I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be drinking this much orange juice, but if I can’t over drink the coffee and I’ve already burned my tongue on tea, then I’m having OJ, dammit.
This post is the equivalent of me scribbling a note in the lecture hall in the midst of a talk on world-building. Yup–the literary conference of my university is in full-swing. I’m trying to hit as many talks as possible before I have to get the kids, because taking kids into a lecture hall–even a virtual lecture hall–is a pain in the patoot. So far it’s been a nice day, and reminding me that I better practice what the heck I’m saying for an hour, and then making sure I’ve picked the right nonfiction piece to read later in the afternoon.
Noooo pressure, Jean, no pressure.
A little wish of good luck would be deeply appreciated!
In the meantime, I’m digging this post from 2018 out of my pocket because the Oscars had Queen perform, and I do so love that band. Click here and enjoy!
Luckily a few attempts to open and close it jarred the thing free so I could still get Biff and Bash to school on time.
That early smack of stress, though, got me hittin’ the chamomile-lavender tea before breakfast. It doesn’t help my keynote’s in…48 hours. My final interview for a full-time teaching position is the day after that.
But I’m not complaining about all that again, because I’ve found the right music for a far better, far more productive mood.
Bo put this song along with many others into CDs he’d make for me to play on those long drives between home and graduate school. Now that the kids are into the Blues Brothers, we’ve been tapping the Motown, Blues, and R&B for family drives. Out of all the artists, the Four Tops remain on top for me!
Part of it’s the rhythm, upbeat and steady. How can you not tap your feet to these numbers? Part of it’s the ability to sing along–an excellent sensory distraction to keep anxiety at bay while I grade and prep school stuff.
The biggest part of all? They’re damn good songs.
If you’re feeling a little down today, pick up some Four Tops. Hum and dance those downer thoughts away. Like I tell my students, any step taken forward is one more step completed on the academic journey. For us, it’s the writing journey, mental health journey, parenting journey.
Of all the “Writer’s Music” entries I’ve placed here so far, only one (sans my Christmas posts) has been a song with lyrics. This is the second.
Unlike most of my music shared, however, this isn’t a song that helped me into a character’s head, or visualize a scene.
Music engages more than just the ears. It brings colors to shape. It beckons scents from the breeze ever blowing just above our hair. And sometimes, it drops a piece of itself, a thing of some sort, into our hands.
Normally I’m skeptical about newish fandangled lyrical music, I say as I harumph and thump my fist like my grandfather in the midst of a cribbage match. Oftentimes it all seems too weepy, repetitive, lacking any actual vocals and/or instruments, or as Grandpa would say, “Too loud!” (This from the man who was pretty much deaf already.)
Thanks to Anne and her own Writer’s Music, I experienced an epiphany for Wynne. When? Not sure, but it was a cold spring night, driving, listening, and knowing: That’s it.
Wynne of Beauty’s Pricewasn’t much more than a brainstorm at that point. I was still finishing up Middler’s Pride, but I knew I had to have at least a few allusions to BP in order to establish a connection. I knew Wynne had a love, and another suitor, someone dangerous and powerful, who wouldn’t leave her alone. Wynne needed a tangible symbol of true love, something to reflect the fragility, steadfastness, and hope. Jewelry? Eh, that’s too easily noticed by nosy family members. Clothing, too. And tattoos weren’t exactly acceptable for her class in medieval-ish times. A mark on a tree somewhere? Pfft. Can’t carry that along. Dried flowers, or a lock of hair? Easily hidden, but just as easily crushed, too, or lost.
Then this song came on…
…and its lyrics gave me the answer:
Beauty is poisonous
Oh heaven must be an iron rose
YES. There. The boy she loves is the smithy’s son of another village; of course he’d make her a token, something she could hold, caress, carry with her whenever she’s away from him.
“Oh…” Mother spoke of [orpines] often, promising many potential suitors we would plant them in our garden to divine which of my sisters they would marry. The three times she actually did instruct Father to purchase orpine for planting, however, one set grew straight as corn, one grew sick, and one simply died. Not one flower grew to touch another, and therefore promise marriage. Now I sat with one resting upon my arm. Morthwyl released his, and it leaned forward to grace the petals’ tips in the most chaste of kisses.
Then Morthwyl’s own hands unfolded as a flower, revealing two orpines of iron. They were but the length of our thumbs, woven wound one another, leaves embracing, heads touching intimately.
