Oline H. Cogdill

(Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series in which authors discuss their works or their lives.)

J.J. Hensley, left, is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, drawing on his law enforcement experience for his novels. Hensley’s debut, Resolve, was selected as a finalist for best first novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.

Hensley’s sixth novel, Record Scratch, follows private detective Trevor Galloway investigation into the life and career of a rock legend. Record Scratch will be published on October 22 by Down & Out Books.

In this essay, Hensley discusses music, an appropriate subject for his new novel.

The Writer’s Soundtrack
By J.J. Hensley

Every book has a soundtrack.

At least all of the books I write have a soundtrack.

You can’t download the full album on iTunes, but you could seek out some of the individual songs if you knew which ones were included. Which you don’t—because the soundtracks to my books are in my head and if you’re hearing them then we both have serious problems.

On some level, I blame Miami Vice.

Those of us who spent our formative years watching television in the ’80s were introduced to the concepts of both storytelling and coolness through the actions of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. They cruised around South Florida in an incredibly expensive sports car, wore sweet threads (socks optional), and worked narcotics cases while inexplicably using the exact same undercover names they would fearlessly drop for five powerful seasons.

The producers didn’t waste any time letting you know how high they were setting the bar of awesomeness.

In the second part of the two-part pilot, Crockett and Tubbs motored down a Miami roadway under the streetlights while Phil Collins let us know there is something was definitely coming In the Air Tonight.

I can tell you, for a 10-year-old kid longing for identity and adventure it…looked…awesome. Yes, it did. Oh, lord.

While there may have been a few problems with the story line of Miami Vice—okay, a million problems—the creators were onto something.

There has always been a strong relationship between music and storytelling and the two feed off of each other. I don’t know how a writer can’t hear music playing in his or her mind when envisioning and writing scenes.

Now the song may be different from day to day, but the mood of music is likely appropriate to the action in the story.

For instance, if the protagonist having a particularly tender romantic moment with a love interest, the writer may be hearing a favorite love song and probably not Back in Black by AC/DC.

Or maybe they are.

We won’t judge.

Even when I’m plotting out my stories while going for a run or in the car, I’ll skip through my iPod or cell phone and search for songs similar to the mood of the scene to which I’m thinking of because I find it stimulates my creative process and helps with visualization.

Sometimes, I’ll even stumble across a key word or phrase within a song that leads me to take a story one direction or another.

In fact, the entire prologue of my novel Record Scratch was inspired by a song that I had heard one day while driving.

The power of music is something to behold and shouldn’t be underestimated. Musicians convey a massive amount of emotion in a three to four minutes period and those feelings, as well as the memories we associate with certain songs, can stick with us for decades.

Novelists spread those emotions out over hundreds of pages and often struggle to captivate the reader the way music entrances the listener.

But, the novel is the author’s album—the writer’s soundtrack.

The lyrics are plentiful and the pacing is deliberate. The desk is the studio and the rough cuts are drafts. Edits can be painful and not everything will end up being part of the final product. There will be cover art, marketing, reviews, and hopefully fans of the work.

There will also be detractors—critics who claim the latest album is lacking when compared to the previous ones. There are sure to be cancelled appearances due to unforeseen circumstances, disagreements with publicists or publishers, complaints about royalties, and a hundred other irritations that come with the business.

Those are all part of the price we pay to get an album out there in the public eye, whether it is in writing or song.

The good and bad of the writer’s journey will factor into that individual’s future works and although you may not realize it, you’ll learn about the ups and downs; the celebrations and struggles.

Those moments may not be overtly spelled-out by the actions of their characters or described in an essay or blog post.

However, the next time you’re reading your favorite author’s work—if you listen carefully—her entire journey may be laid out song by song.