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A Soundtrack for Walk Away

Walk Away by Sam Hawken

Whenever I’m working up a new book, whether it’s during the concept phase or during outlining, I start making a playlist to go with it. Eventually I start calling it a “soundtrack,” but it’s really only a playlist. I can only imagine how much I’d have to pay in licensing fees to make an honest-to-goodness soundtrack for every book I’ve written or published. But whatever the case, Walk Away is no exception.

The soundtracks never come together in exact order. They start with a seed song or two that capture a specific character or moment. Walk Away started with the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” because I knew the book would climax with a slam-bang action sequence, and when I thought of it “Sabotage” leapt right into my head. Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” followed quickly thereafter, signifying a critical moment toward the end of the book following the action, but you’ll notice it isn’t here. About midway through the editing process on the book, I realized Willie Nelson’s “The Maker” better fit the characters in the scene and the message I wanted to convey. So Dylan was out and Willie was in. I consider that a good trade.

It’s rare that I call out a song in the text itself, but occasionally I want so much for a reader to hear what I hear that I’ll name-check the artist or the title so the scene unspools as I imagine it. Such was the case with the Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba,” which is something of a douchebag anthem, but irresistibly catchy. It seemed like the perfect song to accompany Camaro beating the holy living s— out of someone, and so you’ll find direct reference to it in the book. Sorry for being so pushy.

Many of the songs you’ll find on this playlist become totally obvious in the context of reading the book. They are indicative of a place — like “Going to California,” or “All the Small Things” — or they attach directly to a character. I don’t think anyone can read Walk Away and not realize how George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love” connects to the book’s primary antagonist, Lukas Collier. Similarly, when the playlist opens with Larkin Poe and “Trouble in Mind,” you know that’s Camaro to the bone.

I chose some songs because they spoke the same language as Walk Away. Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” is a sorrowful tale of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, and Walk Away addresses this issue head-on. The victimized woman in “Better Man” has a far less salvific fate than Camaro’s sister, Annabel, but we can hope. And when you hear Tracy Chapman lament in “At This Point in My Life,” you know you’re hearing the interior voice of Camaro more clearly than she would ever allow. It is in these and many ways that I prime myself to tell the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it. If there’s an emotion to strike, sometimes there’s need of a boost to get there.

Of all the songs on the playlist, though, I think the one that communicates a sense of hope better than anything is the closing track from Everclear, “Santa Monica.” In Walk Away, Camaro goes through a serious grinder, not only physically, but emotionally. “Santa Monica” talks about coming into your own in a way you haven’t before, and I like to think the final moments of Walk Away convey that to the reader.

Enjoy listening once you’ve read. Tell me what you think.

A Soundtrack for The Highway Kind

The Highway Kind edited by Patrick Millikin

It was a thrill and an honor to work with such an exceptional group of writers for The Highway Kind, and, as music plays such a vital role to the theme and mood of the book I wanted to put together a soundtrack that captured its eccentric spirit. What I didn’t want was a collection of the familiar road songs that we all know; my hope was to take listeners on an interesting and fun musical journey. Whenever possible I matched songs with particular stories, and I made sure to take suggestions from the contributors. For instance, Joe Lansdale suggested Woody Guthrie’s “Car Song” as the perfect companion to his Depression-era tale of two East Texas kids on the road. Wallace Stroby suggested Dave Alvin’s wonderful “Interstate City,” while Gary Phillips contributed Rihanna’s “Shut Up and Drive.” Jim Sallis reminded me to include Robert Johnson’s seminal “Terraplane Blues.” Robin Trower’s “Daydream” features in George Pelecanos’s story and perfectly evokes its mood. Two of the contributors, Willy Vlautin and Patterson Hood, are also well-known musicians and songwriters, and I couldn’t resist giving them both a serious shout out here: Vlautin’s “Stateline” from his band The Delines’ sublime “Colfax” album perfectly fit the vibe I was looking for, and Hood (The Drive-By Truckers) graciously suggested his band mate Mike Cooley’s “Zip City.”

For better or worse, most of the other selections were my own. I hope you enjoy the playlist. I sure had fun putting it together…

A Soundtrack for Red Right Hand

Red Right Hand by Chris Holm

When people ask about my writing process, I usually describe it as “blind panic.” The fact is, my approach differs wildly from book to book. Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the story pours out of me, and sometimes getting words down is like pulling teeth. But there’s been one constant throughout: I can’t listen to music while I write.

That tends to make any book soundtrack I cook up something of an afterthought—but not this time. Though I still wrote in silence, music played a huge role in the genesis of Red Right Hand.

Obviously, I borrowed my title from the Nick Cave song of the same name. He was kind enough to grant me permission to use a quote from it as an epigraph; it appears alongside the Milton quote that, in turn, inspired him.

The Freewheelin' Bob DylanRed Right Hand’s opening chapter features a man attempting to recreate a photo taken of his parents on their honeymoon. That photo was based on the iconic cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, on which “Masters of War” appears. (My first draft even name-checked the album.) I chose that song in particular because the book grapples with the privatization—and monetization—of global security.

Dylan sneaks into the soundtrack a second time as the songwriter behind Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man.” It, too, appeared in an early version of the book, as the song Chet Yancey whistles at the end of chapter eighteen.

Neko Case’s “Knock Loud” is a cheeky homage to the weirdest meet-cute I’m ever likely to write, in which a retired gangster attempts to break into a wealthy ex-professor’s home.

Said retired gangster needed a distinguishing characteristic to tie his physical appearance to that of his younger self in the prologue. I was stumped as to what it should be until I took a walk and The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” popped up on shuffle.

As for the other tracks, each is resonant in its own way. A mood, an image, a phrase. But to tell you much more would be to dip into spoiler territory, so instead I’m gonna shut up and let you listen in peace.

Oh, one last thing: in an ideal world, this playlist would include Morphine’s “Take Me With You,” but Spotify failed me. Feel free to find it elsewhere and give it a spin.

Chris Holm is the author of the Collector trilogy, which blends crime and fantasy, and the Michael Hendricks thrillers. His first Hendricks novel, The Killing Kind, was nominated for an Anthony, a Barry, a Lefty, and a Macavity Award and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Boston Globe Best Book of 2015, and Strand Magazine’s #1 Book of 2015. Hendricks returns in Red Right Hand, now in bookstores. For more about Chris, including links to his Twitter profile and Facebook page, visit www.chrisholmbooks.com.

A Soundtrack for The Night Charter

The Night Charter by Sam Hawken

Music has been a part of Camaro Espinoza’s “life” since the very beginning, and different songs have, for me, come to represent her at different stages in her fictional existence. Whether it be Disturbed’s “Indestructible”—not featured here but essential listening—or White Zombie’s “Thunder Kiss ’65,” Camaro has found some of her inner life through musical expression.

The idea of a “soundtrack” for The Night Charter came early on. Between writing sessions I listen to music that speaks to me during the creative process, and little by little I begin to incorporate these into a playlist. That playlist carries the listener through The Night Charter stage by stage, from the free-spirited life Camaro enjoys on the seas (Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around the Bend”) to the moment she realizes she has managed to set herself and her young charge free (Mark Knopfler with “Get Lucky”).

Some songs here represent the characters themselves, such as the aforementioned “Thunder Kiss ’65,” which contains classic lines from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! that encapsulate Camaro perfectly—“I never try anything, I just do it. Wanna try me?” Meanwhile the melancholy Jimmy Buffett song, “Oldest Surfer on the Beach,” gives us Parker Story, the man whose youthful errors have brought him an old man’s troubles even though he’s not yet 40.

See Camaro on the titular night charter, making an exchange on the water to the eerie sounds of Fever Ray’s “Keep the Streets Empty for Me.” See her go to war as you listen to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” The final few songs in the playlist are building tension, a climax of violence set to The Prodigy’s “Breathe,” and then released with Pink Floyd’s “Sorrow.” Even anti-Castro group Alpha 66 gets its moment when Dire Straits’ “Ride Across the River” plays.

The playlist is eclectic, but every song has its place and, reading the book, you’ll be able to place them where they belong with ease. Enjoy.

