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July 20, 2018

Adele Griffin's Playlist for Her Novel "Tell Me No Lies"

Tell Me No Lies

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Adele Griffin's Tell Me No Lies is a riveting coming-of-age story and one of the finest YA novels I have read in years.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"A contemplatively paced coming-of-age story . . . while fans of Stranger Things are likely to appreciate the 1980s cultural references, themes of being true to yourself and honest with your friends are timeless."


In her own words, here is Adele Griffin's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Tell Me No Lies:



The '80s was my IRL YA moment, and what I remember most and best is that everything I heard was on cassette. I’d get fixated on a song, press Play, Rewind, Play, Rewind. This obsessive behavior set me up well to become a writer.

Instead of rewind, now I hit revise.

Enjoy!


1. "In a Big Country" - Big Country

Maybe it’s the bagpipes. Maybe it’s the brogue? Maybe it’s those travelogue clips of Scotland, where I’d never been, in the video. Also I really loved this lyric: I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the dessert. But I can look and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.


2. "Flashdance" - Irene Cara

Anyone who watched the 1980 movie Fame was already a big fan of Irene Cara—who was in the movie and also sang the eponymous hit song. So this song, the hit single of many off the soundtrack for the 1985 movie Flashdance felt like a natural extension of Irene Cara’s talent. I saw Flashdance during a slumber party, and then we all ripped our sweatshirts to wear off the shoulder.


3. "Peace Train" - 10,000 Maniacs

It’s a Cat Stevens original, and an established classic song I already loved, with a new joyful buoyancy by one of my favorite voices, Natalie Merchant. Who could have sung "Pop Goes the Weasel" and I’d have listened all day long.


4. "In My Room - Yaz from Upstairs at Eric’s

This was the first tape I bought for my Sony Walkman, so already it’s a mystic moment. Every song was so strange and weirdly beautiful, like nothing I’d ever heard before. I listened to Alison Moyet’s voice in my bed in the dark (for a long time I thought the lead singer was a man) and could not believe the power of it.

I couldn’t find a video on this, so here’s the whole audio:


5. "Saving All My Love for You" - Whitney Houston

Listening to Whitney Houston for the first time is a pretty incredible experience. Add a big dose of emotional adolescence and she becomes unforgettable. To me, she is the '80s soundtrack. Whitney Houston’s ballads were the cornerstone of all my 80s Junior and Senior prom experiences. I could have picked any of her hits for my Number One spot, but this song is just so extra gorgeous.


Adele Griffin and Tell Me No Lies links:

the author's website

Kirkus review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists






July 20, 2018

Playlist for the Anthology "Santa Cruz Noir"

Santa Cruz Noir

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Santa Cruz Noir is another stunning addition to Akashic Books' anthology series.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Bright joins the ranks of Akashic editors to rip the lid off the California coastal town that’s never seemed less laid-back."


In their own words, here is Susie Bright and her authors' Book Notes music playlist for the anthology Santa Cruz Noir:



"Dedication"

Echo and the Bunnymen, "People Are Strange"

Echo and the Bunnymen’s cover of "People Are Strange" made its impact in The Lost Boys. Spookier and sharper than the Doors’ original. We hear it over a montage of outsiders, hanging out, people posting flyers for lost loved ones. It’s the carnival vibe of The Boardwalk vs. the strangers with nothing to lose.

— Willow Pennell, Associate Editor (WP)


"Beauty and the Break," by Susie Bright

Michael Jackson, "Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough"

I fell in love so hard in Santa Cruz in the '70s. Being insatiable in this town— is like none other. We would fuck in our apartment, next to The Big Dipper, and the screams of the riders, that wooden coaster shaking? We felt it in my bed. It was the first time I made a woman come on my hand, and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get it back. At night, we’d dress all our boyfriends like hot girls, and dance dance dance coke dance smoke dance fuck dance until dawn. At 9 AM, I had to go to work and clean a giant telescope. I’d like to dedicate this to: Willie Grover.

—Susie Bright (SB)

"Buck Low" by Tommy Moore

Eddie Noack, "Love"

"If I could have it my way, I’d fuck her every afternoon, kill her at night, and she’d still be there, waking up next to me, smiling, in the morning."​

— "Buck Low"


"Whatever Happened to Skinny Jane?" by Ariel Gore


Joni Mitchell, "All I Want" & Vonda Shepard, "Chinatown"

"She begged me to squeeze harder. She was begging me with her sapphires, wasn’t she? I was trying to give her what she wanted. For all the ‘if’s,’ to become ‘is’?

—"Whatever Happened to Skinny Jane?"


"Monarchs and Maidens," by Margaret Elysia Garcia

Cocteau Twins, "​​When Mama Was a Moth"

"Thousands of monarchs beat their wings about the eucalyptus and pine…like a kelp forest in a tide zone…By the end of the path there seem to be nothing left but the beating of a million orange wings."

—"Monarchs and Maidens"

"54028 Love Creek Road," by Jessica Breheny

The Knitters, "Poor Little Critter on the Road"

"I imagine the grammar lesson I could give with Frank’s sentence: I stabbed him/You stabbed him/They stabbed him/Frank stabbed him."

— "54028 Love Creek Road"


"Possessed," by Naomi Hirahara

Shonen Knife, "Top of the World"

My go-to karaoke song. This version contains the duality of lyric's sweetness with the ominous rock-and-roll beat of young women on the countdown.

—Naomi Hirahara


"Wheels of Justice," by Jon Bailiff

The Mermen, "Curve"

This album shaped my early surf awareness- this cut, the deepest.

— Jon Bailiff


Mischa and the Seal, by Liza Monroy

"Song of the Sea"

I was watching this beautiful animated movie with my little one, at the time I was writing the story. It made the truth about my main character, click. The song is haunting, about an aimless woman who comes to remember what she really is.

—Liza Monroy


"First Peak," by Peggy Townsend

Square Roots, "Cruel Step," & Steel Pulse, "Roller Skates"

This is the Pleasure Point that our character Boone remembers. —Scrappy, dirty and soulful. Square Roots came out of The Point. Legendary filmmaker and local boy Tony Roberts (TR) directed this piece for his movie, Surf Skate. Hawaiian reggae is so much a part of Hawaiian/Santa Cruz connection; it makes me think of the time Boone spent there.

"Roller Skates" is all about appropriation and cultural thievery. Yes, I'm only thinking of Boone's experience in this two-sided story. I refuse to apologize.

— WP


"Safe Harbor," by Seana Graham

Mazzy Star, "California"

That melancholy voice, floating far above the earth. It makes me think of Jazz's rootless, mercenary impulse to head to California. She's untouchable, as much as Ray tries. This song just nails it.

— WP


"Miscalculation," by Vinnie Hansen

Fuchs von Zimmer, "Slow Boat to China"

My story features three nefarious ukulele players: "Rudy nodded to a hula dancer named Linda. She was possibly the Linda he’d had a fling with, although hard to tell—every other woman in the group was named Linda."

—Vinnie Hansen


"To Live and Die in Santa Cruz," by Calvin McMillan

The Lumineers, "White Lie"

"She was super nice. Polite. Always kept the common areas clean. I never had any problems with her."

"Nice? Polite? Clean? Obviously, they barely knew Elizabeth."

— "To Live and Die in Santa Cruz"


Treasure Island, by Micah Perks

Luisa Maria Guell, "Murio Nuestro Amor de Verano"

This sad but airy Spanish love song about the end of summer love is counterpoint to the cranky, racist, paranoid old man in my story, "Treasure Island." It's part of the soundtrack of his favorite movie, Falling Down— also about white paranoia and panic.

-Micah Perks


"Flaming Arrows," by Wallace Baine

The Eels, "It's a Motherfucker"

"I choose to think of myself as a "mourning husband" rather than a chump. And prefer it if you thought that way too. It’s easier for everybody."

—"Flaming Arrows"


"The Big Creep," by Elizabeth McKenzie

REM, "Losing My Religion"

The song, like the story, is about longing and alienation and I can imagine "The Big Creep"’s 15 year old narrator sitting in her garage-turned-apartment drinking her vodka and orange juice thinking "That’s me in the corner."

—Elizabeth McKenzie


"Death and Taxes," by Jill Wolfson

Huey Lewis, "If This Is It." Video shot on location at Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

"It’s Cody’s first day as a sign dancer. He pops a tab of Adderall and stands at the corner of Mission and Swift in a Statue of Liberty costume."

—"Death and Taxes"


"The Strawberry Tattoo" by Maceo Montoya

Selena, "Como la Flor"

The ache in Selena's voice, for our Romeo and Juliette who break our hearts.

"What about your strawberry tattoo? Don’t tell me that’s just Watsonville pride."

"Naw, that’s my favorite fruit."

—WP​


"Crab Dinners," by Lou Mathews

"Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds

One of those weird, death-haunted songs from the '50s. Guy is looking down at the ocean, where he thinks his girlfriend has drowned and the ocean tells him, "Come join me baby in my endless sleep." You feel the pull. My story ends on the cement ship pier at Seacliff Beach. That pull is there.

—Lou Mathews


"Pinballs," by Beth Lisick

Yaz, "Goodbye Seventies"

I picture my narrator blasting this song out of the boombox she has sitting on the front seat of her VW Squareback as she barrels out of her bad relationship in a small town near Mt. Shasta and heads toward Santa Cruz. With tears in her eyes, unable to hit Moyet's devastating low notes, she scream-sings along anyway. A deeply-felt fuck-you.

—Beth Lisick


"The Shooter," by Lee Quarnstrom

Lalo Guerrero, "Marihuana Boogie,"

Written and recorded in 1949, with mostly Spanish lyrics but with one English phrase: "Marihuana, that's my baby's name!"

Lalo Guerrero was known as "The Father of Chicano Music" and brought Chicano culture a few steps into the American musical mainstream— yet maintained Mexican-Americans' sense of having their own special world by popularizing tunes with Latin overtones and lyrics en español. It sure sounds like Korean War-vintage American music to me.

—Lee Quarnstrom


"It Follows Until It Leads," by Dillon Kaiser

Neil Young, "Old Man"

"This life. Our life. You cannot leave it behind. It leads you where you’ve been going all along, kicking and screaming con espuma en la boca!

"Se sigue."

—"It Follows Until It Leads"


Susie Bright and Santa Cruz Noir links:

the editor's website
the editor's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review

Book Riot interview with the author
Good Times Santa Cruz profile of the editor
KAZU interview with the editor


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


This Week's Interesting Music Releases - July 20, 2018

Ty Segall

The only new album I can recommend this week is Ty Segall & White Fence's Joy.

Archival recordings include Public Image Ltd's 5-CD, 2-DVD box set The Public Image Is Rotten: Songs From The Heart (also available as a
6-LP box set as well as a remastered vinyl edition of Pedro the Lion's Winners Never Quit.


This week's interesting music releases:


Boston: Boston (reissue) [vinyl]
Bruce Springsteen: Album Collection Vol 2: 1987-1996 (box set)
Buddy: Harlan & Alondra
Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars (4-LP box set) [vinyl]
Essex Green: Cannibal Sea (reissue) [vinyl]
Essex Green: The Long Goodbye (reissue) [vinyl]
Forma: Semblance
Frank Zappa: Chunga's Revenge (reissue) [vinyl]
The Internet: Hive Mind
Kansas: Kansas (reissue) [vinyl]
Lori McKenna: The Tree
Luluc: Sculptor
Meg Myers: Take Me To The Disco
Mike Patton: 1922 (original score)
Pedro the Lion: Winners Never Quit (remastered) [vinyl]
Pram: Across the Meridian
Public Image Ltd: The Public Image Is Rotten Songs From The Heart (5-CD, 2-DVD box set)
Public Image Ltd: The Public Image Is Rotten Songs From The Heart (6-LP box set) [vinyl]
Punch Brothers: All Ashore
Skeletonwitch: Devouring Radiant Light
Soul Asylum: Made To Be Broken (reissue and expanded)
Soul Asylum: Say What You Will...Everything Can Happen (reissue and expanded)
Ty Segall and White Fence: Joy
Ume: Other Nature
Wire: 154 (reissue) [vinyl]
Wire: Chairs Missing (reissue) [vinyl]
Zero 7: 7 x 7 [vinyl]


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

weekly music release lists

Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily book and music news and links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)


July 19, 2018

Amanda Stern's Playlist for Her Memoir "Little Panic"

Little Panic

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Amanda Stern's Little Panic is one of the most impressive memoirs I have read that deals with mental illness (in her case, panic disorder).

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Honest and deeply felt, Stern’s story delivers a raw window into the terrifying world of panic disorders"


In her own words, here is Amanda Stern's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Little Panic:



My book Little Panic is about growing up with an undiagnosed panic disorder in Etan Patz era Greenwich Village. For the first 25 years of my life, I knew something was horribly wrong with me, I just didn’t know what it was called. So, I thought my playlist would correspond to the years leading up to my diagnosis, ending at age 25 when I finally heard its name.


Elementary School


Petula Clark, "Downtown"

We moved downtown when I was a toddler. All I remember from that time was that my older brother and sister would blast "Downtown" by Petula Clark loudly, and into the street, so everyone could hear. The song confused me, because the melody itself was fun, and I recognized that it was “happy music” but as I listened to the words, I felt more and more isolated from everyone around me because Clark kept mentioning that people’s “worries” and “concerns” disappeared when you went downtown, but here I was LIVING downtown, and I was sloshing with dread and fear nearly all the time.


Middle School


Tom Lehrer – "Vatican Rag"

I split my time between my mom and dad. Uptown life was museum-formal; downtown was barefoot-mayhem. My dad’s humor is dark and mildly sadistic, and he is drawn to the macabre. Tom Lehrer—a mathematician slash musician (they don’t make them like they used to) was irreverent, caustic and hilarious. Of his albums and songs "Vatican Rag" remains my favorite. When my father played it, I’d feel lifted, however briefly, from the dread of my daily existence, into a brightness that only these lyrics can provide: “First you get down on your knees, fiddle with your rosaries, bow your head with great respect and genuflect, genuflect, genuflect.”


Junior High


Bauhaus – "Burning from the Inside"

The shift between 6th and 8th grade was startling. By Junior high, I was officially angry. By 7th grade, I’d spent more than my fair share of time getting my IQ tested to diagnose an issue that wouldn’t be diagnosed until I was 25 (panic disorder). School made my anxiety worse, and tests were a trigger for my panic attacks. Getting my IQ tested was the worst-case scenario for me (and my panic) because accessing a brain for the right answers when that brain is under duress, is exquisitely hard. When the next IQ test scores varied wildly from the last ones, I was sent for more IQ testing, and even more after that. So, you can understand I was growing quite pissed, and literally “Burning from the inside.”


High School


David Bowie – "Life on Mars"

I’ve loved this song since I was small. David Bowie was a big presence in my life starting at a really young age, and I’ve been devoted to him for nearly my entire life. When I was little, my favorite album was Hunky Dory and "Kooks" was the only song I ever wanted to hear. But in early high school, that all changed when suddenly a song I’d once found too chaotic and loud became the substitute for "Kooks." That was "Life on Mars," of course, and of course I was the girl with the mousy hair. Although I had no idea what this song was about, I used it as the official anthem to my feelings of fury and confusion.


Tracy Chapman – "Fast Car"

In high school I was tangled up in a confusing relationship with an older man—my acting teacher. I loved songs about hard lives, about people who were angry and despairing, and Tracy Chapman was the person who sang the world’s pain right into the mouth of the world, a place where no one listened or paid attention to what was right in front of them. I wanted the entire world to hear what she was saying and how she was saying it and after school, or on weekends, I sat on my windowsill, screens up, smoking cigarettes and blasting this song.


College


Ani Difranco - "Small World"

I went to three different colleges in four years, and I saw a lot of live music when I was home in NYC. My favorite bands at the time no longer exist. They were The Mighty Mighty Sweetones and Liz and Lisa (Elizabeth Mitchell & Lisa Loeb) When I got to my first college, I listened to Waiting Room by Fugazi a lot, and a ton of Public Enemy and Prince, but the person who probably defines my college years the best and the most is the person who defines the college years of many young, white American women: Ani DiFranco. "Small World" was a song that spoke to me intimately. Anything that had to do with being troubled, and needing attention and help were things I related to. It would be six more years until I would be diagnosed with a panic disorder and these songs were the closest I’d ever come to anyone understanding me from the inside.

Stevie Wonder – "Big Brother"

This song made me desperately sad, and I lived to feel my sadness because I couldn’t seem to access it without a prompt. This was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard, and it released the trapped grief inside me.


Post College


Patty Griffin – "Moses"

While Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville was hugely influential to me and my way of being and thinking in the world, there were two people whose songs I felt I’d dreamt. When I first heard these singers, their songs seemed to have been already lodged inside my body waiting to be remembered. These two in particular artists were Patty Griffin and Beth Orton. "Moses" by Patti Griffin was so much my song that three people brought it to my attention. I felt like the tragic figure she sang about, and I wailed to her songs, curating my tears to her albums, those great flags of melodic sadness.

Beth Orton – "She Cries Your Name"

I’d never heard music like this before. Either she was doing something different, or I’d simply never heard music like this before. This song and all of her early '90s albums were the soundtracks to my days in the East Village. Her sound did to me what the early '90s auteur filmmakers did to me—provided new portals for hearing and seeing, urging me to follow them and generate my own work. Her songs transitioned me into a new period of my life, one where I knew what was wrong with me, and that I could do something productive with my emotions instead of just being devoured by them.


Amanda Stern and Little Panic links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

The Woolfer interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week - July 19, 2018

In the weekly Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week, the Montreal bookstore recommends several new works of fiction, art books, periodicals, and comics.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly is one of Montreal's premiere independent bookstores.


Entropy

Entropy by Aaron Costain

Readers follow a Golem as he travels through a millenia to investigate his own creation. Absurd and fantastical, this read transgresses cultures and generations, and yet somehow, Aaron Costain has created an all too timely tale.


The Death of Truth

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

Former New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani asks; how did truth become an endangered species in contemporary America? Kakutani investigates the inherent political biases of her neighbouring citizens and dutifully interrogates what it means to find Truth in the midst of it all.


New Poets of Native Nations

New Poets of Native Nations by Heid E Erdrich

A pertinent anthology collecting the works of emerging Native poets after the year 2000. Featuring a diverse breadth of ages and voices, this anthology will inform readers of the culture’s increasingly growing talent.


Idiophone

Idiophone by Amy Fusselman

An intimate examination into the task of art making and its relationship within motherhood. Fusselman presents an honest and intelligent account towards the merits of risk-taking, and the emerging beauty in that leap.

*launching Idiophone at La Petite D+Q on September 21 at 7pm (in conversation with Hillary Brenhouse)


Comemadre

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy (translated by Heather Cleary)

At what lengths do we seek transcendence? With a crisp translation by Heather Cleary, Roque Larraquy muddles the readers views on limitations in pursuit of meaning. Abstract in it’s observations, this title has been featured in numerous anticipatory lists for Fall 2018.


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly links:

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's blog
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Facebook page
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Tumblr
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on Twitter


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

other Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly new comics and graphic novel highlights)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


July 18, 2018

J. Bradley's Playlist for His Short Fiction Collection "Neil and Other Stories"

Neil and Other Stories

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

J. Bradley's collection Neil and Other Stories is filled with dark and moving short fiction.

The Coil wrote of the book:

"Bradley has compiled a collection of short fiction that promises to take us through a labyrinth of understanding. You will leave feeling like you empathize with the plights of your father, your mother, your children, and most importantly — yourself — more. It will show you their journeys, and you will grasp the complexity of your own life more by seeing the experiences of those who have molded you."


In his own words, here is J. Bradley's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Neil and Other Stories:



I never plan what I want to write. Planning means you're forced to stick to something, stay within the boundaries, corner yourself what you least expect. This is the opposite of what I do in my day job as a technical writer and an instructional designer where you outline and plan and then start to build. I have found that level of meticulous detail works as a professional but constricts me as a writer.

The title novella-in-flash of Neil and Other Stories took shape because I didn't plan. I let the stories I was writing tell me where we were going, using part of my life as influence. Like the title character, Neil, I really know only one side of my family and I wanted to explore that, from the perspective of the son and the father.


Father John Misty / "I Love You, Honeybear"

Writing about fucked up families requires fucked up music, but not the obvious kind of fucked up, like you would get out of a song from the Death Grips. With this song, you have this lush arrangement and you're lured in to this song until these lyrics completely mess with your expectations: "Mascara, blood, ash and cum/On the Rorschach sheets where we make love." I feel like that's family in general and it helped me capture that kind of mood as I began discovering the novella.

Sufjan Stevens / "Should Have Known Better"

2015 was an amazing year for music. On one hand, you had Father John Misty's irreverent, beautiful album I Love You, Honeybear. A month or so later, Sufjan Stevens's stripped down masterpiece Carrie & Lowell comes out. This particular song deals with Stevens losing his estranged mother, the processing of that grief. There is a low level, persistent grief of not knowing the other half of where you come from and you never quite know how to process it. You're not able to answer simple, but important, questions, especially when it comes to genetic predispositions and diseases that missing half of your family experienced. Both the main character and Neil have to live with the choices their fathers made in terms of severing half their family from them.

