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May 18, 2015

Book Notes - Catie Disabato "The Ghost Network"

The Ghost Network

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Inventive, engaging, and fast-paced, Catie Disabato's debut novel The Ghost Network is the perfect summer read.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A thrilling debut novel... Ultimately, the novel, with its intricate structure and agile pacing, adds up to a layered, well-executed story within an inventive story. Artistic ambition, cultural critique, and a revolutionary philosophy drive the mysteries underlying this complex, charismatic novel."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Catie Disabato's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Ghost Network:

My novel The Ghost Network is about a pop star named Molly Metropolis who disappears at the peak of her fame and the two young women – Caitlin Taer and Regina Nix – who try to find her and fall in love. I started writing the novel fueled by my love of pop music, especially top 40 pop. While I was writing the music I love guided me, inspired me, and provided my source material to create from.

Here are the songs of this book:

"City of Atlantis" – Molly Nilsson
Molly Nilsson is a European pop singer and one of the inspirations for Molly Metropolis's name and sound. The soundtrack to my writing this novel was dark synth sounds over everything else, which I think grew out of my love for this song and my feeling that this song matched the tone I wanted to create for this novel.

In regards to the lyrics, when I first heard the song, the only words I heard clearly were: "Let them chant this/ In the city of Atlantis." Obviously the idea of the lost city of Atlantis resonated with my obsession with secret cities and disappearing islands, an obsession that fueled a lot of the creation of The Ghost Network.

"Bad Romance" – Lady Gaga
This is one of our best pop songs – dramatic and fun, with strong hooks in the chorus, the bridge, and the verses. It's an earworm without being annoying. I think that this is the Gaga song that will last the longest, that will be played by our children at their early 2000s throwback dance parties. I also love to shout "I'm a free bitch, baby!" a lot.

"My Molly" – Ariel Pink & Sky Ferreira
A song about being overwhelmed by and obsessed with a girl named Molly – so, like, duh. When I listen to this song, the language of the opening lyrics ("earth shaking/ body quaking/ hair waving/ my Molly") lets me imagine a group of people watching Molly Metropolis perform, and feeling ownership over her as a fan. Ariel Pink has an earlier version of this song without Sky Ferreira, a recording that has a lot more lo fi noise on it. I like the Sky Ferreira version better because the production is more pop-y, and especially because having a woman sing the lyrics gives the song a bit of a queer edge which works super well with The Ghost Network.

"Only Girl (In the World)" – Xiu Xiu (originally performed by Rihanna)
I think this is the best cover of a pop song I've ever heard. The original is killer, and Jamie Stewart manages to change everything about it and still put out a fantastic track – which is what the best covers do. It has the dark synth sound that was my soundtrack when I was writing this book; I love the violins. I love Jamie's vocal performance in this track as well. He sounds so nakedly desperate! The way he distorts the vocals just adds to the deep emotional place he takes this song to. And I'm a sucker for covers where they don't change the original pronouns. Love that. Again, this adds a queer element into the performance.

"Style" – Taylor Swift
I'm a Tay superfan and her newest album came out during the final stages of my last edit, and listening to Style, my idea of Molly Metropolis's sound clicked into place. I've been into outrun electro since we all got into it when the Drive soundtrack came out, and I love the way Tay (& producer Max Martin) mix it into pop here. If someone asked me what a Molly Metropolis song sounds like, I'd play them this song.

"Run My Heart" – Twin Shadow
This is one of my favorite songs on one of my favorite albums, which I listened to obsessively in the years when I was writing this book. The sound of "Run My Heart" was the early inspiration for Molly's outrun electro style, before "Style" came out.

"Tattoo" – Jordin Sparks
When I was first figuring out what Molly Metropolis's first album would sound like, I made a huge playlist of pop tracks released in 2008-2009, to get a sense of what her contemporaries were putting out. 2008 and 2009 was a great era for pop. Rihanna put out Loud, one of the best pop albums of the 2000s, and Beyoncé was in her Sasha Fierce phase and Gaga was at her pinnacle. But "Tattoo" stands out even with intense competition because it's just such a well-executed earworm. The chorus is long, but incredibly catchy, you never want it to end. I listened to it over and over while writing. Because I'm a normal human writer, I imagine my characters singing passionately at each other to express their feelings, and in the musical version of The Ghost Network, Tattoo is a song Taer would sing to Nix right before Taer disappears.

