This post contains spoilers for people not caught up through the story. I think through chapter 12.
Anyone who reads the story or just simply looks at the table of contents can probably figure out what Elspeth’s play list is. I don’t, however, form the chapters with songs that she would listen to in mind. I’ve been meaning to write about the titles, how they come about, and how music informs my writing process. This will probably be the only writing exercise I’ll put on the blog.
A long time ago, I was working on some drabble that would eventually become the scene where Elspeth sees Onmund for the first time and I was listening to “I’ve Just Seen a Face” over and over, which is something I have to do sometimes even if it makes my husband crazy cakes. At that point I had posted the prologue and the first two chapters and had no intention of using song lyrics as titles. I thought perhaps I would occasionally use song lyrics as epigraphs. I intended to do just with the first Onspeth chapter, but the lyrics just don’t look right as an epigraph. That’s when I decided to start using song lyrics as chapter titles. The interesting thing about Chapter 12 is that “I’ve Just Seen a Face” works on two levels. First, she sees Onmund’s face, starting that whole thing. She also sees Ancano’s face, which causes her to faint. Well, all right maybe not two whole levels.
Some of the titles are chosen because they fit the theme and content of the chapter perfectly. Examples of these are Chapter 3, which uses a line from “Friends” by the White Stripes and Chapter 3 of Book 2, which is a line from “Weapon of Choice.” That song is sort of doubly appropriate in a nerdy-geek context, given the reference to the epic science fiction story Dune. Walk without rhythm and it won’t attract the worm.
Obviously, not all of my chapter titles work so perfectly. Sometimes, it’s just the song that’s been in my head all week. I won’t use a song, however, if doing so would violate the meaning of the song, such as when couples use “Every Breath You Take” as their wedding dance. But some I felt the lines really suited the chapters (even if the whole songs didn’t). A perfect example of this is chapter 35, which takes its title from “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens. I listen to a lot of Cat Stevens when I write.
Sometimes I make my husband come up with the titles. I dedicated Chapter 11 to my grandfather who was a World War II vet. The story behind that one is this:
In 2008 I saw my very second Iron Maiden show and they were playing stuff from Powerslave and other older things. And that’s when I fell in love with Iron Fucking Maiden. They had big screens showing The Battle of Britain, Churchill’s speech, etc. My mind was blown. Just blown. My husband told me that Bruce Dickinson is a history buff. Then I heard Rime of the Ancient Mariner and I died and came back to life and cursed myself for being Too Cool in my twenties for Iron Maiden. So, when I wrote this chapter and used a story that my grandfather actually told me about his WWII experience, I decided that I needed to use an Iron Maiden song lyric for the title and I made Mr. Elspeth pick one.
He also suggested “All Along the Watchtower” for Chapter 2 of Book 2. That one is so freaking obvious, but it’s such a good song.
I posted Chapter 5 the day after Adam Yauch died, which is why that chapter title is from “Root Down.” I would have preferred “Phone is Ringing, Oh my God,” but that would have not been appropriate for my story.
Occasionally, I’ll modify a song so that it suits Skyrim better such as “Whiterun Girl” (and I will never, ever stop apologizing to Steve Earle for that) and “No Sleep Til’ Riften,” for Chapters 8 and 33, respectively. Or “Septims from Heaven,” for Chapter 19.
I listen to music constantly. I have tinnitus and I need something to offset the constant ringing. When I sleep, it’s white noise, when I work, it’s usually Baroque or the Skyrim or Morrowind soundtracks, and when I do everything else it’s music with lyrics (unless we’re watching He-Man or Voltron). The artists represented in the list are a fairly good representation of what I listen to all the time, except for the White Stripes because “Friends” is the only song I like by them. Cat Stevens, David, Bowie, the Beastie Boys, the Pogues, Ani DiFranco, the Beatles, Primus, Les Claypool, Bing Crosby, Steve Earle, Jimi Hendrix, XTC, the Arcade Fire, Elvis Costello, When in Rome, Pink Floyd, the Clash, R.E.M., Dethklok, Tori Amos, Rage Against the Machine, Gnarles Barkley, Sting, Ween, Fatboy Slim, Radiohead, Incubus, the Pixies, and there are so many more coming.
Soon, I’ll have the one chapter that will be a framed by a song too important (to me) to be used as a chapter title and will be granted full epigraph status.
I’m looking over this list, and the list of chapter titles I have coming up and I realized that this is basically the history of my musical taste, so it has also been an interesting exercise in that respect.
Finally, I have a couple of things to add. I got questions pertaining to specific events to Elspeth’s life. Pyrelle asked about her entrance music. I gave this some thought and realized I needed to know, “entrance to what?” I mean, is she entering a party? Like a festival in Solitude? Because then it would have to be Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” or Spring (Allegro) from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons or Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.” Is she arriving to defeat an enemy? Perhaps, “Mars” from The Planets by Holst. Or, “The Imperial March,” by John Williams.
Pyrelle also wanted to know if there is one song that sort of represents Elspeth and I’m having a hard time coming up with one so I’m just going to say it’s “Lotus Eaters” by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet because it’s beautiful. It’s upbeat, which represents her zealousness but I feel like the melody tells a story and at times sounds serious, mature, light, and touching without ever being sacchariney. It doesn’t touch the lowest points in her life. I think for that, I would like something LAGQ’s “The Yellow Cake Review, Farewell to Stromness,” which is not a sad song exactly but is something I could see her listening to after a particularly bad time, when she has to mourn quickly and then soldier on.
Finally, I was asked if there is a song for Onspeth. For this I went to the most ideal place, where their relationship is mostly cotton candy and rainbow colored unicorn poop. They live someplace far less dangerous than Skyrim and are not shouldered with the responsibilities of having Dragon blood. And for that we have “Concrete and Clay” by Unit 4+2.
All other attempts at finding a song for them just gives too much away and I’m not ready to do that yet.