April 21, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Andrew Roe's debut novel The Miracle Girl is a compelling story of faith and family.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"A winning debut . . . Lively, pitch-perfect and assured . . . Roe's story feels just right for our desperate and despairing time, when a miracle--any miracle--will do."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Music is one of my great companions in life, and here are some of the songs that accompanied me while I wrote my debut novel The Miracle Girl.
Warning: There's a fairly high ratio of classic rock, which was the soundtrack of my high school years, and which also, coincidentally, happens to be the high school soundtrack of two of the main characters in my book.
"Alesund" – Sun Kil Moon
I'll start at the end: One Saturday morning, after dropping off my kids at my mom's house in San Clemente, California, I went to a nearby café to write. I knew I was getting close to being done with my novel—and by "done" I mean the version of the manuscript that I felt good enough about to print out and do a final line edit before I sent it off to my agent. It turned out that I reached this point sooner than I thought, after maybe an hour or so. I typed "The End" (yes, writers actually do that) and I was stunned and it was as if the book had been officially birthed (though of course more changes and edits would come later). The café is near the ocean, so I took a celebratory walk along the beach, and this beautiful, haunting song came on my iPod. And whenever I listen to it now, it invariably takes me back to that moment in time. The beach. The waves. The relief. The years of work. I was done. I had written a book.
"Scarlet Town" – Gillian Welch
I don't care much for writing in public places, but it became a necessity to make progress on (and eventually finish) this book. It was either the café mentioned above or a Starbucks near my house. These coffee houses are crowded, noisy, not ideal for writing (not for me at least) and also typically have piped-in music, so I'd bring my iPod to combat the din of conversation and slurping espresso machines. Usually I can only listen to instrumental music when writing. But when working on The Miracle Girl, I often listened to Gillian Welch's The Harrow & The Harvest. This lead-off track always put me in the place I needed to go.
"He Stopped Loving Her Today" – George Jones
This one is actually in the book. There's an early scene in a dive-y bar, where we're introduced to one of the main characters, John, who's the father of the title character. He's fucked up his life and he knows it. He's left his family but he wants to find his way back. He's drinking, both trying to remember and trying to forget. This song comes on the jukebox. It stings like only a song can sting when you hear it in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. Probably one of the saddest songs ever in the entire sad catalogue of country music.
"Speak to Me/Breathe" – Pink Floyd
Going to Griffith Park for Laserium and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was a ritual for teenagers growing up in Southern California in the 1980s. If you're not familiar, it went like this: carfuls of intoxicated teens made the pilgrimage to Griffith Observatory on Saturday night and soaked in a laser light show, accompanied by the iconic, best-selling album. I did it a couple of times, and in The Miracle Girl we learn that John and his wife, Karen, did it, too. The moment when the sound effects and heartbeats of "Speak to Me" transition into the trilling guitar chord of "Breathe" (that's when the lasers would light up the dome of the observatory and the music would fully kick in) caused many faces to melt and many minds to be blown (at least temporarily).
"Dance the Night Away" – Van Halen
John and Karen have a rocky relationship. When they finally decide to get married, it's a quickie courthouse ceremony, not the kind of wedding that most people envision—it feels more like a defeat than a celebration. But it's part of who these characters are—people who are young and already feel like life isn't working out for them, yet they aren't really sure what to do about it. Their wedding night is equally non-cinematic. It's fast food for dinner and Van Halen II as the wedding night soundtrack. Van Halen I was the more popular album and the one that's remembered today, but the sequel seemed like a better (and perhaps sadder) fit John and Karen and where they are in their lives. (Random personal trivia: Van Halen's bass player, Michael Anthony, bought my grandmother's house in Monrovia, California, for his sister.)
"Cocaine" – Eric Clapton
John and Karen have a child, Anabelle, who ends up becoming the Miracle Girl of the title after a tragic car accident (I won't say more). The couple shakily enters the world of parenthood; John is particularly unprepared and overwhelmed. When he tries to comfort his crying daughter during the night, he realizes he doesn't know the words to any lullabies or kids' songs, so he resorts to singing rock songs like "Cocaine," "Iron Man," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Dazed and Confused," etc. "‘If you want to hang out/You've gotta take her out/Cocaine.' Now go to sleep little one."
"Your Hand in Mind" – Explosions in the Sky
Remember when I said I liked to listen to instrumentals when I write?
"Ramble On" – Led Zeppelin
"He was one of those one-handed, cool-guy Southern California drivers who barely grasp the wheel and concentrate more on the scenery and the radio station than the road and the death and horror and destruction looming everywhere. So she wondered: Had there been a brief lapse there, a moment when a bikinied billboard or a Led Zeppelin song he hadn't heard in years had taken precedence over the safety of Anabelle, their seven-year-old child, their world?"
"Horses" – Bonnie "Prince" Billy
There was a time when I was deep into writing and revising the book, and this was my go-to commute song. I have a fairly long drive to get to work, so music plays a big part in keeping me sane. It also gives me space and time to think about what I'm writing (what's working, what's not; what can be fixed, what can't). This country/folk/badass song opens with the line "I'd be riding horses if they'd let me." Something about that haunted me for several weeks, and I often thought of John. The line felt like it was speaking directly about him: someone feeling trapped, someone wanting to escape, transcend. "Horses" is one of those songs that you hear in your car and you feel like driving across the entire country.
"I Believe in You" – Neil Young
From Young's melancholic masterpiece After the Gold Rush, one of the lesser-known/cited songs but always one of my favorites from the album. Because of the slow unfolding of the music. Because of the yearning in the lyrics and in the singer's voice. The Miracle Girl is a book about belief—the power of it, the mystery of it. It's about the big beliefs (god, miracles, etc.), but also the smaller, day-to-day beliefs and the everyday miracles in life, as well as the importance of the people we believe in and trust and love. This song reminds me of that. Belief was a beginning and it's what got me started on the book and thinking that I might have something to say.
Andrew Roe and The Miracle Girl links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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