Space Opera With a Twist

Tag: music

More Musical Inspiration

As I mentioned before, music is an important part of my inspiration to write, my muse if you like, and a great motivator when I’m procrastinating. I try to give each of my books a theme song, sometimes more than one, when I stumble across pieces appropriate for various parts of the story. It’s hard to predict what will trigger the muse, or what will crop up that meshes well with my writing. Case in point, the theme song for Black Sword (Decker’s War Book 5) has turned out to be a 1982 hit by the band Golden Earring, called Twilight Zone. Once you read the book (it will be out later this summer), you’ll see why I chose it. As far as musical pairings go, this one is the best so far.

I’m currently more than halfway through the revision of Black Sword.  With the greater part of this year’s home reno project done, I’ll be able to give it a sprint, so I figure my editor might see it in a week or so.

Musical Memories

Since quitting the bowels of the demented bureaucracy, I’ve kept a bit of background noise, both at home and in my truck, by sticking to a pleasant, advertizing-free radio station. It not only keeps me amused but makes me thankful, during the morning and afternoon traffic reports, for no longer having to endure the foibles and stupidities of people who shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel.

Because of the political garbage permeating virtually everything in the last few weeks, I’ve switched my radio allegiance to a station broadcasting classical music instead of opinions, editorials, and other idiocies. It’s as much a matter of taste as it is a question of health. I quit the bureaucracy to escape a life dominated by high blood pressure and bathing in politics would only keep me popping pills that much longer. In the process, by listening to the soothing sounds of masterpieces from a past that didn’t exude the unpleasantness of Anno Domini 2016 (although it had unpleasantness of its own), I rediscovered a pair of gems that aren’t as well-known as they should be.

The first, a little melody deserving so much more recognition is called “Vltava” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. It is better known by its Germanic name, “The Moldau.” The Vltava is the longest river in the Czech Republic and is commonly referred to as the Czech national river. I was first introduced to Smetana’s enchanting composition by my mother at a very young age and even now, almost five decades later, it still evokes unexpected emotions. One of the few memories I have of being a small child is asking my mother to play the Moldau. The last movement in particular still touches me in a way few musical pieces can.

The other piece, Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem “Pines of Rome,” is an understated musical gem that doesn’t get much airtime, so I was enchanted to hear it on the radio a few days ago. I can’t quite remember when or how I was first introduced to it, save that it hooked me immediately. I suppose having studied Roman history in large part through Edward Gibbon’s seminal work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” gives it a greater significance in my eyes.

Listening to both compositions, I can easily visualize the influence Smetana and Respighi had on their modern musical descendants, in particular those creating soundtracks for the movies. They’re not the only ones, of course. Gustav Holst, for example, has inspired such great contemporary composers as John Williams of Star Wars fame, among many others, but if you listen carefully, you’ll find that the two underrated composers whose works I’ve rediscovered still resonate long after their deaths.

And no, my life hasn’t been all classical music or home renovations (though the workshop rebuild is finished!). My final revision of Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) is almost complete, and publication is but a few day away.

Musical Serendipity

The other day, our treadmill, much used to help me get at least an hour of cardio exercise a day, gave up the ghost, its drive motor fried. Sadly, the thing is old enough that the manufacturer has stopped making replacement parts years ago, and even if I found one somewhere, the cost of the motor, plus the labour would be prohibitive. And a new treadmill, what with the home renos I have to do, is out of the question.

So, I did what any sensible guy would do, I reactivated my membership with the city’s recreational facilities, which gives me access to all of the gyms, pools, classes, etc.  Since there are two facilities less than a ten minute drive from home in either direction, it was an easy decision. Better equipment, it gets me out of the house more often (isolation being a writer’s worst peril) and I would have to keep paying the membership fees for several years before it adds up to the cost of a new treadmill. As no-brainers go, this was easy.

These places always have music playing in the background, and on my first session, my ears caught an old favourite, well known by anyone who either grew up in the 70s or has watched that wonderful TV series, Supernatural. I’m talking about Carry On, Wayward Son, by the band Kansas. Right now, I’m two-thirds into Decker’s War #4, and sitting at the point where the action is about to go out of control. This means I’m usually stuck until I get the right soundtrack to inspire me into visualizing combat in the minutest details.

