I’m one of those authors who likes to write to music. Every book I write has a theme song, and beyond that, each character has their own special songs. More may be employed for writing certain scenes or locations, but those two things always exist above all.
The overarching song for What Boys Are Made Of is, of course, Barton Hollow.
Imagine this playing over that opening fight scene, and there you have my vision of the first half of the book.
The twang, the grit under your fingernails, the creepy religious undertones.
“Can’t no preacher man save my soul.”
So beyond that, what about these songs for each character?
Glad you asked.
1 Erin: “If I could run a hundred miles, I’d still be so far from anywhere worthwhile.”
Erin always has been, always will be written to the song “Middle of Nowhere” by Sarah Miles.
This is one of those songs I don’t even know how I found. It never got popular (though it should have) and the video’s a bit rubbish (which is a pity) but the song is fantastic. It only has 31k views, and I’m pretty sure 500 of them are me.
2 Art: “I heard your voice through a photograph. I thought it up and brought up the past.”
Art is a bit of a funny one. I don’t know how much readers realize it, but Art is out and and out a psychopath. Back when Mick was a PoV character, this got a bit more emphasis, because of anyone, Mick knows Art. And we get to know him a little bit better in All Roads Lead to Hell, as a former member of Sherman’s Scalpers.
But really, we knew that in book 1. Art makes no bones about the fact that he took scalps. He has his own morality, as Grace finds out. I wonder, in the end, how relieved she was to realize he was dead?
Okay, I’ve never actually watched the music video before and it’s weird as hell. But the song is on point.
3 Grace: “Thought I’d make a stand; only made a scene.”
Grace believes in God. She believes what she learned in Sunday school. She believes Jesus sees all.
But more than that, Grace believes in herself. When she sees injustice, she believes her judgement is perfectly righteous. That’s why she has no qualms with helping Erin, and eventually with killing Petrowski; it must be done, so she will do it. Grace is not afraid of hard work or those who disagree with her.
4 Taylor: “Then she touched my hand, told me I should be her man.”
Oh, Taylor. One day he does the right thing, the next day he does the exact wrong one. The very definition of the word “coward,” Taylor has dedicated his life to saving his own skin. I think Taylor fervently wishes his life was a rap video, if he’s ever seen one, which I’m not sure he has. For all his tough talk, he was barely in elementary school when the war started, and his education is pretty sparse.
Really, these songs are far more about the character’s self-perception than they are about what I actually think of them. Because if it were up to what I think, Taylor’s not so much 3oh!3 as he is, well.
“He’s getting a tattoo, yeah, he’s getting it done…”
“Honestly, Burkes, you’re the only person who could make joining Petrowski the second worst decision of the week.”
Oh, Taylor. You did the right thing in the end, but you very nearly didn’t, and you don’t understand what it cost you. And you never will. That’s the saddest part of it all.
5 Simon: “I can’t pretend that I’m a better man. I’d do anything but you can’t crush me.”
Simon has half a dozen songs I listened to, and half dozen more that will always be him.
I tried so hard to pull a quote from this for the title and nearly succeeded, but in the end “A Better Man” was just the title of way too many other books.
“Pain is what they use as the bait to tame me.”
Honestly I think both these songs, if you can understand the lyrics (and I know that’s difficult with the singer’s accent) express Simon’s desire to be better than he’s being molded to become. Really, half the reason he starts those fights with Art, with Connor, is because he wants to be defeated. He wants someone to take him out before he does something worse than killing a stranger: before he’s the reason for someone he loves getting hurt. Simon has never wanted power. He fears he’ll abuse it.
He fears for good reason.
Honestly, there aren’t any lyrics that I would particularly pick out, more the feeling of this song.
(I put up a lyrics video instead of the actual one because the actual one freaks me out a bit.)
What has to be remembered is that of the three who decided to leave Buchell the night of the fight, all separately believed they’d die in the attempt, and all believed the risk worth it.
What Connor forfeited by leaving is killing Simon. Seems like an easy choice, right? But you have to ask what he’d have gotten for killing Simon. What he was promised in return.
Connor was promised everything. Power. Prestige. Security.
And who’s to say he wouldn’t have gotten it? Having shown the world exactly where his loyalties lie, Connor could have been exulted. If only not for one thing: he can’t kill.
Not that he hasn’t, but he can’t do it. Not in cold blood.
Jeff Petrowski is an effective villain because he’s smart and he’s good at reading people. No random psycho is he, no; he can strike hard and fast, or pull back and wait. He doesn’t need instant gratification. Mistakes are few and far between, ruthlessly corrected when found. Mistaking Connor for a killer was the last one he ever made.
And if you’d known that on page one, the journey would have been a very different one. If you’d known what Erin was hiding, and what Mick did in the war and what would make Grace snap and that Taylor had cold blood running through his veins, how different the read would be.
Maybe I’ll do another post soon on the songs for book 2. Hope you enjoyed this one!
I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. I write about white generationally-poor Appalachians dealing with the sort of everyday monsters our society is so good at producing. And apparently I’m good at it.
Slightly worrying sometimes, that.
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Thanks for reading.
3 thoughts on “Music in Writing Part 1: What Boys Are Made Of”
Fun! Glad I’m not the only one who has soundtracks for his/her novels. (See https://david-michael-williams.com/2013/07/10/stories-songs-make-beautiful-music-together/ as well as https://david-michael-williams.com/2015/08/21/celebrating-a-writing-milestone-listen-up/)
Having just finished the next book in my series (“If Dreams Can Die”), I’m pretty sure I could just use the entire “Plans” album by Death Cab For Cutie.
Thanks for sharing!
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Love, love, love this. Love hearing the music that feels like the characters to you as well as the additional background and thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to let us see this.
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Music weaves its way into the writing process in different ways for different people. Catching a glimpse of how you combine music and writing was interesting and cool, to say the least! Thank you for sharing! 😀
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