In an unnamed town in the summer of 1998, Judy is an isolated and inexperienced teenager on the cusp of adulthood struggling to craft an identity for herself—especially as the artist she wants to be. Big Shadow explores the costs of self-deceit, fandom, and tenuous ambitions, exposing the lies we’ll tell ourselves and the promises we’ll make to edge closer to what we want… or what we think we want.
Marta shares her playlist below and walks us through the presence of music in her novel, as well as in her writing process. We hope you enjoy! Big Shadow comes out this Tuesday, May 16, and is available from our online shop or your favourite independent bookstore.
One of the main characters in my novel is a musician who was part of the punk scene that originated in New York City in the mid-1970s and the post-punk scene that followed in the 1980s. I knew that music had to be present in the novel because this character is present in it, but I’m also somewhat leery of references to art in books that feel extrinsic or unnecessary and can come off as potentially alienating or esoteric. I find music can come off this way more than any other type of reference, such as a reference to film or visual art or books. This might be a product of having grown up during a time when knowledge of a certain musical genre effected a cultural “cool” status more aggressively than other types of knowledge did. I don’t know if this is still the case, especially since anything can be looked up online, and the argument that you’re cool for knowing something obscure is no longer viable. In either case, while writing the novel, I tried to limit references to where they felt necessary, and even then I generally preferred to stay in the realm of relatively recognizable names, like Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones. Some of the songs on my playlist are from other artists, ones who were directly referenced in my novel or come from the scene it references, but would not fill a stadium the way Dylan or the Rolling Stones could.
I don’t listen to music while writing; actually, I seem to need near-absolute quiet while writing. But when I listen to music around the time I’m working on a piece of writing, I feel inspired by it and I take clues from it, in the same way as happens when reading other books while writing your own. In days when I was re-working the final chapter, I had The Who’s song “Disguises” on repeat. As a result, I ended up inserting some references to disguises in that chapter, which I didn’t realize I was doing at the time, but which thankfully are thematically linked to the rest of the novel. But I think music can work in an even more direct way, as a model. One of my last major edits involved the need to figure out which opening to use for the novel: a prelude, a more-standard chapter one, or some kind of hybrid. The various opening options had different styles and interacted in different ways with what followed; it seemed like a big decision to opt for one and not another. Some of the songs on the playlist, like those from Os Mutantes and Sonic Youth, helped with that decision.
See No Evil by Television
Walking on the Water by Richard Hell & The Voidoids
Subway Train by New York Dolls
Crazy Rhythms by The Feelies
Ask Me No Questions by Johnny Thunders
Fire by Lizzie Mercier
Gut Feeling by Devo
Disguises by The Who
Brave Men Run (In My Family) by Sonic Youth
Panis et Circenses by Os Mutantes
Marta Balcewicz spent her early childhood in Pomerania and Madrid, and now lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Catapult, Tin House online, Vol. 1. Brooklyn, Washington Square Review, The Rumpus, and Passages North amongst other publications. Her fiction was anthologized in Tiny Crimes (Catapult, 2018). She received a fellowship from Tin House Workshops in 2022. Big Shadow is her first novel.