I write all my fiction to movie soundtracks. Instrumentals only—lyrics in my ear are too distracting while I’m trying to compose words, and I usually wind up tuning that noise out entirely, in which case: What’s the point? At the beginning of a project, I’ll choose a good mix of selections from movies that represent the tone or theme I’m going for, then compile a playlist that cycles in the background—turned up just enough to register but not actively listen to—for as long as it takes to complete the manuscript; that playlist serves as an aural compass, or “temp track,” keeping me in touch with what the world I’m creating should look and sound like at all times.
Just the other week, I finished the first draft of what will be my debut novel, Escape from Rikers Island. The influences on EFRI are too numerous to quantify, but include novelists Richard Price and Elmore Leonard, as well as filmmaker John Carpenter. In both title and premise, Escape from Rikers Island owes a great creative debt to Carpenter’s exploitation thrillers Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13. His movies, love ‘em or otherwise, have a look and feel all their own, owed in part to his eerie, synth-driven soundtracks; he is one of very few directors who’s scored most of his own movies, so writing EFRI to his music seemed like a no-brainer.
As fate would have it, right around the time I began the draft, Carpenter released his first album of original material, Lost Themes, so EFRI got a soundtrack of its very own, with music I now almost exclusively associate with my work of fiction rather than any specific film of his. One of the cuts, “Vortex,” even became, to my mind, the novel’s unofficial theme song:
John Carpenter is touring this summer to promote Lost Themes and its just-released follow-up, Lost Themes II, and I went to see him perform last month at the Orpheum Theatre here in Los Angeles with my friend and fellow horror enthusiast Adam Aresty. Adam is a burgeoning master of horror himself, having written the literal bee movie Stung (now streaming on Netflix), the chilling short story “Recovery” (which evokes—and I mean this as the highest compliment—Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 literary classic “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”), and the brand-new sci-fi novella The Communication Room. Don’t take my word for it, though: Sample for yourself some of the free fiction on his Web site, including one of my favorites, the James M. Cain–style noir tale “Wrought Iron”. If you like what you read and you live in the Los Angeles area, perhaps consider coming out to Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard on Tuesday, August 2nd at 7:00 p.m. to hear Adam read from The Communication Room.