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Playlist for Alice the Cat by Tim Cummings

Music is probably the blood that courses through my veins—I can’t go longer than about 30 minutes without it playing in my headphones, office, house, car… I am an extreme audiophile, and music has been a companion to me during the writing process for decades. I visualize music as I write, and I choose carefully the songs and sounds that must journey with my characters. This playlist runs the gamut: from Ethel Waters to Siouxsie Sioux and just about everything in between, including Gene Autry and Danny Elfman! This selection of songs is an extended dock out into the waters of the creative process. Walk to the end and sit down and dangle your legs over the edge. 

“Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine

Lunar Velvet, the pale, purple-haired goth girl, tries to bond with 13-year-old Tess, the book’s protagonist, in the latter half of the book. She talks about Chelsea Wolfe, Zola Jesus, Siouxsie Sioux, Bjork. Tessa tells her that her mom, who recently passed, loved Florence and the Machine and they used to listen to her together. “Shake It Out” opens this playlist and acts as a rally cry for the book, but more specifically for Tess’s fighting spirit.

“Iconography” by Max Richter

I cannot survive the writing of a book without indulging in the majesty of the album “The Blue Notebooks” by Max Richter. It’s one of my favorite albums and some of the greatest writing music. It’s a constant companion, a warm bath, a salve. The song “Iconography” feels like the inside of Alice’s mind, a mercurial swirling of sadness and determination, feline-style. She sets everything in motion with her suicide attempt, and if we mere humans were able to plumb the depths of a cat’s layered musings, this, in my opinion, is the music we might hear.

“Stormy Weather” by Ethel Waters

Mrs. Melloni is the grandmotherly presence of the story, a character whose wisdom and serenity serves to propel many things that ultimately change Tess’s life. She was born in 1933, so I found this song very fitting. We meet her in the opening scene of the book when she gets into a bad car accident, and the storm clouds begin to gather, so this song is perfect.

“Wind Chimes” by Sounds of the Earth

Tess keeps hearing ghostly wind chimes in and around the house where much of the book’s action takes place. Turns out, there’s a reason for that. I love wind chimes, especially haunting, earthy ones. The eerie wind chimes at the beginning of “Plainsong”, the opening track off the album “Disintegration” by The Cure, are my favorites.

“The Boy Who Could Fly” by Bruce Broughton

The character of Eddie Poffey, who befriends Tess and acts as a kind of surrogate older brother and protector, is inspired, in part, by the character of Eric (played beautifully by Jay Underwood) from the 1986 film The Boy Who Could Fly, an all-time fave. One of the most heartbreaking and life-affirming films. Also overwhelmingly underrated. Little known fact: the writer/director, Nick Castle, also plays Michael Myers in several of the Halloween films. That kind of unexpected duality—from such tenderness to such brutality—is fascinating, and I feel it fits the tone of my book: the layers of grief up against the wacky humor and goofiness. So this song is, for me, all about Eddie, whose life changes irrevocably because of his friendship with Tess, and from how he helps her and Alice.

The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough (From “The Goonies” Soundtrack) by Cyndi Lauper

Cotter Wingham is the comic relief in this story. He’s a goofball, a mess, overly confident, and full of so much heart and hope and energy and talent and love. He’s kind of a conglomerate of all the weirdoes I love so much from the movie The Goonies. He’s Mikey, Data, Mouth, Brand, Chunk and Sloth all rolled into one! He’s also inspired by Dill from To Kill A Mockingbird, a diminutive but self-assured kid with an active imagination. He represents the perspective of childhood innocence. And this song encapsulates the spirit of adventure that pervades Alice the Cat, especially when they head to the Weirville Animal Hospital for the rescue mission, and later to the Police Station. So this ancient banger is for Cotter, forever young and wild.  

