LUCY BURDETTE: If you love music, and you love the dark side of crime fiction, you will love today's post from Red friend Naomi Rand. She's introducing a new anthology called CRIME PLUS MUSIC. I'll let her tell it...welcome Naomi!
NAOMI RAND: People love to say that modern life comes complete with its own soundtrack. The same goes for the twenty stories in a new collection, CRIME PLUS MUSIC out this week from Three Rooms Press. The book, edited by mystery writer and Wall Street Journal music reviewer Jim Fusilli has gotten great pre-pub reviews. We talked to Jim and four of the twenty contributors, David Liss, Naomi Rand, Alison Gaylin and Gary Phillips.
Why the mix of music and crime, Jim?
JIM FUSILLI: I had been thinking about doing a short-story collection of my own on the theme. I’ve done a few stories for other anthologies, and I had the sections on the “Sinatra” character in my novel “Narrows Gate,” which was set in the war years, so I thought I could cover a lot of ground and a lot of different kinds of music. But I realized it would be a fun project if I asked writers who I knew loved music to participate. I knew it would be a more diverse collection than if I did it on my own. It would be more fun for readers.
LUCY: Naomi, your story is about sexual assault. Is there a reason you chose this theme?
NAOMI: Growing up in New York City when I did, you had to learn pretty early to deal with the way strange men interacted with you. Catcalls were really the least of it. I developed a definite attitude in order to defend myself from harassment. Not that it always worked. It’s a theme that resonates with me. So much so, in fact, that it’s central to my new stand-alone mystery, Girl Out of Time. As for the story I wrote, The Misfits, when Jim asked me to be part of the collection I thought of an excellent piece by Jason Cherkis that was written for HuffPost. It’s about Jackie Fox who was in the Runaways. She was sexually assaulted by their manager, raped in public and then had to leave the band. There were all sorts of stories told about it at the time, but now the truth has finally come out. I took that as the jumping off point. I will say that the beauty of writing it as fiction is that I got to write the ending my way.
NAOMI: David, your main character gains surprising strength from listening to music. It’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde story. Is that what you see music doing, changing the listener in some basic way?
DAVID LISS: I'd say that our identification with music can sharpen our emotions or resolve. I think this is especially true for younger people, who often feel like songs are directly "speaking" to them, but to some degree, that capacity to identify with a song or songs never really goes away. Of course, you can argue that the same can be said for books, film, the visual arts, but unlike other media, music is both external and deeply personal. The ambiguity of lyrics and the unquantifiable emotional impact of tune and instrumentation and arrangement all allow for much more interpretation. So, in my story, I don't think that the music pushes my character in any direction, so much as he draws strength and determination from a song that he feels mirrors his psychological state.
NAOMI: Gary, your story is a surreal trip down memory lane that features a reckoning with your main character’s past. You chose to write from the point of view of a musician, can you talk about that, and what led you to take him on that particular journey?
GARY PHILLIPS: The musician in my story, Church Gibson, is inspired by the late Rick James, the King of Funk. Here was a cat who started out to be the next Hendrix and had finger-popping songs topping the charts and headlining arenas. As is too often the case in such lives, he couldn’t escape his demons, his excesses. Not only did he have a stroke, not helped by the copious amounts of cocaine he abused, but he’d also done time for, a la Misery, imprisoning and beating a woman in his Hollywood Hills pad. Who better then to model a very flawed individual with regrets and this soundtrack he’s been hired to compose is a way for him to redeem himself?
NAOMI: Allison, your story features the punk scene, specifically the band X which was/is fronted by a strong woman lead singer. Considering the theme of the story, it definitely resonates. Tell us a little more about that.
ALISON GAYLIN: I've been a fan of X ever since I was a teenager, and one of the big things that resonated with me about the band back then was Exene Cervenka -- she was so tough and cool in a way that many female 80s pop stars weren't. She had this wonderful brassy voice and I loved the way she harmonized with John Doe, and they both were such great writers. Their lyrics are incredible. The song mentioned in my short story, Johnny Hit and Run Paulene, is about a man who begins attacking women after taking a drug that makes him need to have sex every hour on the hour. It's an incredibly disturbing and upsetting song and, I thought, a great basis for a female revenge story.
NAOMI: Music is a big part of many people’s lives. How about you? Do you have your own personal playlist? Has music ever led you to discover something unexpected in yourself?