There have been a lot of blog posts from writerly types discussing the idea of putting playlists with their novels so that readers could listen to the music that inspired the author during the act of composition. Some authors have included a lists of songs and artists in their books. Some have put together lists on iTunes and linked the songs to their blogs. Others have proposed including a CD of the music to save the reader the trouble of looking for the individual songs, an idea that promises to provide a lot of headaches for publishers in the future as authors haggle for the rights to include the music.

A lot of these writers stick with a certain genre of music. For example, Stephen King has repeated expressed his love for hard rock and heavy metal accompaniment while he spins his tales of horror. Others tend to vary the music according to the mood of the scene they are writing. A love scene may require some Luther Vandross or Barry White while a fight scene may take the entire soundtrack to the movie 300. Regardless, every person’s choice of music says something very personal about that person, writer or otherwise. The music that inspires and entertains us opens a window to the public that allows them to see what we value and how we see the world when we look out that same open window.

I’m taking a moment as I near the halfway mark of my new novel and am looking at the music I have listened to while I’ve been writing. I have eclectic tastes and the only thing I can figure out from these choices is that I am very fucked up.

Here’s a mostly-complete playlist of the music I’ve listened to while working on Project Superhero:

Elton John–I’m not gay, but I still enjoy his music, even at 60+ years old. More than Sir Elton’s part, though, I love the stories that Bernie Taupin gives him to sing–all surreal, all fantastic, all perfect for his career musical collaborator

Bob Marley–Particularly of late, I’ve been down with reggae, an odd choice as the music is mostly upbeat and the scenes I’ve been writing over the past few weeks have really grabbed my character by the short hairs.

Stevie Wonder–Again, upbeat music for a mostly downtrodden story. I love Stevie, though, so he stays.

Various Jazz–Duke, Miles, Dizzy, Ella . . . yeah, dig it.

Spanish Guitar–Bought a 2-CD set of instrumental music last year and have damn near worn the thing out

Various classical–Mozart, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, and Vivaldi mostly. I have several others that I mix in, but those are the ones I keep going back to.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young–WTF? I don’t even like their music.

Various Christmas–This is more of a prep for a later project, but it still feels awkward jamming to Destiny’s Child singing “Opera of the Bells” while mowing the grass in 95 degree heat.

James Bond themes–Bought another instrumental CD and it’s gotten a lot of play.

Jabali Afrika–An African choral group that came to nearby Bethel College not too long ago. My wife bought a CD and I’ve stuck it onto my bedside table. Again, really too upbeat for what I’m writing, but great sound nonetheless.

27b-6–A college band consisting of members my wife knows from college. They play a funky sorta music that is really too good to be a college band, but they’ve all moved on to other projects. We saw them last year at a local event for a reunion of sorts, but I don’t know of any plans to do so on a permanent basis. I wish they would. My wife bought one of their cd’s nearly ten years ago and I’ve adopted it as one of my favorite sources of writing music.

Beatles–The number 1’s CD, especially “Paperback Writer”

Broadway Tunes–Particularly the score from Rent–the music is fantastic. I’m also big on Phantom, as we used nearly the whole score as our wedding music, and Cats.

George Michael–Faith. Forget the bathroom shit. I don’t care. The man can sing.

Various others–I even mix in a little current music (gasp!) like Brooks and Dunn, Rihanna, Big and Rich, Maroon 5, and several others from just about any station you want to find on the radio.

See? I told you.

Anyway, I’m always on the search for more music to add to my collection. Speaking of which, I just found this CD of German drinking and beer garden songs . . .

Hmmm . . . anyone up for a cold one?

I’m currently reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. Telling the story of two Jewish cousins who develop popular comic books in pre-World War II New York, Chabon spins a tell that is both fantastic and grounded so well in history that it’s hard not to feel as though you’re living in that time.

