Novel Soundtracks: Characters come to life with music

I don’t know how to explain how I came to writing about this today, but I’ll try.


Joyce Carol Oates

About a month or so ago, I was searching the University of San Francisco’s website on Joyce Carol Oates to do a bit of research for my other blog, A Year With JCO. Fumbling around the pages, I knew there was a section for her future appearances, but it had been a while since it was last updated that I didn’t really expect to see anything different when I clicked on it.

But, lo, was I mistaken.

Among almost a dozen appearances all over California, two in Washington state and Massachusetts: April 19, 2013 (University of) Evanston, IL.

I know it’s cliché to describe it like this, but I have to. My heart sank into my stomach. I became nauseated. I think I may have even started tearing up. Was the writer who I admire beyond words and recognition be in the same state as me?! Would I really have the opportunity to see her and be in the same room as her?! I stalked the Northwestern University (since there technically isn’t a “University of Evanston,” but Northwestern is the big university in that town) calendar. Nothing. Maybe an error? Maybe they don’t want to announce it yet, even though it’s three months away? Who knows. Either way, my Google Calendar had that day blocked out for Joyce Carol Oates. Yes, the whole day.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon HarperCollins’ author tours page. JCO’s tour dates in California, Washington and Massachusetts were there, but not Illinois. My world slightly shattered. I was less myself the rest of the afternoon. Okay, okay. That’s a tad over-dramatic, but I was bummed when I found out.

So today, I was looking up book tours in general, but couldn’t find a site that I felt had what I was looking for. Then I searched other authors I would hope to see on a book tour. I googled “David Nicholls.” He wrote One Day, a book where each chapter takes place on the same day in sequential years and show the relationship of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew develop and change over the years. It’s not a “typical” love story, I suppose. It’s more a story about growing up, staying friends, fighting, loving, getting hurt, moving on, and living. This book means a lot to me and is significant to my life in a way that I cannot explain. It’s characters, their actions, they way they interact with each other, their story—I carry them with me.

Like I said, I googled “David Nicholls.” His website was the first search result, obviously. Clicked on it, and a bright orange button appeared on the right-hand side underneath his picture that read “Emma Morley’s Mix Tape.”

Pause. Wait. What?

one-dayNicholls explains that one person asked “what’s on the rest of those mix tapes that Emma makes for Dexter (one in 1989, one in 2000).” so he pursued finishing that list. “So here they are,” Nicholls writes, “muddled up and in over-extended form. Emma has a fine record collection, and far better taste than Dexter, and this could have been two-hundred songs long.”

You’re probably asking, what’s the point? Why am I writing about this “discovery?” Well, friends, it’s because I can admire when an author takes a question from a reader and works it into something substantial, as though the characters were real. Most stories don’t need a sequel, even though readers want to see how that “happily ever after” plays out or if a “happy ever after” will ever be reached. Authors know that sequels shouldn’t happen. It could only ruin the beautiful story they have created unless there is absolutely is another story that involves these characters and their new lives, and that story needs to be told. However, removing the characters from the world of their story and have a snapshot, like a mix tape or a sketch book, placed in our reality is something uniquely beautiful that I can appreciate. For me, that shows the author is versatile and can appreciate his characters as individuals.

And I wish I could tell you all which songs on this playlist resonate with me the most, but I haven’t been able to dedicate the 5 hours it would take to listen to them all. But rest assured there are great songs on this playlist. The ones that struck me so far include Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye,” Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy,” PJ Harvey’s “This is Love,” just to name a few. Be sure to check it out yourself.

So, quick recap on how we got here:
Joyce Carol Oates –> Joyce Carol Oates’s book tour –> general book tours –> David Nicholls –> One Day‘s Emma Morley’s mix tape –> here, blogging.

See? Easy to follow.

If you haven’t, read One Day. If you haven’t, visit my other blog.


Update 4/22/13: The USF website has been updated. University of Evanston (IL) is actually University of Evansville (IN). “Friday, April 19, 2013: Evansville, IN. University of Evansville.” I both can and cannot see how this confusion has happened. One is a very ritzy city north of Chicago, the other is southern Indiana. Notice the lack of excitement in the latter. Just sayin’.

* Copyright to images belong to original copyright owner. Incorporation of images does not intend to infringe upon rights of copyright owner.

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