CJ Leede’s novel Maeve Fly is one of the funniest and most visceral debuts I have read in years, an instant feminist slasher classic.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“Leede’s bloody and gory debut will make readers clutch their metaphorical pearls in the best way possible. Horror fans who enjoy villain-origin stories, social commentary, terrifying female characters, and unreliable narrators will devour each deliciously morbid and shocking page.”
I grew up in two households with musician parents (two of them were musicians by trade, one recreationally, but never without a guitar in hand). Music trivia was everywhere, for as long as I can remember. Jim Gordon’s murder of his mother was always mentioned when the piano solo came on in “Layla,” as were Pattie Boyd’s various exploits. I watched documentary clips of the making of Dark Side of the Moon more times than I can count, and come to think about it, pretty much every music doc or big recorded special out there that my parents could get their hands on. Music has always been a massive part of my life. Pair that with the fact that I wrote Maeve Fly to be largely in conversation with, and celebration of, American Psycho (“You like Huey Lewis and the News?”), and you’ve got a main character as music obsessed as I myself am. Which is to say, maybe a little too obsessed. Like, maybe people don’t wanna hear it, Maeve… *
There was a significantly longer playlist that I had on repeat during the writing of this book, but this is the curated, paired down version (that my manager insisted upon early on, because again, when it comes to songs, I (and I suppose therefore my characters) can take it a little overboard).
- The Twilight Zone, The Ventures
Has there ever been a more iconic sound than the opening tones of this song? There is of course what people sing aloud, what we always hear repeated, the “doo doo doo doo” to indicate that something strange is afoot! But what is so often forgotten, and what obsesses me with it, is the slinky, sexy surf guitar of it, the total beachy, late night Tiki bar feel. Sixties’ TV shows were the best with this, and that scifi trilling voice that so reminisces the Star Trek Original Series opening is just beyond. This era was dreamy and perfect, and I’m waiting for a renaissance of these kinds of show openings. I wanted it to come early in my book to be its own show opening of sorts, a curtain pulled back on the story of Maeve’s world.
2. Ghost Town, The Specials
I’m far from the only person in the world to love the sh*t out of this song. It’s mentioned in countless books (Bret Easton Ellis’ newest included), and mine is just another. But WHAT a song! I go into the history of it in the book, but the feel is what is so remarkable. Again, that slinkiness, that sticky maraschino cherry-ness of those voices sliding all around you, the almost Pink Panther-style flute. And then the HORNS! Those ska punk horns! The vocal echoes at the end, then finally after such a full song, after so much movement and richness and life, we are left with only the melancholy whistle that could either be the wind in an empty town or a distant siren’s blare. This song holds so much of what I wanted to convey in this book. So full and layered and complex, loud and fun and sexy and wild, and yet at its core, so lonely. Wind or sirens through an empty town. The only trace of voices sounding in echoes.
3. Pet Sematary, The Ramones
What is it about anything Stephen King, even if only tangentially related, that just gives you that *comfort* feeling? The alleged story behind the recording of this song is so Maeve, and she tells it in the book. And The Ramones’ music video for this is everything that is glorious about Halloween and camp horror. But Pet Sematary at its core is about loss and grief that we can’t face. About loving someone or something so much that we would rather see it play out in atrocity than be gone forever. About the ways in which we sometimes just can’t let go. x But we walk through it with her.
4. I Was a Teenage Werewolf, The Cramps
So much of this playlist just really turns me on, but this song. This song!! It’s so sexy, so classic, so iconic. There are very few songs I can think of that can transport you so instantly to a smoky dark dive bar in the middle of the day like this one. And it holds one of my favorite lyrics of all time, “I was a teenage werewolf, and no one even said thanks.” That line repeated in my head for a lot of this book. And no one even said thanks. The moment it comes in for Maeve is one in which she meets an adversary, a moment in which her world is simultaneously destabilized and expanded. In which her juvenile and helpless rage start wrestling free of her control. It just felt so perfect.
