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July 3, 2015

Book Notes - Sarah McCoy "The Mapmaker's Children"

The Mapmaker's Children

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.

Sarah McCoy thoughtfully links the past with the present in her compelling novel The Mapmaker's Children.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"McCoy deftly intertwines a historical tale with a modern one… lovingly constructed… passionately told… The Mapmaker's Children not only honors the accomplishments of a little-known woman but artfully demonstrates how fate carries us in unexpected directions, no matter how we might try to map out our lives."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Sarah McCoy's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Mapmaker's Children:


"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"— Wallis Willis

During the writing of The Mapmaker's Children, I had a habit of unconsciously breaking into this at random: while skillet-frying chicken for dinner, pumping gas into my car, walking my dog to the postbox, vacuuming the living room. It started to freak my husband out. "You're doing it again," he'd say, and I'd not even notice that I was— so lost in my own thoughts. When I finally Googled the song's history, I learned it was written by a Choctaw freedman in Oklahoma before 1862. I am 1/16th Choctaw. My father's kin are from Inola, Oklahoma. As my husband put it, "That's creepy."

"Follow the Drinking Gourd"

I learned this song in elementary school music class. It stuck with me over whatever else we might've sung because I was assigned the wooden block to play. The vibrations of the rhythmic plunking made me imagine the slaves' footsteps as they raced through darkness, eyes to the Big Dipper constellation. It scared me, to be truthful, and I remember being relieved when the song was over. I'm not sure if that's something to be ashamed of now or to be glad that I recognized the significance. I was singing something that had been chanted to the heavens by our country's ancestors. A sacred hymn of the Underground Railroad.

"John Brown's Body"
This song is prominently featured in The Mapmaker's Children. The daughters of John Brown are introduced to it on a visit to Virginia. I spent a good amount of time listening to it and thinking about what it would be like for that song to be about your father. Give it a try: substitute your own father's name for John Brown.

_____ body lies a-moldering in the grave.
_____ body lies a-moldering in the grave.
_____ body lies a-moldering in the grave.
His soul's marching on!

It's a wallop to the gut, right? I imagine it was similar for Sarah Brown. No matter how she might've supported it. Every time it was sung for all of her life, wallop-wallop-wallop.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" —Julia Ward Howe

Interesting trivia: Howe used the sheet music of "John Brown's Body" and changed the lyrics. It was published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862 and became a signature tune for the Civil War.

"Yellow Rose of Texas"—Edwin Pearce Christy

I live in West Texas and the only flowers I've been able to cultivate are roses—yellow, in fact. So this song is consistently hummed whenever I'm out pruning or bringing in a vase of them. It was written as part of Christy's Plantation Melodies, a songbook for Christy's blackface minstrel show. During the Civil War, it was a popular marching song for Confederate soldiers in the Texas Brigade.

"Pain Killer"—Little Big Town

This album and group embody much of what I love about my homeland Virginia. Some songs are so playful that they make you want to run around chasing summer lightning bugs. Then, in a track change, a song so mournful, hot tears ebb. Their music is empowering, soulful, and story full. I listened to this CD (yes, I'm old-school like that) in my car whenever I run errands. I haven't changed the disc in six months. That's how much I love their music and miss my southern roots.

**Confession: I enlisted my husband (Doc B) for the following two songs. He's a music devotee. So here are his picks and reasons why. He played these for me, and I have to say, he's spot on.

"Barton Hollow"—Civil Wars

Doc B: This is a good ballad for John Brown at the opening of The Mapmaker's Children—jailed and waiting to be hung on the gallows. The guy knew he was going to die the next day, but that was the least of his fears—his children and what would become of his abolitionist cause were what he cared about most.

I'm a dead man walking here
But that's the least of all my fears

"Skinny Love"—Birdy, originally by Bon Iver

Doc B: This would be Freddy and Jack's theme as sung, theoretically, by Sarah Brown or Eden. Bon Iver's indie folk song in Birdy's haunting voice makes your chest cinch up in a way a man won't admit. But yeah, I'm saying it.


Sarah McCoy and The Mapmaker's Children links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Huffington Post 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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