A shuffled playlist of jazz, classic rock, and opera, salted with Jerry Lee Lewis and Bonnie Rait will do for ordinary work, but for fiction writing the music has to be just right.
But specific music that goes with the story must also be liberally mixed in. For City of Silver, I listened about a thousand times to a CD called "Nueva España" by The Boston Camerata, music of 16th and 17th century South America, like my 1650 story — sacred and profane.
My second in the South American series takes place in Paraguay in 1868. That called for mixing in lots of Spanish guitars: Tor, Aguado, and Torrega played by Andrés Segovia and Norbert Kraft. And Holst's "Mars," since the background of the story is a brutal war.
When I sit down to work each day, I choose the music for the moment. Once I’m into the work, it doesn't much matter if later the music veers off from the mood, but if distraction intrudes or the mind wanders, going back to the first song of the day gets things back on track.
The next book will take place in Buenos Aires. So—TANGO! I already owned a couple of CD's called The Tango Project, but this job also needed Carlos Gardel, the greatest of all tango singers. To go with the books and articles covering the period of the story, I went to the iTunes Store and downloaded his forty greatest hits. Now, whether at home and listening on the computer or in the library and using an iPod, all I have to do is get out my note books and research materials, click on Gardel's "La Cancion de Buenos Aires," and I am there.
What about you? Silence? Music? What charges your battery? What focuses your energy on your work?