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September 14, 2011

Book Notes - Susan Vaught ("Going Underground")

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

Susan Vaught's young adult fiction has always intelligently addressed social issues, and Going Underground is no different. Vaught smartly takes on sexting and society's treatment of its young offenders in this important new novel.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Vaught creates her characters and situations to help her message, but gives them more than enough life to carry the story, rather than feeling like puppets (the addition of a cursing and flatulent parrot named Fred helps). Del's story alternating between flashbacks and the present day is tragic, frustrating, and believable, and teens should have no problem empathizing."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.

In her own words, here is Susan Vaught's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Going Underground:

Music plays a huge role in every book I write. I use music to set tone and mood, and to keep myself in the right mindset for a chapter or scene. Every book I've ever written has a soundtrack, but the wacky part is, I will play the same song over and over and over, lost in the music and writing, sometimes for hours. This is why I have a writing cabin separate from my house because my family would lose their minds if they had to listen to the same tune 3,422 times while I get a scene right. Me, I wouldn't even notice. I didn't just make that 3,422 number up, by the way. It was an actual count, according to my music program. I wrote most of one book to one song, and since the book was over 100,000 words, well, let's just say my family thanked me for working in the cabin.

"Twilight Zone," Golden Earring

Often, songs will get me thinking in a certain direction, or talking in my head in a certain way, and a character or storyline will emerge from that obsessing. Going Underground happened that way. It grew out of a single line from "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring:

Where Am I to go, now that I've gone too far?

I was in the middle of a conversation with a friend, expressing my opinion that society seems weirdly broken to me about protecting and nurturing young adults. Law after law gets passed to prevent abuse and neglect, to improve education and safety, to make sure young adults aren't overworked or underpaid or forgotten or ignored. Yet, in today's society, young adults especially guys aren't allowed to have questionable judgment or make serious mistakes without having their futures snatched away before they really understand the consequences of their own actions. Things that once would have earned a young adult stern lectures, grounding, restrictions, loss of job/allowance/ability to pass to the next grade or some other developmentally appropriate punishment now result in felony charges, jail time, lawsuits, and permanent damage to future choices.

Why have we allowed this to happen? I mean, come on. Questionable judgment and serious mistakes are the province and right of being a teen or young adult or at least that should be the case.

So, while listening to "Twilight Zone" and having this type of debate with a friend, I suddenly envisioned Del, my main character, a basically nice and average guy, a "good kid," caught up in one of today's legal nightmares and robbed of his own present and future. What does a guy like Del think about what's happened to him? What or who does he turn to when hardly anybody wants him? How does he find hope? How does he move on? And, even deeper, what does a guy like Del think of the society and laws and people who were supposed to "protect" him, and instead consigned him to this life of nothing and nowhere and no way out.

"Mad World," Adam Lambert

Del turns to grave-digging for a job and a needy, slightly naughty parrot for a primary companion. He tries to keep his friendship with Marvin, a guy who's moving on because Marvin can move on, even though Del has to stay stuck where he is. More than anything else, Del turns to music to help him handle his emotions, or feel them, or stuff them until they disappear he's not sure which. "Mad World" (Del likes the Adam Lambert version best, but Tears for Fears, the original, is great, too) forms the emotional floor and ceiling and walls for Del's story. "Hello, teacher, tell me what's my lesson?/Look right through me, look right through me." No kidding. Del wonders what lesson he should learn from what happened to him. His parents wonder this. Everyone around Del wonders this. Laws and punishment are supposed to be about meting out justice, preserving society, rehabilitating criminals, setting some sort of limits and precedents for people to understand and respect right? Del wonders.

"Dreamland," Caetano Veloso

Caetano Veloso's rich, upbeat cover of Joni Mitchell's "Dreamland" on A Tribute to Joni Mitchell starts the counterpoint to Del's bleak future a look at his bright, hopeful life before the bad thing happened. It's all potential. It's all stars and mystery and what might be. It's exactly what Del's life should have been, and should have continued to be. It seems criminal to me that we have laws that steal children's dreams.

"The Only Living Boy in New York," Paul Simon

Guess this one's an "oldie," but it's timeless to me and it's just as timeless to Del. He hears the sound of a lost man, a lonely man, somehow refusing to stay lost. It inspires him to keep digging and keep trying to climb out of the hole.

"Keep on Tryin'," Poco

To Del, this song means rising out of hopelessness or progress rising out of mistakes. Did he make mistakes? Del's not sure. No one seems to be sure of this except maybe Livia, a girl Del sees in his graveyard, a girl he can't stop thinking about even though he knows he shouldn't have anything to do with her. She looks like a fairy. He wonders if she can fly, and the last thing he wants to do is anchor her to the cold, hard ground.

"Use Somebody," Kings of Leon

This piece digs into how Del feels when he meets Livia, when he gets to know her and starts to want what he believes he can never have again.

"Party in the USA," Miley Cyrus

This song captures the exuberance and nonchalance of Del's past, when he didn't worry, when he never believed bad things could happen to him. Consequences? What are those? There's nothing but life, nothing but living. At least not in Del's past. Livia brings back these memories full-force for Del, and he has no idea how to save himself, or more importantly, how to save her.

"Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen

So many people have covered this tune and Del has just about every version ever recorded. It's intense and it's angry and it's sad to Del, and it sums up his experiences with the man who ruined his life a district attorney who wanted to "make an example" out of Del for his own political gain. How can you shoot somebody who outdrew you? You can't. Del knows this better than most guys his age, but like the singer in some versions of Hallelujah, he wants to believe he can.

"Freaky Creep Show," Insane Clown Posse

This melody captures the moment when Del's life explodes. The madness of it, the circus atmosphere. Talk about pitch-perfect.

"All the Time in the World," Subdudes
"Angel's Doorway," Suzanne Vega

Del can't stand to think about what happened to him too much or too often, so he retreats to more mellow and hopeful and soulful pieces, like these two songs.

"Almost Lover," A Fine Frenzy

Even his music can't save Del from his grief, though. "Almost Lover" by A Fine Frenzy touches on the pain of his loss of innocence and love and hope.

Many other tunes play a role in Going Underground, each one capturing a tiny piece of Del's emotions, the feelings that have gone so far underground he's not sure he can dig them up again (and they're in no particular order, because Del's sort-of life is not in order):

"I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You," Alan Parsons Project
"Bird on a Wire," Leonard Cohen
"Losing Faith," Audrey Auld
"Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
"Broken and Ugly," Beth Hart
The Ocean," The Bravery
"Streets of Philadelphia," Betty LaVette's version
"I'll Follow you Into the Dark," Death Cab for Cutie
"Vanishing" and "Bank Job," Barenaked Ladies
"I Wish It Would Rain Down," Phil Collins
"Penitentiary" and "Appetite for Lightin' Dynamite," Citizen Cope
"Broken Boy Soldier," The Raconteurs

"Trouble," Cat Stevens

Del has to find his own heart again, and his courage, and his strength. He has to step out of his music for a time, at least long enough to face his own feelings and needs. When he finally gathers his resources and squares off against the laws that destroyed his life, a friend plays one last song for him, a tribute, and that's Trouble (the Cat Stevens version). "I have paid my debt," the song announces.

It's up to Del and to readers to decide if he ever should have owed that debt in the first place.

Susan Vaught and Going Underground links:

The Flashlight Reader review
I Swim for Oceans review
Never Too Fond of Books review
Print Matters review
Publishers Weekly review

CynJay 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)
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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