Majical Cloudz / "Downtown"

When you originally fall in love, everything your partner does is perfect. As you continue to be with them, you start seeing the quirks and the cracks and you start questioning whether being with this person is a good idea from time to time. This song captures that feeling but in a way that you know everything is going to fall apart because you are putting your partner on this impossible pedestal. The main character in Neil does this to his partner and once that love begins to decay, he questions not only that love, but her ability to be a good mother.

The National / "I'll Still Destroy You"

Parenting is a destructive act. You never know what could be the thing that damages your child, how that child carries such damage. "I'll Still Destroy You" deals with so much in a few minutes: aging, parenthood, loss. The main character in Neil puts himself in this position of showing his father that he's nothing like him, but in fact turns out to be exactly like him at the most crucial moment. You don’t realize you’ve become what you’ve hated until it’s too late.

The Decemberists / "The Mariner’s Revenge Song"

You’re probably asking “what does a song about killing the man who ruined your mother and left her for dead in 19th century America while the both of you sit in the belly of a whale have to do with your book?” I’d answer: “read it, then listen to this song, then read the book again, and repeat until you start making the applicable connections. Let me know what you find.”

Frightened Rabbit / "My Backwards Walk"

This is starting to become a break up playlist but a lot of what propels the title novella of Neil is both father and son deciding it’s time to leave their relationship with their partner to raise their child on their own. They both participate this act of forgetting and revision of the past. How much do we learn from our parents when it comes to the act of forgetting and revision when we do so in our own lives?

Note: I started putting this playlist together in late April, early May, before Scott Hutchinson’s suicide. I was only familiar with The Midnight Organ Fight (which is one of the best album titles ever) but I related to it, like so many others. His death hit me surprisingly hard, as someone who has dealt with depression on and off for awhile. I’ve used writing to pull myself out of it. I know that’s not the solution for everyone and I know how hard it is for someone to find their applicable solution. If you’re reading this and you feel like I have, keep going. If you’re reading this and know someone who deals with depression on a regular basis, be a decent human being and check on them on the regular.

Ryan Adams / "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)"

There’s a lot of stories in the Other Stories section that deal with childhood and being a teenager. I never been high but I feel like this song captures the struggles of youth and young relationships.


J. Bradley and Neil and Other Stories links:

the author's website

The Coil review
Heavy Feather Review review

Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Jesus Christ, Boy Detective


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Tatjana Soli's Playlist for Her Novel "The Removes"

The Removes

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Tatjana Soli's novel The Removes is an epic exploration of the brutal American West told through the lives of two women.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"An epic, enthralling look at the American West in the mid-1800s, told through the eyes of General George Armstrong Custer, his wife Libbie, and Anne Cummins, a 15-year-old girl abducted by the Cheyenne in Kansas . . . With visceral, vibrant language, Soli paints a stark portrait of the violence, hardship, and struggles that characterized the American West."


In her own words, here is Tatjana Soli's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Removes:



One of the challenges in writing a book set in a different time period is to make the characters feel as alive as in a contemporary novel while still making the reader aware that they are living in a different world, occupying a different head space. While there are universals in human emotion, there are also differences of attitude and belief. A soundtrack is a constant reminder to the reader/viewer that he is immersed in a different world. My novel, The Removes, is set during the period of the American Frontier, 1860s through 1870s, and as I wrote I looked up music that I found mentioned in my research but also looked for things that evoked for me a mood for particular scenes in the book. Some are historically accurate; others are anachronisms that nonetheless inspired. In this way sound functions as one more tool for a sensory type of research.

“Garryowen”
An Irish drinking song that became a regimental marching song, used most infamously by the 7th Cavalry under Custer. I found it such an incongruous idea to bring a band out to the wilderness to engender espirit de corps in the soldiers going to battle. I imagine it sounding loud and inspiring during the Civil War, and becoming tentative out in the great empty spaces of the West.

“Thunder Storm”
I loved this when I came across it. It embodies a feeling of loneliness and being faraway. I picture being in a tent, stranded, hundreds of miles from the nearest human habitation. Drinking was a scourge on the Frontier as soldiers were forced in on themselves.

“Native Flute Symphony”
This comes directly after the last piece. Imagine this great isolation and quiet — how much more attuned one would become to nature, to the playing of a single instrument. This piece seems to me the beginning of moving into a different mode of being. My character Anne feels this as she slowly comes to know the tribe that has captured her. There is one scene where they hide from soldiers in a stone fortress — it becomes a moment where Anne feels a part of the nature around her.

“Devil’s Dream”
This type of music was played in camp for entertainment at night as pure escape. It probably made them doubly homesick and nostalgic when the song was over.

“The Lark Ascending”
An English Pastoral written on the eve of WWI, and yet to me it speaks of American open spaces. I love listening to it while driving through the burnt gold hills of the Central Coast in California, but I can equally picture the wide-open spaces of the Dakotas or Montana. Part of the mystique of the Western is the freedom of the land. Vaughan Williams wrote the music as an escape from the darkness that he felt gathering in Europe. I think it works equally well for the period of the Indian wars in our country.

“Swallow Tail Jig”
This piece has a propulsive rhythm. I see this as the soundtrack of men hurrying to battle. It was written during the great migration of the Irish to the United States, and it reminds me that the soldiers were recent citizens to our country. An interesting fact to remember at this time in our history.

“The Girl I Left Behind Me”
Another popular military regiment tune used from the time of the Civil War. I would think it would make soldiers even more nostalgic of the things they were separated from.

“Amazing Grace Solo”
I love this version because it sounds so ethereal and haunting. It reminds me that these people endured such hardship and many had nothing more than faith to reinforce them. I imagine the forlornness of hearing this played as they buried a soldier, knowing that as soon as they rode away, the gravesite would in all probability be lost.

“In a Sacred Manner Come”
I experienced Native American drumming in New Mexico. The pounding is a physical sensation as much as an aural one. Very powerful. Imagine attending a formal ceremony as one totally unfamiliar with the culture and being mesmerized by the plaintive chanting. My character Anne, taken captive, has feelings of fear, disorientation, and ultimately fascination with the tribe she lived with.

“German Waltz”
I end with this tune because it immediately brings a smile to my face. There’s a wonderful clip on the internet showing Isabelle Huppert and Kris Kristofferson waltzing to it in the movie Heaven’s Gate. To confront the lack of social interaction, Libbie and Custer regularly arranged dances at the forts where they were assigned. I can see them whirling around the floor to this music, enthralled by each other.


Tatjana Soli and The Removes links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Booklist review
BookPage review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for The Last Good Paradise
Merrick Library interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Musician Nathaniel Bellows Interviews Author Kate Christensen



In the "Largehearted Boy Cross-Media Cultural Exchange Program" series (thanks to Jami Attenberg for the title), authors interview musicians (and vice versa).

Nathaniel Bellows’ new album, Swan and Wolf—ten songs accompanied by ten illustrations—was released in April. He is the author of two novels—On This Day (HarperCollins) and Nan (Harmon Blunt)—and a collection of poetry, Why Speak? (W.W. Norton).