“Burn” by The Cure

Francine, the ghost, has a dark history with fire, caused by her anger issues. And Tess, similarly, contains the ‘rage gene’ and is privy to tempestuousness. It’s no wonder these two souls come together and end up helping one another out—from across different dimensions no less. This song explores all that desire that rages inside, the need and the want and the hope that burns to ash and sees a phoenix arise. It also encompasses a smattering of goth culture that permeates the book.

“Face to Face” by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Icon and legend Siouxsie Sioux is notoriously obsessed with cats. Tim Burton himself asked her to play Cat Woman in Batman Returns. Instead, she collaborated with the great Danny Elfman to contribute this stunning song and visually arresting video. I feel like this song encapsulates Francine’s love for and need of a cat in the story, a seminal aspect of the narrative. It’s packed with slinky, feline, feminine energy and also sidles nicely into the gothier aspects of the book. I mean, it’s Siouxsie for god’s sake.

“For A Thousand Years” by Jaymes Bullet

This song is a sensual homage to Francine’s extended purgatory and Lunar Velvet’s psychic abilities and communication with her. “I’ve loved you for a thousand years” is a very provocative lyric if taken literally. This song is a lushly vampiric gothy little jewel by Jaymes Bullet, who is herself a ghostly vampiric jewel.

“Storytime” by Danny Elfman

There’s a scene where Tess and Eddie look at Lunar and Dami in the basement, where they hold their seances, and Tess thinks to herself how they remind her of characters in a Tim Burton film, like Kim and Edward or Sally and Jack, little clay figurines in a stop-motion movie. I also love that this song is called “Storytime” because that’s the essence behind any book, right? So this song is to honor Lunar Velvet and Dami Tross and the impact they end up having on Tess, Alice, and Francine.

“Wybie” by Bruno Coulais · Helene Breschand · Hungrarian Symphony Orchestra Budapest · Laurent Petitgirard (‘Coraline’ soundtrack)

I love Neil Gaiman, and I love Coraline (the book and the film). This gorgeous and peculiar piece reminds me of the scene in Alice the Cat where stuff starts to get really weird. It’s the start of the approach to the dark vortex of the book where it all unfurls, despite their best efforts. But you gotta hand these kids mad props for effort. And that squirrel too. Whoa.

Redd Suhn Wayves” by STAHV

Reminds me of music from a John Carpenter film, it has this kinetic, synthy 80s feel to it, and I imagine this as the music that’s playing when Tess, Eddie, and Cotter are traveling to the Animal Hospital and everything that unfurls while they’re there. It has a decidedly red and blue color palette to it, like the flashing lights on a police car. Feels like it would fit perfectly on the Stranger Things soundtrack too. STAHV is a kick-ass goth-metal band that the character Dami Tross would definitely be into.

“Astronauts” by Cranes

Long live Cranes. One of my all-time favorite bands, whom I listen to regularly when I write. Their music is so otherworldly, inimitable, emotional, unpredictable, wholly original. This song makes me think about Tess trudging home in the dark to finally confront the monster, as it were. And then what ends up happening that creates the bridge to the end part of the book. A really compelling track, cosmic and ominous.

“Organum” by Max Richter

More from Richter’s aforementioned The Blue Notebooks. This track helped to write the hardest scene in the book, the ‘all hope is lost’ moment. It is difficult for us writers to have these scenes in our books, but they act as connective tissue to our denouements. In this case, I wanted to make sure it was earned. Imagine a bright full moon glowing overhead and a tired, beaten down kid holding something she deeply loves in her hands, figuring out what to do next….

Yankee Doodle Dandy” by Gene Autry

Cotter Wingham plays Young Uncle Sam in the upcoming 4th of July parade, and he shows up in a preposterously goofy outfit, all red white and blue stars and stripes, gaudy, ludicrous, and weird. I had to include this. It’s perfect.

“I Love Reading Books” by Blake Rules and Netherfriends

Cotter does a rap at the police station, and it’s not of this song, but it’s…just when you think things can’t get any weirder. This is from an album of rap songs for kids, and it cracks me up, it’s so good.

