The writing soundtrack for Intraterrestrial

The creative process is a magical thing, and every creative person out there has their own unique way of tapping into it. Some people just flip open their laptop and go. Others need to do it with a pen and paper. And then there’s the vast majority of us, who have all kinds of ridiculously particular routines that will probably only get more ridiculous as we get older.

For me, when I decide that I’m feverish enough to start writing another novel, I like having a soundtrack. Seriously, having the right music gets me into the zone. You know, the creative zone. That’s the place where characters come to life and start arguing with you. Where the environment you’re creating starts to become more real than the room around you. Writers exist for this zone. We think about it constantly, whether we’re at the grocery store or trying to sleep. And for me, the right music helps me tap into that zone like cracking an egg creates the possibility of an omelet.

Coffee helps, too.

Nicholas Conley coffee dark

But it’s not just any music. For me, I’m apparently so ridiculous that by now, I like to have a specific playlist for each writing project I take on. I know, I know, it’s too much! But that’s how it is. When I’m writing, this music becomes so intimately connected with the novel that it becomes, for me, the story’s playlist. Back when I was writing Pale Highway, I spent a lot of time listening to The Album Leaf.  But Intraterrestrial required a different soundtrack.

Intraterrestrial alien meme night sky looking up Nicholas Conley Adam Helios Red Adept sci-fi science fiction ufo

Intraterrestrial is, without question, a weird novel. By its nature, this book is two stories, each one wrapped around one another like a braided rope: on one hand, there’s the tale of Adam, a young boy undergoing an imaginative journey through the cosmos, meeting “aliens” formed by his own imagination, while knowing that when he comes back to Earth, his life could be totally unlike what it was before. On the other hand, there’s the story of Camille, his mother—a woman stubbornly fighting to protect her son from the perils of the medical system, while battling her own guilt about the car crash that created this situation.

As I was writing Intraterrestrial, the music that really jump-started my creative process was that of Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, whose work I was introduced to when he scored the French film The Intouchables (which, by the way, I highly recommend!). To put it clearly, Einaudi’s album Divenire helped me form the backbone of this novel. Seriously, I almost can’t imagine writing it without that soundtrack. This particular piece, to me, totally captures Adam’s journey through space:


However, there’s another song that played an important role in the development of Intratrerrestrial, and this song also plays an integral role in the novel’s story. If you’ve read the book (now available on Amazon, don’t forget!), then you know the song I’m talking about: it’s Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live,” sung by the now tragically deceased Chris Cornell.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that Intraterrestrial first came to me, as a concept. But I do remember that when the story finally came together in my head—as I envisioned this boy riding a “lightboard” through outer space, while his physical body remained in a hospital bed on Earth—I was definitely listening to this song.

Now, let me ask all of you other writers, artists, and creative types in general: do you have specific soundtracks for your projects? Or on the other hand, maybe you have your own specific creative habits, outside of that?

If so, what are they?

Intraterrestrial: Available on Amazon!


What’s Your Background Music?

The creative process is often a solitary affair, wherein the creator must form a bubble around themselves, delve inward, and then tangle with their demons. While musicians have an obvious soundtrack to the creative process—I mean, their act of creation is to make that soundtrack—us less-than-musical creatives, if we desire background music, will have to look toward the work of others.

Writers, painters, woodworkers, mathematicians, jewelry makers, and more; we all tap into the same process.  For me, as a storyteller, my soundtrack operates on a scene by scene basis. Sometimes, the best soundtrack is simply the world outside my window, and I’ll use the sounds of the breeze, passing cars and voices on the street to create my world.

But at the same time, when I begin delving deeper into the storyline, I always create a musical soundtrack for every book I write: a list of songs, put together, that capture the tone of my work.  These soundtracks can get quite long, as I do a lot of writing, but I’ll give a few examples.

Art by Shelley C

Art by Shelley C

For The Cage Legacy, my soundtrack was suitably dark, angry and tragic, as would befit the story of a serial killer’s teenage son. There was a lot of Clint Mansell.  Some Smashing Pumpkins, as well. As Ethan is the kind of brooding 2000s-era high school millennial that nostalgically listens to 90s grunge, some of that made its way on there.

One piece in particular that I kept coming back to was Peter Gabriel’s dark, moody take on Arcade Fire’s song, “My Body is a Cage.”  Unsurprisingly, the whole “cage” thing in the title was definitely what led me to the song, but even today, it captures a certain emotion that always takes me right back into Ethan’s story.


Now, this brings us to Pale Highway, which possesses a different tone altogether.

Whereas The Cage Legacy was about adolescence, Pale Highway is about an older man nearing the end of a long life. Pale Highway is a contemplative character study of this brilliant man losing himself to an unbeatable disease, while racing against the clock to do one last good thing for the world before his dementia claims him.

For Pale Highway’s soundtrack, the music that I kept coming back to was the work of The Album Leaf, an ambient post-rock project by Jimmy Lavalle. There’s something so unique about the Album Leaf’s sound that totally captures the tone I envisioned in my head when crafting Pale Highway.  The two albums that most influenced me were 2001’s One Day I’ll be On Time and 2006’s Into the Blue Again; in order to fully appreciate both albums, both should be listened to in their entirety, where every track builds upon the last.  For the purpose of this post, however, these are the parts that had the most impact on me:

Naturally, as I write this post I’m listening to “Gust of…,” sipping on some coffee and enjoying the view of life outside my window.  Autumn is just starting to whisper clues about its arrival, but that beaming summer sun looks to be holding strong for at least another few weeks.

So, that’s me.  What about you guys?  When you’re working on your various creative projects, whatever they may be, what sort of soundtrack do you have?