Few instruments grip my heart quite like the violin. Piano will always be my first love, yes, but there is something ethereal about the sound of a violin, be it a quiet backdrop or proud melody. Violinist Mari Samuelsen was one of my favorite discoveries of 2019, and now thanks to her I have also encountered a composer I cannot wait to share with you: Max Richter.
German by birth and English by education, Richter’s been considered a master of composition since his debut album Memoryhouse in 2002. He re-imagines classic writers like Vivaldi. He writes cries of pain and hope with added text from Kafka. He captures the cosmos. He writes an opus to sleep. This man finds inspiration everywhere.
Before spring settles itself upon my ice-crusted Wisconsin landscape, let’s begin our sampling of Max Richter with a quiet walk backward into the raw, green-less lands of “November.”
A beloved track from Memoryhouse, “November” is both timeless and frozen in time: listeners may close their eyes and feel the world grow chill with winter’s promise. Frost adorns the wild grasses. A deer exhales white swirls about its nostrils. The air’s cold purifies. The morning sun strikes the frost, and for a moment all the world is a field of light.
“On the Nature of Daylight” is another beauty, one a soul could listen to while watching the sun climb horizon’s edge. As you can see, I couldn’t help but share the version that includes Mari Samuelsen.
Even though I can imagine both songs playing with the dawn, each feels a different season. Can’t you just see the sun awaken as birds shake night’s melted frost from their feathers? There’s a distinct warmth here in the unity of sound, the orchestra’s rhythmic rise and fall not unlike the wind drying out the grass for birds to gather for a new nest, a new generation.
Restraint is the name of the game here. There’s that subtle foreshadowing of synth percussion every ten seconds until it starts rat-a-tap tapping at :45, slow, slow as clawed steps. Brass call out a low harmony over and over, like a beast hunting in the darkness.
Oh, 2020, you promise to be an exciting year for music. Not only do old favorites like Daniel Pemberton and Mychael Danna have new soundtracks out this year, but I’ve a whole new catalog to explore in the hall of Max Richter. Here is a man who has found the heart strings that play human nature to their joy and sorrow. Let his music inspire your storytelling of the human condition both real and imagined, and help you find your own unique story in this “great big world” of writers:
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
I’m keen to share some of my own writing! Yes, fiction with characters and setting and all that jazz. We also need to discuss the damage done when a writer alters characters mid-stream through a story arc. Oh, Last Jedi, you never had a chance…
Good morning, all, from a wintry Wisconsin! At long last, snow’s found my corner of the Midwest. Biff, Bash, and Blondie had a blast sledding upon our wee hill. It’s the sort of blizzardy day that encourages one to tuck into a blanket and a book–not that I can, with my pile of student projects requiring grades and the kids now planning to convert the house into one giant Gotham City/Sodor hybrid because I was fool enough to leave those old toys out. Still, isn’t it a lovely thought to just wile away the day with a cozy mystery? Or, perhaps an epic adventure into the Elsewhere…
Dark Crystalis a film I’ve only watched a handful of times, and yet I can still remember the awe of my first encounter. Everything glowed, moved, lived. I knew these were puppets, and yet they felt real to me, so real that their torture under the Skeksis scared the pants off of me. Heck, I still have the occasional nightmare about that chair.
Dark Crystal is also one of the few creations by Jim Henson Disney doesn’t own, which is why Netflix was able to produce its own prequel series. I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical, but the music alone has won me over.
To the lovers of fantasy, the lovers of adventure: here is a theme to call you over that threshold for a hero’s journey.
Oh, Daniel Pemberton, you do not disappoint. The mix of zither and medieval instruments atop a foundation of strings inspire the feeling of a dirt track beneath leather boots, of dusty wind whipping rain-washed hair. We close our eyes to a sun first rising over old forests and older mountains, the road lost in a valley of thorns and uncertainty.
I’m such a sucker for the medieval flair in this score. The feel of history, I think, and the simplicity in its emotional expression.
The score to Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance doesn’t just count on the medieval flavor, however. The moments of synthesized melodies seems to hearken back to the 80s while also remaining distinctly…distinctly itself. “Unnatural” would be my description, an antithesis for the skin drumheads and soft flutes of before. The result unsettles the imagination, cracking it as a clawed foot cracks the ice.
When winter turns our real world bleak with cold, music like Pemberton’s reminds us there’s magic both frightening and fragile beyond the snow. We’ve only to turn our writing eyes inward, and watch music awaken Story’s Landscape.
That, and there’s nothing quite so lovely as a fluttering solo violin. 🙂
Someday, I hope to see the story actually paired with Pemberton’s music (Yes, I’m one of thooose people who has no streaming service of any kind.) Until then, I’m thrilled Pemberton’s found a way to bring the music of Henson’s original story together with his own, just as the writers of Age of Resistance found a way to create a new story in Henson’s universe.
May your own stories, whether unique to you or inspired by others, contain such magic as to enchant your readers and leave them breathless in a land of hope and shadows.
