May 11 – 17: “What are the best bands for writing thrillers?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we join ITW Members Wendy Tyson, Ralph Pezzullo, Cat Connor, Kathrin Lange, JG Faherty, Barbara Petty, Suzanne Johnson, Gary Grossman, Arthur Kerns, Jean Heller and Andy Boot to discuss music and writing. What are the best bands for writing thrillers? Or does haunting classical music work best?


hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, “Maximum Impact” and “Handyman” by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, “The Someday File,” to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.


Pirate's Alley by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne Johnson is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series from TOR Books. Book four, PIRATE’S ALLEY, was released in April 2015. Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the best-selling Penton Legacy paranormal thriller series, as well as The Collectors romantic thriller series, both for Montlake Romance, as well as several standalones. A displaced New Orleanian, Suzanne currently lives in Alabama.


Hunt the Fox by Don Mann and Ralph PezzulloRalph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author, and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His books have been published in over twenty languages and include Jawbreaker (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen), Inside SEAL Team Six (with Don Mann), The Walk-In, At the Fall of Somoza, The Chopin Manuscript (winner of the 2008 Audio Book of the Year), Plunging Into Haiti (winner of the 2006 Douglas Dillon Prize for American Diplomacy), Eve Missing, Blood of My Blood, Most Evil (with Steve Hodel), the SEAL Team Six thrillers Hunt the Wolf, Hunt the Scorpion, Hunt the Falcon, Hunt the Jackal, and The Navy SEAL Survival Handbook (also with Don Mann).

Eraserbyte by Cat ConnorCat Connor is a Cantabrian who’s lived most of her life as a northerner. (Makes it a bit hard when the Crusaders play the Hurricanes but apart from that it’s not too bad.) She shares her office with a retired racing greyhound called Romeo and Missy the fat grey cat. Luckily the animals don’t mind loud music. Hosting a fortnightly writing workshop at the Upper Hutt City Library: A Writer’s Plot, is something Cat truly enjoys, and she’s been doing so for 3 years. A coffee addict, lover of pinot, and Jose Cuervo tequila, Cat has been described as irresistible, infectious, and addictive. She believes music is as essential to life as breathing. Cat is a member of The New Zealand Society of Authors and International Thriller Writers. Her latest book, databyte, is longlisted for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh best crime novel Award.

old earthGary Grossman is an Emmy Award–winning television producer, a journalist, college teacher, and author of the bestselling thrillers Executive Actions, Executive Treason, and Executive Command, from Diversion Books. As a member of the International Thriller Writers he has participated in numerous ThrillerFest panels. He credits Michael Palmer for helping launch his career and thanks other ITW members W. G. Griffiths, Steve Berry, and C. J. Lyons, among others, for their help and inspiration. Grossman teaches at Loyola Marymount University’s Graduate School of Film and Television and is a contributing editor to Media Ethics Magazine.

langeKathrin Lange was born in 1969 and lives in Northern Germany. After working at a theological bookshop and publishing one oft he most famous German writer’s magazines “Federwelt”, since 2005 she has been writing novels. Her thrillers are translated into several foreign languages and the story of her thriller 40 HOURS has recently been opted for TV. Kathrin Lange is deeply committed to the promotion of reading and also works as a novel writers’ coach.


TheCureJG Faherty is the author of six novels, seven novellas, and more than 50 short stories. His latest novel is THE CURE, a paranormal thriller about a veterinarian who can heal by laying hands. He has been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award® and the ITW Thriller Award. To learn more, please visit his blog and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



Dying Brand by Wendy TysonWendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. The first Allison Campbell mystery, KILLER IMAGE, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by, and the third Campbell installment, DYING BRAND, is due out on May 5, 2015. Wendy lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons and two muses, dogs Molly and Driggs.


