Digging into an old box of mixed tapes leads one direction—toward nostalgia, and most likely into the tricky land of exes. Libby Cudmore's debut, The Big Rewind, is much like that box of mixtapes, with its mystery buried beneath affairs of the heart, wry jokes about hipster Brooklyn and a steady stream of The Smiths, Warren Zevon and Talking Heads.
Jett Bennett had originally moved to New York City to become a music journalist but is currently working as a temp proofreader who makes a little extra on the side by buying women's lingerie for her male boss. Whatever pays the bills, right? But Jett accidentally receives a mixed tape intended for her neighbor KitKat, and upon trying to deliver it to its rightful owner, finds KitKat dead on the kitchen floor. Jett has a feeling that this mixed tape just might lead her to the killer, but as she digs deeper, her own heartbroken past comes to the surface—while she's confronting new feelings for a close friend.
The Big Rewind is a classic cozy, with as much emphasis on romance and music as on the murder. We contacted Cudmore to chat about mysteries, nostalgia, journals, mixed tapes and rediscovering all our favorite “terribly dumb late-'90s radio garbage.”
Jett shows great promise as an amateur sleuth, but her real talent is finding the perfect music to fit a moment, the just-right song to sum up an emotion. Is this a gift you share with Jett?
Yes. I am the undisputed QUEEN of the mix CD. As soon as I realize I’m going to be friends with someone, I start compiling a playlist for them, songs I love that I want to share, songs that remind me of something we did together.
There a real art to it—it’s not just about putting a bunch of songs together. You think of a concept, a title, a theme and build on that. You put in little sound clips from movies and TV shows. You design the cover and put it all together and deliver it and hopefully the person loves it. I’ve never had anyone say, “This is garbage,” although after three CDs, my friend Jason finally said, “Darling, I love you, but one more Smiths song and I will murder you.” So you go from there and adapt.
You’ve certainly sampled details from your own life, with references to anime, music you love and even naming a character after one of your journals, Catch. Do you often sample so openly from your life? Do you think Jett’s search represents anything for you?
The music is because I have an enormous record/CD collection, so I was able to draw from that to find music that was recognizable but also unique, with the hope that the reader might discover something new (The Vapors, Warren Zevon). I had fun with it.
Is this book personal? Yes, but it’s a universal sort of personal. Everyone has had their heart broken. Everyone has relationship regrets. It’s not about sampling from my life—it’s about reaching into the universal experience and sampling from that.
Speaking of, why did you name Jett’s former love after your journal?
You did your homework! But it’s actually the other way around. When I started naming my journals, I went back and named that one for Catch, because I had started The Big Rewind in that one. But the name itself comes from Ewan McGregor's character in Down with Love, which was the nickname of the friend who gave me the journal.
What was the greatest challenge in writing this book?
Honestly, I can’t remember. That’s how books go—you’re in the trenches, you feel like it’s never going to get finished and that it’s terrible and you want to quit, and then it’s done and you look back and it all seemed like it was so easy.
Loneliness is a hallmark of classic mysteries. Did you initially set out to write a murder mystery that explores loneliness in this way?
I did. I know my mid-20s were an intensely lonely period for me and I could observe that they were similarly lonely for my friends. Your friends from college start to drop off and your friends from high school have mostly all gone their own ways, you’re struggling to get a career and a life going and it’s rarely easy. I wanted to explore that, but I also wanted Jett to find her place in the world, to open her heart and stop resisting just because her world no longer looked exactly like the one she knew.
Mixed tapes, vinyl, Boyfriend Boxes—nostalgia is the name of the game here. In your opinion, what’s good nostalgia vs. bad?
Bad nostalgia is anything that keeps you from growing and moving forward. “Oh, I can’t listen to that band because my ex liked that band.” That's dumb. Get out and enjoy your life and don’t let the past drag you down. Good nostalgia is being able to appreciate what you loved, even if it doesn’t suit you now. I found a bunch of mix CDs I burned in college and was live-Tweeting the horrors to amuse my followers—I’m talking Hootie and the Blowfish, “Sex and Candy,” all sorts of really terribly dumb late-'90s radio garbage. I could admit that I still like “Only Wanna Be With You” and I could laugh at the fact that for whatever reason, I thought I would want to listen to OMC’s “How Bizarre” for the rest of my life. That’s good nostalgia.
Is there anything close to making a mixed tape in the current climate of dating and love?
No, so I still make mix CDs for people I have great affection for. Spotify playlists just won’t do the job. Because it's not just about the CD—it’s the cover art, the physical arrival of the object, whether you pull it from a purse or a jacket pocket or they come home from work and find it in the mail. Nothing is ever going to replace that thrill.
Will we see more of Jett? What are you working on now?
I’m working on a standalone and some short stories right now, but I hope to bring her out to play again. I loved writing for her, I love her neighborhood and her friends and most of all, Jett herself.
Is there a song to sum up this interview?
“Private Life” by Oingo Boingo.