Jan 6 2012 4:15pm

Rock On: Music in Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

Book and MP3 player image by Michael Casey via FlickrRetired music business ghoul that I am, you can imagine how music permeates every detail of my life. While I am not always on top of every new music release, I have been known to be Judgy McJudge when my friend’s music comes into question. I know it’s wrong, but hey...*shrug*.

A couple of years ago authors were starting to post their writing playlists, and I would look at them and judge assess.

It was interesting to see what song influenced them as they wrote my favorite characters; I remember looking at Kim Harrison’s play list for writing Kisten Phelps and getting all up in my judgy place when I saw Queens of the Stone Age listed. Oh no, please, Kim, not my Kisten...A similar occurrence took place when looking at Sherrilyn Kenyon’s playlist for Acheron. It’s hard not to judge when you have that background.

Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark HenryLately, I’ve noticed that characters actually listen to their favorite tunes within the book itself. I love this! It’s so personal.

The first book I remember seeing current music mentioned in was Mark Henry’s Happy Hour of the Damned. Snarkist and bitchfest protagonist Amanda Feral frequents a goth club called Mortuary where the playlist runs so dark, my black little soul jumped up with glee. Mortuary’s patrons get blasted with dark wave favorites such as, Cabaret Voltaire and Sisters of Mercy. Not your everyday club tunes.

In Stacia Kane’s Downside series, Terrible’s Chevelle radio belches classic punk tunes, like the Misfits’s “Skulls” and the Heartbreakers’s “Born to Lose.” This little snippet of information tells the reader reams about Terrible without saying it right out (he likes it loud, fast and dark). To create a scene filled with sex and steam, The Stooges’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” plays at the local dive Tricksters while Terrible pushes Chess up against a wall. That song totally creates the mood.

For a Few Demons More by Kim HarrisonIn the Hollows series, Kim Harrison has hottie Kisten Phelps calming down a bunch of riotous female vamps by dancing on stage to Rob Zombie’s “Living Deadgirl,” calming them so, he makes the whole club dance in time with him.

Recently I read a short story by authors Carrie Clevenger and Nerine Dorman about a blue-collar musician who happens to be a vampire. Xan Marcelles lives in the back woods of Colorado where he tries to stay out of trouble. Located in a bar in the middle of nowhere, the juke box in Pale Rider Tavern plays the likes of Danzig and Johnny Cash. These songs are little hints as to where the story is going. A full-length novel comes out in 2012, but you can download a little music and Xan for yourselves at Smashwords. It’s a fun read.

How could I write a piece about music in books and not mention my boys of the Black Dagger Brotherhood? Classical Italian opera and old skool rap figure largely into the plot of these stories. Phury and Zsadist prefer the traditional opera, while Vishous and Butch bounce to Ludacris and Tupac. During John Matthews’s mating ceremony Z even sings a U2 song. Who says these vamps aren’t well rounded musically?

A Brush of Darkness by Allison PangAbby Sinclair of Allison Pang’s A Brush of Darkness fame has an enchanted iPod that plays whatever is her whim. Let’s not forget sexy lead singer Ion of Ion’s Folly, who especially enjoys a good Tom Jones tune, singing my personal favorite, “Sex Bomb.” Fitting, don’t you think?

Even when the music isn’t part of the plot development it still pops up and sets the tone. Here are some of the more fun ones:

Jaye Wells’s Sabina Kane prefers Godsmack, while Sabina’s sidekick drag queen friend Pussy Willow enjoys a good classic Madonna tune. Nicole Peeler’s Jane True listens to the Killers nonstop, and Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan prefers a bit of Rodrigo y Gabriela and Mozart. Fifty Shades protag Christian Grey and girlfriend Anastasia like Van Morrison, along with some classical melancholy piano tunes.

Do you like it when music when contemporary music is filtered into your favorite story? Who do your fave characters listen to?

Book and MP3 player image by Michael Casey via Flickr

Synde Korman talks music and books on her website Tombstone Tails, along with creating a line of literary jewelry on her etsy site Cemetery Cat Designs.

When she’s not herding cats or creating art, she works as a part-time bookseller. You can find her on twitter as @psynde.

