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Every book I write has a soundtrack. It’s filled with songs that capture the mood of the story, or the point of view of a particular character. Here are the 23 songs that guided me through The Dante Deception. You can listen to the whole playlist on YouTube – or just click on any of the video images below. The YouTube video will play in a new tab. The links below, to song and album, are my Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but if you make a purchase, Amazon will contribute a few cents to my writer’s research fund. Enjoy!
1. Claudio Arrau playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
This is Augustus Sinclair’s favorite song. And by favorite, I mean the only one he ever plays. In the story, I have him playing a record that’s essentially this song on eternal repeat—he hired performer Claudio Arrau to play it over and over again. I listened to a lot of versions, and Arrau’s was the one that struck me with its softness in the beginning and its dirge-like quality as it builds to the climax. All you really need to know is that this song means something to Sinclair—and he can’t let go of what it symbolizes for him. For Sinclair, this song hurts so good.
2. The Dangerous Summer: The Permanent Rain
At first blush, this is a rock anthem with a driving beat. But once you listen to the lyrics, you realize it’s about loss and death and finding the willpower to go on. The singer says, “So where the hell’s my hope / And why can’t I just try? / You know I’ve lost a lot / But I won’t let this die / You know I’ve got this friend up in the atmosphere / Another reason not to fear the sky.” There are two little boys in this story who grow up without mothers, and I think of them when I hear this song. That loss shaped both of their destinies for the worse. Later in the song, the singer cries, “I was just a kid.” I imagine both of these little boys screaming those words into the sky, railing against their vanished mothers.
You might also have noticed that I dedicated this book to Jacintha – one of my best friends from high school who died a few years later, literally days after we reconnected. If the boys in this book think of their mothers as the invisible watcher in the atmosphere, Jacintha is who I’m thinking about.
3. The Sounds: Hurt the Ones I Love
The Sounds are a Swedish band after my own heart. You’re probably familiar with their hit “Hurt You” – you know, the one from that Neanderthal Geico commercial a few years ago. This song isn’t quite as danceable, and it took me a few listens to really appreciate it. It’s from the perspective of someone who doesn’t want to let down the ones who love her, but that she knows it’s bound to happen anyway. This one is for Natalie and Beth song. These two hurt each other deeply in this book, but always from a place of love—if that makes sense. The lyrics say, “I’ve tried so hard, but I can’t let you go / I can’t let you go…I always hurt the ones that I love.” That’s Beth and Natalie to a T.
4. Bloc Party: Signs
This song sounds so hopeful in the beginning, like opening a music box that greets you with a tinkling melody. Then the beat kicks in, and it suddenly feels like a quest. This song sounds like a search for something. The singer misses his lover, who is dead. He says, “I see signs now all the time / That you’re not dead, you’re sleeping / I believe in anything / That brings you back home to me.”
This is Makar, my Russian gangster. A big bear of a man, he’s painfully in love with his wife, Elena. So much so that her actions change his life, and the lives of most of the rest of the characters in the book. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say Makar and Elena’s story doesn’t end well, and leaves Makar on a search that could sound a lot like this singer’s.
5. Sanders Bohlke: The Weight of Us
Sweet Jesus, this is a beautiful song. It has a soft, slow waltzing quality for me—but that waltz is the twilight of an empire on the brink of a tragic collapse. If you’ve ever read Embers by Sandor Marai, you know the feeling I’m talking about. This song builds with guitars and drums, so the casual listener might think, hey, that’s a nice mellow song, but the lyrics hint at something much deeper and darker. This song had me from hello when it mentioned thieves in the first line. What are Sinclair and Severin but a family of thieves? “There are thieves who rob us blind / And kings who kill us fine / But steady the rights and the wrongs / Invade us in innocent songs / I’m not ready / I’m not ready for the weight of us.”
I get the feeling it’s sung by someone who knows the odds are against them, and is trying to decide which side to fight on. Pick the good side and you may die. Pick the bad side and you may win, but sacrifice your soul. Want to know which the singer chooses? Listen for the single lyric repeated multiple times at the end of the song. In terms of my book, this song makes me think of Christof. He’s caught between the thieves – Severin and Sinclair—and the king who kills just fine, Lazovsky. Also, that last line is kind of ironic for Christof’s character. You’ll see what I mean.
6. The Boxer Rebellion: No Harm
This is an awesomely haunting song – I can’t believe it hasn’t been used behind the opening credits of something like True Detective or The Killing. Driving and moody, this song just feels like danger. There isn’t even any remorse. It’s just a calm statement of fact. That makes it perfect for my villain, Lazovsky. As you’ll see, this dude has a screw loose. It’s also relevant to Constantine, whose experience as a mercenary in Chechnya has left a terrible longing in his soul for the freedom that can only be found in war. Maybe there’s a beast in him, too…
Here are the relevant lyrics: “Maybe there’s no harm / There’s no harm / There’s no harm in / Maybe there’s no harm / There’s no harm in you / And maybe there’s no harm / There’s no harm / There’s no harm in… / So watch what you say / There’s a beast that’s in me.” After the second chorus, a whisper of strings and a breathy “ah-ah” follows. Goosebumps, you guys. For real.
7. Vampire Weekend: Giving Up the Gun
Finally, an upbeat song! Erm…wait a sec. Maybe it just sounds that way. The lyrics of this one definitely have a darker edge. To me, this song is about two rivals who used to be friends or mentors. One rival promised to do great things and set the world on fire, but kind of failed and hasn’t done much at all. The other rival pulls no punches in reminding the first how he failed: “And though it’s been a long time / you’re right back where you started from / I see it in your eyes / that now you’re giving up the gun.”
This feels like a son reprimanding a father for giving up on his dreams and becoming too complacent—PERFECT for Severin and Sinclair. Sinclair wanted to rebuild his family’s name and home, but he ended up creating a horrible situation for his son. You’ll see what I mean…and then maybe you’ll also imagine Severin saying: “You felt the coming wave / told me we’d all be brave / you said you wouldn’t flinch / but in the years that passed / since I saw you last / you haven’t moved an inch.”
8. The National: Start a War
This song is about a crumbling relationship. Boy, the hits just keep on coming in this playlist, don’t they? Fair warning: if you want a story about rainbows and puppies, this is not the book for you. The lyrics in this song are what caught my attention: “Do you really think you can just put it in a safe behind a painting / lock it up and leave? / Walk away now and you’re gonna start a war.”
I was on the alert for anything mentioning safes and paintings, naturally, but once I listened again, this song spoke to me on several levels. It’s about taking people for granted and then wondering why they react with hurt and anger. It’s about shattered illusions. It’s about things that fall apart when the center cannot hold. The singer says, “You were always weird but I never had to hold you by the edges / like I do now.” In Dante, this crumbling motif fits so many of the characters. Natalie and Beth, Constantine and Viktor, Elena and…everyone, and Severin and Sinclair all fit that description.
9. The Horrible Crowes: Sugar
I love Brian Fallon. Love might not actually be a strong enough word. Everything this guy does just resonates with me on a level that’s blood-thick and bone-deep. You might know him from The Gaslight Anthem, but this song was released through a side project, The Horrible Crowes. It’s about a man confronting a woman’s who’s cheating on him, but the lyrics take it so much deeper. What I love about Brian is the way he conveys passion, pain, and venom in the sweetest growly voice. There’s some serious anger lurking behind this song’s beautiful lyrics. My book doesn’t have much time to deal with romantic love—too much crime, murder, and betrayal going on. However, there is a triangle that changes the course of everyone’s lives. That triangle shifts throughout the course of the story, and more than one member gets to spend time on the pointy end. They’ll be singing these lyrics: “I guess you need a little sugar / Cause you never wait around…You said no / That’s not the way it goes / But it is, don’t like / I’ve seen that curl up around your smile.”
10. 30 Seconds to Mars: Stay (Rihanna Cover)
Do you guys listen to the BBC Live Lounge covers? They’re freaking fantastic. In this case, it’s Jared Leto covering Rihanna. I listened to both the original and this version a bunch of times, trying to pick the right one for this list. I thought it would be the Rihanna version, because this song belongs to Liliya, my fearless freelance hacker. But this cover is just richer, deeper, and more raw. I had to go with this version.
If you read The Romanov Legacy, you met Liliya after she’d weathered a big storm. That storm begins here. She’s fighting her feelings for a man who doesn’t return them, but gives in just once…even though she knows that’s all she’ll ever get from him. Here’s where I see Liliya in this song: “Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving / ‘Cause when you never see the light, it’s hard to know which one of us is caving.”
11. Broods: Bridges
Although it’s sung by a woman, I picked this song for two of my male characters. It’s about a relationship crumbling (sense a theme yet?) and the weight of obligation. The singer says, “If I didn’t kill it / Would you still say you needed me? / Guess I walked right into it / Guess I made it too easy.” This makes me think of Severin and Alfie. Severin’s father, Sinclair, taught him how to do terrible things. Severin did them to earn his father’s love. This is a recipe for resentment…but Severin can’t write his father off, not completely. He still longs for parental love and approval. Severin’s school friend, Alfie, joins the con after college. Alfie is in a similar position, with Severin as an older-brother figure. He’s desperate for Severin’s friendship and approval, and he’ll do nearly anything to get it…with disastrous results.
12. Zola Jesus: Dangerous Days
I first heard this song on a late-night rerun of Jools Holland, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Now, it’s a regular on my trail-running playlist, too. The beat is pulsing and a bit menacing. The singer’s voice is dark and deep, which suits that beat (it’s harder to be sinister with a breathy voice). The lyrics talk about fighting for your name, and pretty much everyone in this book has to do that all the time. This song just sets the tone for the whole book. To wit: “It’s dangerous/ it’s dangerous to know / when it comes are you gonna throw / your might into the day / no words / fight for your name.”
13. Mumford & Sons: Ditmas
This song surfaced on my running playlist while I was thinking about this book, and as soon as I heard the chorus, I was like, YES, this is it. It’s about a relationship crumbling when a woman accuses her lover of changing. It’s one of those horrible fights most couples have, and some just can’t get past. It reminds me of the fight scene between Elena and Sinclair. She’s disillusioned with their life in England…and the people he’s kept in his life (cough, cough, Christof). Sinclair is blindsided when she tells him. He hasn’t changed—and he can’t see that’s why she’s angry. As the song says, “But this is all I ever was / And this is all you came across those years ago / Now you go too far / Don’t tell me that I’ve changed because that’s not the truth / And now I’m losing you.”
14. The xx: Angels
Leave it to me to choose a love song that’s tender and depressing at the same time. The spare, raw instrumental pulls emotion out of thin air, and the lyrics are there to back up every heartbeat. I picked this song for Christof and Roza – the forger and the Bolshoi ballerina. The singer mentions how easily her lover moves through the room, and how his light is more than she thought could exist. Flipping the genders of the singer and the beloved, this is exactly how Christof feels about Roza. She’s beautiful, graceful, and tough, so much more than he ever dreamed he’d find. There’s one line in the song that hints at what happens in their relationship, but I’m not gonna spoil it for you. Here’s how this song captures Christof’s feelings for Roza: “Light reflects from your shadow / It is more than I thought could exist / You move through the room / Like breathing was easy.”
15. Sharon Van Etten: Ask
OMG, you guys, this song…it’s so beautiful it hurts. It’s about a woman who needs more from a man than he’s capable of giving. She’s trying to work up the courage to tell him, but it’s hard to be that vulnerable. This song builds in such a beautiful way, like the courage the singer is trying to gather inside her. It’s not going to work, though. She knows it will cause a rift that can’t be healed.
This song is all Liliya. She tries to be tough and independent, but even independent women have a weakness…and Liliya’s is Constantine. She wants more from him, but he’s not capable of that, not while he’s still dealing with PTSD (“Chechen syndrome,” as they call it in Russia). That’s what Liliya doesn’t see. She thinks he can give more, and then blames herself when she can’t get it from him. I just want to give Liliya a hug. I’ve been so rough on her. It goes a little something like this: “It’s not that I don’t try, it’s that you won’t again / And it hurts too much to laugh about it.”
16. Band of Horses: The Funeral
I’m pretty sure this song makes it onto every book playlist I have. If not, it’s a careless oversight on my part. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs because it starts slow, builds to a rocking finale, and has lyrics that are depressing as shit—my trifecta of quality, apparently.
The lyrics here apply to almost every character in this book: “I’m coming up only to hold you under / And coming up only to show you’re wrong.” There’s something Shakesperean about the idea that someone would do something dangerous just to screw over someone else. But that’s what my characters do. Sinclair sells the childhood of his only son (literally? figuratively? I’m not telling). That son, Severin, shows what a good student he’s been when he applies what he’s learned at the end of the book. Christof ruins a good thing just to get revenge on Valentin. Valentin ruins everything to get revenge on everyone. I can’t decide if taking extreme action to hurt someone else is a form of selfishness or quite the opposite. I’m a writer, not a philosopher. But seriously…listen to this song. I don’t know how they did it, but Band of Horses just made me feel good about a funeral.
17. Chvrches: Empty Threat
If this song doesn’t make you move, you’re probably dead. Just sayin’. I love the way the fast, synth-driven beat backs lyrics that are pretty serious. This isn’t weightless Euro pop. This is something much deeper. To me, this song is about choosing sides…and drowning after you made the wrong choice. In the story, Natalie tries to push her sister away, thinking Beth is better off without her. In a different chapter, Beth debates what to do about it—let Natalie go and make her life a hell of a lot easier? Or double down on family and damn the consequences?
What Natalie doesn’t realize is that these two sisters are always stronger together. I listen to this song and imagine Natalie and Beth, each alone, each hating how much pain they unintentionally cause the other…and unable to turn away from each other. If they threaten to go it alone, it’s…you guessed it…an empty threat. Here’s how Chvrches puts it: “Taking back an empty threat / more than you could ever know / take it back with no regrets / I was better off when I was on your side / and I was holding on.”
18. Cold Specks: Blank Maps
Cold Specks took her stage name from a James Joyce line, so that’s awesome right there (“cold specks of fire” was the line, if you’re curious). She once described her music as “doom soul,” which pretty much makes it perfect for me. It’s also perfect for Natalie, who believes an angel lives inside her, and Beth, who knows it’s probably not true…but has seen some stuff she can’t explain without a little help from the supernatural.
