Meet Author A.J. Matthews

Bars, Beaches, and Boys Who Stay: My Playlist for Goodbye to You

It’s bad enough Thea has a gene mutation that ensures breast cancer is in her future. It’s a punch to the gut when she’s decided to have a preventative mastectomy—and then meets a sweet, gorgeous guy who seems to like her boobs as much as he likes her.

That’s my debut novel in a nutshell. It’s romantic and heartbreaking and hopeful. I am someone who has to write to music. It gets me in the mood for writing all kinds of scenes. Essentially, if I have an idea, I have a playlist started. The story of Goodbye to You started with a subplot on a TV show, and blossomed from songs I was listening to at the same time.

My playlists are comprised of a mix of old and new songs, popular ones and deep cuts from albums long forgotten by the general population. The songs may be ones that my characters listen to, or songs that remind me of the characters or set a mood for a scene. The full playlist for Goodbye to You clocks in at three hours and thirty minutes. It’s fifty-six songs of fun and flirting and heartbreak and triumph. While I’d love to list each song, and explain why I chose it, that would make for one unwieldy post. So let’s take a look at fifteen representative tracks, and then you can listen for yourself!

“Cheeseburger In Paradise” by Jimmy Buffet
Can there be a playlist about a book partially set in Key West without a song by the man whose music embodies the island lifestyle? No way. My main character Thea overhears this in the bar while doing shots with her friends, and is humming it when she comes out of the bathroom and finds the cute guy she’d been admiring from afar.

“I Want You” by Savage Garden
This frothy, upbeat song about instant physical attraction gets my feet moving, and captures the buzz crackling between Thea and Shay from the moment they set eyes on one another.

“Head Over Heels” by The Go-Go’s
Thea’s been long ready to face the harsh reality of body-altering surgery, but for a few moments, she lets herself go and allows a little fun and passion into her life. The lyrics “I waited so long/So long to play this part/And just remembered/That I’d forgotten about my heart” illustrate how one night-and the right guy-free her to enjoy being young and momentarily carefree.

“Everything Has Changed” by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran
It’s difficult to pick out a single line or even two from this song that describes the impact of Thea and Shay meeting. One day makes a difference, and a simple “Hello” can change the entire course of your life. This song represents the turning point, when Thea begins to realize that Shay could be so much more than a vacation fling if life wasn’t so complicated.

“Daylight” by Maroon 5
After the first night Thea and Shay spend together, neither wants it to end. Shay is leaving home for medical school, and Thea is going home for her mastectomy. When the daylight comes, Thea has to go, but she’ll hold on a little tighter tonight to make the memory last.

“Over My Head” by Fleetwood Mac
Thea was close to her mama, who passed away from breast cancer when Thea was only sixteen. Her mother loved Fleetwood Mac, and Thea believes her mama sometimes communicates with her through songs on the radio. This one plays in the coffee shop when Shay finds Thea in the lobby of the university hospital where he’s going to medical school. He asks her out, and the song inspires Thea to say yes.

“Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” by Luke Bryan
Thea takes Shay to a family friend’s restaurant for a little home cookin’ and some Southern hospitality. The one thing Shay isn’t ready for is to watch Thea shake it in time to this catchy country ditty.

“Accidentally In Love” by Counting Crows
Does anyone really expect to fall in love? Probably even less so when you’re going through some major stressors in your life. This song for me really captures the joy of being caught off guard.

“Head Over Feet” by Alanis Morissette
When Alanis sings “You’ve already won me over/In spite of me,” I think of how Thea just needs to get out of her own way and let something good in. Shay isn’t taking no for an answer.

“I Walk Away” by Crowded House
Every playlist I put together has at least one song by Crowded House (or their related acts) because Neil Finn and company are incredible artists. This gem is from their first album, and it reminds me of Shay’s reaction when he discovers Thea’s secret. “Black day in the coldness of winter/Black words slipping off my tongue/I say ‘Forget it, it’s over’/As a dark cloud covered up the sun.” Shay’s reaction was out of character, surprising even me, but in this situation the only way he could express the pain of deception.

“Goodbye To You” by Michelle Branch
You knew there had to be a song with this title, right? There are a few great ones, but this one is bittersweet and wistful, and illustrates so well a point in the book when not only does Thea thinks she’s lost Shay, but is also on the cusp of her surgery. She has to say goodbye to a part of her body she loves, and also cope with her feelings about the femininity associated with her breasts.

“All In” by Lifehouse
I’ve likened Lifehouse songs to romance novels-there’s often a hero (the singer) and a heroine, and angst and by the end,  a deeper commitment than either thought possible. “All In” describes so well Shay’s attitude about Thea’s surgery and the changes it will bring. He’s ready for everything, anything that comes their way. All in, baby.

“Cruel To Be Kind” by Nick Lowe
Thea doesn’t want Shay to be tied to her or the baggage that comes with her genetic defects. She thinks she’s being kind when she tries to break it off with Shay before the surgery actually goes down. Will her cruel streak succeed in alienating him once and for all?

“Into Your Arms” by The Lemonheads
It’s a romance novel, so of course she’s not getting rid of her man that easily. Shay proves himself to be a true hero, beyond the black moment and into the gray world that is reality. Despite the ups and downs that follow traumatic life events, Thea and Shay know where they’ll each find shelter and comfort.

“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” by James Taylor
Though James Taylor was born in Massachusetts, he’s so North Carolina there’s a bridge named after him in the college town of Chapel Hill, where his family moved when he was three. So it’s fitting to end my playlist with a lovely song by J.T. about the sweetness of loving, and being loved, by THE one. (Also, I spent a lot of time traveling to Chapel Hill in the two years leading up to the writing of this book, and the beautiful campus there was part of my inspiration for the university in the book.)

Here’s a compilation of the songs on Spotify. Let me know what you think!

As a Blogfest bonus, I’m giving away two sets of the available books! The U.S. winner will receive autographed copies of books one and two, and an e-book of the companion novella. The international winner will receive e-book copies of all three stories. And be on the lookout for the book three, coming this winter!

Check out the other authors in the blogfest!!!

Apryl Baker