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March 2, 2017

Book Notes - Deborah Willis "The Dark and Other Love Stories"

The Dark and Other Love Stories

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

Deborah Willis's compelling short story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories explores love in all its forms.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"These are low-key stories of great acuity, precision, and poignancy."

In her own words, here is Deborah Willis's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories:

I rarely listen to music when I write, but when I started thinking about the music that inspired my book, songs came to mind easily. It took me eight years to complete my collection of stories about love in all its guises, titled The Dark and Other Love Stories. To put that in musical terms, when I started working on the book I was still taking breaks by dancing around my apartment to "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," and by the end I took breaks by dancing to "Formation." But beyond Beyoncé—who gave me respite from work and inspired me to work harder ("What Would Beyoncé Do?" is the slogan I whisper to myself when I'm tired and don't want to proofread that damn story one more time)—here is a list of the music that most influenced my book.

"Bring Our Boys Home" by Kris Demeanor
I have the good fortune of living with a musician, so I'm surrounded by LPs and guitars and there's often a guy around who can actually play those guitars and an carry a tune (as opposed to me and the cat, two creatures who can do neither). When I think of which musician has had the greatest influence on my writing, it's easy to guess that it would be the one I live with. Kris Demeanor's lyrics are moving, intelligent, politically engaged, and hilarious (of course, I would think that!), all qualities that I aspire to in my own work. One of my favourite songs, and one that has taught me a lot about how to tell a story using an experimental structure, is "Bring Our Boys Home." Kris conveys all the loneliness, heartache, boredom and privilege of a woman who has just moved out to the suburbs and is waiting for her husband to come home from work. She talks on the phone to a girlfriend, and we hear only her side of the conversation—it's a story-song that is catchy, subtle, and sad.

"Bee's Wing" by Richard Thompson
I came across this song thanks to Kris (that awesome guy mentioned above), who played it for me one evening after dinner. I had been struggling for months with a story about a man with an alcohol addiction, somehow unable to find the right voice and structure. But something about "Bee's Wing"—a gorgeous, melancholy song that is, in some ways, about addiction—moved me so much that it cracked my brain open and I was able to see my own work more clearly. I went to bed, then woke up in the middle of the night with the entire narrative laid out in my mind. I'll never forget that moment, because creative gifts like that arrive so rarely.

Symphony of Sorrowful Songs by Górecki
I listened to this non-stop, in a Discman (have I mentioned it took me a while to write this book?) while I was traveling in Russia. Don't ask me why—Górecki is Polish, so it makes little sense. But something about the music fit my mood and the weather and the atmosphere of St. Petersburg. And when I got home, I kept listening to Górecki's heartbreaking masterpiece as I wrote "Hard Currency," a story set in Russia.

"Out of Range" by Ani Difranco
One of my stories is set at a Jewish summer camp in the 1990s, in Alberta, Canada—a place not unlike the Jewish summer camp I attended and worked at for twelve summers. There are so many artists and bands that remind me of those long, dry, summer days—R.E.M., The Tragically Hip, The Indigo Girls—but Ani Difranco is top of the list. I remember waking up from a nap when I was about 13, the same age as the girls in my story, and hearing "Out of Range" spinning in the CD player. Like most girls trying to figure out sexuality and feminism and politics, I was obsessed with Ani. But listening to that song now brings back a flood of other musical memories too. Remember Lilith Fair? Remember Tori Amos? Remember Hole and Alanis Morissette? Remember when even white, mainstream women artists all sounded very different one from the other, and the radio wasn't only devoted to one sound? That was the musical landscape of my adolescence, and I imagined it was for my characters too.

Music for Cats by David Teie
For real. I have a cat, and she's neurotic. Especially in the mornings—she's basically out of her mind between 8am and 11am. And the mornings happen to be when I'm most alert and productive, when I'm most wanting to focus on my writing. But the cat wants to sit on my lap, and climb on my shoulder, and walk on my keyboard, and yell at me, and go outside, and come inside, and go outside again, and come inside…. So I downloaded a few songs of Teie's Music for Cats, feline-calming songs he developed by basing the rhythm on that of a cat's heartbeat. "Rusty's Ballad," in particular, seemed to help the cat to relax. So I can thank Teie for at least a few minutes of uninterrupted work time.

Deborah Willis and The Dark and Other Love Stories links:

Globe and Mail interview with the author
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
PopMatters review

Calgary Herald profile of the author
Freedom Matters interview with the author
Kirkus profile of the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Vanishing and Other Stories
National Post profile of the author
Vancouver Sun interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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