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
I’m keen to get back into my Star Wars series by studying some plot holes in The Force Awakens and how those holes affect the strength of the trilogy overall. I’ve also got some FANTASTIC interviews lined up, with the first to be posted in the next few weeks. Blondie’s also been pestering me to write on here, too, so you may be hearing from her soon. xxxxxx
Hullo hullo, everyone! While most of the Midwest is buried beneath vast amounts of the white stuff, southern Wisconsin remains primarily bare. Cold, and bare. Cold, drab, and bare. Cold, drab, starless, and bare.
Whether you love Christmas for Christ or Claus or whatever else, the music of the season always carries an extra touch of magic. This year, I want to take you on a ride with that music, but not through carols or reindeer. This year, let’s take a train.
I first learned of The Polar Express via its Robert Zemeckis film adaptation in 2004. I got kids, and those kid love trains, so borrowing this film from the library was a no-brainer. The film came out during the 3-D craze, so there are several roller-coaster style sequences thrown in for…reasons.
Still, there’s a lot to love here. The original illustrations in the book are simple and elegant, so when the film brings those illustrations to life, the story glows on the screen.
Silvestri utilizes the caroler element of Christmas music to build a majestic sound to compliment the orchestra: like “Carol of the Bells” or “Deck the Halls,” a portion of the choir sings onomatopoeia bell sounds while the others maintain a traditional harmony as they sing “Spirit of the Season.” When you combine the choir with a bit of brass and bells on top of sweeping strings, you have a song of majesty unbounded.
Of all the tracks, however, my favorite comes from near the film’s end. Will Santa Claus appear to these children after their adventures on the Polar Express? Do these kids truly, truly believe in the magic?
Unlike the opening to “Spirit of the Season,” Silvestri starts low, almost ominous. The bells aren’t quite traditional harmony–more like playing in fifths, perhaps, with the same low note playing over, and over, and over, so when the percussion and low brass begin it feels like a train slowly building steam to go. Something is building to happen…it picks up speed…and a melody. And drums.
Oh, those drums at 1:52 are my favorite. Like the pounding of reindeer hooves, the drums signal a change to a smashing of Christmas songs galloping by us, around us, spinning us like tops for Santa’s toy sack. While the choir dances in and out of these songs, the brass are the heroes in this track. Those trumpets nail the intense run from carol to carol with precision so perfect I fear many must have needed ice packs for their mouths after playing. 🙂 But back to the music. After the fantastic gallop of carols we return to the sweeping theme of majesty and flying magic. Santa cracks a whip made of the Northern Lights, and color splashes across the sky as his sleigh snaps out of sight into the night.
As you embark on your own seasonal adventures real or imagined, always keep the right music ready to transport you to the furthest reaches of snowy magic…or to return you to your home’s hearth of warmth and laughter.
~ STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK! ~
Blondie’s excited to share her writing and reading updates with you! I’m also eager to share more music and storytelling joys. Oh, and if you’re interested in one of my 2020 Author Interview slots, let me know!
Lastly, if you haven’t written a review for your favorite writers in a while, please be sure to do so. No gift is as meaningful to any writer, indie or mainstream, like a review from a reader. I‘ve got my two books, sure, but this is a gift that means to world to ALL writers. x
Hello, friends! So, I’m not alone with my writing today–Biff’s getting over a fever. Oh, he seems okay, much more animated and energetic than yesterday. Still, I don’t need a relapse in the midst of my panicking university students and sub teaching gigs, so here we are, home together, him wondering why I won’t let him watch tv all day and me…um…wondering I won’t just let him watch tv so I can get some writing done. 🙂
Writing Music: Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall
“Thomas!” Angela clung to the sliding doors as
her body hung forward, face as fearful as any caught animal. “Thomas, you let
Chloe go up there?” Her feet moved for the stairs, yet her hands would
not let go. “Did she talk to you?”
Chloe and her father moved as one to meet her at
the base of the stairs. Chloe wrapped her arms tight around her momma,
murmuring, “I’m okay, it’s okay. She’s just creepy, is all.”
Thomas’ long, powerful arms held them both close
to his chest. He kissed the tops of their heads, then rested his own on
Angela’s. “It’s almost midnight. Doctor said she’s in her last few hours. It’s
“Over.” Angela’s face was but a few inches from
Chloe’s, and yet Chloe felt like her mother couldn’t see her at all. What could
she see? “C-can it really be over with…without…”
Sal knocked on the sliding door to get their
attention. “Ang. The crows. Do you hear them?”
Just like that, Angela’s focus sharpened on her
daughter, husband, brother. She pulled away from her family and ran into the
living room and its windows. Chloe followed, keeping her distance from Reg
whose back was to them all. He sat at the small, plain desk not far from the
hearth, its surface lit just enough by the fire’s light that he could draw in
great, dramatic strokes. Papers littered the floor about his dusty chair.
Papers filled with crows.
No one spoke but the fire. No one moved. From
somewhere came a ticking. From somewhere came a thock. Thock. Thock.
“You must make the sign,” the grandmother had
said. The crows upon the floor had outspread wings and
open beaks, long talons and wide eyes. They stared at Chloe from the paper,
stared like those hidden golden eyes on the bookshelf–
From somewhere came voices, beastly and strange.
