Mood Music: Writings Playlists and Setting the Tone w/ L.A. Merrill

June 8, 2017

mood music


My life has always had a soundtrack. My mother sang Beatles’ songs as lullabies; my sister and I listened to endless OBC albums on our brown plastic Fisher-Price record player. As a teenager, I would spend hours trawling through the radio stations late at night, seeing what I could hear, what words and music could keep me company. Christian allegory radio plays; experimental orchestral suites; French-Canadian car ads and dirge-like love songs about fisherfolk.

The first album I ever bought was KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope. This was quickly followed by Sara Barielles’s Little Voice, and Brandi Carlile’s Give Up the Ghost. I exhausted the cd sections at the library, finding Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor, Carole King, and Katie Melua. I devoured music, and it accompanied everything I did—washing dishes, homework, daydreaming on the kitchen floor about the romantic life I would lead in a Scottish island castle all my own.

The inevitable progression of growing up surrounded by music and books was that I would either start writing stories or making music of my own. I did neither of these things in any kind of a normal, expected way. I didn’t teach myself guitar and write songs about feminism—I joined a tiny DIY opera company. I didn’t write my way into an MFA—I waited until I was bedridden with autoimmune disease and then started scribbling gay romances and chucking them into the void.

Music remained constant. The music itself changed and morphed and expanded to fill different corners of my life, but music was always, will always be there. Hymns and spirituals, opera choruses and classic rock. And then a whole new area opened up: THE WRITING PLAYLIST.

I’d always listened to music when I wrote anyway, but it was usually familiar, repetitive classical pieces, used to build a wall of sound in place of a room of my own. A young woman on the NaNoWriMo message boards introduced me to the concept of listening to music that evoked your story; character music, leit motifs to help structure and solidify the story in your mind.

Now I usually pick a couple albums that remind me of the story I’m trying to tell, songs with a soul sound I want to echo, a kind of musical subtext. For my latest novella, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, I went back to one of my first (and most constant) musical loves, Brandi Carlile. I don’t think there’s a single one of her albums I haven’t loved, from The Story up through The Firewatcher’s Daughter. I collected all of them into one gigantic playlist and hit shuffle every time I sat down to write about my Montana men. Falling into a difficult but ultimately rewarding love; fucking up and making amends; finding ways to be who you are come hell or high water—this is what her music says to me. It is strength and beauty in variety and grace, and there’s an underlying respect for nature and a higher power. Her music has held me up through many rough patches in my life so far, and it bolstered this story that I didn’t think I was going to finish, until suddenly, I did.

Now I’m deep into writing a Hanukkah story about a man whose ordered life starts unravelling at the edges until everything is a tangled mess—but at the calm center of it all are eight mysterious gifts and a scatterbrained scholar who wants to show our hero the magnificent, beautiful chaos of the cosmos. I think this calls for some Beethoven, Coldplay, and Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is an Animal. What are you listening to? Are you a creative person? What do you listen to while you work, or are you a fan of the sound of silence? Leave a comment below and tell me! I’m always on the lookout for new music—you never know, the right song might strike the right note and tell a story all its own


Check out Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch today!





         David Marks is looking for the perfect place to film his new web series and recover from his latest failed relationship. When reclusive writer Michael Sharp opens his Montana ranch to paying guests, David knows he’s found the right place—but he doesn’t expect to find Mr. Right too.

         Forty years ago, Michael Sharp’s father was murdered in front of him. No one believed a six-year-old boy’s testimony against the powerful Carver brothers. For years Michael has lived in self-imposed exile, the only living witness who can bring down the Carver criminal empire. But now the money is running out, and he’s forced to play host to a troupe of temperamental web actors and their energetically attractive director in order to stay alive.

         The Carvers aren’t about to stand for rebellion. Michael has outlived his usefulness. Now Michael and David have to find a way to end this fight once and for all, finding justice for Michael’s father and meeting David’s funding deadline—all before one or both of them ends up dead.


Author photo

 About the Author:

         L.A. Merrill is a tiny blonde woman who loves a good story. She has worked as a tour guide and an assistant stage director, and spent one memorable summer as a camp counselor. After five years in vocal performance, production work, and arts education, she now writes full-time. Her work has appeared in Kansas City Voices magazine, on the YouTube series The Blank Scene, and online. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch is L.A.’s fourth story with Dreamspinner Press, and her first published novella. (There’s an unpublished novella, about murderous husbands and Scottish ghosts, written when she was thirteen, that is sitting in a file at home. It will likely never see the light of day.)

         An avid knitter, she has yet to follow a pattern and has made some interestingly shaped hats as a result. L.A. makes handknit and crocheted blankets and hats for local charities, as well as leading a LGBT+ writers group in her hometown. She lives with her family in the Midwest, where she can usually be found reading, writing, and making things up as she goes along. Follow her on Twitter for feminism and fangirling at @la_mer92


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