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Erika Kelly: A Simple Melody
Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Do they still make Love’s Fresh Lemon? Because sometimes I think I get a whiff of it—and bam, I’m back in my pale blue Dittos, the hot sun on my head, and a tube of strawberry Lip Smackers in my hand. Scents are like that, though. They take you back to a vivid moment in time.

Music, for me, is even more evocative than smell. A simple melody has the power to alter my mood—engraving its memory on me so that every time I hear it I return to that emotional place. I love that—the power of a song.

I first felt the impact when I was ten years old. The movie Friends by Lewis Gilbert came out, and the moment Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s title track came on, I got slammed. That soundtrack unearthed all the nascent feelings of yearning and want, the fierce craving for romantic connection I couldn’t even begin to understand at that age. And the funny thing is I don’t remember the movie at all. I don’t remember the actors or the story. It’s the music that stayed with me.

Music informs every book I write. No matter how well I map out the plot and character arcs, I can’t catch my groove until I figure out the tone of the story. And it’s almost always music that reveals it to me.

Years ago, I was several revisions into a book I couldn’t quite feel. I had all the details worked out, as I always do, but I was only skimming the surface—couldn’t quite pierce the skin and get inside the story. Until I heard the soundtrack for Elizabethtown by Cameron Crowe.  60B (Etown theme) plunged me into the reflective and nostalgic mood of my story world.

I’m not a fan of pop music, but A Thousand Years captured the tone for my new release YOU REALLY GOT ME. Sure, Christina Perri wrote it about Twilight. And, no, you won’t find vampires in my contemporary romance books—although, hey, vampire rockers? That could totally be a thing. But it wasn’t the lyrics that fit my book; it was the tune itself. The yearning, the want, the passion. Even now, two years later, hearing that song whisks me right back into the world of that book, with Slater and Emmie and the guys. Which, you know, isn’t a bad place to be.

While I always have music playing when I write, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics. First, I can’t stop myself from singing along with it. But, also, lyrics tell stories, and I’m a reader. I have to pull up a chair and listen.

I envy the way lyricists can tell a story in a few stanzas, deliver an emotional punch in a line or two. The song You Love Me by Kimya Dawson does exactly that. Personally, though, I seem to need more elbow room—like a whole stadium to accommodate my one hundred thousand words—to tell my own stories. Hey, it’s an emotional journey—it takes time to make it authentic!

So, basically, for as much as I love music, I’m locked out of the process of making it. I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument, and I can’t write lyrics. But the artists who can? They rock. I wish I could do it.

If I could, I would’ve written these three songs that pack the emotional wallop of the best romantic fiction. Tell Her This by Del Amitri is filled with regret and longing. It’s about a man who can’t get past his own demons (STAND BACK—romance writer coming through—I can fix him!). And You Just Forgot by Mindy Smith kills me every time I hear it. This girl is hanging onto a love long past its end date. I can totally fix her problem! Just give me a hundred thousand words and access to the man she loves. And then Wicked Game by Chris Isaak. Is this guy not the classic bad boy hero? Do NOT make me fall in love with you because you are going to tear my heart out…just like my mother who left me/ex who cheated on me/babysitter who abused me. I got this—just let me at him!

Now, of course music isn’t just about connecting with deep emotion and creating a compelling mood. It moves me in other ways. Ways that make me get up and shake my booty. Can you sit still when Jump Around by House of Pain is playing? Yeah, didn’t think so. How about Insane in the Brain by Cypress Hill?

And sometimes songs serve no other purpose than to turn your frown upside down. Like Be Okay by Oh Honey. I won’t believe you if you say your heart didn’t soar just a teeny bit with that one. And Thunder Clatter by Wild Cub. You’re smiling right now, right?

I can’t carry a tune, and I can’t play an instrument, but music has had a profound impact on my life and my work. I’ll bet you feel the same way.

What songs move you? Do any in particular stick with you, reminding you of an important time in your life?


From the award-winning author of the Rock Star Romance books comes a sizzling new series about the O’Donnell siblings. The pull of wild love is irresistible.

She’s had enough drama in her life.

Nicole O’Donnell is more than ready for the fresh start college offers. After a lifetime of trying to help her alcoholic mom and ex-boyfriend get sober, she’s finally learned her lesson: people don’t change. They certainly don’t change for her.

He can never leave his drama behind.

Thanks to his mom’s substance abuse issues, Dylan McCaffrey’s persona non grata in his hometown of Gun Powder, Colorado. So when he scores a free ride to the top university in the country, he’s determined to make something of this fresh start. But his mom has always relied on him, and she’s not handling his absence well at all. If he can just keep up his grades, pay her bills, and come home every break, he might be able to pull off this opportunity.

True love won’t be denied.

No matter how determined they are to steer clear of each other, their combustible connection explodes, especially when Nicole offers Dylan the one thing he can’t bear—hope. Once he has a taste of it—and the irresistible force of her—there’s no going back.

But when he falls too deeply, when he loses sight of his priorities, he might just lose it all.

You can get MINE FOR NOW here: 10% of pretax income for all Erika Kelly books goes to the Semper Fi Fund. It provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for wounded, critically ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, directing urgently needed resources to post-9/11 service members. I hope you’ll check them out:

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19 comments to “Erika Kelly: A Simple Melody”

  1. Abbie Roads
    · October 6th, 2016 at 9:53 am · Link

    Hi Erika!

    There’s some 80’s songs that if I hear them I’m right back to a sunny summer afternoon, laying on a towel, at the local pool.

    And I’m an admirer of lyrics too. So often I find inspiration in them. They contain so much emotion in just a few words. To do that takes so much skill!

  2. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 9:59 am · Link

    I envy lyricists! It takes me 90,000 words to convey what they do in a single stanza! Thank you for stopping by, Abbie!

  3. sarah andre
    · October 6th, 2016 at 10:15 am · Link

    Oh Erika! I can talk music, lyrics and how immersed I get too, ALL DAY with you! Some of the songs above I will have to download as soon as I’m through writing this, since I trust your judgement implicitly.
    Have you heard the Del Amitri song: ‘Driving With The Brakes On?’ It’s the perfect story of the silent impasse after a fight… so much tension and sadness in the lyrics and melody I hit ‘replay’ over and over.

    For every novel I release I put together a playlist of songs that are poignant for that chapter, that character’s POV, and it’s my favorite project in the whole publishing process. I’m getting to the point where I hear something now and think: “that will be for the hero in book 4,” even though I don’t know the story or the character yet! I am shaping him through the songs I hear.

    Can hardly wait to dig into MINE FOR NOW. It’s next up on my TBR!

  4. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 10:25 am · Link

    Sarah, that’s a beautiful song! Have you listened to Bear’s Den? I love them passionately. Their songs just slam me.

    I can’t listen to music with lyrics while I write, but I love the way a certain lyric or melody will trigger a whole story or character.

    Thank you for commenting!

  5. Lark Brennan
    · October 6th, 2016 at 10:55 am · Link

    Great post, Erika! Love your rock star books.

    Songs often set the tone for both characters and story lines for me. A few months ago I heard Chris Daughtry’s version of Demons and it exactly hit where the hero of my series will be emotionally in the last book. Sometimes I put together thinking playlists that evoke emotions I need to feel while writing a scene or character–and, yes, those can be all over the place. My husband will get in my car and ask “What the hell are you listening to?” 🙄

    Looking forward to Mine for Now!

  6. Carrie Padgett
    · October 6th, 2016 at 11:01 am · Link

    I’m like you, Erika. I can’t sing or play anything but music deeply impacts me. It’s an genre that’s often mocked, but cowboy music is full of heart-rending stories told in 3 stanzas. Love and home left behind. Loss. Sons of the San Joaquin has some poignant songs.
    As for taking me back, any 70s rock takes me to my yellow VW bug, singing along to the radio.
    Great post! I’m looking forward to listening to some of your links.

