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August 19, 2010

Book Notes - Paul Jessup ("Werewolves")

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

Written by Paul Jessup and illustrated by Allyson Haller, Werewolves offers a fresh take on lycanthrope mythology. Written in the form of a teen girl's journal, the book has been describes as an "anti-Twilight." Indeed, Jessup himself has declared his goal was to write a book "not just about a girl who needs to be saved, but a girl who saves herself -- as well as her brother."

The illustrations add emotional depth to the story, Haller's drawings combined with dashes of watercolor add a degree of humanity to the werewolves in this surprisingly enjoyable novel.

In his own words, here is Paul Jessup's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Werewolves:

Music was a constant when I wrote this, always in the background on my iPod, filling my head with beats and rhythms and emotional intensity. I had several playlists written up, each defining a mood, a scene, characters, personalities. I find I work best when writing and listening to music, the writing seems to flow better. The words dancing to the songs I'm listening to, the music giving me a beat, a pacing for the sentence structure. One that makes the writing come off as lyrically intense, as a small explosion, or as a part of quiet contemplation and melancholy. All depending on what I'm listening to, how it moves, what feelings it invokes while I stab away at the keys. I even ended up twittering which songs I was listening to while writing.

The book to me really is split up into several distinct parts. Not chapters per se, but more like episodes of Alice Carr's life. Each part, each section, had a different set of emotional beats, a different set of context and subtext and themes. We start with Alice's emotional journey at home, and her isolation from friends and family as she begins changing into a werewolf. Then we move into when she joins the pack of werewolves, tries to move in werewolf society. Tries to survive as they hide from hunters. Then we have the last two parts that I'm not going to go through, for fear of spoiling some of the surprise.

Each section had its own playlist, which dictated to me the rhythm and structure of the prose itself, the narrative flow and the character's emotional state. And these gave me a lot of flexibility, a lot of room to wiggle around in and riff off of the different pieces and subtexts of the story (as well Alice's own growing fear and isolation from who she is and what she is capable of). Below isn't the complete play list from the book (there was well over 100 songs on five or six different playlists) but a sampling of stuff that struck a chord at the most important parts, as well as songs I kept returning to for inspiration, or for character concepts.

"Muzzle" Smashing Pumpkins

There are quiet scenes in the book. Scenes were normalcy ekes back into her life. One part I love so much is when she escapes from the wolf pack for a little bit and returns back to her home town. And what does she do? She just stands around and watches. Looks at all the people leading normal lives. And she thinks that it's all still here. Still real. All this normalcy. And that in some way, she might be able to return to this life. That she hadn't passed the point of no return yet. Maybe, she thinks, maybe there is a cure to being a werewolf.

"Counting Bodies like Sheep" A Perfect Circle

The thump thump of the drums and the chanting and offbeat creepy lyrics of this song made it one I turned to when Alice was scared of herself and her body. This song would begin and then she was eating raw meat, having nightmares about running naked through the woods, or seeing her fellow schoolmates as rabbits she could hunt and devour. It helped me add tenseness, isolation, and the growing fear that one's body isn't a part of you anymore. That it's rebelling against you. That it's taken on a mind of its own.

"My Skin" Natalie Merchant

This song I thought portrayed the loss and loneliness Alice feels. She's away from home, with a bunch of people she barely knows, being hunted by strangers in the night. She's lost and the only family that's with her is her brother, who is being abused by the pack as the Omega wolf. There is a sadness, and a melancholy, and a sense of regret. Maybe her life is set in stone now? Is this her future? Never to have a home again? Never to see her family or friends again? What has she become? Is she a monster? Being a vegetarian she is now filled with guilt at the werewolf desires, and the need to hunt and eat and kill in the middle of the night. She can't reconcile the changes her body is going through with her emotional well being. Her skin and body have rebelled against her. She is not Alice anymore. Not wholly. Not completely. Now she is part wolf.

"Velvet Edge" My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult

This her brother's song, this is Mark's song. Mark is loving this life. Mark is king in his own head. So what if all the other wolves beat and bite and torment him? He's cool now. He's hip now. He's embraced the wolf inside of him, and just when the moment's right he's going to snap up and take control. He's not going to be the Omega wolf forever, no, no. He's living on that Velvet Edge. The Edge between being human and being a wild animal, being fully crazed and feral. Alice pities him, but he has no pity for himself. Cause in his own mind, it's just a matter of time before he can completely let the wolf out, lose control and kill anyone he wants without any remorse at all.

"#1 Crush" Garbage

This song is for all the wolves following the Alpha, the leader of the pack, Tomas. He is king werewolf, and he's been around for a long, long time. The slow plodding rhythm, the insane worship and the threat of dying for the one they worship, it's all here. It's how they see him, how they see themselves. As masters of the wolves inside of them. He was the one that showed them the way. The way to burn out weakness. To be stronger as werewolves. And anyone, any outsider or someone in the pack who threatens Tomas- well, well. They would kill for him in an instant. Die for him in an instant. Complete and utter psychotic devotion. And this, this is the family that Alice joins as a werewolf. This is her wolf pack.

"Machete" Moby

This I used for fighting. For combat. For those moments when the shit hits the fan and everything is pure and utter chaos. Gunshots. Growls. Screams. Someone is lying dead on the floor. Fighting, hunting, killing. The world of werewolves is a violent one. One of death and decay. One of constantly looking over your shoulder for those who chase you down with silver weapons. It's a world of violence growing inside of you, waxing with the changes of the moon, making you hungry, hurried and easy to snap and kill.

"Charlotte Sometimes" The Cure

This song was played during the moments of personal dislocation, when Alice is unsure of who she was anymore. When she was wondering if the wolf would take over, would make Alice herself obsolete. She tries to escape this fate, tries to keep herself as Alice as long as she can. But she feels herself sliding, the wolf inside of her getting stronger with each full moon. And the other members of the pack seem to care less and less. They love their violent sides, embracing it. Relishing in the freedom from responsibility and morality that the wolf gives them. Using their werewolf natures as an excuse for avoiding responsibility.

"Hurricane" Bob Dylan

"Hurricane" always had this kind of rolling, rolling rhythm to me that suggests travel, moving from town to town. Life on the road. That sort of thing. Even though the lyrics are about something else altogether, the way the acoustic jangled and the mournful violin called out it always makes me think of Kerouac and Casey and moving on. So I slid this song on whenever I needed to talk about them moving, going from city to city. Sleeping in barns going off the beaten path. Or when she escapes from the wolves for a brief bit, and is traveling with friends. Talking in hotels, staying in diners. Chats over coffee. Quiet moments, in between the hours of fear and danger. When motion is constant and introspection key.

Paul Jessup and Werewolves links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the illustrator's website

Geek Syndicate review

Hero Complex profile of the author and illustrator

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)
musician/author interviews
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

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