Funny thing… After hearing Carry On, Wayward Son in the gym two days ago, the song stayed with me all day, like the earworm from hell. And then, the dam burst. That night, I must have listened to it, in several variations, almost two dozen times, while my mind’s eye saw Decker do what he does best in the most explosive manner. Just like that, my writer’s block evaporated and I knew how the rest of the book would unfold.

Unfortunately, writing takes a lot longer than imagining and several thousand words later, I’ve still not reached the point where the song and the action kick in, so I keep hearing Carry On, Wayward Son in my mind. I suspect I will until that particular sequence has left my imagination to inhabit the page. But after today’s writing session, I’m just about there. The next time I sit down to work on that novel, the volcano will blow.

I call it serendipity. My home treadmill died to make Decker’s War #4 live. If I hadn’t gone to the gym that day and heard the song, I might never have grasped this particular thread of action to advance the story. Who knows where it might have ended instead. Do I believe in fate? I don’t know. Do you?

By the way, Like Stars in Heaven (Siobhan Dunmoore #3) is finally hitting the shelves this coming week. Watch for it to go live on Amazon in a few days.

June is Bustin Out All Over

Yesterday, we did our weekly trek through nature, this time at the northern edge of Gatineau Park, and though the temperature was 31 degrees Celcius, it felt quite pleasant in the shade of the trees and under a light breeze.  Flowers everywhere, dragonflies buzzing, birds chirping and running through my mind was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s June is Bustin Out All Over from the musical Carousel.  We ended up walking for two hours, covering about 7 kilometres of woodland, open glades and over hill and dale, as it were.  Of course, the rest of the day was spent in lazy repose, our fifty-something bodies having given their all.  As a result, I didn’t quite reach my word count goal for the first draft of Howling Stars, but since I’d written over 5,300 words on Saturday, I forgave myself for only writing 1,100 words on Sunday.

Flowers as far as the eye can see:


And the remains of a tree:


But, it’s Monday and back to work.  Zack Decker’s latest adventure won’t write itself (sadly).

Time Flows

One of my favourite groups is The Alan Parsons Project, a progressive rock band that graced the charts between 1975 and 1990 (yes, I’m dating myself again). I have all of their albums. Arguably, their best work is The Turn of a Friendly Card from 1980. It’s certainly the one I listen to the most. Arguably again the best track on that album is “Time”. I’ve had its refrain going through my head in the last few days, perhaps because I’m seeing the effects of time up close around the place Mrs Thomson and I have called home for the last nineteen years:

But time / Keeps flowing like a river / To the sea

Many years ago, after we had our home’s original deck in the backyard replaced – I can’t remember exactly when, but I’d say almost fifteen years – I built a pergola out of red cedar on one side, to provide some shade from the afternoon sun and give our honeysuckle plants something to grow on. I noticed a distinct deterioration in the structure over the last year or so and this winter, the winds caused some pieces to break off outright. It was time for the pergola to go. A few days ago, Mrs Thomson and I, crowbar, hammer and saw in hand, demolished what I’d so lovingly built and not before time.

The wood had rotted to a degree I’d not even imagined and one of the four metal post supports had completely rusted through, no doubt helped by my male dogs using said post as aiming point. It had been holding up only because of the posts on either side of it. One strong gust of wind, I suspect, and I’d have been picking up debris and not doing an orderly deconstruction.

Sadly, that’s not the end of it. The deck itself needs partial replacing. Several of the planks, also western red cedar, have begun rotting but we need to stretch our deck’s life out by another 2-3 years until we’re ready for the major addition we’ve planned. So I’ll be spending the next few days tearing out the bad planks and replacing them with less expensive pressure treated lumber. Considering that each plank is held down by sixteen nails (after all, they’re 12 feet long), I’ll be getting a good workout pulling the old nails and hammering in the new ones. I’m not looking forward to it, but like the song says, time keeps flowing and I’ve no choice but to flow with it. The only place were one can fight the passage of time is in science-fiction and even then, it rarely works out well.

If the deck were the only project for 2016, it might not be so bad, but it’s only one among many. Step by step, I guess. One task at a time.

