Playlist for a Jazz-Age Dieselpunk Fantasy

Music is always one of my go-to sources of inspiration, and whenever I’m working on a story I put together a playlist of music and songs. Right now I’m working on a dieselpunk/historical fantasy series set in 1920s Los Angeles. A lot of my selections are not necessarily from the 1920s; since I’m writing historical fantasy, I don’t mind deviating from exact historical accuracy, especially for my personal playlist. I just want to evoke a flavor and mindset of the Roaring 20s to help immerse me in the glittering magical world of Mrs. Jones.

So here is some music to write by:

Theme from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

I love this show, and it’s a fun way to get myself into Roaring 20s mode. While I’m not writing murder mysteries and my heroine is no Phryne Fisher (though they do have a few things in common), the music is a great thing to have on my playlist.

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Stories that Make Me Happy

For this week’s post, I’m publishing a bit later in the week than I normally do because I’m participating in the Classic Movie Ice Cream Social blog-a-thon, hosted by Movies Silently. While I must confess that I haven’t watched a great many silent films, I thoroughly enjoy reading the blog, and I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling as it’s done through the vehicle of silent film. 

A good story is a good story, in my opinion, whether it’s a book, a musical, a comic, a silent film, a poem, or a song. So for this blog-a-thon, I’m sharing two of my favorite classic films that I think not only tell a good story, but just plain make me feel happy.

The Wizard of Oz

I’ve blogged about The Wizard of Oz numerous times before, because, well, it’s The Wizard of Oz. I love all of Baum’s Oz books, and I love the musical Wicked, but for me what started it all was watching the classic 1939 movie on TV as a kid. I know I’m dating myself here, but when I was really little, The Wizard of Oz would air on network TV once a year, and the whole world (or at least my family) would drop everything for the evening and watch it. We had two television sets (I know, we were big time), and thankfully one of them was a color set. Ah, that magical moment when Dorothy opens the door of her dingy house into the brightly colored world of Oz! Of course I now have the movie on DVD and can watch it any time I want, but it always takes me back to the special days when it was a rare treat. Continue reading

Music to Write By: Genres and Music

If you know me or have been reading my blog for a while, then you know that music is very important to me and is one of my greatest sources of inspiration. Not only that, but a lot of the stories I write tend to involve music in some way.

I have playlists for each story that I’m working on. I don’t usually listen to music while I’m actually writing, but any time I’m brainstorming, researching, or just doing daily activities like driving I will put on my playlist for my current project. I always seem to be juggling two or three story ideas in my head at any point in time (not to mention thinking about my blog, the writing I do for my job, and just thinking about life in general). So I find that having specific playlists that relate to specific stories really helps me to not only get in the mood to write, but keeps my brain focused on what I want to focus on at any point in time.

And just so you can understand why I need separate playlists for all my projects, here is a sampling. I write a wide variety of stories/genres, and therefore the music reflects that. I actually don’t have a “general writing music” playlist; the music needs to be story and world specific.

Genre: Portal Fantasy – inspired by Finnish folktales

This is the Kalevala-inspired fantasy trilogy that I’ve been working on for a few years now. Book one is in its third draft, and is currently on the back burner while I’m working on other projects. I will pick this trilogy up again later this year, and when I do, I’ll use music like this classic song by the Finnish folk group Värttinä to get me into the right mindset:

I’ll also be listening to songs like this one by Sami singer Soffia Jannok, or instrumental Scandinavian folk music by Gjallarhorn.

Genre: High Fantasy – stories of sword and sorcery Continue reading

Four Things

This week I’m stealing my blog topic from my friend Jessica over at Chronically Vintage. She’s a lovely person and blogs about vintage fashion, which is something I knew little about until I started writing historical fiction.

Anyway, the idea of this post is to not talk about writerly stuff per se, but rather to reveal some slightly more personal things about me. So here we go – four things about me: Continue reading

Talent or Persistence – Which is more Important for a Writer?

Most people would agree that writing well takes talent. Some people are gifted with a great singing voice, some people are gifted with a mind for numbers and equations, and some people are gifted with words.

But is talent or gifting the only requisite to becoming a great writer – or even an average writer? The most talented singer out there had to learn how to carry a tune, the most talented mathematician wasn’t born knowing how to count to one hundred. And the most talented writers started out by scribbling down a poorly-spelled variation of “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Talent is important for an inherently artistic pursuit like writing – whether you’re writing poetry, science fiction, or blog posts. But you’ll probably never be a great writer – or a famous writer – without persistence. Continue reading

Music and Dance and Predictable Plots: Storytelling at its Finest

I love a good story. And whenever I find a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, a comic, or something else, I often try to analyze it to figure out what it was about the story that made it so good. I’d like to think that this practice has helped me as a writer and storyteller – if I know what makes someone else’s story good, then I can incorporate those techniques into my own writing.

One of my favorite examples to study is the 90s sci-fi TV show Babylon 5, which I have blogged about repeatedly. That is one of the best examples of epic fantasy storytelling, which is my first and biggest love when it comes to stories (to both read/watch and to write). But lately I’ve been absorbing a very different kind of storytelling: the musical comedy movies of the 1930s. 

No epic fantasy tales to be found here in these musical slapstick adventures. In fact, most of these films follow the same basic plot structure and feature the same kinds of characters and story elements or tropes. Original they’re not. So what makes them such good stories? 

Side note: most of the movies I’ve been watching are the films of the Marx Brothers, and the films starring the dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I know there were plenty of dramatic and non-musical movies made in the 30s, but let’s save a discussion of King Kong or Gone with the Wind for another post.

Romance. This is really nothing new, and certainly not exclusive to the comedies of the 30s. But whether romance was a subplot (like in most of the Marx Brothers movies, since none of them played the romantic leads) or the main plot (as in most of Fred and Ginger’s movies), it’s an ever-present idea. Everyone loves a good love story – it’s one of the oldest and most universal storytelling ideas and it stands the test of time.

Music and dancing. Because, you know, these were musicals. Telling a story through music is also an old and universal idea. Music, like stories, has the power to communicate things about life that ordinary methods can’t match. Also, during this time period most Americans were suffering the effects, great or small, of the Great Depression. A story of happy romance and singing and dancing was more than entertainment – it was a needed respite from a crushing reality.

Archetypal character roles. Complex character development was not really big in these old movies. In fact, you always know the role and basic personality of every main character the moment they show up on screen: the dashing bachelor (Fred Astaire), the career gal with no interest in romance (Ginger Rogers), the crotchety but brilliant con man (Groucho Marx), the inept girl-chasers who wind up saving the day (Chico and Harpo Marx), and so forth. Of course this is largely due to the fact that in these movies I’m discussing, the actors had a “screen persona” that they carried throughout their movies. These stories were never intended to be rich, character-driven explorations of the human condition. The lighter elements of the story were the focus, so little time was spent developing complex characters.

Comedic storyline with predictable plot. Frequently the plot in these movies involved some sort of mistaken identity, with predictable hilarity and unrealistic results. I’m not sure why this was such a common idea, but I can see how this sort of plot would provide the audience with a sense of power, because they knew something the characters didn’t. To the average citizen during the Depression who was at the mercy of uncontrollable circumstances, a brief moment of even fictional power could be very appealing.

Certainly not every good story has to have all (or any) of these elements. But it’s fun to see how these basic elements were used over and over to tell predictable stories that we still enjoy 80 years later.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is comedy, romance, and dancing all in one package: