Bill Roorbach’s Playlist for His Novel “Lucky Turtle”

  • by

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Bill Roorbach’s novel Lucky Turtle is an unforgettable love story set starkly against Montana Wilderness.

Booklist wrote of the book:

“Roorbach is a consummate raconteur skilled in breathing life into his characters. His prose is well-suited to the Montana landscape, capacious yet created with poetic economy, evoking the splendor of nature in language that sparkles like crystal clear mountain water.”

In his own words, here is Bill Roorbach’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Lucky Turtle:

Bill Roorbach’s Playlist for his Novel Lucky Turtle, in his words, but with help from a friend, Alicia Fisher

I struggled some with a playlist for Lucky Turtle, because I’m not well versed in the music of ’90s, which is the timeframe, at least of the past story—there’s also a present story, my characters emerging from disasters. The first drafts of the novel took place in the sixties and then in the present. That is, until a lightbulb went off in the middle of some night and I realized that my characters, knit in a love story, would be pretty old in the present if they were teens in the sixties, as I had been, and that the story needed them young enough to truly salvage and redeem their lives.

And yes, I am pretty old, born 1953, jazz fan in high school, lots of blues, but also what’s now called classic rock. Playlists for me were vinyl albums tucked into covers with extensive notes you’d study while the record went ’round and ’round. I didn’t make playlists, I listened to albums, never thought of mixing and matching songs with other albums, not at a party, not baked in my room late at night, not on a date. Singles on the portable record player were for kids, and I was a hip teen.

Anyway, as a grownup near 70 years old I moved the past story to the nineties, and that solved a lot of structural problems. It also caused a few story problems, and these could be well represented by my playlist struggle. I just wasn’t versed in teen culture of the ’90s. I play music myself, keyboards, and one night in the new millennium rehearsing for a gig with younger musicians, I was caught out. The guitarist, Jonboy Nemo, called a whole series of songs I didn’t know, not the bands, not the singers, not the albums, nothing. “Are you one of those guys who missed the nineties?” Jonboy cried. Hilarity ensued.

Because apparently I was.

In the original draft of Lucky Turtle, I had my protagonist, Cindra Zoeller, who is incarcerated at a reform camp in Montana, wistfully considering the music she loved, which was the music I loved at the time and still love. You could practically make the playlist of albums for me and be exactly right. But now I’d moved her into the late nineties, and the only music I could think of was Alanis Morrisette and like, Sarah McLaughlin.

Cindra’s love interest and liberator, the eponymous Lucky Turtle, doesn’t have a lot of music in his life. He knows some hymns and some Beatles, and that’s about it. Albums his mother loved. Plus church. So I picked two songs for him for our playlist:

1. For the Beauty of the Earth, traditional hymn, Folliot Sandford Pierpoint; Music: Conrad Kocher (there’s another version I don’t care for, same lyrics, different melody, ugh)

2. In My Life, Lennon-McCartney. Everyone still knows this song.

For Cindra, I had to admit defeat, and so asked my friend Alicia Fisher (poet, novelist, and most importantly for our purposes today, woman of the nineties), what Cindra’s playlist might sound like—not quite the same as Alicia’s would be, with lots of hard edges, but more mainstream, though influenced pre-Lucky by a worldly boyfriend a little older.

Alicia understood the assignment, as I believe the youngsters of today like to say. And after a week or so, this was her reply:

“Bill, did you miss the nineties? Yes, you did. Here is my soundtrack for your novel. Mostly mainstream stuff I was sort of adverse to (but I loved en Vogue & a few others from that crowd)… For Cindra I tried to channel a not-cutting-edge-but-soulful ear … maybe she wouldn’t have listened to Garbage or Kristin Hersh but those songs were radio hits, so … also Kristin Hersh is late 80s … but the song is just so perfect.”

Cindra’s playlist, by Alicia Fisher, with a song Bill has heard of, “Sweet Dreams”:

1. No Doubt–Don’t Speak

2. Tori Amos–Little Earthquakes

3. En Vogue (feat Salt n Pepa)–Whatta Man

4. Kristin Hersh–Your Ghost

5. Alanis Morissette–Head Over Feet

6. Liz Phair–Supernova

7. Garbage–Push It

8. Jewel–who will save your soul

9. Eurythmics–sweet dreams

10. Alicia Keys–Fallin’

11. Fiona Apple–Never Is a Promise

12. The Fugees–Killing Me Softly with his Song

13. Sheryl Crow’s cover of The First Cut is the Deepest

Thank you, now I’ll go back to missing the ’20s.

Bill Roorbach is the author of five previous books of fiction, including The Girl of the Lake, the Kirkus Prize finalist The Remedy for Love, the bestselling Life Among Giants, and the Flannery O’Connor Award-winning collection Big Bend. His memoir in nature, Temple Stream, won the Maine Literary Award in nonfiction. Roorbach has received fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He held the William H. P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. His craft book, Writing Life Stories, has been in print for twenty-five years. His writing has appeared in Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, Ploughshares, Granta, Ecotone, New York magazine, and other publications. He lives in Maine with his family.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.