As much as I depend on music’s inspiration for my writing, Anne and Sundfør reminded me that music’s not just about vision or atmosphere. Sometimes it’s about the sign we pass on the journey that tells of the next turn, that reminds us where we are between A and B. It’s not like we pick that sign up and carry it around with us. It remains where it is, and we walk on. Sundfør’s song revealed a vital element to me; now I can listen to the song for enjoyment while continuing on with other music to enter my story’s world.
Think carefully on the lyrics of your beloved songs. What poetry hides within them? Let their language bring light to what remains in story’s shadow.
Now when I say “the look,” I am not referring to Jeff Bridges’ animated face or any of the programs (represented by people on The Grid). I’m talkin’ light-cycles, disc wars, those enormous enemy ships, etc. I felt like The Grid had aged as it should from the 80s original: slick colors, startling clarity, eerily real.
I’m often skeptical of the electronic/orchestra mixture. One so often overwhelms the other, making the sound, and therefore the atmosphere, lopsided and ineffective. This never happens with Daft Punk, not once in the whole score. They knew when to hold off on the electronic element, such as in “Overture,” an amazing piece of brass that builds very, very slowly, both in volume and depth, until the last minute, where strings and electronic step in, giving us an epic aura of a world synthetic and real. I love this track so much that I gave it to Dorjan when I first created him for a WIP.
“Adagio for Tron” uses almost no electronic at all, either; indeed, the duo followed the classic form with strings to create a heart-breaking atmosphere for viewers who see the beloved Tron character of the original captured and transformed into a servant for the big baddie. It sounds like something written for a string quartet, with electronic compliments so subdued you almost miss them in the dramatic brass of the last movement.
Who needs a movie when you have music? Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy tells the narrative beautifully all on its own. Honestly, I could write the praises of every track. “Outlands” proves basses and cellos kick ass when escaping the enemy; electronic elements don’t make a note in this track at all, not once, and it’s a brilliant choice on Daft Punk’s part, especially as the visuals show the protagonist driving through a storm-ridden wasteland that looks nothing like the orderly Grid.
Then you have “Derezzed,” a fight scene in a Grid night club (UGH, what a plot point), which employs not one note from the orchestra. This, too, fits perfectly with the situation at hand. (The video I found for this song is actually a music video, but it’s just too damn cool not to use.)
“Fall” uses both electronic and orchestra as equal forces sending the characters into a free-fall.
But if I had to pick one more track to show why I love this score so much, it’d have to be “Disc Wars.” It achieves perfect tension in the first second with the resounding drums, then ever-moving strings countering the long notes of the electronic. The cycle of harmonies escalate while the drums remain constant. And then, a new melody of synth that moves as the strings but with a different harmony. Another wave of synth to counter the orchestral drums. Another wave to quicken the rhythm. Another wave of harmony created by strings and electronic together. And then more strings to descant and counter the long notes of the synth. And then, and then, and then–
The violins and synth of the beginning.
It’s one of the most perfect layerings of countering melodies I’ve ever heard: masterful in its drama, intense in its craft, if you ever need help as your hero faces the villain, this is your song. All of Tron: Legacy, really, could guide you through the hero’s journey, from crossing the threshold to homecoming. Feel the other-wordliness, know the battle drums, fly from death, face your foes, and return, changed and glorious.
Art speaks with many tongues: language, imagery, and music. I often find the mix of two helps me create the third: for instance, the scores Ramin Djawadi wrote for Game of Thrones helped me shape the story arc of my YA fantasy Middler’s Pride.John Carpenter’s eerie synthesized melodies wracked up the tension in my short fiction “The Stray.”I listen to these compositions and stare at a landscape or portraits of those who inspire my characters, and find life moving forward: the characters speak, the land folds itself as a blanket Biff whips and bunches up to become a mountain.
Sometimes, though, a buffer remains: I can see the story, but I see it as an outside observer. Some stories can’t be told with that kind of distance. The narrator must be a character within the tale. Or, at the very least, the narrator must latch onto a character, out of sight from the others so as to catch all the unfiltered behaviors one flaunts when manners aren’t required.
In other words, I needed a more intimate point of view.
Enter Alan Silvestri.
Meredydd sees herself as a legend who only needs a chance to prove herself. She’s got skills and she sure as hell ain’t gonna keep quiet about’em. Here’s an excerpt from Middler’s Prideto show you what I mean:
A day of sun did little to warm the river on their return back. It had been a gloomy wandering, with Tegan chattering like a squirrel, plucking plants and scribbling lines. Oh, she’d call to Meredydd for affirmation about the lushness of the bracken or mushrooms or apples, but that was about it. So Mer sparred the Beaumains in her mind’s eye, vanquishing the entire tribe in one fell swoop.
