A book is not just a book.
By the time a book is published, there is so much that has gone into it. All the time that I spent writing is just the beginning. Flora has the work of agents and editors, a beautiful cover designed by an artist I’ve never met, and the careful eye of a layout editor. There’s a whole other dimension to the audiobook, as well. Flora is performed by Shakina Nayfack, who brought an incredible depth to every character and nuance to the story to surprise even me— the author!
Throughout the long process of writing, editing, moving toward publication, and accepting all of this teamwork behind this book, I’ve been listening to the kind of music that gets this work done. As you read Flora (or listen to Shakina read Flora to you) I wanted to share some of the works that got me here and carried me through. If you have other songs for these characters, tell me! I know that a book is not just a book most of all once it’s in a reader’s hands. That’s where a book’s real life begins.
In order of the YouTube playlist (because fuck installing SoundCloud on my desktop, honestly):
- Cities in Dust, Siouxsie and the Banshees: This is the song of Flora’s whole story. Most of her life takes place in ruins and shadows of cities that were once great. Her whole existence is this watchful understanding that the world has moved on and it hasn’t stopped moving since. This song is like her: a wailing confession of the end of the world that you can absolutely dance to, if you want.
- I Will Possess Your Heart, Death Cab for Cutie: This was the song of “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife.” I couldn’t explain it for a long time. This song, particularly this long version that was cut for the album, haunted me the whole time I was writing my debut novel. It had just the right sound, and I kept thinking the lyrics had nothing to do with it. After the book came out, I realized that the lyrics are about ownership and jealousy and the way we seek to belong to one another and never quite line it up with freedom. It’s the perfect song, and as Flora reads the Midwife’s diaries, I think of her catching this vibe and understanding it completely.
- Queer, Garbage: Almost everyone in my books is queer. I want to someday write a world where this fact is unremarkable and beside the point, but I haven’t lived in one yet. I can’t imagine walking the halls in Ommun and not always having this song playing somewhere in my head. Also, in my head Flora looks a bit like Shirley Manson.
- Megalomaniac, Incubus: In Ommun, there is one moral and spiritual authority. And she’s outgrown her ceremonial robes. It’s time to give Alma the Prophet her due, and this is what it sounds like.
- Your Woman, White Town: This song has a complex history for a lot of people. I’ve loved it since it first came out, but like many people I thought it was a ballad by, for, and about a trans woman. The author has since clarified that this was not his intent, but it has occupied such a specifically gendered place in my imagination for so long, it was always the song I imagined Flora listening to when she was in her feelings about Eddy. I can’t tell you how many times I have realized I could never be Your Woman.
- Try Outs for the Human Race, Sparks: I think of this as Alice’s song. Alice is a perfectly-adjusted slutty genius and always thinking about the best possible outcome of all things.
- Girls and Boys, Blur: This song was always playing when I went to queer clubs as a kid, and seemed to contain a careless promise that we would all be free of the binary one day. It still slaps. In this book, it belongs to Tommy, the fancy-boys, the catamites, Gabe and Rei, and all the queers just trying to find a place to be themselves.
- Madonna of the Wasps, Robyn Hitchcock: I have been in love with women like Mayor Max before. I’ve been her, too. This is that feeling.
- Run the World (Girls), Beyonce. Shy is a city of all women where they tell their origin story as a cheerleading routine. Please rise for the national anthem.
- Something I Can Never Have/Sin, Nine Inch Nails: These are the two forces within Connie. I’ve been their kind; driven by rage and lust toward something I want so badly that I can’t even properly name it. Connie’s story is one of never understanding and never being understood. Trent Reznor holds that tension as well as anyone I know.
- Sun Will Set, Zoe Keating: This is the first time I’ve stayed with a character for so many years. I started writing Flora as a young woman and then followed her into old age, into broader understanding of herself and all of humanity. The experience was surprising and profound and this song has that sound. It’s sadness and beauty and introspection and this sense of waiting. This song is so suffused with feeling for me that I can’t get through it without tearing up. I can hear every part of Flora’s life in this song.
- Road to Nowhere, The Talking Heads: This is the whole series. When I thought of what to call the series as a whole, I couldn’t resist a very old joke. Utopia sounds like two things in Greek: eu-topos meaning “good place,” and ou-topos meaning “no place.” I wanted these books to move my characters through dystopia toward whatever exists on the other side. Discarding the idea that human progress is linear or even real reveals to me that we are all of us on the road to nowhere, all the time. This song keeps time and absurdity in equal measure. It sounds like hello, it sounds like goodbye, and it’s got a beat you can march to… if you know where you want to go.
There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s alright, baby, it’s all right