“Isn’t that plowman supposed to be feeding the
crows?” Angela asked. “We can’t lose them, not now.”
Sal nodded. “I’ll go check.”
You must make the sign…
But Reg was already making plenty of signs. What difference
would a drawing by Chloe make? And Chloe’s stomach still rumbled, and her
father was giving her that “we have to talk” face while touching her mother’s
shoulder. Damn, he’s going to bring up
the radio job to get Momma’s mind off crows and witch-mothers. She had to
separate them…but no. Not when her mother looked ready to jump out of her own
skin. And unlike Angela, Chloe’d already seen the bloody kitchen.
“I’ll come with you.” Chloe practically skipped over to Sal’s
side. “Uncle Sal.” Anything to put off “that
talk” until we’re in the car. Hell, I’ll talk the whole way home about it if it
means not doing it while Momma’s like this.
“You sure?” Chloe’s father asked. He sure wasn’t.
But the scribbling noise from Reg and the tappingof Angela’s fingernails on the laced
table made the bloody silence of the kitchen sound like a sanctuary to Chloe. That,
and the ginger scarecrow that was Sal felt like the least threatening thing in
this house. “Mmhmm.”
“We’ll just be a moment,” said Sal, and led Chloe out.
The foyer felt far colder than a moment ago. Little whips of wind lashed the back of Chloe’s stockinged legs. The lights flickered once, twice. But no black laced shapes loitered on the stairs—not that Sal looked up to check. He was all too happy to share a smile with Chloe instead.
“Thanks for this. I hate walking around here by myself. When
I saw Reg at the front door, I just…stayed with him by the fire until you came.”
They paused by the display of crow skeletons. One skeleton was posed to look
outward, right were Sal stood. “It’s always felt…safest, in there.”
Chloe shuddered. “Should I ask where you guys slept?”
Sal swallowed. “No.”
The cold had been coming from the kitchen. The back door
stood open, just a sliver. The dead rabbit was gone.
So was the axe.
Word Count: 675 Total Count: 11,215
Consarnit! I can’t wait to share the next moment with you, but I teach all day tomorrow, so there’s a good chance I won’t be posting. Stay tuned!
Hello, friends! I know I’m slowing down a bit with this scene, but I did so want to give a bit of history and had no idea where else to put it. (If you want some context, check out the complete list of current contents for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)
Chloe’s father blocked her halfway down the stairs. Light from the grandmother’s room faded against the second floor corridor until it was just as dim as the rest of the foyer. The grandmother’s presence, however, hadn’t faded, not at all. Go to the desk near the fireplace downstairs, she’d said. Take ashes from the hearth, and with your own fingers make the sign. She refused to watch Chloe or her father leave, eyes still transfixed upon the window where the owl and clawed its own mark. Do it now, before he finds a way inside.
Not that the owl’s mark made much impression on Chloe’s father. Already he was grumbling about Chloe’s love of music. “Your momma got you that job to help jumpstart your journalism career, not to write songs other people are gonna sing without even mentioning your name.”
Chloe slumped to a seat on the stairs. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” she said, voice hardly above a whisper. She clutched the hem of her skirt, so carefully sewn by her mom to help Chloe to look like someone who was on campus to learn, not serve. “I wanted to surprise you both. Play the radio and tell you, ‘I wrote that. That’s my song Brenda Holloway’s singing.” Through the rails of the bannister Chloe looked down upon the crow bones on display, the hung feathers, the child drawings. How many had been pinned to those places and left, unmoved, for years and years? “Some friends at WNOV, they’re going to set up a meeting with representatives from Motown after New Year’s.”
“Song writing. Jee-sus. Chloe, I…” Thomas Watchman bit his lip, breathed deep. Chloe knew exactly what he was doing: he was looking at her as if she was a clock refusing to wind. “When you reported what happened at the Black Student Strike in Madison to the Milwaukee campus, your momma and I, we were so, so proud of you.” He knelt upon the stair to see her eye to eye, to hold her hands in his calloused palms. “You were in living history. Do you have any idea how powerful that is? How important that is to preserve for your own kids and grandkids?”
Chloe swallowed back a hard lump of fear. So chilled, these stairs, like the sidewalk Chloe fell upon that day. The car horns, the words hot as acid on Chloe’s ears…Even Gwendolyn Brooks, a Black woman white men awarded, was almost run down while talking to the students. Yes, Chloe wrote a report and shared it on Milwaukee’s Black radio. But the real fire came in the words Chloe wrote after, words for a song, a song to hear with a piano and a microphone in a smoke-filled room, where tables are sticky with booze and old stories and the floor doesn’t care whose shoes walk its boards.
Thomas Watchman gave his daughter a little smile to tug her back into the present. “You’ve got the words and the soul to take on all those white men who think they know what deserves to be recorded and read by our eyes. Well they don’t. You.” He brought their held hands up to Chloe’s chin for a gentle nudge.“You do.”