Kate Christensen’s seventh novel, The Last Cruise, will be released by Random House/Doubleday on July 10th. Her fourth novel, The Great Man, won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her most recent book, How to Cook A Moose, won the 2016 Maine Literary Award for Memoir.


Musician Nathaniel Bellows interviews author Kate Christensen:


NB: Full disclosure: Kate and I met almost a decade ago at a dinner party in NYC, and since then we have maintained an endless stream of online Scrabble games, amassing chat box discourse on topics ranging from (but not limited to): writing, reading, publishing, art, music, food, dogs, family dynamics, politics, weather (a lot of weather), landscape, light humor, dark humor, life in New England, life in NYC, noise pollution, walking…all augmented with a growing lexicon of custom-made keyboard emojis. A few years ago, Kate interviewed me about my album, The Old Illusions, for Largehearted Boy’s “Cross-Media Cultural Exchange” series, so it’s a real joy to switch sides and talk to her about her excellent, engaging, and gripping new novel, The Last Cruise.

All of your books—fiction and nonfiction—have a keen, grounded sense of place: The Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint in The Astral; the Hudson River mansion in The Epicure’s Lament; the Arizona terrain of your childhood in Blue Plate Special; and the New England landscape of your current life, which you write about so beautifully in How to Cook A Moose. Your new novel, The Last Cruise, takes place on an aging cruise ship—the Queen Isabella—making its final voyage from Southern California to Hawaii. Why did you choose to set this story on a boat? How does this setting—one that is both confined and expansive, in motion and (eventually) inert—effect how the narrative unfolds? Did your approach as a storyteller change knowing that your characters wouldn’t have the security of being on dry land?

KC: An enclosed, ordered human system traveling through wilderness is a classic and promising premise for a saga or story, for example, Star Trek, Murder on the Orient Express, and Das Boot, not to mention The Odyssey. A cruise ship is, simultaneously, a floating pleasure palace, a workplace where underpaid people are overworked with no escape, and a seagoing vessel with fragile operating systems and numerous safety corners cut for profit. I was initially inspired by various news stories about ill-fated cruises that kept popping up: noroviruses, engine room fires, stranded ships floating off the coast of Mexico for five days without power while they waited for the tugboats. I thought, aha, a microcosm. This will be fun.

NB: And it is! (For a while, at least…) One thing that struck me was the way you described the ship—first as a party vehicle, with its lounges and bars and pools and activities, and then as a kind of disintegrating behemoth, rotting in real time, all around the passengers. Have you ever been on a cruise? What kind of research did you do to achieve such descriptive mastery of the physical space?

KC: I have never been on a cruise. So I did a lot of research, varied and obsessive. I read every book I could find about cruises, both fiction and nonfiction, including a memoir by one of the only Americans ever to work below decks for a cruise line. I watched every movie from Ship of Fools to The Poseidon Adventure to The Lady Eve. I binge-watched YouTube videos of cruise ships in bad weather, read all the cruisers’ blogs and websites I could find. I toured the Queen Mary in Long Beach, pored over diagrams of mid-20th century cruise ships, interviewed naval historians and maritime experts, and talked to a couple of former cruise ship employees. It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing research. But the more I learned, the less I wanted to go on a cruise.

NB: I can see that. But I still think you could pitch the book to the cruise ship industry for possible marketing materials. Well, maybe just the first half! The other element of research that feels seamlessly incorporated into the book are themes of global ecology and the environment. There’s a particularly vivid—and grim—scene of a vast expanse of garbage, floating, untethered, out in the middle of the ocean. In your food memoirs you’ve often written about sustainability, conservation, and civic responsibility; what was it like to write about these “real world” issues in a fictional context? Christine, one of the book’s central characters, is on holiday from her life as a farmer in Maine. Through her observations, she seems to be the person most concerned about these issues, but it also feels like the natural world itself is as much a character as any of the passengers we meet onboard the Queen Isabella.

KC: As I was collecting stories about cruise ships in various kinds of crisis, my email In box was being inundated by urgent bulletins from environmental groups, asking me to donate money to save endangered wildlife, to sign a petition to stop Tar Sands Oil, to make a phone call to keep Monsanto from killing all the bees, to write a letter in support of policies that might help stem the flow of plastic into the oceans—an endless flood, every day. I took almost every requested action and nonetheless felt a constant, powerless, heartsick despair, which I think many of us feel to varying degrees. The reports of plastic and trash choking the oceans hit me maybe hardest of all—this found its way into the book as a matter of course, since it’s set on the Pacific Ocean. And Christine, a farmer who lives according to the cycles of the seasons and climate, is the character who feels it most of all, the one who’s most aware of it.

NB: So much of the book feels told from Christine’s point of view, and through her we meet the many other characters onboard: Valerie, Christine’s blithely opportunistic journalist friend from New York City, who’s come on the trip to write an exposé of the working conditions of the workers below decks; the four members of the Sabra Quartet, an elderly string ensemble from Israel, led by the sharp-minded, heartsick Miriam, who have been invited to perform an unwieldy and unbeautiful piece of music—“The Six-Day War”—commissioned by the wife of the man who owns the Queen Isabella; Mick, the heads-down, no-nonsense executive sous chef, responsible for the many themed hors d'oeuvres and onboard meals, and for quelling the growing unrest among the kitchen staff. To name only a few! With so many characters and stories, I’m curious if you employ any kind of system—diagrams or outlines or rubrics—for developing, managing, and overlapping various plotlines. Did you have a sense from the beginning as to how this constellation of characters would operate in this increasingly treacherous situation?

KC: I conceived of three main characters with different roles on the cruise—passenger, entertainment, and crew—which gave me narrative access to the social strata that exist on a cruise ship. Basically, I knew who the main characters were and what was going to happen. I threw them all onto the ship and let it all play out and wrote their reactions as everything happened. I knew they were good people who would all try to do the “right” thing, whatever that meant for each of them. I knew their paths would intersect at various points, but I didn’t try to force it. I allowed each of them to operate in his or her own sphere.

NB: Yes, it feels very natural, and it’s so satisfying when the three strata you mentioned—passenger, entertainment, and crew—crisscross and interact. (In the first pages of the novel, Christine, (passenger), has a chance—not all together pleasant—encounter with Mick, (crew), and the reader gets the sense that, though their onboard status is designed to keep them separate, they are fated to continue these meetings. And as necessity—and survival—eventually demand, they do join forces, and their growing affinity—and respect—for each other, becomes one of the most engaging aspects of the book.) But, to explore the notion of “entertainment”: Two themes that run through all your work is the role of food and music in life. In The Last Cruise, we are immersed in the rehearsals and musical history of the Sabra Quartet, and with Mick and the army of kitchen staff, endlessly conceiving of and preparing countless courses of food in the galley. In each of these settings—music and food—you convey a rigorous sense of discipline, intuition, interpretation, taste, raw elbow grease, and personal expression. In a way, the Sabra Quartet and Mick could be seen as hybrid embodiments of both “entertainment” and “crew,” given their dual roles: refined, aesthetic expression combined with pure, unglamorous labor. Do you find writing about art and food comes from a similar place?

