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April 2, 2009

Book Notes - Kurtis Scaletta ("Mudville")

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

Every Spring I search out at least one baseball book to read to herald the new season. This year, after reading Minnesota Reads' glowing review of Kurtis Scaletta's young adult novel, Mudville, I knew I had found my book.

Mudville is a captivating tale, and Scaletta treats his readers to a magical story without ever feeling the need to condescend to even his youngest readers. Having searched out books for my nephews, nieces, and friends' children, I wish there were more young adult authors like Kurtis Scaletta and more books like Mudville.

Minnesota Reads wrote of the book:

"This is one of the most charming books I’ve read in a long time. It’s sweet and innocent and has an air of mysticism about it that keeps it from feeling like over-sugared kidlit."

In his own words, here is Kurtis Scaletta's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, Mudville:

My debut children's novel Mudville is about a town where it rains for 22 straight years, postponing a baseball game with a rival town that most people want replayed. A strange kid shows up, it stops raining, and the rematch is on. Music isn't a huge part of the book, but it does have a mental soundtrack and sometimes the songs from the mental soundtrack are described in the book.

Songs in the Book

Cupid - Sam Cooke

The hero of Mudville, Roy, nurses a little crush on his relief pitcher, a girl named Rita with a trick pitch. As they ride back from a game, this song comes on the CD player, and he's done for. It's probably on the list of top ten songs that put listeners in danger of falling in love.

Now Cupid if your arrow makes a love storm for me, I promise to love her for eternity.

Giant Steps - John Coltrane

On another car trip, Roy is subjected to the music of Coltrane by Mr. Robinson, his friend's dad who turns every road trip into a musical lesson. "It sounds like a snare drum beating up a saxophone," Roy decides. Remember, he's twelve.

(cymbal crash - toot toot toot - snare drum thump, etc.)

Outlaw - The Cult

A tried-and-true conversational gambit among fans of both baseball and music is, "what would your mound music be?" That is, if you were a pitcher, what would they play when you took the mound? Johan Santana has "Gasolina" by Yankee Daddy, for example, and closer Marian Rivera famously has "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. So it amused me to think about mound music for my little leaguers, and to my surprise and delight my editor let me keep those scenes (and mentioned in her editorial letter that she liked the scene)

My pitcher anti-hero Sturgis Nye loves old school hard rock, and has chosen the same song as his former pro pitcher father -- "Outlaw," by The Cult. His dad is a biker and named his kid Sturgis, so he loves the reference to the Badlands (baby), while the outlaw bit turns out to be kind of prophetic.

Outlaw... from the Badlands, baby.

Foxey Lady - Jimi Hendrix

Rita needs a mound song, too, and Mr. Robinson picks this one out for her. It's spelled with an e, is "Foxey Lady." I think Mr. R. picked the perfect song. The guitar riff is as wicked and dirty as Rita's trick pitch.

I see you down on the scene (Foxey), you make me want to get up and scream (Foxey).

People probably think it's a typo when the lyrics are printed in the book, but we discovered the irregularity in the original lyrics, as printed in the music book, when acquiring the permission to quote the song. You learn all kinds of stuff when you write a book.

Rock and Roll - Led Zeppelin

When I think about the first baseball game played in a town that hasn't seen one in over twenty years, the song that plays on the soundtrack in my head is this one. I include that in the book, as a cue to movie directors.

It's been a long time since we rock and rolled, oh yeah.

Been Caught Stealing - Jane's Addiction

Another snippet of in-game music. You might guess the circumstances.

I enjoy stealing. It's just as simple as that.

Songs not in the Book but on my Mental Soundtrack

Who'll Stop The Rain - Creedence Clearwater Revival

The book is mostly about rain and mud for the first chapters. When I was working on the book, I put together an inspirational iTunes playlist of classic rain songs by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Gordon Lightfoot, Eric Claption, The Who, and, um, Eddie Rabbitt.

In the movie version in my mind (I think all authors have a mental movie going on) this is the song that swells up during the opening credits -- or maybe a cool, contemporary cover by the Old 97s or Neko Case and M Ward (they did the Dylan rain song together, why not this one?)

Long as I remember, rain been coming down.

Is there a better lyric to open a story about 22 years of rain?

Have You Ever Seen the Rain - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Well, perhaps this one is better:

Yesterday, and days before, sun is cold and rain is hard,
I know; been that way for all my time.

CCR was always singing about rain: have you ever seen it, who'll stop it, and it looks like we're in for nasty weather. I suspect that John Fogerty really wanted to be a meteorologist.

Mud - Greg Brown

OK, it's a little, er, adult to be on the soundtrack for a kid's book (it isn't marked as explicit, but it's suggestive as anything). However, the title and the walking bass and gravelly blues voice of Brown would make it an apt song for those first few muddy chapters provided you don't pay much attention to the words.

And here we are, ah, meeting in the mud.

Statistician's Blues - Todd Snider

This isn't exactly a G-rated song, either, but as a stat-head, Roy might appreciate Snider's send-up of statistical thinking. Or not.

84 percent of all statisticians truly hate their jobs.

Centerfield - John Fogerty

The rain stops in Mudville, though, and that's when John's solo career becomes relevant. Note that he's still at it with the musical weather reports as late as 1984.

The sun came out today!
We're born again, there's new grass on the field.

In an early draft I put that little epigraph at the opening, but later replaced it with a more meaningful one from the The Natural. Interestingly enough, since there is not a single reference to the song in the finished book, one reader emailed me with compliments on the book, then followed it up with a note that this song had been on her head since she read it. Maybe it's because Fogerty mentions the title in the lyrics.

Five More Songs about Baseball

These don't necessarily belong in the book, but there's a lot of good baseball songs that are worth mentioning. Here's a quick High Fidelity-style top five list. I disqualified "Centerfield" since I already talked about it.

1. Some Dreams - Steve Earle (theme song to The Rookie)
2. Laughing River - Greg Brown
3. Joe DiMaggio Done it Again - Billy Bragg & Wilco
4. Talkin' Baseball - Terry Cashman
5. Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen

Kurtis Scaletta and Mudville links:

the author's website
publisher's page for the book
video trailer series for the book

Bib-Laura-graphy review
Kidliterate review
Minnesota Reads review
My Favorite Author review
New York Post review
Teens at Random review
TheHappyNappyBookseller review
Winston-Salem Journal review

Goodreads page for the author
Goodreads page for the book
LibraryThing page for the book
Secrets of the City interview with the author
Writing for Children & Teens

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 (2009 Edition)
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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