Hello again, my friends. Not gonna lie–it’s been a helluva week, and the finals from students are nowhere near over. Let’s see if we can at least learn a little something from Yana Perdido and Chloe both before it’s too late.
Writing Music: Greenred Productions, Dark Cello Music
Dr. Artair laughed, his hands up in surrender.
“Very well! Madame Yana, I shall take my leave–for now.” He gave them a curt
bow and left, his laughter echoing up and down the foyer.
“That man is insufferable.” The grandmother
picked up the tea left by the doctor and held it up to her veil. “Hmph.
Thomas Watchman shared a look with his daughter
to head for the door, then said, “I’ll tell your children you’re–”
“Not yet.” The grandmother shuffled around the
bed, thocking as she went, still holding the cup, still hmphing under
layers of black lace. “Tell me, what do you know of crows? Apart from the
“Excuse me?” Chloe could see her father’s grip
on the leather arm bond tighten, though his voice remained cool. A bit too
cool. “I don’t hail from the South.”
The grandmother shuddered and gasped. It took a
moment for Chloe to realize she was laughing. “Is sin limited to the South? I
may be old, but I am no fool.”
No, she wasn’t. Chloe watched that gnarled hand
carefully balance the cane against the wall, and reazlied that this woman
practically read Chloe like a book in just seconds. “Crows eat garbage.
“Did you know they are also extremely
protective?” The grandmother pointed to a painting on the wall behind Chloe and
her father. It was as massive as the ornate, gilded bed: a painting of crows
flying after a lone owl, its eyes shut as it flees. “If there is a predator
looming near a crow’s nest, a signal is called out, and all crows in the
vicinity will work together to drive the predator out. Kill it if necessary.”
She unhooked the brass latch of the window. Tendrils of sparkling night air
curled into the room as she tossed the doctor’s tea out the window—
Screech! Harsh, sharp, grating, the sound came higher and higher. The
grandmother cried out, tripping over her own shrouds, dropping the cup and
shattering it with her cane. Chloe’s father ran round the bed to prevent the
old woman’s fall—
A shape flew to the window. White, black, silver,
wings stretched like the arms of a ghoul, eyes golden, too bright, too bright,
Chloe can’t stop staring back, the refrains of a thousand songs filling her ears
when she sees that gold, that gold—
Thomas slammed the window shut and latched it
shut. The creature’s talons scratched at the glass, its beak clamped down on
the window frame, but neither gave. Its feathers pounded the glass as hard as
any blizzard, and the night air now in the room seemed to answer the feathers
back, rising in the room, causing all three to shiver.
Not that Thomas Watchman was one to openly show
fear. He put his nerves into his fist and pounded the window, yelling “Back!
Get outta here! Out!”
The shape had flown away—no. No not yet. It
hovered in place a few feet back at Thomas and Chloe, who’d joined him by the
window. That can’t be the same owl from the
truck, Chloe wondered. And yet its stare, it felt so familiar…
The owl lunged for the window, but not with its
feathers. Screeee. It dragged three
sharp talons against the glass right in front of Thomas’ face. Then it flew
back into the snow, and the dark, and the quiet.
Chloe’s grandmother staggered back just enough
to sit back down on the bed. Her words came out with what sounded like a froth brewing
in her mouth. “Owls are the worst of the predators. They will hunt for crow’s
nests. They will eat the weak, the young.” Chloe handed the old woman her cane,
which she promptly thocked to steady
her withered, laced nerves. “Owls are the boogeymen crow mothers and crow fathers
warn crow children to beware.” The veiled face turned up to Chloe. “You, you
must make the next sign. You, must, beware.”
Word Count: 666 Total Count: 9,998
Gah, two words short of 10,000! But supper calls, and family, and grading, and, you know, life. 🙂
For a current list of installments for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die,click here.
Writing Music: Kronos Quartet, “Little Blue Something”
A lone caw cried out in the dark snow. Chloe couldn’t see into the night, not with snow spinning in circles outside like toy ribbons from a parade. “My family,” she said curtly.
Thock went the grandmother’s cane. Yana Perdido pointed a gnarled finger at Chloe’s chest and said, “No. This family has already been claimed. What, is, yours?”
Whimpering downstairs. Cawing outside. Muffled voices, closed doors, silent snow, golden eyes, and all beneath the tap tap tap of Dr. Artair’s ring as he sits, watching like all the white men who think they have the right to see her as less, as worthless, just some sooty the dean needs to throw out with the trash, all the snickers and the jabs and the tossed books and the mud kicked at her legs and the noise and the noise and the noise, Chloe has to cover her ears to keep out all the damn noise—
“Music!” She was panting. Why was she breathing so hard? Sweat streamed down her back and chest. Her heart wanted to collapse from running, running from all the stupid whiteys who think they own the world but they don’t because of “Music.” There. She could speak without panic now, without that clawing on her brain. She slowly ran her palms down her skirt to dry them. “I write songs for the radio.”
“Since when?” Chloe’s father filled that decrepit doorway with his body and his voice. “That job at the station is for school, not–” he paused when he saw Dr. Artair in the corner and realized the grandmother was sitting, unveiled, and staring.
