September 23, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
It has been eight long years since Jill McCorkle's last short story collection, Creatures of Habit. Going Away Shoes once again proves McCorkle a master of short fiction, these stories follow women on the brink facing major changes in their lives. McCorkle's signature wit cuts through the pathos perfectly as her characters look for real world solutions to their bad situations.
The stories in Going Away Shoes were written over a period of many years but I was actively completing them and starting to think of them as a collection about four years ago. At the time I was in the process of moving, taking a new job, facing lots of changes in life and what was consistent during that time was the long walk I would take every day and the music I was listening to.
The John Prine CD Fair and Square was my background music for months. I also really love Kristofferson and during this time was listening to a lot of the recordings he did with Rita Coolidge. I love her voice and love their recordings of "Loving Arms" and "I Never Had it So Good." I got stuck on the lyrics of "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" because I feel it does speak to so many of my characters and where I leave them. They have often come to the threshold of change and yet no clear vision of what is waiting up ahead just that they have to keep moving. A lot of them are mourning something gone or missing and learning to deal with it. "Nevers just the echo of forever, lonesome as a love that might have been." That could easily serve as epigraph for a couple of the stories.
Another line that got stuck in my head that way was from Steve Earle's beautiful song, "Somewhere Out There" – "Somewhere out there in the world tonight just out of my reach, I hear your heart beat"-- I think so many of my characters are in a state of longing and are in fact on various journeys in search of answers or some understanding of where they are in life.
Then I have one story "Driving to the Moon" where the male character has spent years listening to all the music his mother (who died when he was a teenager) listened to, so he's a guy who has spent his life listening to lots of broadway musicals and Tony Bennett, Sinatra, and Bobby Darin. It was a great excuse for me to revisit so many favorites like Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" which my third grade teacher had us learn and sing (another story/ a wonderful memory) and Darin's"Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea" and of course his version of "Fly Me to the Moon". Then I'd listen to Sinatra's version and so on.
When I'm writing I often think of music as instant time travel. Poof! It's 1963 or 1976. I think that's why the Rita Coolidge touchstone was so important while working on these stories because I hear her and immediately I'm back in high school -- the hair and clothes and whole world of a time are within grasp of my memory.
I have ended much of my time with this collection listening to the music of singer/ songwriter Matraca Berg and an early copy of her album Wild Angel. One CD has her songs covered by others and the other is her singing her own work. She is such a great storyteller and so many of the songs hit close to the cast of women walking through my book. Trisha Yearwood singing "xxx's and ooo's (an American girl)"- Suzy Bogguss doing "Hey Cinderella" which could easily be my collection's theme song especially given the epigraph I chose which is a Gloria Steinem quote: "If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?" There's also a great shoe line in the song "Broken Spanish" where the narrator says: "I'd be a bitch too, if I walked a mile in those Jimmy Choos." Gretchen Wilson singing"I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today" is a beauty and on and on- every single one a winner. The song, "Along for the Ride" is so upbeat and exhuberant.
I'll end by saying THAT's what I hope for my characters when all the dust settles- an anthem to loving life and learning to embrace what's there and make the most of it.
Jill McCorkle and Going Away Shoes links:
also at Largehearted Boy: