Author Playlists

Colin Winnette’s Playlist for His Novel “Users”

“These are the songs that helped me navigate the braiding of those distinct but implicitly connected threads into the book we’re calling Users.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Colin Winnette’s Users is as unsettling as it is enthralling. A masterfully told novel from one of our strongest storytellers.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

“Told in refreshingly unadorned prose that lets Winnette’s characters and ideas shine . . . Users is not only a book for today or a warning about tomorrow, but a timeless and moving story about fatherhood and one man’s yearning for a more meaningful life.”

In his own words, here is Colin Winnette’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Users:

In a way, Users is several novels in one. There’s an existential, sci-fi-tinged thriller. There’s a dystopian account of a VR creative who goes to war with his user community, leading him to engender a company-wide response that ultimately leads to his downfall. There’s the story of a spot of rot at the center of a dysfunctional family, and the slow, irreversible damage it does. There’s the story of new technologies leading to the collapse of the walls between humans and their devices. There’s the story of a brilliant young art director who finally sticks it to the self-absorbed co-worker who’s been exploiting her talents for far too long. And I haven’t even mentioned the Egg. These are the songs that helped me navigate the braiding of those distinct but implicitly connected threads into the book we’re calling Users. The other thing about them is that they’re, by necessity, songs you can listen to over and over again. After all, it took me five years to write this book. I hope these songs serve you as well as they served me.

“Everything in Its Right Place” – Radiohead, Kid A

I’m a bit nervous starting off so obscure, but fuck it, it’s my playlist, right? This song is special, and more people should hear it. People may not know this song, or this random British band, but I’m sure everyone will catch on eventually. They always do. This is the song that put an image of the future into my head that I’ve never been able to shake, and without a single word to describe it.

“If You’re Sure You Want To” – Alabaster Deplume, To Cy & Lee, Instrumentals Vol 1

For me, this song is like Mia’s theme, Miles’ overlooked younger daughter who becomes obsessed with birds because they eat those biting things that attacked her in Texas. The song has a way of holding you while still flitting free of your grip. It’s a beautiful dance in a damp, concrete hallway.

“Butchers” – Slobberbone, Slippage

I grew up walking by bars where Slobberbone was playing. We held our wedding reception in one of those bars. This song is about some of the things people do to get by, and the way those things stay with them. “With people…,” says Ted, the talent management character in the novel, “It all goes somewhere…. everything matters. That’s all there is to it.” Hearing this, I feel like Slobberbone would agree.

“Away From Here” (and more) – Daniel Pearce and Owen Stewart-Robertson

I listened to this whole album of improvisational music performed and recorded by Daniel Pearce and Owen Stewart-Roberston on repeat a lot while editing Users. It’s a beautiful thing. Moment-to-moment, it somehow feels both unpredictable and inevitable. When people talk about all other art wanting to be music, I’ve been known to argue that the opposite is true: all other art wants to be the novel… But that’s usually after wine, and I’m mostly just being contrarian, needlessly sticking up for our plenty-triumphed medium. Between you and me, though… The truth is: my novels want to be this.

“One and Only One” – Eddie Rabbitt, Loveline

One of my early readers — whom I will call M — asked me a simple question that cracked open a very important part of the book for me: “Why does Miles love his wife?” I’d always thought the answer was obvious: because she’s great, and, more importantly, she’s the kind of person Miles wishes he could be. But the question made me realize this feeling — the one buried deep below all the dysfunction, and years of learning to navigate each other in a way that minimizes the risk of longer, more uncomfortable conversations — that feeling wasn’t coming across. So, I listened to this lovely little disco country song a lot and added more about Claire, as well as some moments between her and Miles where it… almost happens for them. Almost. Because the truth is, Miles does love Claire, but he has no real understanding of her. He has no real understanding of the kind of person he wishes he could be. Because he doesn’t listen, and he doesn’t consider this person outside of his own self-absorbed notions of what’s going on around him, and because, the truth is, Miles kind of sucks. He doesn’t pay close attention because he doesn’t like to feel uncomfortable. He admires from a distance, which is something that works well enough for his wife until it doesn’t.

“Orca” – Y La Bamba, Ojos Del Sol

A beautiful, eerie, and driving song that guided me through some of the vertiginous house development scenes in the book, and its trippier VR sequences. This song keeps things on rails but isn’t short on surprises.

“Cellophane” – FKA twigs, MAGDALENE

I get lost in this song. I can play it on repeat and write for hours. No one sings like FKA Twigs. I feel like this is the song they’d play over the early scenes, when Miles is working late, sitting alone in a bright, “open office”, surrounded by a gridded sea of massive, black windows, and staring down the barrel of his first crisis. It creeps up and overwhelms you. It’s the best.

“Blue Spring” – Tenci, My Heart is an Open Field

There’s a lot of room in Tenci’s music. You can wander around in these songs and find all kinds of delightful little sounds or unanticipated vocal drips, drops, and squeaks. I think about Miles in the Egg, telling himself, “I’m good. I’m here. I’m good. I’m here. I’m good. I’m here.” Spring always comes, and sometimes we’re still blue.

“It’s Lonely at the Top” – Randy Newman, Sail Away

As the story goes, Newman wrote this song for Frank Sinatra, who refused to sing it. Newman later told the BBC, “I thought it’d be funny if he did a song like ‘Lonely at the Top,’ which is someone whining about oh, I’m famous and I have everything, it’s lonely… I thought it’d be hip if he did something like that. But he didn’t… It was funny to see that kind of insecurity. I mean, maybe it was lonely at the top.” You gotta love Randy, and Miles is a lot like Frank in that sense – lonely, insecure, and, I hope, kind of sadly funny.

Colin Winnette is the author of six books, including bestseller Coyote (Les Figues), Haints Stay (Two Dollar Radio), and The Job of the Wasp (Soft Skull Press). He was the winner of Les Figues Press’s 2014 NOS Book Contest, as well as a finalist for Gulf Coast Magazine’s Donald Barthelme Prize for Short Prose and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Award. His writing has appeared in Playboy, Bomb, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, and numerous other publications and anthologies. He worked as a bookseller for most of his adult life, in Texas, New York, Vermont, and California. He lives San Francisco. More information can be found online at

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