How would you like to spend an evening with six Epic Fantasy writers? Have a good meal? Great conversation? And then head over to the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit at the EMP Museum here in Seattle?
A quick word about Heifer. Their idea is to give people in developing nations livestock and bees and such in order to help build sustainable agriculture and commerce in areas with a long history of poverty. These gifts then create both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can then form community savings and fund small businesses.
And Pat Rothfuss runs a fundraiser every year to raise money for Heifer. That fundraiser is Worldbuilders. And that, friends, is where the money from a winning bid on this Epic dinner I’m about to share will go. Not only will you get a night to remember with some of the best writers in the genre, but you’ll be helping people build a better life. That simple.
So, about the dinner. I contacted Pat with an idea. I suggested that I might be able to pull together many of the writers in the Pacific Northwest for some activities he could list in Worldbuilders Ebay auction. After a bit of back and forth, we landed on two things. One was a full day of writing discussion across games, short fiction, and novel writing–that auction ended a while ago. The other was this epic dinner, for which there’s still time to bid. The auction ends at about 5 p.m. Pacific Time today, February 2.
And while just hanging out with these folks I’m about to introduce would be cool enough. I mean, they ARE cool! I wanted to take a minute to say a little more about each of them, because the person behind the writing is even cooler.
But Terry’s a hell of a lot more than a writer. He’s one of the most gracious, generous, and willing people I know. As a punk writer, I approached him at Surrey many, many years ago and struck up a conversation. I wound up trading a couple of emails with him, and pretty soon we did a dinner. Terry’s very good at eating. As I reflect on it, I kind of shake my head. I mean, really, this man had no need to go to dinner with an aspiring writer, even though I was a fan. Which isn’t to say his dinner card is empty. And with the MTV thing, his time is going to become more rare. But along the way, he’s offered wonderful advice, been a rational voice in an irrational business, and added his easy good humor to it all. Terry’s the genuine article. A chance to hang out with Terry is just way more than taking in a meal with a bestseller. He has a way of making everyone feel welcome and comfortable. When was the last time you met someone like that?
Robin Hobb is another fantasy writer who has more bestsellers than I can count. She’s a pillar in the field. She writes dragons better than just about anybody. And for fans of her Fitz character (of Assassin’s Apprentice fame), you’ll be glad to know she’s writing another Fitz book.
Now, let me tell you a story. I post a song every day on Facebook. I can’t help it. I’m a musician. One day I post Nightwish doing Phantom of the Opera because I love Nightwish. I’d met Robin before, briefly. But a few hours later I get an invitation from her to go see Nightwish who was coming to town on their Imaginaerum tour. What?! Robin Hobb just invited me to a rock show! A Nightwish rock show, no less! Yeah, she’s cool like that. Of course, her music tastes are diverse. But the fact that Nightwish is in there gives me a happy. Since that night, I’ve gotten to know Robin even better. And take it from me, there’s not a more lovely woman. She’s witty, well spoken, knowledgeable, and kind. I don’t just throw that last one in there. Kindness isn’t a given. And atop all this, she’s encouraging. So, again, yes, you’d be dining with a bestseller. But the person will impress you more than the fiction. She impresses me every week.
Greg Bear . . . oh my lord. Here’s another bestselling writer whose career is just mind blowing. In addition to his fantasy writing, he’s also widely known for his science fiction, and has lately done amazing things with the Halo franchise, which is close to my heart.
But, true to my theme here, Greg is a man that is even cooler than the things he writes about. I first met him at a Clarion party. Here’s the thing: He asked ME what I was writing. At the time, I was more a submitter than a writer. But Greg’s attention was never drawn away, never slackened. He showed genuine interest and we chatted for longer than any host probably ought to. And it wasn’t just me. I watched him do this repeatedly. Then, more recently, he accepted my invitation to do a joint reading for SFWA. At the end we did joint Q&A. This was a science fiction crowd. And more than that, GREG BEAR. So, you can imagine where the questions were directed. Midway through the Q&A, Greg takes the mic and turns to ask me a question. Class! Go read Greg’s Wikipedia page if want to be stunned by his awesome.
Brent Weeks is not a rising star in fantasy fiction. He’s already there. He pretty much landed in the field as a star. His Night Angel trilogy set the fantasy world on fire, and Brent hasn’t looked back, adding new worlds and great reads for fantasy readers. He’s another bestseller, in case you’re wondering.
And Brent, like the others, is a great deal more than his books. Oh, sure, I’ve seen him trade quick retorts with the best in the field. One ill-conceived evening at World Fantasy in San Diego, I watched him shred another author who thought he was having the best of Brent in a battle of wits. It was pretty remarkable. So, a word of warning there. But then, get this. On my book tour for my first book, I was scheduled at Powell’s in Beaverton. Let’s just say that there weren’t many attendees. But Brent and his awesome wife Kristi came. There’s no way there weren’t several other things he could have been doing that night. He showed up to support me. What’s more, we had dinner. And he had some calming things to say. There’s an energy about Brent that’s infectious. He’s also hilarious.
Steven Erikson is yet another bestseller. His Malazan Book of the Fallen series is not only one of the best in recent years, it’s complete. How often can you say that? He’s also an anthropologist and archaeologist by training, which might play into what I’m about to say.
Steven is one of the brightest minds in the field. The dude’s just flat out smart. The real kind of smart. He’s the kind of guy who raises the IQ of the whole room when he enters. And like the others, he’s extremely gracious. At a recent World Fantasy convention, we had a short conversation. Steven had been on a panel–one where he’d shown how meaningful a panel on myth and history can actually be–but wasn’t feeling well. He excused himself and retired to his room to sleep. I later got an email with an apology for having to cut our conversation short. That kind of thoughtfulness is rare. I mean, the guy was sick. He needn’t have said another word about it. But he did. And his wit . . . well, you can imagine. Steve’s schedule is crazy, so we’ll be working hard to pick a date that he can make for the dinner, but there are dependencies.
So, there you have it. These are the kind and awesome folks who agreed to join me for a dinner to be auctioned off for Worldbuilders. I don’t feel right about going on about myself. Anyone interested can find info at my website. I’m a pup among these giants. And frankly, the fact that they accepted the invitation tells you an awful lot about them. You know them for their books. They’ve enjoyed amazing success crafting worlds and telling stories. One wonders if perhaps there’s a correlation between success and graciousness. That’s probably a stretch. But in the case of these dinner guests, I could defend the argument. And I just wanted to take a moment to share a few stories that might help you understand why I think this is a unique and awesome opportunity.
So, here’s your chance. Head over and consider placing a bid. Auction ends at about 5 p.m. Pacific time today. Like I said, it’s a night with a few of the best epic fantasy writers on the planet. It’s a night of amazing conversation. But more than this, it’s a night with some of the best people I know. Really. Sappy as that sounds, it’s just plain true. And after it’s all said and done, the money goes to help people who need help. Literally, everyone wins.
Well, folks, Book Two is done. Again. It’s really quite a story. Let me tell you about it.
First off, let’s start with the fact that Book One, The Unremembered, was published in April of 2011, just for those who are keeping score. Then, what happened is largely two things: my day job, and an editorial snafu.
On the day job, you’ve maybe heard me talk about it before. But specifically, what happened over the last few years is that the day job became more demanding. While still getting up at 3:30 a.m. to write, I had had several very long stretches when instead of writing I had to go into work. We had some big things going on, like moving Xbox onto other platforms like iOS and Android, as well as something called Xbox One. It mean I lost more writing time than you can possibly imagine.
On the other thing, let’s just say that there’ve been editorial changes at Tor. My editor was fired. But again, for those keeping score, you’ll remember that I turned in Book Two in mid-October of 2012. My prior editor had done nothing up until the day he was canned which was this last June. So, my manuscript languished for nine months.
The good news is I landed with a great new editor. And after she got caught up, she gave me some input on the manuscript and away we went.
The work I finished today was taking her input and doing some things I had wanted to do for a while.
I’ve sent the manuscript in, and I suspect the book will come out in early 2015. As soon as I have a publication date, I’ll let you all know.
Thanks for all the email and support asking for me to get the damn thing done. It’s been great to have y’all express your desire to see what happens in the second movement.
I may blog more about all this later. Right now, I’m a bit numb. I’ve been putting in 16 hour days on it over my holiday break.
“Unfettered,” the tune: it’s a fight song. It incorporates every story in the anthology of the same name. I wrote it to help a friend—to help anyone fighting cancer.
The best answer to most questions is: Music. I’ll illustrate with a story. When asked by Shawn Speakman to contribute a video describing my involvement in the Unfettered anthology—to help get the word out—I replied: How about I write a song instead. Besides writing fiction, I’m also a musician. And music hath charms.
But I’m also a marketer by day. And it’s hard to turn that off. I’ve sat with Shawn at more sushi tables than I care to count sharing ideas with him on how to market a book or event or author. Some are solid, simple things. Some are extremely disruptive. Things Shawn replies to by saying: No one will ever do that; too many waves.
Also, as I mentioned, I’m a musician. An even harder thing to turn off. And really, why would I try.
So, back to the story. When asked for a promotional video, my marketing and musician hats conflated, and I started down a path to write a song that would hopefully get shared around, and consequently raise some awareness about the Unfettered anthology.
Then, I thought: It can’t just be a song; it’s got to tie to the book in some interesting way. I could have produced something that’s consonant with the “unfettered” theme. But that didn’t seem enough. My thinking quickly evolved to the notion of lyrically incorporating all the tales in the anthology as a way of tipping my hat to the many writers who contributed free stories to help Shawn pay back his medical debt. And so, that’s what I’ve done.
In some cases, I’ve woven bits of an author’s story with some slight interpretation of my own. In other cases, I’ve borrowed a seminal word or two from the fiction itself. And then here or there, I’ve done a high level summary or thematic recounting of the story’s core. These choices were made in my attempt to have the song hang together as its own thing, in the event the listener hasn’t read the book. Of course, for the listener who hasread the book, I think there are added levels of resonance.
Regardless any of that, at the end of it, my purpose was to say thanks to a number of writers while promoting a book to help a friend. And doing all that while making music? Kind of a perfect storm of awesome.
So, as I got underway, one of the very first decisions I needed to make was: genre. I thought seriously about something anthemic in the Broadway tradition. Think: “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde. I considered something intimate and poignant, probably just voice and piano or voice and acoustic guitar. Think: “Someone Else” by Queensryche. I thought maybe to ask Shawn about his favorite music styles, use one of those. At times, I heard in my head “Follow You Into the Dark,” you know, all singer-songwriter-y. And of course, I could well have done something progressive, which is a favorite style of my own. I probably considered twenty different genres and song-types.
But I didn’t land on any of these. And the reason is because I didn’t want the entire song to be a thanatopsis (good word, right?), and I didn’t want to get mushy about loss or love. No, what I wanted was: a fight song! Shawn was fighting back. I wanted to echo that spirit. Now, there are great Broadway fight tunes, e.g. “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables. But somehow that didn’t seem quite right. So…
Where did I end up? Power metal. A few of you just groaned. Bear with me, and consider: something strong, uncompromising, driving, easy to sing along to, gets your blood pumping, and maybe even with some epic orchestral bits. Yeah, power metal was the right way to go.