A Soundtrack for The Killing Kind

The Killing Kind by Chris Holm

In a recent interview for The Life Sentence, I was asked (by an interviewer who knows damn well that I’m a music geek, on account of she’s my wife) what Michael Hendricks’s theme song would be. Here’s what I answered:

First of all, Michael would never pick himself a theme song; he’s way too self-serious for that. So I envision that question being fielded by his partner in crime, Lester Meyers, who’s a little more playful about their endeavor of killing people for money. Lester would choose James Brown’s “The Payback.” It’s a bouncy revenge tale. It’s funky. It’s interesting. If Hendricks were forced to choose his own theme song, it’d be darker, more morose. Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun,” maybe. It’s a menacing, sinuous anti-war tale. I also think Massive Attack’s “Protection” wouldn’t be a bad theme song for him. In fact, if The Killing Kind were a movie, you could put “The Payback” over the opening credits and “Protection” over the closing credits, since the latter’s built around a sample of the former.

Ever since, I’ve been wondering what a soundtrack for The Killing Kind would sound like. Its antagonist, Alexander Engelmann, takes pleasure in his bloody work, and demands something arch. Its action scenes require propulsive, energetic tracks. Special Agents Thompson and Garfield deserve a nod, at least. Our damaged antihero, Hendricks, longs for a woman whose love he feels he no longer deserves, so songs of heartbreak and longing are a must. And, of course, I need something gut-wrenchingly sad for that scene in which… well, you’ll see.

Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. His Collector trilogy, which blends fantasy with old-fashioned crime pulp, wound up on over forty Year’s Best lists. David Baldacci called his latest, the hitman thriller The Killing Kind, “a story of rare, compelling brilliance.” Chris lives in Portland, Maine.

What Tozer Plays: A Playlist from She’s Leaving Home by William Shaw

She's Leaving Home by William Shaw

London, 1968: the time and place evoke strong sense memories, but in William Shaw’s new novel, not everything is swinging. The police are called to a residential street in St. John’s Wood where an unidentified young woman has been murdered. Detective Cathal Breen and policewoman Helen Tozer, two investigators on opposite sides of a generational divide, must work together to solve the case. Shaw describes what WPC Tozer would listen to in his note below.

Police culture was very different in 1968. A lot of this was to do with the fact that the police lived communally, in police flats or section houses.

WPC Tozer lives in Pembridge House, the Women’s Section House just off the Bayswater Road. She shares a room with another policewoman. They squabble over what records they put on. Her roommate likes Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdink. She like The Beatles, but doesn’t think much of The White Album.

When she’s alone, this is what Tozer plays. You can listen to some of these songs through the Spotify player above.

Tune In to Weaponized

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti with David Guggenheim

Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim’s globe-trotting suspense novel about a government contractor in exile went on sale this week, and if you were one of the book’s early readers, you know why Universal Pictures snapped up the film rights so quickly: Weaponized is a lush, rollicking tale, just as much immersed in the exotic cities of Cambodia as it is in the troubling consequences of government surveillance gone awry. It’s a story that begs to be seen as much as read. But what would the soundtrack for that movie be? Here to offer a playlist is none other than Nicholas Mennuti himself. You can listen to some of these songs through the Spotify player above.

Depeche Mode – “Barrel of A Gun”
Depeche Mode has always been one of my top five bands and their Violator album has exalted status on my list of desert island discs. “Barrel of A Gun” actually comes from their Ultra album—which, in my humble opinion, is their best after Violator, and may also be their darkest album overall (which means it’s dark). “Barrel of A Gun” will put you in the right frame of mind for Weaponized before you even crack the spine.

UNKLE – “Lonely Soul”
One of the greatest songs about isolation ever recorded. The beat is all jangly electro and the vocals by The Verve’s Richard Aschroft are haunting. One refrain sums up Weaponized better than I ever could: “I’m gonna die in a place that don’t know my name.”

Planningtorock – “I’m Your Man”
Planningtorock is actually just Janine Rostron, an experimental British musician who distorts the vocals in her songs to play around with gender identity and to better suit the mood of each individual track. It sounds heavy—it isn’t; you can dance to it. She’s done some softer beats, but “I’m Your Man” is pure paranoia all the way. It’s not easy listening, but neither is Kyle’s journey in Weaponized, and this track helped me set the mood for his inner monologues.

Jerry Goldsmith – “Basic Instinct – Main Title Theme”
After Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith—to me—is the greatest Hollywood composer of all time, and Basic Instinct has one of his signature scores. If Robinson ever had theme music, this would be it: slinky, seductive, and dangerous as hell. Also, bonus points to this score for having the second greatest simulated orchestral orgasm after Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”.

