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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is fashion writer, stylist and author Amanya Maloba @Amanya_M
Soundtrack by Erykah Badu, Tyler The Creator, Peter Tosh, Outkast, Shabazz Palaces, Q-Tip, Florence + the Machine
I’m a notorious lone wolf — I spend most of the day alone. I’m also an avid people-watcher and work best surrounded by movement and chaos. How do I reconcile these traits? People repellents, also known as large headphones, large sunglasses, and an unwavering jawline. These allow me the ability to situate myself in bustling environments and maintain my inner solitude and concentration, without the distractions of small talk. This also means that most of my day is characterized by a continuous flow of music, affecting my disposition and writing. Most of the vignettes in my collection, Harvest, were written as direct results of the combination of the thoughts circulating in my mind with a lyric or mood from one of the many songs I listen to. Though Harvest emerged as a unified collection, the music that inspired it is far from cohesive.
Harvest follows a young girl, Sukari, as she navigates through different spaces and times, learning about herself through her past, present, and future worlds. I wrote many of the pieces while living abroad in London and traveling throughout Europe, so this sense of transience is one that I’m intimate with. Traveling has always brought me comfort knowing that I get to escape from one place and step into the unknown adventures of a new place. Conversely, constant movement generates a certain sense of anxiety, between wondering if my physical self will be safe in the new place, if my soul will be over or under stimulated, and, of course, the dread that arises when your heart longs for someone thousands of miles away and wondering if they feel the same about you. Window Seat by Erykah Badu conveys the simultaneous comfort and anxiety that comes from wanting to escape, and begs the question whether the constant movement comes from a place of bravery or cowardice. I like to think it’s a bit of both, and like Badu’s voice, the prospect of leaving is at once haunting and mystical.
One of my favorite pieces in Harvest, Dinner is Served (Karibu), is also the most honest and unapologetic. My intention was to write it in such a way that, depending on how much you identify with the protagonist, you’ll either feel like someone is preaching your truth or feel uncomfortable in recognising your role as the perpetrator.
I will kill you with every bite you take, but you will continue to eat because I am the finest cuisine you’ve ever had. I will be your last meal. Dinner is served.
Yonkers by Tyler The Creator echoes the same unapologetic declaration of self between the minimalism of the beat and the (arguably) shocking lyrics. Though I don’t co-sign all of the lyrics, the idea of making people who so desperately want to consume you, your aesthetic, and your culture uncomfortable is one that I do support. The beat of Yonkers along with Tyler’s vocal delivery make you want to nod your head and enjoy the song, however this is nearly impossible if you’re actually listening to the lyrics. This is something that I wanted to achieve with Dinner is Served (Karibu), and to some extent, Harvest as a whole. As a writer I feel no obligation to entertain — I’m not here to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. My job is convey the truth to the best of my ability regardless of whether the reader feels hurt in facing it.
Another one of my favorite vignettes is Complaints from Five Guests of Heaven. The piece is comprised of five different complaints from guests staying at the mythical hotel. Each of room numbers corresponds to the assassination dates of radical thinkers and activists that I admire. I chose to have these people issue complaints that are in keeping with the manner in which they were killed or their beliefs to show that though many people admire them posthumously, their theories and legacies are largely still being disrespected, making it impossible for them to rest in peace. Mystic Man by Peter Tosh is a song not only referenced in the piece, but is also applicable to the nature of any truly great person. The notion of being rooted at once in the past, present, and future expresses the fluidity of time and also the power of thinking beyond the constricting notions of time. Even though these people were physically murdered (directly or indirectly) for their philosophies, their words and power are still present, confirming Tosh’s conviction that he’s a man of the future.
Another theme that runs throughout Harvest is encountering and navigating young love. I’ve never been a fan of corny ballads or depressing love songs, movies, or books — I don’t find the two lovers coming together in the rain cathartic or applicable to any type of love I’ve ever known or witnessed. Prototype by OutKast and A treatease dedicated to The Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer) by Shabazz Palaces are two love songs that I can fully get behind. Both speak to the nuances of love rather than some grand notion and both manage to be sensual and sexual without falling into the trap of misogyny. Life is Better by my favorite MC, Q-Tip, manages to beautifully blend romantic and artistic love through the lyrics and blur the distinction between musical styles through its production and composition. The way one type of love illuminates another is true in my own experience and is evident in pieces such as Beignets and Trumpets (I): Visitor, where food, music, and romance are all swirled together with the same sensuality.
Originally the title for Harvest was going to be What the Harvest Gave Me, a nod to one of my favorite Frida Kahlo paintings, What the Water Gave Me. Florence + The Machine has a song by the same name, which is also in part inspired by Virginia Woolf’s suicide. The idea of killing off one version of oneself, in Virginia Woolf’s case wading into water with stones in her pockets, and stepping into another confirms the power of reinvention that Sukari finds with each place she steps into.