5. The Purple People Eater, Sheb Wooley
There is a scene in this book that I needed to feel tense and fucked up and upsetting and crazy, and there just was no better song for that in my mind than this one. I’ve read about its recording, but really… how does a song like this even come to be? I don’t want to say more than that, but I loved writing this scene. It was one of my favorites in the book.
6. Be True to Your Ghoul, The Ghouls
I was in a very dark but also very strange headspace at the time of writing Maeve Fly. And nothing really exemplifies that more to me now than the fact that when I wrote Maeve, this song seemed to me to be the most unbearably romantic song I’d ever heard, nearly devastating in fact. I think this should say everything about the woman who sat in a dark room with the curtains drawn writing this character, emerging mostly just for pre-sunrise walks on the sand, this song playing over and over again in headphones in the California pre-dawn light. And perhaps it says everything about Maeve.
7. Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, Jeff Richmond, Tracy Morgan
It’s hilarious, it’s genius. It’s one of the best skits I’ve ever heard. There’s not too much more to say about it than that, but to every person involved in its creation, you are amazing.
8. Psycho, Jack Kittel
Jack. Kittel. JACK. KITTEL. The song itself, a psychobilly cult classic written by Leon Payne, is fairly well known in the Eddie Noack version, then Elvis Costello’s version on Almost Blue, and was made more relevant in recent years by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer singing it together at some of her concerts. It is the darkest, most disturbing, and totally beautiful country song I’ve ever heard. I’ll never forget hearing this version of it for the first time driving beneath palm trees in Los Angeles at night. I had to pull the car over, my hands sweaty on the wheel, heart racing. I have since learned more about the mysterious recording of this, his one and only track EVER recorded, in Muskegon, MI in 1973, and only from bits and pieces his family posted in the comments section of the YouTube video of his recording. However, what I haven’t found yet is why this was his only song, why he felt the pull to record it, who he was as a person. I think something miraculous happened when he was in that studio. If you haven’t heard it, you have to go listen right now. It is so beautiful and so upsetting, and it will haunt you long after it ends. It haunts me still. I love it so, so much.
9. Over at the Frankenstein Place, Richard O’Brien, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick
Since I was a child, I have firmly held the understanding within me that there are few people as sexy in this world as Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff. I don’t know what to say about it other than Riff Raff just totally does it for me (come to think of it, so does Frank N Furter… and Brad… and Rocky… and Janet), but O’Brien’s solo in this one particular song just really gets me every time. I LOVE this scene in Rocky Horror, I love the rainy broken down car trope and the antici…..pation of what might lie inside the haunted-looking manor. And I loved the idea when writing this book that Maeve and Tallulah’s house looming above the Sunset Strip was a sort of Frankenstein Place. I loved picturing Maeve, like Riff Raff, standing in an upper window, looking down upon a helpless world. That feeling that anything could happen, but the night was sure to be wild.
10. Gloomy Sunday, Billie Holiday
At its heart, this is a book about loneliness. The fear of never finding someone who sees you, or even worse, finding someone who does (a mentor, a best friend), and then losing them. There aren’t many songs that make me feel that as acutely as Billie Holiday’s “Gloomy Sunday.” Her voice alone, the feeling she was able to imbue in every note, in every word. This exquisite sorrowful song feels like every empty afternoon, like every moment of beauty discovered only to turn to your side and realize there is no one there to witness it with you, no one there to share it. It is the emptiness and fullness of loss, of mortality. Of a smoggy Sunday morning in Los Angeles, palm fronds littering the ground.
*And all of this said, it should be noted that neither Maeve, nor I, should be considered any kind of reliable authorities on music or anything else. We both occasional favor a good story over fact.
CJ Leede is a horror writer, hiker, and Trekkie. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, and a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School, where she studied Mythology and the Middle Ages. When she is not driving around the country, she can be found in LA with her boyfriend and four rescue dogs. Alongside Maeve Fly, CJ has two more horror novels coming from Nightfire.