5 Books & Albums that changed my life: Chelsea Cain

JOHN PRINE – JOHN PRINE. I don’t know how my parents came across John Prine’s first album, the aptly titled “JOHN PRINE.” Sometime probably brought it by the back-to-the-land commune they were living on. People did that back then. If you got a record you really liked, you drove it around to all your friends’ houses and gathered everyone together and you listened to it. I imagine that the first time my parents heard John Prine, they were sitting on the porch of the old farm house they lived in, listening to a turntable they had set up by running an extension cord through the kitchen window. There was this song on that album called Spanish Pipedream with a chorus that went like this: Blow up your TV, throw away your paper/ Go to the country, build you a home/ Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches/ Try an’ find Jesus on you’re your own. My parents weren’t looking for Jesus, but they had already blown up their TV. They wouldn’t allow a boob tube into the house until the Watergate hearings, when they relented and strung an extension cord through that kitchen window and watched the hearings outside on a little black and white TV while they gardened. So, as you can see, the song resonated. By the time I came along in 1972, it was the commune’s de facto theme song. Every commune needs a theme song, right? I grew up listening to it. I have five TVs in my house right now, and I subscribe to two newspapers, and I don’t have a garden to speak of, and I’ve never tried to find Jesus on my own or with anyone else. But that song, and that album, still takes me somewhere sweet whenever I listen to it.

AS I LAY DYING – WILLIAM FAULKNER. Dude. This book has my favorite chapter in the whole word. One sentence. “My mother is a fish.” I read As I Lay Dying sophomore year of high school and it changed everything. It subverted everything they were teaching us. Brought down the entire paradigm. The five-paragraph essay? Bullshit. Topic sentences? Bullshit. Complete sentences? Bullshit. When you show a kid Faulkner, you teach that kid that writing can be anything you want it to be. You blow the doors wide open.

CHELSEA MORNING – JUDY COLLINS. So as we’ve established, my parents were hippies. Being anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian types, they didn’t want to saddle me with some name that they had come up with. I mean, that is so like The Man to just slap down a name on some innocent child, right? My parents wanted me to choose my own name. The only thing was, I was a baby, and couldn’t talk. They waited six weeks. That’s right. I didn’t have a name for six weeks. My parents called me Snowbird, because I had been born during a blizzard and it probably seemed politer than “Hey, You.” Then at six weeks, my mother was nursing me when the Judy Collins version of the song “Chelsea Morning” came on the stereo, and I gurgled. They named me Chelsea. It was probably just gas, but I still owe Judy Collins a shout out. If it weren’t for her, I’m pretty sure Snowbird would have made it onto my birth certificate.

THE MYSTERY OF THE GLOWING EYE – CAROLYN KEENE. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan as a kid. That sentence doesn’t even seem to do it justice. I read Nancy Drew books as I walked to school. I read them under my desk during class. (I’m still not sure what a verb is.) I read them in the bathtub. And I checked them out, in piles, from the library. The Mystery of the Glowing Eye was my favorite. Ned Nickerson gets kidnapped and in the opening scene an unmanned helicopter crashed in Nancy’s yard. Inside is a note from Ned. Beware the Cyclops. Naturally, Nancy has to rescue him. Man, I loved that book. I still have the copy I checked out of the Bellingham Public Library when I was eight. (I wouldn’t admit this, except that several years ago, I was granted amnesty by a group of BPL librarians.)

WIRE IN THE BLOOD – VAL McDERMID. Val McDermid. Where do I start? I owe this woman my career. I was pregnant and lusting for blood and I came across her Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. At the time there were only three books in the series and when I’d finished them I was bereft. So I wrote my own thriller. It’s a strange response, I’ll admit. But I just wasn’t ready to leave the thriller universe, and spending two years writing a book somehow struck me as easier than spending a few dollars on a book that Val McDermid hadn’t written only to be disappointed by it.

 Chelsea Cain
Chelsea Cain is the New York Times bestselling author of THE NIGHT SEASON, EVIL AT HEART, SWEETHEART and HEARTSICK. Both Heartsick and Sweetheart were listed in Stephen King’s Top Ten Books of the Year in Entertainment Weekly.  Her next book, KILL YOU TWICE, comes out on August 7th.