Happy Sunday, fellow creatives! I hope this November has been kind to you. For those participating in NaNoWriMo, do you feel comfortable with where you are in your writing goals? I’m jazzed to the moon and back I’ve passed the 10,000 word mark. That may not sound like much for the novelists, but for someone whose creativity has been floundering, writing three short stories in the midst of academia and parenthood is a HUGE accomplishment.
For those who know me here, music often plays a HUGE role in my writing. Take “Never Say Your Name”: the isolation of a few supposed strangers in an unassuming public space while the elements imprison them required the music of Il Maestro, Ennio Morricone. His scores for The Thing and The Hateful Eight were always on when I needed to sit alongside Green Trench Miks Tavus and help him carry out his sting against the dragon-egg smuggler.
(Check out my Writing Music area for a bunch of other composers and compilations!)
Originally, “The Bee Trainer’s Revenge” was going to utilize the bees a LOT more. Both primary characters were going to exhibit how they’d control the bees as they themselves duel for the rights to the hives. But the more I listened to the village-inspired themes of Midsomer Murders, I kept thinking more and more of how everyday people manipulate and plot against one another. It was just a matter of adding magic to the mix.
(I share a few other thoughts about this score and series, in case you’re interested.)
Yet when it came to writing “The Boy Who Conquered Goose Island,” I really didn’t utilize composed music at all. My son Bash inspired me plenty with his schemes for removing the geese from the local park. Between his ideas and the sounds of nature, I had plenty of inspiration.
And now here we are, wondering where to go next. My pantsing attitude doesn’t even let me see how many more stories should be in this collection. Three? Four? The important thing is to keep the conflicts, plots, characters–everything is rural small town. Let those big-city folk have all their fancypants urban fantasy “the universe is at stake!” attitude. We’re just trying to prevent the witch next door from hexing the pie and transforming our guests into emus.
Starkeeping. Based on my other son, Biff, and his love of all things space. Still wondering about this.
Public park problems. Some towns clearly love their parks; others, not so much. I’m wondering which camp Pips Row falls into.
That one weird house everyone avoids. Every town has one–that one house that can’t possibly be inhabited, yet it never falls apart. I wanted to explore this idea without rehashing my “Blue House Dare” story, but how?
So I’m giving myself today to reflect and see where I want to go tomorrow. What music has been helping you with your projects lately? I’d love to hear some recommendations!
Welcome back, fellow creatives! I hope spring brings you days of renewal and hope. I’m in a daze with all the conference work for university, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel! With the right music and support, I can pace myself to reach that light.
We all learned when we were wee that music carries a special storytelling power. Maybe there was that one movie soundtrack you listened to over and over again to relive your favorite scenes. Maybe there was a favorite musical where the songs of characters help tell the story, or an opera where the emotions of instruments and characters alike blended into one voice. I was very much a soundtrack child, but my father’s love of New Age music had its influences on me, too, and one album in particular got a play on our stereos: David Arkenstone‘s Quest of the Dream Warrior.
Now you may be wondering why I titled this blog post Two Steps from Hell and here I’m sharing New Age from the 90s. Hold yer hightops, I’m getting there.
In a highly, highly visually-charged culture like the U.S. of A., engaging in music that told a story–no stage, no movie, no book, just music–felt very unique to me as kid. Music like this feels more…more open to the possibility of telling multiple stories. Yes, Arkenstone had one story in mind when he composed the music, but because the visuals of the story were left to the audience, I felt like I could take those sounds and make a story of my own. (I did, too. It involved a band of bandits helping a kid thwart an evil sorcerer. At one point he became a giant eagle for coolness. Wonder where that story is…Anyway.)
This is where Thomas Bergersen comes in. Another kid from a small town, though his is in Norway. Just another soul who loved music. But while I enjoyed taking my lessons and then moving to words, Bergersen taught himself composition and orchestration. In the mid-2000s He partnered with Nick Phoenix, a composer based in the States, and together they created Two Steps from Hell. Their music has appeared in loads of movie trailers like Batman v. Superman, but I’d rather focus on their albums here, for what is this month of May but a time to celebrate the fantasy storytelling we love?
Yes, my friends, Wyrd and Wonder is back! Let us see how story-music of others may inspire your own storytelling.
Perhaps your characters are on a journey through a land of light and mystery. Perhaps danger runs as freely as the river alongside their road. Can’t you feel it in the strings, in the herald of the brass singing in the air?
Oh, don’t let the synth take you out of this moment. One of my favorite elements of Two Steps from Hell is their ability to bring voice and synth together with the orchestra. There is a timelessness here, a genre-bending that allows the music to reach those in the future, the past, or an Elsewhere altogether.
Like the sea. Perhaps your characters are not upon the land at all, but upon the water, their ship leaping with the crest of every tumultuous wave as they close in upon the enemy before it can attack the innocents ashore.
Fear is cast overboard as your characters take to the cannons, take to the ropes, take to the enemy’s hull and climb, swords divine with sunlight as they battle the enemy from hull to stern.
Two Steps from Hell have several albums available, and I wish dearly I could review them all here. While all albums are epic, each also carries its own identity. Dragon brings such an air to it through the strings without synth, for instance, while Skyworld embraces that synth to add the presence of technology to the setting. Dragon‘s trilling strings show us the dragon wings beating in large, sweeping motions. It cuts the clouds as the warring windjammers upon the water. When the violins run their scales downwards, you know the dragon is diving…to aid? To conquer? It is up to you, storytellers.
For that is the joy of music such as this. It is up to us to create the story, to share what we see when the story is told. Whether the story takes us on a journey of swashbuckling under the sun or through the shadowed realm of our own grief, music guides us into the unknown on wings of hope.
These are the days where we celebrate Impossiblity’s rightful place in our imaginations. All is never truly lost if we take heart. Even the courage of one soul can be enough to vanquish the darkness and rise a legend.
I’m really excited to share my pilot podcast episode next week! We’ll study the story-starts of some fantasy books throughout May–for of course we must–and hopefully by the end of May we’ll know if this hair-brained scheme of mine is, um, you know, going to work, and what have you.
I’ve got a publisher interview coming up as well as some ponderings about names and the importance of oral storytelling in the home. Blondie is also finishing up the illustrations for her story to share here about The Four Realms, which makes my heart smile.
In these weeks where light bleeds to night bleeds to light–
–I lose my creative fire to static.
Not the static of radios or televisions. I speak of life’s static, day in, day out. After celebrating the release of my novel Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, I knew I had to brace for the impact of a full-time grading load, something I’d not known since before Blondie was born. The music of writing gave way to podcasts and commentaries upon YouTube as I worked, a low hum of wordy noise I would hear without really listening.
After a few weeks inside a classroom, Biff and Bash’s school closed back down and returned to virtual. While not nearly as chaotic as the spring, the boys are bored by the diet of worksheets and videos. Even the extra aid for Bash is now going to be yet another face on yet another screen for yet another period of the day. It is difficult seeing my sons and thousands of other children lumped into this remote learning landscape where so little learning is done at all. (For some excellent insight into the matter, please check out this article from ProPublica.)
But as I must remind myself: this is something over which I have no control.
So we build our little forts of sanity, we three, as Bo goes to work and Blondie attends her school in-person in the next county just a few miles away (which, wouldn’t you know, has not had to shut any school district down thanks to careful quarantining and safety measures.) Biff gathers up the sofa cushions and blankets and hides away with his BBF (Best Bear Friend) to work or read. Bash burrows into his bedroom with his rabbit and robots to tell stories and craft a world of folded paper. I remain in my room with my computer to teach, to grade, eternally typing. The sounds of teachers, educational videos, commentaries, Transformers episodes, Mario games–all of it culminates into this white noise that propels one forward on the outside while restraining one on the inside.
