Ranée

Favorite(s)

I’m a lifelong lover of books and music, having been massively influenced by both since I was a child, so this post contains a list of my seven favorite books and—as an homage to one of them—my top five all-time favorite recording artists.

Favorite Books

Listed in chronological order according to when I read them.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (whom my father claims is some distant family relative of ours) is one of the first authors with whom I became enamored; he is also responsible for getting me hooked on supernatural literature. As a teenager, I devoured his stories of horror: “Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and others. I also repeatedly read a number of Poe’s grimmer poems. What I admired most about his work was the artful way he generated suspense, the shocking turns he incorporated, and his lyrical style. Poe, to me, wasn’t just a master of the horrific but also rhythm, rhyme, and repetition of sounds (both assonance and alliteration). He will forever occupy a significant portion of my rather morbid heart.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

This book about a pathetic record store owner and self-described arsehole obsessed with making top-five lists, penned by a music-loving writer and critic has been among my all-time faves since I first read it back in college. Hornby’s debut novel reads like an Elvis Costello song (note: the title is an Elvis Costello song and Mr. Declan McManus also happens to be one of my favorite recording artists). I’ve never been able to find out whether or not Hornby purposely chose the title because of the song or whether, just being the music writer and lover that he is, he decided (like Costello) that the double meaning of the term high fidelity was incredibly appropriate (and clever) for his debut novel. Maybe it was a little of both. If I ever get the chance to interview or chat with Hornby, I’ll be sure to ask him. What makes this book one of my favorites, however, isn’t just its references to music or the fact that it was obviously written by a music lover who’d seen more than his share of know-it-all music snobs, but because Hornby is so frank about the awkwardness and absurdity so often inherent in relationships, his flawed and quirky characters are entirely believable, and his chronicle of Rob’s ridiculous romantic entanglements is really funny.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I treasure this tale of magic and the sacred feminine based on the Arthurian legends. Morgaine is without a doubt one of my favorite literary heroines, right alongside Lisbeth Salander (two very different but equally strong women, in my view). When I read this book, Avalon also represented something that I’d sorely lacked for most of my youth—a community of genuinely supportive women. This beautifully woven tale gave me hope that I’d eventually find my own place within one.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

I know I probably shouldn’t list this book among my favorites without also including Bram Stoker’s Dracula on that list, but, well, King’s updated version of the Dracula story is frankly scarier than the original. In fact, it’s the scariest book I’ve ever read. I like my vampires creepy and terrifying and, like his predecessor and obvious influence, Count Orlok, the original film version of Kurt Barlow certainly fits the criteria.

The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

When I was introduced to Duffy’s poems in an Irish lit class in graduate school, it was love at first read. By turns, bawdy, brash, and beautiful, Duffy’s style is one that I admire above many others. Her words, imagery, and subject matter felt so raw and real to me, and when I read The World’s Wife, a collection of poems about famous literary, mythical, and historical women (reimagined and written from their points of view), I identified with so many of them. Duffy herself is one of my favorite writers.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Mama Day is another book I discovered in grad school, this one thanks to my advisor (and one of my real-life heroes) Teresa Washington. I suppose that aside from African American lit, this book also falls into the genre of “magical realism.” It’s also something of a love story. Those elements of the book along with its incorporation of the sacred feminine are certainly partly why I love it so. Another reason is Naylor’s brilliant storytelling and creative narrative choices. Parts of the story are told from the points of view of two of the main characters, Coco and George, and written in first person as they talk to/about one other and their relationship. Some elements are a beautiful lesson in history and culture. Other sections are a third-person narrative focusing on the title character of Miranda “Mama” Day and other residents of Willow Springs, which, like its most famous denizen, Sapphira Wade, belongs to no one but itself and its people. This is one book that I will never tire of re-reading because of its richness, and I laugh and cry every time I enter the world of Willow Springs.

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

This book is on my list because of how much it has meant in terms of my personal and spiritual growth. Reading this book awakened something that had been buried and brutalized within my soul, and it inspired me to reclaim and nurture that part of myself—to heal so that I might become whole.

