Interview with Lee Karr, author of The Making of Day of the Dead

In 1986, George A. Romero--one of my heroes--released the third film in his original "Living Dead" trilogy, Day of the Dead (following Night and Dawn). The previous two films were both classics, and popular successes. They were also about as different from each other as two films could be. So I, like every other horror fan, was eager to see Read more

Guest Blog: Melissa Olson on Multiple First-Person Voices

Today my friend, author Melissa Olson, stops by to talk about her new book and the issues of writing more than one first-person series. You can also find Melissa (and me) at her online release party for The Big Keep later today, starting at 5:30 CT. I’d like to thank Alex for hosting me today, especially considering my topic is Read more

7 Questions About My Most Recent Novel

Okay, I was supposed to do this on Monday, but it got away from me. Thanks to Lucy Jane Bledsoe for tagging me in this, and to Melissa Olson and Deborah Blake for agreeing to be tagged for next Monday. Here are seven questions about my most recent book:   1. What is the name of your character? Eddie LaCrosse. 2. When and where Read more

Hans Up, Hans Down: the Villain of Frozen

Warning: SPOILERS pretty much throughout. If you're a parent, particularly of a daughter, then you--like me--have probably seen/heard/experienced Frozen more than you ever thought possible. But this is not a post about the ubiquitous "Let It Go" song, which now even Pearl Jam have referenced. No, this is about the one element of the movie that I just can't make up Read more

Alice Vs Selene: Blank Slate Against Vivid Character

Recently I binge-watched all five (so far) Resident Evil films. I saw the first film back on its theatrical run in 2002, and wasn’t that impressed, so I didn’t keep up with the series. But after stumbling across the first three for $2 each at Frugal Muse, I thought I’d give it a shot. You see, every time I read Read more

Do We Just Not Want Heroes?

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 25 Comments

SPOILER ALERT for Man of Steel.  And, for that matter, for Superman II.

I remember, back in the 90s, seeing a promo for the TV show E.R., then starring everyone’s favorite bachelor, George Clooney. Over footage of Clooney carrying an unconscious woman into the emergency room, a grave voice announced, “Tonight on E.R., a hero falls.”

I remember thinking then, as I do now: who would want to watch that?

Lately my sons and I have been watching Star Trek TOS, them for the first time, me for the gazillionth. And I’ve grown to appreciate all over the primal appeal of telling a self-contained story in 50 minutes (fewer commercials back then). Further, there’s something incredibly pleasurable in watching characters you admire try to do the right thing whatever the circumstances. They’re not perfect–I wouldn’t want to work for Kirk, and Spock is one step from an emotional breakdown way too often–but they are heroes.

We don’t get that much anymore.

Even Superman, the quintessential modern hero, is now little more than a flawed character who, in Man of Steel, not only kills General Zod with his bare hands, but allows the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Metropolis. This ain’t Superman, pal: this is just another alien-visits-earth movie disguised as a Superman flick, written and directed by people who, for whatever reason, don’t see Superman as a hero.* They let the villain, Zod, determine the kind of character Superman is going to be, instead of having Superman define himself. Superman becomes a killer because Zod makes him.

 

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Because he can’t think of anything else to do, Superman has to kill Zod. That’s not super, man.

Why is that?  I mean, I know the world sucks right now, and there simply aren’t many real-world heroes, especially in positions of power. But have we totally lost the ability to even conceive of one?  Can we not accept a Superman who (as he did in Superman II) finds a way to outsmart General Zod rather than snap his neck? Can we not imagine a Superman who is a super man?**

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Not only does Superman trick Zod, he tricks Lex Luthor into helping him.

I write a lot of stories, and not all of them have a hero: many feature a protagonist, which is a different thing. But what I don’t do, and never want to, is to take a legitimately heroic figure and de-heroicize him (or her; for me, “hero” is genderless). That doesn’t mean you can’t make him or her flawed, and interesting, and even dark; it means that, at the end of the day, they fight against their flaws with the same drive, and with the same success, as they do battling the villain.

I mean, I’m unashamed to say I like heroes. I like Indiana Jones, who always seems to be working at the absolute limit of his abilities. I like Treasure Island’s Jim Hawkins, a boy who’s neither a fool nor a coward. I like Huckleberry Finn. I like Selene in the Underworld series. I like Philip Marlowe, going down those mean streets and trying not to turn mean himself. I like John McClane in the first Die Hard movie (he’s a caricature in all the subsequent films). I like Captain America, particularly in the films. I like Atticus Finch.

I could keep going, but the point is, these characters are heroes. Superman should be in their company, but as David Goyer, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder have given him to us, he’s not. He’s in the company of Walter White, Tony Soprano, Tommy Gavin from Rescue Me, Rayland Givens from Justified. And while I enjoy all those characters, they’re not heroes. And neither, alas, now, is Superman.

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*You want to see the true nature of director Zack Snyder’s soul? Watch his pet project Sucker Punch, if you can. I only made it about twenty minutes. And this is the guy they’re trusting with Wonder Woman.

**One of my favorite bits from Superman II is, as Superman rescues a boy from Niagara Falls, someone in the crowd exclaims, “He’s such a nice man!” No one would say that about the character in Man of Steel.

[An addendum about Superman II: the fate of the three Kryptonian villains is rather ambiguous in the final version, but scenes exist that show them, as well as Luthor, being arrested and taken away by law enforcement officers in special snow vehicles (see image below; you can find these scenes as special features on the “Richard Donner Cut” version). In addition, the overall tone of the scene implies they are not killed, but simply placed in some sort of confinement (it’s not a natural ice structure, remember, it’s the Fortress of Solitude).  Superman II was completed in chaos, and the fact that it holds together at all is a tribute both to the skill of the two respective directors, and truthfully, to sheer dumb luck.]

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New Firefly Witch collection on the way

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A new Firefly Witch collection, Sight for Sore Eyes, will be available shortly.  Kelly Crimi designed the cover, which is my favorite in the series so far.

blue eyes A Sight for Sore Eyes FINAL 1000 Pixels

Watch for the release announcement, coming soon!

Underworld: Awakening and the great gender swap

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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I finally caught up with Underworld: Awakening, a movie I’d put off seeing because I liked the first two Underworld films so much. Although technically the fourth in the series, chronologically it follows the second (the third was a totally unnecessary prequel), and picks up the story of Kate Beckinsale’s Selene after the events of Underworld: Evolutions.

Why, if I’m such a fan of the series, wasn’t I there opening night? Mainly because of the history of genre threequels.

The litany of sucky third films in SF/Fantasy franchises is legendary: Superman III, Batman Forever, Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, Men in Black 3, The Dark Knight Rises. Each of them built on the artistic and commercial success of the previous two films by coming up with shallow, convoluted and ultimately awful continuations. It doesn’t seem to matter if new creative blood came in, or if the same hands continued the series. Something about third films just spells disaster.

Underworld: Awakening isn’t a classic, but it’s a lot better than the mainstream reviewers (who also hated the others) would have you believe. It’s short (89 minutes according to the blu-ray box), and the absence of Scott Speedman’s Michael as a major character throws the story askew. Director Len Wiseman has been replaced by  Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein , two Swedes who apparently directed on alternate days (hey, whatever works).

But it preserves the most crucial thing about the first two films: Selene is the template for the total gender reversal of the male action hero. All those Hollywood nabobs who can’t seem to get a handle on how to approach Wonder Woman need look no farther than here.

I first wrote about this in an earlier blog post, but in Underworld: Awakening the ideas are developed in surprisingly new ways. Selene discovers that she’s a mother: Eve (India Eisley), her twelve-year-old daughter, was born while the humans had Selene in suspended animation. For Selene to suddenly be confronted with motherhood is a fairly brilliant step, and it’s handled very well. It allows her to be even more vicious than before, because now it’s not just her own life she’s fighting to preserve.

Maternity does not interfere with kickassery.

Maternity does not interfere with kickassery.

And it doesn’t come at the expense of her character. Selene still occupies the role in the narrative that has traditionally belonged to male characters. She has agency, self-determination and the defining decisions in the plot. She saves and rescues both female and male characters, the latter filling the traditional “girl” role. Nowhere is that more clear than in a brief scene where Selene tells the handsome, studly young vampire David (Theo James) that she’s leaving with Eve to continue the fight elsewhere. He begs, “Take me with you,” a line that’s so traditionally a woman’s that it should jar us out of the moment. But because Selene has been established so well, and is handled so consistently, it passes seamlessly, and only later do you realize how extraordinary it really is.

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In the Underworld universe, the damsels in distress have five o’clock shadow.

As long as this continues–as long as Underworld continues its trend of total gender reversal without making that the whole point of the story, and thus going from entertainment to didacticism–I’ll continue being a fan. And I’ll continue pointing to it as the least likely, but most accomplished, feminist action series around.

Blade Runner: crocodile tears in rain?

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

I’ll say up front: this is totally fanboy rambling.  Take it as such.

In Ridley Scott’s classic film Blade Runner, evil corporate head Elton Tyrell explains to hero Rick Deckard how the Nexus 6 replicants, the closest the company’s come to true human beings, have emotional issues since they’re born fully adult and live only four years.

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Joe Turkel as Tyrell.

Tyrell: We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.

Deckard: Memories. You’re talking about memories.

This is established through the character of Rachel, a replicant who believes she’s a human being.

Now, flash forward to the end of the film, to Roy Batty’s famous speech (written by actor Rutger Hauer).

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Rutger Hauer as Batty.

Batty: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain.

This is justly considered one of the highlights of SF cinema, and one of the great bits of cinema dialogue, period.  It points up the tragedy of the replicants, doomed to short and terrible lives.

Except…

Tyrell says they give the Nexus 6 memory cushions.

Roy Batty is a Nexus 6.

So…what if these memories never really happened?  

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Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) and Deckard (Harrison Ford).

In Deckard’s briefing, Bryant says about Batty, “Combat model. Optimum self-sufficiency.”  What better memories to implant in a replicant destined for combat than thoughts of other battles he’s won, or at least survived.  What if Batty has never seen actual combat, but only believes he has?  And that reinforces the parallel stories of Deckard and Batty, especially given what Deckard finds out about himself when he sees Gaff’s final gift outside his apartment.

I have no idea if anyone else has ever noticed this, but it struck me this morning.  Any obsessive Blade Runner fans out there?  Leave your two cents in the comments.

 

 

Some thoughts on a Star Trek rewatch

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Classic_Star_Trek_Title_Card

 

My oldest son and I just finished watching the first season of the original Star Trek series. We watched the episodes in “production order,” meaning the order in which they were filmed. That way, we could see the growth of the show, the way the actors find their characters, and how the Enterprise itself is more and more developed. Here, then, are some observations.

1) William Shatner hits the ground running as Kirk.

It takes most actors a while to find their characters. Leonard Nimoy doesn’t really nail Spock until several episodes in, which is understandable since no one had ever quite done a character like that before. But Shatner is the Kirk we know and love from his first episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

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The most surprising thing I noticed this time through the first season is how often Kirk loses his temper in a crisis. It’s never an explosion of violent anger, but he snaps at his people a lot. To his credit, he also (usually) immediately apologizes, but for the first time I got the sense that serving with Kirk might not be that much fun.

2)  The Enterprise was not always terribly thought out.

In “The Enemy Within,” Mr. Sulu and his team are stuck on a planet’s surface by a transporter malfunction, in danger of freezing to death. Subsequent episodes reveal that the Enterprise has a fleet of shuttlecraft (they first show up in “The Galileo Seven”), yet apparently at this point no one had thought of them, because simply flying down and picking them up is never mentioned as an option.

