My headphones are often absconded.
“I’m in the control tower. Roger roger!”
“Mommy, we have to join the pit crew so Lightning can race across the finish line. Oh no, Doc Hudson crashed!”
Because of this, I have to watch what music I play while writing during the day. Sure, the kids know ACDC and The Who, but we’ve taken care to play only a few songs of each without certain, shall we say, bluntly crude language. I’ve already made the mistake of allowing the boys to listen to Weird Al Yankovic’s polka medley of Rolling Stones songs. Heaven help me if Biff belts out “Brown Sugar” around adults who know what he’s singing.
So of course, staring at Bo’s music collection, I grab the first kid-friendly band I see: Queen!
Yeah, yeah, I know. “Bicycle” is, um, mostly clean, and if I’m fast with the volume knob we can listen to “Don’t Stop Me Now.” But there’s always “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “You’re My Best Friend,” and their kickin’ theme to Flash Gordon!
One song, however, speared my memory good and deep. I love digging through music old and new for writing inspiration, but a few weeks ago Writer Me experienced a different sort of epiphany.
Just as the trauma of childhood influences how we write, so do the stories that engaged us as kids. I reveled in the adventures of discovery on Star Trek. I swung my play sword alongside She-Ra. I outwitted all the baddies from the Batman comics. Aaaand I begrudgingly liked the romance of Beauty and the Beast.
(Hey, every action junkie’s going to have that one romance that gets’em every time.)
“Princes of the Universe” was one of three songs written by Queen for the 1986 film Highlander, a story of immortals living among humanity and dueling each other with swords because “there can be only one.” The original film wasn’t intended for any sort of sequel or series, so (spoiler alert) we find out that The Prize all immortals must fight over is the gift of mortality.
When I started writing Fallen Princeborn the fall after Blondie’s birth, I had that title before I had a setting. I didn’t really ponder why I was using the term “princeborn.” It simply fit. My immortals are created with skills and abilities that by all accounts make them “superior” to humanity. As the song says, no man can be their equal. What else are they than “born to be kings”?
In Fallen Princeborn, the antagonists are keen to do just that, while the protagonists, each broken and discarded, must learn to rise up or die trying.
Highlander went on to spawn some sequels and a television show, all of which my dad loved. So, week to week, Kid Me would hear this song while immortal men, women, and yes, even the occasional kid whipped out massive claymores, slick katanas, wicked rapiers to duel in dark alleys and ancient forests. There is almost always a Quickening: the loser beheaded, lightning floods the scene as the victor absorbs the power of the defeated immortal.
When I listen to “Princes of the Universe” now, I realize it wasn’t just the lightning and rock that stuck with me. Freddie Mercury’s lyrics buried themselves just as deep.
Here we are, born to be kings
We’re the princes of the universe
Here we belong, fighting to survive
In a world with the darkest powers
Here we belong, fighting for survival
We’ve come to be the rulers of you all
I am immortal, I have inside me blood of kings, yeah, yeah
I have no rival, no man can be my equal
Take me to the future of you all
Born to be kings, princes of the universe
Fighting and free
Got your world in my hand
I’m here for your love and I’ll make my stand
We were born to be princes of the universe
This beaten down defiance drums as hard as Roger Taylor. Even just reading these words, you can feel glares burning through you like Christopher Lambert’s eyes. Whoever’s spitting these words may be bloody and bruised at your feet, but their faces tell you they’re nowhere near defeated. No power upon this earth can break them.
Such are the heroes I am proud to give readers.
Give your protagonists a battle-song to defy the odds, and their heroics will live on in the reader’s imagination long after the final page is read.