Until some thing–some curious, unexpected thing–cuts through the static with kinetic dissonance.
What was this? Something vicious is lurking, its jaws snapping…I was preparing to teach, had no time to listen…yet I listened.
Paws drummed the ground. Wildness was coming, coming out of the frontier to scratch, to eviscerate–
But they couldn’t, not when class had to begin.
After class, I opened YouTube to see what music had slipped into the cracks of all those commentaries. It was a soundtrack–for of course it was–to a film I had only seen once.
Another surprise: the score had been saved to my computer long ago. No need to search for the individual tracks. It was time to travel beyond the static down a road unknown.
The solo violin guides me, too awestruck not to follow. Piano trickles as a river nearby. I feel like a Lost Girl yearning to remember her Neverland, hands open at my sides, fingers outstretched on which a tire fairy may perch.
Then the dissonant flutes remind me danger is afoot, and someone has blocked the piano’s river. A single note tap tap taps, and I must return to teaching, to parenting.
But not with the static. That, I leave in tatters upon the ground.
Re-discovering The Village‘s score by James Newton Howard has been a magical addition to this topsy-turvy autumn. Hillary Hahn’s craft as a violinist is nothing short of stellar (she even discusses recording for the score here!), and I look forward to finding more of her work to add to my recordings of Mari Samuelsen. Hahn’s violin is the perfect protagonist in this sound-story, the musical shadow of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in the film, and Howard’s score captures the spirit of this isolated little world surrounded by forbidden wilderness.
No matter what howls from the winds, the strings dance at forest’s edge. They dare one another to move a step too far.
It is up to us, the storytellers, to decide who steps first.
We all lose our Neverlands every now and then. We just need the right voice to guide us, be it a story, a friend, a star, or a song. As your friendship keeps my creative sparks alight, may this story’s song ignite your own imaginations with adventure and hope.
I’m really excited to share an indie author who writes some amazing children’s literature for a furry important cause. 🙂 We will also need to dive into a few holiday-ish things before 2020 ends, because it’s me so of course we must. xxxxx
And to all who have read and helped promote my novel–THANK YOU! These words feel too small for the feelings that match them, but they are all I can write now that the kids are fighting. Sigh.
Happy weekend, Friends! It’s been a bugger of an August so far. We’re doing the best we can with the time we have–like a couple of trips to the beach while helping my mom clean out her house to sell it–but it’s pretty clear my three B’s are in desperate need of a break from one another. With many lockdown measures still in place, they’re acting like grumpy Pevensies stuck together on a rainy day.
If only a game of hide and seek would reveal a mysterious portal elsewhere, you know? Whether that portal be an old wardrobe, a forgotten door, or a painted forest, we are all looking for those gateways to adventure. Earlier this summer I was finding my own escape through the banjo, violin, and other instruments of the Appalachian Mountains, following the sounds of Edie Brickell and Steve Martin in their songs of love lost and found again.
But while their music calmed my heart, it didn’t spark my writing, a must when I was finishing a couple short stories and finalizing a novel for its ARC release. I needed another portal, one of magic, of danger…
…and a little hope.
The soundtrack for Back to the Future has been on constantly in our house since Bo showed the time travel scenes to the kids. Biff now runs around yelling, “Doc, the flux capacitor isn’t working!” Bash rides his bike with the cry, “we gotta go back to the future!” (Blondie politely tolerates it all.) And really, what isn’t there to love in this Alan Silvestri score? The little excerpt you’re (hopefully) listening to right now from the second film starts with one of my favorite cues: the violin, piano, and chimes trilling downward like falling magic. There’s mystery in the minor, and just a touch of danger in the french horns as Future Doc must take do what he can to prevent Past Doc from seeing him.
