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October 25, 2011

Book Notes - Joshua Mohr ("Damascus")

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Joshua Mohr continues to amaze me. Of his debut novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me, I was impressed by his "exacting prose and poetic insight." I called his second book, Termite Parade, "one of the year's most thrilling works of literary fiction." His new novel, Damascus, is yet another step forward for one of America's most talented young writers.

This ensemble novel is skillfully painted in shades of grey, and every one of its characters resonates. Most impressively, the ease with which Mohr ties together their disparate stories. A truly masterfully written work of fiction.

3:AM Magazine wrote of the book:

"Mohr's story unfolds like an oncoming tropical storm edging closer and closer until it finally arrives in a climax of destruction. But, though one person dies and others wreck havoc, Mohr's tale is comedic, not tragic. Despite their dark sides, we empathize with each character. Even the war vet bad guys are not pure evil. Mohr's tale moves with the speed of a thriller, twisting and swooping like a Mobius strip."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Joshua Mohr's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Damascus:

Damascus is the first ensemble novel I've ever written. My first two books follow pretty small casts of characters. I tried to make this one read like an old Robert Altman script from the 1970s, camera panning wildly between the people. Because of this style, the book sounds differently depending on whose head and heart the reader happens to be spending time in. So my playlist, much like the writing process, is pretty schizophrenic.

In fact, let me tell you something weird that happened while I was editing the final draft. I'm an insomniac, so this all took place about 4 a.m. I like writing in the middle of the night because there's very little email, no phone calls, no ironic status updates for me to give the ol' thumbs up. It's just me and my imaginary friends.

Which was all fine and dandy until this:

My computer, much like a malfunctioning Ouija board started typing without me pressing the keys. It typed out one simple message: "I hate this song."

I'd been up for approximately 48 hours, so it's possible that I pecked it out. Often, time gets pretty syrupy while I'm working and stuff ends up on the page that I never intended to scribble. Did this event fall under that jurisdiction, or was this a ghost-in-the-machine type scene and I needed to vacate the premises before things got even ghostlier?

I forgot to tell you what song was playing. It was the Black Keys doing an old Junior Kimbrough cover called "Meet Me in the City." And I double-forgot to tell you that I don't hate that song. Much to the contrary, I think it's pretty kickass.

So you can imagine my confusion. The Black Keys playing, me looking at the screen, at those weird words, "I hate this song."

I typed, "Who hates this song?"

I don't know what I expected to happen next. If Rob Zombie was directing the moment, I guess some surly apparition would have typed something back to me and then initiated the decapitation process. But no such theatrics took place. I sat there waiting for about five minutes. Then I brewed more coffee and took an early walk to clear my head.

Upon returning home, I went straight to the computer hoping for more ghostly communiqué, but there was nothing else. I'll never know for sure—weird Ouija type situation or just an exhausted author eking out unintended words. But that's part of the wonderful mystery of writing books, I guess. Those moments that the characters, our ghosts, talk to us.
Songs for Damascus:

1. "If" by The Flaming Lips (I used a quote from this tune as the book's epigraph.)
2. "Backslider" by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
3. "Criminal Inside Me" by R.L. Burnside
4. "Chocolate Jesus" by Tom Waits
5. "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple
6. "Stone Free" by Jimi Hendrix

7. "Fake Plastic Trees" by Amanda Palmer (her ukulele versions of Radiohead tracks are not to be missed.)
8. "Strung out Again" by Elliott Smith
9. "Let England Shake" by P.J. Harvey
10. "Parachute Woman" by The Rolling Stones
11. "Engine" by Neutral Milk Hotel
12. "Leavin' on Your Mind" by Patsy Cline
13. "Old Haunts, New Cities" by Typhoon
14. "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man" by Grinderman

15. "Civilian Ways" by Rancid (theme song for Byron Settles in the book)

Joshua Mohr and Damascus links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book (at Beat the Dust)
excerpt from the book (at The Brooklyn Rail)
excerpt from the book (at The Nervous Breakdown)

3:AM Magazine review
Blank Slate Press review
Blogcritics review
Decomp review
Devourer of Books review
Library Journal review
Lit Reactor review
PANK review
Publishers Weekly review
SF Weekly review
Small Press Reviews review

HTMLGIANT interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Some Things That Meant the World to Me
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Termite Parade
The Nervous Breakdown self-interview by the author
Raging Biblioholism interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
San Francisco Chronicle profile of the author
Two Dollar Radio interview with the author
Words With Writers interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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