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3) Hi-def does the show no real favors.

We watched the episodes on blu-ray, which includes the option for new CGI effects shots. I’m ambivalent about them; they don’t bother me, and they let “modern” viewers (like my son) get into the show without the jarringly grainy, old-school effects. But the non-effects shots are not tweaked. Wrinkles on the paper bridge screen inserts jump out at you, there are obvious stray threads on the costumes, and you can occasionally see Kirk’s command chair shake when someone walks nearby on the bridge.

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This is supposed to be Kirk and Khan. How bad was TV reception back then?

But by far the most egregious thing are the stuntmen. In many fight scenes, Shatner and company are replaced in long shots by professionals; in the 1960s, when TVs were smaller and broadcast signals were analog, this probably wasn’t too noticeable.  But on big-screen TVs, in 1080p, there’s simply no missing it.

And finally,

4) The crew of the Enterprise are adults.

This may seem obvious, but I’m not talking about biological age. There’s an inherent maturity to the characters, in their responses and dilemmas, that marks them as grown-ups. Each of them has chosen their career in Starfleet because they believe in what they do, and want to do it to the best of their abilities. There are few slackers in Roddenberry’s Trek, no corruption in high places, and even when characters disagree and lose their tempers, they do so as adults. Even Kirk’s notorious way with the ladies isn’t depicted as anything immature; he simply likes women and is willing to spend time with them, but only when his job allows. In the whole first season, he has only one real romance; the cliche womanizing Kirk doesn’t show up until much later in the series. Contrast this with the immature, entitled “bro” Kirk of JJ Abrams’ films, who may chronologically be an adult but displays the emotional life of a seventeen-year-old.

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I’m glad my son wants to watch Star Trek; I’m looking forward to starting season 2 with him. It’ll be interesting to see if his opinions match mine (his favorites from season 1 are “Shore Leave” and “The Devil in the Dark,” both respectable choices).

Tropology: Heroes and Girlfriends

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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It’s a common trope in novel series that the tough-guy hero who solves mysteries and kicks ass will get a new love interest each time out. The gold standard, of course, is James Bond, who often gets several new women in every book or movie. But it goes all the way back to The Odyssey, in which Odysseus manages to rack up time with both Circe and Calypso as he works his way back home to Penelope. Even Philip Marlowe, the greatest literary detective of all, sarcasms his way through a bevy of ladies until, in the unfinished novel Poodle Springs, he finally decides to marry one.

"YOLO, Odysseus. YOLO."

“YOLO, Odysseus. YOLO.”

When I created Eddie LaCrosse, I had two choices: I could make him a womanizer, like these others (although perhaps more in the tradition of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, who was always up front with his lady friends about what they could expect from him); or I could give him a steady partner, a wife or a girlfriend who would be a constant throughout the series.

The James Bond model is attractive, especially as wish-fulfillment. The idea of having the most beautiful girls in the world available with merely a glance is a teenage boy’s dream. And that, ultimately, is the problem: it’s a boy’s view of relationships, a glorification of immaturity. But it’s also the standard trope in detective fiction, which is one of the genres the Eddie LaCrosse novels embody. Luckily, though, it’s not the only trope.

Nick and Nora Charles, of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, are brilliant, funny, and most important, totally devoted to each other. Each makes crucial discoveries toward solving the mystery of what happened to Clyde Wynant (the actual “thin man” of the title), but most importantly, Hammett shows how much they simply love each other’s company. Spenser and Susan, from Robert B. Parker’s series, mirror the creator’s experiences with his wife (even splitting up at a time when the Parkers were struggling), eventually becoming one of the series’ solid, unshakable relationships, and a big reason readers kept coming back.

"Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws."

“You got a type?”
“Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.”

