Early on in this endeavor of book reviewing, long before the blog was conceived, back when I was sluming it with The Mouths of Madness Podcastshow (R.I.P.), the idea of chatting it up with authors about books in general and their books specifically was an amazement. Getting a look behind the scenes of a book’s creation, a readers wet dream. Being thanked for taking the time to read said books, mindblowing. Nowadays, it’s still amazing, even with the (few) negative experiences. I am a book nerd at heart.
Todd Keisling was one of the first authors to reach out and make contact, this was after reading and reviewing Radio Free Nowhere & Saving Granny From the Devil (two of the stories contained in Ugly Little Things). It was a nice moment for me and to this day we still holler at each other every now and again.
One thing we have in common is Music, it’s important to both of us and today Todd is here to share a bit about how music flows through his written word.
Mr. Keisling, the stage is yours.
Music is a fundamental part of my writing process. Every writer has their own process, their own ritual to help them get into the right mental space, and music is how I get to mine. I think it’s a meditative thing, really. I read an interview with Chuck Palahniuk many years ago in which he talked about listening to a song on repeat for hours while he wrote. The idea is that, after a while, the music becomes noise with a constant beat, a rhythm that helps you tune out everything else and focus on your work.
I don’t always pick a single song, though. Once I’ve found a number of tunes that fit the mood or theme I’m going for, I’ll throw them together into a playlist, put it on shuffle, and press play. I’ve done this for several years now, across multiple projects, and most recently I’ve used Spotify as a neat way of sharing the music with readers. My musical tastes are rather eclectic, ranging from atmospheric electronica and classic rock to progressive metal and trip-hop. As long as the song fits the mood, I’ll throw it on the list.
What follows here is a selection from My Ugly Little Playlist, a collection of songs that complement the eleven stories in my collection, UGLY LITTLE THINGS: COLLECTED HORRORS. Feel free to listen along. In fact, I hope you do. https://open.spotify.com/user/wordmachine/playlist/0CpM5TqsjBKlrB3XnPKz0y
“Decades” by Joy Division complements the opening tale, “A Man in Your Garden.” There isn’t really a lyrical connection, but there is a musical one—the atmosphere in this song fits the story, which in my mind plays out like a creepy music video.
“Love You to Death” by Type O Negative fits the somber tone of “Show Me Where the Waters Fill your Grave,” a grim tale about loss and one’s marital duty. I listened to this song a lot while writing the story, even when I didn’t know where the plot was going to go. Without spoiling anything, there’s a moment about halfway through that took me by surprise and completely changed the tone of the story I thought I was writing.
“Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil was on my mind when I wrote “Radio Free Nowhere,” although I didn’t listen to it heavily while writing the story. I can’t really say more about why without spoiling it for you. Just take my word for it. You’ll understand after you read it.
“Roads” by Portishead and “46 & 2” by Tool go hand in hand with “The Otherland Express.” The story is about a kid on the run from a bad situation, dealing with heartache and depression and a desire to be someone else. These two songs fit those themes, lyrically and musically.
“10,000 Days” by Tool goes along with “Saving Granny from the Devil.” Unfortunately, Tool’s music isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t add them to the list. That said, “Saving Granny” is a personal story to me, one that walks a fine line between fiction and truth. It’s about my great-grandmother, a woman who raised me for a time, and the lengths to which we’d all go to save those we love.
“Negasonic Teenage Warhead” by Monster Magnet was on heavy rotation when I wrote “The Darkness Between Dead Stars.” The story is about a civilian who volunteers for a one-way trip to Mars, and the things he encounters out there in the emptiness of space. Monster Magnet’s cosmic-fueled lyrics seemed like a good fit for this one.
Although the story predates this song, I think “He Is” by Ghost is a good fit for “Human Resources,” a piece of flash fiction about a corporate employee who taps into something lurking beyond his computer screen. The song is about devotion to a higher power (albeit, one of a more demonic variety), which complements the story’s darker aspects.
I chose Stabbing Westward’s “Shame” to go along with “House of Nettle & Thorn,” primarily due to the main character’s reasons for ending up in the predicament in which he finds himself at the beginning of the story. Out of all the tales in the collection, this one probably had the most drafts, with multiple versions and endings, but I’m happy to say the darker theme of desire was preserved.
“Nobody’s Baby Now” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and “Weary Blues from Waitin’” by Hank Williams, Sr. both work well for “When Karen Met Her Mountain.” The former song works in context of the whole story, about a psychologically disturbed woman who must save her husband from a band of religious fanatics; the latter is referenced in the story itself, as it’s one of Karen’s father’s favorite songs.
Normally, I’d choose original takes of songs, but in the case of my story “The Harbinger,” I have to go with Transient’s cover of “Sanctified” by Nine Inch Nails (specifically, the “Left Justification” mix). If this story were a film, this is the song I’d choose to play over the credits. Musically, lyrically, it fits the story perfectly.
I’m going to have to cheat with “The Final Reconciliation,” as I’ve got a separate playlist for it, but I did include some highlight songs in the ULT playlist as well. Songs like Orchid’s “Eyes Behind the Wall,” Ghost’s “Cirice,” and Opeth’s “The Drapery Falls” fit this dark story about an ill-fated prog metal band. It’s my ode to The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, and probably one of my favorite stories to date. For those of you who might be interested, here’s a link to the full Final Rec playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/wordmachine/playlist/2J95uh5CJ8YLrvZiMbZAav
Finally, here’s one more song: “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” by Nine Inch Nails. It doesn’t fit any specific story. The song was released around the time when I was wrapping up final edits for the collection, and to me, it tops off the whole project. I’ve been working on these stories for the better part of four years. It’s been a long road, filled with a lot of self-doubt along the way, but now that the book’s nearly released, I feel like I’m turning a corner for the next big thing in my writing career. “Break through the surface and breathe. I am forgiven, I am free, I am a field on fire.”
-Todd Keisling, author of Ugly Little Things
Synopsis for Ugly Little Things
THIS IS GOING TO HURT.
The eleven stories in Ugly Little Things explore the depths of human suffering and ugliness, charting a course to the dark, horrific heart of the human condition. The terrors of everyday existence are laid bare in this eerie collection of short fiction from the twisted mind of Todd Keisling, author of the critically-acclaimed novels A Life Transparent and The Liminal Man.
Travel between the highways of America in “The Otherland Express,” where a tribe of the forsaken and forlorn meet to exchange identities. Witness the cold vacuum of space manifest in the flesh in “The Darkness Between Dead Stars.” Step into the scrub of rural Arizona and join Karen Singleton’s struggle to save her husband from a cult of religious fanatics in “When Karen Met Her Mountain.” Visit the small town of Dalton in “The Harbinger” and join Felix Proust as he uncovers the vile secrets rooted at the heart of Dalton Dollworks. And in the critically-acclaimed novella “The Final Reconciliation,” learn the horrifying truth behind the demise of the rock band The Yellow Kings.
With an introduction by Bram Stoker Award-winner Mercedes M. Yardley and illustrations by Luke Spooner, Ugly Little Things will be your atlas, guiding you along a lonely road of sorrow, loss, and regret. This is going to hurt—and you’re going to like it.
TODD KEISLING is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and trio of unruly cats.
Want to Feature?
If you’d like to feature Todd in an interview or guest article, or review Ugly Little Things, please contact Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Publicist, at firstname.lastname@example.org