January 4, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Adam Christopher blends a superhero story with Prohibition-era detective noir in his fast-paced debut novel Empire State.
The author will be launching the book in the United States on January 10th at the Mid-Manhattan Library in New York.
At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow wrote of the book:
"This is a novel of surreal resonances, things that are like other things, plot turns that hearken to other plot turns. It's often fascinating, as captivating as a kaleidoscope, especially if you don't spend too much time trying to figure out the mechanics of the setup, the physics of the worlds. Just let it wash over you, the way that Jonathan Lethem's phildickian debut Gun, With Occasional Music does, and don't think too hard -- just feel it in all its weird glory."
I'm a music fan, and always have been – from growing up listening to The Beatles, to an obsession with The Cure that has lasted more than half of my life. I'm also a lapsed musician, having played bass and guitar in a very slightly successful indie band back in New Zealand. So perhaps it's not surprising that music is important to me when it comes to writing.
I write to music, always. Writing is solitary but I find working in silence pretty uncomfortable, so for me music is an important part of the creative process and fulfils two different functions.
Firstly, it can be inspiring. I've taken characters and story ideas in nearly everything I've written from song lyrics, whether deliberately or accidentally. Often these are just neat name checks – you'll see a few in the Empire State playlist below – but occasionally I'll get a title or a concept from a song (in one novel, for example, an old woman scratches beneath a fire in a scene straight out of Dig for Fire by Pixies).
Music can also contribute to tone and emotion, although I think you need to be careful about this when writing, making sure you pick the right soundtrack for the right scene. A lot of writers like using film soundtracks, as they are long, themed pieces without singing, which is sometimes distracting. But personally I prefer actual songs during writing, as soundtracks are carefully designed to elicit feelings which generally come in the wrong place as I'm writing. I do, however, find soundtracks work during editing – large parts of Empire State were edited to the Inception soundtrack, which I think helped with the tension and atmosphere of certain sequences.
I also like repetition. When working on a project I might come up with a playlist of a dozen or so songs and listen to it on loop during writing – for example, my current work-in-progress, Night Pictures, has been written almost entirely to the And This Is Our Music album by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, although it's unusual to find just a single album that fits the feel of the novel so perfectly (and I must have listened to that album through now about 100 times!) Usually my playlist is a mix of many different artists.
Secondly, music is a great way of shutting out the world. When writing is going well, it's almost like an out-of-body experience, and the last thing you want to be is distracted. With a decent set of headphones, the real universe disappears, leaving me with nothing but the story and the characters on the screen in front of me.
The Empire State playlist is a selection of tracks that were on high rotate during the writing and editing of the book, along with a few bonus tracks which I think fit the story well, but I discovered only after it was finished.
1-2. "We Built Our Own World/Dream Is Collapsing" – Hans Zimmer
I suspect the Inception soundtrack is a popular choice for writers, as it goes so well with so many different genres. But if you need to ratchet the tension up, you can't go past the opening two tracks, which I'm going to cheat with and treat as a single piece of music.
3. "Burn" – The Cure
The Cure are my favourite band and their contribution to 1996's The Crow soundtrack is perfect for Empire State. It's dark, and terribly atmospheric, and is all about standing around in the dark waiting for the world to end.
Bonus track: "Watching Me Fall – The Cure"
Oddly enough for a self-confessed Cure fan, I'm a bit of latecomer to their album Bloodflowers (2000). And I have no idea why, as in the last few months it's become one of my favourites. Track 2 is a whopping 11'16” long, but it's well worth it, and it follows nicely in feel from "Burn."
4. "Mirage" – Ladytron
I had Ladytron's album Gravity the Seducer on almost constant loop while doing the copyedits. Like The Cure's track, "Mirage" fits perfectly, both musically and lyrically.
5. "Crackity Jones" – Pixies
The first of three Pixies tracks. As with The Cure, I've been listening to these indie legends for more than 20 years now. One of Nimrod's agents takes his name from this song.
6. "Golden-Frost" – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
There's an element of chaos to Empire State, with the corruption of data from the Origin to the Pocket, not to mention what must be going through Rad's mind as he learns about the nature of his home and of himself. "Golden-Frost" represents that well, being loose, urgent, with lyrics you can't even understand.
Bonus track: "There's a War Going On" – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
I discovered this song when compiling the Empire State playlist on Spotify – they didn't have "Golden-Frost," but I discovered this instead. I wish I'd heard it earlier! There is a war going on in the book, and I couldn't have wished for a better track.
7. "Electric Chair" – Prince
My favourite track off the 1989 Batman soundtrack – how could I resist? A song about crime and punishment and internal struggle.
8. "Mr Grieves" – Pixies
The second Pixies track, from which you will recognise Agent Grieves.
9. "No Lucifer" – British Sea Power
Ah, the beauty of misheard lyrics. Captain Carson does not appear in this song. A Carlton Corsair bicycle does. I'll get me coat.
10. "Good Morning" – The Dandy Warhols
Empire State happens mostly at night, in the rain – the brief moments of daylight that do appear seem to be a blessed relief for poor Rad. If the book was to be made into a film, this track from the Dandy's 1997 album Come Down would play over Rad climbing the hill behind Carson's house to enjoy the early morning view.
11. "Nimrod's Son" – Pixies
The last Pixies song – this one has explicit lyrics, so have a care, as Captain Carson would say.
12. "Salvation" – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The Pastor of Lost Souls may be a villain, driven to insanity by… well, I'll have to make sure you've read the book before I tell you the answer to that one! But that doesn't necessarily make him evil. There are a lot of people in the Empire State looking for answers… perhaps they just fell in with wrong man in their search.
Bonus track: "Beginning to See the Light" – The Velvet Underground
In some other parallel universe – another Pocket, perhaps – the events of Empire State took place in the 1960s. I kinda like that: Rad as an old-fashioned detective trying to do his job in the alt-underground scene of Warhol's New York, with Kane Fortuna not as a newspaper reporter but an avant garde musician. Hey, that gives me a great idea for a story…
Adam Christopher and Empire State links:
Boing Boing review
Do Some Damage review
Dragon Page review
A Fantastical Librarian review
The Founding Fields review
Publishers Weekly review
The Ranting Dragon review
Superhero Novels review
Warpcore SF review
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)
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