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March 16, 2017

Book Notes - Felicia C. Sullivan "Follow Me into the Dark"

Follow Me into the Dark

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.

Felicia C. Sullivan's Follow Me into the Dark is a dark, dense, and rewarding debut novel.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"A searing portrayal of a woman's complicated grief. . . . An original, spellbinding, and horrifying read."


In her own words, here is Felicia C. Sullivan's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Follow Me into the Dark:



On the surface of things, Follow Me into the Dark could be a novel about a serial killer. It could be a story about the effects of unchecked intergenerational abuse and mental illness—hint: it's not good. It could also be a book about women who were never meant to be mothers in a society where a woman's worth is measured by her ability to breed. And while we're at it, one could say my novel is about usurping traditional gender roles and how a psychopathic woman uses society's ingrained sexism as a disguise and source of power. It could be all of these things or none of these things, but for me Follow Me into the Dark is about loss and grief. Pretty much everything I write is a vulture that circles these two themes and picks at the carcass so that wounds never heal and my characters spend their life changing the dressing of their hurt. In this incarnation, my main character, Kate, comes undone—in every sense of the word—once her mother, Ellie, a malignant narcissist, dies from advanced lung cancer. Kate is determined to turn her grief out to the world and we witness the devastation that ensues in its wake.

The book spans thirty years and three generations. Here is the soundtrack of that world.

"Pyramid Song" by Radiohead

To be honest, I wrote the first third of my novel only listening to Thom Yorke's haunting lyrics about a man being ferried across the river of death, and the cyclical nature of time. I'd wake to "Pyramid Song" playing in my room in the form of an alarm clock, and it would remain as background music for entire days I spent writing. I read somewhere once that the sign of someone drowning is not a person flailing their arms in the air, rather it's someone who has gone quiet, whose body makes little or no movement. Both people are in peril, but they differ only in the degree of their danger. "Pyramid Song" focuses on the consequences of that surrendering, and I meditated on these polar states—a body fighting for life and one that surrenders to stillness, calmly acquiescing to the unknown—through the lens of the different characters inhabiting my book.

"Everything in Its Right Place" by Radiohead

Notice a trend? When I heard the opening track of Radiohead's Kid A, it put me to thinking about my main character, Kate. An OCD, Type A baker, Kate is a woman obsessed with cleanliness and order; she counts her sweaters, times her movements, and scrubs down the apartment of her father's mistress after she kidnaps her. Yorke wrote "Everything in Its Right Place" after a taxing OK Computer tour; he sings of depression, change, confusion, and trying to find his place in this world, which is Kate's emotional state in the opening chapters of my novel. She's coping with her mother's untimely death, a philandering stepfather who's sleeping with Kate's doppelgänger, and a boss who's trying to modernize the bakery in which Kate has worked her whole life. Change doesn't bode well for Kate, and everyone within a 10-mile radius, as the story unfolds.

"Faeries" by Lichens

Much of my book takes place at pre-dawn or at nightfall, and often near water. When I first heard this song it felt like the calmest undertow, a space that resides between recognizing one's own death is all-to imminent and the moment they loose their life. There's a scene at the beginning of FMITD where Kate's grief over losing her mother suffocates her. She gets up in the middle of the night and runs down to the beach where she spends the night staring at barnacles. I imagine if a song were playing as she fled, it would be "Faeries."

"That's the Way" Led Zeppelin

The women in my book have it rough. A young Ellie is locked up in a mental institution after trying to bathe her daughter in bleach. While Ellie's fed meds and denied utensils, her childhood friend and wild child, Cassidy, breaks her out of the bin and they flee to a small town in Nevada. I could see Ellie rolling down the window and falling asleep to "That's the Way" while Cassidy drives.

"Anenome" by The Brian Jonestown Massacre

A very early version of my novel went into detail about the two-decades long unhealthy attachment between Cassidy and Ellie. I composed scenes surrounding Cassidy's involvement with a Manson-type cult, and I played "Anenome" on repeat as I envisioned a world in the late 1960s where wayward children were desperate for familial love. It's hard to ignore the band's title as a riff off the mass suicide in Guyana, but the song is potent and harkens back to a time when kids rebelled with drugs and sex in an attempt to find themselves and something real to believe in.

"Check the Technique" by Gang Starr

I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with "city kids," taking the train from Brooklyn and Long Island to roam Manhattan with friends who lived uptown or below Avenue A. Gang Starr, Brand Nubian, The Notorious B.I.G., A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B. & Rakim, and Mobb Deep figured prominently during those years, and when I wrote New York party scenes in the 90s I imagined this is what would be blasting in crowded apartments packed with teens buzzing up dealers, smoking "loosies," and getting wasted on cheap booze.

"Like Spinning Plates" by Radiohead

Okay, I've got a thing for Radiohead. There's a scene toward the end of my novel where two adults, Kate and Jonah, curl up under her kitchen table and fall asleep holding onto one another another tightly. They look like lost children. Their loneliness and despair are palpable, their pain can fill an entire country, and this song feels like the title track of that place.

"Natural One" by Folk Implosion

"At home, she'd press the measuring tape measure in Jonah's palm and beg him to strangle her with it while they fucked, because her neck was the one area of her body that did not multiply. String me up like tinsel, she'd plead, and after a time she saw in Jonah something ferocious, as if this were the one thing he desired all along."

Wouldn't you blast a song like "Natural One" during this pre-game leading up to the main event? I sure did while writing this scene between Jonah and his only girlfriend and true love.

"He's a Deep, Deep Lake" by Film School

All that she had to say/Calling you out, wake up alone/We trusted you/To make up our minds, colden our eyes/Quicken the time/Again. I heard this song years ago, and I loved the idea of likening a man to a body of water—calm, beautiful, and deceptively dangerous. The other prominent character in my novel, Jonah, is both a mirror and a foil for Kate, and I imagined him oscillating between two states: being a barnacle and being unattached, nomadic, and free. I re-read my book last week and I lost count of how many times I likened Jonah to water, in contrast to Kate, who represents fire.

If you get anything from this post, download Film School's album, immediately. Like right now.

"God Moving Over the Face of Waters" by Moby

This song feels like an ending, a last call, curtain call, etc., and while I revised the ending of my book I kept thinking about the words "clear" and "clean." I can't explain it, even now as I type this, but read the ending of my book and listen to this song and possibly you might make sense of it better than I can.


Felicia C. Sullivan and Follow Me into the Dark links:

the author's blog

Kirkus Reviews review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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