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February 9, 2011

Book Notes - Deborah Harkness ("A Discovery of Witches")

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

Deborah Harkness's debut novel A Discovery of Witches is filled with supernatural splendor. Harkness deftly melds the paranormal elements (witches, vampires, and demons) with histories of alchemy, genetics, and witchcraft in a perfectly paced, exceptionally researched, and vividly imagined fantasy novel.

If you enjoyed Lev Grossman's The Magicians (or are looking for a book infinitely more stimulating than the Harry Potter or Twilight series), A Discovery of Witches (the first book of a planned trilogy) will not disappoint.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Destined to be popular with fantasy and paranormal aficionados, this enchanting novel is an essential purchase. Harkness is an author to watch."


In her own words, here is Deborah Harkness's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, A Discovery of Witches:

For me, writing and listening to music are inextricably intertwined. It's a lonely business, sitting at the computer for hours, whether you're marshaling evidence to make arguments or making stuff up. What surprised me was how different my musical needs were when I made the switch from non-fiction to fiction. My non-fiction writing is done to a steady stream of Mozart with some Bach and Vivaldi thrown in to make a few waves. The music lends structure to my often chaotic thoughts.

When I started writing fiction two things changed. First, I started writing to songs with words. Second, the music was not there to provide architecture but to inspire. In particular, the music and lyrics evoked a particular mood that was essential to the development of the plot, the mental and emotional state of the characters, or the setting. Sometimes, a song captured all three perfectly.

My working playlist for A Discovery of Witches: grew from around 90 songs to 148. They were arranged in sequential order to coincide with the story as it unfolded. I played those songs, day after day, throughout the writing and revision process. Here are some highlights:


The Future of Forestry, "If You Find Her"

What would it be like to be lonely for more than a thousand years? Matthew Clairmont, the scientist-vampire at the heart of the book, has experienced that loneliness firsthand. The yearning in this song is palpable, and the lyrics make the yearning bearable because they tell us that someone (whoever she is) is out there, somewhere, waiting to be found.


Kate Bush, "Waking the Witch"

When I was writing A Discovery of Witches it was often difficult to keep Diana Bishop, a witch who doesn't want to be a witch, in focus. She is reluctant to acknowledge her power, but there needed to be a moment when she turned the corner and began to accept it. Whenever I felt lost in Diana's denial, Kate Bush was always there to help me find my way to the other side.


Rachael Sage, "Frost"

Weird things happen when you're writing. This song's inclusion in the playlist was one of those odd, mysterious twists of fate and happenstance. I'd written the first half of the book about a witch who kept her magic at a distance, but only at a price. Then I stumbled across this song, and heard the voice of Diana coming out of my speakers. It helped me remember that Diana Bishop is just as lonely as Matthew Clairmont, and for many of the same reasons.


The Spill Canvas, "Aim, Snap, Fall"

This song perfectly captures love at first sight—unwelcome, addictive, heady, and full of hope. Matthew falls deeply and instantaneously for Diana, and the lyrics are what I imagine were running through his head when he caught his first glimpse of her. What made "Aim, Snap, Fall" ideal for A Discovery of Witches was not only the reference to being shot by a bow and arrow—my heroine's name is Diana, the ancient goddess of the hunt—but also that marvelous final line where you get that sense of starting something with no clear ending in sight: "here we go."


Ani DiFranco, "Not a Pretty Girl"

A surprising number of modern women seem to think they want a demanding, patriarchal pre-modern man in their lives. At least that's what their choice of fiction suggests. What would we do if actually confronted with one of them? This song offers up an answer, and provides a great corrective to the Prince Charming and Cinderella conventions of romance.


Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Possess Your Heart"

I was having a hard time managing a scene in the book. It involved a long stretch of river, a female rower, and a watchful vampire. Death Cab for Cutie came to my rescue with a pulsing regular beat that reminded me of a rower's rhythm, and a predatory atmosphere woven from that beat and the spectacularly ominous lyrics.


My Morning Jacket, "Rocket Man"

It was my yoga teacher, Hanna, who gifted me this song. I was in yoga class, doing what you do, when this song came up on one of her inspiring sets. Who knew a cover of an Elton John song could be so haunting? After that class, I went home and wrote a whole chapter about why vampires, witches, and daemons need yoga. (It's good for humans, too).


Rachael Yamagata, "Elephants"

People swoon over vampires because they're mysterious and alluring. They're also deadly and have lots of emotional baggage. Yamagata's song is a cautionary tale that reminds us to keep one eye open at all times when such a creature is nearby.


Placebo, "Drink You Pretty"

This is another song that kept the darker side of vampires and witches active in my mind. The song is chilling and desolate, which is just how I imagine vampires experience the world.


Tina Dico, "Walls"

Part of the story of Diana and Matthew unfolds in a magical house. Old houses have so many tales to tell, and the saying "if walls could talk" is brilliantly evoked in this song. Keen readers will notice that the raspy click of the rotary dial telephone in this song found its way into my story, too.


Radiohead, "The Gloaming"

The gloaming is a Middle English word for twilight. For centuries, the time between daylight and darkness was seen as a magical, dangerous time when ghosts and spirits walked among us. Radiohead captures the seductive qualities of twilight as well as its destructive potential. In A Discovery of Witches, important, life-altering changes occur at this time of day and this song always set the right mood for writing those passages.


Fisher, "You"

In the end, A Discovery of Witches is a love story—albeit an unconventional, forbidden one. There are many love songs out there, but this is one of the finest. The simple instrumentals and Fisher's strong yet vulnerable voice conjure up a surprising intimacy. And isn't that what true love is all about?


Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

The Agony Column review
Among the Muses review
Book Chick City review
The Book Doctors review
Bookgeeks review
BookPage review
Cheryl's Book Nook review
Chicago Tribune review
Crystal Book Reviews review
Daily Mail review
Debbie's Book Bag review
Entertainment Weekly review
Janicu's Book Blog review
Library Journal review
Love Vampires review
Monkey See review
Muskogee Phoenix review
O, the Oprah Magazine review
onemorepage review
The Reading Frenzy review
S. Krishna's Books review
Scribbles review
The Truth About Books review
Vampires review

Speakeasy interview with the author
Vampires interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best Books of 2010" lists
Online "Best Music of 2010" lists

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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