  7. Lenora Bell
    · October 6th, 2016 at 11:26 am · Link

    Great blog, Erika!! It’s so amazing how scents and music can take us back in our memory so vividly. My mother is a classical pianist and I grew up listening to her practice sometimes four hours a night, so whenever I hear a classical piano piece I’m instantly back in my childhood home.

    Can’t wait to read Mine For Now! Hugs!!

  8. Sheri Humphreys
    · October 6th, 2016 at 11:35 am · Link

    I can’t wait to read this, Erika! I loved your rocker books.

    I don’t mix music and writing. But when i was a young thing, I sang, played the guitar, and was in a small acoustic guitar group/band that sometimes performed. I also did a bit of solo performing. I know other writers who have theme music for their books and even characters. It must free up the creative part of the brain in some way. I should experiment with it more.

  9. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 12:06 pm · Link

    Lark, my husband generously puts up with my music in the car–up to a point. When I see him grinding his teeth down to a fine powder it’s time to turn it off! I just listened to Daughtry’s Demons, and I see what you mean. He packs a wallop in his vocals. Thank you for visiting me here today!

  10. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 12:09 pm · Link

    Carrie, isn’t it sad that we can’t sing/play? When we love music so much? Two of my kids like country music (I know it’s not quite the same as cowboy music)–I’m not a fan, but I do respect the lyrics a lot. They tell beautiful, heartrending stories. Thank you for commenting!

  11. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 12:10 pm · Link

    Lenore, I’m so jealous! Growing up with music in your home like that must’ve been interesting. I wonder if she tried to encourage you to follow that path. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  12. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 12:13 pm · Link

    Sheri, if I’d had your talent I might not be here today! I might be like Madonna, still working the stage in front of audiences around the world. But wait–then I’d have to put on actual shoes and leave the house. Scratch that. I like my life!

    I don’t make playlists or anything–but when I’m moved by a melody or lyric it can snap my story into focus–the tone I want it to have. Thank you for visiting!

  13. ronnie c
    · October 6th, 2016 at 3:24 pm · Link

    OMG…..I always wore Love’s Lemon and Eau de Love…….my high school/college boyfriend used to spray it on his pillow because I wore it….lol …..anyway….going to check out your book now….. 😉

  14. Amy Patrick/Amy DeLuca
    · October 6th, 2016 at 3:29 pm · Link

    I feel the same way about lyricists– jealous! And full of admiration. Though I’m a pretty happy person, I tend to gravitate toward “bleak” songs. They definitely put me in the mood to write, though, like you, I can’t write *while* listening to lyrics. One of my favorite moody songs is Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel” and Brian McKnight’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind (Anytime)?” Both remind me of old relationships, mistakes, lost love (sigh.)
    A great post and a book I can’t wait to dig into on my Kindle!

  15. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 3:43 pm · Link

    Ronnie, I’m so glad you remember that scent–and loved it as much as I did! I wonder if it’s still sold anywhere–and if I’d like it now! Thank you for visiting me here!

  16. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 3:46 pm · Link

    Amy, that Brian McKnight song is super sexy! That would get me in the mood to write the scene after the black moment! Oooh, I like!! Thank you so much for commenting!

  17. Charlotte
    · October 6th, 2016 at 7:46 pm · Link

    Great Post. Lyricists are so talented to be able to convey all that emotion in just a paragraph or two. What a gift!
    I cannot listen to anything while I write, but when I’m doing everything and anything else the music is always on and sometimes a random song will point me in the right emotional direction for a scene.

  18. Erika Kelly
    · October 6th, 2016 at 8:29 pm · Link

    Charlotte, it sounds like you’re a kindred spirit. Thank you for visiting me here tonight!

  19. Laura Trentham
    · October 7th, 2016 at 5:17 am · Link

    Music does that for me too! Takes me right back into whatever book I was writing… And, I wish I could write lyrics too. It’s a talent for sure.

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