Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Music for a Haunted World

My 2013 YA release, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, is the story of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession.

Does writing about 1918 mean I only listen to music from that particular year for inspiration? Not at all. I've familiarized myself with songs from the era to get a solid feel for the time period, but my soundtrack for In the Shadow of Blackbirds consists of music from various decades.

Descending backward from the newest song to the oldest, here's my list of tunes that have helped me dig deep into the emotions of my characters and breathe life into a haunted historical world.

The Cave, Mumford & Sons
The first time I heard Mumford & Sons belt out, "I will hold on hope," I felt the same passion I experience when writing about my sixteen-year-old protagonist's battle to survive during her terrifying moment in history. The song perfectly exemplifies her perseverance and her fight to help others along the way.

People Say, Portugal. The Man
A song that questions a modern-day war, but it reminds me of my character's growing bitterness toward government leaders when the first world war takes away her loved ones. In 1918 America, protestors of WWI would have risked arrest, their safety, and their very lives for singing a song like thisbut that didn't mean there weren't plenty of Americans who felt sick about sending their boys off to battle.

The Fine Art of Poisoning, Jill Tracy
I've loved this song ever since I first met Jill Tracy through my Suburban Vampire blog a few years ago. The music and its stylish video epitomize In the Shadow of Blackbird's dark, gothic flavor so well that I'm going to attach the clip here:

Ouija Board, Oujia Board, Morrissey
Ah, Morrisey's sweet ode to spirit communication. Reverse the genders of the singer and the ghost he's trying to reach, and you'll get a feel for my main character's desperate longing to find someone who "has now gone from this unhappy planet."

Catch the Wind, Donovan
The lyrics of this 1965 classic are absolutely gorgeous. The song provides the perfect emotional fuel for creating a character who's aching during the darkness and craving the companionship of an unattainable loved one.

Keep the Home Fires Burning, composed by Ivor Novello, words by Lena Gilbert Ford
All right, here's a song from my novel's actual time period. Many WWI songs were written to boost morale and inspire men to march off to battle ("Over There," "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag," etc.), but I found myself listening to this 1914 hit the most. I know I keep bringing up the word "longing," but that's an emotion that runs throughout In the Shadow of Blackbirds, and you can palpably feel that same sense of yearning in "Keep the Home Fires Burning." Here's a lovely version of the song from Katie Melua, with clips of young WWI soldiers.

Be sure to check out book soundtracks from other Lucky 13s authors all this week.

Cat Winters lives near Portland, Oregon, but she was born and raised in Southern California suburbia, just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland. When she was around seven years old, she found a book about "real" ghosts in her school library and was both terrified and mesmerized by the idea that ghosts might actually exist. From that point forward, she became hooked on dark tales.

Her debut YA novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds (a ghost story, of course), is coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. She's represented by the fabulous Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. You can catch Cat online at, Twitter, and Facebook.


  1. This is an EXCELLENT post, Cat. Thanks so much for introducing us to the mood of your book through songs. And I loved the descriptions of why you chose each song for you playlist/how they inspired you. I also write to music, so I enjoy seeing someone else's process in picking their songs. :)

  2. Thanks, Anita! I'd love to hear the musical influences behind SPLINTERED sometime. Let me know if you share your soundtrack.

  3. Thanks for sharing your music list! I haven't heard a bunch of these. I love the creepiness of the Jill Tracy song.

    I can't wait to read your book. I'm fascinated by that flu epidemic, and to see it play such a big part in a YA book is awesome.

  4. Thanks, Lydia! The flu's role in the novel is a huge one. It's a part of history I stumbled upon one day when I was researching something else, and I wondered why I had never heard about it before.

    I'm guessing most people these days think of it as that flu that nearly killed Edward Cullen. ;)

  5. A really thoughtful and enjoyable post. I could sense the mood of the story from these songs, regardless of era. And you gotta love Morrisey for melancholy!

  6. Thanks, Sarah! Yes, Morrissey is one of the kings of melancholy, although I've always felt he was a little too peppy when he sang "Girlfriend in a Coma." :)