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October 7, 2010

Book Notes - Camille DeAngelis ("Petty Magic")

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

If you read Camille DeAngelis's debut novel Mary Modern, you experienced firsthand the author's talent for creating truly unique and clever fictional worlds. Her second novel, Petty Magic, is equally impressive, inventively combining the paranormal, historical flashbacks, and a love story for the ages. A smart and funny pageturner, Petty Magic will appeal to all ages of readers from young adults to senior citizens, and everyone in between.

BookPage wrote of the book:

"Full of engaging characters, from the family parrot, who is 'working his way through the metaphysical poets,' to Eve's well-meaning, witchy family, who have a mystery of their own that must be investigated, Petty Magic pulls off the magic of being, at the same time, serious and tongue-in-cheek. If you’re a witch, petty magic is what you’ll amuse yourself with in your old age. But readers of all ages will be enchanted by this novel and, in the end, unwilling to break its spell."

In her own words, here is Camille DeAngelis's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Petty Magic:

I love a song that tells a story. Oh, I suppose every song tells a story in some way, but I mean those songs that in three and a half minutes can furnish a complete world inside your head. I like to think listening to that sort of music while I write helps me furnish worlds of my own—whether it's a funny little antiques shop stocked with stuffed porcupines and voodoo poppets, a castle in the Harz mountains of northern Germany, or an "underneighborhood" in Manhattan made up of demolished tenements, burnt-down theatres and lost gardens and graveyards.

Eve Harbinger, my heroine in Petty Magic, is a bawdy old beldame—a witch, more or less, though she'd never use that word—whose favorite form of "petty magic" is making herself a girl again so she can go out on the town seducing young men. One day she meets a guy who looks and acts uncannily like the love of her life, Jonah, a fellow spy in France and Germany during World War II; and from then on the narrative flips between Eve's meeting and working with Jonah during the war and her blossoming (though highly ill-advised) romance with Justin in the present day.

Many of the entries on this (wildly eclectic?) playlist directly influenced the novel, and one song even makes an appearance. Traditional ballads are a continual source of inspiration for me, and Irish ballads especially; I have spent so much time in Ireland that it always seems to work its way into my fiction. Ballads and "trad" both put the flavor in a chapter set in Connemara, that wild, boggy, mountainous region in western Galway. The music and its setting are bleakly romantic—which suits Eve and Justin's situation, because (unbeknownst to him) it has to be their last night together.

"The Long Black Veil" — recorded by the Chieftains with Mick Jagger

In a long black veil she cries over my bones

This is probably the most famous Irish ballad, in which a man hangs for a murder he didn't commit because giving his alibi would have meant admitting he was with his best friend's wife. The song is narrated from beyond the grave, and it's deliciously spooky. It got me wondering what my life would be like if my heart belonged to a dead man—which is Eve's situation exactly.

"She Moved Through the Fair" — recorded by the Chieftains with Sinead O'Connor

Again, dead lovers make for good ballads. The Sinead O'Connor/Chieftains version has the pronoun switched (it was recorded for the Michael Collins soundtrack, if I'm not mistaken); usually this song features a man singing about his sweetheart, who reassures him her family won't mind that he doesn't have any money. How she dies isn't explained, but it's implied her ghost visits him in his sleep:

I dreamed last night
That my own love came in
She came in so sweetly,
Her feet made no din

She came close beside me
And this she did say:
'It will not be long, love,
'Til our wedding day.'

Goosebumps? Me too.

"Irgendwo auf der Welt" (Somewhere in the World) — music/lyrics by Heymann & Gilbert

While I was doing research in Berlin I picked up a collection of cabaret songs from the 1920s. Eve hung out there doing the whole decadent club scene between the wars, so I wanted to listen to the sort of music she would have been exposed to on a nightly basis. Usually it takes a few listens of a new album for each track to distinguish itself, but as soon as this one came on the stereo I thought, That one! That's the song Eve carries with her. It's a wistful little song, full of yearning for a place that doesn't exist. Eve sings it during a lock-in at the pub in Connemara.

"Cemeteries of London" — Coldplay

I had Viva La Vida on my iPod during my trips to Germany in 2008, and with lines about witches, wandering through London in the middle of the night, and ghost towns in the ocean, this song inevitably became one of my favorites on that album. It doesn't tell a story, per se, but the gothic picture always gives me a shiver of delight.

"The Consort" — Rufus Wainwright

Together we'll wreak havoc, you and me

I always figured Victoria and Albert inspired this song, although a lot of Rufus Wainwright fans think the "queen" in question can't be a woman just because the artist himself doesn't prefer them. At any rate, this is a song about a great and enduring love, full of noble, romantic, vaguely medieval imagery. I wanted Eve and Jonah's romance to have an epic feel that this song captures quite nicely.

"Trouble in Mind" — written by Richard M. Jones, recorded by Nina Simone

Wasn't I perfectly entitled…to sit around in my dressing gown all afternoon with piles of records all over the floor and coffee table, listening to the most depressing music I could get my hands on?

This is the song I was thinking of when I wrote that line. You can be feeling totally fine at the start of it, and by the end you're right there with the singer, this close to laying your head on the railroad track.

"Scattered Black and Whites" — Elbow

I listened to a lot of Elbow while I was writing Petty Magic—they're awfully good at the world-building. In this song, off Asleep in the Back, a perfume trail triggers a series of vivid childhood memories—and memories within memories, as the singer recalls his grandfather:

Disjointed tales that flit between short trousers and a full dress uniform,
and he talks of people ten years gone like I've known them all my life…

They say you aren't meant to live in the past, but it can be an awfully comforting place to hide once in awhile. Eve has a tough, unsentimental façade, but she's just as vulnerable to a bout of nostalgia as the rest of us.

"That Old Black Magic" — music/lyrics by Arlen & Mercer, recorded by Glenn Miller

I should stay away, but what can I do?

This playlist wouldn't be complete without a few tunes from the 1930s and '40s, since the flashbacks focusing on Eve and Jonah's wartime relationship are so big a part of the novel. (I also imagine you could find the old records for sale at Fawkes & Ibis, the aforementioned funny little antiques shop.)

Maybe this choice is way too obvious, but I can picture Jonah gently teasing her if it ever came on the radio.

"Sometimes I'm Happy" — Benny Goodman

…And I picture them dancing to this one, if there'd been any time to dance.

"Walking My Baby Back Home" — music/lyrics by Ahlert / Turk, recorded by Nat King Cole

She says if I try to kiss her she'll cry
I dry her tears all through the night

It may be that my love for Nat King Cole proves I am an incorrigible sap. This song inspired the Connemara chapter too—the singer and his girlfriend are having much too much fun to let the night end before the morning.

Bonus track: "Spying is Trying"

I do the laundry at the naval station,
It's a job that fills me with despair.
You can't wring any major revelation
out of some rear admiral's underwear!

You certainly won't find this one on iTunes—it's an obscure recording from 1943 featured on a few World War II compilation albums (and you can download it here: It's cheeky and fun and Eve would totally appreciate it.

Camille DeAngelis and Petty Magic links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's book tour events

BookPage review
A Curious Reader review
Kirkus Reviews review
Old Firehouse Books review
Sarah's Book Journal review

Blue Truck Book Reviews interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists