each scene?  Would the tension of hiding under the bed from an axe murderer be the same? How about swimming in the ocean, a showdown at noon or that first desperate kiss after nearly losing him/her? Music adds to the tone of the action on the screen. Star Wars, Titanic, The Lion King, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. These are blockbuster movies with music that evoke strong emotions.JAWS

Listening to music can stir your muse and put you in the right frame of mind for any particular scene you are committed to write. An adventure or high-anxiety scene requires a fast beat. A tender, poignant moment needs a softer melody. The music prepares you as your story unfolds with its own tracks playing in the background.

Those of us who use music with writing presumably have their preferences for what works. Some write while listening to an iPod. Some use music as background noise. I cannot write at all when I hear my favorite tunes. I spend far too much time singing and rocking out. Head banging or waving a lighter overhead is just plain counterproductive. I really like to sing and it’s not pretty. Instead, I listen to movie soundtracks from epic motion pictures such as The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. These songs reflect the overall tone of my manuscript and keep me centered in the action. It’s a bonus that I don’t bust out into a karaoke moment.lord-1-1

Authors will have their favorite musical genres to get them in the mood. Me – today’s alternative and hard rock music gets me revved up to write. Some of my favorite bands include Breaking Benjamin, Theory of a Deadman, and Shinedown. Generally, I  have 2 or 3 songs that I consider theme songs for each story. I know of authors who create whole soundtracks for their books. I can’t stress enough how music that means something can ramp up your excitement for a project.

For my first manuscript, The Dolphins Cry by Live fit perfectly as the novel’s theme song. If I ever had this novel optioned for a movie (hey – don’t laugh at my fantasy), this song would play at the end when my hero holds tightly to his heroine tucked under his arm. Whispers in the Dark by Skillet and What Have You Done Now? by Without Temptation are dueling theme songs for the second book in my pirate series. These songs define the emotional climate between the hero and heroine. The videos do not, but my impression of each song gives me the chills.guitar rose

There are many types of music to choose from as a companion to your creative endeavors. Here, I’ve listed a few possibilities. By no means is this list comprehensive, either in writing genre or type of music.

Adventurous – Soundtracks, Rock

Break-ups – Pop Rock, Adult Contemporary, Alternative, Rock, 80’s

Comedic – Adult Contemporary, Pop Rock, Broadway Musicals

Exotic locales – World beats, Tropical, Reggae

Historicals – Sub-genre specific music, i.e. Celtic, Classical, Soundtracks

Paranormal – Alternative, Rock, Goth, Metal

Single Title – Adult Contemporary, Pop Rock. Dance, Hip-Hop

Steampunk – Alternative, Rock, Grunge, Goth, Metal

Sultry Love Scenes – Latin, Jazz, Salsa

Suspense, Mystery – Alternative, Rock, Soundtracks

Sweet romance – Soft Rock, Love songs, Pop Rock, Easy Listening

Westerns – Country, Blue Grass, Folk

Young Adult – Teen pop, Alternative, College Indie, Pop Rock

Mix and match, the possibilities are endless.

Everyone has their own idea of what puts on the groove. Does music give you inspiration or is the sounds a distraction? What do you listen to?

Music to get you in the mood (to write a good sex scene)

Okay I admit it, next to producing a synopsis the thing I dread the most is writing sex scenes. Luckily I don’t write books that have a whole lot of sex in them, but there always comes that moment (about three quarters of the way into the book) where I have to insert tab A into slot B.

Music and The Muse

When was the last time you cried? For me, it was just a minute ago, when I listened to Kristen Chenoweth sing the bittersweet ‘Finale‘ from the Broadway musical “Wicked.”  There’s just something about the way her soprano lilts over the ominous harmonies and layered orchestration starting at (00:53) that makes my eyes sting EVERY DANG TIME I hear it:

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