Imagine Dragons and Beacon 23

The first time I heard the Imagine Dragons song Radioactive, I dreamed of a collaboration. Their hit single came out in 2012, at the same time WOOL was taking off. Every time I heard the song play I imagined the credits to the film rolling while Radioactive blared from theater speakers. It’s a song you sing at the top of your lungs; a song you scream.

The tone is as perfect as the lyrics: a mix of sonorous and sad with hard-hitting and angry. It feels like a revolution song, a desperation song, a song of being hemmed in and breaking out. It’s dystopia and apocalypse, but also a song that makes you feel powerful and full of hope. I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones / Enough to make my system blow…

While I could easily see this on a WOOL motion picture soundtrack one day, what I never imagined in a million years was that our mediums would fuse more directly. When Booktrack reached out and said the band wanted to do an original mix to one of my novels, I fell out of my writing chair. What they’ve come up with is simply astounding.

If you’re not familiar with Booktrack (where have you been?), they’ve taken augmented ebooks in a very cool direction. The idea is to allow authors, musicians, and fans to create audio soundtracks that play while books are being read. Subtle sound effects and mood-inducing tunes dial up the tension, and it all paces itself to how quickly you are reading. I like to adjust the volume right to the point that the music almost disappears into my subconscious. It’s an amazing experience when done right, and Imagine Dragons has knocked it out of the park.

Beacon 23 was the perfect novel for this mash-up. It’s the story of a man alone on the edge of space wrestling with his demons. The tone swings from humorous to sad to tense to romantic to horrific. Imagine Dragons laid down their tracks with new work and sound effects to create an original Booktrack for the text. It has me excited for the new ways we can tell stories and collaborate with other artists. Music used to play an important role in the oral tradition of storytelling. What’s old is new again.

Check out the landing page for the Booktrack edition of Beacon 23, where you can sample a preview for yourself. And I’d love to hear what bands you’d enjoy working with, or what songs have inspired your reading and writing. Do some books and musicians just go together in your head?

Here’s the official press release.


16 responses to “Imagine Dragons and Beacon 23”

  1. I’m always thinking music and story. As a writer and member of a prog rock band called Spiral, l’ve written stories based on our songs. I wrote a short story for every song on “Our Final Days on Bellicus Prime” (The stories are all collected in a book called Cowboys and Drones). The band is also cooking up something for my latest dystopian novel Atmospheric Pressure. I think prog rock and science fiction work so well together. We were writing story albums so I just thought, why shouldn’t they be stories?

    1. That is wonderful news. I love listening to music as I write. There are times I wish you could plug a soundtrack into book. I’m going to check this out. Congratulations, Hugh. I can definitely see Wool as a motion picture franchise. I hope it is.

  2. I’m with you man! Great song. I couldn’t have written All Together Now: A Zombie Story without starting each day with Johnny Cash’s version of “I see a Darkness” and I’ve started every day of work on The Book of David with Max Richter’s “A Blessing.” I can’t read Stranger in a Strange Land, one which BOD is partially based, without hearing “Age of Aquarius” in my head. When I get back to work on Banneker Bones 2, I’ll be re-listening to Hans Zimmer’s “And I thought my jokes were bad” because it sets the tone for the story I want to tell.

  3. Really exciting news! Congrats. I read Wool a short time before your “boom” and was happy to see you have so much great success. Your story about Radioactive reminds me of a story Jim Carrey once told to Oprah about how, early in his career, he would sit in his car up in the Hollywood hills and visualize himself with a million dollar check and then one day he finally got it. It’s very sweet the way he tells it. It’s a good feeling to see people’s daydreams come true. Keep on keepin’ on!

  4. There are two songs that I use to get my head in the right place for writing this story of mine. The first, Alex Clare’s “Too Close” speaks directly to the main character’s personality (as well as my own), and the second is Hozier’s “Arsonist’s Lullaby”… The underlying theme of the book being how these characters, villain and hero alike, unleash their inner demons for survival and revenge. I can listen to these songs and the characters appear in my head so clearly.

  5. THAT IS EPIC! Love their music and I’m excited to go back and read Beacon 23 like this.

    I wrote most of my time travel series with Two Steps from Hell in the background, so it would be fantastic to get to pass that on to readers.

  6. I’ve started writing at my local public library, so having something to obliterate the noise of a cheerful and active place is an important part of getting serious work done.

    Generally I try to find something without lyrics so I won’t get too much of a direct influence. I found a kind of swing accordion band (seriously) through Spotify called Pearl Django and right now their stuff is PERFECT for working on this romance I’m writing. Otherwise I gravitate towards darker, ambient stuff. I love Brian Eno’s old stuff, The Martian soundtrack is good. I also like music from India a LOT for writing, especially Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (RIP to a true musical giant). And then proper French cafe accordion music if I want to go lighter (I know, I know – the whole accordion thing. Who knew?). So far I can’t quite write to traditional European classical music. I tend to become inert in the face of big orchestral music. I either get depressed or fall asleep. Go figure.

  7. A long time ago, perhaps just before you published “Sand”, I mentioned that the song “When I’m Small” from the album, ironically enough, “Eyelid Movies” by Phantogram fit so sublimely into beginning of “Wool” that you’d think they wrote the song for the book. The beat made me imagine the fall of many feet on the stairs to its rhythm. The lyrics fit all-too-well, too.

    Take me underground
    Take me all the way
    Bring me to the fire
    Throw me in the flame

    So, show me love
    You’ve got your hands on the button now
    Showin’ love
    You’ve got your hand on the button now

    I’d rather die,
    I’d rather die,
    Than to be with you

    Allison singing to her husband, Holston, as he “pushed the button” to let her outside and the fire that followed her. Gives me chills even now.

    And then you published “Sand” and again another even more well known Phantogram song, from the same album no less, fit the book sublimely. “Mouthful of Diamonds” may sound a bit tenuous of a connection to “Sand” but if ever look at sand closely, well, all those little bits of rock look like diamonds, don’t they.

    You’ve got a mouthful of diamonds
    And a pocketful of secrets
    I know you’re never telling anyone
    Because the patterns they control your mind
    Those patterns take away my time

    I imagined the patterns were what you had to “project” when you shifted sand to move about and maybe how those patterns could control you in life (like in the book?)
    Just my 2 cents. I really think you could make a killer opening scene to Wool using “When I’m Small” and I still think Sally Fields could nail the part of Mayor Jahns perfectly (Ridley Scott needs to step out of his “comfort zone” and use other actors better suited to their talents). Marnes… hmm… Tommy Lee Jones?

  8. It would be wonderful to take something we had written and do the music, costumes, and art direction for a film version.

  9. When I was reading Sand I immediately thought of the song “Of Dust and Nations” by Thrice because it matches up so well both sonically and lyrically to the story. When I saw you at Comic-Con a few years ago talking about how Sand was going to be made into a TV show, I couldn’t help but imagine the opening credits featuring that song. So I guess if you’re still looking for a theme song, consider that one!

    The towers that shoulder your pride
    The words you’ve written in stone
    Sand will cover them, sand will cover you
    The streets that suffer your name
    Your very flesh and your bones
    Sand will cover them, sand will cover you

    So put your faith in more than steel
    Don’t store your treasures up, with moth and rust
    Where thieves break in and steal
    Pull the fangs from out your heel
    We live in but a shadow of the real

    Step out from time, see the dust of nations
    Step out from time, hear the stars ovation

    Saturn will not sleep, until the sand has made us clean
    Still we stack our stones and bury what we can
    But it all will be undone, and nothing built under the sun
    Will ever stand before the endless march of sand

  10. Jason Brookshier Avatar
    Jason Brookshier

    When writing my horror novels, I listen to NIN, Tool, Korn, Acid Bath, Rammstein, etc. When working on my detective novel, it’s usually Zeppelin, Tom Petty, the Doors, and other classic rock. Fantasy stuff is typically Dead Can Dance, 13th Warrior Soundtrack, and heavy-hitting classical works or movie soundtracks. I guess for me, the music has to fit genre first, then character and story.

  11. The Booktrack is WAY too cool. Thank you. Yes, I live under a rock.

  12. I listened to Imagine Dragons live, shortly after having read Wool. I actually thought of your book whilst Radioactive was being played (I know, that sounds crazy, but it’s true). The images in the graphic novel must have reinforced the connection. Wool is a great story. It resonated with me for a long time after I finished it, which is what great stories should do (and I understand why it has been such a hit). Bought the graphic novel too, btw. The story is dystopian, but it left me better off than I was before I read it, as there is a message of hope for humanity in there (based on cooperation).

    * In my opinion, the following songs would be terrific for stories about A.I. and the future:

    1. OneRepublic – A.I. (a scene without dialogue – the only characters are a human and an A.I. ‘person’).
    2. OneRepublic – Future Looks Good (last page of the novel!)
    3. Anything by Daft Punk – For example: Around the World / Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (view of the Earth from space – for example Elon Musk’s crew on Mars)
    4. AC/DC – Back In Black (for the climax of a story – the bad guy returns once the MC thinks everything is fine)

    I’m on my own self-publishing journey. I’ve written two novels that need to be professionally edited. I’m half-way through a third novel. I’ve got professional covers ready for all three. My fingers are twitching, ready to click ‘publish.’

    I feel as if I’m in limbo-land at the moment. I want to find at least one reader to connect with. The prospect of having just one person appreciate what I’ve written is what’s keeping me going. My goal isn’t to make a lot of money, but I write what I believe is commercial fiction because that is what people want to read (makes a lot of sense to me too). I’m having a lot of fun just writing for myself also (it’s not purely cathartic). Hell, I’ll keep playing OneRepublic – ‘Future Looks Good’ until I’ve published the best work that I am capable of creating.

    As an Indie, I really don’t want to compromise on the quality of the end-product. At the same time, I’ve got plenty of ideas for future projects, and I admit I’ve done quite a lot of research for a series (TV series style) that I want to write. In a way I wish I had just written one book at a time (from initial idea to published book). I read somewhere that Asimov worked on several different projects simultaneously, with each project at a different stage of production.

    Hugh, what is your creative process like? Do you write one book at a time (from first draft to published) or do you work on several projects and juggle them (like Asimov did)? Please let me know what your thoughts are. You’re a (seem to be) big proponent of daydreaming until ideas come to you (to let the boys in the basement do their job).

    The ideas that I have been daydreaming about for a while seem to just flow out of me once they’ve finished percolating. Writing an outline with short story beats is fairly easy now. I’m just scared that I’ll never getting around to making all of my dreams come true (sob sob). Is this something you’ve ever had a tough time grappling with? In a way, ideas might not be as important as we make them out to be in our minds, as execution is everything, right? I used to obsess about writing ideas down. Once I ‘completed’ the first book, I got a better sense of what is important. I’ll stop writing now, as I don’t want to rant on. :)

    Thanks for being such a positive influence for aspiring writers. If you have time to answer, I would really appreciate it. Keep doing what you do best.


  13. Hugh, if you like enhanced audio books, check out Graphic Audio. Their catchphrase is “A movie in your mind”, and they really nail it, with different actors for each character, and background sounds, etc.

  14. Question for you, Hugh: for a new author looking to build readership, is Booktrack an effective way to reach YA readers? It sounds like it’s still in its infancy, yet I like the innovative approach, the vision, and definitely get the attraction of music/reading.

  15. That’s awesome! As a kid I often read books with music that I felt matched the content and always wanted to see that idea realized by someone at some point. Great seeing this finally happen! I actually, being a software engineer decided around a year ago or so that what the heck, I could do this. I should just make an app. So I made that essentially does the same (some more focus on the visuals), though it’s just me doing the short stories as a hobby of mine. Feel free to try one if you like. Looking forward to seeing more of these kinds of experiences.

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