Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Music to write by: sad songs for sad boys

"There ain't nothing you can say to a playa'
'Cause doo-wop, she fly like the planes in the air"
                                                                    - from "Suga Suga" by Baby Bash

When I was a college student, way back in the early nineties, I shared this funky Santa Cruz house with a guy who was really, really into doo-wop music. Okay, not only did I share a house with this guy, but our rooms were adjacent to each other. And the walls were thin. Very thin. So anytime he was heartbroken and wanted to listen to “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” I’d get to hear it along with him. Loud and clear.

Now, this was okayusuallybut sometimes he’d get obsessed with just one ten- or fifteen-second lick in a song and he’d play just that part on repeat. Over and over. For hours. Sure, it would bug me, but I also got it. He was trying to hold onto the emotion he found in the music, whatever it was, and he didn’t want to let it go.

Charm & Strange is the book I wrote. It’s a book about madness and monsters and grief. It’s also about the dark, dark things inside us that make us who we are. When I was writing it, I happened to hear a song on the radio with just the right dreamy-sad sort of hook and it helped me get inside the mind of Winston, my dreamy-sad main character. The song evoked in me all the feelings I needed him to feelsorrow-despair-longingand quickly became associated with his voice. So I listened to it on repeat as I wrote and revised. Over and over. I didn’t want to let it go.

The song was “Suga Suga” by Baby Bash. It’s sort of a ridiculous song. I know that. When I listen to the lyrics, I realize, despite the mournful-sounding guitar riff, it’s (mostly) about a boy enjoying the simple pleasures of being with a girl he likes. And while my book isn’t about romance or lust or falling in love, in some ways, being comfortable enough in his own skin to someday find such moments of easy peace is what I wish most for my Winston.

So maybe that is what my book is about.

How about you? What's the one defining song for your novel? What emotion does that song evoke for you? 

Oh! And here's a sweet little acoustic cover of "Suga Suga" by Steve G. Enjoy!


Stephanie Kuehn is a graduate student living in Northern California. Her young adult novel, CHARM & STRANGE, will be published in 2013 by St. Martin’s Press and Egmont UK.

You can connect with Stephanie on twitter or her website. She also blogs for YA Highway.


  1. That acoustic version is cool! I loved getting a peek at your process. Music plays a big part for me as well. I have listened to the same playlist for over a year now and have managed not to get sick of it yet. It still puts me right into my character's head.

    1. Thanks Amy! Yeah, it's very cool the way music gets imprinted with writing. I hope you share some of that playlist sometime!

  2. If I had to pick one song for my Devil book, I guess it would be My Little Shirtwaist Fire by Rasputina. That song is crazy and catchy and evocative as hell. Immediately puts me in a dark, scary mood. I listened to it. A lot.

    1. Ooh, dark and scary sounds pretty perfect for a Devil book, eh? Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to hunt down that song and listen to it!


    3. Ah, that is a really eerie-cool song and definitely a scary event to put in a song. Thanks for the link!