KC: Music and food are two of the greatest passions and obsessions of my life—playing and listening to music, cooking and eating food, thinking and talking and writing and reading about music and food… Cooking and music are, to me, two of the most beautiful, exciting things our species has ever come up with, as well as maybe the most powerful sources of nostalgia and memory, both personal and cultural. Both can be high or low, solitary or vast, religious or secular, uninhibited and visceral or restrained and ascetic—highly technical and artistically elevated or as humble and instinctive as a kid making up a song about the clouds while she serves mud pies to her stuffed animals. And I’ve been thinking a lot in recent years about the inevitable disintegration of civilization when any kind of shit hits the fan. So what happens to eating and singing when the world goes to shit? Historically, they keep people together, united in communal pleasure. As long as we can sing the songs we all know together, as long as we can sit down to some kind of meal together, even if it’s cold canned beans, things aren’t so bad, there’s still hope, at least in that moment of raising our voices or breaking bread.

NB: I totally agree. And speaking of the world going to shit. Or, more specifically, the world of this book going to shit—about halfway through the novel, it becomes very clear that the idyllic, fancy-free vacation cruise all the passengers had envisioned was, in fact, not the reality of the situation. At this point, the book takes on a mysterious, almost thriller-like tension. Did you find it required different literary muscles to extract the drama and intensity you often explore in characters’ internal lives and manifest it outwardly, onto the physical space that surrounds them?

KC: I love a good thriller and/or mystery, and I’ve read many, many of them, but that wasn’t exactly what I set out to write here. I was going for an existential political novel, a disrupted social system with an underlying allegory. That said, yes, it did require different and new literary muscles to manifest the personal drama outwardly (nicely put), and it was hard for me to do, as it always is to try something new and different. This is my first novel in 7 years, and I feel like in the intervening time since I wrote The Astral, during which I published two memoirs, left New York for Maine, remarried, and established an entirely new life in an entirely new place, something has been shifting for me in terms of novelistic aims. I’m excited to start the next one now. I’ve got nothing but a premise, a working title, and an opening line—but that’s enough to send me down the rabbit hole again.

NB: This novel definitely feels like you’ve done something new. Given the years between this book and The Astral, and the vast number of books I know you regularly read (in the bathtub), I’m curious what books influenced or inspired The Last Cruise? And I’m very happy to hear you’re already at work on the next book. As we bring this chat to a close, can you give readers any clue as to what the new novel might be about? (I hope that a lively, fox-like rescue dog from Florida plays a prominent role.)



It’s been great talking with you, Kate C. Thank you for your time, thoughtful answers, and excellent writing. I think I speak for many people in saying I can’t wait to read what comes next!

KC: [HAHAHAHA on the image link to ANGUS] Thank you! It’s too soon to talk about the next book (I’m superstitious; if I talk too much about it, it will lose some of the energy needed to generate it)—but I can definitely talk about some of the books that inspired this one. Waugh’s classic A Handful of Dust was my touchstone—a picture of a seemingly civilized society that’s actually barbarous and vulnerable to disintegration. I was inspired, obliquely but profoundly, by the first two books of Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, in particular her narrator’s affectless quietude in the wake of having the (illusory) order and safety of her prior life shattered. I also read a number of exciting (mis)adventures-at-sea memoirs, among them Peter Nichols’s Sea Change, David Vann’s A Mile Down, and Steven Callahan’s Adrift. In all these books, the ocean’s indifferent and vast power is paramount, and the narrator’s little craft is revealed to be flimsy and temporary… clearly, I’ve been thinking a lot about seemingly sturdy things coming apart. (Did I mention I wrote The Last Cruise during the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election?)

Thanks for a fun conversation—and for such thoughtful, generous questions.


also at Largehearted Boy:

other musician/author interviews

Antiheroines (Jami Attenberg interviews comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (directors and composers discuss their film's soundtracks)


July 17, 2018

Vanessa Blakeslee's Playlist for Her Short Story Collection "Perfect Conditions"

Perfect Conditions

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Vanessa Blakeslee's impressive short story collection Perfect Conditions is filled with characters finding the way through their darknesses.


In her own words, here is Vanessa Blakeslee's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Perfect Conditions:



Over the years in which I drafted and revised the stories for my second collection, Perfect Conditions, my exposure to more innovative and eclectic music, and thus my “ear,” changed. This was solely due to my falling in love with a composer of jazz and classical music, Mark Piszczek, my partner. I also worked for two years at a performing arts venue where I listened to some of the best talent, established and emerging, in these fields today. Did I even have an “ear” before? I’m not sure, but the songs that evoke Perfect Conditions range from iconic and familiar artists of the ‘80’s to the more obscure “musician’s musicians” I’ve come to know and admire. Although I’ve found myself listening to music while writing novels, perhaps because I’m immersing myself deeply in a single world, I don’t follow this habit while working in the shorter form, and prefer silence. These songs were assembled after I handed in the final proofs, sought after in the spirit of creating a soundtrack for a film (or short films, in this case). Perfect Conditions is about a world undergoing the early stages of breakdown—ecologically, economically—and how a cross-section of characters encounter the different facets of collapse. Finding one’s way through to what lies on “the other side of hope” is very much the spirit of the book, captured in these songs.

Robbie Robertson, “Breakin’ The Rules” (Storyville, 1991)
The foreign places where I first traveled in my late teens and early twenties—Australia, Hawaii, Bali, Costa Rica— made an indelible impression upon me, and thus my writing. Robertson’s soulful, “Breakin’ the Rules,” not only encompasses that carefree time in my life, but for some of my characters as well. “Splitting the Peak” straddles time zones, mainly Florida and the Pacific, as the story follows two young rising stars of pro-surfing who connect but can’t quite figure out how to stay that way, and realize, too late, they have likely missed their chance. But “Breakin’ the Rules” is also a nod to humankind, and the larger themes of the book—“breakin’ the rules of the game” being very much where we find ourselves as our plastic pollution chokes the rivers and oceans, deforestation speeds up, and our toxic emissions rise every year, rather than fall. Some listeners may recognize the song from Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World, the 1991 film which is in fact about a doomsday scenario, starring William Hurt and Sam Neill; Robertson’s song plays throughout the final credits. Interestingly enough, the film features love affairs in flux, and the characters find themselves—not kidding—in Australia.

Ralph Towner, “Blue Sun” (Blue Sun, 1982)
This song and album by the same name evokes, for me, a cold Northern sun over the ocean. Water plays a dominant role in the collection and may be considered its own character. What’s funny is that I don’t like “being on the water” in terms of boating and the ocean; I get terribly, almost instantly, seasick. Yet I wrote about a young man wrestling with the work contract he signed on a fishing boat in Alaska in, “Stand by to Disembark.” The story is about the unlikely friendships forged between crew members in some of the harshest working conditions on earth, the economic pressures which compel individuals to undertake such labor, and moments of eerie beauty and terror on the Arctic seas. “Blue Sun” especially brings to mind the walrus graveyard the ship encounters one day, and the protagonist’s uneasy dreams.

