It’s My Novel Flex’s Birthday! So Let’s Talk About The Music That Influenced It.
Hey, my first novel Flex was published two years ago today! (But it’s not my last novel, thankfully – don’t forget my immortality cyberpunk thriller The Uploaded, due out this September.) And as a celebration and thanks, I figured I’d give you the songs that helped inspire the ‘Mancer series.
Because every book I write usually has a couple of core songs I listen to on repeat. They’re what convey the mood to me – sometimes it’s the lyrics, sometimes it’s the instrumentals. When I’m stuck on the eternal novel question of “What happens next?” I’ll listen to those songs over and over again until they lead me back to the central themes of the novel.
Or, as it happens from my poor wife’s perspective, “Are you still playing that goddamned song?”
Now, the central song of Flex was so obvious, I wanted to use the lyrics as part of the book. But here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: getting permission to use song lyrics in a book these days takes months of paperwork and can cost you $5,000 to use a popular lyric. (I was severely misled by Stephen King’s novel Christine, which was written in the 1980s and uses lyrics at the beginning of every chapter. I doubt even he could afford that now.)
So instead, I used the lyrics of this song as section titles in Flex, which I’m told is perfectly fine. References are cool, wholesale quotes are not. The music industry is weird. But I mean, if we’re discussing the life of Paul Tsabo, the bureaucracy-based magician who longed for magic, isn’t this perfect?
Watch out, you might get what you’re after
Cool babies, strange but not a stranger
I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
(The live version from Stop Making Sense, of course. I’m not a savage.)
However, Paul’s most essential nature comes from, weirdly enough, an Epic Rap Battle. Because readers of the book will know that one of Paul’s weirder powers is that when the universe starts to fragment thanks to overusage of magic, his stubbornly bureaucratic insistence that the world must make sense helps stitch it back together. And whenever he did that, weirdly, I took inspiration from Weird Al rapping as Sir Isaac Newton.
Because if you listen to this, when he bellows “First Law!” and that bass note drops in, to me, that is Paul, outraged, reminding the universe that there are laws and physics damned well better follow them.
Now, as to Valentine, everyone’s favorite videogame-slinging, sex-crazed girl gamer, she’s got her own theme song. I was looking for a song with swagger, and I stumbled upon this in my iTunes library – if you listen to Sirah rapping through her segment, to my mind that voice is Valentine’s.
(Though thanks to electronic filtering, I didn’t register that the voice said “Big white girl, don’t let her bite your dick off.” Valentine wouldn’t do that; she’s far more likely to jam one of her collection of dicks up your ass. She loves that.)
Interestingly, Skrillex (of all bands!) is rooted deeply in the ‘Mancer series, because when I was looking for a song that summed up the franticness of a drug deal gone wrong because Aliyah was fucking up everything. And the song that rooted The Flux down was Bangarang, a song whose lyrics make zero sense but whose intensity really mirrored how the family was flying apart at the beginning of the book:
Now, if you want proof that I don’t always listen to lyrics, for the third book in the series Fix, I wanted a song that summed up the appeal of the zombified Unimancers – the military brainwashing that was harsh and yet somehow appealing. And… well, I don’t listen to lyrics.
So the feel of the song that drives Aliyah deeper into Unimancy is dark, mysterious, and alien. To me, it’s an ominous terror. But alas, the lyrics of Timbaland’s “Bounce” involve the classic line, “Bounce like yo’ ass had the hiccups,” which in retrospect is a little embarrassing.
Still. I listened to this song on endless repeat when writing Fix, so here it is.
And lastly, a bit of a sneak preview: the song that roots my upcoming novel The Uploaded needed to be about rage and betrayal – because in a post-singularity world where digitally uploaded humans are immortal and the living are considered quaint slave labor, useless until they’ve transitioned into their electronic death, I needed a song that carried the seeds of a sweaty, breathing rebellion.
So for The Uploaded, there was no other song except for Rise Against’s Re-Education (Through Labor).