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May 7, 2014

Book Notes - James Klise "The Art of Secrets"

The Art of Secrets

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.

James Klise's young adult novel The Art of Secrets is cleverly told from several points of view and through a range of media (including e-mails, journal entries, police reports, etc.).

Booklist wrote of the book:

"This art mystery is that rare book that will be passed around by teens as well as teachers in the faculty lounge, discussed and dissected and immediately reread to scour for hidden clues and motivations. The incidents at Highsmith School will stay on readers’ minds long after the last page."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is James Klise's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Art of Secrets:


Before my new novel, The Art of Secrets, even begins, a fire has destroyed one family's apartment in Chicago. Then a school community comes together to help the family. During this effort, a collection of watercolor drawings by Henry Darger is discovered in a box of old books. What should be done with this treasure? This contemporary crime story is told from nearly a dozen points of view, each of which finds the occasion to express some version of, "What's in this for me?"

Notes on a Scandal – Film soundtrack by Philip Glass

I loved the 2007 film, but can't remember why I purchased the CD initially, except that maybe I figured that since I was starting a scandalous school story of my own, this might suit my mood while working. As it turned out, this soundtrack was like a pitch pipe, always placing me in exactly the right tonal frame of mind as I made my way through the first draft. I must have listened to it a thousand times between the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009. The atmospheric score opens with a wandering low cello, suggesting something sinister beneath a polished, formal surface. The individual tracks are pulsating and repetitive, perfect for slow thinking and sentence crafting. They build from slow, ominous selections to a few heart pounding, drum-beating Bernard Herrmann-style thrillers. Collectively they encouraged me to find the tension in every scene I wrote.

Mildred Pierce – Film soundtrack by Carter Burwell

Quite a bit of time went by between writing the first draft and starting the revision. My first novel came out in 2010, and there was work to be done on that. When I returned to the Art of Secrets manuscript, I saw that many of the characters needed more depth. In the first draft, some of the narrators were too extreme—they said even more outrageous things than they do in the published version. I needed to take them more seriously, to sharpen their humanity. I had enjoyed the 2011 HBO miniseries of Mildred Pierce and purchased the soundtrack, and this became my guide during the revisions. Mildred Pierce and The Art of Secrets are both stories about ruthless dreamers. The score is a combination of rhythmic plucking strings and melancholy, yearning woodwinds. (The oboe is my spirit animal.) Listening to the music calls to mind those time-lapse films of a flower blooming: the quick, explosive unfolding of petals.

Biblio-narcissism runs rampant when you're working on novel. Everywhere you look, you see things that remind you of the story you are trying to tell. Away from my writing desk, there were a few times when I'd hear a new song and think: Gee, how weird—this song is about my book!

"Don't Make Me a Target" – from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon

In my novel, after the discovery of the Darger artwork, subsequent crimes occur, and there are numerous opportunities for finger pointing. Everyone wants to benefit from the treasure, but no one wants the blame when things start to go wrong. I would hear this song occasionally at parties and instantly be transported back into my work.

"Hudson River Teenage Blues" – from Walk On, The Lost Cartographers

I was listening to this debut CD a lot in 2009. "Hudson River Teenage Blues" is a slow, hazy, ballad about a young woman's seduction, her submission to something more powerful than her. The song expresses a tone of emotional distance, risk and regret. When I heard this song, I always pictured my characters walking down the hallway at school, their dazed eyes filled with anger and mistrust.

"Warrant" – from Torches, Foster the People

Foster the People is more than "Pumped Up Kicks." The very last track, called "Warrant," captures the energy and tone I aim to achieve at the end of my book. If The Art of Secrets becomes a movie, maybe "Warrant" would play during the closing credits.


James Klise and The Art of Secrets links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review

Weekend Edition interview with the author
Zulkey interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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