Chemical Brothers – “Container Park”
Film music has undergone many metamorphoses over the years, but hiring Daft Punk to score Tron:Legacy was a big one. Hollywood has never known what to do with electronic music, even when it embraced the synthesizer in the 80’s, but Daft Punk changed that. Since then, Orbital, Hybrid, M83, and others have made excursions into film scoring—but none with the force of The Chemical Brothers in the score for Joe Wright’s Hanna. Try listening to “Container Park” and not feel the danger.

Muse – “MK Ultra”
I don’t want to call Muse a guilty pleasure, but I kind of have to. It’s the best arena rock of the 2000s. I unabashedly love this song and can’t decide whether it’s because of the song itself or just the title—but either way I listened to it fairly regularly while writing the CIA sections in Weaponized.

David Bowie – “I’m Afraid of Americans”
Earthling was Bowie’s big late-90’s comeback album wherein he fully embraced electro, sort of like Madonna’s William Orbit–stamped “Ray of Light.” No playlist I construct would lack Bowie, but this song’s special even for the master himself and really contributed to the paranoid lost soul quality of Kyle in Weaponized.

John Murphy – “Mercado Nuevo”
In my opinion, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice is the most underrated film of the 2000s, and by extension, so is John Murphy’s propulsive score. Murphy’s done memorable work for Danny Boyle—28 Days Later and Sunshine—but his work for Mann really shines. “Mercado Nuevo” is the perfect music for driving into denied territory, exactly what Kyle and Lara spend a lot of time doing in Weaponized.

Public Image, Ltd – “The Order of Death”
Public Image Ltd was John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) first band after the Sex Pistols ended and is considered by many—me included—to be the first and potentially the best “post-rock” band. This particular track may be their crowning achievement and sets the mood for the last few chapters of Weaponized—that’s all I can say.

Tangerine Dream – “Thru Metamorphic Rocks”
I’ve got a serious spot in my heart for 70s and 80s Krautrock, and it doesn’t get much more epic than Tangerine Dream. This track is close to fifteen minutes long—my favorite part comes in at around five minutes in. I listened to it obsessively while writing the first time Kyle and CIA agent Tom Fowler encounter each other in a hotel room. Read the chapter and you’ll see why…

Thievery Corporation – “The Forgotten People”
Choosing a Thievery Corporation track is as much about celebrating how much all their music contributed to Weaponized as it is a public service announcement. No band has gotten me laid more consistently than Thievery Corporation (maybe Massive Attack did, too, I have to think). So listen to this track, which I did, while writing the early Phnom Penh scenes in Weaponized, or just buy the whole album Radio Retaliation and thank me later.

Wang Chung – “City of the Angels”
This is another epic action track, over nine minutes; my favorite part kicks in just over one minute in. This was Lara’s theme music for me, particularly when it came time for her to start shooting people. Also To Live and Die in L.A., directed by William Friedkin, is one of my favorite films ever. Don’t let the 80s prejudice you or the fact it’s by Wang Chung dissuade you—this is film scoring of the highest order.

Lauren Beukes’s Writing Music

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

It’s publication day for The Shining Girls, and after you tear through Lauren Beukes’s genre- and time-bending thriller, you might ask yourself, How did she do that? We’ll leave the full explanation to Beukes—it involves “murder walls” and a mind-boggling amount of research—but we can share the music that propelled her writing. Below, she tells us what she listened to while writing The Shining Girls. You can listen to some of these songs through the Spotify player above.

Working with words means I can’t listen to music that has words. I like up-tempo electronica with a dark, lush verve and the capacity to surprise you. Nothing too glitchy or doef-doef or monotonously predictable. These are albums rather than individual songs and I know I’ve left off a whole bunch, not least because Pandora isn’t available in South Africa, so I’m stuck with the albums I’ve bought. These were the ones that were on heaviest rotation while I was writing the book.