“Lullaby” by BAYWUD

After the humor and inane shenanigans fade away, it’s back to the darker heart of the book. I choose a song that encompasses the character of Benny, Tess’s father (The Zombie) who is so despondent with grief he literally cannot function. There’s a scene where it all comes crashing down, the wave breaks, and this is the softest, saddest song I know.  Brings me to tears every time. It’s beautiful, it allows for a release, and that’s what this section of the book is about. Baywud’s gorgeous voice is an instrument in and of itself. Grab the tissues.

“The Coronation” by Pino Donaggio
“The Blood” by Pino Donaggio

Cotter brings Tess to an outdoor screening of two classic Stephen King horror flicks, Carrie and Pet Sematary. It was part of an earlier bargain struck up between the two, so she has to honor it. And when the pig’s blood comes down on Carrie’s prom-queen-crowned, strawberry-blonde locks, Tess goes ‘Nope’ and splits, ha ha. It’s an astonishing piece of music by Donaggio, timeless and instantly recognizable. It captures the innocence of Carrie’s joy of being at the prom with Tommy Ross and the tension of Chris Hargensen’s brutal act of revenge. Again—that duality I was talking about earlier. This also nicely sidles into some of the more horror elements of the book.

“A Familiar Face” by The Ocean Blue

This song makes me ache with nostalgia, the best kind, and it feels like such a perfect ‘goodbye’ song. I needed something for Eddie, to wrap up his story, and the scene between he and Tess in the parking lot of the school where the outdoor movie takes place is so important to me, so kind, so gently powerful. The Ocean Blue makes music that touches the heart and has a sense of motion, of travel. I wanted to convey that feeling here. I listened to this song a lot while writing this scene. I love this lyric so much:

“Back in the spring
When I thought of those things
I dodged the questions
I ducked the clouds
There were shadows in my heartland
Back in the fall when I knew it all
The wrong seemed right
And the right seemed wrong
There were shadows in the backyard”

“Johnny Remember Me” by John Leyton

This song is so intriguing: funny and romantic and silly and also conveys a great sense of sadness. I love the 1950s feel of it, that particular sound and tone, the way Leyton sings it (very Elvis-y) and the almost too-cool insouciance about losing the girl he loved, yet she’s there singing from the treetops in a ghostly sing-song moan. This is my send-off of Francine. The story of this song is not relevant to my book, but it feels like it’s honoring, serenading, a ghost, and I love that.

“Written on the Sky” by Max Richter

More Richter. More from my beloved The Blue Notebooks. This is the song of Tess and her dad safe and sound at the end, feeling their way through what has happened to them, and moving on. It’s a moving piece of music that feels like the perfect ending to any work or piece of art that has moved and changed you. As the author of this book, I feel moved and changed by it all, honored I got to be the one to tell this story, bring you these characters, and send them out into the world for you to celebrate.

I’m so thankful to the musicians whose inspiring songs helped me along the way.

Tim Cummings takes readers into the fictional town of Weirville in his upcoming middle-grade release Alice the Cat. Tess is on the precipice of her thirteenth birthday, processing the loss of her mother, and attempting to help her father who has become completely detached. Her beloved cat, Alice, has started rushing into the street when cars go by, trying to get run over, pushing Tess to do the only thing she believes may help: run away. This leads her to a local abandoned house where she discovers a ghostly entity that desperately wants a cat to care for in the afterlife, and it has its heart set on Alice. Tess will do whatever it takes to save Alice, help the ghost, and heal her dad, teaming up with unexpected friends, including a boy who has a huge crush on her and a local baseball hero turned pariah. The trio soon realizes that it will take more than magic to survive the summer in one piece.

Based on events from Cummings own life, Alice the Cat is emotional and humorous, emphasizing the importance of community in the face of adversity, allowing yourself to feel grief, and finding the magic in your own life.

Connect with Tim Cummings on Facebook, Instagram @octospark, Twitter @cummingstime, TikTok @timcummingswritesGoodreads and LinkedIn.

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