Favorite Recording Artists

My favorite musicians

In true High Fidelity fashion, here are my desert-island, all-time, top favorite recording artists, in alphabetical order:

  • Tori Amos
  • David Bowie
  • Elvis Costello
  • Queen
  • Lou Reed (and The Velvet Underground sans Nico)

Satisfyingly soulful and strange, Tori Amos was a big part of my formative years and although Sarah McLachlan, U2, and Garbage were just as much so, it’s Tori’s music that’s stood the test of time for me. Most of the music that I loved by those other singers and bands were their earlier songs and records, whereas I’d rank albums like 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk and 2017’s Native Invader right up there alongside Tori’s first three. Quite a number of her songs have inspired post titles on this blog.

Elvis Costello, aka Declan McManus, aka Napoleon Dynamite, is the only one of my top five I’ve actually seen in concert (I didn’t really get out much when I was younger, OK?). He’s a masterful, witty lyricist and wordsmith, sharp with a turn of phrase, genius with his use of the double entendre, and fantastic on guitar. I’m a bigger fan of his earlier, grittier work on albums like My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, and Armed Forces, but I’m also impressed with his ability to effortlessly shift between music genres, particularly stuff that I wouldn’t have thought a fit for him (see albums like Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane and his work with Burt Bacharach). I appreciate genre-shattering musicians just as much as I do authors.

I suppose the other three on my list are sort of a testament to my love affair with glam rock, which began in earnest when I saw Todd Haynes’ film Velvet Goldmine, but I don’t just love those guys because of their glam records and personae. I love them because they’re weird and wonderful.

Lou Reed was the primary songwriter behind The Velvet Underground, one of the most influential bands in modern rock. To me, he was also its heart. I think one of the reasons I so love Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry is that it reminds me of Lou Reed’s songwriting. He was a poet too, a fellow freak and survivor, and a damn fine guitar player.

Speaking of freaks . . . yes, I loved the oft alien, always androgynous David Bowie for his weirdness too. But, like my other favorites, I also adored him for his musical talents, especially the risks that he took musically and his production work.

Bowie certainly had style and flair but so did Freddie Mercury, who is one of the main reasons that Queen makes my list. I called him “The Voice” because I was simply in awe of that man’s vocal range and talent. To me, he is far and away the most amazing vocalist in all of rock; no one else even comes close. I also couldn’t help but dig the fact that he was often so in-your-face and over-the-top when performing. Freddie isn’t the only reason I love Queen, though. I’m also a huge fan of Brian May’s guitar playing and the band was brilliant in the way that they melded genres and pulled off stuff that I’m sure the people working behind the scenes with them thought would never work.

Hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know a little more about me. I know you have your own favorite books, writers, and music-makers and I’d love for you to share them in the comments.

On Writing

The Writing’s on the Wall

Or, as the case may be, in the song, in a perfectly brewed cup of chamomile tea, in your dreams . . . Literally, anywhere.

A while back, the topic of discussion for Paper Cuts, our monthly writers’ group, was inspiration. Our conversation got me thinking about ways to maximize or play to your different sources of inspiration. I’ve put together a short list below, but since, as I’ve noted above, inspiration can come from almost anywhere or anything, feel free to note your specific sources in the comments and I’ll suggest some ways to make that work for you and your writing. Note that all of these are also good tactics for battling the beast known as “writer’s block.” However, keep in mind that your triggers shouldn’t be a distraction from your writing; if you find that you’re spending too much time setting the mood and not enough actually getting down to business, then your source of “inspiration” is really just a procrastination strategy and you should let it go.