As an aside, I find it funny (sometimes insulting, but mostly funny), that so many of the folks who meet me make the assumption I’m a metal head. Given that, they might not be terribly surprised by my genre choice. Truth is: I’m nothing of the sort. I love a lot of metal. But I listen to an equal amount of jazz, classical, standards, 50s and 60s rock, Broadway, blah, blah. I tell you all that because I didn’t land on the genre without some thought.
Anyway, once I’d chosen the genre, and knew my libretto (as it were), I got started. That meant that I enlisted the help of my long time friend and collaborator Primo. Together, we’re releasing music under the band name: Lour Nail. It’s a reference to a character in book 2 of my fantasy series. Primo and I have written a lot of music together, and I love working with the guy. Once he was on board, we began putting together riffs and progressions and structure. Lots of tweaking took place. And in this instance, we stretched a little by doing the orchestral section you hear in the song—we’ve not done anything exactly like that before.
Originally, I wanted that section to stand alone, just a great instrumental passage with epicness. Something that sounded cinematic and triumphant. Then, as we were getting it wrapped up, Primo turns to me and says, “You’re going to sing over that, right?”
I honestly hadn’t planned on it. “No, I thought we’d let it stand.”
I can’t remember his reply exactly, but it amounted to: “Dude. Rock.”
Properly chastened, I set to writing vocals to the orchestral section, which for me turned out to be the most fun of the whole tune.
Now, I’m going to go through the lyrics in a moment, where I’ll talk a little about the way each line is inspired by a different story in the anthology. There’s information about the stories to give context to the lyric writing process, just so you know.
I’m going to drop the song in so you can start listening to it here. When you play the song, please kindly turn it to eleven.
And please share. The song helps promote the book. And book sales and song sales go to help Shawn pay back medical debt and to support cancer research. Direct links to it here: iTunes, Amazon; and you can find it elsewhere, too.
Now, I know folks who don’t really care about lyrics in music. I know musicians who feel the same way. But in this instance, the lyrics are more than vowel sounds set to music. They’re that “tip of the hat” to the contributing writers that I was mentioning. So, while you might just want to hear the tune, I invite you to take a trip through the lyrics with me, as they’re inspired by some great fantasy writers. And with any luck, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“Unfettered,” verse one:
River of souls
It will ebb and flow
These lines are drawn from the Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson story, “A River of Souls.” Duh. This seemed a fitting place to begin, for many reasons. First, let’s be honest, for many readers, this was the primary (or at least initial) reason for buying the anthology. I don’t blame them. Might well be the last bit of Wheel of Time fiction we ever see. Momentous.
Beyond that, the metaphor is a big one. And somewhat familiar. It stands as a nice up-front frame for the rest of the song. Because we’re going to talk about many of the things that take place to harrow a soul. So, it was nice to establish some poetic bedrock against which to cast some heavy examples of burdened souls, since we are, of course, going to try and unfetter them.
Metaphorically, a river of souls ebbing and flowing has many meanings. I don’t need to try and list them for you. But as relates the Wheel of Time, the short story in Unfettered has Bao going into the maw of the river and returning as the Wyld. The river, long disused, has produced a leader of war. Bao is changed. And he’ll attempt to bring change. In doing so, one can imagine that souls will swell the river. War does that.
Like the Hadeshorn
Roils with a man’s despair
Terry Brooks’ readers will recognize the reference, Hadeshorn. For the most part, I steered away from specific terms like this in the song. I didn’t want there to be too much insider knowledge necessary to “get” the tune. But, in this instance, I had a hard time delivering the salience without it, just as I had a hard time not wanting to nod to Terry in this way. So… I left it in. I’ll also admit that I had to call Terry to learn the proper way to pronounce the word, which you find in his story, “Walker and the Shade of Allanon.”
For non-Brooks readers, maybe it’ll suggest a menacing place they’d like to read about. Because, it is roiling with man’s despair. Or at least, that’s a bit of how I feel about this place. And frankly, the water imagery and import mapped well against “River of souls,” so there you go.
In any case, part of the tone the Brooks lines help me establish is that the waters of the soul are often troubled. Whenever a character approaches the Hadeshorn they hear the sibilant rush of departed voices. I usually wind up thinking about them much as I do the spirits in Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” who agonize over things they left undone.
This may well be an Orullian interpretation, but make no mistake, going to the Hadeshorn is an ominous thing. It’s on the edge between this world and the next. You play it careful there. And that’s the metaphorical edge I needed before diving into examples of how life becomes troubled.
One child’s guilt is endless
His family burned
These lines are inspired by Peter Brett’s story, “Mudboy.” One of my favorites in the anthology. In part, I’m fond of it because the “protagonist” is a child. I loved It and Summer of Night and Boy’s Life for the same reason. In any case, the ending of this story is a kick-in-the-gut. Brett does some impactful stuff with a fire and the child’s family and the feelings the child experiences in the very last sentence of the tale. Come to that, I suspect both King and Simmons would approve of the way Brett ties it off.
And these lyric lines are also where I begin giving examples of the way in which life can be harrowing. In this case, a child who makes a costly mistake. My construct has, thus, begun to play out. And part of that is this: the challenges and mistakes of a life can become binding. ”Fettering,” if you will.
Another spends a coin
From a rapist’s hand
I draw this from Robert Redick’s story, “Nocturne.” This tale is another of my favorites. There’s a marriage of content and form in this story that I don’t think most writers can pull off. It doesn’t hurt that it’s about a student of music. But honestly, that’s not the thing. Here, we have an excruciatingly simple act, where a brother carries his sister’s husband/rapist across a pig sty to earn her freedom.
I found it ingenious, poignant, and suspenseful. In this story there’s unique kind of lyricism, and the denouement is brilliant. I wanted badly to encapsulate the tale in a few brief words. Impossible. But you can see my attempt. And it’s another example of a life lived hard. With consequences.
Now we get into the first chorus:
In your mind you’ve the strength to fight your demons
Okay, now this phrase comes from Terry Brooks’ “Imaginary Friends.” Here we have a young boy who is sick in the more serious way that makes parents whisper or leave the room. And the boy here winds up with an imaginary friend that helps him through it.
Quite obviously, I translated that to the ability one might have of combating bad stuff—like mortal illness—with his or her mind. I’ve actually read case studies where cancer patients have dome similar things. Cynics won’t believe it. That’s okay. It’s not required of them. For the song, in any case, I liked the allusion to someone deciding to martial their own resources to see to the fight that needs fighting. You get it. And the chorus, then, begins to suggest some hope against the pains of life.
The beauty might even stay the hand of God
Jacqueline Carey’s contribution to Unfettered is a story entitled “The Rose of the Martyrs.” I read this story, and liked it. But it wasn’t until I reread portions of it to write the lyrics that one of the core ideas really struck me. Or at least, a part of the story that captured my imagination, and that is: Beauty as a weapon.
I’m quite familiar with the notion: music as a weapon. It’s in my own series. But this. It made me stop and think. I believe I extrapolated a bit with it—my own reader’s inflation, perhaps. But taken to its final possibility, I imagined what it might do. And then tied to the preceding line, it became a larger statement still. Several, in fact. I don’t want to spell those out, though. I’d prefer you do that for yourself. But catch me at a con sometime, if you want to jaw over it.
I did, though, like drawing a correlation between using one’s mind to battle your personal demons, and beauty. I found it a beautiful metaphor, to put a fine point on it.
Follow and you’ll die, unbowed I’ll honor life
Folks, I met a guy at Miscon in Missoula, Montana a little over a year ago. He was half of the duo that laid down cash to induce one of only two karaoke moments in my life. I have this thing about karaoke. Anyway, Eldon Thompson and Ty Frank, they were. And Eldon… well, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. A physical specimen—his muscles have muscles. And he’s a writer you should be watching for.
His story, “Unbowed“ has a great character who follows our point-of-view protagonist down into a cavern. She pays for it. And our POV character is himself rather honorable. With an edge. But honorable.
And this, song-wise, is where the chorus transitions to the possibility that maybe that “demon” you’re going to fight might get the better of you. This is a thing you think about when a friend gets cancer, as my friend Shawn did. Because you don’t have much you can do except esteem their fight. And maybe a few other, little things. Like write a song. Even when that song needs to acknowledge the possibility of a bad ending.
And I’ll never regret, and hour I spent in her light
Blake Charlton and I share a unique bond. I actually can’t talk about it here, because I think it’s too raw a topic. But suffice to say that we have far and away more DRM tweets to one another than the ones y’all see. Blake wrote the story, “Heaven in a Wildflower.” In a word: beautiful.
This story hit me where I live, because I have a daughter. And while his character’s daughter and my real daughter are radically different, the paternal feelings Blake writes about are the same. And what I love about this story is that Blake goes inside the grief. Talks about it. And there’s sacrifice here, too. Laying it on the line for someone you care about is heroic. In this instance, it’s not swords and flashes of fire. It’s taking a mortal risk in the quietest, perhaps most important way—giving a child life, regardless of the personal cost. And yet this story never feels heavy. Kudos, Blake.
One last note. The little girl in the story is born as/from a nimbus of light. This reference to the child and her light is important to the song in it’s last chorus, as it plays against another line. I’ll come to that later. So, remember the child’s relationship to light, if you’re following along.
My line here talks about the way you feel when things come to an irreversible end, but you know you’ve made a good call. The right one.
To tie off the chorus, then, I wanted to talk to concepts of ways/things that give us power/hope relative to some of the ways we become troubled in life, e.g. guilt, hardship of any kind. And I wanted to acknowledge that sometimes it gets the better of us, from a corporeal perspective, but that we can nevertheless stand above it with honor and without regret.
Violence, threat, and pleasure, a dog sound
He is just not the same
My friends, Daniel Abraham’s story, “Dogs”… dark. But not like vampires or zombies or what have you. This is the horror of rape. And more specifically how it changes a person. How it robs one of enjoying simple things. Of even havingsimple things.
It was easy selecting a section of the song to sing about Daniel’s story—I picked the heaviest part. Verse 3 comes in after the first chorus with a bone-crunching guitar riff and the strings removed. It’s rhythmic, and probably the most metal section of the song. And while you could easily treat the subtle darkness of the tale with a soft, intimate song or part, that’s not what my song here is about. It’s in your face. And you know, I’m pretty sure Daniel wants you to be uncomfortable. To wit, this is the one section in the song where I rough my voice.
Also, about the words themselves. The first line is drawn almost verbatim from the story. The second line is the consequence of the horrific, uncomfortable event early in the tale. For me, though, everything after that event is the dark part. Living with the aftermath is often worse than the moment of horror itself.
Teeth are not just the province of dogs, though
Watch as a dad walks away
Let me tell you a quick story. Of all the author events I’ve ever been to (readings, Q&A, panels, etc.), the best was Bob Salvatore’s at U Books. Why? Because he just got up, took questions, told stories, and was hysterical and witty and charming.
And while we all know R.A. for his many D&D books, this tale is nothing like those. It’s about a young kid playing outfield at a baseball game. Little league, man. This is apple pie stuff. I relate strongly here, because baseball is my favorite sport. I’ve played all my life—until college anyway. Every year until then, though. So, I get this tale.
