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May 8, 2018

Alex Segura's Playlist for His Novel "Blackout"

Blackout

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

Alex Segura's Blackout, the fourth book in his Pete Fernandez series, once again proves him a master of dialogue and suspense.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"With its smart dialogue and vivid settings, this series concentrates equally on the trajectory of Pete Fernandez's life and the mysteries he tries to solve. From both perspectives, it's fine crime fiction."


In his own words, here is Alex Segura's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Blackout:



Blackout, my fourth Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery, is a story of regrets and long-buried secrets bubbling to the surface. I wanted to explore a crime novel about someone not only looking to make amends for their past mistakes, but trying to seize an opportunity to fix a specific failure that’s long haunted them.

The pull of redemption is strong in the novel, and we see it tug recovering alcoholic PI Pete Fernandez from his New York exile back to his hometown of Miami, in the hopes of solving a deadly cold case that’s tormented him since he first botched it years before.

Blackout’s core mystery also revolves around a dormant Miami cult and the aspirations of an ambitious gubernatorial candidate. As both forces careen toward each other, Pete finds himself stuck firmly in the middle. The story allowed me to do a deeper dive into the idea of recovery - and the addict’s quest to not only stop engaging in the behavior that damages them, but also exploring the possibility of moving in a new direction, leaving the wreckage of the past behind.

Music, as always, plays a major part in my writing process. When not typing, I’m brainstorming and plotting out what’s next - often to the beat of an ever-growing playlist of songs. A typical novel playlist can balloon up to about 1,000 tracks. Then, as I progress with the draft, I whittle down - to artists and songs that best reflect key moments in the novel or that resonate with me during the writing. Sometimes, the songs themselves gain entry into the narrative, with a title mentioned here or there in the story. But, more often than not, these playlists just serve as the cinematic soundtrack to the movie playing in my head.

Taylor Swift “Bad Blood”

Swift’s ode to betrayal and lost friendship was one of the first songs I thought about while writing Blackout. We open the novel in 1998, during Pete’s senior year of high school. And while the song was decades away from being released, Swift’s longing vocals and the song’s driving, droning backbeat make it relevant to any high school era - loaded with prickly emotions, overwrought drama and a need to cut deep and twist the knife.

Paul Simon “The Obvious Child”

“Why deny the obvious child?” One of Simon’s strongest solo album tracks, “The Obvious Child” is pure momentum - chugging forward on the back of what sounds like an army of drums, slowing thoughtfully as Simon taps the brakes to sing the plaintive bridge. Evocative and festive at once, the tune manages to evoke memories of pep rallies and the lonelier, more introspective moments of youth.

David Bowie “Right”

Sultry, funky and pulsing with rhythm and knowing bravado, this Bowie Young Americans track is a dance tune in wolf’s clothing, a shimmy step with a sharp coat of menace. Bowie yelps and croons his pleading, the polished soul of the song’s backing vocals and its memorable, sultry guitar groove give the listener a sense of impending - but extremely sexy - doom, which fit perfectly with the feeling I wanted readers to have at the close of Blackout’s first flashback chapters.

St. Vincent “New York” and “Teenage Talk”

Blackout finds Pete in hiding, in exile in New York, away from his friends, family and life, brooding over his past and living his present in neutral. These two St. Vincent songs capture that same sense of nostalgia - a longing for a simpler time, for the embrace of a long, lost lover - the “only motherfucker in the city who will…” fill the space haunting the narrator. Annie Clarke’s cascading vocals on “New York” pair nicely with the song’s somber but at the same time celebratory spirit. I placed “Teenage Talk" at the end of the playlist to serve as a kind of whispered coda to the whole novel, a remembrance of times past, “before we had made any terrible mistakes.”

Gloria Estefan “Get On Your Feet”

Few things are more Miami than Gloria Estefan, with or without her Miami Sound Machine backing band. And this track, unlike the others on the playlist, actually shows up in the book during a pivotal moment. Estefan’s tinny exhortations ride the wave of electronic drums and keyboard effects to create a much greater whole - perhaps her best, most heartfelt anthem. And, as readers will discover, the perfect campaign song for a potential gubernatorial run.

