In Which I Geek Out Over Instrumental Soundtracks

Growing up, my family was chock full of musicians. (Dad still plays drums. My mom taught flute. My eldest brother still plays the trumpet. My other brother played the trombone. I played the flute and piano.) So, needless to say, we’re used to being in an orchestra. Maybe that’s why I’ve always listened to instrumental soundtracks.

As part of my “Inspirations” lecture at Trinity College Dublin, I burned everyone a CD of my favorite songs and renamed them according to my manuscript. Then as part of my presentation, I described how music affects our perceptions in movies: such as,

  • low brass = menacing;
  • march = militaristic;
  • choir = holy;
  • french horn = heroic.

These aren’t hard and fast rules. For instance, I loved how Hans Zimmer “bastardized” waltzes in Gladiator‘s action sequences, and how Hans Zimmer slowed down Edith Piaf’s “No, je ne regrette rien” to turn it into Inception‘s distinct musical cues. CRAZY! If you haven’t checked this out, see below:

In any case, I’ve always loved instrumental soundtracks. And I challenge anyone to “out geek” me on this. I know a lot about them — TOO much, I sometimes think. I sometimes don’t have a sense of popular music, because I’m too busy downloading Ender’s Game by Steve Jablonsky.

Movies sometimes work BETTER than they should, because they have a good soundtrack (I’m looking at you, stupid Transformers). Sometimes I hate a movie because of it’s soundtrack (I despise Brokeback Mountain‘s constant guitar twang). Because I know the composers who are reliably good, I’m always divided about whether to download something prior to seeing the film. Sometimes when I do, I get the ability to listen and apply my own creativity to the music. Sometimes when I see the movie first, all I see is the scene the music goes with (i. e., it’s hard to ignore the hobbits while listening to Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings).

In any case, I’m a geek. More often than not, I put on my novel inspiration playlist when working on my manuscript. I’ve taking screen caps of what it is as of this morning. But KEEP IN MIND, this is only 59 tracks out of the 4,633 instrumental soundtracks I have. That’s 10.4 days worth. I pulled these 59, because they somehow remind me of something that will happen in Book 2 (which I’m working on right now).

Without further ado, here is my current “Novel – Inspirational” playlist:

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See anything familiar? Have any instrumental soundtrack questions? Let me know. I am your source for all things instrumental soundtrack related!


LAV Blog Hop: S. E. Leder

The “Like A Virgin” contest allows aspiring authors the opportunity to present their work to a highly talented group of published authors, editors, and agents for critique. It’s a fabulous opportunity. In the spirit of the contest, they would like to get to know some “firsts” of the authors involved, so here’s my list!

1. How do you remember your first kiss?
 It was with a guy who turned out to be a real jerk … I still follow him on Facebook though. Is that wrong? He seems lovely now.

2. What was your first favorite love song?
 “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. (I just asked my husband if that’s a love song, and he very adorably recited the lyrics to prove that it is.) I saw them in my first concert, which I didn’t admit for a long time. Now it’s awesome again. In fact, when Scottish Booker Prize nominee Andrew O’Hagan found out I’d been Dollywood, he grabbed my arm with his eyes wide and said, “I … LOVE … Dolly Parton!!!” Who knew she’d be so cool again?

3. What’s the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?
 Set myself up in our library with coffee, a dog bed (so my mini-dachshund doesn’t whine at me to pick him on), and slip on some headphones blasting some inspirational instrumental soundtrack music for the scene I’m doing. I might also try to watch a movie that’s similar to what I’m writing the night before. (See my post, How Movies Can Inspire Your Writing).

4. Who’s the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?
 I was always trying to write something my whole life, but I didn’t try to emulate anyone until I read Morgan Llywelyn’s “Lion of Ireland.” I’ve since spent a day with her IN IRELAND. It was amazing. She’s a great lady. Very Audrey Hepburn.

5. Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?
 HA! Are you serious? I rewrote the beginning 439508405493543 times, to the point that I now feel queasy looking at it. That being said, I am always willing to revise to improve my work. I’ll just wait until I have solid feedback. 🙂 The Battle of Toc prologue/chapter 1 got cut last year BUT it’s mostly been the same. That is the first official section I ever wrote for this book, in Ireland, back in 2001.

For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?
 Characters I would think. I actually wrote a section featuring Melandor Ormonde, King Cromas Morgenroth, and Selatse that I didn’t use in the book but always referenced in a historical context. That was invaluable for me to know.

What’s the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone’s tongue when they think of your writing?
 Epic. This is a cast of thousands, full of battles and betrayals, love and loss. I am hoping it’s the New Adult version of Game of Thrones.

What are some of your firsts, fellow writers?


How Movies Can Inspire Your Writing

In Book 1, I needed to create a very important, climactic scene where a character goes from “I don’t want to live anymore” to “I will burn this world to the ground” (which is, suffice to say, a complete 180 degree turn). Writing a sequence with that sort of character turn is daunting, but scenes like that do exist all around us.

In addition to being an avid reader, I’m a movie buff. Sometimes I find that watching something visually similar (rather than reading something similar) can help me write a scene. The biggest benefit is I still need to be the one who applies the words. There’s no skimping on this!

I remember one of the best bits of “research” that I did was to watch this scene from Dark Knight Rises, because Bruce Wayne goes from thinking being willing to die for a cause makes him formidable — to realizing that it’s the fear of death that makes men stronger. I watched this sequence multiple times for insight:

This scene absolutely helped me to think of how my character was going to make that 180 degree shift. I decided to go the route of chipping away at the psyche, as in providing little vignettes that gave insight into who this character was — particularly, how this character’s past translated to the future. It’s one of the most integral and (in my opinion) best scenes of the book.

Oftentimes, I’ll find myself thinking, “I’m going to work on Character X this weekend,” and that influences what movie I decide to put in the blu-ray player. I need frames of reference, even if they aren’t direct correlations.

Here are some of my influences for some of my main characters:

  • Melandor Ormonde (“The Ormonde”) and Selatse: the TV mini-series, Atilla the Hun
  • Helain the White: (my newest influence) Captain America and the Winter Soldier, as in he’s very Winter Soldier-esque. I need to see that movie again! He’s also very Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and very Tristan from King Arthur.
  • Caius Raynor: (my favorite movie) Gladiator
  • Book 1’s Peylon Morgenroth: Mordred in Mists of Avalon. Pretty much any incarnation of Mordred will do. I have a thing for brat princes. 🙂

What sort of movies inspires your characters? Do you watch specific scenes to get motivated?

In honor of the upcoming #PitchSlam, I’m going to discuss musical influences next. Be prepared. I’m a geek when it comes to instrumental soundtracks!

How to Get Back Into Writing Your Manuscript!

I write for my job, so when I work on my book on the weekends, it can start to feel like I’m never away from my laptop. So when I new I was going to miss my weekly writing group for a Chieftains concert, I decided to take the weekend off.

I reaped benefits from this, of course. I get to take a step back and look at what I’ve accomplished. I feel rejuvenated. My brain isn’t so distracted by all of the plans and characters in my universe.

But there are also down sides. I’m apart from the story, and it’s easy to feel like maybe I’d rather watch a movie or take a nap or read a book — anything besides working through my weekend again. 

Good tactic: Although I talked about how revising can bog down your forward momentum in the draft stage, revising can be a great tool to use when you’re trying to write new material. When I sat down to write the next submission for my writing group, I decided to look at my 60+ pages and implement the changes they suggested. This allowed me to revisit my story and become involved again. So on Sunday, by 5pm, I was able to submit a revised section to my group.

By 7pm that night, I had three more pages of new material already crafted. In fact, I’ve had trouble focusing on my day job because I’m so darned excited to keep going forward! (It also helps that this is Vespera’s section; she is the easiest POV for me to write, for some reason.)

In any case, that’s how I’ve gotten back into my schedule. How do you tackle taking a break and then returning to your manuscript?

~ S.