It takes a lot to unnerve a man like Thomas Watchman. The grandmother’s face came damn close…until he saw Chloe’s frazzled face. He clenched his jaw as he towered over the old woman on the bed. “Make my wife or daughter a jabbering mess like that son of yours downstairs and I’ll use your own tools against you.” He pulled out the leather arm bond he found in the foyer and held it to the lamp. The large buckle flashed light in the old woman’s eyes, reflecting little back. “Understand?”
“Oh dear, oh dear.” Dr. Artair wore the face of a Santa Claus reading a naughty list. “Perhaps, Yana, it is time to make amends with your children. Should they not be compensated with–” “Treasure?” Thock. The grandmother recovered her face with the veil, and she stood, a black spectre once more. “You think you can drug me enough with your silly medicines that I’ll reveal its hiding place, do you? Get out, you fraud.” Thock. “Out of this room, and out of this house.”
Word Count: 446 Total Count: 9,332
CONSARNIT! Sorry, folks, but I have to cut it here so I can grade before another teaching gig. Here’s hoping a little more time will come my way tomorrow.
Hi!So a day’s break from writing allowed a serious question to hit my face: What does Chloe care about? Here I’ve got this girl in the main crew of characters, we’re with her practically every step of this journey, and….I have no clue what matters to her. And if I don’t know, you sure don’t know, you awesome readers, you. So let’s see if this veiled grandmother can work a little narrative magic, as it were, so we can all learn what’s up with Chloe. (And for those who feel a little déjà vuwhile reading, it’s because I’m recycling some setting details from an earlier brainstorm shared in October.) Let’s go!
“Yana, what ever are you doing out of bed?” Dr. Artair wagged his finger at the old woman and pointed at the wall. “Back to your room, my dear. I’ve brought your medicine as well as your granddaughter for a little chat while the others calm your son.”
“‘Son.’ Hmmmph.” The veiled grandmother thocked the floor with her cane as she hobbled to somewhere on the left. “Refuse of the orphanages, they were, all of them. I knew he wouldn’t want them.”
Refuse? Refuse?! Chloe’s throat burned with acid and anger as she stomped up the stairs, nearly knocking the toadish doctor over. “My mom isn’t garbage.” She pounded after the woman, glaring down at her veiled back. “She’s smarter than any white man at her university. She knows more about the world than you ever will, and she’s smart enough to stay the hell away from you!”
A slow, gurgling cackle shook the old woman’s shoulders. Chloe should turn back. She should run. This woman can’t be human, not really. She’s a monster under all that lace, and that’s why Reg is practically foaming at the mouth. No wonder, no wonder Chloe’s mother never ever wanted to set foot in here and was ready to sleep out in the car in the middle of a blizzard.
“And yet, she has returned.” The grandmother turned, slowly, straightened, slowly. By the time she faced Chloe, her head was high, almost regal. The outline of a face floated behind the veil, with two holes where eyes should be. “Why is that?”
Chloe clenched her jaw. “To help her brothers, obviously. A minute with you and one’s crying crazy.” Why WERE they there, really? They didn’t have to come here. Chloe’s mother could have hung up the phone and left it all alone…no. Chloe didn’t know as much about her mom as she’d like, but she knew one thing for sure:
Angela Perdido Watchman could never leave any past alone.
“Now now.” Dr. Artair blocked the doorway out. They were all in this grandmother’s room, Chloe in the middle. “Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.”
“And which foot would you prefer, you fraud?” The grandmother stiffly sat on the edge of her bed. It stood high with wooden globes for feet, globes carved into precarious connections along the frame and headboard. The blankets on the bed looked like cast-off ball gowns, all bright colors in expensive fabric stitched with gold. “I will take no more of your supposed medications. You’re simply here for money. You will get your dues in the post from my attorney, just like Dr. Caden.”
Dr. Artair chuckled as he set the grandmother’s tea on the bedside table. “I only wish you to be comfortable, Madame. But, if you prefer to be in pain…” He took an orange shroud off a heavy, ornate lamp, throwing a hard, yellow light upon the room. “…then so be it.” The light added dark cracks around his smile.
Thock. “You care nothing about my pain or anyone else’s.”
Chloe had to blink, readjust her eyes. Everything, everything was golden–crucifixes, mirrors, even the very fireplace opposite the bed had gilded edges. So did the two wooden chairs framing it, right down to their scrolls carved with wings and talons.
Thock. “Sit, child.”
And lose her ability to look down on this witch? “No, thank you.” Chloe folded her hands primly in front of her.
“Well I should very much like to sit,” Dr. Artair said, and did so, “if you don’t mind.”
Now the way out was clear, and Chloe sure as hell wasn’t going to give that up. Only a couple more minutes before her father will come to rescue her. She would not end up like Reg downstairs. Chloe kept her face a mask, her heart calm. This heap of old lace won’t make her a wreck.
The grandmother certainly was staring at her enough, looking for something until thock. “Hmph. You see all the gold, but you do not stare at it. You are not here for treasure.”
