Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Short Stories and Music

I'm sure all readers of this blog know by now that our own Earl Staggs won the 2012 Derringer Award for Best Novelette given by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Earl's story is Where Billy Died. I hope he will check in here to the comments section and tell everyone how to purchase the story, or else give us that information in his blog post.

Hearty Congratulations, Earl. 

I am happy to say I read it, enjoyed and voted for it.

Here is the complete list of winners:

  • Best Flash Story: "Lessons Learned" by Allan Leverone
  • Best Short Story: "Touch of Death" by B.V. Lawson
  • Best Long Story: Tie "A Drowning at Snow's Cut" by Art Taylor and "Brea's Tale" by Karen Pullen
  • Best Novelette: "Where Billy Died" by Earl Staggs

The Derringers have been recognizing the best in short mysteries since 1998. I try to read every finalist each year because some of the best cutting edge crime stories can be found there. They have also been a source of inspiration for me. Just knowing there is an award for short mystery stories drives me to make my stories the best I can.

Speaking of inspiration, I just finished Breathing Water, a Poke Rafferty novel by Tim Hallinan. At the back of the novel he lists the music he listened to while writing it. I'd never given thought about how much the music I listen to influences my writing. When I'm at my computer, I either have NPR on the radio or a selection of music on my iTunes. If I'm doing chores such as paying bills or taxes, then NPR gives a welcome relief, but if I'm writing, NPR is a distraction and I turn to the music.

So what's on my playlist? It depends on whether I'm writing or revising. If I'm writing, I like to work with an eclectic mix of blues, rock, and classical. This morning I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Joanna Connor, Santana, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, The Traveling Wilburys, Jimmy Reed, Lisa Lim, John Fogarty, and the Beatles. 

For reasons I can't explain, complicated guitar pieces get my writing mojo going. I don't pay much attention to the lyrics, except for Grateful Dead songs, which I stop and listen to, just for the turn of phrase. Whenever I hear "Operator" by The Dead, I find myself in the mind of a character who is "Riding a getaway bus out of Portland, talkin' to the night."  I think someday I will write a whole story about that.

If not blues and rock, then I'm listening to classical. I find any symphony by Beethoven a great aid to writing, except for the ninth. I can't do anything else but listen while the ninth is playing. Other classical pieces that help my writing are Korsakov's Scheherazade, Prokofiev's Lt. Kije Suite, and Stravinsky's Fire Bird. I don't know why those pieces resonate with me. They just do.

You might ask, why not Hawaiian music? I listen to Hawaiian music, also Irish music, and Jimmy Buffett, but not when I'm writing. I put that music on when I'm doing the things that aren't fun, such as checking grammar and spelling. Or else they come on when the writing's done and I have a gin and tonic in hand.

Do you listen to music while you write? What gets your mojo working?

Maybe Earl will let us in on what gets his mojo working. Whatever it is, I might try it.

Mark Troy
Check out Game Face, my collection of short stories on iPad, Nook, Kindle and other devices.


Morgan Mandel said...

Congratulations to Earl, one of our own!

As far as music while writing, I either go for easy listening or have a talk radio show on in the background. When I'm really in the zone,I'm not even aware of what's going on in the background.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for mentioning my Derringer Award for "Where Billy Died," Mark. I'm still walking on air. Thanks also for your help on the story when it was a WIP. If you recall, you convinced me to take out the giraffes. (Long story there.)

Anyone interested in the "story behind the story" and where to find it, it's all at

Music? Weaned on classic Rock n' Roll and stay with it. Temptations, Platters, Supremes, et al, and, of course, Elvis, still the King. I know, I know. I'm a dinosaur.