And that’s ultimately the trope I decided to use.

In the first Eddie LaCrosse novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, Liz Dumont is introduced at the end, although she has ties to the earlier story (you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are). In the second book, Burn Me Deadly, she becomes a full-fledged main character, and she’s there in supporting roles in both Dark Jenny and Wake of the Bloody Angel. Now, in the newest novel, He Drank, and Saw the Spider, she’s back to prominence as a major force in the story, right there beside Eddie with her own share of quips, compassion and action.

I adore Liz. I think she’s funny, sexy, and exactly the kind of woman any man would want at his side. I try to make it clear that Eddie adores her, too, and would never do anything to jeopardize the relationship (which limits me in telling stories where he might meet a new love interest, but as Dark Jenny  showed, there are always work-arounds).

Still, there are issues. Foremost is the Joss Whedon/George RR Martin gambit, the idea that at any point I could kill Liz off as a way to motivate Eddie. That’s a Women in Refrigerators trope; nothing supposedly motivates a hero like revenge for the death of a loved one (or even just a liked one, as in the film version of The Avengers). But beyond any gender issues, that also strikes me as a sign of immature storytelling, as much a wish fulfillment as James Bond’s sexual conquests.

So that’s why I’ve frequently, and publicly, promised my readers this: that Liz will never die simply to motivate Eddie. She will not be killed by the villains, she will not die tragically saving Eddie’s life, and she will certainly not be stuffed in the secondary-world equivalent of a refrigerator for him to gruesomely find. I don’t want readers who, like me, find Liz delightful company to ever dread my next book.

So when you read He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I hope among other things that you enjoy hanging out with Eddie and Liz.  I like them both, I like writing them together, and I hope that comes through.

 

Duck Dynasty and the Quack of Hypocrisy

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field …. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Those are the well-reported words of Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty empire. His remarks on gays and lesbians have garnered the most press, but his comments on race run a close second. And the more I’ve read them (they’ve kind of been unavoidable), the more I thought about my own upbringing in the South. Robertson grew up in Louisiana in the 60s, and I’m a child of 70s Tennessee, but I bet our experiences are similar.

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And in this case, my experience was identical: I never saw any of those things, either. And why would I? My school might not have been segregated, but my society certainly was. The moment those school bells rang, black and white kids went their separate ways, meeting only on the bus to take us to basketball games. We didn’t fight, but we also didn’t socialize, mingle, or hang out together.

But unlike Phil, I still knew that that kind of separation was wrong. And when I saw African Americans expressing their anger about it on the news, I understood it. And agreed with it.

Why? Beats me, really. My parents and extended family were prejudiced in that insidiously “benign” way that claims they wish no harm on other races, they just don’t want them around. That let them feel that they had the moral high ground over “real” racists who wanted to beat and kill any African Americans who got “uppity.” It also let them continue to claim to be good Christians. So I’ve seen the kind of society these beliefs create: I grew up in it, and whenever I go back home, I realize it still exists. It’s dying, to be sure, but as this whole Duck Dynasty controversy shows, it’s not going quietly into that good night. There are still plenty of people who want it back, and who think it’s the way things ought to be.

Which brings me back to Robertson’s statement. Did he really not see these things? Probably not. Why would he? He might have been “white trash,” as he says, but that’s still white. In that world, that degree of separation was enough.

But did he know about them? Of course he did. We all did. Which makes him at best a revisionist, at worst a hypocrite.

And what does that make those who support him so vehemently? Because here’s the truth: they know, too.

Jonathan Merritt at the Atlantic Monthly explains this in a more scholarly way.

Happy birthday, Joseph Conrad!

Posted on by Alex in Uncategorized, writers, writing | 4 Comments

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Today, one hundred and fifty-six years ago, Joseph Conrad was born in Russia. He was Polish, but became a nationalized British subject in 1886. In 1899, his masterpiece Heart of Darkness first appeared in print, serialized in a British magazine.