What Has Mother Done_B Petty Cover Final (1)Barbara Petty was born and educated in the Midwest. After a sojourn in Paris during college, she went bi-coastal, starting in New York and then moving on to Los Angeles. She has been a newspaper reporter, a magazine editor and written animation scripts for TV shows such as Transformers, G.I. Joe and My Little Pony. She’s also worked in the film industry, both on staff and behind the camera. What Has Mother Done? is her fourth published novel, and the first of the Thea Browne mystery series.


africaArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. In March 2013 Diversion Books, Inc. published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract and in May 2014 the sequel, The African Contract.


nodovesAndy Boot has spent most of his career in the shadows as one of the writers behind the series ‘Deathlands’ and ‘The Executioner’, having written 28 novels in these franchises. He also created the ‘Dreams Of Inan’ series for Abaddon, as well as co-creating three other series, writing one novel, and being series consultant. He has written four non-fiction books under his own name, including a seminal work on British Horror films (‘Fragments Of Fear’). He has worked in TV and new media, and just likes writing. He lives just outside London.


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  1. As I have shared with many of my fellow writers, listening to music while writing helps block out distractions and lets me focus on my work in progress. Music from the Internet radio, like Apple iTunes, is a handy source. Ambient New Age sound tracks I find are a good backdrop for working action scenes, and symphonic classical music fits the bill for the romantic and lighter segments. Sometimes, I try electronic music and slip the CD Slowburn by Submodern into the computer and let the vibes do what they will. Occasionally, interesting unexpected results occur.
    Band music and pop just doesn’t do it for me. I stop writing and the mind drifts on other things, like when was the last time I heard that piece and what was I doing. Light jazz does the job when I write late at night and get a little philosophical or nostalgic.
    After I choose a particular music selection and it settles me into writing, my characters and their story lines start traveling into their worlds. I just try to keep up with their ups and downs.

  2. I sort of agree with you, Arthur. I have thousands of cuts of pop music and light rock from the 60s and 70s, but if I try to listen to that sort of thing while I’m writing, I start singing along (you don’t want to hear that) or keeping time and lose all train of writing thought.

    But I have 35 cuts from the soundtracks of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — about 2 hours and 20 minutes worth of instrumentals — and that really works well for me. Mellow me right out. Even the tracks that accompanied battle scenes are gorgeous to hear.

    Electronic tracks work for me for action scenes.

    1. Is the fact that it adds up to a certain amount of time important? Maybe not in the days of iplayers, etc, but I’m very old skool and still use CD’s. As I tend to write in one hour bursts then break for five (I obey my optician), I find a lot of the time I tend to avoid certain bands/albums because they’re not that long… for instance, I would never play The Damned’s first album as it’s only 31 minutes, but I will play a compilation CD of theirs as it runs over an hour. Of course, there are certain genres where a band wouldn’t be seen dead if the album ran less than an hour… So is it more than just the music per se that counts?

  3. I should add that classical guitar also works for me. I’ve been playing guitar since I was in college, and hearing the masters demonstrate how it should be done makes me smile.

  4. Hello to all,

    soundtracks for a long time have been the best choice for me, too. The big orchestral stuff like “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Gladiator” or “Avatar”. But since my main character Faris Iskander is listening to bands like Metallica or Helloween I started to hear music of those bands. Especially when I have to force Faris beyond his limits. “Waiting for the thunder” of Halloween recently has become some sort of soundtrack for Faris’ story. And “Hold me in your arms” is Iras theme. 🙂

  5. I’m with almost everyone here–the pop and rock songs distract me because I find it hard to sing and write at the same time–LOL. I do like something familiar, though, so I listen to French-Canadian pop/folk music. I’m a huge fan of David Jalbert, Vincent Vallieres, Alexandre Desiliets, and Kain….the music has a lot of energy and my French isn’t quite good enough for me to find the lyrics distracting. I discovered this “secret” while listening to Cajun singer-songwriter Zachary Richard’s French-language music to set the mood for my first couple of books in the Sentinels of New Orleans series. Now I’ve branched out!

  6. I just can’t listen to music when I’m writing. It’s much too distracting for me. I find myself NOT listening to the voices of my characters. Or they come through in a way that fits the music and not as I know them to be. It’s my way, and I’m stickin’ to it–although I do know a number of writers who listen to music on a regular basis. Just not me.

