July 30, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Adam Rex's young adult novel Fat Vampire is a unique take among the current bevy of supernatural novels. The protagonist is a pudgy, 15 year-old just-turned vampire, who has to face all the anxieties of his teenage years along with his recent life-changing experience.
Essentially a coming of age story, Fat Vampire is filled with humor and a tightly wound plot that Rex moves along at a thrilling pace. Rex's dialogue is spot on and his characters are always believable, we all knew these characters in high school (minus the vampires, of course). If you are looking for a quick, fun read this summer (regardless of your age), read this book.
The Austin American-Statesman wrote of the book:
"Rex weaves supernatural goings-on like Doug's visit to vampire headquarters together with the stuff that any high school student (undead or not) struggles with — fitting in, loyalty and love. There's also a television producer tracking Doug to help boost ratings for his reality show, "Vampire Hunter." The result is a chaotic and entertaining mishmash of alternating points of view, scenes and stories. It shouldn't work, but it does thanks to Rex's deft use of humor and pacing."
I admire authors who listen to music in order to evoke a particular mood, or to help themselves reminisce, if for no other reason than they have spectacularly thoughtful answers for exercises like this. Music is very important to me as I write, though it serves as more of a source of comfort than inspiration. When I write I like a climate-controlled space, a good chair, coffee, and music. Preferably music I really like, though if I'm as immersed as I should be in my story it could be almost anything. Even reggae.
So this playlist constitutes more of an imaginary soundtrack than anything else, though lord knows if anyone ever actually made a Fat Vampire movie they'd probably fill it with a bunch of Modern Rock bands I've never heard of.
Fat Vampire follows Doug Lee, who becomes a vampire purely by accident. Someone like him would normally never be considered for that rarefied club–he's fifteen, short, and doughy, and now he always will be. He feeds on the blood of cows and steals (or attempts to steal) blood from a panda, the female attendees of the San Diego Comics Convention, and the Red Cross.
He wants to stop having to wear a poncho on sunny days. He wants to learn how to turn completely into a bat and not get stuck halfway, like last time. He wants to avoid the crew of the basic cable TV show Vampire Hunters. And he wants the new girl at school, so badly.
He's going to have to decide how much he should ask of life, how much he should take, and just what sort of person he intends to be for the rest of eternity.
Beck – "Loser"
This one's probably kind of self-explanatory if you already read the synopsis above. Beck was a big part of the soundtrack of my youth, and remains really important to me. "Loser" strikes me as a perfect soundtrack song, maybe specifically a perfect opening credits song. It immediately establishes a mood and theme, but with a Dadaist lyrical sense that can't possibly apply to any story particularly (apart from maybe a Beck biopic) and so therefore works as an anthem for everyone's confusion and desperation. I mostly remember high school as a time of confusion, desperation, and hair; but then it was the eighties.
Burt Bacharach – "What the World Needs Now"
One of a few song titles actually mentioned in the text of Fat Vampire. Came out of my long-standing desire to slip an actual conversation I once had with my wife into a book. The conversation went like this:
ME (listening to the song in question): These lyrics are ridiculous. Love is the only thing there's just too little of? What about, um...trees? Or coal?
WIFE: There aren't enough jaguarundi. They're endangered. I did a report about them when I was a kid.
ME: Oh. Well okay, there you go.
Art Brut – "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes"
There's an early scene in which Doug and his best friend Jay are visiting the San Diego Comic-Con. I got my start as an illustrator by showing a portfolio around at this con in the nineties, but I just got back from my first SDCC since 1999. I think now that I've misrepresented the modern con a little in my book (the male to female ratio is so much closer to 1:1 than it used to be, for example), but I'm still glad I wrote my little ode to the joys of arrested adolescence. Art Brut sounds like they're glad they wrote theirs, too.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – "Israel"
The object of Doug's desire is foreign exchange student Sejal, a troubled girl who's going through sort of an identity crisis and a crisis of conscience at the same time. She elects to ditch her luggage and remake herself in the image of her kindly foster sister, a Batcave Goth named Cat. There are Siouxsie songs that are more appropriate to my story than "Israel," but in a scene in which the girls are listening to Cat's music (and in which Sejal refers to Siouxsie and the Banshees as sounding "like Bollywood, but slower"), this is the song they're listening to. The book never says so explicitly, but they are.
