Notes on reading, writing, books & publishing

Kassten Alonso

Author’s Note

Kassten Alonso

Author of Core

The food of love: a playlist (with excerpts) from Core: A Romance

Posted by Kassten Alonso on 28 Feb 2013

| Comments (11 so far)

Hawthorne Books is delighted to announce the Guest Author Blog Series. Kassten Alonso will inaugurate this series to be followed by David Rocklin and Poe Ballantine as well as others to be announced.  These posts are meant to be interactive and each author will answer questions, comments, dialog, so feel free to post liberally below.

Now, we present to you: Kassten Alonso.

I listen to music and write. I use headphones, to put the music in my head. Like thoughts. To me, music’s a crucial tool for developing a certain tone or mood, a mindset, an action, indeed, which in turn develop the narrative.

The reason music’s important for me, an illiterate—can’t play, can’t read, know little history and no theory—is because of music’s ability to convey—to generate—emotion. Literature has this power—hell yeah!—so the connection’s there; manufacture the emotion musically, then channel that feeling onto the page.

I’m after something specific—dread, gloom, pursuit or desire—so I’ll listen to the same song over & over & over again. For hours. For days. Weeks. The song’s essence becomes ingrained, subliminal, creates a Pavlovian response as soon as I hear it. Repetition puts us into a trance state. In this state, we write the scene. In this state, we write our best.

I doubt I spent any time writing Core: A Romance without music. After a while, I had enough tunes that I put together a soundtrack. Actually, I had more than one soundtrack—I sponged off a lot of music during the 3½ years it took me to write Core. The soundtrack currently posted on my website has the most variety, say, and the one from which I’ll draw here.

I think the “signature” tune for this book is Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” The line “You can have it all/My empire of dirt,” is definitive of Core, the Persephone myth, and unrequited love. Dirt and what lies beneath is what hapless Hades has to offer. Umm…does any potential love interest want that?

Her fists beat his shoulders she clutched his chest and slapped him and Love will express itself anyway it can like Garlic and sapphires to the mud like Apples soft and bloated in the mud and When did we come to hate daffodils? and Why must sadness be the end of joy? and

Why couldn’t you just love me? he said.

Mostly, lyrics don’t matter to me; the way the singer’s voice complements the music is the important thing. Trent Reznor’s trembling delivery in “Hurt” carries more emotional weight than his lyrics. A lot of songs, I can barely tell you what they’re about, or what the lyrics are, because I’m not paying attention to that, not the literal interpretation.

A prime example is The Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom.” The song’s about a murderous psychopath—certainly apropos to Core!—but the song helped me write the baseball scene, if you can believe it—something about the way the intro or signature chord hitches made me think of the histrionics of a pitcher’s delivery.

Cam turned his back to him and scraped his feet in the sand. Cam bowed sidewise to the ash trees, his throwing hand rested on the small of his back. The baseball turned fits in Cam’s fingers.

Weezer’s “Undone—Sweater Song” and Urge Overkill’s “Dropout” were important in depicting desire—not the “skyrockets” clothes-ripping aspect—but the vulnerability and self-consciousness that comes with revealing one’s attraction to the desired one.

The girl moved toward him, firelight in her glasses. He sat before her on his knees. He could not breathe. Here in the mud she would kneel with him.

Soundgarden’s “Like Suicide” speaks to the main character’s boiling psychosis. Ominous, foreboding—scary music!

He closed his eyes. The bouchard swung around and around. And shovelheads and sawblades. Mud tossed in thick wet clumps, cow flop plop plopping. Apples spilled to mud. Apples sunk down deep in mud. And running breathless bloody from the fen.

U2’s “Dirty Day” signifies the tawdriness of the affair, and how it’s not what the main character wants—something real, not furtive and shameful.

He laughed. You think you love Cam. Only because you can’t, you can’t ever fully. Have him. Because that’s just the way he is. And when he does things like this. Things that say you need him more than he needs you. Then you come and find me. Because I’m always here.

The Police’s “So Lonely”—well, the title says it all, but it’s keening angst—plus dancing!

He shouted her name. His voice shouted back. He turned away. He turned and turned, from bungalow to studio to fire road, he turned and turned and wanted to ask someone what he should do, and why she had to leave, what was next.

And there, on the shoulder of the fire road, beneath the oaks, beneath the bluff, where they had always been, where they always would be no matter how many bulbs he dug up, no matter how many bulbs he chewed to paste or crushed under his heels, there, nodding gentle, staring him down, horrible daffodils.
It’s Spring, he said.

While this particular soundtrack doesn’t show it—and perhaps the narrative doesn’t either!—Trip Hop had a huge influence on Core. Bands like Portishead and Morcheeba emerged during the time I was writing this novel. Portishead’s album Dummy was gigantic, for me. I wouldn’t dispute the charge I spent the equivalent of a month or two of my life listening to this album. Maybe six! I ground every one of those brilliant cuts into my brain while writing Core. “Sour Times,” its hammered dulcimer, in particular fueled my work, as did the rippling, forlorn “Mysterons,” the ironically bouncy “Numb,” and the sexually turgid, curtain-dropping “Glory Box.”

A writer uses what tools work for him or her to create the world. Blasting pop music into your skull ad nauseum is not required nor is it recommended, but it works for me.

The entire Core: A Romance soundtrack can be found here. To buy your own copy of Core: A Romance, go here.

Kassten Alonso’s novel Core: A Romance was an Oregon Book Awards finalist in 2005. He has published in the Portland Mercury, Portland Monthly, and The Oregonian, and was a contributor to Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and daughter. Visit him at

This is a cheap comment showing how EXCITED I am to read work that plays with creative thought at the intersection of mediums. Please consider sending me this book. :)

Ana Maria Vascan from MKE, WI on 04 Mar 2013

Stopping in to say hello from facebook. Rhonda Hughes sent me. Said you are giving away five free copies. I would sure love to get one. Lisa Lewis Moon .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Thanks.

Lisa Lewis Moon from Alabama on 04 Mar 2013

Sometimes I’ll listen to a song over and over, yes—drives people around me mad. (Headphones, ya say…) I grew up with talk radio on in the background, so I also like to work to talking—radio, TV, I love when someone near makes a phone call. I don’t listen—just let the words rush around.

Kristin on 04 Mar 2013

Stoked on another quality tome from the ‘thorne!

Alan from United States on 04 Mar 2013

I always write with music, too. Usually no words, but sometimes I can work with vocal music that I know well.

Dave Gibbons from United States on 04 Mar 2013

I have to write with music. The words coming out are too loud otherwise. But, I have to remain conscious of how what I’m listening to (like any other mood-informer) informs what I’m writing. The music can have lyrics or no lyrics, but I must be accustomed to it enough that I can let it be a part of the background in the space I’m creating around myself and the text. And, just because that sounds so utterly precious, let me out myself by saying that my go to favorites for writing music are NOMEANSNO, Shellac, Mule, Alice Donut, Minutemen, pretty much anything I beat to literal death back in the 90s.

Brian Tibbetts from Portland on 04 Mar 2013

Hey, Brian, what you said about letting the music be part of the background I agree with completely. Music’s got to inhabit and work from a level beyond the conscious. Your favorite go-to bands, I’ve never really listened to (outing MYself!)—but I’m definitely gonna check ‘em out.
Dave, it sort of sounds like you might be hinting at similar conditions(?) as Brian and me, when you say you’ll work w/ vocal music you know well? What musicians/music do you usually listen to? And what do you write?
Wow, Ana Maria, I checked out your website—the complete visual artist! Very cool work. Am curious if music’s a medium you ‘intersect’ with when you create? If so, what do you listen to?
Kristin, I completely know what you mean about liking to have voices in the background when you work. I don’t listen to talk radio, but I will have the TV going sometimes. I like to work on the bus, and in bars, too—happy hour’s a good time for it, right?, lots of people around. Like you, I don’t listen to what’s being said, it’s just the presence of sound, the near distraction of it, that somehow facilitates my writing.

Kassten from Portland, OR on 04 Mar 2013

I always have some background music on while working, mostly instrumental stuff like GYBE or Mogwai, maybe The Fucking Champs. I get distracted by vocals, especially if it’s something I’m familiar with. Have to maintain the balance between being driven by the music and getting caught up in the music…

Alan from Portland on 05 Mar 2013

hey alan, thanks for chiming in. don’t know those bands you mention, but glad you did. am always looking to expand my musical universe—the fucking champs? will definitely check them out! it is a fine line—a balance—between what works and what distracts too much, you’ve got that right…are you a writer, btw? if so, what do you write? how does the music muse?

Kassten from Portland, OR on 05 Mar 2013

I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet savvy so I’m not 100% certain. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

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