The trees cradled the sun by the time they returned to the fort, where the old gizzards from Blairlaid’s roundhouse leaned against the fort’s gate. Voices coughed at one another from inside.
Stitchhead’s grin was infectious…seriously, Mer feared the breath coming out of that black-yellow mouth. “And a good evening, your ladyships. Care to dine in the roundhouse tonight?”
Tegan bit her lower lip. Oh for gods’ sake, she quivered, too. Lucky for her Mer stepped in front. “Only if you both can best me in a fight.”
Their laughs were just as disgusting as the captain’s the other morning, and more. Tegan’s eyes grew wider than Mer thought possible. Quivering with fear of disease seemed rather reasonable now. “Just you, m’lady, or your servant as well?”
What, like Meredydd needed help? “Certainly not. She needs a good rest after a long day of gathering.” There. Mer winked at Tegan. Not making her fight was surely a sign of friendship, right? So why did Tegan scowl so?
A small huddle of peasants followed Elle and Wynne from the tumain’s gate. Wynne dropped her armful of bundled something-or-another and stalked up. “Tegan’s a Shield Maiden.” She puffed up her chest at Mer like some sort of proud bird. “And so am I!” Yeah. Shield Maidens swallow their fear real slow, just like you, you brood mare, when you see who’s actually at the battle line. “S-so if you insult one of us, you insult us all. Right, Elle?”
Sure, call for her help.
But Elle was deep in talk with the charcoaler. She waved in Wynne’s direction. “You tell’em, Wynne.”
“Yeah!” So Wynne re-puffed and pouted her lip, because apparently, Shield Maidens can win by out-prettying the enemy. “Apologize, Guard!”
“Just”—Meredydd put the back of her hand to Wynne’s breastbone and pushed—“what do you think you’re doing? Honestly,” the sigh couldn’t be helped, “stop embarrassing yourself.”
The old gizzards laughed again. Well, Wynne was pretty pathetic looking.
I am, um, not like that in real life. At all. I still say little to nothing about my writing life with family or friends because I want to keep my writing free of patronizing head pats.
So here I am, this quiet, keep-your-head-down-and-do-your-job kind of person, trying to write about this pompous jerk of a girl who can’t shut up about herself. How can I possibly see the world through her eyes?
Ramin’s theme for Game of Thrones wasn’t quite cutting it in terms of character. I could see the story, sure, and where I wanted it to go, but I couldn’t see the world through Meredydd’s eyes. Through a legend’s eyes. I mean, she’s got an ego that could rival Beowulf’s.
I snatched up the movie from the library, and knew inside five minutes I had it: Beowulf’s theme was a door into Mer’s head. The dropped beats, the heavy guitar. The choir’s harmonies pound and break like waves against a lone ship in the storm. And damn, that brass! This is alpha music. Power music. Legend music. I listen to this, and I feel Meredydd’s superiority over the common folk. I know her skills. When she imagines what the bards will sing about her, I can imagine the harmony. Mer and Beowulf are both bound in pride, a connection I would have never known if not for Silvestri.
Music that has no roots in a film, though its creator does.
John Carpenter has been on my mind these past few days. I’ve been brainstorming up a bit of short fiction I wanted to share here to analyze the relationship between my immediate settings and the stories I create. While I have a sense of what I want to do, the rhythm’s still missing. The piece can’t afford to build too quickly; it’ll need a slow build to grip the readers. I need the readers to see the menace, know it’s coming, shake their fists at the protagonist as they cry, “He’s right behind you!”
Aha! Just like Carpenter’s Halloween. There’s a movie without flash or whimsy: everything’s done on a shoe-string budget while everyone gives their 200%. This is the movie that made Jamie Lee Curtis the Scream Queen, after all. And Carpenter’s score is legendary, as is his method. (“I’m the cheapest, and I know I’ll get it done on time,” He said. Sort of. Look, ask Bo, he’s read all about him.) Carpenter uses his synthesizer to score nearly all his movies. Sure, his melodies are simple, but they cement themselves into the audience’s memory, and fast. The theme for Halloween is nothing short of iconic, right up there with Superman and Batman.
But like John Williams, this can mean that the music lets a writer think of nothing else but Michael Myers walking down a shadowed street.
In the last few years Carpenter has produced two new albums of instrumental music totally unconnected to his films. They still keep his minimal style of percussion, synthesizer, and occasional piano. The result? Desired aural atmosphere without the Pavlovian reaction. Every track smacks of 80s: arcade tournaments and puffy vests, rolled-up denim and disco fries. Occasionally Kurt Russell in an eye patch appears in one’s imagination, but he’s too smart to interrupt the story at hand.