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1. shyhyatt
Current references in books can really date them. When I read a good book I want to be able to reread it in 5 years without feeling that it is out of date. Listing popular music of today that is going to be an obscure reference for the reader down the road always throws me. Particularly when I am the one reading the obscure refence.
Synde Korman
2. SyndeKorman
Shyhyatt- sorry you don't like it.. But correct me if I am wrong... most people listen to all kinds of music... for instance...mozart or scriabin are not contemporary...but if a character listens to them does that throw you?
I listen to stuff on my ipod that dates from the 40's to now.. I think that in general people are like that... if you get pulled out of a book that easily...then likely the book isn't for you...
3. J_L
I'm with Shyhyatt. Seeing specific music in UF/Paranormal really annoys me and can throw me out of the story. First, it seems like a lazy way of creating atmosphere when good writing could accomplish the same thing. It's like describing a character by saying he looks just like Brad Pitt. Second, I can't help but judge the music, especially when I think it's cheesy or just plain bad music (hey - everyone has their own tastes and sometimes we have to agree to disagree). It's kind of like overdescribing a character's fashion sense down to the stitching. Too much specifity and it doesn't allow a reader to use their imagination. Third, in books set in alternative worlds, it just plain doesn't make sense to have music from our world playing. I appreciate how Stacia Kane does it - only real music playing via recording can exist in her series, but if it's a live bad, it's one she's made up. Fourth, it's often the case that the writer is putting too much of themselves into the character in their music tastes. Honestly, who includes music they don't listen to in their books? Probably very few. Just because the writer likes it, doesn't mean it fits with the character they've written.

I'm not sure it's fair to blame the reader for being pulled from a story for something like music tastes. There are lots of things that pull readers from stories, but it doesn't mean the reader can't enjoy the rest of the book. Too much telling vs. showing and casual sexist or racist language also pull me from a story, but these aren't necessarily 'my fault' either. What works for one reader can totally alienate another. That's the risk the author takes when including something as personal as specific bands rather than speaking about general types of music and letting the reader fill in the blanks.
4. Carrie Clevenger
Great feature, I'll have to check out these other books. Let me also mention Jeri Smith-Ready's WVMP (vampire) series. The chapters themselves are song titles and the books are full of discreet and obvious musical references.
Synde Korman
5. SyndeKorman
Carrie- Love Jeri Smith Ready ..her books are some serious fun...
Pony Lauricella
6. Pony
I don't like the musical choices of a lot of characters in books, but that certainly doesn't alienate me from them. One of my favorite characters ever listens to some stuff I can't stand- (Mac from the Fever series) but I love her anyway. ;) I figure if they like the same music I do, that's always fun... but really, it's just music- I don't see it as a big deal.
Synde Korman
7. SyndeKorman
thanks Pony! glad you made it over here... I absoluetly agree..
and yeah Mac's taste..urgh
8. Wookiesgirl
Fantastic post!

I love when the books I read have the characters listening to music. Having music adds to the life of the character and makes them more real, in my opinion... Kind of like when an author remembers to have them eat? People eat, so should the characters. It may be a fictional book, but that doesnt mean it shouldn't emulate real life whenever possible.

In fact, the more real life that character becomes, the more I love them... Even if they are paranormal. Speaking of that, I have to give a shoutout to the Brotherhood! I don't listen to a whole lot of rap, however when V (he's my favorite) and Butch are bumpin' to the more hardcore stuff, it makes me want to go buy the CD.

I also love it when an author posts a playlist with the songs they listened to while writing the book. It's a peek into their creative mind and what got and kept them motivated as they laid down their words.

Movies have soundtracks, and I adore those, why shouldn't books?

Thanks for the post!
9. Lege Artis
Oh, whenever Terrible was in his Chevelle he was listening some great punk... I remember how I was thinking to myself whilw reading :" I have to get that CD for my car!" Brings nice memories, I guess....
10. ChelseaMueller
I'm one of those who loves pop culture references in books. I know we're not "supposed" to, but I adore it. Especially if being heavily into music is part of the character's development. It would be weird for a big music fan not to reference the band.

The music from Stacia's series more reflects my personal tastes, but I love the visual of Butch and V blasting rap.
Synde Korman
11. SyndeKorman
thanks Chelsea! I don't listen to rap much either, no matter what V tells me to do..(ahem..)
But yeah...I love the whole thought of music in books... LOVE IT
12. Carol M.
Very cool post, Synde. I do like it when characters in UF are either lsitening to music, or talking about music. The only time it gets kind of weird is when a character I really like makes a derogatory comment about a band or type of music I enjoy.

On a related note, have you listened to The Unforgiving by Within Temptation? It's pretty much a UF novel in music. There is a companion graphic novel series.
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