Chloe felt like the woman was digging through her head. Chloe’s mind raced through childhood, pausing only a couple times: listening to Etta James for the first time,her father pulling out a gilded but broken timepiece from a dumpster, a wall of golden records, her mother sitting with her in the Public Museum, gazing upon the Egyptian mummy encased there, telling Chloe tales of archeological sites in the Far East and what an adventure it must be to dig through time. Then the memories became a blur, a spinning blur, a blur like a carousel ride in chaos and Chloe would surely get sick all over this witch—
Dr. Artair’s ring loudly rapped the arm of his chair. “Oh, this really is so exciting, seeing distant family brought together at last.” And he shooed with his fingers at Chloe to make her look upon the grandmother again. “Go on, go on. Pretend I’m not here.”
The old woman had removed her veil. Her sickly skin was as peeled and cracked as the woodwork downstairs. But her eyes—those weren’t holes at all, but dark, night-dark, and they looked hungry for anything Chloe had inside her. “You are Angela’s child. That stubborn stare confirms it.” And she nodded, approving. “You would fight the world to protect your own, would you not?”
The sweat between Chloe’s fingers made her folded hands slip a little. “Yes.”
“Tell me, child.” She leaned forward, hair long enough to touch the top of her cane. “What is your own?”
WORD COUNT: 925TOTAL COUNT: 8886
Gah, we didn’t get to Chloe’s motivation! Well, we sort of did. I bet you caught the hints. 🙂 Ah well. Let’s try next time, shall we?
Good morning, my friends! As promised, I have a lovely author interview to share with you while I run off into the snow to teach high school calculus (yes, you may giggle). Meet the amazing writer of mystery thriller and dark fantasy, Daniel Kuhnley!
First things first! Tell us a little about yourself please.
Sure. My name is Daniel Kuhnley, pronounced like “coon lee.” I’m a Christian and an author, but I don’t write Christian fiction. I enjoy all sorts of activities, including music, movies, disc golf, working out, programming, and writing. I’ve been married to my wife for 22 years. Wow, it doesn’t seem that long! Just this last weekend my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. That’s quite remarkable in this day and age. There are no children or pets in our household (my wife is allergic to both!) I have three siblings and six nieces and nephews.
What is your favorite childhood book, and how would you say it influenced your own passion for storytelling?
This is a tough question. How far do I go back? Perhaps a few examples would be good. I loved The Monster at the End of This Book, The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, and Where the Wild Things Are when I was young. All three of them have a fantastical and sorta scary story. I think those led me on to books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet. This book opened my eyes to a new world where I could escape from everyday life as I read it. The characters and world and adventure stole my heart and made me want to write stories of my own. There were many other books as well.
I see you enjoy writing in two different genres: mystery thrillers, and dark fantasy. What draws you into these different writing-worlds?
Passion for the genres. I absolutely love Dean Koontz and the thrilling and mysterious books he writes. Old Stephen King ones too, like Cujo and Firestarter. What really drew me into fantasy and wanting to write it was Terry Goodkind’s series, The Sword of Truth. The first book, Wizard’s first Rule blew me away with the characters and depth of story. I’d never really read anything like it before. I knew I had to write character-driven stories like his. So, each genre is a different challenge. With fantasy, you get to create anything you can imagine. Worlds full of unique characters and places. No one can tell you it’s unrealistic. However, mystery thrillers allows me to delve into the human psyche and tell tales of sick and psychotic characters that fill nightmares. It’s fun to imagine how people like that think and what drives them. It’s even more fun to write about flawed heroes and heroines who are trying to stop them.
World-building is often one of the most difficult elements of fantasy writing: how far back should a writer go in creation? How much should be shared with readers, and what can be left in the notebook? What’s safe to rework from reality, and what’s got to be built from scratch? (You don’t have to answer my rambly rhetorical questions , but I am curious about your world-building process in creating Centauria for your Dark Heart Chronicles.)
World-building is a tricky thing. There are so many factors that go into it, and it can be the crowning achievement of a series or its downfall. A robust magic system is a must. It doesn’t need to be overtly complicated, but it should be a reflection and a driving factor of your world and its characters. Whether or not to include a language of your own is also another question to solve. I’ve read many books without one and it takes nothing away from it. I chose to create one for my world just for uniqueness. As far as creation of the world, you can go back as far as you want for its history or treat the moments your characters are living in as its beginning. I know many fantasy authors with tomes of history and backstory on their world and characters and others who have little to none. Personally, I find it far more interesting to understand the history of a world, its cultures, creatures, landscapes, and everything else that is part of its make up. I think if you’ve got some history to your world it creates a depth to it and your characters that you might not otherwise have. The readers will never know and understand everything about the world and its characters. The reason for this is that you never know when you might want to create another series based on some of that information. It could also spoil the mystery of the stories if the reader knows everything about your world and the characters. I’d say 70% of the information gets left in the “notebook.” It can cause issues though, too. Often I’ll be talking to my wife about something that happens to a character in my story and she’ll stop me and ask where that information was relayed to the reader and I’m sitting there thinking it’s somewhere but quickly find out those details are only in my head or “notebook.” As far as what can be reworked from reality vs. what should be built from scratch, that’s entirely up to the author. You want authentic, fresh worlds but readers also expect familiarity. If there’s no familiarity, it can cause the reader to have trouble picturing your world. There are obvious things that cannot be drawn from reality like unicorns, dragons, and other fantastical creatures. The hardest part for me in my world is describing the flora and fauna of the landscapes. I see them in my head, but I’m no expert in what those types of trees and plants are.
