May 22, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Carrie Vaughn writes a series of "urban fantasy" novels that are incredibly entertaining and impeccably paced. Since finishing Kitty Raises Hell, I have been recommending her books to the myriad fans of the Twilight series.
I write a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty. She's also a radio DJ, and on the very first page of the very first book (Kitty and The Midnight Hour), she starts her late-night shift with Concrete Blonde, Bauhaus, and the Pogues. Music is a big part of Kitty's life, and it's a big part of my writing. I'm one of those writers who needs something playing in the background, occupying the list-making, type-A, anxious part of my mind so the creative part can get to work.
When I wrote the first book, I listened to a bunch of different stuff, a lot of 80's rock and New Wave and punk. A few songs especially seemed to fit the mood and theme of what I was writing, and when I finished the book, I made up a playlist and burned a CD. When the book actually sold and headed for publication, I asked to include the playlist as part of the acknowledgments. Kitty's a DJ -- it fit. Since then, the playlist has become a tradition -- all the books have one. I've just finished the seventh, and I haven't repeated a song yet, though some bands (the Clash, Oingo Boingo, the Pretenders) do seem a little overrepresented. But I love doing these, finding the right mix, the right tone. I like to have fun with it, and show off some of my favorite songs and artists in the process.
Here's the playlist for the most recent book, Kitty Raises Hell:
Eric Burdon and The Animals, "Paint it Black"
I first heard the Animals perform this in the documentary of the 1967 Monterey Pop music festival. The recording I have is a later performance (by the version of the band that had been playing "Spill the Wine" a little too much), but I still love their version of it so much better than the more famous Rolling Stones one. I've described the difference this way: when the Stones do "Paint it Black," it sounds like, "Here we are, famous rock band doing this cutting edge dark song." When Eric Burdon sings it, it sounds like, "I am possessed by a demon from hell and am heading toward oblivion."
KT Tunstall, "Hold On"
I'm not much for lyrics. It's usually the beat or tangle of harmonies that attract me to a song first. That's the way it was with this one. Funny thing, though, how often I'll pick a song for the Kitty books because I like the way it sounds, then I listen to the lyrics, which then seem custom made for the book or character. "I feel a change a comin'" does a good job of describing a werewolf in a certain state of mind.
Thompson Twins, "In the Name of Love"
This is from the Ghostbusters soundtrack of all things. This is a great little song, fun to dance to, fun to sing along with in the car. It also has an air of desperation to it. It's one of those great 80's pop songs that's a little darker than it appears on the surface. Kind of like the Kitty books as a whole.
Pretenders, "Day After Day"
This is another one that I love the sound of. It's soaring and Chrissie Hynde's vocals are, as always, amazing. That's a big reason why I keep putting her songs on Kitty playlists. Kitty's a chick with a big voice, too.
Oingo Boingo, "Just Another Day"
I use lots of Boingo songs on the playlists, which should come as no surprise. They may actually be werewolves. This song really seems to fit Kitty's state of mind in this book. With all the challenges and supernatural weirdness she faces, all she really wants is a normal life. The world doesn't often cooperate.
Squirrel Nut Zippers "Soon"
This was a case where I thought I was going to use one song off an album (The album: Perennial Favorites, the song: "Ghost of Stephen Foster" because the book makes references to ghosts/haunted house.) but when I played the album, another song entirely jumped out. "Soon": "Some-some-something's going to happen…" Which also fits the sense of dread and anticipation in the story.
The Cardigans, "Happy Meal II"
This marks a lull in the playlist. I usually seem to mark the halfway point with a song that breaks tone and does something completely different. I'm not sure now if I picked this song for the sound or for the lyrics. It's a "domestic bliss but not really" kind of song, and the sound is pretty edgy. Like all the songs I pick, it ultimately comes down to what I like and what my mood was at the time.
Abby Travis, "Blythe"
I try to pick at least one fairly obscure artist (at least, obscure to me) for each soundtrack. Both to introduce people to non-mainstream artists and to pretend like I have some kind of musical cred. Abby Travis opened for the Bangles when I saw them at House of Blues in San Diego in 2007, and then she came back to play bass for the band. She's awesome. Kind of a post-modern torch singer. This song made a great follow up to the Cardigans.
Duran Duran, "View to a Kill"
Occasionally, my choices get a bit silly, but I'll own up to really liking this song. (And yes, I'm about the age to put me in the era when preteen girls everywhere imprinted on Duran Duran.) Also, a theme of the book is fire, the villain is a fire demon of sorts, which makes the song awesomely appropriate.
They Might Be Giants, "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" (Severe Tire Damage version)
They Might Be Giants was probably my second favorite band. (The first was the Pet Shop Boys.) This live version of the song is a little more chaotic than the album version, and I like it lots. Quirky and exotic and local at the same time. I associate at it with the villain of the book, who is also quirky and exotic and local at the same time.
Garbage, "As Heaven is Wide"
I had always planned on using this song in the playlist of the book where I introduced the series' big bad guy. Well, I introduced the big bad guy in Kitty Raises Hell, and here's his song. It's manic and epic. Like punk existed in the eighties so that this sort of music would be possible in the nineties. The epic is important, because for me at least, the whole series opens up from here. Each novel stands alone, but there's an undercurrent, some overarcing forces coming into play because Kitty's getting important enough for them to take notice. I'm starting to lay cards on the table here, and I associate that with this song.
Cyndi Lauper, "All Through the Night"
This was an unexpected addition. I love Lauper, have most of her albums, and this isn't my favorite song of hers by a long shot. But I played the album, heard it, and it wrapped up the book better than any other song. I was going to end this playlist with the Garbage song, but it didn't work. It didn't feel right. The book ends on a note of comfort rather than one of panic. If the book were a movie, I imagine "As Heaven is Wide" being the last big action song, and "All Through the Night" being the closing credits song.
I never planned it this way, but several of the last songs on the various playlists have to do with night, dawn, waking, and waiting to wake up: the last song on the second book's playlist is New Order's "True Faith" which has the chorus: "I used to think that the day would never come." The third book has the Eurythmics' "When Tomorrow Comes." And now "All Through the Night." The Kitty books are about creatures of the nights, vampires and werewolves and the like, and a woman who's trying to survive it all. To a werewolf (my werewolves, at least), reaching dawn is always a victory.
I don't usually have a sense of structure or tone going into creating a playlist (and when I do try to impose a structure on a Kitty playlist, it never seems to work out right). However, they always seem to turn out much better, much more thematic and relevant, than I expect. I think it's because my subconscious is smarter than I am, and the playlists constantly prove it.
Carrie Vaughn and Kitty Raises Hell links:
The Accidental Bard review
Alternative Worlds review
Bitten by Books review
Darque Reviews review
Genre Go Round review
Medieval Bookworm review
The Novel Bookworm review
The Speed of Write review
also at Largehearted Boy: