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The Sirens of Suspense




Randall Silvis is the internationally acclaimed author of over a dozen novels, one story collection, and one book of narrative nonfiction. Also a prize-winning playwright, a produced screenwriter, and a prolific essayist, he has been published and produced invirtually every field and genre of creative writing. His numerous essays, articles, poems and short stories have appeared in the Discovery Channel magazines, The Writer, Prism International, Short Story International, Manoa, and numerous other online and print magazines. His work has been translated into 10 languages.Silvis’s many literary awards include two writing fellowships from the National

Endowment for the Arts, the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize, a Fulbright Senior Scholar Research Award, six fellowships for his fiction, drama, and screenwriting from the Pennsylvania Council On the Arts, and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree awarded for “distinguished literary achievement.”


Find him online: Twitter and Facebook

item1 Cue the Music item1

Before I wrote fiction and creative nonfiction, I wrote songs. A couple hundred of them. From the age of thirteen to twenty or so, I wanted to be the next Paul Simon, John Lennon, Van Morrison, and Brian Wilson. Over those years I made a few tapes on my little Radio Shack recorder, printed up the lyric sheets, and sang, badly, while accompanying myself (more badly) on piano or guitar. A few A&R directors said, “Hey kid, these songs ain’t awful. Come to Muscle Shoals/Nashville/LA and let us hear what all you’ve got.”

What I didn’t have was enough confidence to play my songs for anybody but the dog, who opened her eyes only on the high notes. So I didn’t go anywhere, and stopped sending out tapes. During my sophomore year in college, a couple of English professors said, “Hey Silvis, these stories ain’t awful. Have you ever thought about being a writer?”

The good thing about writing short stories and novels was that I could do it alone in my room and didn’t have to perform them for anybody. Stick them in the mail and wait for the rejection letter: my kind of human interaction. So that’s what I did.

Music is still essential to my life. I might have flamed out as a singer/songwriter, but I still try to get as much music into my prose as possible, and I often listen to music to help surround myself with the appropriate mood for a particular scene or story. I seem to need music the way others need caffeine, just to get the juices flowing, and to make me care enough to pull the chair up to the desk yet one more time.

Music in prose is closely tied to cadence, the rise and fall of language, and to rhythm, the variations of stress. Writers use cadence and rhythm to increase or decrease the pace, to slow or speed up the reading. The effect on the reader is subliminal; readers are eased into a mood, just as a lullaby can soothe, and a lively Sousa march, hip hop or heavy metal song can rouse the reader to action.

Cadence and rhythm are experienced aurally, urged into a sentence via syntax and diction, commas and the absence of commas, half-stops and full stops and no stops at all. This is the melody line. But the other senses must be massaged as well, textures and scents and images conjured out of mere words colored for weight or buoyancy. These are the bass lines and the harmonies of prose.

By carefully piecing together music and story, writers move their readers to tears or laughter, bittersweet smiles, shivers of fear, or to that deep acknowledgement of aloneness that precipitates a terrible ache of longing. Every scene a song…every chapter a movement…every book a symphony.

Over the years I have compiled a list of songs I find particularly inspirational. It’s a very subjective list, as all lists are. I make no apologies for my bias toward aging balladeers. I, too, am an aging balladeer, and I have a particular fondness for those minstrels with whom I have wailed and wept and raged throughout the years. Boisterous, exuberant songs seldom find their way onto my list. Solitude is a writer’s milieu, and therefore, almost universally, melancholic is his temperament. Besides, my ancestors were Portuguese and Irish; suadade floods my veins, and tiny Irish leprechauns bedevil my neurons.

This list of twenty-five songs is, of course, a partial list. If I had the time and were getting paid for it, I could enumerate powerful, inspirational songs until the day the music dies.

The best Dump Him and Come to Me song: Sting’s “When We Dance”

The best Dead Wife song: Springsteen’s “Missing”

The best Go Away and Leave Me Alone song: Brian Wilson’s “In My Room”

The best I’ve Squeezed All the Juice I Can Out of This Place Teen Angst song: Springsteen’s “Fourth of July”

The best I Can’t Figure Out Why I Still Want an Asshole Like You song: Patsy Cline’s cover of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.”

The best Better Luck Next Life song: George Harrison’s “Within You Without You”

The best Pick-Up Song to Play in a Crowded Bar song: Springsteen’s “Let’s be Friends”

The best Let’s Blow This Party and Have Sex Out in the Field song: “Van Morrison’s “Moondance”

The best You Made Some Money and Now You’re A Dick song: Sinead O’Connor’s “Success Has Made a Failure of Our Love”

The best This World Is So Screwed Up I’m Just Going to Sit Here and Play My Guitar song: George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

The best Love Me or I’m Going to Off Myself song: Harry Nilsson’s cover of “Without You”

The best This World Is So Messed Up I’m Going to Jump Off this Stupid Dock and Drown song: Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”

The best Mom Died, Dad Died, and You Left Me Standing At the Altar Looking Like A Dork So I’m Going to Jump Off this Tower and Go Splat song: Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again”

The best I’m Just an SOB Who Loves the Sea More Than I Love You song: Tom Wait’s “Shiver Me Timbers”

The best I’m Just an SOB Who Loves My Truck More Than I Love You song: Tom Wait’s “Ol’ 55”

The best I’m an Asshole Please Forgive Me song: Tom Wait’s “San Diego Serenade”

The best Self-Pitying Blubbering Idiot song: Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”

The best Where’s My Dealer I’m Freaking Out Here song: Rodriquez’s “Sugarman”

The best Am I the Only Sane Person in this Nuthouse song: 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?”

The best Life Sucks Sometimes but I Still Love It song: Edie Brickell’s “Good Times, Bad Times”

The best Maybe a Bus Ride Will Shake This Depression but I Seriously Doubt It song: Paul Simon’s “America”

The best Fuck You I Don’t Need You Please Come Back song: Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You”

The best You Treat Me Like Shit but I Can’t Let You Go song: The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”

The best I’m Drunk and Alone but I Have a Fear of Commitment and I Don’t Have the Balls to Say Hello song: Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

The best I’m Pretty Damn Special and Nobody Understands Me but That Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Special song: Van Morrison’s “Philosopher’s Stone”


Writing, like music, is an act of seduction. And if the seduction is successful…well, you know what happens next.





WHAT'S YOUR SONG FOR YOUR MOOD? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of WALKING THE BONES (US entrants only, please.)


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