The main theme for Back to the Future is one of THE great themes for adventure: the swelling cymbals and bombastic brass sweep you away into the impossible journey through time–not to the major landmarks of history like some Wild Stallions, nor to the future of other galaxies like certain Doctors. No no, just into the past of one boy’s family, where he is able to inspire his father and mother to be the strong, loving people he needs in his present. Like John Williams, Silvestri loves his brass, but the heroic, staccato brass can only carry us so far without the legato of running strings echoing accelerating us to 88 miles per hour so we, too, can vanish with a trail of fire behind us.
Oh, the 1980s did have a marvelous run of music, didn’t they? Here’s one I just had to share from another favorite composer, James Horner. When you think of Horner, you usually think of Star Trek, Aliens, or Titanic. Ah, but he’s done so many others, including this little guilty pleasure of mine…
Bo often pokes fun about Horner. “It all sounds like Wrath of Kahn and you know it.” NO, I say, even though…yeah, there are bits that will always make me think of Star Trek II (which is one of the greatest scores ever and yes, I will need to do a post dedicated entirely to that score sometime.). But as another fan commented on YouTube, the common threads in Horner’s music feels like it binds all these different universes together, making this life just one more epic adventure tied to the next. I love that concept, and come on–who wouldn’t want the stampede of trumpets, the melodic violins heralding their arrival? The galloping drums transport us across the vast alien landscape to rescue our kidnapped love doing their best to hide from a villain who sees all, knows all.
But more than anything, it’s the trumpets at the two-minute mark that just melt me. Oh, what a hero’s theme. The utter defiance in the face of omnipotent evil. No matter what mischief is worked, the hero comes through in those trumpets, riding on, never stopping until he rescues the one who was taken from him.
Of course there has been good music after the 1980s. Take The Pirates of the Caribbean, where the first film has a wonderfully lush score for its swashbucklers. Hans Zimmer is connected to this series, but the first film was composed by Klaus Badelt, who has worked with Zimmer on other scores like The Prince of Egypt and Gladiator. Badelt’s theme starts fast and never lets up for a heartbeat. Here the orchestra moves as one, crashing up against us as the ocean waves beat a ship’s hull, and the cannon smoke blinds men in their climb up and down ropes to protect the sails and seek out the forbidden land for treasure.
Or you may abandon the ships for an adventure on the land, where the desert is your sea, and your only hope is to drive on, drive fast, and never, ever, let them catch you.
Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) has become a go-to creator of action and adventure scores over the last twenty years. Whether you’re web-slinging with Spider-Man, defending a Dark Tower, or driving a mobile city to devour another, Holkenborg knows how to balance instruments and synth to create a force of unnatural power. You must move forward, you must heed the drums, you must flee the dissonance. You must summon all courage as the bass carries you, and when the strings break free from the percussion, you must fly or perish.
There is also adventure to be found in the music without a film. When I interviewed author Michael Scott oh so long ago, he recommended listening to trailer music on YouTube for writing inspiration. If it weren’t for him I would have never stumbled across the track that inspired my western fantasy novella Night’s Tooth.
Unlike the western scores I shared at Night’s Tooth release, this music has no direct correlation to the western genre. It’s just drums, hands, guitars, and a whole lot of guts synthed together. When I first heard this, I imagined gunslingers running among bullet-torn walls while a hunter poises himself for transformation, snarling as he becomes a creature of night and fire and vengeance.
Jean Lee’s western, Night’s Tooth, takes readers back to the world of the River Vine, but in a different era- the Old West. Elements of a western, of real history, and of terrifying fantasy combined to make this a real page turner.
Amazon Reader Review
As Night’s Toothapproaches its birthday, I’m debating making the novella available in print as well as an e-book. I could maybe add some extras to the novella to make it worthwhile…a few of my other Princeborn short stories, perhaps? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
I’m also wrapping up preparations to share the ARC of my second novel, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen at the end of August. If you’ve not read the first novel but are interested in doing so, I’d be happy to connect you with it for a review!
I’ve been around a while and read my fair share of Fantasies, but it’s rare to find an artist who so capably commands her medium as does Jean Lee.
