I know that some writers demand absolute quiet during writing time, but, not being one of those writers myself, I like to listen to music while I work. It's not like I can demand silence anyway; I live in a noisy household with kids, pets, squeaky doors and so on, and without a dedicated Fortress of Solitude
-style workspace in which I can sequester myself, music is more something to drown out distraction than to actively enjoy. (I did try some cheap noise-canceling headphones while writing my first book; not only did they faintly pick up a country music station when turned on, they were also so ill-fitting that they made the top of my skull feel like a nail was being driven into it after an hour or so of use. I guess the lesson here is that, with noise canceling headphones at least, you really get what you pay for.)
It's important that the music I'm playing be something familiar enough that I don't actively need to listen to it; picking words out of lyrics or being grabbed by a catchy new melody would intrude too much on my thoughts. Music known by heart is happily one step above white noise, and when your playlist is selected with at least a little bit of care, it can nicely set the tone for the work of the day (or week, or month, depending on your tolerance for the repeat function). During the first draft of Two Years, No Rain, I listened to a lot of the Faeroese musician Teitur; his English music is light with edgy and sometimes dark lyrics, just the tone I was shooting for in the book. Later, while trying to tighten up dialogue in the second draft, TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain was played over and over for days for its peppy energy. The effort of the third draft was a melancholy affair, well served by Bon Iver's mopey but wonderful For Emma, Forever Ago. When I finally made it to copyedits, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seemed to be just right.
Perhaps the most influential — and least expected — listening, though, came in the form of Kenny G's 1986 multiplatnum opus Duotones. Some background: just like my protagonist in Two Years, No Rain, I've had a years-long interest in meteorology. Instead of watching Michael Jackson videos as a kid (and, sadly, I did not listen to Thriller at all while writing this book), I spent a lot of my time watching the then-new and often crudely produced Weather Channel. And, as anyone who watched TWC back then will immediately recall, the regular local forecast was always accompanied by Kenny G. (And is it good or bad that I should associate a tornado warning with the dreamy sound of a soprano sax?) My friends often gave me grief about my weather obsession, going to far as to track down a Duotones CD for my 16th birthday. They got it right back, though, in the form of the tape I made of it and forced anyone riding in my car to hear. Let's just say I listened to that album a lot back then. And when it came time to write the weather bits in Two Years, No Rain, Duotones returned to me after all those years in a perfect bit of inspiration. iTunes instantly satisfied, and the noises of my home vanished to keyboard clicks and memories of local weather.
At that moment, there was really no better fit for my ears. Kenneth Gorelick, I salute you!