Posts Tagged Hobart

The Undercover Soundtrack – Jim Ruland

for logo‘An anxious, urgent sound: the music of chance’

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 award-winning books columnist and writer Jim Ruland @JimVermin

Soundtrack by Jay Reatard, The Lost Sounds, Dillinger Four, The Stitches, AA Bondy, Kurt Vile, Mind Spiders

For a book with such an upbeat title, Forest of Fortune was drenched in despair.

The first draft was written in a frenzy. The novel has three points of view. I’d work on a scene, get a character into trouble I didn’t know how to get out of, and move on to the next character. By the time I made it back to that first character, I’d have thought of a solution and start the process over again.

The novel is set in an Indian casino. At the time, I worked in an Indian casino. If the first draft has a soundtrack, it’s the chiming of the slot machines, calling out to be played, jangling their jackpots, paying out their plunder.

JimThe music a slot machine makes when no one is playing it is called an attract sequence. It’s an anxious, urgent sound. The music of chance. That’s what the novel felt like: a machine that promised big rewards if I just stayed in the chair.

I don’t remember much about those days, but then the calendar flipped and I wish I could forget the days that followed.

Music to grieve to

When I lost a close friend to a drug overdose, I mourned his passing by listening to the dark, violent punk rock music we loved.

My first choice was Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions, an album as disturbing as the title implies. My friend’s name was JJ and we had seen Jay Reatard together and the aggressive, menacing songs matched my anger over losing my friend.

That led me back to The Lost Sounds, Jay Reatard’s former band. Their self-titled record is filled with songs like I Get Nervous. Frantic guitars, wailing keyboards, droning feedback. It’s music to get lost to, which is what I did with the help of a steady supply of vodka and cocaine. I succumbed to the seduction of lostness.

When the anger passed and the sadness moved in I turned to Dillinger Four’s Civil War, the saddest punk rock record I’ve ever heard. The songs are suffused with melancholy that I drank up like the cheap vodka I drank on the long drive to and from the Indian reservation every day.

I tried to write about the record but after repeated listens, a little beer and a lot of blow, I wasn’t sure I knew what a record review was anymore. Civil War made me intensely sad, and that sadness made me feel close to JJ. I never wanted that feeling to go away.

A better way

One of JJ’s favorite songs was Better Off Dead by the Stitches. They played the song at his benefit show about a month after he passed away. It’s one of the last things I remember about that weekend. The rest is lost to a blackout.

When I came to, I knew I was done with the drinking and the drugs. I asked for help and I got it. I got sober and stayed sober.

Eventually, I returned to the novel. One of the characters in Forest of Fortune is a Caucasian copywriter with a severe drug and alcohol problem. Suddenly, his behavior didn’t seem so mysterious anymore. I could see his problems so clearly.

The revision process was slow, deliberately so. Jay Reatard released a new album called Watch Me Fall. It was softer, slower and poppier than his previous album. I didn’t really like it but it liked me. It got its hooks into me and its melodies pulled me along.

Then the calendar flipped and tragedy struck again. This time it was Jay Reatard who overdosed. Another life senselessly lost. I went back to his music, but I didn’t let it derail me. I stayed on the sunny side of the street.

I sought and found solace in nurturing my novel along to completion. Without realizing it I found myself listening to music that was more soothing than shocking. A swampy mix of AA Bondy’s lush guitars on Believers and Kurt Vile’s wry but barely there vocals on Smoke Ring for my Halo.

It was music I could listen to over and over again as the final pieces of my novel fell into place.

FoF_CvrThe haunted casino

I had changed a great deal since I’d invented the characters that inhabit Forest of Fortune’s haunted casino. Part of me wanted to take them on a journey that would turn their lives around – just as I had – but their fates were already sealed.

I quit the casino not long after I sold the book. I didn’t sell it for a lot of money, but finishing the book and knowing it was going to be published gave me an immense feeling of freedom. Freedom to quit a job I didn’t like. Freedom to try new things. Freedom to live.

When it came time to choose a song for the book trailer, I asked Mark Ryan of Mind Spiders to come up with something. He wrote a song that captures in 90 seconds what it takes me 300 pages to accomplish, a spooky shriek and mournful lamentation for my autobiographical ghost story.

Jim Ruland is the author of the novel, Forest of Fortune, the short story collection Big Lonesome and is currently collaborating with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, on his memoir My Damage, which will be published in the fall of 2016. Jim is the books columnist for San Diego CityBeat and his column, The Floating Library, appears every three weeks. He also writes for the Los Angeles Times and Razorcake – America’s only non-profit independent music zine. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Esquire, Granta, Hobart and Oxford American, and his work has received awards from Canteen, Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts. He runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its eleventh year. Tweet him as @JimVermin and find his website here.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Bryan Furuness

for logoTo draw a curtain around a mental space’

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 novelist, short story writer, essayist and small press editor Bryan Furuness @furunati

Soundtrack by Rainymood.com

I’ve never been good at focusing. The smallest sound can break my concentration, but absolute silence can lull me into a daydream—which is cool, but not so great if I actually want to get anything done. But if I listen to the right sound, it can provide a shield against distractions, while keeping me from spacing out.

authorphoto

Pic by Miriam Berkley

Most days the sound is the sound of rain. It’s the white noise of nature, an audio curtain you can draw around yourself to block out the world. Rainymood.com plays a looping track that is about 30 minutes long. At one point, a dog barks twice in the distance. Later, a train goes by. Then it all hushes, just for a moment, before starting over.

Carry me back

Day after day, the rainstorm brought me back to the world of the novel. It’s a kind of anaphora, which comes from the Greek term of anapherein, meaning to carry back. The writing process is another kind of anaphora: you revisit the same story or poem or essay over and over, again and again, with patience and focus and persistence.

The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson took about eight years to write, or approximately 8,000 rainstorms. The book’s about a precocious and dreamy boy who’s decided that he’s the second coming of Christ. His mother, an inventive storyteller, likes to tell him made-up Bible stories, which she claims are ‘lost episodes’, or outtakes from the King James version. Wild as prophecy and seemingly just as coded, these charming and dangerous tales feature steel mills, cars, and transistor radios, among other artifacts not generally associated with life at the beginning of Anno Domini. Faith can be fickle, though, and Revie’s belief in God and his family is shaken when his mother leaves home to pursue her dreams of stardom in Hollywood. Over the course of a year, one family and one boy must learn to sacrifice and forgive in order to be born again.

bryanCome back

The book has no storms, but there it is again: anaphora. Second comings, resurrections, homecomings, retrospective narration, and listening to the same storm over and over are all built on the same pattern, the one called carry me back.

Maybe that’s the obsession that underpins all my other obsessions. I’m thinking now about a scene from the middle of the book, when a character named Pastor Mike tells Revie that God built the universe on a circular track. ‘Everything orbits,’ he tells the boy. ‘Including you.’

Including me, too. Including all of us.

Bryan Furuness is the author of the novel, The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson. His fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter, Southeast Review, Hobart, and elsewhere, including New Stories from the Midwest and Best American Nonrequired Reading. He teaches at Butler University, where he serves as the Editor in Chief for the small press, Pressgang. Find him on Facebook and on Twitter as @furunati

GIVEAWAY Bryan is giving away 2 paperback copies of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson to commenters here. Extra entries if you share the post on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms – but remember to note in your comment here that you have! He also asks that if you happen to win, he’d be extremely grateful for a review on Amazon or Goodreads – favourable or otherwise.

Also, don’t forget that there’s a giveaway on the Nail Your Novel site as well… to celebrate a new cover.

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