Belial, Natalie’s angel, is a third wheel in their relationship. He talks to Natalie, she answers him (out loud, usually), and having a conversation with the two of them takes a bit of getting used to. That’s why this line rings so true for Beth: “Even the dead can be astoundingly alive / I am I am a goddamn believer / I am I am I am I am a goddamn believer…” Beth may not believe in Belial, not 100% anyway, but she believes in Natalie with a ferocity I haven’t even begun to tap.
19. Maggie Eckford: Everything Is Lost
In this book, Dante takes Natalie to a very dark place and asks her to do something for him. My day job is in marketing, and his request is what we’d call the “big ask.” The biggest, in fact. Natalie fights with herself, and Dante, before she makes her choice. I’m not going to tell you what she decides, but the lyrics to this song must have been going through her mind. They mention angels and demons at war within the singer. As soon as I heard that, I knew this was Natalie’s song. Here’s what the song says: “And I can’t wake up because the darkness won’t let go / and I can’t wake up because the darkness has taken hold / everything is lost/ and this nightmare is closing in.”
20. Cam: Burning House
I’ve always suspected the best sad songs are country songs. I grew up on outlaw country (late ’70s / early ’80s) and have returned periodically when I want songs with more meaning and depth than pop can conjure for me. This song breaks my heart when I listen while thinking of Natalie and Beth. Of course, since it’s a country song, it’s a “done-you-wrong” song from the perspective of the wrongdoer. In the song, a woman dreams of her lover in a burning house – and chooses to stay inside as they go up in flames since that’s the only way she can stay close to him. The singer would literally stay inside a burning house if it were the only way to stay close to the man she betrayed. At the end of the book, this is Natalie and this is Beth. This is the choice they have made for each other. In other words, this is what they’d tell each other: “I had a dream about a burning house / You were stuck inside, I couldn’t get you out / I laid beside you and pulled you close / And the two of us went up in smoke.”
21. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Skeletons
I can’t say much about why I chose this song without giving away part of the plot. Suffice to say, there are two reasons this song made it on the list. Make that three, because to start with, it’s just a beautiful song. Secondly, listen to the drumbeat. Does it sound like a military tattoo to you? That’s what it reminds me of, and the character I chose it for has a protector in the military.
Thirdly, listen to the lyrics. There aren’t a lot of complete sentences. They go something like this: “Wait, don’t cry / Love, don’t go / Love, don’t cry / Skeleton me.” That’s as coherent as it gets. The song feels floaty and disconnected. The drumbeat is what’s pulling us forward, providing a sense of order. The dreamy lyrics and synth notes could float away if they weren’t anchored by that drum. This is how one of my characters ends the novel. She’s disconnected from reality because something terrible happened to her. Her lifeline—her protector—couldn’t save her in time. She’s in a dreamy netherworld, floating above the pain and suffering in the real world, anchored only by the memory of the only man she can trust. As if that weren’t bad enough, the violence in him that makes him a fierce protector is also what’s eating him alive.
22. Lord Huron: Love Like Ghosts
If Cold Specks is “doom soul,” this feels like rockabilly séance. It’s high time for an upbeat tune, so of course I found one that talks about ghosts and moonlight. It was the moonlight that caught my attention. In Chapter Seven, Christof confronts Elena by moonlight. In a bunch of other chapters, Sinclair only listens to his favorite song, Moonlight Sonata. And then we get this: “Oh and the moonlight baby shows you what’s real / There ain’t a language for the things I feel / And if I can’t have you then no one ever will.” Beethoven’s Moonlight is the only place Sinclair can put his grief. The moonlight under which Christof confronts Elena is the only place he can confess his hatred. Moonlight can be so bright it hurts, but as the song says, it also shows you what’s real.
23. Chvrches: We Sink
This is the perfect song to end the book…and the playlist. We’re back to something musically upbeat, but once again, the lyrics are not happy. Are you surprised? Don’t be. I’m probably the only person who actively dislikes Pharell’s “Happy.” I don’t think I know how to be happy, and neither do my characters.
This song makes me think of Natalie and Belial, although now that I’ve edited the book twice, it could apply to so many pairs of characters. Here’s the relevant lyric: “I’ll be a thorn in your side / till you die / I’ll be a thorn in your side /for always / if we sink we lift our love.” This is pure Belial, tormenting Natalie with the fact that she’ll never be rid of him. At the end of this book, though, there are a lot of unhappy people with storylines that didn’t get neatly wrapped up. Why? Because they’re all coming back in The DuBarry Diamonds, that’s why.
I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. The affiliate links in this post don’t change the cost of anything you choose to buy, but if you choose to buy through them, I’ll get a few extra cents for the book research fund.
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