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October 13, 2015

Book Notes - Alex Flynn "The Misshapes: Annihilation Day"

The Misshapes: The Coming Storm The Misshapes: Annihilation Day

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The Misshapes middle grade novels by Alex Flynn (pen name for the writing team of Elisabeth Donnelly and Stu Sherman) are original and exciting superhero books that offer something for every young person (and their older friends).

Publishers Weekly wrote of the first book:

"The authors conjure a world teeming with intriguing characters and unusual powers—the abilities to turn liquid into alcohol or conjure spectral backup singers are among those represented, a welcome deviance from more typical power sets. Stilted bits of dialogue and narrative occasionally mar the story, but the book never loses its sense of wonder and excitement. Worthy of the comics it takes inspiration from."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Alex Flynn's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection The Misshapes: Annihilation Day:

The Misshapes started out as an idle idea during a very long car ride winding back and forth down the sun-dappled hills of western Massachusetts on route 2. I (Elisabeth Donnelly), was wondering out loud to my (eventual cowriter) Stuart Sherman what it would be like if your superpower was controlling the weather, but that particular power was controlled by your emotions. Go to a funeral? Rain! Having a fight? Feel the burn of the desert sun! It sounded like the worst possible power, and, quite, possible the most teenage girl power of all. After all, being a teenage girl is a time in your life where your emotions turn on a dime, both in ways that are wild an powerful, and ways that the world can turn it against you.

When we got to the Montague Bookmill, Stu got on the computer and banged out a scene — it turned out this idea of superpowers that sucked had some legs, legs that felt (we hope) like a young-skewing book — no, trilogy — that's a bit like The Tick meets Gilmore Girls and Rushmore. And with that, Alex Flynn (our psuedonym) was born.

In both The Misshapes: The Coming Storm (book 1) and The Misshapes: Annihilation Day (book 2), music is baked into the very essence of our town and our superhero world. We got "Misshapes" from the iconic Pulp song, of course.

"Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits.
Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh
We don't look the same as you,
We don't do the things you do,
But we live around here too, Oh really?"

The town that the characters live in is called Doolittle Falls (after the Pixies — and after all, the book was born in the "educational" Pioneer Valley), although we had originally named it Rockville, after the R.E.M. song (as in "Don't Go Back To …). As we worked on the book, some of the characters became the music-mad teenagers we knew or hung out with in high school. Hopefully that punk rock spirit made it into Annihilation Day, which was a book that we wrote thinking about icons like Alice Bag, and the way that getting your friends together and singing a song can be the quickest road to freedom. If our playlist consisted of stuff that we listened to while writing the book, frankly, it'd be a terribly boring list of glacial indie pop, running the gamut from Beach House to Beach House, so we thought we'd give a short list of righteous songs that embody The Misshapes, and our cast of Misshapes.

Sarah Robertson

Our leading lady, Sarah can control weather with her emotions. Which isn't the greatest for a girl with a tumultuous family life and love life. Her taste in music is fairly mainstream, but she's secretly a badass. So what embodies her more than the California girl group Haim?

Haim - "Don't Save Me"


Sarah's brother. He can turn water into alcohol, although when he's not careful with his power, he can inadvertently poison himself. Music is Johnny's life. He works at the Doolittle Falls record store. plays his guitar constantly, and in Annihilation Day, he forms a band. He may or may not have a shrine to Joe Strummer in his bedroom.

The Clash - "Career Opportunities"


Sarah's best friend, Alice can talk to the animals, Doctor Doolittle-style. She uses that skill to run her own underground extermination business (where she negotiates with rodents). She's really into Riot Grrrl, Grunge, Punk Rock, and anything noisy with guitars. Sleater-Kinney is her favorite band of all time and she can't reckon Carrie Brownstein, rock god, with Carrie Brownstein, twee comedienne. If pressed, she likes Seven Year Bitch just a little bit better.

Seven Year Bitch - "The Scratch"


Butters is a young Misshape who's followed around by three back-up singer ghosts, the Spectors. These incredible ladies insist on singing every mundane detail of his life. Naturally, this leads to Butters competing in high-stakes Karaoke competitions — but one of his Spectors, Darlene, threatens to step out, which may just be driving Butters crazy.

In better times, though, Butters will skip out on lunch so that the Spectors can greet the postman on his run, as the postman is very important to these gals. (See: The Marvelettes' songs.)

The Marvelettes - "Twistin' Postman"


One of our rare cool Heroes, Rosa creates earthquakes. She moved up to Massachusetts from Mexico, and she happens to be a fantastic guitarist. She, uh, literally makes the band "rock" (forgive me), and she auditions with the song "El Clavo Y La Cruz" by The Plugz.

The Brat - "High School"

Rosa's Tia

A minor character, she's a big influence on book two, and, well, Johnny's band. She's based on the real life Chicana punk godess Alice Bag and our love of the comic Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers.

Alice and Bags - "We Will Bury You"


Sarah's unofficial mentor, Sam (a Hero) can control the weather too. Difference is, he's good at it. He is also the hippie boyfriend of your dreams (or nightmares), coming and going as he pleases, generally not wearing a shirt (too constricting), and very committed to travel, with his humanitarian work in countries facing droughts. He might like jam band music, and he's definitely into Father John Misty's Harry Nilsson nihilism.

Father John Misty - "I Love You, Honeybear"

Freedom Boy

Freedom Boy is the most famous teenage hero in the country. He can fly, fight, is impervious to weapons, and has the coolest gadgets and weapons. He is also the dreamiest First Boyfriend you could ever have, even if he's generally a pawn in his family's political interests. He likes Drake, and it's kind of embarrassing.

Drake - "Energy"


He shoots paintballs from his eyes, looks a little like Basquiat, and is really into street art and culture hacking. He's always wearing shutter shades so he doesn't get paint everywhere. He is the coolest Misshape. His musical taste has been shaped by a mysterious older sister. He's sensitive (i.e., totally dreamy). He gets two songs!

Lianne La Havas - "What You Don't Do"
Os Mutantes - "A Minha Menina"

Alex Flynn and The Misshapes: Annihilation Day links:

the series website
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review of The Coming Storm

Greenpointers interview with the authors
Riffle interview with the author
Word Spelunking interview with the authors

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)