Future Bible Heroes – "I'm a Vampire"
A tongue-in-cheek song about every vampire cliche I tried to avoid..."I have ever so much money/ I'm gorgeous/ And I can fly/ I survived the Inquisition/ Been a harlot/ Been a queen/ Survived for seven hundred years/ And still look seventeen." I love Stephin Merritt, and indeed even based a major character on how I imagine him to be.
I don't come down much on the side of immortality in my book. I've never found it all that appealing as a concept, and even the physically beautiful immortals in Fat Vampire are eccentric, isolated, and mildly delusional.
They Might Be Giants – "I've Got a Fang"
Another band that's namechecked in Fat Vampire. Doug's friend Jay is a fan of the same kind of nerd rock I was drawn to in high school and beyond. TMBG writes a lot of cheery songs about horrible things, and I realize as I write this that they may have had more of an influence on my overall aesthetic than I realized.
Tim Curry (Rocky Horror) – "Sweet Transvestite"
Doug and Jay fall in with the drama crowd, and so of course they take in a group date performance/screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I took an afternoon to re-watch the entire movie in bits and pieces on YouTube and was pleasantly surprised to find I still enjoyed it. Tim Curry is mesmerizing. And maybe he pulled a bit of a Mesmer on me the first time I saw this movie (at sixteen), because I remember being deeply unsettled by it. It spoke frankly (and outlandishly) about sexuality in ways that were completely foreign to me at that time, and I tried to tap into that mindset while writing Doug. For years his peers have indifferently thought of him as asexual, if they thought of him at all. This leads Doug to try to stridently assert his heterosexuality at every opportunity, and even leads to a sort of casual homophobia that I find repellent now but would have found unremarkable when I was a teenager.
Beck – "Girl"
Hey, it's Beck again. And a very poppy song from Guero about winning the girl, with nonetheless worrying lyrics. From the liner notes they read "...and I know I'm gonna make her die take her where her soul belongs and I know I'm gonna steal her eye nothing that I wouldn't try." I know we're supposed to find bold statements of love endearing, and maybe it's just how I'm wired, but whenever I hear a person say something like "There's nothing I wouldn't do to win her heart" I always think, "Really? Would you kill a guy? Would you feign interest in her hobbies? What if she collects Nazi memorabilia?"
West Side Story soundtrack – "America"
Several of the characters in Fat Vampire win parts in the cast or crew of their high school production of West Side Story. So apart from giving them something to sing during a car ride home, the song also underscores Sejal's push-and-pull relationship with her adoptive country.
I was in my high school production of West Side Story, by the way. I played Bernardo, the fit and passionate leader of the Puerto Ricans. I'll save you the trouble of doing a Google image search for my picture and just confirm that my high school drama department had a dearth of physical fitness, passion, and Puerto Ricans.
Smiths – "Girlfriend in a Coma"
There is an actual girlfriend in a coma in my book, so I couldn't really pass this up. To Doug the girlfriend is more of a source of goods and services than an actual person, and I love the way this song encapsulates that self-involved condition of loving being in love so much more than loving the actual so-called object of your affections. Or that's what I've always thought the song was about, at any rate–maybe I'm screwy.
The Magnetic Fields – "I Have the Moon"
And we end on another Stephin Merritt song as the main characters share a fleeting moment of tender self-discovery before the final credits roll. Merritt has written a few songs about vampires, including one of my favorite Magnetic Fields songs of all time, "Crowd of Drifters." But that song's constant refrain of "I was a traveling salesman" makes it an odd fit for a bawdy teenage vampire tragicomedy.
So who IS the bawdy teenage vampire tragicomedy house band these days? Maybe you people can bring me up to speed in the comments.
Adam Rex and Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story links:
Austin American-Statesman review
The Book Smugglers review
Cafe Saturday review
Casa de Los Nerds review
Chick Loves Lit review
A Curious Reader review
For What It's Worth review
Karin's Book Nook review
Lavender Lines review
Novel Novice review
Pink Me review
Reading Rants! review
Reading with Tequila review
Stevie Is Not an Octopus review
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)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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