  7. Barbara, I feel the same as you. Music usually interferes with my ability to hear the voices of the characters. With one exception. Sometimes I listen to the music my characters are playing on their iPods, phones, or other devices. Tom Crocker, the lead characters in the SEAL Team Six series, likes to listen to late ’50s-early ’60s era jazz when he’s getting ready for an op – Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, etc. On the other hand, when he’s running or working out, he blasts high-energy Metallica, Black Sabbath, and the Stones.

    1. Interesting that you’ll listen to the music your characters are listening to. In my case, I’ll decide to put them in the spot of listening to what I have on. I’ll have to see if they can lead me to the experience rather than the other way around!

      1. Indeed, I’ve never tried that – it’ll be interesting to see where it leads. I did once write a series entry where the lead character had to listen to death metal for most of the book as the plot revolved around the genre. And he hated it. As I’m not fond of it either, what did that say about me?

  8. I may be the wrong person to ask about this, as I have to write in silence. However, I do like to listen to certain types of music before I write, to get me in the mood. If I’m writing in the thriller/adventure/science fiction vein, I prefer classic heavy metal and 80s hair metal – Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Sabbath, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Rainbow, etc. It gets me pumped up and shakes away any cobwebs.

    For horror or paranormal works, I prefer either moody, creepy music (such as the Blaze and Blaze II soundtracks by Richard Christy – you won’t find more haunting music than those!) or dark, depressing 1980s new wave: The Cure, Morrissey, Alphaville, Shriekback, even some Duran Duran.

    I can also keep music on – low – when I’m editing, and again I’ll use the same genres as above. But if I’m writing, music tends to distract me. I start to sing, I grab one of my guitars off the wall and start to play along, and the next thing I know I’ve wasted half an hour of writing time.

    Now, I know plenty of writers who have to have music on when they write – it serves as sort of a white noise, blocking out all their distractions. And then there are writers who simply don’t get distracted. They can write in coffee shops, airports, even on subways. I’m not one of them!

    1. I kind of know what you mean about being distracted – like you, I tend to go for a touch of metal or punk to get the adrenaline going, and like a bit of goth for mood, but sometimes I find I’ve stopped writing and am just staring into space singing along… which frightens the dog (trust me, you’ve never heard me sing).

      It’s odd, but I’ve found that I have no set pattern to how I can write. Usually I play some music, and what it is depends on my mood rather than the mood of whatever I’m working on. Some books I’ve written to 70’s prog rock like Camel or Caravan; some has been to punk stuff like Los Paralyticos, Chester or Intensive Care (tiny bands that I know personally); some has been to compilations of easy and lounge music (I have a soft spot for 60’s orchestral like this). On the other hand, some days I just need quiet. The oddest one was when I found I could only write when I had BBC News 24 – a cable channel – on in the background. I finished a complete book this way, and have never been able to do that again. I wish I could explain how that worked!

  9. I love the diversity showing up in the comments here. It’s probably true of our writing, too. Makes me want to read you all. 😉

    1. Barbara, thanks and I share your reaction. What great comments. I’ll bring this to the floor at ThrillerFest. Love to hear other reactions, too!

  10. Morning all!

    Great topic!

    I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I listen to music while I’m writing. In fact I find it very difficult to write without music. It’s so much a part of my work that my chapter titles are all songs I’ve listened to while writing a particular book. Usually the sound tracks are eclectic – apart from writing terrorbyte when I only listened to Bon Jovi and the chapter titles are only Bon Jovi songs.
    Also, different characters have different music. It’s how I tune into them if I’m having trouble getting a handle on their motivation.
    My main character requires Bon Jovi on tough days/scenes … I like to crank Bounce up and scare the neighbors before I start writing and if it’s a particularly rough scene, the music will be quite loud while I’m writing as well.
    I find The Rolling Stones helpful too.

    Depending on my mood and the mood of a scene/chapter/story I will listen to pretty much anything from country to heavy metal but at no time can I tolerate techno or classical music. Techno makes me want to kill (not characters but anyone near me!) and classical just doesn’t ever work for me (maybe if I had a character who was a ballet dancer … because classical music reminds me of my years dancing.)

    Databyte featured a Kevin Costner and Modern West song (Maria Nay) quite predominately – the song file in the story contained hidden information and the title gave my main character a clue as to who she was looking for.
    So not only am I surrounded by music but it appears within the text as well.

    I do sometimes use loud Bon Jovi as a warning to my kids “Mummy is writing!” they know when they hear it to leave me alone unless there is a serious emergency. 🙂
    Music helps me concentrate, not that I think I do concentrate because I just write what I see so maybe music helps me see into Ellie’s world?
    Yeah, that might be it.

    I’ve tried to write without the stereo on (can’t be music from my computer as having noise coming from in front of me is distracting!) and it just doesn’t feel right and never quite works.

    It’s not just having music on though, it’s songs that contain imagery and stories that I find useful while I’m writing. So yeah, I actually do listen to the music and often sing along while writing. Just don’t try and hold a conversation with me – I can’t talk and write. 🙂

    So there you go – writing thrillers for me requires a musical accompaniment and especially Bon Jovi or The Rolling Stones (also rather partial to writing to Johnny Cash). The last book (eraserbyte) started out with Adele … so maybe Ellie’s tastes are changing or it had something to do with the new man in her life.

    Cat x

    1. Cat, very interesting about music coming from your computer being distracting. Sometimes I find that too and I intentionally move the speaker or go to a different source. I also put music in my novels. Scott Roarke and Katie Alpert have listened to saxophone great Dave Koz in Executive Actions and Executive Treason. I’ve given him copies of the books and he was thrilled. Vocals, however, take me out of the moment.

      1. Glad I’m not the only one distracted by noise in front of them! 🙂
        I need words … the words are really important and quite often it’s the lyrics that give my main character a clue as to what’s really going on.


  11. While I do listen to music when I write, I have one inexplicable idiosyncrasy. I can’t have the music coming at me from the front, so I can’t use the music on my computer. I have to put my iPhone on the bookshelf behind me and play the music from there through a Bose speaker system.

    Why, you might ask?

    And I would answer, I have no earthly idea.

  12. Rock, classical, jazz, blues. What we’re really talking about is inspiration. Just as there are diverse characters in our books with different tonal qualities to their voices, varying beats as the rhythm of our stories unfold, and emotion that reaches for highs and matching lows, music is tremendously important. It’s important whether we listen to it as we write, or simply feel it as our work takes form.

    When everything works, we’re writing music without the notes.

    So, what music drives me? Inspires me? It all depends on what I’m developing. One basic is that I generally find lyrics too distracting. They compete with what my characters might want to say. For action scenes I automatically put on a Pandora mix of dramatic movie themes; sweeping scores with exciting movements. They help me write to the moment. For lighter scenes it’s smooth jazz, a bit of Dave Koz, Kyle Eastwood and David Benoit. Other times, I need to have silence to help me think. Then there are times that I’ve found my hands rising above the keyboard, moving about as if I’m conducting an orchestra, but really encouraging the characters to be heard above the plot, or the plot to overwhelm them.

    Music is ever-present, front of mind. It helps create excitement for me as a writer that I hope translates across time and space in the read.

    Looking forward to your reactions and joining in the chorus of comments.

    1. In terms of inspiration, is it the scene that drives the selection of song, or does the song put a person into a certain mood to write a certain type of scene or story? For instance, sitting down to a novel that is half-written, and an action scene comes up next, I can see someone putting on dramatic music. But what gets played if the story is brand new, not a word on the page? What happens when the dramatic scene is over and the next scene is mellow, or romantic? Does it require getting up to change the music?
      I ask these questions as a person who can’t be distracted while writing. I’m curious as to the way other creative minds work.

      1. I worked in both TV and print newsrooms and it was one of the best experiences ever for dealing with distractions. We were constantly pulled in and out of writing moments only to have to get right back in and meet deadlines. So honestly, music both keeps me relaxed and, when necessary, fires me up. That’s not to say that sometimes when I’m on blasting through, driven by the excitement, I’ll just keep writing, not even aware of any surroundings and forgetting that Pandora turned off an hour ago.

    2. Garry, I liked your comments. it appears we’re on the same page. I agree vocals are what distract me while writing. The instrumentals keep me in the creative space.

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