Music’s influence on my writing process - “Liminal Space”

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, so I thought I’d go with something that struck me a few days ago.

As happens on occasion, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a powerful scene that demanded I write it down. It was one of those things that burns in my mind and won’t let go until I jot down at least the basics. So, I got up and started writing. Usually, I can get the bones of something down and go back to sleep. But as I was working on it, I had a random youtube playlist running - and this came on.


I’ve said in the past that I think music is a kind of magic. It transports us, changes us. Well, this piece of music grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. The scene I was working on was intense to begin with, that’s probably why it woke me up. But once a certain part of this music started (at about 1:15) all the hair on my arms stood up and I was taken over, transported. What happened after that was part me, part the music.

It was one of the clearest moments I’ve had where something I wrote was directly impacted by what I was listening to. Usually, music helps keep me in the right head space or emotional place, but this changed the scene as I was writing it. Below are the opening pages. In the music, I could feel the main character’s fear, her desperation and the discipline that keeps her fighting to save her ship and crew.

I have no idea what this story may become, possibly nothing more than this opening. But what’s below is very different than what I would have written had this piece of music not popped up in a playlist. And that in and of itself is powerful. Inspiration, and alteration to inspiration can happen at any instant. I think we just have to be open to it. And when things kick me in the guts, it’s something I’m thankful for because it doesn’t happen all that often.

Have a read. This is pretty much raw and unedited, so take it as it is. And I hope you enjoy it and the magical moment of music that inspired it.



- chapter one- 

 “We’re burning up!” flight engineer Jim Rosso shouted from his position behind flight commander Jaylen Inosanto’s right shoulder. 

There was no hint of fear in Jim’s voice.  It was professional, deadpan calm.  He was yelling to be heard over the roar as Liminal Aurora plunged into Earth’s atmosphere. But Jaylen knew his heart was hammering in his chest just like hers.  Jim and the other two people in the experimental orbiter’s cockpit knew as well as she did that fear wouldn’t save them.  

Jaylen wasn’t sure anything could.

“Hull stresses are in the red on all… dorsal… surfaces!“ Jim shouted again, increasing g-forces forcing spaces between his words. 

She heard the trained grunt from the seat next to hers as Commander “Martian” Marvin pushed out, “We’re six degrees… below glide slope!”  Another grunt.  “Coming back from eight!”

Contact with mission control had vanished the moment the control error Jaylen was fighting had struck the ship.  They were plummeting into the atmosphere much too steeply, too fast.  They were out of the entry window before she could break protocol and take manual control.  If she hadn’t, they’d already be dead.

Liminal Aurora bucked violently as she fought to shallow their descent and keep the ship’s heat-shielded underbelly pointed at the Earth - between them and the superheated atmosphere that would otherwise burn them to a cinder.  It was like trying to control a polished metal disk rocketing down an ice sheet. 

“Seven… g’s… and… climbing!” Doctor Ganeshparima “Perry” Banerjee, Liminal’s payload, sciences and medical specialist shouted from her seat behind Jaylen.  Jaylen could visualize her pained expression as she groaned to suck in breaths. “We’ll… lose… Jim… at eight!”  In their high-g training Jim always passed out first.  Jaylen and Marty were both fighter pilots before becoming astronauts.  They wouldn’t pass out until after they’d broken the nine g threshold, even without g-suits.

“Marty! On… the controls… with me!” Jaylen was strong, but her arms were already numb from the jackhammer violent shudder in the control yoke.  The death grip she had to keep so that it wouldn’t be torn from her grasp translated the vicious vibration up her arms where it felt like it was trying to tear her shoulders out of their sockets.  She grunted with every breath, forcing her belly out against the g-forces as the orbiter decelerated.  

She couldn’t pull up against their descent too much or she and Marty would black out and they would all die.  

Jaylen’s mind spun with the trade-offs; cold, logical calculations helping her fly the razors edge.  Too much speed and they would burn up, too much drag and they would black out.  

If it came to it, she’d pull back on the yoke.  She would ensure her crew blacked out before she would let them burn to death, still conscious, trapped in their doomed spacecraft.

But she was a driver.  Every fiber of her being, everything that made her a pilot fought that possibility. Fly the plane to the ground.  The words had been hammered into her until they felt like they were imprinted on her DNA. She hadn’t become mission commander on the most technologically advanced spacecraft on Earth by giving up.  She gritted her teeth and pushed her belly out against the crushing g’s again. 

Fly the plane to the ground.

