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June 12, 2018

Lee Martin's Playlist for His Short Story Collection "The Mutual UFO Network"

The Mutual UFO Network

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.

Lee Martin explores the connections that bind us to each other in his short story collection The Mutual UFO Network.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Martin cleverly exposes the fractures between husbands and wives, family and friends, in these twelve excellent stories of people lying to themselves because the truth is too painful to admit...a vivid, emotionally precise collection."

In his own words, here is Lee Martin's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection The Mutual UFO Network:

In 1996, I published my first book, a story collection called The Least You Need to Know. I was of a generation of writers who believed in the power of a well-told short story. What I discovered after publishing that first book, though, was that editors wanted to see a novel. I have to confess that I never meant to write one, nor did I think that I'd eventually begin writing creative nonfiction, but that's exactly what happened. Now, twenty-two years, five novels, three memoirs, and a craft book later, I'm pleased to say that Dzanc Books is publishing my second story collection, The Mutual UFO Network.

I never stopped writing short stories, you see, and finally the time was right to bring out this second collection. The oldest story in the collection was first published in 1997. The most recent story appeared in 2014. Putting the collection together provided an interesting trip through that seventeen-year time span. I'd like to introduce you to my new book with a playlist that highlights some of the stories and their connections to songs that were popular at the time of each story's publication. By so doing, I'm hoping to give you a sense of where we were socially, culturally, and perhaps even politically over the past seventeen years.

1997: "Candle in the Wind"/ "Something about the Way You Look Tonight" by Elton John

This song, originally written in memory of Marilyn Monroe, found a new audience in 1997 with the death of Princess Diana. Elton John performed a rewritten version at Diana's Westminster Abbey funeral service, and the song enjoyed a second popularity as part of a double A-sided single, along with "Something about the Way You Look Tonight." The simultaneous combination of loss and love that this song pairing evokes is the same feeling in my story, "Bad Family," a story about a Chinese woman who finds herself mailing threatening messages to her ex-husband and his new wife even while offering them a place to live when the fear becomes too great for them. At the end of the story, the woman, Lily, remembers cutting letters from newspapers, and she comes to a startling realization: "She sees the letters in her mind, scrambled, swirling, into words she hadn't thought to form: ‘LOVE,' ‘ME,' ‘NOW.'" This is a story about the homes we make when the ones we thought were ours disappear.

1998: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith

In March of 1998, NASA announced that the Clementine probe had found enough water in polar craters to support a human colony and a rocket fueling station on the moon. Our vision was still skyward. On the silver screen, Armageddon, told the story of a group of deep-core drillers sent to stop a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with Earth. This Aerosmith song provided the power ballad for the love story in the film. Apparently we still believed in love even in the shadow of coming disaster. Sometimes we believe what we believe, as is the case in the title story from my collection. "The Mutual UFO Network" tells the story of a teenage boy whose family has come apart because of his father's business that markets fake videotapes meant to provide evidence of extraterrestrial life. "I began to wonder," the teenage narrator says at one point, "what would happen if someone you thought you knew slipped away into another world. How far would love carry you if you wanted to follow? What if that person turned out to be you?"

1999: "Livin' La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin's song began the Latin pop explosion of 1999. "She'll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain," so says one of the lyrics. Indeed, in 1999, we were living the crazy life. In January of that year, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, who first claimed he "did not have sexual relations with that woman—Miss Lewinsky"—began. A cigar, a semen-stained blue dress. What may have been private in the philandering of past presidents was now on the evening news. The private meets the public in my story, "White Dwarfs," a story about a man whose wife has gone missing. At the end of the story, the man, after boxing up his wife's clothing to take to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, fantasizes about one day coming upon a woman wearing some of those clothes. "He liked to think that he and this woman might pass someday on the street, and he would stand there, amazed, unable to tell her how thankful he was that out of all the possible junctions in the universe they had ended up there, the two of them, moving for just that instant, at last, through the same space."

2000: "Breathe" by Faith Hill

Y2K. Remember the anxiety and dread? Power grids would shut off, planes would fall from the sky, computers would crash, banks would fail. It would be THE END OF THE WORLD. Only it wasn't. We entered the new year without a glitch, and finally, we could breathe a sigh of relief. Faith Hill's song captures the purity of breath, the purity of love. Belle, the elderly widow at the center of my story, "Love Field," encounters a feisty young girl who challenges her perception of love. This story of accommodation and sacrifice ends with Belle recalling when she and her husband lived near the Dallas airport, Love Field, and the racket the planes made. "What can we do?" her husband had said with a shrug of his shoulders. "So little us. So much Love." Sometimes, as with my character, Belle, a tick of the clock takes us, not to the disaster we've feared, but to a moment of goodness.

2003: "Forever and for Always" by Shania Twain

Our country, particularly my native rural Midwest was in the midst of a methamphetamine nightmare, and our post-9/11 world had challenged our connections to one another. My story, "Dummies, Shakers, Barkers, Wanderers," along with my 2005 story, "The Dead in Paradise," uses the meth epidemic as a way of looking at what persists when it comes to love in times of trial. In "The Dead in Paradise" a grieving father lets greed get the best of him only to realize that, when it comes to money, "there's never enough of it to stop all the heartache in the world and never enough of it to stop us from trying." In "Dummies, Shakers, Barkers, Wanderers," a mother refuses to turn away from her addicted son. "She told herself there were days and days ahead of them—days and weeks and months and years—time enough for anything to happen." Shania Twain's song speaks of a similar devotion.

2010: "Can't Be Tamed" by Miley Cyrus

A new generation had arrived, one that refused to be silenced, refused to, as Miley Cyrus made clear, be tamed. We'd also fully reached the era of social media which became—and continues to be, despite its problems and risks, an influential tool for those millennials no longer willing to tolerate injustice. My story, "Drunk Girl in Stilettos" came about one night in Nacogdoches, Texas, when my wife, after a drink at an outdoor jazz concert, stumbled in her high heels. "Guess I'm just a drunk girl in stilettos," she said. It was the first time I wrote a story to fit a title. The young girl in my story, assisted by a recovering alcoholic, refuses to be tamed. What's more, she refuses to be stereotyped. She shows up hung over on the day of her father's wake to be reunited with her mother who's threatened to disown her. The narrator says, "I just remember seeing her mama easing up beside her at the casket. She put her arms out and gathered her in, her little girl—the one she'd sworn she'd disown—and they held onto each other."

2014: "Say Something" by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera

In 2014, the GOP took control of the Senate in the midterm elections. Also that year, a police officer shot an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, one of many such unfortunate stories to come. We were on the doorstep of where we are now as far as human rights. We were about to witness the Black Lives Matter movement, the Me Too movement, the Time's Up movement, and the March for Our Lives. We stand now in a polarized and chaotic world. "Say Something," a song that expresses a desperate plea for love seems particularly timely, so much so that it seems the perfect song for my story "A Man Looking for Trouble," even though that story is set in 1972. A boy and girl find love in the shadow of the illicit affair between his mother and her father. A set of tragic circumstances makes it impossible for that love to continue. The ugliness of the adult world intrudes and ruins everything. At the end of the story, the girls' grandparents have arrived to take her away from this little Illinois town. The boy and girl are embracing for the last time. "And we had that instant longer," the boy says. "That instant alone at the end of a story that was never meant to be ours."

The characters in The Mutual UFO Network may seem alien to one another, but always the desire for connection beats in their hearts. These stories share what I hope we as a people share, the persistence to find love even in times of trouble.

Lee Martin and The Mutual UFO Network links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia page

Kirkus review
PopMatters review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Break the Skin
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Bright Forever

also at Largehearted Boy:

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