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July 29, 2015

Book Notes - Kent Wascom "Secessia"

The Unfortunates

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.

Ron Charles called Kent Wascom "one of the most exhilarating historical novelists in the country" in his review of Wascom's novel Secessia, and I have to agree.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"Wascom, who was born in New Orleans, has justly been compared to Cormac McCarthy, but the spirit of his new novel is touched by the lurid energy of Anne Rice and Joyce Carol Oates and even Edgar Allen Poe."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Kent Wascom's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Secessia:

I don't generally write to music, unless of course there's noise about or the washing-machine in my office (read: laundry room) is going full-stroke, but I do take notes, read, and most of all visualize scenes set to music.

You may find it strange that the songs selected by one who writes fiction set in the distant past are almost entirely modern and synth-heavy. You may find it even stranger that, though Secessia is set in New Orleans, only one of the songs on my list features a New Orleans artist. Why the dearth? Well, it's damn hard to write if you're dancing. Which is to say that much of the music of my native city tends to put me in too good of a mood to dwell on the darkness. When I knock off for the day I switch on the greatest radio station in what we've come to accept as the civilized world: WWOZ-New Orleans. Otherwise, I'm listening to the sorts of things listed below:

1. "Nightcall" - Kavinsky
I love Kavinsky's music, love the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, love the whole aesthetic of synth-scored balletic violence. There is no song I've listened to with more frequency in the last three years. "Nightcall" was the impetus behind a ton of scenes in Secessia (any time Elise and Emile are together, really) namely the prologue in which a young Elise bites off a would-be rapist's ear.

2. "Aquarium" – Camille Saint-Saens
This piece came to mind so often in my writing of Marina, the shipwrecked Tempest-toting orphan, that I eventually wrote a scene where she visits a museum of wonders, which included, naturally, an aquarium.

3. "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" – Pet Shop Boys
Benjamin Butler, as I say in the book, is a generally unmusical fellow. In considering him, researching, conceptualizing his character, this was the only song that came to mind. The Boys' paean to 80s capitalism fit the acquisitive General Butler quite well.

4. "Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)" – David Bowe, Georgio Moroder
Schrader's Cat People is one of my favorite movies. I keep a small reproduction of the poster on the wall beside my desk, and I listen to the soundtrack at least once a week. Much of what I wanted to do with Elise—the undercurrent of violence, the attraction of monstrous men—is owed to that film, and to get into that mood I listened to the utterly ass-kicking credit track by Bowie and Moroder.

5. "Burn-Up" – Siouxsie and the Banshees
This one's a holdover from consistent play during the writing of The Blood of Heaven, where it was among the themes for that novel's protagonist, preacher- turned-slaver Angel Woolsack. Because Secessia features the end of Angel and the inheritance of his more unsavory characteristics by his son, Joseph, Burn-Up stayed in the rotation as a way of reminding me of Angel's haunting presence.

6. "Miranda" – Michael Nyman
Nyman's work is a constant companion. All of the many versions of and variations on this piece, composed for the Peter Greenways film Prospero's Books, were very meaningful to the conception of Marina and her fascination with Shakespeare's Tempest.

7. "Wanna Fight" – Cliff Martinez
A bad start at the desk? This track was the prescription. Another of the few to which actual scenes were written. The moment the organ kicks in makes the hair stand up on the back on my neck. I'd also add much of French composer Rob's soundtrack music, especially for Belle Epine and Maniac.

8. "Season of the Witch" – Karen Elson
I like folk-rock troubadour Donovan as much as the next guy (I know you love "Atlantis," next guy. Don't lie.) but "Season of the Witch" is a song begging for female vocals, and Karen Elson's laconic yet creepy rendition was ideal for many of Elise's scenes.

9. "Valerie" – Broadcast
While writing Joseph and Marina, the youngest of the novel's five protagonists, I kept thinking of the movie Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, which presents adolescence as a gateway to a world both dreamily beautiful and horrific. Broadcast's "Valerie" takes its cues from the melody of the film's title theme and never ceases to stir me.

10. "Eternal Source of Light Divine" – Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Battle
Whenever I want to experience the sublime, I put on headphones and listen to this. In moments of frustration or simply wishing to slow down and meditate on an issue with the book, this astonishingly lovely recording was my go-to. Though NOTE: Now that I think of it, Wynton Marsalis's "At the Octoroon Balls" quartet was in steady rotation as well.

11. "By Your Side" – CoCoRosie
My wife turned me on to this one. An unsettling and perfect evocation of self-destructive love, and one I thought quite apt for the twisted romance of Doctor Sabatier and Elise.

Kent Wascom and Secessia links:

the author's website

Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Birmingham News interview with the author
Bookmagnet Blog's interview with the author
Brazos Bookstore interview with the author
Deborah Kalb interview with the author
Houstonia interview with 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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