A Powerful Playlist for ‘A Turn of Light’


Julie Czerneda author photoBy Julie E. Czerneda

Indoors, in my office, I rarely work to silence. Speakers hang on the wall to either side of my monitor; there’s a formidable and well-loved subwoofer by my feet; and, in a pinch, I’ve a nice set of headphones, though I’d far rather rock the house a bit, thank you. What do I listen to as I work? Well, that depends.

I have a playlist called “Julie’s Power Ups.” The music in it does just that. My pulse quickens. I bounce and feel like dancing (which I love). Sing, if I’m so inclined. These songs are great for stirring up my creative juices when I’m tired. They help me ignore how much I don’t feel like doing that icky something that must get done. Accounting. Clearing out my inboxes. An article I’m not finding easy to write. “Power Ups” is a changeable beast, since new songs make me smile and thus must be added. I remove any we find particularly fun on a Friday night. When you work for yourself, you learn not to over mix business and pleasure.

Today’s “Julie’s Power Ups” are:

1. Uprising by Muse

2. Rolling in the Deep by Adele

3. Low Rider  by War

4. Right Round by Flo Rida

5. Sexy and I know It by the Glee cast

6. Poker Face by Lady GaGa

7. Gangnam Style by Psy

These aren’t songs I listen to while writing, mind you. They’re far too distracting.

For writing, I tend to find a soundtrack or combination of soundtracks that works for a certain book and stick to it. Literally. I put it on repeat for months. (Occasionally, I’ll come out of an hour’s writing sure I’d been listening to music only to find I’d been playing it only in my head. Oh well. Still works.) It’s far more than white noise. What I do is use the music as a cue to focus on this story, right now, no matter what. The sound gives me an invaluable continuity too, since I’m not at my desk or in the same story at the same time each day, or even every day. This all seems very methodical and scientific, but in truth I play anything at all until at some point in the writing, I realize what I like — what doesn’t interfere — has narrowed to one set of songs.

Why soundtracks? I love the storytelling inherent in them, the rush of excitement, the humour, the poignant moments, because it’s done without voice. Lyrics distract me when I’m writing fiction so I avoid them (with exceptions I’ll explain later). Most soundtracks are also recorded so the volume can be left at a reasonable level and you can still hear it all, which isn’t the case for many of the classical tracks I’ve tried. I remember listening to Holst’s The Planets once, with the volume set so I could enjoy Mercury, only to be blown out of my chair by Jupiter. Not the pulse racing I’d been after.

I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have had the glorious Lord of the Rings movie soundtracks come out in time for each to become part of the writing of my Species Imperative trilogy. I acknowledge my debt to that music in the front, btw. The Pirates of the Caribbean trio were the backdrop to most of Stratification, although every so often I needed Taiko drumming. (I don’t argue with myself, I just switch the music.)

I should point out, because most of my readers know, that when I finish a book I inform the family (and neighbourhood) by blasting Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf throughout the house.

A Turn of Light CoverFor A Turn of Light I struggled at first to find the right music. (Didn’t help that my library was lost, twice, to hard drive crashes.) I wanted something different. We bought various soundtracks and I’d try them a while. The music from Batman was evocative, but the volume was too variable for my needs. Ah, then I discovered the music from Dr. Who. I thought my problem solved, but alas the soundtrack was perfect for our Friday night parties. I put aside all but the 2006 season for that noble purpose and kept looking.

Torchwood, Children of Earth. I wrote for months to that one. Then I added the Star Trek soundtrack. And the Bourne Identity. Months more. I added Princess Mononoke. Finally, someone suggested How To Tame Your Dragon.

It was Turn. While I slipped between all the above, most of the middle of the book was written to the “Your Dragon.”

The final chapters, the drive to the ending and all revisions afterwards were written to this playlist.

1. Main title from A Game of Thrones soundtrack

2. The Prince of Persia soundtrack opening theme

3. Alice’s Theme (Alice in Wonderland soundtrack)

4. The Kraken (Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack)

5. Uprising by Muse*

6. The Legend of Ashitaka (Princess Mononoke soundtrack)

7. The Battle (Gladiator soundtrack)

8. Everything Changes (Torchwood: Children of Earth soundtrack)

9. Forth Eorlingas (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack)

10. Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity (The Planets)

11. Rolling in the Deep (Adele)*

* Oh, my no-lyric preference? I put in Muse and Adele to remind myself to stand up and stretch. Or at least to look up from the screen. Important for a writer.

There was another exception to my no-lyric preference. I was about a month into writing Turn when this song came on the radio while I was stopped at a red light: Bring Me To Life by Evanescence.

Of course I’d heard it before, but not in a moment when I could actually listen. I almost didn’t move on the green light. This was my character’s voice. My dragon. Wisp.

Turn is a light-hearted, romantic fantasy with toads. That doesn’t mean there isn’t darkness or a heart-wrenching thread laced through it. Wisp. I began to play Bring Me To Life whenever I wrote or reread the passages dealing Wisp and felt, somehow, I needed to hear him. To remind myself of where he came from and the journey he would take. It became a theme song for the entire book. Whenever I doubted, my always-perceptive Roger would pour us wine, turn down the lights, and put that song on the house speakers. (We like our music.)

And I’d believe again.

My entire life, I’ve enjoyed listening to music, I’ve danced and I’d sing, even played the piano in a family of very musical folk. I’ve not had one song come to define how I felt about an entire project before, but I’m not surprised.

However you use it, music is powerful stuff.


  1. Posted March 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Great playlists, the two are really different but interesting. I sometimes play music softly as background music when doing my homework lol, it helps me concentrate and get things done quicker.

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Van! Different they are. I’m busy adding more to my writing one. Any suggestions?

  2. Julie Page
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Main title from Game of Thrones…excellent! Bring Me to Life – yes. Often I get “lost” in the music when watching a movie. String instruments seems to really draw me in. Soundtracks also make an excellent background to reading a good book. Turn is one of them :)

    As I read (almost finished) Turn, I wonder in my head and add music to the Harvest dancing.

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      ::beams:: Thanks, Julie! Strings are great. I’ve also a soft spot for french horns.
      And very glad you’re enjoying.

  3. Paul Baughman
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting Julie. I have the same problem with volume differences across an album; the Planets is one I have run into also. I have never tried soundtracking a story I am working on, but maybe I should try it.

    • Posted April 8, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      I look forward to any suggestions you have, Paul. We writers should share, yes?

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Julie E. Czerneda

Julie E. Czerneda publishes science fiction with DAW Books NY. She’s the author of the Clan Chronicles and the Esen and Her Web series among others. Her new novel, A Turn of Light, is her first in the fantasy genre, also from DAW/ Penguin Canada. The setting, Marrowdell, is based on pioneer settlements in Ontario. There are toads. (photo credit Roger Czerneda)