Amanya Maloba is a fashion writer, stylist, and author. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. Her fashion writing and photography has appeared in numerous publications including the Huffington Post, Refinery29, and CollegeFashionista. Amanya has also participated in style campaigns with Finish Line and eBay. Harvest, published in July 2014 by Vine Leaves Press, is Amanya’s first collection of fiction. Amanya’s style and writing is influenced by her Kenyan heritage as well as her time living in London and miscellaneous travels. Find her on her website and on Twitter @Amanya_M
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My guest this week admits she is antisocial. She likes to people-watch from behind wide sunglasses, and cocooned inside big headphones. She says her day is characterised by a constant flow of music, which has fed directly into the set of vignettes in the short fiction collection she has just published. I particularly have to thank her for introducing me to one of her special trigger tracks, by Florence + the Machine, as there’s something in it I might need for Ever Rest. And so the muse hops from mind to mind; I hope it will to yours too. She is Amanya Maloba and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
Amanya Maloba, authors, constant flow, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, fiction collection, Florence + the Machine, Harvest, headphones, literary fiction, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, short fiction, short stories, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Vine Leaves Press, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by multi-award-winning author and New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M Valente @catvalente
Soundtrack by Carl Sagan featuring Symphony of Science, Loreen, Ke$ha, Milla Jovovich, Yann Tiersen, Florence + the Machine, Mumford and Sons, The Decemberists, Anais Mitchell, Orenda Fink, Anna Ternheim, Pogo, Sufjan Stevens, Nobuo Uematsu, Tom Waits, Seanan McGuire, Andrew Bird, Circus Contraption, Antje Duvekot, The Innocence Mission, Rilo Kiley, Jason Webley, Neutral Milk Hotel, DJ Earworm, Ru Paul, Lady Gaga, S.J. Tucker
Exeunt on a leopard
Music and Fairyland go hand in hand. I can’t write without music – it’s an intimate part of my process. So often I start a novel by making a playlist for it, songs that say something about the subject and have a beat conducive to writing. Anything too aggressive and I get distracted, too soft and gentle and I get sleepy. There’s very much a sweet spot to find! With the Fairyland novels, the playlist is called Exeunt on a Leopard and it evolves with every book.
Fairyland is a novel about travel and magic, about growing up, about figuring out the world is a more complicated place than you thought. It’s whimsical but it has a bite. A lot of the songs I like to listen to seem like they could be sung in the voice of my protagonist, September, who is carried away from her home in Nebraska by the Green Wind (who rides a Leopard) and finds her way to Fairyland, a kingdom full of wyverns, witches, marauding herds of wild bicycles, and a very wicked Marquess who has inflicted some very human cruelties on the magical world. Fairyland is both an adventure story and a prodding—sometimes gentle, sometimes sharp—of the whole tradition of children’s literature. So I look for clever, lyrical music with a twinge of melancholy – all stories about fairies have a little melancholy in them.
Song to start the muse
I start out every writing day with Symphony of Science’s gorgeous song A Glorious Dawn. It makes me feel so optimistic about the world! After that, the heavy hitters are Florence + the Machine’s new album Ceremonials, Mumford and Sons’s Sigh No More, The Decemberists’ Her Majesty and Picaresque, Anais Mitchell’s folklore opera Hadestown, Orenda Fink’s Invisible Ones, Anna Ternheim, especially Shoreline, which seemed to be just written for September, Pogo’s Alice songs, Sufjan Stevens’s Illinoise and Michigan albums, Nobuo Uematsu’s phenomenal soundtrack to Final Fantasy VII and VIII, Tom Waits’s sad and sweet musical version of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America, Seanan McGuire’s Hugo-nominated album Wicked Girls, the title track of which actually makes a quick, subtle cameo in the climactic scene of the novel, Andrew Bird’s Scythian Empire, Circus Contraption’s melancholy carnival album Grand American Traveling Dime Museum, Antje Duvekot’s Black Annis, Yann Tiersen’s fabulous music wherever I find it, The Innocence Mission for a little early 90s awesomeness, Rilo Kiley, Milla Jovovich’s surprisingly lovely song Clock, Jason Webley’s Ways to Love, Neutral Milk Hotel’s King of Carrot Flowers and In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.
When writing scenes heavy on action, I will admit with only a little blushing that I like some cheesy club pop music – DJ Earworm’s mashups that remind you how meaning can be so fluid, Ru Paul’s Glamazon, Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster album, Ke$ha’s Tik Tok (there’s a strong clock theme in Fairyland!) and I’m completely in love with Loreen’s Eurovision winner Euphoria as I’m working on the third book in the Fairyland series. Sometimes the silly stuff makes me feel free to be ridiculous and whimsical in my work–not everything has to be serious and elegant all the time. This is an important lesson for a fantasy writer, I think.
Finally, I can’t talk about Fairyland and music without mentioning S.J. Tucker. She’s an extraordinary singer, and I have her last two albums Sirens and Mischief on a loop when working. But she’s also done three albums based on my books, and a fourth, based on Fairyland, will be coming out soon. So I listen to September’s Rhyme and Wonders quite a bit–they remind me what I mean to say with my books, and why I started this whole crazy business to begin with.
Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Own Making. She is the winner of the Andre Norton Award, the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award and the Lambda Award. She has been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, and enormous cat. She blogs at yuki-onna.livejournal.com and tweets @catvalente
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- 'Constant murmur of pouring rain, piano chords and a stormy sea'
- 'A spellbindingly good yarn'
- 'Simple, beautiful - gripping'
- 'So original it's in a class of its own'
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
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Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
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- Carol is a concert pianist until an injury threatens her career. Desperate for a cure she discovers her future incarnation - or is he a psychological figment? And can he help her recover?
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What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'