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The edition of HoD I first read.

There’s a simple, almost unbelievable fact hidden in the above paragraph. Conrad was Polish, did not learn English until he was in his twenties, and always spoke with a marked Polish accent. Yet he wrote in English. He didn’t write in his native language and then have it translated, he wrote some of the greatest prose in English, in English. Writing in a second language is hard enough; but to produce masterpieces in it (he also wrote Lord Jim and The Secret Agent, among other classics) is almost too extraordinary for words.

I came to Heart of Darkness via Apocalypse Now, which I saw on my sixteenth birthday during its original theatrical run. While I loved movies, I never realized until I saw this one that movies could be both art and entertainment. My previous experiences with “art” films were that they were long, boring, hard to understand, sometimes (given the video technology of the time) literally hard to see. I assumed there was a dichotomy between entertaining films like (inevitably) Star Wars and more “artistic” faire such as The Seventh Seal. But Apocalypse Now showed me that a movie could be both.

And the movie led me to Conrad’s novella. Briefly, it’s about a steamship captain, Marlowe, going up a river in Africa to find Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader who has set himself up as a god to the natives. I’ve read it countless times, and like every great book, I find something new to like each time.

I’ve also listened to it on audio, back when I had a job with a commute. It’s been read by many different people, including some (Richard “John-Boy” Thomas) who really should’ve know better. But Anthony Quayle’s version remains my favorite, even though it’s abridged, because he brings it to life in such a dynamic way, as if he were actually telling the story to the people gathered on the deck of the Nellie.

So what’s so great about Heart of Darkness? First, it’s about the nature, and the uses, of truth. It’s also a compelling description of colonialism, written by someone who had been there. Mr. Kurtz is one of the great shadow-figures of literature: like Dracula, he’s talked about much more than he’s seen, and when he does appear, it’s riveting. The structure is interesting as well, a nesting story told in first-person by someone relating Marlowe’s first-person tale to the rest of those on the Nellie.

My favorite line, perhaps because of the way Quayle reads it, remains, “I had immense plans!” and that’s a huge part of the appeal. Kurtz does aim incredibly high, which makes his fall that much more dramatic; when he says, “The horror! The horror!” he’s not kidding. Marlowe’s own position as observer changes with one line at the climax, forcing the reader to suddenly re-evaluate everything s/he thought s/he knew about the character.

But ultimately, what speaks to me (and to a lot of other people for the last century or so) can’t be broken down into simple elements. Heart of Darkness either speaks to you, or it doesn’t. If it does, you know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve never read it, I encourage you to give it a shot. You can read it for free online here.

The apocryphal soundtracks to some of my books

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, Burn Me Deadly, Firefly Witch, Memphis, music, novel, pirates, Uncategorized, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writing | Leave a comment

It’s no secret that music is a big part of many of my novels, from inspiring the titles to influencing the plots to being part of the story itself. I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. Recently my friends at Facebook’s Heroic Fiction League, Nathan Long and John R. Fultz, posted “playlists” of YouTube videos, songs that either their heroes would like, or that captured the mood of their books.

My playlist is a little different.  This is the music I wish would play when a reader first opens some of my books.

For my most recent novel, the Eddie LaCrosse pirate tale Wake of the Bloody Angel, I’d love it if readers were blasted with this upon cracking the covers:

 

 

For another Eddie LaCrosse tale, Burn Me Deadly, if you consider chapter one as a “teaser,” this would the perfect music to play between chapters one and two:

 

 

For Blood Groove, my tale of an Old World vampire unleashed in the Seventies, I’d begin with this under chapter one:

 

 

Then, at the moment you finished chapter one:

 

 

And finally, the theme for my Firefly Witch e-book chapbooks, the tune the main characters Ry and Tanna would call “their song” and that, in a perfect world, would play whenever you called it up on your e-reader of choice:

 

 

(I know, it’s the Atlanta Rhythm Section version and not the original Classics IV, but technically this is the first version I ever heard, and about half the Atlanta Rhythm Section was made up of former members of the Classics IV, so it’s not as heretical as it might seem.)

