September 5, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Gwenda Bond became one of my favorite young adult writers with her debut novel Blackwood. Her new book The Woken Gods is just as impressive, an inventive and compelling fantasy novel set in a future where mythological gods have been awakened.
It might seem strange for music to play a big part in a book that's all about ancient mythology and gods transported into the modern day--particularly to Washington, D.C. The world of The Woken Gods is very different than ours. The awakening of the gods has both large-scale and localized effects, and in this transformed D.C., one of them is that my main character Kyra Locke and her friends can no longer rely on their mp3 players. Technology is finicky in the city where the seven trickster gods who serve as ambassadors to humanity make their home, and old-school analogue tech tends to be far more reliable. That doesn't mean Kyra, constantly at war with her father, doesn't like to crank some music to make a point now and then. She shops the street market for records, and classic punk is her favorite. She assumes her dad hates it, but early in the story he leaves her a note and a bundle of cash in a Ramones t-shirt; it's not her first hint she doesn't really know her father at all, but it's close. My trio of friends are still the kinds of teenagers who sneak into clubs to hear bands, though they're a little too busy navigating high stakes political intrigue to do so during the book.
Playlists were incredibly important to each and every draft of this novel. They helped me settle on the tone I wanted, helped me imagine a landscape that had shifted from the current version of D.C., and helped me figure out the characters. Here are some highlights from the playlist titled Trickster Fu.
This song is a mythic origin story of the universe, of our world created by sleeping ancients...and so how could I resist? In fact, this whole album was heavily represented on my playlist. This particular track is a perfect specimen that manages to be gorgeous and eerie all at once. It doesn't get more otherworldly or divine than Bjork singing about the universe.
"Longlegs," Sister Suvi
Kyra used to go running with her father all the time, and is still a runner, but she resists leaving when he tells her to. Still, it wasn't hard to envision her fleeing past graffiti-ed buildings and cherry blossom trees that now leave gummy fruit on the sidewalks, because of the divine magic that's in such close proximity to them causes them to produce cherries.
"Not Nice," Chris Garneau
As I've already indicated, Kyra's family dynamics are complicated. Her mother has left and lives among oracles. This number has just the right amount of melancholy to capture that.
"Bad Girls," M.I.A.
What else can you do, when the world falls apart, but rebel against it and make it pay attention? This is an anthem for a girl's rebellion.
"Search and Destroy," Peaches
A cover of Iggy Pop that, as above, feels like an anthem a girl up against gods could steal for herself. Forget that forgotten boy.
"Gone Again," Patti Smith
I'd be hard-pressed to name another record that captures the mad sadness and wild joy of grief, the horrible loss and gift of having known and loved someone. This book's is a world permeated by loss and change.
"Ill Manors," Plan B
One of the reasons the setting is D.C. is because I wanted there to be politics involved in the return of the gods and, by necessity, complicated ones. Kyra and her friends Tam and Bree attend Skeptics meetings to poke at the status quo her dad supports, where humanity must trust in what the Society of the Sun tells it. I imagine they'd like this song.
"The House That Heaven Built," Japandroids
Some of my most-played songs on this list were tied to settings, different areas of the city. When I hear this one I can't help picturing the Houses of the Gods, the strange embassies where the tricksters live. This is music fit for climbing a ziggurat in the middle of a city.
"Curse This Place," Reversing Falls
There are times when I can imagine every character in the book singing along with this one: "Curse this town…"
"Hunters Map," Fionn Regan
I adore Regan's music, and think he's one of the best songwriters around. And this is one of the only times i can ever remember something being directly inspired by a song. I was stuck in a scene where some characters first visit a family reliquary, taking a walk and listening to my playlist. I was imagining what it might look like, and how each family's might be a little different. I knew they were all relic hunters, or had been at the beginning, while the gods were sleeping. I pictured an actual map, a long piece of hide with a family history painted on it. Into the book it went.
"Monster," You Say Party! We Say Die!
One of my favorite characters to write was a Sumerian god, Anzu, who's mostly monster. He has the head of a lion and the body of an eagle. And he would definitely like to tear out the strings connected to your heart.
"He War," Cat Power
The echoes of past actions, the willingness to sacrifice (perhaps too much), and murky morality are all big parts of this story. This song is partly about that, and captures the anger that goes along with trying to change reality back to what you wish it was.
Another song about karma and breaking points. Plus, I just love the way it builds and builds to a crashing, soaring end.
"We Were Sparkling," My Brightest Diamond
You could fit a moment inside this song, a moment of remembering the sorrow and beauty held by the past.
"Golden," Sister Suvi
Yes, Sister Suvi was something of my signature band for this book. Both the songs included here are weird and epic and filled with yearning.
"Ring of Fire," Johnny Cash
There might be more than just one ring of fire at the novel's end, and there's definitely a conversation about musical taste between Kyra and her dad. Besides, you can never go wrong ending with Johnny.
Gwenda Bond and The Woken Gods links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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weekly music & DVD release lists