Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Crime Plus Music

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?

Crime Plus Music’s  line-up includes a stellar cast of mystery writers, among them Val McDermid, Peter Blauner, and Erica Wright. And there are contributors who have deep roots in the world of pop music, Galadrielle Allman, (Duane’s daughter), and Willy Vlautin (who fronts the band Richmond Fontaine.)


  1. The book sounds fascinating, Naomi, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I love music. My personal playlist includes Il Divo, Jackie Evancho, and Julie London . . . .

  2. Thanks Joan. Currently obsessed with Frank Ocean but I am now going to look these three up.

  3. The book sounds wonderful - congratulations, Naomi & Jim!

    I'm such a philistine when it comes to music -- Mozart and Hayden and Bach and Vivaldi are my go-to guys. Then the Beach Boys. I did wake up enough to notice Taylor Swift. So un-unhip, I know.

    I don't have a play list because music gets stuck in my head and keeps me up at night. Really.

  4. Hallie, Jim will love that you love the Beach Boys. He wrote a book about them I believe, wearing his non fiction hat. And I will admit to liking Taylor Swift along with Mozart. It gets stuck in your head and keeps you up? Good to know. And thanks for including us here.

  5. How serendipitous that this topic comes up after yesterday's lauding of Bel Canto.

    My music taste is as eclectic as my reading choices. For years I cleaned house to a loud rendition of Beethoven's 9th or Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto, great chestnuts. Stravinsky I saved for other endeavors (smile).

    And the Beatles for pure happiness.

    And Patsy Cline for groveling.

    Now my favorites are choral music and opera. Or the sound of my partner Julie singing anything in her magnificent mezzo.

  6. This is an amazing collection of stories, so I hope that readers will give it a shot. So many great short story anthologies out there - I'm sure some of these stories will be contenders for awards next year.

  7. Thank you Kristopher! Take heed readers. . . and reasonably priced too . . .

  8. Ann, Love that you put Patsy Cline in for groveling! I have to say that my favorite thing lately is to hear music live. I should have asked about people's favorite concert experiences . . .

  9. These anthologies are a great way to discover new--to me--authors. Just dip your toes into a short story and find yourself making another list of authors whose books need to be searched out.

    My musical soundtrack--lots of 60s-70s-early 80s pop music--Beatles, CS&N, Nick Drake, Joan Armatrading, Joanie Mitchell, James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Rodney Crowell, Gordon Lightfoot, a little opera, lots of Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and Bach, some Texas swing, Irish fiddle music, and some Ry Cooder. Lots of stuff, I guess. Keeps me moving.

  10. Great soundtrack F Church! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  11. Flora, I could easily listen to your playlist! I'm a terrible luddite too, when it comes to music. I will listen in the car or in performance, but at home I love blessed silence. Unless it's Christmas--then the Messiah or EmmyLou Harris's carols!

  12. Oh, this is SO terrific, what a brilliant idea! Cannot wait to read.

    And I couldn't possibly list all my faves and go-tos--but suffice it to say my main Pandora station is called "Paul Simon Radio"--and I have others called "Judy Collins Radio" and "Lido Shuffle Radio" and "Goldberg Variations Radio" and "Beatles Radio" and "Emmylou Harris Radio."

  13. I took piano and violin lessons for years, so music is in my DNA, I think. My tastes are all over the place, depending on my mood. This morning was the Beatles because I needed a shot of happiness.

    I have discovered, however, that I can't listen to classical in the car. So soothing it puts me to sleep, which is not good when you are trying to navigate rush hour.

  14. Good one Mary! My dad used to listen to classical music in the car so whenever I listen it brings me back to those long rides. WQXR was his station of choice.

  15. Hi Naomi--what a great idea for an anthology! Can't wait to read.

    I came home from a long weekend in California to find the new Green Day release, Revolution Radio, waiting for me (it came out Friday.) Can't wait to see what they've done after a long (and hopefully sober on Billy Joe Armstrong's part) hiatus. But I can listen until I'm doing chores or fixing lunch, because I can't do anything that requires thinking and listen to music at the same time. Very annoying!

    I listen to everything from classical to punk to New Orleans jazz (brought home CD by Tuba Skinny, Laura Lippman's favorite band that I got to see in NOLA.) And I am a HUGE Paul Simon fan.

  16. Thank you Deborah! I listen while I'm taking my walk every day. It makes the time pass, and makes me forget I'm forcing myself to exercise. Punk? Interesting. . .