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June 12, 2017

Book Notes - Dave Boling "The Lost History of Stars"

The Lost History of Stars

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.

Dave Boling's novel The Lost History of Stars is a compelling story of war and its effects on family.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"If history is written by the victors, this may explain why so little is known about the travails of the Boers, Dutch colonists of South Africa, against the British….The novel sheds much-needed light on the deaths of thousands of Boer civilians in these camps. A valuable testament providing glimmers, however scant, of hope for humanity"

In his own words, here is Dave Boling's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Lost History of Stars:

I learned to write in a pressurized crucible: The newspaper game. Decades as a sports columnist sometimes called for me to crank an 800-word deadline column in 15 or 20 minutes while 70,000 football fans were screaming or the Laker Girls were doing a routine 15 feet away from press row. You learn how to focus on the story because deadlines are heartless; deadlines don't give a damn about your annoyances.

So an early lesson was to have a set of headphones or ear buds playing something that would wall off the distracting noise with a more tolerable noise. Confession: I've got a playlist called "Background Stuff." It's all mind-numbing New Age drivel -- angel harps and tinkling bells. But it's effective and helps me focus.

And when writing fiction, I find that songs lyrics can get tangled up in my prose, so I usually avoid them in favor of instrumentals while I'm trying to be creative. But I definitely use music to get me in the mood for writing in the first place. In which case, I am inspired by virtuosity in almost any form.

Many of the following pieces helped while I was writing my new novel, The Lost History of Stars. My routine is to work on a number of projects at once, allowing my mind to go in the direction it most wants to go on a given day. So the following is the range of music I rely on, and the circumstances in which they're most effective.

"Nessun Dorma," Luciano Pavarotti

It's a climactic aria from Puccini's "Turandot." I'm not an opera buff, having insufficient patience for three hours of melodrama. But this has a swelling crescendo so powerfully rendered by Pavarotti that it seems capable of lifting the weight of human spirit.

Also, check out the video of the 1998 Grammy broadcast when Pavarotti had to pull out because of throat problems and Aretha Franklin jumped in for him on short notice. Hold onto your socks, and then ask yourself: Is there anything talented humans can't do?

"All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix doing Dylan lyrics? Beat that. There can't be a better first line than "There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief." Makes you want to write a book to tell that story, doesn't it? I'm a Seattle guy now so I sometimes drive past the Hendrix statue on the sidewalk on Capitol Hill. Some towns have statues of generals on horseback; Seattle has Hendrix on his knees wailing to the sky. Glorious.

His "Crosstown Traffic" is a close second for me when it comes to music that cures a sluggish morning and drives me to the keyboard.

"Concerto de Aranjuez," Joaquin Rodrigo

My first novel, Guernica, was set in the Basque country during the Spanish Civil War. During the editing process, I listened almost exclusively to this moving piece on an endless "repeat" cycle. To me, it's the musical essence of Spain. It helped me climb into my scenes and inhabit them with my characters. I could see the dancers and feel the Spanish heat radiating up from the dry earth. Now when I turn it on, it means getting focused on creating evocative scenes.

"Cold Water," Damien Rice and "When It's Cold I'd Like to Die," Moby

These two songs have similar themes and invite a powerful sadness. These set a tone on days when I might be too upbeat for a grim scene I might have to write. Seriously, it's really difficult to write sad stuff on a beautiful morning after a great breakfast with a loving spouse.

"Roady," Fat Freddy's Drop

Sometimes I need to toss in a wildcard song or two -- something out of my normal comfort zone -- like a palate-cleanser. I got this one from my son and it gets me thinking out of the box. Fat Freddy's Drop is a New Zealand band playing music that feels like global fusion. The subtle opening leads to an organ/bass line and the lyrics "You know if feels so good when I know you're skankin' with me. Yeah, feels so good when I know you're skankin'." Yes, doesn't it just! It's a playful musical stew with the balls to just ignore the walls between formats and genres.

"Poetry," Pablo Neruda

Here's some DIY listening matter that I've found enjoyable and great for triggering creativity. The idea came from a conversation with my daughter. Why is it we can remember the lyrics to songs so easily while it's much harder to memorize the lines of a poem? Maybe we absorb the spoken word easier than the written. As a present, she made digital recordings of many of the poems she knew were my favorites. The Neruda listed above ("And it was at that age poetry arrived in search of me …") is on a playlist with half a dozen other favorites like Yeats' "The Second Coming," and the advice of Polonius to Laertes from Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3. If thinking great thoughts leads to great creativity, these things can provide the sparks.

"The Waters of March," Susannah McCorkle

This rendition of the Antonio Carlos Jobim song makes you feel like you're listening to McCorkle while drinking with friends in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel -- even if you've never been there. "It's the promise of spring, it's the joy in your heart," it goes. If not, it's pretty close.

Dave Boling and The Lost History of Stars links:

the author's website

Historical Novel Society review
Kirkus Reviews review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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)
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