When I sit down at the keyboard, it’s all about shifting gears to get into the right frame of mind. I have playlists for that, but sometimes I’ll just reach for a specific artist or album to set a mood.

I thought a lot about that process while crafting scenes with Jenna, specifically early in the book when she’s holed up in her bedroom working on a song.  As Jenna plays, notes are transcribed in a holographic display that hovers in front of her. When the transcription glitches, Jenna quickly realizes that a small change based on the transcription error adds something to her song. She latches onto inspiration and off she goes to finish the song.

In the creative process, improvisation and inspiration often go hand-in-hand—not necessarily in that order, of course. As an artist, it’s about being receptive to stimuli. Sometimes that’s looking for external cues. Sometimes it’s about letting your subconscious take the lead.

The wall of Jenna’s bedroom serves as inspiration of a sort. The surface functions like a touch screen. It’s covered in digital graffiti, meaningful lyrics that she scrawled there dating back to her teenage years.

Jenna breaks from songwriting to add a lyric to the wall. As she’s resizing existing snippets to make room, lyrics start to blink and disappear. No, it’s not her subconscious.  She assumes that someone is messing with her, sending a kind of coded message. In actuality, the words are meant to be encouragement.

Jenna is definitely in need of distraction as she’s been frustrated both personally and professionally, so she’s receptive to the game and plays along.

The technology surrounding Jenna is interesting in itself, just a touch of worldbuilding, but the scene cuts directly to character, inspiration, and influence. We see it in flashes of lyrics as they disappear. Primary among those are three lines from “Matter of Time,” a song off Black Lab’s latest album A NEW WORLD.

This cruel world is beautiful in the strangest ways
At the end of the darkest night comes the finest of days
But you know, sometimes you fall so hard, sometimes it hurts so bad
Well, when you can’t see the end hold on to your friends
Till your heart comes back to life and I say

Keep holding out for more
Keep holding strong in the storm
It’s just a matter of time
Keep holding out for love
Keep holding your head above
It’s a matter of time, I know
I know

In the scene we get the first reference to Jenna’s musical trinity, otherwise known as The Pauls.

Paul Durham of Black Lab is the most contemporary of The Pauls. He’s a brilliant songwriter and an emotionally evocative artist. Naturally I turn to Black Lab frequently while writing to set a mood…because, well, they’re awesome.

Recently, I reached out to Paul to get his approval to use the lyric. I’m never sure what an artist will say (although truthfully they’ve all been great!). In this instance it was particularly nerve wracking because Paul is such a central influence. You can imagine how ecstatic I was to get his nod of approval *and* a request for the manuscript.

Be sure to check out Black Lab on Spotify or wherever.  All of their music is great, but TWO STRANGERS is definitely my favorite album.