  • Music. If, like me, you’re inspired by music, then why not listen to music while writing? Put on a record, create playlists to accompany your work, or just allow some ambient music to play in the background. Going to a concert, orchestra, symphony, or other musical event is another way to tap into your source.
  • Atmosphere. If you find that there’s a certain type of atmosphere that’s conducive to your writing, then create that environment for yourself or seek out that ideal writing space (library, coffee shop, etc.). If you need a cup of coffee or tea in your favorite mug, a glass of bourbon, candles, certain smells, a particular writing implement, absolute quiet, a blanket, whatever it may be to get you ready to write, then make it happen.
  • Dreams. If you’ve ever woke up from a dream thinking, “That would make a great/weird/cool story,” or if you often find yourself getting ideas from dreams you’ve had, then try keeping a dream journal. As soon as you wake up, jot down all of the details you can remember from any dreams you’ve had so that you can use those notes to generate future content.
  • Nature. I often find that going for a walk in my favorite nature preserve/park stirs up new ideas and images for me. If you’re also inspired by nature, then do your writing outdoors or choose a spot facing a window with a view. If, like me, you’ve got a particular place with which you feel a connection, then go spend some time there and see what comes up for you.
  • Images. Put up pictures or artwork in the space where you write so that those visual cues are prominently displayed where you can see them as you work. Alternatively, go to a museum or art gallery or watch a film that you find inspiring.
  • The Zone. If you’re inspired when in “the zone,” then try meditating on your project before getting to work to help you get into that highly creative space and tap into your subconscious. You can also do some automatic writing to see what ideas flow up from beneath the surface.

Again, these are just a few strategies that come to mind for me. I welcome your thoughts to build upon this list.

On Writing, Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt 43

A Paradoxical Sentiment

Am I thinking what everybody's thinking?
I'm so glad I came but I can't wait to leave?
— St. Vincent, "Slow Disco"

For this week’s writing prompt, I give you the above lyrics from one of my favorite St. Vincent tunes, “Slow Disco,” from the album MASSEDUCTION. Two seemingly opposing sentiments are expressed in these lines—the notion of being happy to be somewhere yet simultaneously eager to escape. Your challenge this week is to envision (or recall) a situation in which your character/speaker (or you) might be feeling both of these emotions at the same time and then write about it.

Alternatively, do some freewriting about what comes to mind when you read the lyrics. For me, the song inspired a scene where one of my main characters was standing still amid a roomful of people yet feeling utterly alone. There was a moment where time seemed to stop for her; the noise faded out and everyone around her froze. In that moment, she was grateful for the silence, the sudden solitude that afforded her an escape from the din, however brief. Drop a comment below to let me know what this song inspires in you!

On Writing, Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt 31

Dig Down + My Name Is Human

This week’s writing prompt is some sci-fi cyberpunk awesomeness brought to you by the alternative rock bands Muse and Highly Suspect and one major geek of a writer (me, that’s me, gang).

A few years ago, I was working on a sci-fi story and had put together a playlist of songs to listen to while writing (because that’s what I do). One of the songs on that sci-fi playlist was Highly Suspect’s “My Name Is Human” from their second album The Boy Who Died Wolf. For me, that song was the overarching theme of what I was writing. While I really liked the song, I didn’t care much for the accompanying video. By contrast, Muse, a band that was very heavily represented on my sci-fi soundtrack, had released a song called “Dig Down” on their sci-fi-themed album Simulation Theory, and while I wasn’t a fan of the original version of that track, I freaking loved that video with its badass heroine played by Lauren Wasser. In essence, “Dig Down” was the video that I’d wanted for “My Name Is Human.” So, being the absurd, musically-obsessed dork that I am, I decided to watch the “Dig Down” video with the sound off while listening to “My Name Is Human.” And you know what? It worked! Moreover, it got me thinking more in-depth about the futuristic world that I was creating and also made me realize who the true main character of my story was.

I invite you to try my little experiment. Watch the video below with the sound off while listening to the song “My Name Is Human” by Highly Suspect (you can find the song on Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming platforms if you don’t have a copy of the album). See what the lyrics and images inspire in you.

