When people ask about my writing process, I usually describe it as “blind panic.” The fact is, my approach differs wildly from book to book. Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the story pours out of me, and sometimes getting words down is like pulling teeth. But there’s been one constant throughout: I can’t listen to music while I write.
That tends to make any book soundtrack I cook up something of an afterthought—but not this time. Though I still wrote in silence, music played a huge role in the genesis of Red Right Hand.
Obviously, I borrowed my title from the Nick Cave song of the same name. He was kind enough to grant me permission to use a quote from it as an epigraph; it appears alongside the Milton quote that, in turn, inspired him.
Red Right Hand’s opening chapter features a man attempting to recreate a photo taken of his parents on their honeymoon. That photo was based on the iconic cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, on which “Masters of War” appears. (My first draft even name-checked the album.) I chose that song in particular because the book grapples with the privatization—and monetization—of global security.
Dylan sneaks into the soundtrack a second time as the songwriter behind Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man.” It, too, appeared in an early version of the book, as the song Chet Yancey whistles at the end of chapter eighteen.
Neko Case’s “Knock Loud” is a cheeky homage to the weirdest meet-cute I’m ever likely to write, in which a retired gangster attempts to break into a wealthy ex-professor’s home.
Said retired gangster needed a distinguishing characteristic to tie his physical appearance to that of his younger self in the prologue. I was stumped as to what it should be until I took a walk and The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” popped up on shuffle.
As for the other tracks, each is resonant in its own way. A mood, an image, a phrase. But to tell you much more would be to dip into spoiler territory, so instead I’m gonna shut up and let you listen in peace.
Oh, one last thing: in an ideal world, this playlist would include Morphine’s “Take Me With You,” but Spotify failed me. Feel free to find it elsewhere and give it a spin.
Chris Holm is the author of the Collector trilogy, which blends crime and fantasy, and the Michael Hendricks thrillers. His first Hendricks novel, The Killing Kind, was nominated for an Anthony, a Barry, a Lefty, and a Macavity Award and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Boston Globe Best Book of 2015, and Strand Magazine’s #1 Book of 2015. Hendricks returns in Red Right Hand, now in bookstores. For more about Chris, including links to his Twitter profile and Facebook page, visit www.chrisholmbooks.com.