October 4, 2012
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.
Eliot Schrefer's Endangered is a bold and entertaining young adult novel, one that vividly depicts modern life in the Congo.
I've learned to write to music, mainly because I also often write in cafés, and put in headphones whenever nearby conversation gets grating. (Latest overheard moment that had me reaching for ear buds: "I don't talk about myself. Like, ever.") While I was writing Endangered, music became an even more important refuge, because I traveled to a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo to write it. I was there to be with bonobos, but after a few hours a day of observing them I'd sit on a porch and write. The trip was often exhilarating but also often lonely; music was a way to counteract isolation for me, reminding me of home but also giving me a private space to process the lives of the ape orphans and figure out which details of their lives and habits were going to be compelling and interesting to readers in America. Some music I chose to set the tone for Endangered, and some was to keep a link to back home.
Into Endangered (setting tone):
Bonobos have this loping stride, leaning heavily on one side and then the other as they move forward. It looks a little like my stride, actually, though to be honest my open-footed walk is closer to a duck's. The bonobo walk makes me think of drums. It's on-beat, with a head-bob between steps. For that reason, this summer as I've been working on getting ready for the book's release I've been listening to Van She's "Jamaica." Hugely present percussion, with a great early 80s electric vibe.
Of course, no bonobo playlist would be complete without Bonobo himself, the British DJ whose tracks appear so often on CW shows it's surprising he's not more famous. I'm particularly fond of his remix of Pilote's "Turtle," with its frequent ‘hello there' whistle. Sounds like one bonobo greeting another. They're such affectionate, good-natured creatures, and this track is as well.
Okay, this song should be filed under Easy Listening and might be mostly manufactured cheese, but I'd start my Congo writing days by listening to "African Sunset" by African Tribal Orchestra. Plaintive and evocative, even if it does that annoying thing of lumping all of a diverse continent together for easier consumption by the West. But the song is both teary and hopeful, which felt right for a novel about a girl's quest to keep herself and an orphan bonobo alive in a country at war.
It's not just the African beats or instrumentation, but while listening to KT Tunstall's "Uummannaq Song" it's impossible not to cheer or groove, and her voice has got the energetic swagger that the bonobos share. And then there's that intensely dramatic opening: "Hold your fire. / I'm coming out and I'll tell you the truth. / I was trying to raise my roof." As Endangered is about a girl facing down rogue soldiers as she quests across Congo, it seemed very much that Tunstall was drawing from the same core of strength my main character shared.
Out of Endangered (not feeling alone)
One of my favorite songs ever is "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors" by Editors. I just can't help but close my eyes and tear up a little whenever I hear "The saddest thing that I'd ever seen / Were smokers outside the hospital doors." Captures so much about the most human side of human nature. [Note: The person who introduced me to this song by Editors was… my editor, David Levithan. Deep stuff.]
Speaking of tearing up (can you tell I like emotional music while I write?), I've got an embarrassingly high play count in iTunes for "The Broken Ones" by Dia Frampton. I try not to think of her time on The Voice (mentored by all-around blowhard Blake Shelton) when I hear this song, and luckily succeed. "Can't help it, I love the broken ones / the ones who've never been loved enough." I'm with you, Frampton. I'm with you.
Speaking of my editor David Levithan (we'll be interviewing each other for McNally-Jackson's "Literary BFFs" series on October 30, 2012, co-curated by this blog's very own David Gutowski—come say hi!), he made me an awesome mix for my Congo trip. On it were two tracks that went into frequent rotation. "Carousel" by Vanessa Carlton was one. "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn was another. I can safely say that that song has nothing to do with Endangered whatsoever. Though the vulnerability and strength and purity of the YouTube cover featuring Lennon and Maisy Stella made me think of Sophie, my main character, quite a bit.
Eliot Schrefer and Endangered links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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