About a week ago, the redoubtable Adrian Shotbolt (aka The Grim Reader; he also threw Bones Are Made to be Broken a good review last year) asked me about how music influenced my writing and I jumped at that topic in half a minute. Music is huge with me, to the point that for a significant portion of my teens and twenties, I was an insufferable prick about it.
Don’t worry–I’ve gotten better. (“At being a dick, Anderson?” someone yells in the back? Like, dude–what are you even doing here today?)
Anyway, I won’t rehash all that here, because you should really go read the article over at Adrian’s page; it’s top-notch writing, the best, the best there is–also, he writes really awesome reviews.
What I am going to do is pull the songs for the stories I referenced because, fuck, I love those songs.
1 – “Passive” – 44 Lies by 22 Liars
This is the most straight-forward of the stories, a flash piece I wrote on a whim one night when I was avoiding working on something else. The “wake up and face me” part pretty much nails it, but I, when hearing the song, saw this one-sided friendship, so lopsided that the “higher” person in the partnership is like this benign villain, fucking things up for our “hero” through nothing but simple existence in the hero’s orbit.
2 -“Crawling Back to You” – Savage Beasts (Grey Matter Press) / Bones Are Made to be Broken
The penultimate track of Tom Petty’s 1994 album Wildflowers, I’ve loved this song since I first heard it on the highways of Ohio back in 1996. I’ve talked a lot about that song over the years; there was a reason I used “Crawling Back to You” to kick off the stories in Bones Are Made to be Broken.
When it came to the story, I wound up mixing the wariness and weariness in Petty’s lyrics with the nihilism of Near Dark (I’m writing this on the day I learned of Bill “Severen” Paxton’s death, so, yeah, that hurts). Something about the relationship between a vampire and his familiar struck a cord with me; relationships are fucking hard, gang, and anyone who’s been a successful one (platonic or intimate, I mean) can tell you that. When the relationship is toxic and near-eternal due to circumstances, you have a fucked up situation. I wanted so much for Patty, the protagonist in the story, to succeed, if only because I’ve known people like her in real life, people who you know have the common sense to get the fuck out, but just can’t.
3 – “The Universe Is Dying” – You, Human (Dark Regions Press)/ Bones Are Made to be Broken
Quick trivia – the version of “The Universe Is Dying” in You, Human and the one that appears in Bones Are Made to be Broken are different. I took all the stories I reprinted through a revise and/or slight-rewrite, but I was never happy with the ending to the original version and agonized over the last paragraphs for far longer than I should. I ultimately got it (he says, nervously), so when I think of “Universe” in “official” terms, it’s the reprint in Bones I think of.
On the surface, “Jimmy” is the biggest influence–two characters named Jimmy, a location in Ohio, the past calling back to the present–and “A Long December” is explicitly named in the story. I based the story’s emotional heft off the death of my own grandmother in December of 1996 (in the story, the death is my wedding anniversary–don’t read too deeply into that), which hit me hard, not because it was my first experience with death, but because my grandmother was one of my biggest influences growing up (my jet-black gallows humor comes from her and her side of my family). So, a lot of the story–including the town, house, and hospital, are actually landmarks in Oil City, Pennsylvania, with a name-change.
Because of that “Happy Anniversary” is the biggest influence when you go deeper. When Pierre sings, “I can feel it in my bones tonight” and “Send the kids my love, happy anniversary”, it rocketed me to the hospital room I was writing about, and holding that hand with the paper-thin skin. In fact, I’d had the rough idea for “Universe” for years, since first hearing “Jimmy” in 2000, but I needed “Happy Anniversary” to get me in the emotional groove.
4 – (Bonus) “Bones Are Made to be Broken” – Bones Are Made to be Broken
I’ve written before on how seeing illustrator Pat R. Steiner, juxtaposing my toss-away title Bones Are Made to be Broken with the image of a woman in the water jumpstarted the idea for the novella, mixed with my own experiences growing up in the early-1990s with a single mother and a bad divorce.
I wrote the story, but it was a shallow novel–meaning, the first draft totalled 59,000 words, but didn’t have the punch I wanted it to; it felt more like a poke. I knew I was going to have to rewrite.
When I started rewriting, I happened upon this song because I follow Pierre on Twitter–and I immediately knew what I had been trying to talk about.
“Bones Are Made to be Broken” is horror to me although there are no monsters or killers and even the villain, the ex-husband, is not particularly villainous and you can see where he’s coming from. It’s about a single, broken person, charged with not damaging their child. Fuck, it’s mainstream. I make the joke wondering when the Lifetime channel is going to option the fucking thing for a Movie of the Week.
But it is horror, and a gut punch, and about the lengths we will go to to protect our children, even when dealing with mental illness and nervous breakdowns. When I heard “Everything That Hurts”, that subtext finally articulated itself to me (I’m one of those who see stories as found things, and it’s a writer’s talent that pulls it from the mental soil like an artifact). I wrote the chorus at the top of the document and rewrote the story from scratch, not once looking at the first draft, and managed not only to add and revisit scenes with greater clarity, but also bring the fucker home at 20K fewer words than the original version.
All because of that song. Thanks, Justin.
So, there you go. Enjoy the tunes.
You can get the eBook and paperback of Bones Are Made to be Broken on Amazon.
You can pre-order the deluxe and expanded (by about 10K, roughly) limited hardcover at the main Dark Regions Press site.
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