June 9, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Michael Koryta, better known for his crime novels, has created a truly modern horror novel, So Cold the River. Regularly compared to Stephen King's The Shining in reviews, So Cold the River is a clever, smartly paced supernatural suspense novel that is difficult to put down.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Koryta spins a spellbinding tale of an unholy lust for power that reaches from beyond the grave and suspends disbelief through the believable interactions of fully developed characters."
I began writing in earnest when I was in college and living with a roommate who was, as one should feel entitled to be in his own apartment, occasionally known to – gasp – watch television, talk on the phone, have visitors, or play music, almost as if he had other concerns in his life than my writing environment. I started to write with headphones on in search of a sort of white noise, and quickly reached the point where music was critical to my writing. To this day, I very rarely write so much as a paragraph without music playing, and the tunes are often selected to match the tone of the day’s work. Other times, I’ll say to hell with the tone of the work and play something just because it rocks. So Cold the River was a book particularly inspired by music, and here are some of the tracks that were in heavy rotation during those months.
"Short Trip Home" by Edgar Meyer and Joshua Bell
I played this instrumental at the start of every writing session for So Cold the River, because it was – in addition to being a beautiful piece of music – a true inspiration to the novel. I’d come across the song about a year earlier and found it so incredibly gorgeous and haunting that I began to imagine a story behind the music. I hit on the image on a ghost playing the masterful violin part, and from there grew a large portion of the plot. In an interesting twist, Joshua Bell, the world renowned violinist, graduated from Bloomington North High School just like yours truly, and he and Meyer are both Indiana University grads, again like yours truly, so it was all the more fitting that this song inspired my first Indiana novel.
"Wonderwall" by Ryan Adams
Read the first chapter of So Cold the River and you’ll see this song referenced, so I don’t think I need to go on too much about its influence. There are rare occasions in which you hear a cover that seems to one-up the original, and this, for me, is such a moment. I always liked the Oasis song, but Adams takes it slower, softer, and sadder, and the result is a piece of music that can still give me chills, even after hundreds of spins.
"Middleman" by Bright Eyes
I was looking for music of a certain Gothic, creepy quality at times during the writing of So Cold the River, and this wonderful tune by one of our most ambitious alternative bands certainly qualifies. It’s from the album Cassadaga, and my next novel, The Cypress House, involves a character from this village in central Florida, a place occupied primarily by mediums.
"A Ghost to Most" by the Drive-By Truckers
This band was on my playlist constantly, but that’s no surprise, as they always are. If you come across lyrics like “I guess I’ll never grow a sideburn, it’s a shame with all I’ve got to go between,” you know that you’ve struck gold.
"Too Long in the Wasteland" by James McMurtry
I could put three dozen McMurtry songs on this list, and every single one would be worth a listen, but I’ll go with this classic. The compilation album Best of the Sugar Hill Years was the source of many of my favorite tunes during the writing of So Cold the River, and McMurtry is one of my favorite songwriters, period. Best line in this great song: “Whiskey don’t make liars, it just makes fools. So I didn’t mean to say it, but I meant what I said.”
"Sadie Hawkins" by Doomtree
One of the coolest hip-hop acts to come around in a long time, this track takes their typical approach and spins it 180 degrees, leaving a slick, sexy song with sharp lyrics and a one-of-a-kind sound.
"Everything to Give" by Jenn Cristy
There are flavors of everything from rock to hip-hop in this, but the killer piano melody and Jenn’s stunning voice lift it to a special place. The talent’s obvious; the effort she’s putting into this multi-dimensional piece might slip past you at first listen, which is how you know it’s working.
"Film Noir" by Gaslight Anthem
This is one of the more exciting rock bands of the past few years to me, and while songs like The '59 Sound got plenty of radio play, I still think the album deserved a much wider following. They also provided one of the best live shows I saw during the period in which I was working on So Cold the River.
"Love Vigilantes" by Iron & Wine
As mentioned with Ryan Adams, sometimes a cover works really well, and this version of the New Order song is one of those tracks I could stick on repeat and just let run.
"Thin Blue Flame" by Josh Ritter
For several years, I’ve been selecting The Animal Years as my "if you had just one album to take with you to a desert island" answer. I’m still sticking by it, and "Thin Blue Flame" is the standout track on a standout album. Pure genius. Ritter just dropped a new album in May, cause for celebration.
"Ragged as the Road" by Reckless Kelly
One of my point-of-view characters in So Cold the River, Josiah Bradford, is a weathered, bitter country boy, and writing as such called for some weathered, bitter country music. Among the best was Reckless Kelly, whose album Bulletproof is a keep-turning-it-up treat from beginning to end.
"Stand Up" by The Flobots
If there’s a better blend of rock/hip-hop out there than the Flobots, who pair great, driving beats with smart, funny and biting lyrics, I don’t know where to find it. Fight With Tools is a great album, and this is my favorite track, with one of the best openings, lyrically and musically, that I've heard in a long time. This one got a lot of plays on the days when my energy felt a little down and I wanted to let myself off the writing hook. "Stand up," the Flobots would tell me, and I sure as hell tried.
Michael Koryta and So Cold the River links:
Everything Girl interview with the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Journey of a Bookseller review
Los Angeles Times profile of the author
The Page 69 Test for the book
Paper Cuts music playlist essay by the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author
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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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 the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists