August 12, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The pretense of Kirk Farber's debut novel Postcards from a Dead Girl is full of promise. A hypochondriacal young man stuck in a dead end job telemarketing travel packages begins receiving postcards from his dead girlfriend from vacation spots around the world.
Postcards from a Dead Girl follows through on its promise with a funny and often touching novel. Farber's unreliable narrator is quirky, interesting, and likable. The book is filled with clever dark humor as Sid works toward solving the mystery of the postcards as well as himself.
"A witty, tormented hero surrounded by fascinating, compassionate supporting characters makes this slender debut a surprisingly compulsive read."
Music definitely had an impact on my first novel, Postcards from a Dead Girl. I found myself listening to many of these songs repeatedly. However, because I can't listen to music while I'm writing (all the melodies and hooks and lyrics drown out my narrative voice) I would listen for a while and then shut them off to write down Sid's emotional state of mind.
In the story, Sid has recently experienced a lot of loss (both his parents have died relatively recently) and he's also pining after his ex-girlfriend, Zoe, who sends him these mysterious postcards from amazing locations. So he vacillates between sadness and hope, and experiences bursts of confusion and anger. It's actually a funny book with a lot of gallows humor in it, but the soundtrack I had in my head was made up mostly of the melancholy.
The Silver Seas, "Letters from the Dead"
This song actually inspired the tone and idea for the book. It's about a guy who finds old postcards in his room and how he's ruminating over his past relationship. I started thinking about how a character might act if he were being sent postcards from someone who he wasn't sure was alive or not.
These are letters from the dead / get delivered to my head / and demand that they be read / over and over
And they want me to confess / but there's no return address / so I'll save them all unless / you got a better idea.
The crooning, lilting voices over the driving beep-boop beats and electronic sounds remind me of Sid's trip through a CAT scan, and his inability to stop the reality of his past from finding him in the present. And those lines, "Here I'm alive, everything all of the time" and "This is really happening" really capture Sid's inability to deal with his grief. It's a beautiful combination of dreamy voices and desperation, one I listened to many times on repeat.
Paul Simon, "Slip Slidin' Away"
Sid actually quotes lyrics from this chorus while he's talking to his dog, Zero. He's aware his grasp on reality isn't what it should be. Case in point, he's having conversations with his dog. The easy-breezy tone of this song with such serious lyrics always catches me off guard too. It's a bit deceptive. All that groovy fretless bass and those happy temple blocks. But wait, Paul Simon, did you just say I'm not really gliding down the highway?
Slip slidin' away / You know the nearer your destination / The more you're slip slidin' away
Pete Yorn, Musicforthemorningafter
I still listen to this entire album. While I was writing Postcards, Pete Yorn's lyrics really stood out to me. A lot of his songs are about a young guy who's just trying to make sense of relationships and how they can go bad, and all the hell and hope that goes along with that. I really love his simple song structures and how he layers sounds. "For Nancy" is one of my faves, with some advice that Sid could've used early on.
Convince yourself that everything is alright / 'Cos it already is / 'Cos it already is
Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees"
Something about Thom Yorke's voice gets two spots on this imaginary soundtrack. I also tend to like a bit of the surreal and idiosyncratic in my stories, and songs are no exception. The verses in this song are heartbreaking, and I love the repetition of the lyrics "It wears her out, it wears him out." The final words at the end, too--I think unrequited love might be the best kind to write about.
If I could be who you wanted / If I could be who you wanted / All the time, all the time
I love the heavy complexity of Tool songs. As a drummer, I'm astonished by Danny Carey's odd time signatures, and the mystical overtone of the music is, well, mystifying. This particular song matches Sid's preoccupation with the sudden end of life, and the underlying rage in the vocals relate to Sid's dark side. In short, this is a great "f**k everything" song. Because sometimes, when life gets too confusing and you're feeling out of control, it's good to listen to one of these at very loud volumes in your car while driving down an empty highway at night. Sid experiences some strange patterns while night driving on highways. The divider lines slipping under his car, one by one, reminding him of something ominous in his past.
Some say the end is near / Some say we'll see armageddon soon
I certainly hope we will / I sure could use a vacation from this
Stupid shit, silly shit, stupid shit.
'cause I'm praying for rain / And I'm praying for tidal waves
I wanna see the ground give way / I wanna watch it all go down.
The Killers, "All These Things That I've Done"
This song really captures that human ability to come back again and again after facing adversity. I just love the broken-down-but-I'm-not-done-fighting feeling. That great line "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" was so popular for a reason. People love to root for the underdog. I also love the call for help at the end. This guy wants to make it, and I want him to succeed.
If you can hold on / If you can hold on, hold on
I wanna stand up, I wanna let go / You know, you know - no you don't, you don't
Yeah, you know you got to help me out / Yeah, oh don't you put me on the back burner / You know you got to help me out
Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"
This is such a sad and beautiful acoustic love song. Feels like it should be played over the ending credits of the movie version of Postcards from a Dead Girl (if I were ever so lucky). Love, loss, a quirky preoccupation with death, and a hopeful ending.
If Heaven and Hell decide / That they both are satisfied / Illuminate the NOs on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you / When your soul embarks / Then I'll follow you into the dark
Kirk Farber and Postcards from a Dead Girl links:
A.V. Club review
Bay View Compass review
Bookfoolery and Babble review
Bookish Mom Reviews review
Durango Herald News review
Half Deserted Streets review
Kirkus Reviews review
Lost in Time review
Publishers Weekly review
S. Krishna's Books review
Sasha & The Silverfish review
Steele on Entertainment review
Bookreporter.com guest post by the author
Boswell and Books interview with the author
Colorado Springs Independent profile of the author
Fictionaut interview with the author
Ian Thomas Healy guest post by the author
Marc Johns on designing the book's cover
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