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The Powell’s Playlist: Josh Malerman

The Powell's PlaylistI can't imagine writing a novel without some sound. When you're facing a few hundred blank pages, silence can be cold. Thing is, I love lyrics so much that rock 'n' roll can be a distraction (though maybe I should try it again). Instead, I go for horror movie soundtracks. So many moods, so many colors; it's kind of like listening to a ne'er-do-well child trying his hand at classical music. Like any album, the good ones soar, but the truth is, I think they're all good, and they probably end up influencing my books more than I'll ever really know. Let's look at some:

"Prologue/Welcome to Creepshow" by John Harrison, Creepshow
I was seven years old when Creepshow came out, and I'm guessing I was around 10 when I saw it for the first time on VHS. The opening theme reminds me that there are five stories to be told, all so different, and the process of telling a scary story is a dark, glorious trip.

"Flight" by Bernard Herrmann, Psycho
Marion Crane is fleeing Arizona, $40,000 in her car. We're catching her at such a big moment: she's right between theft (she stole) and murder (which has yet to come her way, but is close).

"To Keep from Falling Off" by Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson, Room 237
Triumphant, dark indie-rockish song that does everything the composers want it to: harkens to The Shining and Room 237 in equal measure. A welcome reminder that classics can still be written.

"The Insidious Plane" by Joseph Bishara, Insidious
When the title of the movie appeared on the screen and the violins went loony all at once, everyone in the theater realized this was going to be an old-school experience. As a child of the '80s, it's hard not to want your books to do a similar thing.

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"Prelude and Rooftop" by Bernard Herrmann, Vertigo
The strings sound as disorienting as the title and the production makes it go down easy (despite the mania, the swells, and the sweat), as though you're happily losing your sense of balance. Hey, it feels good to lose your mind after all!

"De Futura" by Magma
Cartoonish, hellish, cultish, greatish. The chanting and the bass line especially make you wonder if you're not listening in on a ceremony, rather than a rock band's magnum opus.

"Originale" by Goblin, Suspiria
So weird! That rubbery drum sound is like listening in on a coven who built their own instruments out of children. What a soundtrack.

Theme from Friday the 13th by Harry Manfredini
It's a lot like Psycho — you know, chirping violins, freaky descents — but I love this one because it really reminds you of the movie itself, and if you happen to be working on a bloody scene, this one might help you make it redder.

Main Theme by Ennio Morricone, The Thing
Really simple stuff. Sometimes you don't even remember it's playing. I like that. Subconscious warfare. It really pads whatever state of mind you're writing in.

"Vapeur" by Steven Hufsteter, Kiss of the Damned
It's new, it's old, it's fresh, you've heard it before. Whatever this soundtrack is, each of its moods is fun to work with. "Vapeur" is ambient and great for, say, a budding romance in which one of the parties doesn't realize they're falling for someone bad.

Theme from Tales from the Crypt by Danny Elfman
TFTC came out in what, '89? So I was 14 then. Comic bookish or not, the stuff was scary. Some say they look for comedy in their horror, and I dig that, but TFTC made sure things were scary first, and Elfman's theme reminds me of that.

"On the Run" by Jeff Grace, The House of the Devil
If you can't write to this one, then it's time to try out the oldies, sports radio, anything else. For the record, I've tried sports radio once and all my characters became runners.

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Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box and the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band The High Strung. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Bird Box Used Hardcover $11.95

Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box

One Response to "The Powell’s Playlist: Josh Malerman"

    Alice Simpson May 24th, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Can't write without music, but if it's not the right sound, can't write!
    Wrote mine to "Le Revanche de tango' by the Gotan Project, and wish it could be included with the book.

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