The young protagonist is worried about the ball coming his way. You know, insecurity. Wanting to do a good job for his team, his coach… his dad.
Only here, the kid doesn’t make the catch. And when things go south, they do so in a horrific, fiction-twist way I won’t reveal entirely. Though, I’ll say that “teeth” is the other common denominator (after the horror element), that made placing Bob’s story next to Daniel’s the right choice.
However… it’s not the “teeth” thing that’s the horror here. It’s after the boy’s failure, he watches his father abandon him, walking away in shame at his son. Disappointing someone you love, particularly seeing it drive your dad away… damn. Just damn. Hit me hard. Haunting. Heavy. So yeah, more roughing the voice to get the emotion of this one out. And absolutely had to be in this section of the tune.
Lazarus wants death
And doesn’t care who pays
“The Unfettered Knight” is Shawn Speakman’s story. I do give a bit away with my lyric here. Don’t kill me. But to give impact to the reason for the character wanting death, I kind of had to. The more important part, though, is the second line. In his attempt to stop being “undead,” Lazarus seeks a unique weapon capable of setting him free. But there’s a high measure of selfishness in his quest, as it has far reaching consequences for the rest of the world.
Note: There’s a lot more to how Shawn casts Lazarus that I haven’t revealed here. Never fear. And the whole affair starts in the Vatican vaults. The exchange there between Lazarus and Shawn’s knight was my favorite part of the story. That, and the sense in which one winds up disliking Lazarus, not because he’s threatening others in order to get his way (he needs something in order to die), or because he’s basically an undead monster. No, he’s dislikable because he’s selfish, because he couldn’t give a damn what happens to anyone else, as long as he gets to be dead dead. Shawn did a nice job of building that nuance.
While a child’s dead pet
Has the heart to stay
I knew as soon as I read David Anthony Durham’s somewhat whimsical piece, “All the Girls Love Michael Stein”, that I’d pair it with Speakman’s story. Reason: as opposed to Shawn’s Lazarus, who wants to die (or stop being “undead” to be precise), Durham’s protagonist—a cat—elects, even in death, to stick around. And what’s more, the cat wants to help others.
The story has a lot of charm. Tonally, it’s unique in Unfettered. And where the anthology’s theme is concerned, Durham’s story plays a bit, too. The cat has become unfettered from this mortal coil, but elects to remain fettered to his departed owner (and human’s at large) in an effort to prove useful to them. Nice turnabout.
So, as with the first and second verses, verses three and four give us example of bad stuff. Stuff that makes life less awesome—rape, shame, betrayal, selfishness, etc.
With that, we go into the second chorus:
A dragon in the stars
This short line is attributed to Naomi Novik’s “In Favour with Their Stars.” First I’ll say, I tried to be somewhat balanced in how much “air time” each author’s story got. I did so because I’m that guy who hates when others butt in line and the like. I appreciate fairness. Demand it, maybe. Hard line to take in a world that doesn’t often give a damn for fairness. But that’s the cloth from which I’m cut. However, it did prove impossible to be a hundred percent balanced with each story in the song. My good fortune is that, for the most part, writers are a gracious crop. That said, I was deliberate with those authors I placed in the chorus, since as you know, the chorus repeats.
About Novik’s story, the line kind of tells you what’s what. Her Temeraire… yeah, gone to space. Cool stuff, this. In context of how I’ve tried to weave bits of the stories into an idea that hangs together as something larger and yet still related to the book, here’s where I piece together a few tales that I was able to leverage in solid metaphoric ways.
You may or may not know that there is, in fact, a “dragon” constellation. I liked the allusion there, though it’s nothing to do with the story. Beyond that, a dragon by itself is a powerful symbol and metaphor. And placing it literally and metaphorically in the heavens has mythic tones of living beyond the present reality. This was the feel I was going for given the melodic line I’d written.
As an aside, my song-writing process is to typically write the lead vocal melody to the instrumentation, and then layer in lyrics to the established melody. Once the story is laid out in lyrics, then I begin to look at word vowels as they play against the pitch I’ve assigned them. Lyric rewriting begins there, since in my scat-singing to write the initial melody, I’ll have landed on vowels I like for certain notes, and I’ll go back and work hard to rewrite my first-pass lyrics to dial in the vowel and tone.
The judgment of a simple thorn
Mark Lawrence’s Unfettered entry, “Select Mode,” sees Jorg make an appearance. It’s hard not to want to include the word “thorn,” right? Beyond that, though, I wanted to try and hit the sensibility I describe above for the second chorus here. That’s how I landed on the idea of judgment.
See, Jorg deals a lot of death. And it seems to be done with impunity. Yes, as I understand it, he’s often casual about it, but what I mean by impunity is that he seems to carry some inner zeal to achieve some recompense. I’m aware of Jorg’s seminal moment amidst the thorns, which is part of what leads me to my conclusions here.
In any case, the words “judgment” and “thorn” both carry real-world undertones that I was certainly not going to ignore. Though not drub over the listener’s head, either. But these resonances are goldmines for lyric writers. Or, writers of any kind, really. All of which is to say that this helped elevate the line into that metaphoric, symbolic realm of being unfettered. In other words, death as one kind of final judgment and release. And really, the image of a simple thorn representing all of this kind of got me jazzed.
Because, as I said, chorus two was about becoming unfettered in grand, final ways. An end of troubles, one way or another. Or at least an acknowledgement that those troubles are going to end someday. Death will find us at last. But there’s some romance and gladness to be had in advance of that—stars and dragons and childhood games (you’ll see this last one in a moment.)
Until the record fades
Todd Lockwood is known primarily for his stunning artwork. But Todd’s a writer, too. His first book is on the way. And his story, “Memory Keeper,” is part of Unfettered. Can I tell you, I was nervous to read Todd’s story. You see, I’m generally skeptical of folks who have one rather developed artistic skill and then try moving to another, e.g. Madonna. And this despite the fact that I’ve spent my entire life in equal parts writing fiction and making music. As I think about it, most of the examples I can come up with of someone tackling a new art form are actors and actresses thinking they can be musicians. Jeff Bridges might be the latest of these. And I’ve probably just offended some Bridges music fan.
But I feel on pretty solid footing when I say that usually these transitions go badly. I’m of the opinion that there was a time in the entertainment industry when entertainers really were the “triple threat” that today we mostly mourn. The Triple Threat being someone who can act, sing, and dance. One of my favorite examples of this is Bing Crosby. But I digress.
My point is that I worried I wouldn’t like Todd’s story. Then what? But I did like the story, which has some nice moments and drives home a point about keeping our history and stories for future generations. Of course, we often fail at this, and memory fades. Thus my line in the song. However, to remain true to the gist of this second chorus, I soften the loss of a record with the next line.
And all that’s left is childhood games
Tad Williams is a pillar in the fantasy field. And his story, “The Old Scale Game,” is one of two tales in Unfettered with a humorous bent. Imagine an old knight and an old dragon pairing up to run scams on villages to extort loot. Just writing that makes me smile. And the story is filled with fun lingo, too.
At the end of the whole affair, our fake hero and his fake dragon-adversary are tired of running the scam, and wind up establishing a carnival or amusement park of sorts. It’s a place people come to with that simplest of desires, to be delighted as they once were as children, doing the simple, fun things you do when you go to a festival.
The tone of the story is somewhat different than I’ve invoked in my lyrics and song, but that’s creative license for you. In “Unfettered” the song, the feeling is one of coming back to the realization—epiphany, maybe—that for all the troubles of life, when memories are at last gone (or fading) the purest and best things left to us are those things we enjoyed as children. This may sound maudlin. But I don’t think it’s any less true for that.
The sky will rain its power
And give us life like it was before
Jennifer Bosworth’s story contribution toUnfettered is a tale entitled “Strange Rain.” It’s an interesting story, that’s one part urban fantasy, one part horror, and something else besides. A pair of conjoined twins wind up having the miracle of separation. But it turns out that while one of the twins flourishes with his independence, his sister feels alone and a bit lost.
She decides to try and reverse the miracle, calling on the power of the heavens—lightning—to rain down on her and her brother to join them again. So, clearly, I’m twisting the story’s intent for my own lyrical gain. But that’s what you do sometimes.
So, the second chorus has to do with memorializing and endings, whether a constellation in the night sky, a thorn that causes or represents death, or a literal record. But it has to do with more than these things, ultimately. This refrain also has to do with what’s important when even those things have passed from memory. And my supposition here is that those things that mattered to us as kids might just be what matters most after all. And that those are precisely the things that make life meaningful. I could list them, but here again I’d prefer you think on that yourself.
Yeah, yeah, I know I’ve once more lapsed a bit maudlin. But like before, no apologies.
So, then, into the breakdown section of the tune:
I’m not known to wander
I’m not known to hate
I’ll show you simple beauty
As a holly leaf that has the strength to stay
Of all the stories in Unfettered, Patrick Rothfuss’ “How Old Holly Came to Be” is certainly the most experimental. In Pat’s own words, he likes short fiction because he can play. He can test approaches, ideas, etc. And he can do it all in a single sitting—as he did with this tale—where his books, as you know, are labors of love that take much longer.
For my part, I love Pat’s story. Here’s why: the silences. I’m not trying to be cute in referencing Pat’s book’s prologue. See, when I read this short story, the simple, spare construction was for me like finding one of those amazing abandoned stairwells. (Yes, I can be a bit strange, but bear with me.)
In an empty stairwell—all concrete, steel handrails, and floor after floor of nothing but steps—something magical happens when into the silence you utter a word… or sing a note: amazing natural reverb. Try it sometime. In any event, for me, it’s like discovering a new toy. The best kind. Every syllable finds long resonance and added meaning in a place like this. And that’s what Pat’s story does.
It’s the bones. The meaningful bones. Like poetry itself. Where between each word are silences filled with words that give those you actually see more meaning. And when I read “Old Holly,” every word is like one spoken (or sung) in a magical naturally reverberating abandoned stairwell. For me, these are the corners of the world that we don’t pause enough to note. And I love that Pat’s story shines a light on one such corner.
The tale itself is set in his Kingkiller universe. And it’s got a mythic quality. So, that’s cool. For the song, what jumped out at me when I began looking at integration into the music, was that I wanted a place to sing in a lower register. Maybe it’s because Pat himself has a rich baritone voice, and I kind of associated these two things. Whatever the reason, it meant I needed to sing Pat’s story in a relatively quiet part of the song.
Now, remember I told you that this is a fight song. Often, there’s no quiet to be had in such a tune. But then, in many fight songs there is. And mine has such a section. Think of it as the contemplative night before a battle, when soldiers huddle around the campfire and remember the things they’ll miss should they fall. In my song, I adopt the voice of Holly itself to relate some simple characteristics—truths, perhaps—about holly.
After all is said and done, there’s a rather powerful thing to be said forenduring. That’s what “Old Holly” is about. At least in part. The idea of long staying power, weathering successive storms, when everyone and everything else caves in, folds, fades. Outlasting stone. And so, I was able to correlate that with one’s fight against a mortally threatening disease. Taking strength from a simple, beautiful leaf when making a stand against life’s challenges… yeah, I like Pat’s story a lot.
One last note. After recording the deep vocal part—which is also meant to sort of echo the big, broad voice of earth and nature—we had the idea of layering in a spoken word track on the breakdown section. The more I thought about this idea, the more I liked it. And the words to use were obvious to me—the last ten lines of Pat’s story. Since these would need to be verbatim, I shot Pat a note to ask if he was cool with it. He was.
Now we move into the epic orchestral section of the song. Originally, as I mentioned, I’d heard this as an instrumental break. I wanted something… well, as I say, epic. I put together the chord progressions and notes and rhythms and showed them to Primo. I talked about the horns we’d need, the choir, the drums, and the guitar beneath it all to make it more than an orchestra. This is, after all, rock. As we began pulling it all together, I began to dig the part quite a lot. And that’s when Primo told me I should sing on it. You don’t have to ask me twice to sing, unless it’s karaoke (but that’s a tale for another time).
The challenge with the orchestral section was that there’s a lot going on. There’s a soprano choir singing a progression up top, an arpeggio progression likewise seated rather high in the music, the drums, some strings, horns. And then, at the point I decided to come in with the main vocal line, I’d written in a tenor and bass line unique from all the rest, to add some bottom end. More than all this, part way through, the guitars kick in. Plus, the entire thing modulates half way through.
Working in my favor was the fact that I’ve been writing vocal lines to progressive music for many years. And of all the styles of music I’ve made and performed, none are as challenging or thrilling as progressive metal because you have to really work to find the right vocal note, rhythm, and words to compliment what is typically a very busy orchestration.
So, I went at it. The vocal melody came quickly. I love to scat sing. I’ve stood in front of crowds and performed songs for which I haven’t finished the lyrics, and just scatted out the melodies I’d defined for the song. Anyway, as soon as the melody was there, I began setting down lyrics.
I could do worse, my friend, than playing the jester in this fight
Michael Sullivan wrote a story entitled “The Jester” for Unfettered. I think the thing I liked the best about it was the dynamic and interplay between the characters. There’s a lot of vocal jabbing as the four find themselves in a bit of a pickle trying to recover some booty, and have to essentially solve a puzzle to try and get themselves out alive.
As they make their various logical arguments for how to go about this, we learn that there’s some history to the booty’s owner. This is where the whole jester idea comes in, and ultimately becomes a part of how our main characters solve the riddle. What I’ve done for the song is adopted the notion of the jester to speak to the idea of keeping good humor when going up against a mighty foe. And as you’ll see, this is the first of many personas I suggest one may inhabit in a mortal fight.
I’ll be a guardian angel over a simple life
“Game of Chance” is Carrie Vaughn’s tale. We follow a band of rebels who are able to step outside time to commit acts of rebellion to affect the right kind of change, as they see it. And inside the story, our point-of-view character is in love with another member of the group.
Things don’t go well for her, though, and she winds up removing herself from the company of the others. She takes up residence near a small village, where she performs small acts of kindness. In contrast to her former group’s strategic, big acts designed to shape world events, she saves a simple villager from falling into a fire, and other likewise small things.
This quiet willingness to stand steward over a simple life is the resonating note of Vaughn’s tale, and it’s what I’ve carried into my song. This idea of being a guardian angel is another incarnation of one who’s willing to battle the exigencies of life, even if the life being saved isn’t one we all recognize. Because people suffer every day and need heroes that never make the headlines.
And like a king I’ll face it, I’ll take this battle on my own
Lev Grossman is funny. Dry funny. And his story “The Duel” is rife with the same. There’s a contemporary voice here, telling us a tale with all kinds of mythic creatures in it. I found myself smiling quite a bit while reading this one. I mean, Lev’s got something rather a lot like bullet-time in this story. C’mon, how can you not love that?
And when it came to incorporating the story into “Unfettered” the song, I decided to draw on a kernel of an idea: the whole mano-a-mano thing. See, in Lev’s story, his main character fights the invading army’s toughest champion. In my head, I had echoes of that Deadliest Warrior show on TV. But our POV guy has magic, so you kind of know who’s going to win. Regardless of that, the notion of a king standing in a one-on-one fight, winner take all, seemed cool, and suited the approach of different selves one might adopt to tackle the impossible or at least the suitably threatening.
And find the grail I’ve searched for beyond the wasteland down the road
Folks, I met a really cool cat not long ago. His name is Kevin Hearne. We bonded rather quickly because he’s a Queensryche fan. This wins him (or anyone) major points in my book. And Kevin’s story “The Chapel Perilous” made my lyrical job easy.
The tale has Atticus, Kevin’s iron druid, on special assignment to take out a necromancer who’s got hold of the grail. There are some great action sequences in the story, and some fun banter between Atticus and his mount. But where my tune is concerned, and given the former line I’d drawn from Grossman’s story, Kevin’s story made writing this next lyrical line a breeze.
What’s more, it holds together really well with the expression of “king” as a persona one might adopt to battle life’s hardships. Because as king, what better than to quest for the grail of life (see what I did there, as we think about someone battling cancer). And in Kevin’s story, to get to the grail, Atticus has to pass through a wasteland. As another metaphor for trial to win the prize, I couldn’t have written it better.
In the song, we’re now getting to something of a climax. The voices and instrumentation are beginning to ascend to a crescendo, and the orchestral section is really starting to build. Given that my own story in Unfettered has much to do with music and song, and I’m in the midst of singing at this point, this is where “The Sound of Broken Absolutes” makes its lyrical appearance.
I want to rise, I want to fight
I will sing Suffering ‘til the end
And if I’m right, without my sight
My song takes flight, I am unchained
In “Broken Absolutes” two men—one old, one young—use music in two very different kinds of battle. The young man is literally using vocal music to fight a war. He’s trying to leverage a song of power— a song known as Suffering—to beat back an enemy that has claimed his family. The old man is trying to restore a musical voice—a broken viola d’amore. As he goes about methodically repairing the instrument, he remembers much about his own past and how music has played an integral role in shaping who he has become.
The older character is the teacher, the younger the student. And at issue is the pupil’s understanding of what I call Absolute Sound. The concept relates to my music magic system, and the idea that some music needn’t even be heard to have affect. It has to do with resonance. Deep resonance. The kind that can touch a soul. From anywhere.
So, in weaving my own story into the separate but related narrative of “Unfettered” the song, it wasn’t terribly hard to write about what is perhaps the most obvious and straight-forward persona one might use to fight back against the “slings and arrows”—the persona of the sufferer, the one that simply embraces the suffering and chooses to fight back. And while Suffering in my fantasy series has to do with a song of power and a seminal event in my world’s early history, there’s also the quiet tone of the word’s first meaning. So in “Unfettered” the song, “singing Suffering ‘til the end” again means enduring, and doing so with all the power and will one has to martial in life’s battles.
Taking a step into the lyrical, I talk about the idea that if all the preceding is right and possible, and if, like my notion of Absolute Sound (which can occur without being seen, “without my sight”), music hath real charms to affect change, then song could ”take flight” and free one from the chains of those painful moments of life.
These are fanciful notions, I admit. But music—sometimes, anyway—is meant to give life to the fanciful. The hopeful. And at the end of it, this is a fight song. There’s a real sense in which it’s meant to inspire, to give the listener a brief and powerful desire to stand. Something much easier to do when the chains that bind you have been broken. When you are… unfettered.
Once last note. My story, “The Sound of Broken Absolutes,” is something of a fictional analog to the concept album you may have heard me mention. Primo and I are writing a full album set in the universe of my series. And it will bring to life the story of “Broken Absolutes,” but a whole lot more. The concept album is entitled Suffering. And it’s framework is built on a song of power in my series by that same title—a sort of master opus, as it were, broken into nine songs. Suffering also tells a seminal tale in my world’s history, done in nine movements. We’ve written most of the music, and hope to get it out late this year or early next year. We’re using many styles to bring the musical story to life. We hope you like it.
And now for the climactic lyric/idea:
From the chains that fetter my soul
This line, which closes out the orchestral section, kind of puts a cap on the narrative progression of the entire song. As such, it belongs to every story. And it echoes back to where we began with “A River of Souls.” After looking at examples of how one’s life may become fettered, and the ways in which you might escape those manacles—even through death—we come at last to the fight, and see a way to triumph. Like I said: fight song.
To close the song out, I return to the choruses. If you listen to the tune, you’ll hear that when I repeat the chorus the second time at the end, I pull in the melodic lines from both chorus one and two. This is deliberate. I wanted the counter point. I wanted it to sound big. I love the technique—which I hear most often from Broadway composers—of separate but complimentary vocal lines occurring at the same time to the same orchestration. So, that’s what I did at the end of the song.
And just one last effect I was going for: I wanted it to sound like the many voices of the many stories and authors gathering in song to sing the fight. All their tales (metaphorically, since not all are truly being sung) raised in voice, in collaboration. Again, I get how sappy this may all sound. And again, it’s not something to apologize for. None of us who threw in on this anthology feel sappy. We did a thing to help someone out. All I’ve done is make an effort to memorialize it a bit. In my own way, of course, through music. And while I could have chosen from dozens of musical styles, for this one, I wanted it to sound like we were all going to battle. Sometimes, that’s the sound you need.
And if you’re into added resonances, listen to the lyrics of the two choruses as they play against each other in that last part of the song. Love that kind of stuff.
As for other musical notes on the song, because we wanted it to really drive, the song clips along at 158 beats per minute. By comparison, many of the songs Primo and I write together hit at about 110 or 120, which is a more standard tempo.
I also decided to experiment with my vocal vibrato. You’ll hear various speeds of oscillation that I used in different lines of the song. This was purposeful. And it was fun for me to test different approaches.
With the backups, those are all me. I laid down the lead vocal track first. Then went back and recorded several harmony lines. And when we recorded the backups, we didn’t belabor them. Most were written on the spot and recorded in one take. Part of this was timing—for the backups, and for much of the song—we simply didn’t have a ton of time. See, both Primo and I work at Xbox. And things have been exceedingly busy lately. So, to record, we had to squeeze in time where we could. The other part of the write-them-on-the-spot-and-record-in-one-take backup vocal harmonies was that I really wanted the song to have something of a live feel to it. Not too produced a sound. And just so you know, no Autotune, harmonizers, or any such vocal fakery was used. Hate those.
In the end, I suspect given more time, there’s a lot more we’d do with “Unfettered” the song. Imperfections we’d fix, parts we’d add, instruments we’d layer in, etc. But you also have to learn when to let go, don’t you. And frankly, much of the value we hoped the song would have was in making people aware of the Unfettered anthology who might not yet have heard of it. The song, we think, might get shared in places the book hasn’t been shared thus far. So, we didn’t want to delay its release any further. Please do share it around, with the idea that those who hear it might decide to pick up a copy of the Unfettered anthology. Another way to pitch in is to purchase the song: Here again are a few direct links to the MP3, available on iTunes, Amazon, and pretty much every other music store. Proceeds from the sale of Unfettered the book and “Unfettered” the song go to help Shawn pay back his medical bills and to cancer research.
I hope you like “Unfettered,” the song. But if nothing else, know that it was one way I could try to help. And in the end would up being a way I could say a personal thank-you to so many kind people who wrote a story for the anthology. That kindness was worth singing about.
