All of my novels have playlists that I listen to while I write them. When I was a teenager I needed mixtapes to set a mood and I guess I still need them when I’m writing.
Here is the playlist for my YA novel How to Be Manly, which will be released by Giant Squid Books on September 16, 2014. My main character Matty Sullivan is a misfit if there ever was one. He’s overweight, lives with his grandparents, and is hopelessly sprung on a girl named Cassie who rarely acknowledges him in public. One summer Matty follows the advice of a corny self-help book (entitled How to Be Manly, of course) he steals from a garage sale and decides to change his life. When his grandfather's health worsens, his roof falls in and his dad comes back to town to break up the family, Matty has to struggle to keep his family together, find love and become a good man despite a father who never grew up himself.
Here’s an excerpt:
I shoved the rest of the donut in my mouth and stuck around the books. They had a million books about sports.* * * *
I brushed sugar off my hands and tried to find some science fiction. Then a title of one of the football books made me stop and pick it up. It was called How To Be Manly.
I looked around right quick to make sure that nobody saw me pick up a book called How To Be Manly.
There was a picture of the author on the front. He was a football player from when I was a little kid. He clutched a ball to his chest and he was about to run through a big mob of other players. I flipped through the pages. There were only a few pictures. The back said that he was an MVP for the Chargers.
I used to be a fat kid. A loser. I started reading the first couple lines and I couldn’t stop. It was like I was hypnotized. Girls wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I had nothing to show for myself. The guy’s voice was right there in my head.
My father was a good man. He saw what was happening to me and he helped me become the person I am today. Through five simple steps, my father showed me how to be strong, successful and rich. He showed me how to be a man. I owe everything to him. If you aren’t getting what you want out of life, let me share these five steps with you. Let me share with you How To Be Manly.
“You can have a whole bag full of books for a dollar.”
I jumped. A lady with a visor leaned across the table and held out a plastic bag. “I’m not reading this,” I said.
“It looks like you are,” she said.
“Well I’m not.” I dropped the book like it was hot.
“That author grew up around here,” the lady said. “He went to the high school. Played ball in his senior year as I recall.”
“I never heard of him,” I said. That didn’t mean anything. I never watched sports.
“I think he died in a wreck or something like that,” the lady said. “Such a sad story.” She picked How To Be Manly up off the pile and handed it back to me. “Are you sure you don’t want it?”
I scooted over to my grandmother.
“Find anything you want to read?” she asked. The black Santa statues clanked together in her arms. They looked up at me like they were her babies.
“No way,” I said. I took the Santas and carried them to the car while she paid the lady in the visor. On my way past the book table, I swiped How To Be Manly and stuck it under my shirt.
So these are all Matty’s picks. Blame him if you don’t like them. I had nothing to do with it.
Lose Yourself by Eminem
Matty plays this on his way to summer morning football practice. It keeps him from going back to bed.
Dear Mama by Tupac Shakur
Matty and Grandma. Ride or die.
Gunpowder by Wyclef Jean
Don't you know that we can't stop the violence. The song makes me cry every damn time. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.
We Dem Boyz by Wiz Khalifa
Matty tries this persona for about twenty-four hours. It's about all he can take.
Revolution by Kirk Franklin
Grandma likes this song. This is the only singer the two of them can agree on in the car.
Can You Stand the Rain by New Edition
A little old-school jam that Matty likes to wallow in when he is feeling sorry for himself over Cassie.
Who's That Lady by The Isley Brothers
Woah. His friend Jessica is a hot girl. A kind-hearted, smart, skateboard-riding, strong, loyal, smokin’ hot girl. Some real old-school for if and when Matty finally realizes this very obvious fact.
* * * *
Maureen O’Leary Wanket is a writer and teacher living in Sacramento with her husband and two daughters. She writes a bunch of stuff all over the place. How to Be Manly will be released by Giant Squid Books in mid-September 2014.