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May 24, 2012

Book Notes - Cecil Castellucci "The Year of the Beasts"

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The Year of the Beasts blends Greek mythology with a modern story of sibling jealousy masterfully in this young adult book told in alternating comic and prose chapters.

Boing Boing wrote of the book:

"Year of the Beasts is one of those stories whose earlier chapters are a kind of greased slide that makes the reader hurtle faster and faster toward an unseen landing, hinting at different possibilities until the climax is revealed in a thunderbolt, and it is at once inevitable, unforeseen, and terrible."

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

In her own words, here is Cecil Castellucci's Book Notes music playlist for her book, The Year of the Beasts:

For every book I write I make a music play list. I listen to the songs on repeat whenever I'm writing or when I take walks as I try to work out a narrative problem. It is an essential thing for my process. The compiled songs are a quick way into the soul of the book. They are my constant companions as I work out the delicate tendrils of the story. For The Year of the Beasts, which is a hybrid book prose/graphic novel, I leaned towards fragile songs. Songs that were whispers of hearts and of regret. Songs that were watery in their own way. It's always surprising to me that even after I'm done with a novel that listening to the play list I made for it while writing makes me able to jump right back into that state of mind. It's as though I am once again hanging out with the characters. Even more surprising is how a song from one novel's list might show up on the list for another novel but for absolutely completely different reasons. Here, in no particular order, is the list I used while writing The Year of the Beasts.

"Wild Horses" - Calexico / Iron & Wine, All Songs Considered

This version of the Rolling Stones Wild Horses literally breaks my heart. It makes me so sad to listen to it. I actually just cried listening to it again. The song, already full of longing, aches and regret, tugs at the soul. It sums up this feeling that I think my main character Tessa has of not wanting to leave a place, a moment, or a person. Of trying to be sturdy and steady even though a situation is hopeless. It is a direct route into the way that I think Tessa feels about her sister Lulu. As much rivalry as there is between them, the truth is that wild horses couldn't drag Tessa away from the love that she has for her sister. I imagine that after all that happens in the summer between them, Tessa would sing this song as a way to say I'm sorry, or I love you, or to explain what her heart really felt the whole time.

"The Biggest Lie" - Elliott Smith, Elliott Smith

Elliot Smith's music is so simple and fragile that it is evokes the turmoil and battles that we fight in our own selves. The way that Elliott Smith sings this song makes him sound so weary. So defeated. Let's face it. There is a sadness to telling a big lie. Especially when the truth is the opposite of the actions you are doing. The song reminds me of the way that Tessa behaves with Lulu, and the way she keeps Jasper a secret which is counter to what she truly feels about the situation between Lulu and Charlie. But when you lie like that, to the world and to yourself, the person who is likely to get the most hurt is yourself. I think that's why this song feels so confessional. And love is such a complicated thing. Even if you front for everyone else that what you are saying or doing is true, you know what is up in your own heart and you have to wrestle with that truth. This song helped me sort of gather up the threads of how Tessa was moving through the book with all of her painful actions. I feel like Tessa is telling lies and trying to pass them off as truths and realizes the truth only when it's too late.

"Havoc In Heaven" - Jesca Hoop, Kismet

There is something jarring about the way the music plucks and slaps and bells and wails. Also, I love the word Havoc. I think that the temptation to get lost in our dark thoughts begins in such a jaunty way. That at first we are seduced by darkness and it seems like a joyful burst and when we give over to it we somewhat relieved that it seems like such a simple path. But then it begins to swell into a cacophony and spins out of our control. I feel that this song is such a temptress, or what I imagine a sirens call would be. It's like receiving an invitation from the dark to roam down a road that leads to doom and chaos. I imagine that this is what it must sound like in Tessa's heart as she inches towards succumbing to her jealousy of Lulu.

"My Shadow Is A Monday" - Lavender Diamond, Imagine Our Love

This song is for Medusa. The fact that the word shadow is used over and over and over again I think was a way of me reminding myself over and over and over about her being a shadow of her former self. It is a simple plea. A simple truth. Without you I am a shadow. I also love the idea of someone's shadow being a day of the week. It makes me wonder what Tuesday looks like. Or Friday. I have hope that those days look better than Monday.

"Sentimental Heart" - She & Him, Volume One

Let's face it. The Year of the Beasts is a sad book. There is a lot of grief in it. As raw as Tessa's darker emotions are, she is not a bad girl or a mean girl. She is sentimental. For me, the Mermaid and the Centaur, in the comics part, are clinging very hard to sentiment and love. This song while its got its roots in sadness "Cried all night til there was nothing more…" there is a hopefulness to this song. It's got a sense of light about it. Like maybe by singing about admitting what kind of heart you have can lead you to recovery. In order to go all the way down to the hard parts of a book, you need to make sure that you have a piece of hopeful light shining to guide you back. This song is that little piece of light for me. It's owning your state of being. Ownership of feelings means you just might turn out OK.