So I’m a HUGE fan of writing with music. I’ll even build up playlists to match up with major plot points as I write. What scores/composers would you like to recommend and why?
For me, I MUST listen to music while writing. It keeps my mind focused. However, I cannot write to music with words. I’ve tried and find myself singing along and not writing. As far as recommendations, my absolute favorites are Epic North, Audiomachine, and Brand X Music.
All three of the produce movie trailer and movie score music. Epic North has some great music for writing battle and physical conflict scenes. I’ve got a little over 500 of their songs in a playlist that I keep on repeat. I never get tired of listening to them. I love some of the music from Two Steps from Hell, but it’s difficult sifting through their music because they do have quite a few songs with lyrics. Some of the music I listen to does have chorus chanting but its in Latin, Italian, and other languages I don’t know, so it doesn’t bother me.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Outlining. I pantsed my first book and it took me 12 years from start to publication. With the second book, I pantsed the first half of it and outlined the second half. It took about 14 months from start to publication. Those time frames may seem quite drastic, but I had lots of time where I didn’t write anything. I put the first book away for 7 years after writing the first 70 pages. I loathe outlining, and I’m sure my wife loathes helping me with the process as well, but it’s a necessary evil. After outlining my third book, The Braille Killer, I wrote it in 2 months. That book went from start to publication in 6 months. So, outlining is both my kryptonite and my timeline shortcut.
Your Dark Heart Chronicles tell the tale of three unique characters: a family man, and twins bonded in magic. Do you find it difficult to shift between their points of view? What advice can you share with writers who struggle with writing multiple points of view?
I’ve gone back and forth through many ways of dealing with the character perspective changing over the years. Honestly, it just depends on the day. Sometimes it’s nice to switch between characters when I’m feeling blocked with one character. Other times, when I’m really in the flow of one character, I might just write multiple scenes from their perspective across the entire book. If a writer is struggling with multiple points of view, I suggest they take each character who has a unique POV from their novel and just write their story. Once they do that, weave those stories back together in editing. It sounds daunting, but it’s really not that bad. The most important thing is to get the story down, whatever the means. Piecing it together is far easier (at least for me).
Your mystery thriller The Braille Killer also carries a unique writing challenge: writing from the perspective of another gender. What was the writing logic that led you to share this story in first person from the perspective of Detective Alice instead of, say, Detective Alan?
Well, all of my novels have female POVs, so it wasn’t too difficult writing a novel strictly from a female POV. Stories come to me in a unique way. It always starts with a character’s name, like Alice Bergman. As I thought about her more, what she looked like, how old she was, etc., I began to get an idea of what her story might be. Initially, I never thought she’d be a homicide detective or have the challenges that she did, but it just felt right. Alice could never be an Alan. I have a friend who is blind, so I often talk to her about her challenges and fears, and that led me to Alice’s story.
What would you say has been the most difficult scene to write in your novels and novellas, and how did you overcome that challenge?
For me, there are two things that are difficult. The first is fighting/war scenes. I never served in the military, nor have I studied wars, so writing about them can be challenging. That’s what I’m working through in my current WIP, Rended Souls (Book 3 of The DarkHeart Chronicles). I’m also no fighter, so blocking fight scenes can be tricky. It’s best to literally act them out to get a feel for what makes sense and is physically possible for a given character. The other issue I struggle with, especially as a Christian, is how far to go with language, violence, and sexual encounters. I’ve learned to just write it all out in the first draft, no matter how vulgar, sexual, or violent, and then tone it down (if needed) in the editing phase. Because I’m writing dark fantasy and mystery thrillers about serial killers, my books can be quite violent and bloody at times. There is mild cussing in all of my books as well (depending on the reader’s view of what that means). Although not vulgar and explicit, there is also scenes of sexuality in all my books as well. Humans are…human. It’s difficult to have compelling characters without exposing their flaws as well. No one is perfect, and I hate reading books where all the characters are wooden and sinless.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
To be honest, it goes both ways. There are times where the writing is flowing really well, and I’m excited to get the story down and discover what’s happening with my characters. But then there are the times where I feel writing constipated. The words are in my head, but I can’t seem to push them out no matter how hard I try. This third dark fantasy novel has been that way. I know the story and all the events that must take place, but I’m struggling to get the words out at a decent pace. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and focus on something else for awhile. I’ve done that, and I’ve finally started making progress again.
That’s wonderful news to hear, Daniel, and congratulations on the release of your latest!
An evil dragon. A powerful mage. An ancient realm on the verge of a devastating nightmare…
Nardus is terrified he may have doomed his kingdom. Instead of resurrecting his beloved wife and children, he brought forth a malevolent winged-monster who is advancing on his people with a mind-controlled army. And now his last hope of redemption lies in discovering an age-old magical secret.