Life gets loud. Yes, it’s a metaphor. Go with me here. You know what I’m talking about. A hundred things play at you day in, day out. They clamor for attention. They mimic importance. But they really just amount to a cacophony of activities that squeeze out the truest notes. The ones you should pay most attention to.
I’m not pointing fingers. Or if I am, the finger I’m pointing is at myself. But I think we all get to claim culpability to this one. It’s easy to do, with the routines life imposes on us. Unmusical, sometimes bitter routines.
And you become aware of it when you step away from those clamoring voices. When you’re able to listen without encumbrance. I’ve been doing some listening. And here’s what I’ve heard, metaphorically speaking.
Rocks. I spent some time watching an old miner dressed as a mountain man shaping obsidian into an arrowhead. At one point, he says, “You have to listen to the rock. I’ve spent my whole life listening to rocks.” He wasn’t preaching or trying to be sage. He said it as he continued working with bloodied hands at a piece of obsidian to show me how the Native American’s made their weapons and tools.
He also said, you can’t learn anything unless you make mistakes, speaking of the hard-learned techniques he was employing to make an arrowhead. When he was done, he cast the stone down, as a failed attempt—mostly just an object lesson for those watching. I asked to buy that rock. He handed it to me free. I paid him anyway, three times what he wanted for it, which was still shamefully cheap for what I’d gained.
More rocks. My kids love to throw rocks in the water. What kid doesn’t? We made our way to a lakeside I’ve known all my life. There, we threw our share of rocks. Afternoon wind brought impressive enough waves, which came at the shore, making rock skipping a challenge. But the wind and westering sun and scent of lodge-pole pine . . . good accompaniment, these things, to the plunk of rocks big and small into the troubled water.
And while there, we had some unexpected company. Two Labrador retrievers, one gold and one black, brought a mostly deflated soccer ball to us, inviting us to throw it into the lake for them to retrieve. We did this for at least an hour. There are few things more simple and more gratifying than a simple game of fetch with a dog. We had no place to be, and more than once were soaked by the dogs shaking themselves dry at our feet, which was pretty okay with us. Rocks thrown into a lake. That’s a good sound.
Birdsong in the morning. I know how it sounds. Pretty cliché, right? Yeah, maybe. But when there’s nothing on the other side of the time you’ll give yourself to listen to birds greeting the day, you listen differently. The song becomes the thing. It’s not a moment in time. It’s not an island or oasis in the midst of all the rest. It suggests a universe of story and meaning. One you realize you’re passing every day, caught as you are in the web of your concern. People write music that incorporates birdsong. I’ve seen several on this trip alone. In the past, I think I’ve looked at them mostly as odd. I don’t know how successful these musicians are at doing this, but now I understand the desire a whole lot better.
My poet’s heart. I don’t mean any conceit in saying this. In fact, I wasn’t the first to say it. A friend of mine said it to me maybe ten years ago or more. And once he did, I realized he was on to something. You don’t always get to “follow your bliss.” I wish that happened for everyone, as Campbell urged. But the truth is, many labor without ever knowing this joy. And for me, there are two kinds of bliss, story and music. I follow them to the best of my ability. But when one’s bliss isn’t the constant thrust of their life, well, it introduces some dissonance. Frankly, this sucks.
Maudlin as it sounds, time spent in places like Yellowstone, on mountains, in forests, at lakes, they put a poet’s heart at the center of things again. That’s a damn good feeling. It’s listening to campfires, river head waters, the crunch of a dirt road underfoot, spontaneous laughter, as opposed to spreadsheets and process. I think there’s some poetry in all of us. I suppose the difference is just the balance of the voices and how much we heed them that defines us uniquely.
Best ribs and ribeye of my life. You know, I’ve eaten at the best steak houses in the world. You name it, whether New York, Texas, Michigan, my own Washington state, even Paris, London, Tokyo, hell anywhere, and I’ve made a point of going to the best places to have their best steak. You can imagine the prices I’ve paid. And for all that, this past week, I’ve paid roughly $20, right here in northeast Idaho, for the best ribs and ribeye of my life. No lie. Little off-the-road place that doesn’t look like much. Most drive right on past, moving fast toward Yellowstone to get a snapshot of Old Faithful. No harm there, Old Faithful is all kinds of awesome.
But here’s something I’ve never heard before at one of those high-priced steak houses: “The cook gets excited whenever I come back into the kitchen with a ribeye, medium-rare order.” This from our waitress. I knew I was in for a treat when she told me this.
The voice of God. By which I mean, thunder. Lying in bed late at night, while lightning lit up the cabin, and thunder rolled deep and long across the Continental Divide . . . when you do nothing but listen to thunder, you marvel. It’s a big sound. It’s a majestic sound. It’s a sound that gives you immediate perspective. And it’s beautiful.
Accompanied by rain on the roof above my head, pattering pine trees and quaking aspen outside my window, several thunder storms taught me quite a lot about listening. I suspect these are lessons I’m re-learning, and that I’ll maybe learn again. Because that’s the nature of being human: We forget. Because life gets loud, and listening gets hard.
Stars. There’s nothing, not a thing, that so immediately helps me listen, gives me perspective, than looking up into the night sky in a place where you can really see the stars. They’re indisputable. They’re up there. Far away. But there irrefutably, gracefully, in beautiful profusion. There are stories and patterns traced against them. Turnings. Mysteries yet to solve.
And with some patience, you’ll see a shooting star. This trip, I saw one that traversed most of the night sky, burning a bright gold toward the end. Seeing such a thing is nothing short of magical.
I think I saw a planet or two, as well, standing in the chill night air. Those are wages I’ll gladly pay—chilly skin—for the chance to stare up in a beautiful silence and listen. Usually, what I hear is perspective. The deep acknowledging of something larger, grander than myself. That’s good listening, I think. And thankfully, the stars make no judgment on me. Silent, vigilant friends is what they are. They have been since I was a kid.
This was very nearly my best listening in recent days.
Finding snail shells. If it weren’t for a walk on an old dirt road up through the pines with my little girl, the stars would have been—as I said—my best listening. As it is, they took a wonderful second. I don’t know how it started. Probably an observation of a shell on the ground by my daughter on a trip to the cabin early in her life. Whatever and whenever, now it’s tradition: We take a walk together and gather abandoned snail shells.
They’re small, easy to miss if you don’t pay close attention. You have to stoop. And often you have to traipse up into undergrowth, still stooping, to find them. And at the end of it, the shells themselves, while beautiful in their own way, aren’t what it’s about. Not for me. It’s a slow walk with my little girl, making small talk that winds up big. Like this trip.
My son came along. He’s a ball of impulse, that one. And I love him to death for it. But it wasn’t more than a twelve shells and he was done with this crazy tradition. He went back to the cabin with his mother, while my daughter and I carried on, with a goal of colleting 100 shells, no matter how long it took.
I don’t remember all the things we said to each other. But I remember how it felt to be with her, not hurrying, walking through dappled sunlight falling down through the tall pines. I remember thinking how sad I’d be if someday she doesn’t want to take this walk with me anymore, and the shell-collecting ends. What I’m hoping is that by the time the excitement of the activity has waned, she’ll have recognized that the walk is about more than that, and we’ll never not take our shell walk together.
This time, though, we wound up finding 203 shells. A new record. And as we concluded, we shared an observation that patience has its rewards. Like being willing to stick out a shell hunt when the first few minutes don’t yield easy or quick results. I don’t know if it’s a lesson that she’ll internalize for a lifetime, or if this is just one listening of such a lesson that, like me, she’ll need to have again and again. Because life gets loud and listening gets hard and we need to hear stuff over and over.
But for my part, I was paying particularly close attention, marking the moment. Something I was able to do because I had some separation from the cacophony of the day-to-day.
Maybe that’s one of the central values of vacation. But it does leave me a bit sad. Because I’m left with the vague sensation that I’m missing too much of the stuff that really matters.
I suppose I need to do a better, ongoing job of listening. That’s my lesson to learn. It’s like my favorite Beatles lyric, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” See, there it is, I did know this before, since I’d heard and acknowledged this truth inside the song. Listening these last few days, I’ve learned it again, having apparently forgotten.
There’s so much noise. And some of it you do have to listen to. Life requires it.
But by hell, don’t let that song define you. I can only think Eliot’s Hollow Men lie in that direction.
And I have an idea that we can avoid that by doing something as simple (and yet sometimes so hard) as listening.
Kick of Phoenix Comicon 2013′s Books and Authors programming with a brief look at what all is going on this weekend and a group interview with several of our author guests conducted by Peter Orullian.
Who’ll be here:
Writing Believable Fantasy
Join our panelists for a discussion about why they write fantasy and how they make it believable.
Who’ll be here:
James A Owen
Microsoft Xbox Panel
Xbox started as a game console. Now, it serves video, music, apps, and more. It’s gone beyond the living room, onto PCs, tablets, and mobile phones. And one of the latest Xbox technologies is Xbox SmartGlass. Peter Orullian talks about how this new technology works and provides story-tellers new methods to ply their trade across multiple screens. As well as discussing some of what you can look forward to in the future from Xbox. Orullian works at Xbox on the Xbox LIVE business around emerging technologies and services.
Who’ll be here:
The Unfettered Panel: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy
Join the editor and four contributors to Unfettered, a new anthology Learn about its creation from the editor, Shawn Speakman, while contributors Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Kevin Hearne and Peter Orullian talk about their stories.
Who’ll be here:
Magic systems and fantasy go hand in hand. Join some of our author guests as they talk about how they make it work and how they make it believable.
Who’ll be here:
The Epic Fantasy Panel
Some of today’s most popular epic fantasy writers talk about what epic means to them and how they write it.
Who’ll be here:
James A Owen
Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy
How do writers create worlds for their stories anyway? Join our panelists and find out.
Who’ll be here:
Michael A. Stackpole
So, later this week I’ll be traveling to Detroit for Immortal ConFusion, a speculative fiction convention. While there, I’ll sit on some panels with some other cool cats like Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, and a host of others. We’ll talk books and writing and probably get rather silly. So, good times.
