Laura Picklesimer Kill for Love is a brilliant debut, a dark and funny book and one of the year’s finest novels.
Rachel Khong wrote of Picklesimer’s writing:
“In her clear and visceral sentences that evoke a world both like and unlike our own, Picklesimer places you completely in the narrator’s haunting, singular journey.”
My debut novel Kill for Love is a darkly comic thriller narrated by a Los Angeles sorority sister named Tiffany. The songs I listened to while drafting the book helped me inhabit her strange world. The story begins with Tiffany’s final year at college. The house she lives in is full of pink hearts, saccharine sorority songs and girl-boss rhetoric. At least on the surface. Underneath, Tiffany is fracturing under the weight of plastic relationships, social media surveillance and numbing nocturnal encounters with the boys on frat row. Not to mention the perpetual threat of Santa Anas and heat.
The book opens with a nightmare of fire – or is it a future vision? Over the course of the school year, Tiffany realizes the hunger she has been suppressing is not just for food. After a murderous encounter with a fraternity member, she embarks on a killing spree across West Los Angeles.
The songs below contain synthetic beats and moody tracks. Some I listened to for general inspiration as I wrote, others are songs I envisioned to accompany specific scenes. They capture L.A. pop, romance and malice. There’s a youthful energy to many of the songs, coupled with a sense of nihilistic doom.
Imagine playing the tracks while driving east on Sunset Boulevard just before dawn, when the clubs have closed, but the workday hasn’t yet begun. In the pre-dawn light, you might just see a coyote dart across the road under the glow of a neon billboard. There are predators on the prowl.
“Kill for Love” and “The River” (Chromatics)
My novel borrows its title from Chromatics’ album and track “Kill for Love.” This synth-pop song is hopeful but also menacing. The opening line “Everyone’s got a secret to hide” immediately brought me into the world of Tiffany as she seeks love while harboring destructive urges. The question of the song to me became: is the narrator killing for love or for the love of killing? I liked the ambiguity behind the title. “The River” is ominous and cinematic, with a beat like a ticking clock. I imagine Tiffany wandering through the parties on Greek row, driven by that metronomic pull toward violence.
“Everybody Wants to Be Famous” (Superorganism)
A daylight song that feels like it would be filmed in technicolor, the lyrics are tongue in cheek and accompanied by an infectious beat. I see this track opening the book as readers enter Tiffany’s life at the sorority and experience the onslaught of consumerism and instant gratification. The constant pursuit of “likes” and the fleeting adrenaline hit they provide soon grow tiresome for Tiffany. The song’s energy overwhelms and ultimately numbs, just like the world it describes.
“Something More” (Crazy P)
I love the way the song opens and immediately builds. The recurring lyric “I want it all” is Tiffany’s motto, especially in the first part of the novel when she is newly awakened to her bloodlust. When socials and diets and boys are no longer enough, what do you look for? How do you go about finding a greater purpose? For Tiffany, it’s all about the kill.
“West Coast” and “Ultraviolence” (Lana Del Rey)
Both songs are off Del Rey’s sophomore album Ultraviolence. They project a black-and-white, old-Hollywood feel. The songs are more smog than sun, though. “West Coast” has a lazy drumbeat and revolves around music, movies and boys. I listened to the track while developing Tiffany’s boyfriend Weston, who captures a similar James Dean energy. “Ultraviolence” also has a slow melody that contrasts with the raw violence at the heart of the song. The opening lyrics paint the portrait of a perfect femme fatale: “He used to call me DN / That stood for deadly nightshade / ‘Cause I was filled with poison / But blessed with beauty and rage.”
“Pretty” (Coco and Clair Clair)
This song combines the feminine, fun persona of Barbie with the bare-knuckled, brash violence of Tyler Durden. The song bursts with both confidence and glamor. I can imagine Tiffany boasting, “If I beat you up, I’ma make it look pretty / Nails still intact and yeah I’m still witty.” And that foreboding line near the end, “If I die tonight, I’ma make it look pretty.” Either way, Tiffany’s going out with a bang.
“The Rhythm of the Heat” (Peter Gabriel)
This 1982 track is one where the percussion is the main star. The song builds to a frenetic pace that overwhelms with its animalistic rage. One of Tiffany’s murders takes place at Griffith Park, and this song to me embodied the strange Angelino paradox of wilderness in the middle of city. When I listen, I imagine P-22 on the hunt, looking for prey.
I first heard the song when it opened the film Drive with Ryan Gosling cruising through the downtown L.A. nightscape. And damn, is it the perfect song to play on a night drive. That immediate beat drop, the robotic voice sending out a call, searching for some sort of human connection in the night, is cool, classic and so L.A.
“In the House, in a Heartbeat” (John Murphy)
This soundtrack selection from the film 28 Days Later begins with a guitar strum and escalates to a frenetic ear-drenching finale. I played this song on repeat while writing the final scenes of Kill for Love. In four minutes, it provides the complete story of a person discovering and committing to violence until the blood-drenched outcome feels both inevitable and unstoppable.
Laura Picklesimer’s fiction has been featured in the Santa Ana River Review, Bookwoman, Gold Man Review, the Pomona Valley Review and the California Current Writers Series, among other publications. She was the grand prize winner of Enizagam Journal’s 2018 Fiction Contest (judged by acclaimed author Rachel Khong), won third place in the 2021 Rougarou Fabulism & Speculative Fiction Contest, received third place in the Women’s National Book Association’s 2018 YA Fiction Contest, and was a finalist for the 2018 Speculative Literature Foundation Diverse Worlds Grant. Laura earned a creative writing degree from UCLA and an MFA from Cal State Long Beach. She teaches English and creative writing at Chaffey College.