"Cold War" – Janelle Monáe
I love Janelle Monáe and her fixation on the movie Metropolis was the inspiration for Molly's fixation on the same. I listened to this song when I was writing about the New Society's decision to fight against Molly. It's the theme song for the secret war going on throughout the book. This is one of Janelle's simplest songs, from a production perspective, but the vocal performance is just out of this world. I get shivers when I hear it.

"Music for Girls" – Baxendale
I know nothing about Baxendale; I've never heard any of their other songs. But I love "Music for Girls." It's a story-song, about a boy who likes dance/house music (which is "music for girls") and eventually becomes a hot DJ in a London club and falls in love – but the emotional core of loving music. I loved the pop synthy energy in the production of this track. The story I was writing especially resonated with these lyrics in the bridge, which are about music: "And it's everything to me/ Feels like I'm fighting for something!"

"The Resurrectionist" – Pet Shop Boys
Writing about a pop star who is influenced by 80s synths means that I had to listen to some Pet Shop Boys. They are a major influence on Molly's sound. This song's production was inspiring, but so was the content. The song is written about the doctors working in London in the late 1700s who developed modern surgical practices. They were called the Resurrection Men because they would rob graves for fresh corpses to operate on. Just as I was beginning to write The Ghost Network, I got really into this part of the history of medicine, and because these doctors would also operate on exotic animals that were brought to them by the explorers who sailed to the Caribbean, I got into the Age of Exploration and mapmaking, which somehow got me into the Situationists, and all of a sudden I was writing a novel about maps. This song marks, for me, one of the early mini-obsessions that brought my book to life in my head.

"The Metro" – Berlin
"The Metro" is a weird pop synth song about a public transportation and as such, it is the soul sister of my novel. I listened to this over and over while writing any part of the novel were Taer or Nix had to run around a lot or do a lot of physical activities. I imagined the opening synth riff as Nix's soundtrack when she's running around without shoes on in the winter in Michigan. And of course, this track has a total outrun electro sound, and like "Run My Heart" was influential in my development of Molly's sound.

So Fine – Telepathe
I listened to this song often in the first year of writing this book, 2009, when I was banging out the (very rough) first draft. So Fine has the dark synth sound I love, that was the guiding aesthetic of my audio mood board for The Ghost Network. Unlike all the other songs on this list, the music video for So Fine was just as important as the track itself. Early scenes in the video show band members Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais in this really beautifully disheveled apartment, and although I never describe this in the book, I always imagined that was what Taer's apartment looked like. The vibe that I got from the song and video both was guiding for me in terms of developing Nix and Taer's relationship. I imagine these beautiful girls and artfully messy girls, their hair always frizzy from wearing hats, Taer slowly gaining a little belly fat in the winter as I imagine she does every year, sleeping in an unmade bed, the kitchen counters always covered in crumbs – it was from these imaginings that I was able to form the characters whose relationship is really central to the novel.

"Lose It" – Austra
More pop, more women singing pop, more dark synths. The lead singer of Austra, Katie Stelmanis, was trained as an opera singer. There are lots of places in this song where I have no idea what she's saying, which I'm totally fine with because her voice is so beautiful, but I much prefer the sections where I can understand what she's saying – especially in the latter section of the song where she repeats: "In the darkness comes/ Another, another/ Holder her by the thumbs/ The other, the other." I interpret these lyrics as life being dark, and finding someone to love in that darkness, and holding on tightly to that love. These stanzas are my love theme for Nix and Taer.

"Noise on the Radio" – Claire Cronin
Claire is one of my closest friends and I've been listening to her music since I was in high school. I love her voice. She's perhaps my favorite vocalist of all time. There parts of my novel that are really keyed up and I need the synths to get myself going, but there are also really quiet sad moments, and I always listened to Noise on the Radio to get myself in the right mood. I imagine Nix and Taer listening to this song right before Taer's own disappearance. At that time, they are deeply in love, but their love is hurting them.

"Til the World Ends (The Femme Fatale Remix)" – Britney Spears, Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj
I listened to every pop song about the end of the world that exists as research for Molly's apocalyptic lyrics and to insert a bit of that on-the-precipice-of-the-end energy into the story. I will claim this one as my favorite. It's like a "Dancing Til the World Ends" combo meal, everything from Britney's original track, plus two sides. Nicki's verse is of course on point, and Ke$ha actually wrote the lyrics so her vocal presence is like a fun little Easter egg.

Catie Disabato and The Ghost Network links:

the author's Tumblr

Globe and Mail review
Kirkus review
The Millions review
Publishers Weekly review

The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
San Francisco Chronicle profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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