So, over the next week I’m going to see how far these albums can take a character I created years ago. He’s been kicking the table for his own story, but I was never sure what to do for a novel. Well, problem solved now.
Few times in the year do we, at least many of us, see magic in the air. Even if one doesn’t believe in the baby Jesus, herald angels singing, and all that jazz, we tell our children that an old guy has flying reindeer and a sled filled with enough toys for hundreds of millions of children and he visits each and every child on the planet over the course of 24 hours. We tell them to believe in the impossible.
And the music of the season has a feel unlike any other. Songs of Santa Claus jiggle like a bowl full of jelly, sure, but the carols of religious nature hold a sweet warmth to them like the candles of an advent wreath.
Yes, it’s still a song about Christ, and yet…it begins with the harp. I initially heard this song sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who used bells. Bells resonate in the air, and their tin separates their notes from the voices. The Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum, who sing the version I’m sharing, let the harp flow, the string plucks like trickling water from a fallen log in the stream.
And the choir: the circle of voices carry their harmonies unbroken as though the wind itself sings among trees. One soprano holds the melody as the moon gives light to the land. There’s no dramatic swell as there was with “What Shall We Give to the Babe in the Manger.” This song simply rises and falls as water upon the shore. It is Nature’s carol, quiet and mystical. It beckons one from mankind’s harsh light into the dark forest, where its magical kiss hides in a single snowflake.
Not too long ago, the lovely author Shehanne Mooreand her hamster crew nominated me for the “3 Days, 3 Quotes” challenge. While I would love to follow the rules to the letter, the War of the Potty means no chance to work from sunrise to sunset lest I miss a new addition of pee-pee water or poop to the carpet. Oh, and it’s Thanksgiving Day here in the States.
Gonna bend the rules a bit.
The Rules (without the bending)
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you, and share their website. (Done! Click here to read some wicked humor, smexy stories, and writing tips most practical.)
2.Post 1-3 quotes a day for three consecutive days.
3. Nominate 3 people every day.
Well, I’m only writing on one day, soooo guess I’ll just nominate three people. YAY!
My youngest and most creative, Bash never tires of story-telling. He’ll gather a group of toys anywhere, and he’s in the groove.
Most plots hinge on emotion. His characters ask each other what he often asks me:
“How are you feeling?”
Something happens to make a character sad–he breaks down, another gets lost. The others team up to save the day. The story often ends “And now I’m happy!”, much like after I cry, or after he fights: we sit down, and hug, and smile. And now I’m happy.
Diana Wynne Jones also emphasizes the importance of emotion between writer and character in Reflections on the Magic of Writing:
“If there is one thing I have learned, it is that you must have at least some emotional connection with every soul who figures in a story. You may like them, love them, find them disgusting or hate them, but you must react to them in some way.”
I do my darndest to remember this as I write Middler’s Pride. I hope you can check it out on Channillo. I’ve been sharing my character sketches of her on Wattpad as well. When I posted her last anecdote, a wee epiphany hit me:
I love Meredydd like I love my daughter.
The maternal fibers in me sing when she hits her high marks; other times I want to shake the stupid out of her when she catapults herself into the lows. I roll my eyes at her snotty behavior, and can’t understand how the fruit of MY person can be such a rude pisser.
Mer doesn’t see it that way, of course. She’s a downtrodden teenager who has finally, FINALLY been given a chance to prove to the world she’s the legend she believes herself to be. She even imagines her own ballad on her way to accept a sword and entry into the Shield Maidens:
At the peak of it all stood a stout manor home of mortared stone paired with the King’s Tower. No man could possibly scale such a thing, but Mer thought the stones might allow a woman’s fingers.
Hail Meredydd, Protector of the Tower. It was she alone who scaled its heights to fight the Flying Beasts of Evil sent by The Massively Evil Man.
The Massively Evil Behemoth.
She feels herself superior. Training–and some evil magic–will teach her otherwise.
~The Day of Biff~
Like Bash, I spent my pre-reading years creating stories with toys and pictures. Biff, however, can read already, and demands help in this department. “Read, Mommy? What’s this spell?” He is not appeased with mere letters or pictures. He wants to know. Those letters clumped together mean something, and he’s determined to learn it all. At times I think of my father, who began every sermon with:
“The Lord, sanctify us with the truth. Your Word is Truth.”
And I see his relentless pursuit of imagination, of faith, of knowing, all in Biff. Will he follow his grandfather’s Divine Calling?
