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What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Stephenie Meyer (sort of)

Already, I know my title for this week’s article has some of you mentally galumphing away and the rest of you indulging in some mimsy chortling. Well, my response to that is this: As always, WILAWriTWe holds something for everyone. I won’t be writing about Twilight itself (or even The Host, if you must know) — but I will share with you a tidbit I gleaned from taking a look at Stephenie Meyer’s writing habits.

How Indoctrination Happens

My first exposure to the Twilight saga came just over two years ago, when I saw a brief preview of what looked like a campy teen vampire flick. I wasn’t enthused enough to research further — but then, a few weeks later, I caught the same preview again and thought, “Hmmm.”

Vampires hiding amongst humans in plain sight. One vampire interested in something other than blood in a human. Verily, it had potential. What finally got me, I think, was a scene in the preview that actually ended up getting cut from the feature film: Emmett telling his “brother,” “This is wrong, Edward. She’s not one of us.”

Or something like that. At any rate, I’m a sucker for a storyline involving a main character who crashes through the box of tradition. So when my friend Mandy said, a few months later, “Hey, I have some books you should read,” I was quite ready to get sucked — tee hee — into Meyer’s Twilight universe.

I went with Mandy to the Barnes & Noble unveiling of the fourth novel, Breaking Dawn when I was in the middle of Chapter 3 of Twilight, the first novel in the series. People were running around the bookstore in all sorts of crazy costumes (yes, there were some wedding dresses) and T-shirts proclaiming their allegiance to some team or other. I hadn’t a clue what was going on.

Confused, I stared out across the crowd with what I’m sure was a slightly panicked look on my face — and then I left Mandy to the mercy of manic, make-upped teenagers and buried my nose in the book that had apparently incited this pop-culture mass hysteria.

Inevitably, the hysteria infected me and I went a little crazy with the rest of them. A few months passed, and I had read the entire series twice and become a devoted reader of Meyer’s blog. And that brings me to the point of this whole sordid tale.

Mixed Media

I promised this wouldn’t be a WILAWriTWe about Meyer’s novels, and it won’t be. But I must mention one more point about the Twilight books, because this was one of the main reasons the stories intrigued me: I could see, from one book to the next, the improvement in Meyer’s writing. Yes, she made a lot of the “cardinal errors” that creative writing programs are supposed to train out of us. And yes, I’ll admit I wanted to take a red pen to Twilight, even though I loved the story. At the very least, I felt her editor could have been a bit less forgiving.

Still. I could see marked improvement from one novel to the next and from Twilight to The Host. I had — and still have — respect for Meyer as a writer, which led me to regular perusal of her blog and of all Twilight-related tidbits she posted. And almost immediately, I discovered her playlists.

I am technologically illiterate. I am not up on the latest gadgets, gizmos, whizgigs, and whatsits. Facebook was around a good five years before I even heard of it, and I resisted Twitter for as long as I possibly could. Printer cables mystify me, and though I could change the oil on my car if I absolutely had to, I have been known to drive all the way from home to the highway with the parking brake engaged. I am the thorn in the side of my mechanically-minded male relatives, and I rely on the husband and the guy friends to teach me the ins and outs of such nebulosities as iPhone and “App Store” (read: Spare Oom and War Drobe, if you will).

So when this fellow writer, she of the sparkly vegetarian blood-suckers, confronted me with this alien creature known as, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.

But I didn’t whirl into a tizzy of confusion over a new-to-me technology. Instead, I just listened. I checked out the playlists that went with each of Meyer’s novels. I paid attention to which song she paired with which character. In several places, she even talked about how a certain song illustrated a specific scene. Once again, I tilted my head to the side and said, “Hmmm.”

You see, I had been turning over a story idea in my mind, and I already knew one of the main characters would be a fellow named Dante — a demon with an INXS obsession. INXS lyrics had been circling in my head for weeks, and I wasn’t sure yet what to do with them. Meyer gave me the answer.

I set up an account at (without a hitch, wonder of wonders) and put together a playlist of my favorite demon’s favorite songs. Not long thereafter, November 1st marked the start of NaNoWriMo — and I had free rein to let my demons loose in more ways than one. I spent an entire month listening to Dante’s playlist while pounding out his tale of obsession and spiritual mayhem. For the first time in my life, I was writing to music, and it was glorious.

Dante started quoting INXS. The female lead, Holly, responded to his quotations — and then she started thinking in his quotations. The more I let the music flow through me, the more the characters expanded, and the more the feel of the music determined the atmosphere of the novel’s every scene.