  • Amon Tobin: Foley Room
  • Markus Wormstorm: Not I, But A Friend (by my friend Markus Wormstorm)
  • The Parlour Trick: A Blessed Unrest (by my friend Meredith Yayanos)
  • Aperture Science: Portal 2 Soundtrack
  • The Chemical Brothers: Hanna Soundtrack
  • Haezer: Yazi
  • Massive Attack: 100th Window
  • The Real Estate Agents: 1
  • Sibot: In With The Old

Songs That Evoke The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Writers find inspiration everywhere: at the movies, through their headphones, or unfolding before them in real life. Lauren Beukes, whose forthcoming novel The Shining Girls has been recommended by the Evening Standard to those with “a Gone Girl shaped hole in your life,” has assembled here a playlist of songs that brought her book to life. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” by Skip James (1931)
A song about the Depression and people drifting from door to door.

“Talkshow Host” by Radiohead
I think this is my all-time favourite song. It’s so dark and beautiful. It really captures the mood of the book.

“Torched Song” by Claudia Brucken (feat. The Real Tuesday Weld)
Harper carries a bit of a torch for all his shining girls. And Kirby definitely has one for him.

“Qu’est-ce Que C’est” by Mad Rad
It’s a song that seems to have been written for The Shining Girls. The lyrics are ridiculously perfect.

“Rabbit In Your Headlights” by UNKLE
I love the sense of impending doom, the dark, luscious beauty of the song.

“Private Lawns” by Angus & Julia Stone
Love this sultry remix of Windy City and Chicago’s private lawns, public parks.

“Black Heart” by Calexico
Dark and lovely and haunting and some of the lyrics are perfect: “Scratched in metal, name erodes away / hands are scarred, heart is charred / burnt through, and ashen.”

“The Fragile” by Nine Inch Nails
“She shines in a world full of ugliness… I won’t let you fall apart.” I think Dan Velasquez and Trent Reznor are on the same page, although don’t tell Dan that.

“Splitting the Atom” by Massive Attack
The lyrics pick up on some of the key parts of the novel: the mention of incandescent light at doors, the needle sticks, as on Harper’s gramophone, “We killed the time and I love you dear” and all the talk of particles is very time travel.

“All Hail Me” by Veruca Salt (1994)
I think Kirby would have loved Veruca Salt and Chicago’s alt rock scene in general.

“And He Slayed Her” by Liz Phair (2012)
Murder songs about girls are easy to find, but I love Liz Phair’s “And He Slayed Her,” a vigilante justice song that also questions what kind of man would do this. And hey, another stalwart of the 90s Chicago alternative scene.

Songs from The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Reading The Shining Girls sends us careening through the twentieth century as we chase Harper, a time-traveling killer, from one era of Chicago to the next. Whenever we land, Lauren Beukes crafts a richly atmospheric scene, accurate right down to the music. Below, Beukes walks us through some of the songs mentioned in The Shining Girls. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Somebody from Somewhere” by George and Ira Gershwin (1931)
It’s the sweet Gershwin showtune the violent drifter Harper hears as he staggers through the city streets, led by the flickering street lights to the House which will change everything. The lyrics are particularly resonant to the shining girls he will track down and kill “somebody from somewhere, for nobody but me.”

“Pistol Packing Momma” by Al Dexter (1943)
Along with Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, Al Dexter is one of the albums on heavy rotation playing over the speakers at the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company as welder Zora Ellis Jordan heads home for the day in 1943, thinking about troublesome young Blanche who says she’s in love with her.

“Get It While You Can” by Janis Joplin (1971)
Off the album Pearl, which pioneering music pirate and abortionist Margo Cooper recorded onto an early tape deck in Jane’s living room in 1972. It becomes the theme song for Julia Madrigal’s boyfriend after she’s murdered in 1984. He sees it as a provocation to seize the day, but he grabs on to all the wrong things.

“A Sunday Kind of Love” by Ella Fitzgerald (1947)
Alice Templeton has never recovered from the shock of love-at-first-sight with the intense stranger with the limp at the State Fair in 1940. She’s spent the last ten years daydreaming about being reunited with him in scenarios influenced by the movies. She wants to find the kind of love that lasts past Saturday night. But when Harper does come for her, finally, it’s not what she expected at all.

“All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)” by Ace of Bace (1993)
It’s the song biologist Mysha Pathan is rocking out to late one night in her lab at Milkwood Pharmaceuticals, singing along so loud that she doesn’t hear the man in the dark sports coat come in behind her.

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