For your perusal, here my schedule:
Saturday 1:00 PM The New Evil Southfield
Why is there such a prejudice against the ancient? Malevolent forces seem to need to age like fine wine before they are ready for the attention of a protagonist. Is there a reason that we ignore a new evil, some cultural bias that says innovation cannot be That Which Will Not Be Named? Or is it simply that the ancient evil is a valued, if overused archetype? Brian McClellan, Mary G. Thompson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Peter Orullian (M), Sam Sykes
Saturday 4:00 PM Reading: Lawrence Schoen & Peter Orullian Model T
Join Lawrence Schoen & Peter Orullian for readings from their forthcoming works. Lawrence Schoen, Peter Orullian
Saturday 5:00 PM Mass Autograph Session Ontario
Come meet your favorite authors and have them sign things! (Unfortunately, due to Repetitive Stress Injury, we ask that you limit your signing requests to Charles Stross to 3 items per person.) Aimee Carter, Alastair Reynolds, Anne Harris, Catherine Shaffer, Charles Stross, Cindy Spencer Pape, Courtney Moulton, Diana Rowland, Geoff Landis, Howard Andrew Jones, Jennifer Ouellette, Jim C. Hines, John Scalzi, Kat Howard, Lawrence Schoen, Maria Dahvana Headley, Mary G. Thompson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Mary Turzillo, Merrie Haskell, Michael J. Sullivan, Myke Cole, Patrick Rothfuss, Patrick Tomlinson, Peter Orullian, Peter V. Brett, Ron Collins, Saladin Ahmed, Sarah
Zettel, Scott Edelman, Susan Dennard, Tobias S. Buckell, Violette Malan
Saturday 7:00 PM Changing Societies In Epic Fantasy Southfield
Why do elves never seem to progress with metallurgy? Why do the societies in a fantasy realm always seem to go back hundreds or thousands of years? What is it about magic that makes the common folk less likely to invent the cotton gin, hybrid crops, or the musket? The history of humanity is one of constant flux, of achievement and failure, but the worlds of our imagination are much more static. What is the appeal of this stasis? Why is this a common aspect of fantasy literature, and where did it get its start? Is this a good or a bad thing for fantasy? For writers of fantasy? Brian McClellan (M), Kat Howard, Peter Orullian, Scott H. Andrews, Violette Malan
Saturday 8:00 PM What’s Still Taboo? Southfield
Obviously there are things that society still deems unacceptable, but that metric is changing, and has been for many years. How is our presentation of the taboo through literature changing with it, and is this a driving force in the social discussion, or a reaction to our collectively changing mores? Charles Stross, Merrie Haskell, Michael Underwood, Patrick Tomlinson (M), Peter Orullian
Sunday 10:00 AM Too Epic? Dearborn
Multi-volume epic fantasy that takes decades to write and publish is nothing new, nor is the anticipation of fans rabid for the next installment of favorites like Song of Ice and Fire. When the composition of a narrative enters its second decade, how does that affect the story? Does the completed version of Wheel of Time bear any resemblance to the plot – or world – hinted at in The Eye of the World? Can an author maintain fidelity to the initial construct? Should one even try? Michael J. Sullivan, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter Orullian, Peter V. Brett (M)
Sunday 2:00 PM Sarcasm. Seriously Southfield
Sarcasm has a proud place among verbal styles, but it is far harder to convey using the written word. This panel delves into the nature and pratfalls of sarcasm in dialogue, description, and as a narrative technique, including a conversation of some author favorites. Charles Stross, Diana Rowland, Doug Hulick (M), Peter Orullian
I’ve done some panels on “evil” before. They’re always fun. Also, talking about “epicness” and “taboos” . . . well, this weekend should be lively.
So, a good friend of mine plays in a cover band. It’s for fun. Well, all music is for fun, but Hairstorm (if the name doesn’t give it away) is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek good-times collection of great guys playing well-known tunes. It’s akin to what Steel Panther is doing.
Anyway, my buddy asked me if I’d come out to their New Years Eve show and sing a couple tunes. Let it be known that I love being on stage. Stephen King has gone on record–relative to his long stint in the Rock Bottom Remainders–as saying that the immediacy of playing music live has certain advantages as a creator of entertainment. Or something like that. I’m sure I slaughtered the language he used, but you get the point.
The point: It’s thrilling!
Thing is, I got almost no notice, and while I knew the three tunes he wanted me to sing, I only had any real command from a memorization standpoint of one of them: Jet City Woman by Queensryche.
Let it also be said that I’m a Queensryche fan. The original. Not this new stuff that’s going on. Why? Because of the vocals. Geoff Tate is one of the great voices in the modern rock era. His work was instrumental in getting me to move half way across the country to study with the same voice instructor who trained him. David Kyle, rest his soul, was a great man. A tutor of life as much as of music. I miss him.
Getting on stage is always a bit of an homage to David.
Also, rocking is awesome.
So, I threw in with my buddy’s band for a tune on New Years Eve. Was really fun. Got several of those shouldery man-hugs when I came off stage. In body-lingo, that means: Well done, sir!
The audio here is the crappy video camera sound card. Can’t be helped.
And I did take away from this little dealie that my resolution to lose weight was well-advised.
Finally, I did this through a cold. So, there’s that.
Thanks to Myke Cole for the suggestion to Youtube it.
In any case, have a listen. With luck, when I get the concept album for my fantasy series done, I’ll do some dates here and there. Ty Frank of S.A. Corey and Leviathan Wakes fame has signed on to play bass. He’s got aweseomely long hair.
So, Les Miserables. The film version. The MUSICAL film version. Here’s what.
First, about award nominations. There’ll be some for the film. And for some of the talent. I won’t be surprised if Jackman (Valjean) and Hathaway (Fantine) and even Redmayne (Marius) get nods. Hathaway has the best shot here. Since I don’t think Edmayne can win for supporting role, and I will KILL THE UNIVERSE if ANYONE but Daniel Day Lewis wins best actor (Lincoln). Honestly, if you haven’t seen that film yet, drop what you’re doing in your life right now. And go!
And, to take a step back: why am I a’bloggin’ this? Well, it’s a marriage of music and story, isn’t it. So, yeah, that. I mean, in addition to four years of classical voice training–the which I’d intended to take me to Broadway before my spousal until put the kibosh on livin’ in New York–I’ve had my hand in one musical project or another for more years that I care to count. Been doin’ composition, performance, what have you. So, where music meets story . . . I’ll often be found–either creating or commentating.
In fact, one of the things I think shines through here–that doesn’t so much in the Broadway production–is Hugo’s story. It’s not perfect, by any means, but such things never are, so that’s kind of a throwaway comment. Particularly powerful is Hathaway’s descent from a run-o-the-mill (almost literally) job to prostitute. I also liked seeing a depiction of the baricade and the narrow, crypt-like streets and buildings. Evocative.
Oh, and seeing Colm Wilkinsin, who plays the bishop and was the original London and Broadway Valjean, was a treat. And you know, if you want to distill this whole thing down to a single moment, it’s got to be when Valjean is returned to the bishop a thief for having stolen the holy man’s his silver, and the bishop corroborates Valjean’s lie that the silver was given to him, AND THEN mildly chastizes Valjean for forgetting to take it all.
Now to the music. Or more accurately, the voices.
First, I was pleasantly surprised. Mostly by Jackman. He was better than I’d anticipated. Right good, in fact. The only place where I was consciously disappointed was with his most important song, “Bring Him Home.” See, here is where a goodly trained voice will hit all the notes but achieve many of the higher ones with softness–covered tones my vocal instructor often said. They’re more impactful (not always, but certainly in this tender song) when reached more delicately. Jackman’s too loud and resonant in the masque of the face when he sings them. Still, he does a fair job of it. To see a master sing this tune, check out Colm:
I’ll say, though, that any misgivings (and those are few) in Hugh’s performance are overcome by his final scene–the dying one. (Hope that doesn’t kill it fer ya. Like, you DO know the story, right?)
Now, which were the finer voices: Samantha Barks (Eponine) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius). Redmayne was at times a bit too glottal for me. I’d have liked a brighter tone in places. But that’s a bit of a knit.
What about Hathaway, you say? Well, she does a really good job. But there are enough places where her vibrato is too irregular, etc, to keep me “in” from a vocal standpoint. But here again, what is lacking in her vocal performance is more than made up for in her acting. Her great song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” is superb for the visceral and array of emotions she takes you through as you watch her deliver the music. Heartbreaking.
As for Russel Crowe, the man was miscast. Entirely. His voice is the weakest. Just no resonance. No power. No conviction. And then even as Javert, he was not nearly tortured enough. By which I don’t mean physically, but emotionally. Not sure what they were thinking casting him for this role.
Jackman, on the other hand. Lordy. The opening sequence, where it appears he’s been starving himself for the role (extreme method acting, akin to what Christian Bale did for The Machinist) . . . well, it’s convincing.
I’ve performed many of these tunes. For most of my acquaintance with the music, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” (Marius’s song after his friends have all been killed) has been my favorite. Here’s a clip of me singing that tune. And I’ll say that akin to Hathaway’s stirring delivery of “I Dreamed a Dream,” Redmayne’s delivery of this song is gutwrenching. Loved it.
And personally, the love triangle piece has never been my favorite part of the musical. In part, I think, because the music seems a bit sacharine. That said, this bothered me much less in this version of the film. And I really loved Bark’s performance both of “On My Own,” and “A Little Fall of Rain.” Because I can’t help comparisons, I’ll say that she’s not as good a vocalist as Lea Salong, who sang the 10th anniversary role of Eponine, and who I think has “owned” it ever since. But Barks is really damn good. And a better actress. Still, to see Lea rock “On My Own” all awesome like:
And you know, for me anyways, the film made more clear the story being told through songs like “Red and Black.” Also, “Drink with Me,” on the eve of the battle (and consequent deaths), were much more effective in this theatrical version.
So, yeah. Well worth your eleven bucks. I mean, the singing has bright shining spots. And where it’s clear you’re listening to an actor sing–rather than a singer act–you can virtually pass off the mistakes in sustain or pitch or power or resonance as . . . part of the performance. Like, well, people singing their lives to you. Y’know? It would be imperfect and disrupted by emotion. And verisimilitude would suggest that since not everyone is a trained vocalist, that this is all just fine. And mostly, it is.
But, then, we do suspend some disbelief with musicals, in general. Right? I mean, while it’s normal for ME to be caught singing every damn place–and much to the embarassment of people who hang with me–it’s not really the way with most folk. As such, it’s also defensible to say that–from a vocal standpoint, anyway–this could have been better. Much better in some places, marginally better (to almost no better) in other places.
Doing that, though–getting finely trained voices to do film, I mean–might have compromised some of those emotionally stunning scenes I mention above. That is, if you hold with the idea that performers who are vocalists first don’t generally act as well as . . . well, actors. And that’s tenable. I’ll not argue with ya about it. But having said that, at one of the performances I saw of Les Mis, one where the I was close enough to see Valjean’s face as he delivered his performance . . . That guy! I’d like to have seen him do the theatrical role. And you may have noticed that there’s virtually no dialogue in the film, just as there’s not in the musical. The connective tissue that seems dialogue-y, is all recitative–speech-singing. Vocalists are quite good at this.
Anyway, there you go. Some thoughts there fer ya. I could have gotten levels more technical on the music stuff, but there’s not point to that. Music, at the end of the day (no pun intended), is intensely personal. One man’s awesome is another mans bafoonery.
But, if you haven’t read the book, or seen the musical, or seen the Liam Neeson film, then go see this. And don’t dispair of the music. It’s really well done. And some of the acting is top drawer.
My mom went into emergency surgery recently. I don’t live close to home anymore. And so I was getting information in texts, mostly. I was grateful for this, but the brevity often ready something like: “Emergency surgery. Life-threatening.” At least, that’s how it distilled down in my mind.
And then yesterday, there was the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I’m on the other end of the continent. My kids are safe. And this hit me like a two-ton heavy thing.
Both these frightening events took place during the Christmas season, when happiness and good will are typically in greater abundance. And they both got me thinking about: sustain. Here’s why.
When traumatic things happen, people rally. They pull together. They invest themselves. They declare. They make decisions. All good things. My quiet worry? That after the emotion and good intention of those initial responses are gone, the very right and needful follow-through will go missing.
Some of this is just life. It moves on. We’re all facing our personal, private demons, hardships, challenges. In practical terms, there may be little one can do. That’s for each of us to decide. But it’s the difference between the noble sentiment, “I’d die for you,” and the slightly trite, but no less true response, “Yes, but would you live for me?”
