One of my favorite series on the music and book blog Largehearted Boy is Book Notes, where authors create music playlists that somehow relate to their books. I find a lot of inspiration from music, especially when I am thinking about specific characters. I’ve been pursuing the story in one form or another that’s becoming my NaNoWriMo draft for about four or five years. Over the last few weeks the story has changed drastically, taking twists and turns I had never imagined when writing earlier incarnations.
I actually created a playlist for my original idea about a year and a half ago, when I finally decided that my story would be set in a very specific place and time: Odessa, Texas, in 1981. It just so happens that I lived in Odessa in 1981 (you might know Odessa from the movie or book Friday Night Lights, about the Permian Panthers high school football team), and like one of my main characters I was starting the seventh grade, but that’s mostly where the autobiographical material ends, with one exception: the music. I pulled together this soundtrack from what I remember as being popular around that time (1981 or earlier), what I heard on the radio (it was still AM then, with everything all mixed together), what I heard on the jukebox in the cafeteria at school, and what I heard in the cars of my friends’ older siblings as they drove us to football games.
My book is about two sisters, Melissa and Laurie Jenkins, who are both in junior high in 1981, when Melissa is abducted. Although she is returned unharmed, this event, followed by the brutal murder of a priest from a nearby town, sends a wave of change through the family, and will determine events that follow in their lives. That’s where it stands right now, anyway, and I am trying not to question it too much. It’s all a bit delicate, but I hope to have some excerpts to share by the weekend.
I was lucky I didn’t have to spend much time on this, because I am sure I could have avoided writing for many hours if I hadn’t already pulled most of this together. I have tweaked it a bit for certain characters, just by adding a few songs. Unfortunately, this isn’t the full list, either, but I think it’s a good representation. So, without further ado, my soundtrack for What Hope Looks Like to Other People:
AC/DC, “Back in Black.” Back in Black was released in the summer of 1980, and that fall the Permian Panthers won the Texas State Championship. This song became a sort of anthem for the team through the early 80s (I can’t say about later), and it would play over and over on the jukebox during lunch. The biggest thing for Laurie, who is in the ninth grade, is the fact that she will be going to Permian the following year. When the story begins, high school is like an end to her–the big finish, if you will. College is something vague and hazy, but to go to Permian–for those kids, it was like touching history. That’s how it is for Laurie.
Juice Newton, “Angel of the Morning.” This song works for the story on several levels. For Laurie, it’s a simple romantic song. For Melissa, it means being somebody special to someone, even if not in a romantic sense. For Pauline (their cousin, who has a somewhat major part to play), it represents a sort of desperate hope.
Bruce Springsteen, “Hungry Heart.” This is Melissa’s song for her father, who left three years before and lives in Houston, working for an oil company. She and Laurie visit him during the course of the story. He lives alone in a small apartment, so would not seem to fit the picture of philandering guy in the song, but he’s also a lonely romantic.
Cheap Trick, “Surrender.” This teen anthem works here mainly because Laurie wants so badly to surrender, while Melissa simply cannot. As she enters junior high, she watches her world and her friends change, and she has no idea where her place might be.
Rush, “Limelight.” This is one of those songs you might roll your eyes at now, but the album was released in March of 1981, and it was everywhere. The most popular song was “Tom Sawyer,” but I chose this one because I think again it speaks loudly to the struggles that not only the Jenkins sisters face growing up, but their family members and perhaps even the whole town. Midland/Odessa was experiencing a boom then, and they seemed primed to be the Dallas/Ft. Worth of West Texas, until the bottom fell out. The main question is, how does one go on?
ABBA, “Thank You for the Music.” I have a scene I am not sure will make it into the final draft, but I hope it does: Melissa and her best friend Darlene, in the fifth and sixth grade, would go to Darlene’s house after school every day and listen to The Album, making up performances for each other. When they enter junior high, their friendship shifts, and this is the song, which is a sort of farewell, that makes Melissa the most nostalgic for those days and their friendship.
Foreigner, “Blue Morning, Blue Day.” This song is for Melissa and Laurie’s cousin Pauline. Her character is not as well-drawn as the sisters at this point, but I know she is in her mid-20s, is divorced and has a child who has died.
Eddie Rabbit, “I Love a Rainy Night.” I sort of chose this song for the overall irony of the lyrics (“Showers wash all my cares away/I wake up to a sunny day”), but also for Laurie, who loves this song and who very much sees the world this way.
Roseanne Cash, “Seven Year Ache.” This is another song for Pauline, who meets and starts dating Eddie, a person who will have significant impact on their lives. This one also works on an ironic level…but I can’t say too much about it!
The Go Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed.” This is another song for Laurie, but I also chose it because it was one of the first sort of new wave song to hit the radio that year, and it signals a shift from the 70s into the 80s.
Genesis, “No Reply at All.” This song, off Abacab, drives a lot of the book. Basically, it’s a song about the inability to connect with someone, about feeling as though one is not seen or heard. It’s Melissa’s song, and she’s at the center of the story, even if the whole story is not hers. I think, in the end, she will control everything in the narrative.