Q and A with Michelle Falkoff, PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD
Tell us a little about your book.
Playlist for the Dead is about a boy named Sam whose best friend Hayden commits suicide and leaves behind a playlist of songs to help him understand what happened. While Sam is delving into the playlist, he learns that Hayden had secrets and meets a girl who helps him uncover some of them.
You divide the book into 27 chapters, each paired with a song that's a part of Hayden Stevens' playlist for his friend Sam Goldsmith, who is the person who finds Hayden, after Hayden has taken his life. (A very sad story but at the same time, also a witty, romantic, unsentimental, and wise one). Did you know from the beginning that you would structure the novel this way?
Yes, that was kind of the central conceit from the beginning. But the playlist originally was going to be a little more straightforward--it was initially all about suicide in a much more literal way, and eventually I decided it would be more interesting if the songs themselves hinted at some of the things going on with Hayden. Of course, the playlist ultimately doesn't have the answers Sam is looking for--he has to find them by actually talking to people, and that was always the plan.
Why did you decide to write from the POV of an adolescent boy rather than a girl or an older character? (You're very convincing, btw).
Thank you! I knew I wanted the book to be about male friendship because I find it so fascinating and complicated. At the risk of stereotyping, I think girls tend to verbalize their feelings more with their friends, and boys often (not always, of course) keep things a little more bottled up. From a technical standpoint, I find that when writing in first person it's really easy for everyone to just sound like me, so forcing myself into a perspective that's more unfamiliar alleviates that problem a bit.
Who is the Erik, mentioned on your dedication page? Was he the person who inspired you to write this novel?
Erik was a good friend of mine who died suddenly (of natural causes) while I was writing the book. I really did not want to be drawing from reality when I was writing this, but that's what ended up happening, so I thought it was appropriate to honor that in the dedication.
I'm wondering if writing about high school students dredged up a lot of memories from your own high school days, and what effects did these memories have on the writing of Playlist for the Dead?
It's so strange--parts of high school are so easy to remember, and other aspects of it I've completely forgotten. I went to a high school reunion relatively recently and was reminiscing with someone I hadn't seen in a while, and we were reminding each other of stories from when we were in classes together. He said something he remembered me saying, and I had no memory of it, but it sounded exactly like something I would say, and I felt both comforted and confused at the idea that I'd been the same person back then that I am now, if that makes sense. Which is to say that my memory of high school isn't exactly trustworthy, but that's okay--it makes me feel better about stealing details here and there for fiction.
Are the songs on the playlist some of your favorites? Did they help at all with the plotting the book, based on their lyrics?
Some of them are, and some of them not so much. I was really trying to put stuff on there that represented the characters and their relationships, and I decided that not all of them would have the same taste I did. In some ways I regret that now, because people assume I love everything on there, and a few of those songs...
As far as helping with plotting, they were invaluable. Originally, each chapter of the book was going to open with a two-line epigraph from the song, which provided context for why the song was on the playlist. Copyright stuff made that hard, so now the playlist is a little more cryptic than I'd intended it.
What are you working on now, if you don't mind telling us?
I'm working on a book about a high school valedictorian who gets blackmailed into being part of a prescription drug ring. It's complicated and a little weird, so wish me luck!