Staying in for the long haul, whether it’s sitting at a bedside, clearing tubes that are draining away body fluids, or becoming the involved parent or citizen you need to be if you mean to affect change . . . that’s the man or woman I respect. It’s the kind of guy I want to be.
There’s a saying that goes something like: Character is the ability to carry on with a worthwhile decision after the emotion of making the decision is passed. I like that.
And y’know, those are the heroes we don’t hear about. The ones laboring in obscurity in the constant service of others. Don’t get me wrong. Running into a burning building is right brave. And we have fine examples of those folks. I wonder now, though, if they aren’t the same ones who are committing silent acts of heroism all the time. Living that way, even when no one is watching.
I’m really not trying to soap-box this. Kind of writing it out, is all. But I think about that little community of Newtown and those families. For the world, this tragedy will pass. There’ll be new headlines to chatter about on social networks. Our own holiday celebrations will go forward. And those aren’t bad things. That’s the flow of life. But the effects will be profound for a smaller set of people, whose tables have empty chairs today. And I don’t want that to not cause some change in me. I’m still trying to put definition to that feeling, but I’m holding on to it until I figure it out.
See, because I think there’s power in sustain. The real kind.
In my day job, we ship product all the time. Relatively speaking, that’s the easy part. What we don’t always do well is sustain our support for those products. “Launch and leave” it’s often called. Always another product to launch. In that world, we call those new products the “shiny penny.” Everyone wants to be associated with the next thing. It’s not terribly sexy to work on generating awareness for a product that’s already out there. We lose sight of the fact that just because we’ve been living and breathing a thing for a year or more, that the rest of the world has no idea. Not really. In point of fact, the real work, the important work, comes after a thing is available. Marketing and PR people fail to understand this so often that it’s mind boggling.
Musical Notation for Sustain. Cool inferences here.
And how about music. While there’s great use and effect in staccato notes, when you hold a note, letting it ring out . . . it does something inside both the performer and the listener. There’s power in it. The chance for harmonies and resonances to play against that single sustaining sound. It suggests endurance and strength and settles into your bosom. Yes bosom. You see, music requires the words of poetry to be understood.
Anyway, the next time you attend a concert and one of the musician’s holds out a note, you’ll maybe now notice the audience when they begin to cheer. It’s like a rallying cry, really. A cool kind.
Even Christmas has a play here. Don’t we think every year: “Hey, why can’t we make this Christmas thing last?” Many of you who read this will be athiest; but even my athiest friends agree that for whatever reason at this time of year: people hold more doors for others when entering buildings, they give more liberally of their substance, they find more patience. Take a moment and listen to this:
Why can’t we sustain that? Wouldn’t we agree there’d be power if we could? Real power.
I’m going to go ahead and say that love is the underpinning for sustain. It’s the best motivation I can think of. I didn’t know those children who died in Connecticut, but I understand the love a parent has for their child. And I’m going to do my damndest not to lapse into solipsism; by which I mean, I love my mom, and there are simple ways for me to share and sustain that, even in the midst of my overwhelmingly busy life.
These are notes I wish to play, that I intend to sustain. Because I will resent myself if I go entirely awash again in trivialities and don’t allow these things to change me, at least a little, for the good.
Pretty much captures the last five minutes of writing book two
Book two of The Vault of Heaven is done! Holy I-never-thought-this-frickin’-day-would-come Batman! So, yes, done. Er, kind of. Which is to say, I finished the book months ago. At which time I promptly began the second pass “polish” that you’ve maybe seen me posting about here or there. It’s this non-trival “polish” that I’ve just finished and sent off to my editor.
And while this is a major milestone–read as “Orullian will float back down to the earth sometime after Christmas”–there’s still work ahead, kids. Real work. The editorial process starts its slow-grinding engine now. Nevertheless, I’m feeling like I could wrestle a bear, or climb Everest, or clean my office (which I’ve put off with some self-righteousness ’cause I was a’writin’ the great American novel or somesuch bull).
I’m reminded of a story Stephen King tells in which, after he finished The Stand, he ran to the bathroom and laughed and cried and laughed a cried. See, The Stand is kind of this epic story. He’s quoted as saying that the writing of this book was the only time he left The Gunslinger’s world (The Dark Tower). Anyway, I understand King’s post-Stand feelings. I didn’t get myself into the bathroom to laugh and cry. But the immensity of the emotional release might as well have. This has been one of the most sustained creative endeavors of my life. Lots of blood and sweat went into this one. I’m hoping when readers get this one, those fluids of mine get all over their fingers.
I'm stickin' this in because it's kinda germane, and it's kinda got COD in it, which is also awesome
Anyhow, many of you have asked as to length. No, not like that. I run a respectable . . . nevermind. Here’s the thing, I’m not feeling like publishing a word count just now. Seems too much like keeping score. I will say that it clocks in at Epic. By which I mean that, length-wise, it lives in the neighborhood of such tomes as The Way of Kings, Dance with Dragons, and the like. Now please note, that’s a length association. I’m not suggesting anything more than that. I’m just hoping that ballparking it will suffice tome-searchers for now.
Is there a title, some ask. Yes, there is. But strictly speaking, it’s possible it could change. My original title on book one did. That said, I like my current working title on book two. So does my editor. I’m holdin’ on to it since I think it might be fab to have it hit with the cover treatment, whenever that is.
Also, some have asked about a publication date. Simply put: It’s not up to me. I dearly hope they get it out next year. But, we’ll see . . .
The next obvious question is: What’s next? That one’s easy. I have a concept album to finish that’s set in the universe of my series. The music to that is 90% written. My collaborator and I have to ship a few Microsoft games and services (just, y’know, because groceries are nice things to have in the cubboard when you want some Goldfish crackers or peanutbutter), after which we’re gunna go hard at it. We’ll kick that into gear a few weeks hence. (Heh, heh . . . hence.)
I have to tell you, I’m really excited by the concept album. For many reasons. First, it’s no secret that I love music. But beyond that, this tells a kinda cool story around Belamae, the Maesteri you met in The Unremembered. It also ties to something else I’ll talk about in a moment. And second, it’s gonna get me on stage again. Not in any world-arena-signing-breasts sort of way. More in the small-club-tour-and-maybe-German-metal-festival sort of way. And for those of you who’ve never performed music live, I will just repeat what the inimitable Stephen King has said: There’s an immediacy about it that writing will simply never have. Plus, and to crib Patrick Stewart: “Live performance is a real moment of truth.” I love that rush. So, yeah, rock.
If you have to ask, you'll never know
I’ve also got six short stories to write, all set in The Vault of Heaven. Gots me a publisher for them, too. I’ll share more on those in the weeks and months ahead. I’m actually really looking forward to writing these, as they tell some seminal stories that I think will make parts of the longer works resonate that much more. Part of my whole master transmedia plan to take over the universe.
Not lastly, I have a big story coming out in Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology. I say big, because it’s about 23K words. Hefty. Thick. Meaty stuff. It deals with the music magic in a way that many of my readers have been asking about. Well, I wrote a chunk of this and gave it to Shawn, a good friend. I’m going to do a whole separate blog post on that at some point–but later, since I’ll need to include spoilers.
A book of awesome!
And my story, entitled “The Sound of Broken Absolutes,” relates to the concept ablum above in some interesting cross-pollinating ways. See, I just can’t help myself from going all meta on you guys. Again, I’ll post more about this in the months ahead. For now, get yer arse over and order a copy of Unfettered. Honestly, it’s going to have Brooks, Sanderson, Williams, Rothfuss, Brett, and a metric ton of other fantasy heavyweights. Worth every thin dime, it is.
And last, but not least, I’ll start working on a deeper outline of book three. You know, I have to tell you a story there. Literally today, as I finished the last frozen mile of book two, I had several flashes of incredible pieces I needed to write for book three. It sounds kind of . . . I don’t know, maudlin? But you gotta trust the process. I’ve learned that. And while I had a plan for book three. Today, as I closed down this mile marker, I had a big fat wonderful turnpike open up before me for the next volume.
I simply have to clear the decks a little before I tackle it. And as I mentioned, there’s still all the book two editorial fun to wade through. But, well, between the day job and all the preceeding stuffs, there’s no rest for this kid.
And that’s my last thought for you. And please take it in the spirit in which it’s intended. But to reflect on book two at this moment in my life.
I worked my tail off on this book. It’s epic. It goes into territory no one is anticipating and required a lot of me. None of that guarantees, gentle reader, that you’ll like it. Those of you who pick it up will be the judge of that. But I’m satisfied that I put all the heart I had into it. What’s more, I did it while working twelve hour days at the day job. There are times when I’m green with envy at those writers who write full time. And if I’m honest, there are moments of aimless ire at the whole situation.
You see, I get up at 3:30 a.m. to write before a long day at the “salt mines,” as mom used to say. Work ethic? Just something dad taught me. It’s second nature. If the day comes that I’m able to write full time . . . well, I anticipate a rather healthy flow of story for those who care to read it.
So, yeah, I’m a little proud of myself. A smidge because I finished. A smidge more because I did it while holding down a job at ole Microsoft, which as anyone working there can tell you . . . well, I’ll just leave it there.
It ended with a warm tap on the shoulder. Remember that. I’ll come back to it.
So, yes, I found a perfectly appropos Queensryche title for last night (my first night) in Paris. There’s something cosmic going on with that. I’m sure of it.
Anyway, it starts with my apprehension about coming to Paris in the first place, since I’ve heard so many stories about how the people hate foreigners who can’t speak the language. And y’know, I just don’t have any skill there. So, when my colleague texts me to say that he’s missed the flight out of Seatac, I’m like, “This sucks . . . for me.”
See, even the most interesting man in the world thinks so.
I grant you that’s pretty selfish. But, I suddenly get a picture of me winding up on a Metro train to nowhere. Hold that thought, please.
Well, as soon as I land there’s a security breech at the Paris airport. Everything’s on lockdown, and there are what appear to be whipthin teenagers all over the airport carrying assault rifles–French Army. Among other things, they’re keeping a great throng in a narrow hall, where it gets hot and sweaty and . . . aromatic fast.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the stench resembled that odor that arises from a teenager who hasn’t learned yet that he needs deodorant. Then, multiply that by a bajillion. And layer on that I am already losing valuable Paris time. During which, I get another text from my colleague. He’s now being re-routed throgh Minneapolis and won’t get into Paris until Sunday. I’m on my own. Great.
Well, eventually I get untangled from security breeches and stenches and get my bag. I need to draw some Euros, and my Corporate Card isn’t working. Awesome. I manage to get some with my own credit card, which will likely mean I’ll wind up paying some of these expenses out o’ my own pocket, since receipts haven’t been flowing up in this French hizzie.
I mean, as soon as I get checked in and drink a 5-Hour Energy Drink–’cause it’s like O’dark’thirty back in Seattle–I go to catch the RER C into Paris proper. The guy behind the glass gets rather chummy. Seems he has all kinds of friends up in Tacoma and whatnot. What I realize later is that he’s all distracting me, as he swindles me out of 10 Euros.
Sorry, for me, all train ticket sellers are the guy out of Frosty the Snowman.