That playlist carried me through two Dante novels, Colors of Deception and its sequel, Shadows after Midnight. I knew there would be a third book, and I knew Dante’s music would stand me in good stead. What I didn’t know was that other characters would demand representation, as well.

Demonic Romance

A few weeks ago, I was surfing radio stations in the car, when a fairly heavy-sounding tune caught my attention. Intrigued, I listened until the end, hearing lyrics that felt familiar. The song, I discovered, was “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie. Later, when I Googled the lyrics at home, I found out why the song felt so familiar: It represented exactly what my character Holly is thinking and feeling in the third book of my series.

And thus was born a new playlist, featuring not only Rob Zombie, but also Apocalyptica, Phoenix, Porcupine Tree, and Linkin Park.

I resist listening to this playlist. I log on to and jam to my Miscellanous Music Mix. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I revisit Dante’s songs to remind myself of how the music smoothed his path from my imagination and into the story.

But the new playlist? I glance shyly away and pretend I haven’t peeked. Anytime our eyes meet, my heart pounds a little faster, and the corners of my mouth turn up a little more. There’s a promise in that list of songs. It’s a gamut of emotions that are not mine: They belong to my characters, and I’m not ready to give myself over just yet.

When the time is right (read: on 11/01/10), I’ll court those characters and their emotions in ways they cannot resist. I’ll woo them with melodies, charm them in lyrics, pursue them from one chord to the next. I’ll entice them with all the sensual passion the music has to offer…

…and through that music, they will enthrall and seduce me in return. Let the fascination begin.

And that’s WILAWriTWe.

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

8 Responses to “What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Stephenie Meyer (sort of)”

  1. Julie V. says:

    I think what bothers me most about this is not the fact that it’s a whole post devoted to Stephenie Meyer- I’m not a complete book elitist like some people.. ahem- but the face that there is a radio station that is still playing Living Dead Girl and that you were, in fact, listening to it.

    Uh oh. I think you’ve unearthed my inner music snob. Remind me to tell you about my time among the KSU Goths sometime.

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Okay, so in the meantime, we’ve discussed the KSU Goths. Check. 😉 As far as Living Dead Girl is concerned, it just captures so clearly the mindset of one of my (very non-Goth) MCs, I can’t help but connect with it. 🙂

  2. Wow, I feel so much better knowing that I’m not the only one who puts music to my characters/stories! Thanks for this post, Courtney.

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      You’re welcome, Jessie! I’m relatively new to the concept, but I think it’s going to become one of my favorite writing techniques. It helps me tap into my subconscious a lot faster and more effectively.

  3. Courtney,

    First of all, I love that pic!

    Second of all, I can’t believe a post involving Stephenie Meyer got through Aaron’s security! 😉

    Thirdly, I love that you’ve learned how to let your wriing be inspired by music. What a great idea! Now you’ve got me thinking…Hmmm…what would it be like to take an artist or a couple of albums and create a story from the mood and lyrics? We may have another Becca experiment coming on…

    (And you’ve definately given me some food for my upcoming blog!) 😉

    • Courtney Cantrell says:


      First of all, thanks! Julie did it. 🙂

      Second of all, I’m rather shocked about that, myself. I guess I must be doing something right to get such a special favor. 😉

      Thirdly, I think that is an absolutely perfect idea. And if I didn’t already have a definite, imperative project in mind for NaNoWriMo, I would most assuredly be in the running to try it out!

      (Filing away for future reference… 😉 )

  4. Josh Unruh says:

    Twilight aside (and as a fan of such stunning “vampires among us” fare as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and at least the first three of Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, I’d have to say very, very far off to the side please), the idea of playlists for particular books or characters is something I had to discover as well.

    I’m generally a hip hop head, but you can’t spin Ugly Duckling and Hieroglyphics while writing a supernatural western and expect the writing to work out well. So while I wrote Hell Bent for Leather, I only listened to a playlist consisting of Marty Robbins, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Johnny Cash. It helped IMMENSELY.

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Ohhhh, I bet Cash’s music is just perfect for writing to the western feel. I don’t even know who Ugly Duckling or Hieroglyphics are, but if it’s hip-hop, I can see where that might cause some surrealism to break out in your dusty streets at high noon.

      On the other hand…what would a supernatural western look like, if you wrote it entirely to hip-hop? Hmmmmm…..

      (And yes, though I don’t mind the occasional vampiric sparkle, I must say I do miss Spike, Louis, and Lestat. 😉 )