“Main… Eng…ines…” she grunted.

There was no question, only a momentary delay as Jim hissed with effort from his station. Then he answered her order, his voice hoarse.  “Av… ail… able!”  Indicator lights illuminated on the panel above the throttle assembly. 

There was always fuel left in the main engine tanks on return to earth.  Reaction control thrusters wouldn’t do them any good in the atmosphere.  But burning the engines might shallow their descent.


Jaylen’s eyes were locked on the instruments, but she could see Marty’s hand in her peripheral vision, crawling painfully across the panel between them to the throttle controls.  She could see his grimace, fighting the weight of his arm, now more than eight times its weight on Earth. 

“Lost… Jim…” Perry groaned from behind her.  

But he’d enabled the engines before he passed out.  He might have just saved their lives.

Jaylen shoved the words out.  “Burn… in… Three…”

“Three…” Marty parroted.

“Two…” They said it together.

All color had disappeared from Jaylen’s vision, darkness creeping in from the edges of her sight.  

Perry grunted, “Nine… g’s…” from behind her.

Jaylen fought the searing pain in her arms and shoulders, squeezing the yoke with all her strength.  If her hands came off now, she’d never get them back onto it.  Tears of effort streamed from her eyes.  


Marty roared with the effort and shoved the throttles forward.

The normal few tenths of a second it took for the engines to light seemed to drag out forever.  If they didn’t light, it was over.  

Then she was rammed straight back in her seat.  The g’s dropped off and she heaved in a breath as the orbiters main engines eased their savage angle of descent.

Outside the windows there was nothing but fire, burning atmosphere, too dense to get out of the way as the plunging spacecraft plowed downward through it. 

“What is that!?” Marty hollered.

Beyond the flames there was a… glimmer? Some visual distortion in the air, like a brighter glow that was powerful enough to be visible through the wall of fire.  The burning atmosphere outside seemed to warp, like a heat shimmer in the desert…

There was a flash… 

And a bang… 


What do you listen to when you're writing?

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To me, music is a kind of magic.  There are few other things that have the power to alter people's emotions the way that music does.  And it's instinctive - babies respond to music.  Sometimes strangely and wonderfully so, in the case of our head-banging baby below.


People have asked what I listen to when I write and I think it's a really appropriate question.  I draw tremendous influence from music.  There are particular kinds of music I listen to when I'm writing certain things or am in certain moods.  It's all a part of my creative process.  

For example, I was writing content about the Æsterverse's version of World War One, the Great War, and there were two songs that I had on repeat in my playlists.  As you might imagine, what I was writing was pretty grim stuff.  These songs helped keep the emotional temperature up so that I could get to the emotions I wanted to evoke. 

Within Temptation - Our Solemn Hour

VNV Nation - Nemesis

I tend to listen Pandora and Youtube 'soundtrack' mixes most of the time.  Audiomachine, Two Steps from Hell and Thomas Bergerson are some of my favorites.


Audiomachine - An Unfinished Life (Pandora 'Siren' version) is one of the most emotional pieces of music I've ever heard.  I don't know why this particular piece of music hits me so hard, but it does - every time I listen to it.  I hear loss and sacrifice playing out when I listen to it; nobility, cowardice, fear.  This music has supported, inspired and deepened so many scenes I've written. 

Audiomachine- Legacy of the Lost - This piece of music is tied to one of the most pivotal events in the of history in the Æsterverse.  The æstership Forger Perseus is disabled in battle.  Without power to fight against the strong currents, she is dragged toward the wall of an æster storm, which will surely destroy her.  Perseus' sister ship, Forger Agamemnon ties onto her with tow cables and grapples in an attempt to save her.  Forger Agamemnon's captain, "Edger" Lancaster, and Perseus' captain Sam Ward are lifelong friends.  Edger continues to fight to save Perseus even as they come under attack by enemy ships.  Tied onto her wounded sister and unable to maneuver, Forger Agamemnon is a sitting duck.  But Edger refuses to abandon his friend, even when Sam Ward demands he leave them.  Captain Ward finally orders the tow cables and grapples cut, sending the transmission, "I'll be damned If I will drag Agamemnon down with us!"  Sam Ward's sacrifice of Forger Perseus and her crew gives Edger and Forger Agamemnon a fighting chance.  It begins the saga of one of the most storied ships and captains in the history of the æsterverse and gives rise to the toast shared by all Forger crews, "Remember the Perseus!"   

I do listen to film soundtracks, or at least parts of them, but generally I go for things that don't have specific imagery for me yet.  They give me space to fill in what the music is telling me.