Angelo Santoro, “Psychedelic Surf” (Psychedelic Surf, 1988)
This fun “surf jazz” track from 1988 perfectly suits the one tale of magical realism in the book, “Jesus Surfs.” What if Jesus returned not to redeem the world the way everyone expects, but instead just hangs out, surfs, and lives peaceably among his neighbors? What if he only occasionally saves someone? The question came to me one day while watching the surfers on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula some years ago. The mood of the story was inspired by the classic tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”; the “Rasta Jesus” as he comes to be known is mysterious and whimsical, sometimes maddening but always well-intentioned.

The Police, “Walking in Your Footsteps” (Synchronicity, 1983)
I’ve only recently discovered this song by The Police from their album Synchronicity (1983), and it quickly became a favorite, although the power of its hook remains somewhat of a puzzle. Is it the playful approach in which Sting and The Police approach the subject of mankind’s extinction? Awe at the prescience of artists and thinkers to have such a clear view of the end game, decades ago? Maybe both. In particular, “Walking in Your Footsteps” connects me to the story, “Sustainable Practices,” in which a well-intentioned, left-leaning Millennial ecotourist named Nina insists she and her new husband take their honeymoon to Tahiti and visit the bottling site of her beloved “Tahiti Water.” Sting’s vocals are directed toward the dinosaurs, and I can’t help but picture the creatures strutting atop the volcanic aquifer that supplies the water whose much-advertised purity Nina and her husband argue over. That the protagonist does not recognize her own carbon footprint in flying thousands of miles to a “sustainable” resort makes the lyrics all the more resonant.

Peter Gabriel, “The Washing Of The Water” (Us, 1992)
Water is again revisited in this song from Peter Gabriel’s 1992 album, Us. I love to write about friendship and the lesser-explored (in fiction, anyway) realm of “brotherly love.” How we take care of one another, or are called to, in this age of extraordinary loneliness brought on by multimedia distractions, economic pressures, and the eradication of community, is a preoccupation of my fiction, not only in “Stand by to Disembark,” but in “Arthur and George: the Voyage Begins.” In the latter, two aging Gen Xers and line cooks, one a misfit and the other an anxiety-ridden recluse, find themselves at a crossroads in their lifelong friendship. What does it mean to age alone for those who are unmarried, with little to no kin, and unstable job situations? What might taking care of one another, being responsible for one another, even those who don’t share our bed or our blood, look like? “Arthur and George” is an attempt to envision just that.

Carpenters, “The End Of The World” (Now and Then, 1973)
For the singer of this song, her world crumbles when her lover rejects her; it is literally, “the end of the world.” Which comes first, the breakdown of one’s personal world, or the larger systems? How might one reinforce the other? This hypnotic vocal, and its singer, Karen Carpenter, make for an uncanny echo of the protagonist of “The Perfect Pantry.” Martha, a formerly well-to-do housewife, finds herself unmoored after her husband leaves her, and, thanks to a neurotic streak, becomes obsessed with building “the perfect pantry”—only her list-making leads her onto survivalist websites for preppers. The tone is darkly comedic, but I can easily imagine Boomer Martha listening to Karen Carpenter in the sunnier days of her bell-bottomed youth. Hint: Martha also meets a singularly tragic fate, born of her own emotionally-misplaced neurosis.

Caldera, “Rainforest” (Dreamer, 1979)
Too many songs to pick from Caldera, but when pressed I chose, “Rainforest.” I love the rousing, earthy percussion interspersed with the guitar. To me it feels like the gringo meeting the jungle—and several of my characters are transplants from the north to either Costa Rica or Guatemala. This clash of not so much cultures, but creatures of different habitats, especially arises in the title story, “Perfect Conditions,” where an expat father living in Costa Rica struggles to understand the rift between he and his now-twentysomething son, Sebastian, now a gajin in Japan. This tension is also present for the anonymous Americanized protagonist of “Clinica Tikal” as she returns to her grandmother’s village in Guatemala, and soon finds herself at a strange medical clinic near the ancient Mayan ruins.

Jan Garbarek Group, “Twelve Moons” (Twelve Moons, 1993)
I couldn’t not include “Twelve Moons,” for the song contains the otherworldly current that runs through some of the stories in Perfect Conditions. In “Jesus Surfs” and “Clinica Tikal,” there is the question of the paranormal and the interdimensional, if not extraterrestrial—to what extent do such powers impact our lives? Are we being helped, quietly? In “Clinica Tikal” the protagonist first visits a psychic, then journeys to a clinic deep in the jungle. Here, the medical procedures are unconventional and mysterious, and doctors claim to have be given knowledge from the stars. Even if benevolent, how will this procedure haunt her for the rest of her life? Why is the clinic so secret? When I listen to this, I can see the clinic and hear the music among the insects and the trees; the song is just the right blend of ethereal and eerie. Norwegian jazz saxophonist Garbarek is a master.

The Weepies, “The World Spins Madly On” (Say I Am You, 2006)
A more recent neo-folk song, “The World Spins Madly On,” brings to mind the younger characters in these stories: Russell and Heidi, the jet-set, confused pro-athletes from “Splitting the Peak,” Sebastian from “Perfect Conditions,” Quentin and Jason from “Stand by to Disembark,” Eduardo from “Jesus Surfs,” and the unnamed narrators of “Traps” and “Clinica Tikal,” who are facing shortened futures of unfathomable uncertainty and hardship. While the older characters of the Generation X and Baby Boomer generations grapple with regret and anxiety, the younger do so with anger and bewilderment. This may have been a song from their high school or college days, one that they feel nostalgic about already, as the world buckles under the strain of resource depletion, pollution, debt, and ecocide.

Zero-7, “In The Waiting Line” (Simple Things, 2001)
These hallucinatory vocals coupled with electronics fit the mood of the last story in the book, “Exalted Warrior.” When the protagonist, Tasha, living in a dystopian, near-future Orlando, discovers Liam, her lover, is kidnapped for his role in the Second Resistance, she agrees to donate her eggs to obtain the money to pay his bond. Becoming a “Donor Angel” is a waiting game, just as much as waiting for Liam. Meanwhile she must do her best to outsmart the biotech company that is tracking her every move. Much like the story, the song builds a slow suspense, until we learn Tasha’s fate. Perhaps this is where all the characters, and readers, find ourselves at the end of Perfect Conditions—holding our breath for what happens next, nerves quivering beneath our skin.


Vanessa Blakeslee and Perfect Conditions links:

the author's website

American MIcroreviews review

The Drunken Odyssey interview with the author
Last Born in the Wilderness interview with the author
Moving Forward interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Louise Miller's Playlist for Her Novel "The Late Bloomers' Club"

The Late Bloomers' Club

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Louise Miller's second novel The Late Bloomers' Club is a warm and moving story of sisterhood and community.


In her own words, here is Louise Miller's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Late Bloomers' Club:



Eggs and Sausage—Tom Waits

Nora Huckleberry, the main character of The Late Bloomers' Club, is the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, and many of the key scenes of the novel take place among plates of eggs and cups of coffee. This is more of a city diner song (every diner song I could find really was a city diner song) but I love that the chorus is a list of breakfast foods.

