Author Playlists

Sung J. Woo’s playlist for his novel “Deep Roots”

“I honestly cannot grok how the great Sue Grafton was able to write so many of her Kinsey Millhone novels — after this duo, I’m pretty much spent.”

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.

Sung J. Woo’s novel Deep Roots is a propulsive and entertaining sequel to his first Siobhan O’Brien book, Skin Deep.

Angie Kim wrote of the book:

“Funny and deliciously entertaining, featuring a witty, smart Korean-American-adoptee private investigator, a mysterious billionaire family whose son may have been replaced by an impostor, and an uber-swanky AI-fueled mansion in a private island. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!”

In his own words, here is Sung J. Woo’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Deep Roots:

Deep Roots is the sequel to my first mystery novel, Skin Deep, and it was not easy to write.  On the one hand, you might think this was a simpler task since I already had a main character, a supporting cast, a backstory…but on the other hand, I was terrified of repeating not only situations or plot points but even sentences.  I honestly cannot grok how the great Sue Grafton was able to write so many of her Kinsey Millhone novels — after this duo, I’m pretty much spent.

Regardless, I still managed to have a fine time crafting this one, especially since it gave me the opportunity to create my own Downton Abbey.  As an unashamed lover of the show, it gave me great pleasure to feature a Korean-American Lady Mary.  On the surface, Deep Roots may seem like a tale of an uber-wealthy family and their particular peccadilloes, but it’s really about the very concept of identity: racial, gender, vocational, technological, and even philosophical.  The playlist below includes songs with lyrics that address the novel in some significant way.

Private Eyes, by Daryl Hall and John Oates

Private eyes / They’re watching you / They see your every move

I could’ve gone with either this song or The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” since thematically they are similar — but how can a detective novel not reference this classic 80s tune by Hall and Oates?  Not only is it about voyeurism, the title of the tune quite nicely points to the profession of my protagonist, Siobhan O’Brien.  Surveillance plays an omnipresent part of the novel, as every family member and visitor at the mansion is issued their own drone that follows them like a dutiful pet.  And of course, the pets are always watching…

Our House, by Madness

Our house it has a crowd / There’s always something happening

The other influence for Deep Roots is Zhang Yimou’s film Raise the Red Lantern, a film that takes place in 1920s China where a rich man lives with multiple wives.  The billionaire in my novel, Phillip Ahn, is not quite the polygamist of the Zhang film, as he is married to only his third and latest wife — but in his Pacific Northwest island manor, his two previous wives and all the children live under the same enormous roof.  Madness’s song is way happier than the denizens of Deep Roots.

As It Is When It Was, by New Order

Well, I always thought / We’d get along like a house on fire

A house on fire — that’s very much what we have at Woodford, the name of Phillip Ahn’s expansive residence.  The focus of the story is on his first and only son from the third marriage, Duke Ahn, who is destined to take over the family business.  Phillip, a genius in artificial intelligence, swears that his son is an impostor.  That’s Siobhan’s job, to find out the strange, sordid truth.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, by John Denver

Hold me like you’ll never let me go / ‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane / Don’t know when I’ll be back again

Minor spoiler: at a point in the novel, a major character leaves on a jet plane, never to be seen again, at least in person.  And I could posit that this said person is running away — and if that’s the case, the New Order song “Run,” would be appropriate for the occasion.  I mention this for a bit of related trivia – in an out of court settlement (, New Order not only remunerated Denver, but from that point forward, he is credited as a co-writer for the song.

If I Had a Million Dollars, by Barenaked Ladies

If I had a million dollars / I’d be rich

And if you had a billion dollars, you’ll be a thousand times richer.  In the novel, it isn’t Phillip Ahn’s expert knowledge of artificial intelligence that got him his cash, but rather his investing acumen.  Taking advantage of financial crises of the past fifty years — the gas crisis, the internet bubble, the Great Recession — he became one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Dude (Looks Like a Lady), by Aerosmith

Dude looks like a lady

Here’s a song that most likely would not receive much airtime nowadays, if it would exist at all.  Gender has been a hot topic for a while now, and while I’m not somebody who latches onto hot topics, as the book kept going, I realized that’s exactly where I was headed.  I sincerely hope I handled the subject more elegantly than Steven Tyler and company!

Real Men, by Joe Jackson

What’s a man now? / What’s a man mean? / Is he rough or is he rugged? / Is he cultural and clean?

Jackson had one hell of an album in Night and Day, which also features “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two.”  The trio of these songs were in heavy rotation during the heyday of MTV music videos, but I believe “Real Men” has always been the most meaningful.  In Deep Roots, masculinity is questioned over and over again, and much like “Real Men,” I’m not sure if there’s a definitive answer.  But that non-answer is probably the only true answer.

Father of Mine, by Everclear

Father of mine / Tell me where did you go? / Yeah, you had the world inside your hand / But you did not seem to know

Has there ever been a more effective song than “Father of Mine” when it comes to daddy issues?  The troubled patriarch in Deep Roots is the aforementioned Phillip Ahn, and as Siobhan herself learns, his issues go back, and back, and back.  After all, the current generation’s beliefs are informed by the previous one; it is a problematic chain with hefty, rusty links.

Winter, by Tori Amos

When you gonna make up your mind? / When you gonna love you as much as I do?

Little Earthquakes is one of those rare albums where I don’t skip a single song.  If I had to pick my favorite of all those gems, it would be this one.  I’ve always felt these two lines are the backbone of “Winter,” and at the risk of sounding a bit too self-helpy here, it does come down to one’s own realization of being loved that is the key to just about all of life’s ills.  Certainly every one of the characters in Deep Roots could use a little more love.  Couldn’t we all? ❤️

also at Largehearted Boy:

Sung J. Woo’s Playlist for His Novel Skin Deep

For book & music links, themed playlists, a wrap-up of Largehearted Boy feature posts, and more, check out Largehearted Boy’s weekly newsletter.

Sung J. Woo”s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Guernica/PEN, and Vox. He is the author of Love Love and Everything Asian, which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award (Youth category). His first Siobhan O’Brien novel, Skin Deep, is available now from Polis Books. He lives in Washington, New Jersey.

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