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March 10, 2010

Book Notes - Various Authors ("Phantom")

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

Phantom is a literary horror fiction anthology that collects 14 fascinating short stories. Other than Nick Mamatas and Stephen Graham Jones, these authors were all new to me, and I was impressed by every story in the collection. Thanks to Paul G. Tremblay and Sean Wallace for expanding my literary worldview, and for helping spread the word that horror is much more than vampires, werewolves, and zombies.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Ghosts, disaffected wives, deserted towns, obsessive journalists and children who never existed haunt the pages of this stunning, elegant and frightful anthology of "literary horror" assembled by Stoker nominee Tremblay and World Fantasy Award–winning Wallace."

In their own words, here is the Book Notes music playlist for the horror fiction compilation, Next written by the contributing authors:

Co-edited by Paul Tremblay (author of The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland) and Sean Wallace (World Fantasy Award winning editor and publisher of Prime Books) Phantom is a literary horror anthology featuring 14 original stories. Phantom's soundtrack clicks along with the TOC:

Steve Tem, "The Cabinet Child"

For "The Cabinet Child" I imagine a JS Bach cello suite playing in the background (actually, Bach cello suites would fit many of my stories).

With the brooding cello in those Bach suites many would do, celebrating both the sad and the beautiful at the same time, but if I have to choose, how about Cello Solo Suite #5 in C Minor, BWV 1011-2. Allemande?

Steve Eller, "The End of Everything"

The title for "The End of Everything" comes from a Slipknot song, from their IOWA album.  The chorus for "Everything Ends" includes the lines – I haven’t slept since I woke up/And found my whole life was a lie (expletive deleted)/This is the end of everything.  I had the concept for the story rolling around in my head, but it was those lyrics that gave it the momentum it needed.  The character had to be left wondering if his entire life was a lie.  He had to wonder if everything was over.  The story wasn’t inspired by the words, and I can’t concentrate on writing with music playing.  But the story was shaped by those troubling lyrics.

Becca De La Rossa, "A Ghost, A House"

Song - "Two" by The Antlers

My story, "A Ghost, A House', is about a woman who can talk to houses, and a man called Jammy, who comes to be her friend. I hesitated to choose "Two" for this purpose - it's a song about an utterly personal experience, and it's tangible in all the ways that "A Ghost, A House" is abstract: a man is watching his wife die. But there are similarities. Both the song and the story are about an insular relationship, the kind that develops its own walls and ceiling to the exclusion of everything else in the world. Both are about a certain type of helplessness that comes with love and duty. Seemingly, both are set inside one single room, and the characters' histories are reduced to mythology, and there's this line in the song, "...and this all bears repeating", which seems to negate any forward momentum until all motion is at a standstill, and the only thing left is the awful fact of the matter, whatever that fact may be.

Stephen Graham Jones, "The Ones Who Got Away"

Yeah, always listening to something at high volume when I write, can't not do that -- from Ed Bruce to Lady Gaga to Faster Pussycat, then back to Neil Diamond or Cher or Danzig or Bonnie Tyler (always Bonnie Tyler) -- but there's never any correlation to what ends up on the page. For "The Ones Who Got Away," that was 2006, so I was deep into Rob Zombie's Educated Horses and Shooter Jennings' Put the O Back in Country, but, I mean, I don't hear either of them when I think about that story. If there's anything playing behind that story for me it's the Footloose soundtrack, I suppose. But, too, just about everything I write, it's probably some kind of unsecret homage to Footloose. Only, here, Ren, he never quite makes it to the dance, never saves the town. Can't even save himself, really. And, worse I guess, he kind of knows it. Which, yeah, okay: that Footloose playing behind him in my head? It's just because I love all those songs, so clearly remember seeing that movie in the theatre, how my heart kind of stayed there, wanted to dance like that. And, this guy living with what he's done, trying to, he's me of course, so what else can there be playing in the background, right? You write what you know, all that, then just try to disguise it as best you can. Turn the music up loud enough that you can't hear what's really going on then send the piece out before you see all the way through it, decide to just keep that one to yourself. But then suddenly it's in-print and all around and everybody can see you and you have to call on Ren McCormack for help. Good thing is, he can hear things from a long way off, from decades away, and will always drop everything, come running.

Karen Heuler, "After Images"

Song: "Pirate Jenny" from Brecht-Weil's The Threepenny Opera

In "Pirate Jenny," the speaker is a maid in a hotel, waiting for the pirate ship to enter the harbor and fire. She has a secret: she's in charge. How others see her is part of her power: no one really can imagine what she is. And in turn, she gloats over the coming carnage 
because she will confound the expectations of those who consider her insignificant.

She's subversive, as is my narrator in "After Images." She's a reporter who makes things up, apparently in the service of some larger truth. She's eager and disruptive, and like Jenny, she's after more slippery prey: the secrets the dead hold. She's subversive, like Jenny; they both appear to be one thing, insignificant and manageable, while never 
being really under control. Neither one of them does a good job of giving the populace what they want. But I like the way Jenny defies them with guns, and the reporter defies them with questions.

Steve Berman, "Kinder"

"I'm Tired" as performed by Lili von Schtupp.

Actually, the origin of "Kinder" is due to Kelly Link and Clarion. I wanted to write something weird. Crazy weird. I always liked the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale, so that was part of the inspiration. And the first few scenes that I wrote in 2006 changed little from start to finish.

Why the von Schtupp song? Well, it deals with Teutonic ideals, love, loneliness and weariness. No ovens, though, but not even Mel Brooks is perfect.

Lavie Tadhir, "Set Down This"

Coming up with a song for "Set Down This" is a bit like picking up the theme tune for the American Occupation in Iraq, and I'm not sure there is one. Since I wrote this particular story in South Africa, a long way away, and because, perhaps, of the rhythm of the story, I'd like to go with Vusi Mahlasela's "Basimanyana." Strangely, it seems to fit...

Nick Mamatas, "A Stain on the Stone"

"A Stain on the Stone" is ultimately about the legacy of Ricky Kasso, the notorious "Satanic" murderer that made life very difficult for every high school longhair and metal fan on Long Island for a few years afterward. As a Long Islander of a certain age, I was obligated to write about him eventually. He was a fan of AC/DC, Ozzy, etc., but the song of my choice is "Tell Me What You Want" by local '80s metallers Zebra. The band never made it nationally, but that song and a couple of others got some rotation on LI's WBAB, an album-oriented rock station the longhairs preferred. When writing the story, I imagined a car with one of those ubiquitous WBAB bumper stickers. And the story is all wanting...

Geoffrey H. Goodwin, "Jonquils Bloom"

I can't think of anything I've ever written that's more attached to a specific song. Something silly like fifteen years ago, before the Internet made it easier to find new good music, I was in upstate New York listening to a crackling FM station. It was a run-of-the mill upstate NY one, so it was mostly rap-rock with some poppier metal and dance music thrown in.
A DJ cut in and said they were trying a new feature where they played something that was brand new and making waves in Europe. Placebo's debut single, which wasn't even available in the United States, "Lady of the Flowers," came on. Middle of the night, by myself in my parents' basement, the song pulled my brain out through my ears. I ordered the CD from England the next morning.
"Lady of the Flowers" still feels like a deeply personal yet mythic narrative, even though it's also just a solid pop song. Brian Molko's voice cut through me that night and I still adore it now. The story I wrote for Phantom, which was eventually retitled "Jonquils Bloom," probably lifts a line and a concept or two from the lyrics but, more importantly, I hope that the strange enchantment I felt that night is tucked in there somewhere. Unlike much of what I write, the creepier bits are inside the narrator on this one.
(Samuel R. Delany did an edit of the story for me, long ago, and his insights were so brilliant that I couldn't even incorporate them all. An early draft was written for a workshop with the writer and painter Keith Abbott and Nick Mamatas was the one who suggested I send it to Phantom, and I guess Jean Genet deserves props too--just so that, along with Placebo, I've given credit where credit is due.)

Carrie Laben, "Invasive Species"

If you're going to have something playing in your head while reading "Invasive Species", it should be "Goin' Back to Harlan", as written by Anna McGarrigle and performed by Emmylou Harris on Wrecking Ball. Deceptively harmless, the music circles like a flock of birds looking for a roost and the lyrics weave together a chain of associations that echoes the structure of the story. The first impression is one of simple nostalgia for rural childhoods and old folk tunes, but there's a disjointedness, a lack of conclusion; it reminds me of the small-town secrets that you only realize were there looking back, the ones that you never learn the truth about - the ones that no longer have an existing truth, because everyone who once knew it has died or crawled in a bottle or told the story over so many times that it's changed. (What Arlo Guthrie calls the Folk Process.) Waking the devil from his dream is probably not as pretty an idea as it sounds.

F. Brett Cox, "She Hears Music Up Above"

I had one song in my head the entire time I was writing "She Hears Music Up Above": "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us," written by Sam Phillips, sung by Alison Krauss on her hit collaboration with Robert Plant, Raising Sand.  The first time I heard the song, I was immediately hypnotized, and when I saw the lyrics, I realized there was a story there.  When I further realized the feeling I got from the song blended perfectly with my memories of a recent, unscheduled summer afternoon visit to the town common in Waterbury, Vermont, and of a long-ago nightmare, I was off.  I even considered giving the story the same title as the song but, thankfully, changed my mind and looked to the lyrics instead. 
As I’ve written elsewhere, the music I love means more to me than any book I've ever read.  I would never claim to have achieved in my story what Phillips achieved in her composition and Krauss in her performance, but it was a delight to have such a wonderful song help carve the path to the story.
Here's a link to the song. For the record, I had not seen this video when I wrote the story.

Phantom links:

Paul G. Tremblay's website
excerpt from the book ("The Ones Who Got Away" by Stephen Graham Jones)

Bibliophile Stalker review
Locus Online review
Publishers Weekly review
The Velvet review

Bibliophile Stalker interview with editor Sean Wallace

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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