August 2, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Lavender's exciting second literary thriller (after Obedience) pulls readers right into the hunt. Aldiss reminds us of a sexy Hannibal Lecter, and the mystery of the reclusive author Paul Fallows and his connection to the class is riveting. Well-drawn characters, excellent plot, good use of flashbacks, and many red herrings will keep the pages turning to the very end."
Nostalgia kills good writing, so I cut off the spigot. Anything that reminds me of 1999 I don't let in. Grunge rock, alt-rock, all the stuff I grew up on, I mean really grew up on, ruins my creativity. For some reason I get lost in music the way I don't even get lost in conversations that are occurring around me. I write in Starbucks sometimes (big mistake); a lot of the stuff you hear in there is acoustic guitar-heavy. I can't have that because it reminds me of dormitories, porch nights, wild autumns. I'm 22 again. This is how music fucks you over: it tunnels in there and caroms around and dredges things up that have no immediate place in the stories.
So silence becomes a kind of soundtrack. And even if you dismiss nostalgia there's the problem of rhythm, which inherently infects language. If I'm listening to, say, the Beastie Boys, then all of a sudden I'm writing in squibs and bursts, cronks and wheezes. Everything gets pushed around, siphoned down to this tiny little cube that looks like the middle movement of Paul's Boutique. There is just no escaping what music does, its shape and mass, so I've learned to write without it.
But here's where it gets interesting: most writing happens away from the keyboard. Almost every good scene I've ever written appeared to me out in the real world, not at a computer screen. Most of the time this happens when I'm in the car, driving, with the stereo on real loud. So music still has a place in my writing, a fundamental and vital place—it's just that the soundtrack to my novels has become secondary.
Here are four albums I was playing when I was driving around, doing the heavy lifting and conceiving much of my second novel, Dominance.
My favorite record. When I was conceiving Dominance I listened especially to the opening movement, but when I got into the tough parts, when the characters started to act like spoiled teenagers, I started to repeat one of the album's later tracks. This was "Snowy Atlas Mountains," a song I really didn't care for when I first heard it but became, upon maybe my 10th listen, a sort of brilliant, droning song about death. I imagined that the denouement in my novel, which is bloody, was ripped right from this song. Honestly the entire record is like this, enchanting and moody, but yet correct—you understand exactly what Regan is singing about, you see where he's been. It's the finest collection of songs I own, and as a writer I'm jealous as hell of what a great lyricist Regan is.
My dad got me into this record. I immediately liked it; from the opening track, "Fiery Crash" (one of my favorite songs), I knew I was going to play the disc until it warped. I love Bird's voice. I can't really get more intellectual than that; I just like how the dude sings. I especially like the chances he takes on this record--the birdsongs, the whistling, the eerie sort of clacking rhythm that glides across the songs. When I was writing Dominance I listened a lot to this record. I like to take driving breaks when I'm stuck, and I was stuck a lot with this book. It was summer, and I drove with the windows down. The songs—and those brilliant song titles! "Scythian Empires"? WTF?—became sort of anthemic. It was me and Andrew Bird against the bastards who were keeping me from unlooping my plot, and suddenly, by the time I got to "Spare-ohs," everything was fixed in my mind. Healed. I would immediately distrust anyone who doesn't like this record.
I want to talk about one song in particular here, and it's "Wolf Like Me." I challenge anybody—anybody—to listen to that song and not feel the urge to write a violent scene of manic, bizarre death. This is another summer album; another listen-with-the-windows-down event. I was almost in the middle of Dominance when I bought Return to Cookie Mountain at a small record store in Somerset, Kentucky. I listened to "Wolf" a hundred times, and each time the scene I was envisioning got a little weirder. The song is so unlike the rest of the album, which is something like trip-hop on uppers. This song is pure rock, something I can imagine maybe Iggy Pop or somebody doing back in ‘73. It has an insane amount of attitude. I went back to the well of the song again and again as the novel got deeper, as the mystery wound itself out, and each time I returned to the keyboard bad shit went down. I love this track.
Another record that I go back to, moth-like, and can't kick. I especially like the songs Jay Farrar does. I heard once that when it comes to Uncle Tupelo you're either a Farrar guy or a Tweedy guy, and for me this is mostly true (although Tweedy's "New Madrid" is one of the best things he's ever done). Farrar is more moody than Tweedy, I think, more poetic. There's something more grown-up about his tracks. I'm talking mostly of stuff like "Slate" and the great "Fifteen Keys," songs where Farrar seems to be going rogue. You can feel him pulling away from the band; there's almost this sense of wistfulness to the tunes he sings, whereas with Tweedy it's more like "I'm here; this is a studio, there are instruments; let's see if we can tap in to the greater sweep of pop music." It's more intelligent, maybe, but it's also more put-on. Farrar has a way of driving to the bone, and when I was writing Dominance, it's his tunes I returned to. I especially liked to put on "Steal the Crumbs" while I was driving and the book was wrapping up in my mind, when everything was coming together, when the characters were pulling apart and willing the book to end, with Farrar singing, "No more / No more will I see you / No more"—and at the time I didn't think much about it, just thought it was another story coming to its tangled end, but now I wonder if there was something more symbolic there that I completely missed.
Will Lavender and Dominance links:
Book Addict Katie review
Bookmarks Magazine review
Imperfect Clarity review
Kirkus Reviews review
Knitting and Sundries review
Library Journal review
Louisville Courier-Journal review
Misfit Salon review
My Shelf Confessions review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
When Falls the Coliseum review
Winnipeg Free Press review
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Obedience
Lexington Herald-Leader interview with the author
My Book, the Movie guest post by the author
My Shelf Confessions interview with 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)
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