I Don’t Want to Go Downtown—Gillian Welch

At the beginning of the novel, we find that Nora has divorced her high school sweetheart, but it still pains her a little to see him having moved on so quickly. This Gillian Welch song captures perfectly the feeling of living in a small town, where you can’t hide from your past.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry—The Nields

The Late Bloomers’ Club is about sisters, and The Nields are one of my favorite sister acts. Their version of this Hank Williams classic would inspire Charlie or Fern to give it a try at karaoke down at the Bear Cub.

We’re Going to Be Friends—The White Stripes

Friends play an important role in The Late Bloomers' Club, and in it we get to see several new friendships forming. I love to write scenes where characters just begin to connect with each other, and those small moments where intimacy grows. This sweet White Stripes song is the perfect ode to new friendships.

That Summer Feeling—Jonathan Richman

Nora has lost that free, creative part of herself as she has gotten older and taken on more and more adult responsibilities, and her arc in the book is in part about her finding that place within herself again. No song fills me with longing for those easy, loose days of my youth, where everything felt possible, like this one.

The Hatfield Side—Cheri Knight

Cheri Knight is a musician (formerly of The Blood Oranges) and flower farmer, and one of my heroes. Her album The Northeast Kingdom, which refers to the part of Vermont where The Late Bloomers' Club takes place, is one of my favorite records of all time. This track is about an old rivalry between two towns, and it was the inspiration for the tug-of-war in the novel.

One For My Baby—Ella Fitzgerald version

Movies play a big role in The Late Bloomers' Club. Nora and Kit are both movie nerds, and Kit and Max are filmmakers. Here Kit and Max describe a scene in the film Road House to Nora:

“And she sings this absolutely heartbreaking rendition of One for My Baby.”

Max stood. “Before she starts playing, she lights a cigarette.” Max acts out the action, putting two of his fingers to his lips, flicking the thumb of his other hand on an imaginary lighter, and taking a long, deep drag. “And instead of putting it in an ashtray, she balances it precariously on the edge of the piano.”

“And she just lets it burn as she plays,” Kit added. “Like she couldn’t give a single fuck. It’s so badass.”

The Littlest Birds—The Be Good Tanyas

Elliot, the big box developer representative, is an avid birder. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is when Elliot is doing birdcalls in front of Nora. It’s the first moment where Elliot is dropping his guard a bit.

He Woke Me Up Again—Sufjan Stevens

I listened a lot of Sufjan Stevens while I was writing The Late Bloomers' Club. In so many ways, the novel is about waking up to all the possibilities in life. I love the ecstatic joy embodied in all of Stevens’ work, and this song is one of my favorites.

Om Nama Shiva—Krishna Das

Another of my favorite scenes is one where Kit and Max lead Kirtan (yogic chanting) at a nursing home. This is the song they chant.

Century Plant—Victoria Williams

In many ways, this song was the inspiration for The Late Bloomers' Club. It’s a wonderful song about late bloomers, and all they create later in their life. You never know when you will bloom!


Louise Miller and The Late Bloomers' Club links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Kirkus review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Shorties (New Zadie Smith Short Fiction, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields on Guitars, and more)

Zadie Smith

The New Yorker features new Zadie Smith short fiction.


My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields talked guitars with Rolling Stone.


eBook on sale for $1.99 today:

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost


Drowned in Sound interviewed members of the band The Innocence Mission.


The Creative Independent interviewed author Ottessa Moshfegh.


The Current shared a Jason Isbell live set and interview.


Guernica interviewed author Joseph O'Neill.


Stream a new Black Belt Eagle Scout song.


Hobart interviewed author Chelsea Hodson.


Viv Albertine discussed her new memoir To Throw Away Unopened with Fresh Air.


Amber Tamblyn discussed her debut novel Any Man with Ms. Magazine.


Salon interviewed Kim Gordon and Bill Nace about their band Body/Head.


BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from Alexia Arthurs' short story collection How To Love a Jamaican.


PopMatters interviewed members of the band Thunderpussy.


Megan Abbott discussed her new novel Give Me Your Hand with Weekend Edition and CrimeReads.


Stream a new Torres song.


The Millions previewed the best books from the rest of 2018.


Stream a new Animal Collective song.


Tin House interviewed author Ashleigh Young.


Stream a new song by Saintseneca.


Deborah Levy recommended books that unsettle boundaries at BookMarks.


Pitchfork profiled singer-songwriter Mitski.


Pat Thomas discussed his Jerry Rubin biography, Did It! From Yippie to Yuppie, with Aquarium Drunkard.


Sam Evian shared two cover songs at Aquarium Drunkard.


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists


July 16, 2018

Joanna C Valente's Playlist for Their Poetry Collection "Sexting Ghosts"

Sexting Ghosts

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Joanna C Valente's Sexting Ghosts is a powerful and inquisitive poetry collection.

Jasmine Dreame Wagner wrote of the book:

"These poems together form an epic flush with oblique strategies for survival. Valente's arguments sear then soften, become inquiries, persistent efforts to either understand or to cut ties with what time has shed."


In their own words, here is Joanna C Valente's Book Notes music playlist for their poetry collection Sexting Ghosts:



Robert Glasper - Of Dreams to Come

This song is so dreamy dreamlike, neither melancholy nor joyful, but a kind of reflection on the present moment, a present that may be somewhat unfulfilling or confusing and transient. We're always changing and evolving, and that can be a difficult, uncomfortable thing to experience. Since the book focuses so much on the body, and gender dynamics and gender dysphoria, as well as the strange fluidity of the internet and how our relationships often exist largely on the internet or through text, I wanted to reflect that.



Washington Phillips - What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?

So much of the book is an exploration and reflection on spirituality in a modern landscape, obsessed with the idea of the possibility (or lack of) an afterlife, but also a purpose or meaning. What does it all mean, where is our place? The song, which was written by American gospel singer, Mavis Staples, is full of suffering and pain and longing, much like the poems -- for something greater beyond ourselves. But most importantly, for this all-encompassing love.

"I'm thinking of friends whom I used to know,
Who lived and suffered in this world below
But they've gone off to heaven, but I want to know
What are they doing there now?

Oh, what are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
But what are they doing there now?

There's some whose hearts
Were burdened with care
They paid for their moment with fighting and tears
But they clung to the cross trembling in fear
But what are they doing there now?

What are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
What are they doing there now?

And there's some whose bodies were full of disease
Physicians and doctors couldn't give them much ease
But they suffered 'til death brought a final release
But what are they doing there now?

What are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
What are they doing there now?

There's some who were poor and often despised
They looked up to heaven with tear-blinded eyes
While people were heedless and deaf to their cries
But what are they doing there now?

What are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
What are they doing there now?

What are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
What are they doing there now?"



Eartha Kitt - I Want to Be Evil

There's definitely a sense of wanting to break out of the status quo with the various characters in the story. They want to be happy, and like Kitt in this song, they're tired of being good - because where has it gotten them?



Savages - Husbands

This song, like the book, is full of anger and catharsis and chaos. It's that feeling you get when you wake up and realize you aren't happy with your situation, whether it's your job or your body or how you're identifying or the person you're with. And the book is a reflection on all of these things, that sense of locked loneliness in your life.



Joanna C Valente and Sexting Ghosts links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Andrea Blythe interview with the author
James H. Duncan interview with the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Marys of the Sea


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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