Her evil characters transcend malevolence, while her good characters are flawed enough to be their worthy opponents. I’ve never witnessed such a clash of forces and such mayhem as battled in the climax. I was literally exhausted when I finished it.
It’s good to know there are many books remaining in Jean Lee’s arsenal. We’ll be enjoying her brilliance for years to come.
Amazon Reader Review
Booksprout is a handy hub for catching ARCS from favorite indie authors, so if you’re keen for early access to Chosen, please visit my Booksprout page. If for whatever reason it’s not working and you’d like to have an ARC for a book review, just let me know!
Here is a quick taste of Fallen Princeborn: Chosen…
Ashes touch the air.
And a cackle.
A shriek, far and away.
Two entrances out of the Pits, both unlocked. One out in the woods.
And one inside Rose House.
“Liam!” Charlotte slams the patio door, locks it—idiot, it’s fucking glass—and bolts for the library.
Liam has yet to move, eyes closed, breath still slow.
“Liam you have to wake up!” Charlotte shakes him, cups his cheeks, brings her face close–dammit, this isn’t time for that. So she slaps his cheek instead. “Liam!” She yells in his ear.
Pounding, pounding below her feet.
They are coming.
Writers, we must keep fighting for our right to adventure. We must fly upon the backs of eagles, take to the line among those defending our personal Narnias, and conquer the darkness that would douse our creative fires. Let us share the music that carries us to victory and brings life when all would seem lost.
For the adventure. For the story. And for the music that inspires them both.
I’ll be sharing an extra post to announce when Fallen Princeborn: Chosen ARCS are readily available. I also have an interview lined up with a wonderful indie author as well as a return to the Queen of the Fantastic.
I have a feeling I’m not the only one sharing in this sentiment.
Under the original 30-day lockdown, restrictions would have been lifted enough for my kids to return to school today. With the governor’s edict extending the lockdown until late May, though, this hope was dashed. Yes, I get it’s for a good reason, but I hope you can forgive that in the midst of working at home while also teaching at home while also parenting at home while also writing at home while also EVERYTHING at home…sometimes, this whole “life at home” brings out the grumps in adults and kids alike.
We have to fight back those grumps and create reasons to smile, and there’s no weapon quite like music. Even maniacal little villains like Plankton can’t resist the lure of a good song!
Sometimes that smile comes from a return to the classics. Bo loves watching the Marx Brothers with the three Bs. Of course, all their favorite parts involve Harpo.
I dug through my old CDs and gave the kiddos my albums from the oddball 90s show Cartoon Planet, a mix of sketches and songs featuring characters out of the 60s Hanna Barbara cartoon Space Ghost. One of their songs would be pretty catchy in today’s environment, methinks…
But we don’t want to laugh so often we go, you know, nuts. It’s important to have music that inspires us to move even when the world has bolted its doors and shuttered its windows. We’ve got to revel in the rhythm of spring and remember that life must move forward, if not in the way we are used to.
Music takes us out of the Here and into a New-There far away from our walls and windows. Scores like Philip Glass’ latest can re-focus the mind’s eye on a land like or unlike our own, a place eerily familiar save for that one strange, fantastical, unearthly, supernatural, magical, unreal thing.
Music is also a powerful weapon in the endless war for mental health. Anxiety grinds, but music lifts. It hugs the heart. It revives our hope.
And then comes the rare moment, be it in the early morning or late evening, when peace settles upon the mind. Such is the time perfect for connecting with you, fellow kindred spirits. You are the tireless Calcifer to my exhausted Howl. You are the warm hearth in this cold dark world.
We must not lose our music to the silence of uncertainty, Friends. Keep hunting for that inspiration to smile, hope, and create so you may help bring others one step closer to a brighter world.
Yes, I did take my kids to a bunch of cemeteries, and yes, I’ll share more about that next week. You can also see what my three little Bs are up to as I revise our schedule YET AGAIN to get through their final month of school…while I begin an academic journey all my own.
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…