The thing that strikes me most about Chabon’s writing, however, is how closely it matches the way I would like to write. In both style and content, Kavalier and Clay displays how I envision myself writing under the best possible circumstances. Chabon’s narration is sublime, his description is vivid, and his dialogue–one of my biggest pet peeves with most writers–is spot-on realistic. He pays attention to all the details as a writer that I pay attention to as a reader and to find such a match, like meeting a soul mate, is joy almost beyond imagination. For me, there is a comfort in reading Chabon that I rarely find because it feels like reading my own writing, only perfect. I want to write that way.

Another endearing quality about Chabon is his belief that the traditional lines between literary and genre fiction should be blurred, if not erased altogether. He is a major genre fiction apologist and a contributor to the notion that enriching literature can also contain elements beyond what we would consider realistic. Other writers such as Jonathan Lethem and Susanna Clarke, both critically acclaimed and gifted authors, provide further evidence for this view, that good reads and good fantasy can be one and the same. Chabon, Lethem, Clarke, and so many others are only a step away from the wave of up and coming urban fantasy authors that garner little more than upturned noses from those insistent on separating literature and modern fiction. Even with authors like Cormac McCarthy, whose Pulitzer-winning The Road tells of an undefined apocalypse with elements of horror and science fiction, there are more and more authors who blend a literary approach to language with a nod to the surreal situations found in genre writing.

The success of these authors is what inspires me. I, too, believe that tales of the fantastic, the supernatural, the futuristic, and the horrible can be told in elegant, beautiful, moving prose. The most difficult part of this belief, though, is having to describe my writing to someone else. My current work-on-submission, Dead and Dying, is a vampire novel, but to me, more importantly, it is a story about friendship and loss and the many things in life more terrible than death. I could say it’s a horror novel, but that would only be partly true. I could also say it’s literary or mainstream, with the added bonus of the undead, but that again does not tell the entire story. Classifying my book in query letters to agents has been a real challenge for me. I settled upon “literary horror” because, frankly, I didn’t know how else to describe it, but even this seems just off the mark. I just hope that the agents who read my queries can understand my categorization and find it moderately consistent with what I have written.

So, I’ll continue reading Kavalier and Clay with the pure pleasure that comes with enjoying a really good book. I’m not concerned with how to classify it, but that is the last thing I’m worried about. As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of novels–interesting ones and not-so-interesting ones–and genre, or lack thereof, makes no difference to me. All I want, whether reading or writing, is a good story.

Work on Project Superhero took off last night and I ended up with about 3200 words in barely under two hours of writing, a pretty damn good day for me. I’m past 40,000 now and very close to the end of part one where I jump ahead fifteen years in the story. Hopefully, I’ll finish the chapter tonight that I started last night. I have a good feeling about the rest of the book, so we’ll see if it goes the way I hope.

. . . is made by Nerf. Seriously. As I sit compulsively staring at my inbox as though I can will the agents reading my manuscript to feel my anxiety and respond, I have been enjoying the pleasures of my son’s Nerf basketball hoop, conveniently hung in our new study over the laundry room door. I can sit watching my email remain empty for hours on end while thoroughly exhausting myself with a little foam ball and plastic hoop. I should be going through the boxes piled up on the other side of the room like drifting snow, but instead I contort my body into all sorts of odd positions in an attempt to add new levels of difficulty to hitting a basket two feet from my head.

Geez, I’m pathetic.

I am still writing, though. Project Superhero continues to come along at a nice clip and I should finish part one within the next week or so. Based on what I know about the second half of the story (which, for those of you who don’t write or, worse, use an outline), I think it will progress quickly. Lately, I’ve been able to get my 1000 words in roughly 45 minutes to an hour each night, regardless of which project I’m working on. It feels good to be in that kind of flow, to know that no matter what story I decide to work on in a given session, I’ll be able to produce that kind of output. I’ve been reading the blogs of other writers who tell of their dread of deadlines and the added pressure success has added to their lives and, while I would love to have these problems, I still take a certain amount of pleasure in knowing that I’m still free to choose without worrying about the expectations of other people. I can write what I want to write, when I want to write it, because there’s not one damned person around to tell me I can’t.

On a related topic, I’m always amazed at the number of people who tell me that they would love to write a novel, but don’t have the time to devote to it. “I’m a great writer,” they say, “and I have this wonderful story idea, but I’m just too busy to sit down and write it.”

