Aural Pleasures

Aural Pleasures: The Soundtrack of Caleb’s Heart

First and First Santino Hassel

It’s no secret that many authors are inspired by music. There are times when I’ve sat in the car while stuck in traffic and briefly focused on whatever song was playing only to be hit with an idea for a scene, plot, or character.

This happened to me with After Midnight (“I’m Mad” by The Deadweather), Stygian (“La Lugubre Gondola, No. 1”, composed by Liszt), and there have been several songs that struck a chord within me while I’ve worked on the Five Boroughs novels. “The Hills” by The Weeknd not only inspired me while writing First and First, but a character in a future novel as well.

First and First is the story of Caleb Stone—a thirty-six year old gay man with a life that’s envied by most. He was born into wealth, he’s a brilliant financial analyst, and lives in a gorgeous penthouse in the Financial District of Manhattan. To others, he has everything. However, Caleb’s point of view is very different. He doesn’t think he’s accomplished anything to be proud of. He’s repressed. And he’s afraid of never being loved.

The book is sexy (probably my most erotic romance to date), but it’s also very emotional. The songs in my First and First playlist reflect that. Below, you’ll find my top five Caleb songs and explanations as to why they’re so revealing about what’s in his heart.

The Weeknd: “Earned It”

This song is from the The Fifty Shades of Gray soundtrack, which makes sense since both Christian Gray and Caleb Stone are messed up rich guys. It’s about a man who says he’s used to being used but is now enchanted by this one special someone he wants to hold onto. Another reason I love it is because it’s low-key romantic, which is also how I would describe First and First. There are dirty moments, emotional moments, and then moments of pure romance despite the characters trying to pretend that’s not what’s going on.

FKA Twigs: “Two Weeks”

FKA Twigs has an amazing voice and style. She manages to be haunting while talking in vivid detail about how she will seduce this man from his sexless life. Oli does this to Caleb throughout the book but especially at the beginning. As he says to Caleb early on, he likes making grown men blush.

Banks: “Waiting Game”

This song is about a relationship that starts with sex, but the singer is afraid of it evolving into anything deeper because of all the ways it can go wrong. So essentially, Caleb would listen to this song when he’s confused by Oli’s hot and cold behavior. At one point in the book, Oli says, “I’m a good fuck, but I’m not your Prince Charming.”

Alison Wonderland: “I Want U”

This song is the perfect background music to the pivotal scenes in the last quarter of the book. It’s about mixed signals, and knowing there’s something special between two people even though the one party won’t admit it.

Flume: “Drop the Game”

In this song, a special someone has come into the singer’s cold unsatisfying existence, and has brought heat into their life. It’s how Caleb views Oli, and why he is so captivated by him from the start. There’s a point when Caleb wonders how Oli, who has just met him, is capable of unraveling all of his protective layers when he’s been repressed and afraid of his fantasies for years.

And of course… the answer to that is in the book. 🙂

First and First Playlist:

Santino HassellSantino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

Santino can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and

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