Let’s Examine “Moving Ahead” Versus “Revising” a First Manuscript

After I turned in Helain the White’s first section to my regular writing group, I laughed at their response. What did they say? “This is SO well written … but I have no idea what’s going on.” Of course I took no offense. This actually seemed to echo what I was feeling, which was that this particular scene was a beast to write. This happened before with The Ormonde’s section, and there too I had to significantly rewrite the scene.

When you’re working on a first manuscript, sometimes it’s difficult to keep up the forward momentum — especially when you run into problems. However, I’m learning that when I myself have problems, that most likely means it isn’t right.

Kerry gave such great feedback. She said, “How did he find Jered?” And I said, “He learned from interrogating someone that he visits this tomb.” Then she said, “That’s interesting. Why not show him DOING THAT?” Ummmm … right. Helain is one of those characters who benefits from actions. I constantly have to stop myself from explaining why he’s doing the things he’s doing. I want the reader to draw their own conclusions. As my favorite creative writing instructor in Dublin said, the writer’s job is to say “2+2” and the reader’s is to say “=4.”

So I went back and reimagined this scene, and I think this works so much better. However, this begs the question: “Should I stop to revise, or should I keep going?”

Sometimes I think new writers get bogged down in perfecting a piece of the whole. Sometimes you need to press onward and worry about the hardcore revisions later. Do I still consider my revised scene a draft? Absolutely. However, the plot particulars are so vastly different that I would have gone off on the wrong tangent had I not reimagined the scene. That’s when I think it does work to stop and rework something.

I’ve still got my writing group’s previous weeks’ edits sitting in my inbox and in my computer bag. I haven’t applied them yet, even though that’s like an itch I want to scratch. Instead, I want to focus on getting out pages. There are a lot of future Book 2 scenes I am SO looking forward to writing, so here’s hoping I can keep moving forward!

PS The draft is now at 54 pages!


In which I share tips for working on a first draft …

Although I haven’t posted on this blog lately (little events like getting married and hosting ALL of the holidays got in the way), I am happy to say that I’m back to working on Adamant, Book 2: Scourge of Stalfos. I have two solid chapters at around 45 pages, and I’m hoping to contribute to that page count over the weekend.

So, as far as writing goes, I know what I want to happen but not the particulars. Do you ever feel that way? It’s not that I’m blank on ideas. I’m simply not sure the particulars. So here are the tactics that have helped so far:

  • Scheduling write-ins. Something about getting out of the house and being other writers helps me to feel enthusiastic. I don’t want to “talk the talk” but not “walk the walk.” I can’t very well explain my writing intentions and then not follow through!
  • Contribute to the weekly writing group. I’m a part of a Triangle Writing Group, which meets every Tuesday night. We contribute our pages by Sunday night, and so I make that my pseudo-deadline for a draft. Sometimes it’s hard, when I have weekend plans going on. But I know it does kick me into gear to work on Saturdays. That way I can review things on Sunday.
  • Check out pages from my favorite novels. I typically read actual paper copies of books, but I use Kindle as my stash of favorite inspirational novels. Sometimes if I glance over similar scenes, that will inspire me. I think there’s nothing wrong with “ganking” a line from a favorite story and let my scene flow from there.

Let’s hope this equation helps me again last weekend. I wrote a now-favorite section, and now I need to keep up this momentum — especially as I’m hoping to work on a character my writing group loves the most! I have a lot to live up to. The pressure, the PRESSURE!

Happy writing everyone!


In which I take a weight-loss victory lap …

I have an announcement — not one that you may even care to know, except I care, and if you knew me, you’d know what a big deal this is.

As of today, I have now lost 25.6 pounds!

This means that I have crossed a minor milestone. That’s some significant weight, people. I still have a long way to go. Obviously. But I feel transformed enough by this achievement that I will break my silence about it.