You’re too busy, huh? Really?

I work as a manager for a large pharmacy chain. My job requires a minimum of 44 hours per week, not including the half-hour lunches I take each day. Where I work is nearly an hour away from where I live and writing while I’m driving, as much as I would love to use that stretch of time, is out. I’m a bad enough driver as it is. I also have a wife and four children, two who live with me and two who don’t. Having any children eats up a lot of time, and there is no better way to spend time than with your kids, but they don’t care that daddy wants to write a book. They want daddy to jump them on the trampoline until their noses bleed from the high altitude. They want daddy to help them with homework. They want daddy to fix them bagels with cream cheese, then sneak them ice cream behind their mother’s back. I do all these things without hesitation and, more importantly, without remorse for the time I’m not spending writing. I will always have stories to tell, but my children will not be with me forever. I also have a wife who, even after almost nine years of me, still wants to spend time with me. I could not ask for a partner more supportive of my dreams and more willing to read my crazy stories, but there are times she wants me to step away from the keyboard and acknowledge that she exists. Again, I watch movies with her, help her with dinner, even just lie around in the bed after the kids have gone off to school without thinking of how many words I’m not writing while I’m spending time as her husband.

I also have other interests. I read a lot–a vital part of any prospective writer’s life–and, thanks to the wonderful proliferation of audiobooks, I manage to use my drive time to help me out with that part. Off all the books I read in a given year, probably half of them are on tape or cd (see my previous post on audiobooks for more on this) and I love the experience of listening to a good story. There is still something magical about the spoken word, something that appeals to the primitive parts of my mind (yes, I know, I’m male, they’re all primitive) that recalls an age when all stories were shared through speech rather than writing. I play tennis when I can and, sometimes, video games when I can’t. I’ve even acquired a treadmill to help me work off the spare tire that seems to have settle around my middle just north of my belt. I browse the internet, particularly sites and blogs having to do with publishing. I enjoy music and sports and board games and, occasionally, even the company of friends.

And yet, despite my schedule, which is just as busy or more so than anyone else’s, I find time to write. I do it because I want to be published, yes, but it’s more than that. I do it, every single day, to prove to myself that I can. Every time a writer sits down to compose is a sacrifice, not only of time, but also of self. Writing is hard. It’s lonely. There is an endless list of other things that I could be doing, but I choose instead to make up stories, something that requires discipline and time, two things most people have precious little of and, what they do have, they often waste.

I prefer not to waste my time. I pack in as much as possible into every day, most often sacrificing sleep in the process. There may come a time when I can follow William Styron’s daily schedule–sleep until noon, lie in bed thinking for an hour, get up and dressed, write until the wee hours–but that time is not now. For example, it is nearly three o’clock in the morning as I write this. Once I post this, I’ll open up one of my current projects and still pump out my thousand words before I fall asleep, knowing that my kids will be up in a few hours, climbing up on top of me and prying my eyes open, asking for breakfast. And will I get them breakfast? Okay, not if I can convince my wife to do it, but it’s likely that such attempts will fail and I’ll get up anyway, eager to spend time with the children I’ve not seen most of this week due to their school schedules.

I’m busy, but I still write novels. It’s something I want to do and I’m willing to do what it takes to meet my daily goals. Someone telling me they don’t have the time to write is really telling me that they don’t want to write. They want to have written, but don’t we all want the reward without doing the work? Don’t we all hope for the dessert before the vegetables? The grinning lottery official showing up at the door when we never purchased a ticket? What these people miss is that sometimes, and especially for me, the work is it’s own reward. Even if I never get published (hopefully, that’s not going to happen), I will not say that my time writing has been time wasted. Wasting time would be sitting in front of a computer all day while my children play in the backyard without me or while my wife watches a movie alone, wondering if I would think it’s as funny as she does.

So, don’t waste your time. Use it. Even if it’s just playing Nerf basketball while you wait for your dreams to come true, make the most of it. There’s not enough of it to go around.