But there are times when I want the emotions that I associate with scenes from movies, so they go into my playlists.  "Brothers in Arms" from "Mad Max: Fury Road" fits firmly into that category.  The camaraderie between Max and Furiosa is great, especially given how tenuous their relationship is up to that point.  And the intensity of that music really drives me when I'm writing stuff where characters lives are in each other's hands.   The Devil and the Hunstman from "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" is another that has particular power.  It's primal, ancient and is something I have had in my playlists a lot as I work on my modern fantasy novel. 

And then there's "Wonder Woman's Wrath."  I don't know anyone who doesn't feel it when this music plays.



Some music is a writing prompt in itself.  It's so evocative that I immediately see imagery when I listen to it.


"Shenavallie Farm" - The Wicked Tinkers (with Jay Atwood on the Didgeridoo) - The video is terrible, but this specific rendition always gives me goosebumps.  Being of Scottish descent, the bagpipes always get my blood moving, but it's the Didgeridoo's haunting voice that really makes this song special.


"See the World Burn" - Goran Dragaš & AsjaKadrić 

And VNV Nation's "The Farthest Star" has been not only the inspiration for some stories, but also sort of the support soundtrack for others. 

World, celtic and ancient music play a big part in what I listen to when I'm writing tribal or fantastical elements.  I was introduced to ethnomusicology when I was taking undergraduate classes in anthropology and this kind of music really struck a chord in me.  Pun intended?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  And of course I heard a wide variety of medieval/ancient music over the years I was in the SCA. 


"Sztoj pa moru" - Laboratorium Pieśni  This particular piece is one that's stuck with me since the first time I heard it.


Hard rock and heavy metal are a go-to for me when I'm writing action.  It's hard to find better music to churn up the kind of intensity I want to capture in those scenes.  These are just a couple of my favorites. 

AC/DC - Shoot to Thrill, Thunderstruck

Metallica - Seek and Destroy


Everyone's got classical favorites.  I'm no different.  Sometimes, they feel a bit cliche' because they've been used so often, but I still can't hear Adagio for Strings without getting goose bumps.

Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings

Escala - Palladio

Carl Orff - Carmina Burana


If music's power is in it's ability to evoke emotions in us, then it's the blood of storytelling.  Storytelling, when done right, reaches down into us and grabs our emotions at our hearts, right from our bones.  Music does this whether we're conscious of the story it's telling or not.  It cuts past our rational brains and hits us in the guts.  And as a writer, that's what I always want to do, have my reader feel.  A friend once told me, "If it gives you goosebumps, it'll give them goosebumps."  So, if I listen to something that makes me feel, it's easier to pass on those emotions in my writing.  


Social Media Hellscape - My Twitterpocalypse

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As I've been trying to get my blog working - that is to say properly connected to social media, it's been... trying.  Since I needed to once again test to see if it's connecting to anything other than some Hellscape-social-media-apocalypse-dimension, I thought I'd make it a bit more fun.  Here we are.

Drag and drop they say... to where?  See above - Hellscape-social-media-apocalypse-dimension (HE'SMAD) 

Facebook and Instagram have behaved relatively well, but Twitter has been the particular Imp of HE'SMAD.  First nothing shows up in Twitter - or so I thought.  But noooo... through some arcane portal to HE'SMAD, tweets have gone to some quasi-Schrodinger Twitter account that I don't even remember creating.  I thought you could only have a Twitter account that's attached to an email...  

"Oh how wrong you are!"  The demon of HE'SMAD cackled.

And of course, this HE'SMAD twitter account has people following it.  So, I proceed to send them messages, flying the plague flag of my Twitter-ignorance for all to see.  This, shall we say, has proven subpar when it comes to the ego front.

Finally, I engage in battle.  Emails, account passwords and cryptic Twitter-cantations fly, all while I'm beating back the shrieking HE'SMAD hordes as they try over and over again to force me to log into the unholy pocket hell account that should never have been spawned...


It is 9:26am and my old confidante Jose Quervo is singing me sweet Mariachi love songs.

But, I digress.

I suppose learning that you have created Twitter accounts should be a blessing.  That they don't work and play well with each other makes them rather like children.  You're unwanted Hell-spawned children.

As I go forth in hopes of conquering the HE'SMAD legions, I hope my frustrations provide inspiration for those battling the seething storms of Twitterpocalypse.  You are not alone.  

Vaya con Carne and a pleasant day to you all.