"It's Not the End of the World" - Sloan, Never Hear the End of It

When you are a young adult, everything feels like the end of the world. This Sloan song was a key part of my writing play list because it doesn't hide away from the fact that sad is sad. And that it takes time to heal. It also is about things lost and renegotiating a relationship with those lost things. Once again this is fragile song helped me to keep the balance of the sadness between both the prose and comics parts of the book.

"Someone To Die For" - Belly, Star

I have always loved this song by Belly. It was on repeat constantly when I was in my twenties. Once again, the song is simple. There is an air of grief inherent in this song. "Poor thing, poor thing, do you have a sister?" The question is direct and repeated. "Don't you have someone you'd die for?" I think that Tessa and Medusa both are asking themselves this question. I think you can probably figure out what the answer is.

"Please Don't" - Jolie Holland, Springtime Can Kill You

Not only do I love this song, but I also love the title of the album: Springtime Can Kill You. As though a period of time, one of life and renewal, could still be powerful enough to destroy you. The way that Jolie Holland sings reminds me of an old time carnival. If the book were movie I would have this underscore the girls night out at the carnival. We'd follow them as they weaved through the rides, the games and the tent of curiosities. It's not a very joyous song, it's a serious one. Grave. And the accordion, slips in there sounding like a pair of drowned lungs, which mirrors the foreboding that I suspect Tessa has when she is in the tent with Jasper. I suppose it's the old timey feeling of the song that makes it feel timeless and that's how I imagined the carnival, like it could be taking place in 1912 or 2012.

"I Don't Care" - Mary Margaret O'Hara, Apartment Hunting: Original Motion Picture

Mary Margaret O'Hara is a Canadian treasure. Her haunting style always gets me into an emotional zone. This song gets right to the root of what I imagine is the relationship between Tessa and Jasper. Any time I was faced with them on the page and felt stuck this song just really got me in there. "Someone was just as lonely as me. I watched closely for a change of heart. Now mine is the only pain I can and I will protect it, I will protect it if it kills me." While best known for her album Miss America (which is brilliant) a few years back I found this soundtrack and rejoiced.

"Miss Halfway" - Anya Marina, Miss Halfway

I honestly don't know how this song got onto my play list, much less my itunes. But there it is and I don't question the musical fates. I think that the jangely breathiness and upbeatness of the song is kind of a salve for all the other sad songs. While this is a song that goes along with the others, its got a groove to it. I think that when this popped up while writing it had the ability to keep me in an angsty place while shifting me out of the terribly sad pace of all of the other songs. I think also, the opening lines "You oughta hear the mirror in my house. You oughta fear a pretty pretty mouse. Says I'm imperfect in every way. Miss Almost. Miss Maybe. Miss Halfway." Fit in with Medusa and what I think she must say to herself over and over in her head as she tries to live with herself and her snakes.

"Doll Parts" - Hole, Live Through This

I have a complicated relationship with Hole. Personally, I love the band but not the singer. But Hole has a way of roaring and digging right down to the core of female rage and that is a mighty powerful thing. Once again this is a song for Medusa. She doesn't feel like a girl. She's disconnected from her being. There is a lot of self-loathing in this song, which is pretty much where Medusa is at.

"Fortunes of Misfortune" - Anna Waronker, Anna

This song is what I think a nostalgic look back sounds like. And, once again, the jingles! The Bells! I think bells feel otherworldly in songs and I think I am attracted to them when it comes to this book. It matches what Tessa has to deal with when she has to move on. "…and I knew I'd never see you again…" But what happens to you happens. And what happens becomes a part of who you become. I feel like it talks about that complicated relationship between girls and sisters, either true ones or found ones and it reminds me of losing innocence and moving into maturity. I think it asks the question: How do you say what you need to say when you know you will never have the chance to say what you learned to the person who helped you learn it? It's impossible. But thankfully, music and lyrics hold a place for those kinds of sorrowful inexpressible regrets.

"Hush Now" - Catherine Feeny, Hurricane Glass

Since the core of this book is about Tessa and Lulu, and Medusa and the Minotaur, I think that this song really gets to the nut of people pulling in different directions. And how you still have a relationship with a person even after they are long gone. I love the way this song weaves, there is a playfulness and a bittersweet love about it. And once again its about leaving and never leaving.

"My Darling Clementine"

I needed a song for Medusa to sing. I wanted it to be an old song, a song from childhood. When I was looking around I remembered this song sweetly sung on camp trips and school buses. But when I looked closer at the lyrics, I was haunted by how much it had to do with the book. So in it went. Right there on the page for Medusa to sing.

Cecil Castellucci and The Year of the Beasts links:

the author's website

Boing Boing review
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves review
Kirkus Reviews review
Waking Brain Cells review

The Daily Fig guest post by the author
Graphic Novel reporter interview with the author
Ringo the Cat's Blog interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlists

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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