On Writing, Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt 27

KA-CHUNK! Records in Annapolis, MD, has a closed sign that reads “Sorry we’re dead.” I loved this so much that I decided it was the closed sign on the door of a main character’s tattoo shop; it fit perfectly for the dark humor vibe I was going for. It’s been one of several interesting or odd signs I’ve come across. Your challenge for this week’s writing prompt is to find a way to use one of the signs in this post (or another that you find in the wild) in a piece of writing. Maybe it has only a brief cameo in a scene or maybe the sign ends up playing a pivotal role in the plot. Up to you!

On Writing, Ranée

Atmosphere

I love to write when it’s dark out; the quiet, the solitude have always been inspiring. Some of my best writing has come in those moments very late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, the house is quiet, and it’s just me and my thoughts, some candlelight and music. I also find dreary, rainy or stormy days to be perfect for writing. Today happened to be one of those days. Just me and the dog, so the house is relatively quiet. I sat down at my desk with my notebook and a pen, lit some candles, put on my Stormbringer playlist, and began filling in some blanks in my work in progress. I tend not to write linearly, instead just scribbling down whatever scenes come into my head during any given session, but it gets me in trouble because I end up with lots of gaps. In the past, those gaps have felt more like chasms and kept me from finishing stories. Not this time.

I can’t tell you just how much I needed today. I haven’t had many days like this one since the pandemic began. By that, I mean days where the house is quiet and I’m the only one here aside from the dog—perfect writing days. And, honestly, I’m not likely to get many of them in the future either, so my goal is to make the most of those that I do get to have, but also, to create that atmosphere whenever I don’t have perfect writing days, my calm inside the storm so to speak.

How will I do that? Well, low light, candles, and music go a long way toward creating that environment of inspiration for me. And I always have music, even when I haven’t got the others. I’ve previously written about just how influential music has been in my life, how it never fails to inspire me (see Cosmic Dancer). It transports me to another world, the one of my imagination, where I see and hear only the movie reel of my characters’ story playing out in my head to an ever-present soundtrack. So I don’t need the dark or the silence or a rainy day as long as I’ve got music.


For those who are interested, my stormy/rainy-day playlist includes the following songs:

  • “Lightning Crashes” by Live
  • “Riders On the Storm” by The Doors
  • “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage
  • “Cloud Riders” by Tori Amos
  • “Stormy Blues” and “Gloomy Sunday” by Billie Holiday
  • “Mood Indigo” by Nina Simone
  • “Prayers for Rain” by The Cure
  • “Rain” by The Cult
  • “Wind of Change” by Scorpions
  • “Fool In the Rain” and “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Purple Rain” by Prince
  • “Stormy Weather” by Etta James
  • “Calm Inside the Storm” by Cyndi Lauper
  • “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
  • “Africa” by Toto
  • “Atmosphere” and “Disorder” by Joy Division
  • “Elegia” by New Order
  • “Building a Mystery” by Sarah McLachlan
  • “Five String Serenade” by Mazzy Star
  • “All Along the Watchtower” and “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush
  • “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths
  • “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan
  • “Shadows and Tall Trees” by U2
  • “I of the Storm” by Of Monsters and Men
On Writing, Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt 19

My favorite Led Zeppelin song, “Tangerine,” from the band’s album III, is a song about lost love. Whenever I hear the lines

I was her love
She was my queen
And now a thousand years in between

I imagine some epic love story and subsequent heartbreak spanning lifetimes. It might be a sci-fi story, it might be a ghost story or some tale of horror, it might be a tale supernatural in nature. I haven’t figured out exactly what it means for me yet, but today’s your chance. Let the lyrics inspire you (listen to the full song if you like). What does it speak to you?

On Writing, Ranée

This Woman’s Work

Hey there! Thought I’d give you a little glimpse into my work for this Thursday. The relaunch of Tazeric is a little over two months away (June 1!), so I’m hard at work on John’s revisions this week. I’m also still writing my own novel (I’m deep into the shit-shoveling phase on that) and developing a workshop on dialogue.

I’m armed with a full water bottle, a cup of tea, candles, my notebook, and an Art of Ophelia pen (tools of this writer’s trade). Today’s also the first day in a very long while that I’m actually listening to records while working. Check out today’s rainy day soundtrack in the photos below.