I let that go pretty easy. ‘Cause, if you must know, I’m also the guy who buys home made rap CDs off the street in Time Square. There’s one of me born every minute, you’re prolly saying. Yeah, that about sums it up.
Despite the fits and starts, I do manage to find the Catacombs. Actually, it’d've been hard to miss them. The line must be half a kilometer. But, one of my unpublished novels has scenes down in this place. I am seeing it come hell or high . . . um, let’s not ask for trouble. Suffice to say that the balls of my feet start to scream from standing in line. The Catacombs are tres cool, though. And grim, too. So, y’know, score.
The Catacombs are lined with neatly stacked femur bones and such, plus skulls used to decorate . . .
Come to that, there are a great many places in France in this unpublished thriller novel of mine. But kismit is suggesting I exercise discretion in how many of these scenes I go see. Which means–you can all be glad–this post won’t run on too long.
Well, the Catacombs exit in a different place than they enter, so, yeah, I’m lost in Paris. I wander around for a while without any data or wifi and kind of freaking out. Finally, I return to the little curio shop just outside the Catacomb exit and ask a guy for directions. He proves plenty useful, but gives me what I can only describe as a very French look when I ask if the Metro is like the subway. “No,” he says. “Subway is an English way of referring to it.” He shut his eyes in a perish-the-thought kind of way. “Metro,” he reiterates.
Good news is, his directions get me to the Cite and Notre Dame. Been wanting to see this place for ages. Now that I have, I can say with authority: It’s awesome! That said, it ranks third in my Cathedral visits. St. Paul is still my fav. Could have a little primacy factor going there; it being the first. But nah, St. Paul is top drawer. Second is Kölner Dom in Cologn, Germany. Then Our Lady of Paris.
You'd have to be a thousand feet tall not to consider this place majestic
There was a bone or two in the Notre Dame Treasury, too
By this time, I’m feeling pretty proud of my Parisian-ness. Why wouldn’t I? So, I get walking, thinking I’ll go take in the Eiffel Tower. That’s the next step, right? I don’t, though, quite realize how far away it is. But, I walk quite a while along the Seine, checking out some really cool street vendors selling books in collector dust wraps. Plus old photos and other assorted awesome bits.
But my feet are starting to kill. So, I find a Metro entrance. Again, I’m doing pretty good, right? Anyone would say so. I check my little map, see I have a ways to go, and the next thing I know I wake up in a train, that is at a dead stop, with its lights off, in a dark tunnel, and is completely empty.
Yep, you guessed it: I’ve fallen asleep. My 5-Hour Energy has run out, and so have I. I have to tell you . . . I’m scared as hell?
Where am I? I suddenly flash on that old film Warriors, where city gangs prowl the night and beat up laggards for fun. Well, I tear out of there like a crazed idiot, and run down an abandoned train platform. It’s like one of those dystopian novels: I wake up and I’m the last soul alive, until I find a few others who will help me fight the zombies or somesuch.
Note: I still have no idea what happened there. It’ll forever be my Paris mystery.
But I eventually find humans and a terminal to pick up another train toward the Eiffel Tower. You see, by this time it’s become more than a sightseeing trip or a tourist stop. It’s a friggin’ pilgrimage.
And I do find it. It’s hella impressive, just so you know. It’s like the first time I saw St. Paul’s or the Dom. Pictures are pale, pale, pale shadows of the real thing. Just as saying I am standing in a long Eiffel line is a pale, pale, pale shadow of the extremity of this line. After today’s Catacomb and Eiffel Tower queues, I could medal in line-standing.
And you know what, that’s just getting in, too. Once inside, there is another line to get onto a second lift to go to the top. And I’ll a’be damned if I’m not going to her “sommet” after blowing out my arches. Then, more lines to come back down. In all seriousness. That’s just insult to injury. Making a person wait to leave? Not even Disney does that. And oh, the woman who gave me info to get into that line? Yeah, the absolute snottiest woman on the planet. She oozed condescension. That’d be her Olympic medal, were it a category. Condescension.
I checked my back pocket obsessively. Probably looked like I was fiddling with my arse
But I survive. And at the end of all this, I’ve seen three of the things I meant to see in Paris. To celebrate, I go across the street and get some sausages and fries. The sausages are awful. The fries, that is, I say, “French” fries . . . were SUPER. No foolin’. They taste like actual potatoes, but are thin-cut, hot, liberally salted, and yummy. I chase them with, what else, a Perrier. Best Perrier I’ve ever had, too. No lie. Though, in fairness, it may have something to do with my Olympic-level line standing and the fact that I haven’t had a drop to drink all friggin’ day. Still, the Perrier was super.
Then, the tower starts to sparkle. It’s cool. But also kinda . . . I don’t know, showy. I like the orangish lights in a steady glow better. Prolly because I’m a bit traditional.
Not a sparkle fan
So, then, I’m thinking: Do I have time to go by the Moulin Rouge and take a picture of the windmill. It’s the kind of thing one must do. Another pilgrimage, if you will. But I have no idea where that place is, my feet are aching, and I’m starting to feel like I’m pressing my luck.
In times like these, the only intelligent thing to do is consult your map. A taxi could get me there, maybe. So, I sit down in a beautiful spot along the Seine just outside one of those cafes you think only exist in a Bogart film. I’m doing my best to read the map. I even start to wonder: Would the Tourist Bureau put a strip club on thier official map? It IS the Moulin Rouge. But it’s still a strip club. But it IS France. But it’s still a strip club. And the same map has Paris Disney on it. So, I’m wondering if a conscientious editor really tries to sell sex to family vacationers.
As it happens, I never find out. And that’s because as I’m scouring the unpronouncable names–by me, anyway–I feel a warm tap on my shoulder. My first thought is that someone has thrown something not too hard at me, like an acorn or something, just to let me know that they know I’m a damned tourist with my map on their bench in their cafe. But it doesn’t have the consistency of an acorn, and certainly couldn’t be a rock. Then, I look down at the bench at the same moment my mind hits on the awful epiphany.
There on the bench, are dozens of white and black splotches. And that’s when I understand why the tap seemed warm. A pigeon has shat on me.
I have nothing to clean it off with. So, I march up the sidewalk, into the cafe, steal some napkins, and proceed to struggle with wiping away bird poop from my awesome SxSW t-shirt. For that alone, I hate that bird, ’cause I love this shirt.
But it didn’t help me decide about my windmill picture. I couldn’t very well stand out in front of a place where people get all gussied up in their finest cabaret-attending clothes and costumes . . . in my birdcrap shirt. Could I?
In the end, I catch a cab back to the hotel. My weiners at the tower had gone in the trash, and the fries weren’t holding me over. So, I am looking forward to room service or raiding the snacks they always put out. Right? Not so, my patient reader, not so. They have none of this. So, I lumber down to the first floor in my socks, cause I am done with shoes for the day, to a corner place in the lobby where they say I can buy snacks. Let me tell you, this snack bar is an embarrassment to snacking and snackers and snacks. I wind up taking a couple of hard rolls they had out and grabbed a bag of salt and pepper chips.
So, now, I’m typing you this with a growly tummy, and wondering if, with the few hours I have tomorrow before I prep for work stuff, I can take in the Louvre or something. Do I dare? The woman at the lobby counter says a great many things are closed on Sunday, as folks like to spend it with their families. That I get. But, I could do with a chance to make things even with that pigeon.
So, yeah, last night in Paris was strange . . .
A rare self pic. Don't I look tired, but still awesome.
So, I have this thing about karaoke. I don’t like it. If you’re a karaoke fan, don’t hate on me . I don’t dislike the people that do karaoke (for the most part), just the thing itself. So, how did I wind up in a Missoula bar singing some Queensryche and Journey. The answer is Ty Franck.
Now, before I get to all that, I have to tell you that this con, Miscon, is pretty awesome. The organizers are absolutely top drawer. Bob, Justin, if you ever read this little blog post, guys, your really do rock. Models of efficiency and caring you are. I find that rare.
Also, I’ve been given plenty of opportunity to feel all kinds of humble. Firstly, I’ve been honored to sit on some panels with George R.R. Martin. I mean, on a panel about “What Makes a Monster,” George gives this incredibly erudite and witty answer to the opening question. Then he hands me the mike (yes, that’s how you actually spell mike, not mic). Now, what am I going to say after this master of the genre? I went with: “I agree with George.” Then he and I proceeded to get into a really interesting conversation about Jekyll and Hyde–a favorite of mine. Twas awesome!
But Ty–half of the hugo-nominated duo James S.A. Corey (the other half being the equally awesome Daniel Abraham)–well, Ty and I have been kind of chillin’ a lot. And once or twice, as we stand chatting with one con-goer or another, Ty asks them, “Hey, I’ve been looking for Peter Orullian, I really want to me him. Have you seen him?” To which these lovely folks show him a puzzled brow and apologize that they haven’t. I, of course, am standing close enough to smell the rum on their breath. So, y’know, thanks Ty.
Actually, it’s funny as hell. And really, the crowd here is four times its normal size with all the fans who’ve come with the expressed purpose of meeting George. Who can blame them, right?
For my part, I’ve had the good fortune of taking a few meals with the man, and Ty, who’s Mr. Martin’s assistant and muscle.
Now Ty is funny. Sarcasm is kind of his schtick. And it’s a good thing he can make you laugh. Otherwise, it’d be easy to be bitter about just how unfairly the universe has endowed this walking vodka tonic with every gift imaginable. He’s the first one to tell you this, too. It’s storybook. As he says, “It’s like the universe feels it owes me something.”
And this is how we get to me doing karaoke. I’m still not sure how it happened. Because, as I said, I have a visceral dislike for it. And yet, there we are, in a rather unremarkable bar, amidst a handful of barflies, listening to some incredibly caucasian guy named Tito doing rap tunes. And there’s Ty, without actually sounding whiney, convincing me to go pic up the crappy mike and sing. Of course, both Eldon Thompson and J.A. Pitts were there to pile on.
Before I know it, I’m doing “Another Rainy Night” by Queensryche. Then later I did “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. And later still, I do “Silent Lucidity.”
I’m pretty sure that the $40 that he and Eldon put up if I would sing sealed the deal. But still . . . And I have to tell you, the little sound system must have cost all of $4 at Radio Shack, as I was clipping the speakers with my high notes. But, I guess that was probably part of the charm of it all.
An hour later at a room party, we get talking about it with George. Mr. Martin reminded me that he doesn’t treat singers too well in his books. Something about tongues being cut out and the like. I made sure to let him know that the music in my books isn’t whimpy sopranos prancing about and singing a whole lot o’ purity. No, I say, it’s rough and raw and filled with anguish and hatred. That got a sage nod from the man. Then we talked of other books with some music in them. Kind of a great moment.
So, I guess what I’m saying as that Miscon has been filled with a tonnage of delightful surprises. Mostly it’s been about cool people. In the middle of moderating panels on “The Psychology of Evil” and sitting on panels about monsters and villains and the like, I’m reminded–by these people I’m exploring these topics with–that humans aren’t all bad. More than that, some of them are like a fine song: enjoyable again and again, and pretty much anywhere. That’s all maudlin sounding. But I’m leaving it in.
So, there you go. A couple of cool guys, and a brief bout of karaoke. My Miscon memories.