Liz Phair “Divorce Song”

“But if I’d known how that would sound to you / I would have stayed in your bed for the rest of my life.” Pete’s romantic life is loaded with failed relationships, unfortunate encounters, and bad decisions. Most hinge on his own nasty habits - drinking chief among them. Phair’s ode to friends stumbling into bed and the fallout that creates is especially relevant to Blackout, which finds Pete still reeling from a similar experience and unsure which way to go. Raw, honest and boasting a simple but classic rock-tinged arrangement that evokes the Stones as much as Phair’s indie contemporaries, “Divorce Song” ranks as one of the best anthems for bad romantic decisions, further proof that it’s “harder to be friends than lovers.”

Jenny Lewis “She’s Not Me”

In many ways the other side of “Divorce Song”’s relationship ballad coin, Jenny Lewis regretful ode to a failed romance is both honest and enjoyably snippy, taking ownership for her own failings while still snapping rubber bands at her ex’s willingness to settle for someone “easy.” The song plays to Lewis’s strengths - spotlighting her vocals and knack for surrounding herself with players well-steeped in late 60s/early 70s California rock conventions - gelling into a mournful song that still manages to crackle with a bit of optimism for what’s next. Feelings Pete Fernandez - and his partner, Kathy Bentley - are no stranger to.

Bruce Springsteen “Tougher Than the Rest”

I’ve always loved Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love album and feel it gets overlooked, especially when stacked against more beloved works like The River or Born in the USA. Though it features some dated, almost groan-worthy trappings (those drums!), the song, at its heart, epitomizes the best of the Boss - rough-hewn lyrics, workmanlike devotion and fearless honesty. The perfect companion song to a book about a recovering alcoholic trying to solve the murder of his high school crush, decades after the fact.

Fleetwood Mac “Tusk”

The climax of the book, without giving too much away, features a face-off of growing danger and proportions - much of it out of Pete’s control. I love how Buckingham’s manic, unstable vocals - and the witch-like backing vocals of Nicks and McVie - blend with the band’s lush guitar fingerpicking and the rolling backline to create a chaotic, carnival-like atmosphere, a sense of things coming unhinged and danger lurking in every corner. The perfect accompaniment to a man on the run and worried about his own survival.

Elvis Costello “God’s Comic”
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Death is Not the End”
Talking Heads “The Overload”

Blackout is a book about going back and sifting through the destruction caused in the hopes of finding a way forward. But it never guarantees what that path might be. I spent a lot of my time writing the book listening to songs about death and destruction, some darkly comedic, some dour and some just creepy as hell.

Costello’s tongue-in-cheek tune about death finds him at the peak of his powers, even if he’s lacking the oh-so-essential Attractions on this Spike track. Sharp, incisive wordplay (coming close to the line of excess but backpedaling in ways future Costello will not) dances along to the song’s almost child-like rhythms, lulling the listener into thinking they’re hearing about something much happier than The End.

Cave’s take is much more direct and funereal - a slow, plodding and somewhat hopeful ballad that doesn’t mince words, buoyed by a simple piano riff and a pair of memorable guest vocalist turns. The quiet chuckle heard as the wake winds down.

Esoteric, weird, sounding like a lost recording from another planet, “The Overload” closes out what many consider to be the Talking Heads’s best album, Remain in Light. From the ominous opening notes to the song’s droning, de Palma-like closing, the tune oozes finality and despair. Though something might come next, this song definitely signals the end of this chapter, which is what I wanted to signal with Blackout, too - a careening toward blackness, or, well, a blackout.


Alex Segura and Blackout links:

the author's website

Criminal Element review

Comics Beat interview with the author
Entertainment Weekly profile of the author
Hollywood Reporter interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Dangerous Ends
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Down the Darkest Street
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Silent City
Miami Herald profile of the author
Under the Radar interview with the author
Writer's Digest interview with the author


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)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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


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