Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing to a Soundtrack

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Writing to a Soundtrack

Some writers like to write to music. Others require complete silence. I think I fall somewhere in between.

I tend to write in public -- at coffee shops and libraries, places with lots of chatter and white noise. I find silence paralyzing. I grew up in a large family, and as a result, I developed a certain noise tolerance that allows me to get work done in relatively cacophonous environments.

There are times, however, when the constant squelching of the latte machine combines with a chorus of screams from a dozen cranky babies, and suddenly the white noise turns crimson, in the form of blood percolating from my eardrums. That's when I plug my headphones into my laptop, point-and-click up the volume, and fight fire with fire!

But I don't only listen to music for purposes of sound combat. Often I'll play a certain song to set the mood for a scene, or to get into a character's head. Below is a sample of songs that I put on heavy rotation over the course of writing Poison Shy:

SHORE LEAVE by Tom Waits

The clanky, moody, gutter-music of Tom Waits' "Shore Leave" was the perfect song to have in my head while conjuring up the bars, warehouses, and ramshackle streets of Frayne, the fictional small town in which Poison Shy is set.

A GIRL LIKE YOU by Edwyn Collins

This 90s classic might as well have been written by my protagonist, Brandon, about his confused and masochistic relationship with the unpredictable firecracker Melanie Blaxley.

UNTITLED by Neutral Milk Hotel

One of the recurring settings in Poison Shy is a bar called The Bloody Paw. The first time Brandon walks inside, I imagined this seizure-inducing tune blasting from the speakers overhead, assaulting his eardrums and forcing the drunken students inside to scream their conversations in each other's faces.


This song is playing during one of the novel's climactic scenes. I won't give anything away, but the video is a good excuse to see Joan Jett decked out in black leather with an awesome 80s hairdo.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden holds a BA from the University of Toronto and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto. Poison Shy (ECW Press) is his first novel.

Go to Stacey Madden’s Author Page