Twins Alderan and Aria’s hostile history delivered them to opposite sides of a brewing war. And as Alderan struggles to master his abilities while torn between loyalties, Aria’s growing powers could hold the key to the kingdom’s fate. But faced with an enemy that controls his sister, Alderan has no choice but to outsmart a manipulative wizard and a centuries-old dragon.
As the battle lines are drawn, can Nardus and Alderan claim their rightful place to rescue their world and save Aria from herself?
Rended Souls is the third book in the riveting The Dark Heart Chronicles epic dark fantasy series. If you like dangerous magic, page-turning adventures, and headstrong characters, then you’ll love Daniel Kuhnley’s spellbinding tale.
Buy Rended Souls to enter a clash of conjuring today!
How about we close this chat with some encouragement for those who are participating in National Novel Writing Month? I know I could use all the support I can get. 🙂
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three different years and have yet to “win” it. However, I encourage everyone to think of it as more of a launching point than a “gotta get it all done this month!” panic. Not winning hasn’t stopped me from finishing novels and getting them out to the world. In the last two years, I’ve released 4 novels and two novellas. The key to success is to keep going and finish the job, no matter how long it takes. So many people give up right in the middle. Don’t do that to yourself. Keep pushing forward, and best of luck with NaNoWriMo!
Thanks again for sharing your writing life with us, Daniel! Folks, you can connect with Daniel in all sorts of places. Why not stop by and say hello?
Good morning, friends! Snow falls gently outside my window now, but the storm of school work is not far behind. Let’s get right to it, and see what Chloe makes of the grandmother she never knew she had.
Chloe finally relinquished her coat to the coat rack and followed the doctor to the steps, straightening her turtleneck sweater as she went.
“Is it not a pity, Miss…?”
“Is it not a pity, Miss Chloe, that such a treasure of a place be treated so?” He gave the wooden crow carved into the bannister a light tap with his pointer finger. “Everyone ought to be allowed their eccentricities, but this—” his eyes rolled at the dozens upon dozens of crow drawings. “–is a bit much, even for me.” He grimaced, reminding Chloe of an angry toad.
Good thing he started chuckling so she could laugh, even falling in step with him on the stairs. “Guess this explains why Mom never wanted a pet.”
“Ha! Indeed. Your mother is a history teacher, correct?”
“That’s right, Doctor…?”
“Dr. Artair. Yes, she’s even applying for tenure at the University in Milwaukee.”
“You must be very proud.”
Thomas appeared then. Chloe waved down to him, and he waved back with a cloth wrapped around ice. He continued on to the living room, quiet now but for hushed voices and crackling flames.
“I wonder, then, what she would make of these.” Dr. Artair used the stirring spoon to point at the crow pictures.
The second level was only half a dozen stairs away. Only one lamp seemed to be shining out of side onto dark green wallpaper. One door closed, who knew how many hid from sight. One of those doors led to her. The grandmother who made her children draw nothing but crows… “She probably hated having to make so many,” Chloe said.
But Dr. Artair tisked Chloe’s words, and rapped a few of the pictures with the spoon. “Look a little closer.”
So Chloe leaned in, eyes squinting to see whatever it was she was meant to see. One drawing was just a series of hard, crude strokes with a black crayon. Another was more like pencil, a bit finer, with some shading. One had a peculiar smell to it, almost like sulfur.
“The corners. Look to the corners,” Dr. Artair whispered.
And there, finally, Chloe saw numbers smaller than a fly, written with precise, perfect lines: 1893.
Chloe gasped. “These aren’t all Mom and her brothers. These…” She thudded down the stairs and back up again, scanning row upon row of pictures, finding more and more dates. 1923. 1947. 1882. 1904. 1950. 1867. “She had to make more. Someone was always making them…”
Floorboards near them creaked loudly. Thock. A shuffling sound. Thock. Another shuffle.
Chloe looked over Dr. Artair’s shoulders to the top of the stairs.
They were no longer alone.
An old woman, draped in black lace and bent as a question mark, hobbled to the top of the stairs with a knobby wooden cane clutched by a gloved hand. Knotted locks of silver hair peeked out from the thick veil covering her head and shoulders. “Yes.” The woman’s voice seemed to claw at the very air between them. “A Perdido must make the sign to be protected. You.” She pointed the cane at Chloe. “You will make the next sign.”
Word Count: 527 Total Count: 7961
Gah, I hate interrupting a story, but I’m afraid we have no choice this week. I do hope you’ll stay tuned anyway–I’ve a lovely author interview to share, and Blondie wants to talk about her current projects. (Oh yes–she’s got quite a few manuscripts flying around!)
For a complete list of installments for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, click here.
I Lang hae thought, my youthfu' friend, A something to have sent you, Tho' it should serve nae ither end Than just a kind memento: But how the subject-theme may gang, Let time and chance determine; Perhaps it may turn out a sang: Perhaps turn out a sermon. - Robert Burns