Any suggestions for some of my other books?

 

Interview: Andrew Brasfield, songwriter of Cold Wind

Posted on by Alex in anthology, cover art, creativity, eBook sale, faeries, folk music, interview, music, short stories, tennessee, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When I began planning Time of the Season, my holiday-themed e-book chapbook, I already had two of the stories. Both the title story and “A Ghost, and a Chance” had been around for a while. But I wanted to write something new, and I’d gotten such a good response from my novel, The Hum and the Shiver, that I decided to write a holiday story set in the that world. The Tufa stories all revolve around music, so I needed a song to form the center of this new one. So I asked around: did anyone know of an original winter or holiday song, one by an indie artist who could grant permission for me to use the lyrics in a story?

Dale Short, host of the roots-music radio show “Music from Home” in Jasper, Alabama, suggested I check out this:


 

The first time I heard it, I knew it was the right song.

I contacted Andrew Brasfield, and happily, he agreed to let me quote from the lyrics in the story.  This is a trickier proposition than it sounds, because a lot of musicians, particularly the ones played on mainstream radio, don’t actually own the rights to their own songs. Music publishers, record labels and other for-profit intermediaries have to also grant permission, and usually require payment to do so. Happily, there’s a whole world of great music being done by people like Andrew (and Jennifer Goree, and Laura Powers, and Jen Cass, and Kate Campbell) who not only own all their own rights, they’re delighted to have them included in a story or used in a book trailer.

Andrew also recorded a new version of the song at AudioCzar Productions, and played all the instruments himself (except for percussion). That version is available as a free download when you buy Time of the Season.

Andrew was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the song.

1) What inspired “Cold Wind”?

I used to work in television and was sent out west to Lander, Wyoming for a documentary shoot a few times over the course of 2010. On one of the final trips we set out early in the morning to catch some college students who were waking up for the last of their 21 day trip in the Wind River Range. It was really early in the morning and beautiful and I had some time to think while we were hiking. The wind was very cold and cut through me and I thought, the cold wind is an interesting image. So I came up with the first line then thought of other natural elements. Fire and water were classic images so and made verses to go with all of them. Somehow I remembered those lyrics and committed them to a small Holiday Inn Express notepad as soon as I got back to my room late that evening.

Side note: The cover photo for the song is actually a public domain photo of the Wind River Range that I manipulated a bit.

2) Your cousin Dale Short first told me about “Cold Wind,” and directed me toward the video. I had that same thing happen with the characters in the story: they learned the song from that same video. What’s the story behind the video?

There is no real story to be honest. I knew I wanted folks to hear some of my songs and while they can get a glimpse from the three songs I wrote on the first Motel Ice Machine CD, those aren’t the only songs I have in me and some of those are arranged differently from the way I usually do them. Also, I don’t have the cash to get into a studio whenever I write a new song so YouTube seemed like a more accessible medium. I’ll be certainly be adding more videos soon.

Dale still hasn’t given me all the details on how we are kin, but he is a good guy nonetheless and I appreciate what he does for local musicians through his radio show.

3) What did you think of the story that incorporates your song?

I really dug the way you wove it all together. I actually got chills when I read my lyrics in the story. I’m a big Tufa fan and having the Hyatt’s play my song in their living room is sort of surreal. I read The Hum and the Shiver shortly after it came out and was hooked. I’m (im)patiently waiting for Wisp of a Thing.

 

 

Andrew Brasfield is from a small town in Alabama where he lives with his wife and two daughters. His main axe is harmonica, which he wields in a few different bands including Motel Ice Machine and The Lefty Collins Band. He also plays a bit of guitar, bass and ukulele. He knows a handful of mandolin chords and has a few piano tricks. You can find out more about him here.