Some people say you should believe in signs. That Serendipity is a thing. When I was writing Island Red, my music selections were so eclectic that I thought it might be fun to include a little “this book was written to the sounds of…” section at the back. As I neared the manuscript’s completion, I got my hands on one of Brian Keene’s recent books, The Complex, and saw he had done that very thing. And while I intended to include my own compilation of track lists at the end of Island Red, I never got around to it, which makes it the perfect topic for today’s blog post.
Before sitting down to write, one of the first things I do is suss out a playlist. This can be whole albums, an incredibly random selection of songs, or an inconsistent combination of both. The right playlist has helped me realize the world I’m trying to create on more than one occasion, and this has never been more true than in the case of Island Red.
Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley
I don’t write anything these days without blasting a healthy dose of Perturbator at some point. I’m addicted to that genre of music, even though I’m not 100% sure what it’s called. I’ve heard it described as neo-retro, synthwave, and dark synth. Whatever it is, stuff like Perturbator represents the bulk of my listening habits these days, and he sits at the top of that list.
Perturbator released a new album while I was working on Island Red. This makes sense, as I’ve always felt the gentleman behind this music is somehow creating it just for me. Uncanny Valley is as dark and atmospheric as synthwave gets. Those of you who journey to Island Red will meet a character called Janessa Preston, and the whole of Uncanny Valley is kind of her jam. Hers is a shadowy world of dark secrets and terrifying realities. Uncanny Valley scores a world that feels much the same, which is why it became intrinsic of Janessa.
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – Jump Up
Dr. No (both Ian Fleming’s novel and Terence Young’s film) is probably one of Island Red’s largest influences. My fictional island is called Crystal Key, and it’s a none-too-subtle tip of the hat to that story’s Crab Key locale. Island Red features a resort called Shifting Tides, and the earliest scenes there were written with this song in mind. Yeah, Jump Up is dated and modern kids wouldn’t be found anywhere near this, but when you’re trying to establish the mood and atmosphere of island festivity, how can you top this one?
Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now
Sometimes Johnny Nash feels like the odd man out in my collection but his 1972 album, I Can See Clearly Now, makes for a perfect listen on warm summer night. His carefree voice and laid back melodies easily transport the listener to a better place. This album, along with Nash’s earlier song Hold Me Tight, informed the mindset of just about everyone living on Crystal Key–to the point where this album became their unofficial mantra. Everyone lives there because they want to escape the doldrums of mainland life. As Nash himself sang, “no more fussin’ and a fightin.'”
Taylor Swift – 1989
One of Island Red’s main characters is a 13 year old boy, and while I was tempted to find something a little “edgier” for Reggie, that wasn’t the person he ended up being. It was this, one of the catchiest pop albums I’ve ever heard, that wound up helping me step inside Reggie’s world. He may not even be the world’s biggest Tay Tay fan, but 1989 represents the world he’s growing up in. There’s an early subplot about a slightly order girl living in his building that he’d like to ask out if only he could find the courage to do it, and that’s why 1989 fits him like a glove.
John Carpenter – Lost Themes II
As much as I loved the first Lost Themes album, this one’s far superior. I love the way it shifts between horror and sci-fi, between driving and haunting. The tracks on this follow-up have stayed with me for a lot longer, with one of them inspiring a scene to unfold in a very specific way:
Halfway through the novel, there’s a scene where two survivors have to traverse the island in order to make an escape, and the entire scene was hashed out by rocking “Last Sunrise” on a loop. It captures the desolated eeriness that the scene is all about. It’s just perfect music, and being inspired by it is probably the closest I’ll ever come to collaborating with John Carpenter, so I’ll take whatever I can get.
You can get Island Red on Amazon. Now that you know a little about the music that was instrumental in getting this story out, give it a read and let me know what you think.