What prompted this: Although I have a heart condition, I have not had a weight-related heath issue. I am no where near being diabetic. I have the lowest cholesterol in my family practice. My blood pressure has always been low. I have had, until last year, no reason to lose weight except for cosmetic reasons. Then last year, I was diagnosed with esophageal ulcers. I had to have not one — but two endoscopies. Even now I’m sleeping on a wedge pillow and taking additional medication, and in December, I had a bought of gastritis that had me in the Orlando hospital for nine hours. I mean, I’m in my 30s! This is ridiculous! So January, I started the year feeling fairly low. My mother, who was on the fringe of high sugar levels, asked me to do this diet with her. So, I agreed.

Some of you already know about my diet, as you’ve seen me eating a bar at lunch instead of a meal. I started this in mid-January, and now it’s May. I go to the Diet Center in downtown Cary to weigh in twice a week, and — full disclosure — my meal plan involves:

  • Breakfast: Shape Up shake, 12 oz of water, coffee
  • Lunch: Shape Up bar, 12-16 oz water, 100 calorie yogurt
  • (Exercise: 16 oz of water)
  • Dinner: 4 oz of white meat (or 8 oz of any shell fish), as much veggies as I want, small potato or sweet potato, 12 oz of water, coffee
  • Snack: Fruit, Shake Up shake, 12 oz of water
  • 12 oz of water to take my pills

So essentially, I have one real meal a day.

I’ve been saving tons of money on groceries, as I only skirt the perimeter of the store. What I mean is that I only pick up fruit and salad stuff from the produce aisle, hit the dairy section for coffee creamer, eggs, and yogurt, and then occasionally pick up frozen vegetables. That’s it.

Here are a few of my revelations since being on this diet:

Food: It’s really, really, really difficult to find a healthy meal. As in, forget about Italian, Indian, and Chinese food. Sushi, which I thought was very good for you, is wrapped in rice … which is a carb. I’m only officially allowed to have 4 sushi rolls, so what exactly is the point? With the exception of the shakes and bars I eat, I have had absolutely no processed food since January.

  • Favorite meals out: Grilled chicken salad at Red Robin, grilled chicken salad at Chic-Fil-A which I get every Friday, grilled chicken salad at Cheesecake factory (are we seeing a theme here?), snow crab legs at Red Lobster — sans any garlic cheese biscuits.
  • Favorite meals I make in: 4 egg omelet with veggies and tomatoes (the key ingredient), BBQ shrimp and green beans, air-popped popcorn with Parkay butter spray.

Purchases: So, I got a treadmill for my birthday which is revolutionizing my life. I’ve discovered that I am a treadmill reader, and I get antsy if I don’t get my 30 minutes (at least) of uninterrupted, quiet reading time. That means I’ve been blazing through my to-read novels. I read 3-4 chapters in one session, so I’m hoping to maybe read 2-3 books a month. All while sweating profusely. Ha!

Additionally, Mom and I have gotten to the point where our clothes are too big. We’re on a “too big” watch-list. If I see her in some saggy pants or tops, I tell her to toss them. Same for me. For instance, I had to go buy some new pants, because I was getting desperate. Next up (which may be TMI for people) are new bras. I can now put my fist into my bra while wearing it, and according to my measurements, I’m down two whole sizes.

Compliments: So, it’s only been recently that acquaintances are starting to say, “Wow, you’ve really lost weight.” I read someone’s post about how someone telling you that you look great having lost weight is a double-edged sword, because if you start to gain it back, does that mean you don’t look great anymore? But I don’t view this as, “You’ve lost weight, and now you have more value.” Instead, I view this as, “You’ve lost weight, and I’m recognizing your hard work.” While I have longingly looked at cute clothes that I’ve never been able to wear, I have never been someone who has focused on physical appearance. Maybe that’s to my ultimate detriment, but I do think this has instilled me with a healthy appreciation of what it means to look healthy. I don’t want to be stick thin; I just want to look and feel great.

That’s already happening. I have a LOT of energy, much more than I had last year. I’m taking the “grand tour” of bathrooms of everywhere I go. For instance, I was at Memorial Auditorium for a concert and hit the facilities three times. Nuts!

I still have a long way to go, but I’m definitely on my way. I’m going to look and feel completely different by October-December of this year!