He’d be so proud. Oh, he’d be proud of him no matter what, but to read with him…I can picture my father’s smile, the one that shows off his laughter lines. His absence is always felt more sharply over the holidays. My favorite hymn brings comfort at such times. Tears, too, but definitely comfort. I found a video that provides the lyrics, so please take that as another quote. 🙂
Biff is also my middler by a whopping two minutes. He scared me during pregnancy, so quiet and tucked away while his brother never stopped somersaulting in my womb. Now he’s the one who taunts and fights his siblings without a break. The only time the house is quiet is when he is stretched out on his top bunk, books and bear and blanket around him.
I wish I could read his eyes when I break up yet another fight. His inner workings will likely be a mystery to me until the End Days. Mer can’t be a mystery to me, though. I have to understand her, inside and out, because otherwise readers won’t get the whole story. Diana Wynne Jones puts it best, of course:
…You can see what an audience, or a readership, expect from a hero is a very serious form of a game, in which the hero is expected to struggle on two fronts, externally with an actual evil, and internally with his/her own doubts and shortcomings. The hero, out there as a scapegoat, has to do the suffering for everyone.
When I set out to write Middler’s Pride, I did so with this very idea in mind: Mer’s got to overcome more than just a monster out to poison the countryside. She’s got to overcome her pride, too. One victory cannot come without the other.
~The Day of Blondie~
This toothless wonder loves to help, so today I asked her to help me pick the music I write about. No, no, she won’t pick a “kiddie” song. She knew the lyrics to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” before “Jesus Loves Me.”
No, I’m not writing about “Sledgehammer,” either. 🙂
Some stories cannot be told with crashing-techno, happy pop, or lonely piano. Some stories call for the drums of battle.
And strings. Lots of kick-ass strings.
Such is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World as composed by Richard Tognetti. I can’t think of any other film where the story, character, and score entwine so completely. Normally I don’t bother with movie trivia, but I have to note that Richard Tognetti not only composed the score, but he performed as the violin solist and tutored Russel Crowe when it came to playing the violin.
Why did Russel Crowe need tutoring? Because his character, the captain of the HMS Surprise, is also a violinist. His best friend is the naval surgeon and a cellist. In the quiet moments at sea, these two play duets of such sweet sways you can feel the ocean rock the boards beneath your feet. These are but classical duets, however. The moments of battle between ships lets loose the drums and brass as cannons between the bows. “The Far Side of the World,” the opening track on this score, captures the rise and fall of battle in the fog as well as the celebration of friendship. Violins and cellos both sing and echo the melody to one another; all the while the song builds with a light intensity. What friendship doesn’t go through its moments of tension to come out all the stronger for it? Just so as the captain and surgeon work together to save ship and crew.
Unleash your characters to the drums of battle, and see what they discover in the fog.
I do sometimes. It’s a strange switch from seeing a story: I don’t smell, feel, or hear. My eyes see nothing but words an inch from my face, and even they have a fuzz to them, so it takes a few tries to decipher. The more I read, the more my senses follow, and life within me finds a focus.
Music helps me see more than the story. Music helps me see the language of me.
I knew how to read notes before words, having started piano at the age of 4. My father loved to write hymns, and my mother often directed choirs. We kids learned numerous church-friendly instruments, and sang in the choirs. (Bo likes to think my father secretly aspired for us to become a Christian version of the Partridge Family. Thank God THAT didn’t happen.) Even after Dad died, my mother and elder brother continued to give to the church with music, while my kid brother went on to become a pastor himself.
Music and stories always propelled me forward. One word follows another; one note comes after another. They emote. Inspire. Begin. End. Define, yet live on without limit.
Which, at last, brings me to that which I wanted to share with you.
Whenever I’ve written about parenting, depression, or abuse, I pull up The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Some of the tracks are more narrative than others; these I ignore. But a few have such a…it’s a tense hope. Like Mychael Danna’s Capote,the score is dominated by strings and piano. Capote, however, has more menacing undertones to it than Assassination–a result of the bass and fewer harmonies, I think. I also feel more of a time-stop with Capote, especially during the solo piano I love so much. Assassination‘s “Song for Bob” has a very slow build while strings are added, and added. A sense of resolve comes through when the violin joins at the 1:30 mark, and even though the rhythm of the harmonies repeats, the build goes on. When the piano joins, the strings seem…not forced, but their harmonies alter, and for some moments the viola provides what feels like the final monologue in a Shakespearean tragedy. The return of the original rhythm and harmonies is different, yet the same.
How like us, we who undergo the shift within to reclaim our total selves.