Michael Estrin, author of Murder and Other Distractions, joins us to talk about how music helps him write. Here’s Michael:
I am not what you would call a “music person.” You probably figured that out because I put “music person” in quotes. I’ve always been this way. In elementary school, my music teacher took away my recorder—probably the world’s simplest wind instrument—because I couldn’t master Three Blind Mice, even though it’s the reverse of the one song I could play, Hot Crossed Buns. I got my first stereo in high school, but didn’t buy my first CD—The Very Best Of Cream—until college. In my entire life, I’ve only been to four concerts—Michael Jackson, White Zombie, Tom Petty, and New Order. And lately my wife has grown tired of helping me distinguish the Black Keys from The Black Eyed Peas. Then again, what does she expect from a husband who mashes together gibberish lyrics with an unrecognizable tune and pesters her to name that song? But for all my musical shortcomings, the truth is I can’t write without listening to music.
I’ll prove it.
I’m turning off Spotify…
Two minutes later
I’m back, in black—literally. I’m listening to AC/DC because those Aussies rocked their own pants off—hence the shorts, I presume—and their thumping rhythm and thunderous guitar licks are a power burst that pushes me through the self-doubt and agony of a first draft.
Not that I’m a metal man.
While working on my first novel, Murder and Other Distractions, I listened to a lot of Weezer and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both bands helped me access a dark, Los Angeles vibe that is essential to the novel’s laidback cynicism. And because both bands were formed in Los Angeles—thanks Wikipedia!—some of their lyrics felt like a perfect fit for a story about an apathetic hipster facing a murder rap.
The radio blares out a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, and that fact officially makes us a cliché—three stoned Californians cruising for tacos on a bright, sunny day—because only Golden State natives can listen to Anthony Kiedis without getting bogged down in the desperation of life lived at the edge of the Pacific—the end of the road.
It’s the edge of the world and all of Western Civilization…
The sun may rise in the East…
At least it settles in the final location…
It’s understood that Hollywood sells Californication…
Not that it’s all about Southern California melancholy. Tone Loc gets his due because I believe he’s that rare bread—a self-deprecating rapper. And a lot of the jokes in the book were written while listening to Huey Lewis and the News, although Hip to be Square is just too catchy for me to concentrate on the lyrics, which is a shame because Murder and Other Distractions is filled with pop culture references and meta moments.
But of course, writing isn’t just about the music you’re listening to. If it were, everyone with an iPod would be a novelist, and everyone who uses the Genius feature would be an award-winning novelist. However, music does help shape the spirit of the work. And there’s something about occupying your ears that lets you free up the voice inside your head, whether or not there’s a direct and literal connection between music and text.
This post was written while listening to: Bananarama’s Cruel Summer, Wall of Voodoo’s Mexican Radio, and Weezer’s Pork and Beans. AC/DC’s Back in Black was also helpful, but Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was entirely too distracting. Likewise Ice Cube’s Good Day made me feel so gangsta that it brought on delusions of grandeur, which are great for boosting your self-esteem and terrible for hitting your deadline.
And, be sure and check out Micheal’s book. It’s FREE January 16th and 17th
Book summary: If you’re wanted for murder, the last thing you should do is smoke a joint, eat a taco, and alienate potential alibis. Then again, Ethan isn’t a very good murder suspect.
Maybe it’s just been a lousy week for him. There are layoffs at the office, poorly written death threats, and a vapid, but alluring coworker sending Ethan mixed signals. The f-buddy who loves to loathe him doesn’t understand that it’s over, and his philosophizing best friend is pretty sure that Ethan’s problem is merely the dreary momentum of the hipster ethos. Or it could be that Ethan’s pot dealer is out of baggies once again.
But the cop who’s after him doesn’t buy any of that bullshit. Despite being lazy and crooked, Boyd is damn good at his job. He’s certain Ethan murdered his ex—The Girl Who Got Away—along with her nobody of a boyfriend. And the more Boyd hounds him for a confession, the more Ethan comes to see the murders as his way out of the existential crisis consuming him.
Author bio: Michael Estrin grew up in Los Angeles, fled, and returned.
He has written for a broad range of publications, including American Way, Nerve, Bitter Lawyer, AskMen, Draft, California Lawyer, and Penthouse (yes, they have articles, too).
Murder and Other Distractions is his first novel.