Last night Maureen McHugh, here in Seattle to teach week 2 of Clarion, had a reading at the University Bookstore. She read a new, as yet unpublished story of singular bleakness (David Levine, who had seen it at a workshop, referred to it as a "despair machine.") The story, set in a post-apocalyptic United States, features an unsympathetic protagonist named Jane. Maureen said that while she was writing it, she listened over and over again to Jane's Addiction: "It got me in the right mood."
The relationship of writing to music is a highly individual one. Only once have I played a song obsessively to affect my writing a specific scene, and that was fairly recently. In the YA fantasy I am (interminably) writing, there is a scene in which savage soldiers march into a castle, wave upon wave of them in battle formation. I had first imagined this as occurring to "Mo Ghile Mear" as sung by The Chieftains, with solo by Sting, and I played the CD over and over as I wrote that scene.
Ordinarily, however, music just distracts me when I'm writing. Yet I know writers who cannot work without rock blaring away. Some of these same people say they can be jarred out of the writing mood by so much as a phone ringing. The authorial mind is a strange and fearsome thing.
Here is Maureen, reading her story, hearing who-knows-what music in her head as background to a tale of desperate and opportunistic survival: