Words & Music with Todd Keisling


I can’t think of a better way to start this new series than by featuring Todd Keisling. The Words & Music series will feature a host of writers talking about the influence music has on their writing. Sometimes music is a catalyst for a story idea, some authors simply use it to get “in the zone”, or as a way to help them concentrate. Others build entire stories around a song or an album. With this first piece from Todd he talks about the band Opeth, and how their album ‘Blackwater Park’ ( a classic, in my eyes) was the launch pad for his recently released novella ‘The Final Reconciliation’.

I reviewed his just released novella from Crystal Lake Publishing only the other day. You can read my glowing review here. If you are a fan of Opeth or any heavy music in general then I urge you to pick up a copy. I hope you enjoy this new feature and so for those about to read, I salute you!

Find out more about Todd Keisling from the links at the bottom of the page.



By Todd Keisling


I’ve always wanted to be in a band. In an alternate dimension, my doppelgänger is a musician instead of a writer, terrorizing the world with a guitar instead of a pen. When I was a teenager, most of my friends were either musicians or music-lovers, and I spent a lot of my free time at my hometown’s only record store. That’s where I received my education in rock, where I learned to appreciate a good riff, a singer’s vocal stamina, and a drummer’s experimentation with time signatures.

Although my creative endeavors took me down a different path, I never lost my love of music. In fact, music is such a huge part of my life that I can’t write without it. Every short story I’ve written—published and unpublished—has a song associated with it. I wrote my first novel to the music of Nine Inch Nails (specifically, the albums The Fragile and With Teeth). Any time I begin a project, I first seek out music that fits the mood I’m trying to build in my fiction. As the story takes shape, I’ll use a selection of these songs to form a definitive playlist. Each song becomes a guidepost for the story. Sometimes they move around, sometimes they get swapped out with other songs, and on a few rare occasions, the playlist I put together at the beginning remains mostly unchanged by the end.

Please remedy my confusion / And thrust me back to the day / The silence of your seclusion / Brings night into all you say.

My most recent story, however, required a somewhat different approach. I’ve written plenty of stories to rock music, but never about rock music or its conductors. My short novel, THE FINAL RECONCILIATION, focuses on a progressive metal band called The Yellow Kings and the tragedy surrounding their first (and last) album, a concept record titled The Final Reconciliation. Their sound needed to be both heavy and melodic, capable of depth and intensity. With that in mind, I needed actual music that fit their sound, and then somehow translate that sound into words on a page so readers could hear it, too.

I had three bands in mind, but only one became my starting point: Opeth. The other two, Tool and Alice in Chains, are incredible bands but they lacked the right sound that I was looking for in the story. Opeth fit the bill. Their album Blackwater Park remains my favorite of their catalog, and I drew inspiration from its songs as I built the story of The Yellow Kings.

My final playlist for the book includes many different artists—The Cult, Mastodon, Gwar, Eagles, Alice in Chains, Ghost, Slayer, and more—but it’s Opeth’s music that serves as the guideposts, rounding out the three acts with selected tracks from Blackwater Park: “Patterns in the Ivy,” “Bleak,” and “The Drapery Falls.”

Toward the end of the story, as The Yellow Kings neared the night of their final performance, I began listening to “The Drapery Falls” on repeat. The song became my mantra, driving me toward the story’s resolution. Listening to it now, I think it sums up what the story’s protagonist, Aidan Cross, is going through; it’s also the closest to what the Kings sound like in my head.

I’m counting nocturnal hours / Drowned visions in haunted sleep / Faint flickering of your powers / Leaks out to show what you keep.

Before I go on, I’ve a slight confession to make. The death metal growls? I’m not a huge fan of that. Never have been. Opeth is a rare exception. The first time I heard “Bleak,” I almost turned it off—until I got to the first chorus and Mikael Åkerfeldt switched from the growls to clean vocals. I’ve heard that song hundreds of times and I still get chills at that part. From there the song slows down, the distorted guitars traded for an acoustic interlude, and yet the tension remains.

It’s the exact opposite of what I would expect from a death metal song: the layering of heavy and soft melodies, the juxtaposition of growls and clean baritone crooning. To me, that’s what defines Opeth’s signature sound.

So, I must give credit where it’s due: Opeth’s Blackwater Park fueled my book. Without it, I think the story would’ve lacked the heart, mystique, and quiet intensity it required. Using Opeth’s music as a starting point for my fictional band’s sound seemed obvious.

“Spiraling to the ground below / Like autumn leaves left in the wake to fade away.”



TODD KEISLING is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the forthcoming collection, Ugly Little Things. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and trio of unruly cats. His latest book, The Final Reconciliation, goes on sale February 3rd.

Visit his website, http://www.toddkeisling.com, and connect with him on social media:



Listen along to The Final Reconciliation on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/wordmachine/playlist/2J95uh5CJ8YLrvZiMbZAav

One Comment Add yours

  1. Hail Opeth!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

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