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February 18, 2009

Book Notes - Nick Antosca ("Midnight Picnic")

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

Impetus Press closed its doors late last year year the same week Nick Antosca's second novel was to be published, but luckily for Antosca (and readers everywhere), Word Riot Press quickly stepped in to publish Midnight Picnic.

Antosca is one of the country's most promising young writers, and with Midnight Picnic he has produced a modern ghost story as compelling as it is bone-chilling.

Jami Attenberg called Midnight Picnic “a thrilling follow-up to his contemplative debut, Fires. His imagination makes an astonishing show in this macabre, bizarre and witty story of ghosts and revenge. Impossible to put down until the extremely satisfying end, Midnight Picnic conjures up the mounting tension of the finest Bradbury story.”

In his own words, here is Nick Antosca's Book Notes essay for his novel, Midnight Picnic:

Midnight Picnic is a ghost story and the original idea for the novel didn't even involve a ghost. It was something else entirely... it began with an anecdote about a man having to kill his dog after accidentally injuring it. (Also I used to edit college admissions essays for extra money, and I once got one that was about how the applicant had accidentally stomped on his kitten, and then, "to put it out of its misery fast," closed his eyes and stomped on it again, on purpose.)

When I was 22, I wrote the first chapter of what would have been that other novel called Midnight Picnic, the chapter that ends with a little boy's bones being found, and then I didn't touch it for a year. Then my friend Helen sent me "3000 Miles" by Tracy Chapman, and I thought of a journey at night, the journey that my characters Bram and Adam would eventually take in the final version of Midnight Picnic.

Tracy Chapman - 3000 Miles: This is the song, off Where You Live, that caused Midnight Picnic to exist. It sounds like it's being sung by a ghost, like she got killed--she was one of those "girls who walk alone" who "aren't found for days or weeks," and now, being dead, she's "three thousand miles away."

Or maybe the 3,000 miles are in her head. That's the psychological distance she feels from her body when she's being attacked, killed. Like Adam Dovey, the little boy in Midnight Picnic, gets attacked, killed.

The best thing about the song is the tone of her voice, the hope which seems undermined by the resignation. (Or is it the other way around... glass-half-empty/full sort of thing.)

It made me think of a ghost traveling on dark roads with a sense of resignation. In the book I wrote, it's not the ghost who feels the sense of resignation, it's the ghost's human companion--but that's where I got started.

Cat Power - The Moon: This album, The Greatest, came out after I started working on Midnight Picnic, and I listened to it a lot, especially when writing the scenes with Marian. "The Moon" is a weirdly hopeful song, which is unusual for Cat Power, and it reminds me of my ex-girlfriend, who has nothing to do with Midnight Picnic except that she was around when I was writing it. It reminds me of being away late at night, feeling peaceful and hopeful but also eerie and aware that nothing ever really works out. "The moon is not only beautiful/It is so far away"... what does that mean? It means love is unsustainable.

What I would do while writing Midnight Picnic in summer 2006 was: Come home from work, go to sleep immediately, wake up at midnight, and write for six hours in the dark, undisturbed, then go to sleep again. It's an extra secret day.

Erik Satie - Gymnopedie III: This was the piece I put on repeat and listened to for hours, particularly while revising and, long before that, when writing the first sections of Bram and Adam's long night drive through the deserted countryside. Sometimes I'd wake up the next morning and it would still be playing. It's not as pretty as the first Gymnopedie but it gives you a sense of the eternal.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - Soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: One of the greatest soundtracks of all time to one of the greatest films of all time. This came out well after I had finished the first draft of Midnight Picnic, but I listened to it constantly while revising.

Certain tracks - "Moving On," for example - were particularly good for the transition between the first and second half of the novel, when Bram and Adam are leaving West Virginia and moving into the afterlife.

Others - particularly the hushed, wandering "Counting the Stars" - were good for the more somber scenes later on, scenes filled with the quiet menace of being on the road at night, the sense of being close to death or perhaps having already died.

And listening to the soundtrack reminded me of how good the film was, which reminded me of how good any art can be, and what it's worth trying for.

Cat Power - Werewolf: Midnight Picnic is partly about revenge. How badly you can want it, how desultory it can be. The creepy, almost apologetic speaker in "Werewolf" is changed into something... a being that creeps through the woods looking for prey, a being that used to be "somebody like you and me." Sometimes if a person does something ugly to me, I hardly notice. But sometimes I want revenge... very badly. I've learned it's better to resist.

This song also makes me think of the Jacob Bunny character in Midnight Picnic... he did something awful... now he stalks through the woods, changed forever from the man he used to be. I listened to the song a lot while writing him.

Also, I like werewolves, and will one day write the story of a werewolf.

Pearl Jam - Fatal: I have no idea what this song is actually about, really, nor am I super anxious to learn (same with many great Pearl Jam songs). It was probably the most important individual song to Midnight Picnic after "3000 Miles," but the words are incidental, except for the title, which I suppose does seem relevant to a book about a little boy who's drowned and an old man who's burned.

It's a sorrowful song with a simple, epic guitar riff, and it seemed to perfectly the mood of Midnight Picnic as I saw it. That mood is the mood you would feel if you were overcome by a sense of resignation and you made friends with death in the belief that nothing mattered, but then at the last minute something flickered in you and you changed your mind but were already lost.

Nick Antosca and Midnight Picnic links:

the author's blog
the book's page at the publisher
the book's video trailer
GoodReads page for the author
GoodReads page for the book

Fantasy & Science Fiction review
PopMatters review
Probably Just a Story review
The Scowl review

Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
Bookslut interview with the author
Identity Theory profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes music playlist for Fires by the author
MOBYLIVES interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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