At least my main job, writing novels, is still moving along well. I’m about one third done incorporating my editor’s comments for Fatal Blade. We had a good discussion yesterday about the opening pages where she convinced me that the prologue I’d added during the first re-write was not only unnecessary but detracted from the flow. Of course, I’ve downed tools on Like Stars in Heaven until Fatal Blade goes through the final round of editing, but I was two-thirds done with the first draft as of last week.

Electronic Death

The other night, I was listening to some old tunes on my cell phone while reading and I was getting some weird sound glitches in pretty much every album I played.  It quickly dawned on me that the microSD card on which I’d loaded the music was dying a rapid death.  No biggie.  This wouldn’t be the first one to go and it had given me decently long service.  The next day, I purchased a new card, four times the capacity of the old one, and tried to download the data from the old card to the server so I could recover some of it.  My computer valiantly tried to fix the little thing, but in the end, the card died before I could extract what it carried.

Fine.  I had all of my albums digitized on the server.  It wouldn’t take long to fill up the new microSD card and enjoy.  Nope.  Try as I might, at least one of the albums I was listening to when I realized the card was dying – Jethro Tull’s The Broadsword and the Beast (yes, big Jethro Tull fan here!) – didn’t exist, be it on the server or in my CD collection.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that several albums that were on the old card didn’t seem to come from a CD rip, nor did I have MP3 versions on the server, including more Jethro Tull and at least one Pink Floyd.  Oops.  I had no idea where they came from.  My memory vaguely recalls having purchased said music in the late 70s and early 80s on vinyl and cassette, but the cassettes are long gone though I repurchased a lot of my favourites as CDs.  Not in this case.

It’s somewhat disturbing that I can’t track down those particular albums.  They had to have been transferred onto my old microSD card from somewhere, and the only logical somewhere is the server.  All I can figure is that somehow they vanished during the backup and recovery process a few years ago when I had to rebuild the server after one of the hard drives began to die and the other  had reached the ripe old age of 5 years, which is pretty much your average HDD lifespan.

With everything now stored electronically – pictures, books, music, movies, etc – the possibility of irretrievably losing something here and there, without actually noticing until it’s much too late, becomes a very real issue.  Sure, it beats having a wall of CDs and DVDs, and a bookcase full of print pictures, but a hard drive failure won’t make any of them vanish.  This little contretemps was a timely reminder that electronic death can creep up on you, notwithstanding regular external backup procedures and that safeguarding something irreplaceable does need a bit more care.  Fortunately, I was able to order CDs of the vanished albums, so other than forking over some dollars, there was no lasting harm done.

I’m past the half-way mark on the first draft of Like Stars in Heaven and while daily productivity is unspectacular, it is steady and will allow me to keep the July publication date.  As for Fatal Blade, I’m impatiently waiting for my editor’s comments, due within the next week.

Music and the Stars

I’m an unabashed Queen fan when it comes to music.  Freddie Mercury’s premature death in 1991 deprived the world of one of the finest voices in rock, but the band soldiers on, as they have since 1970.  One interesting fact that few folks who aren’t Queen fans know is that lead guitarist and founding member of Queen, Brian May, earned a PhD in Astrophysics in 2007 and is properly addressed as Doctor Brian May, CBE.  He was also Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University for five years.

And there you have it: a legendary rock guitarist who is arguably smarter than 99% of us out there.  A musical star who is also into the real stars.  For a sci-fi writer like myself, it’s fascinating that one of the musicians who inspires my imagination and whose music helps drive my writing actually knows so much more about the universe I use as a backdrop for my stories than I ever could.  He’s also composed a number of Queen’s hits, including my favourite Who Wants to Live Forever for the soundtrack of the fantasy movie Highlander.

Progress on Fatal Blade – Decker’s War Book 3 has been tremendous over the last little while.  I’m rapidly encroaching on the half-way mark and I am increasingly confident that the first draft will be done shortly after Easter.  At that point, it’ll go to my editor and I’ll get back on the third Dunmoore adventure.  I hadn’t planned on writing the books in that order, but I have to go with the flow and the flow was with Decker’s War.

Write It With Music

I have no idea if this is common among authors or not, but I get a lot of inspiration for my writing from music, specifically the dramatic or climatic parts of a novel, even if I don’t know yet what the full measure of the story will be.  It’s a little strange sometimes, to sit there with headphones on and have my characters fight, shoot or do something vivid in front of my mind’s eye without quite knowing yet why they’re doing it or how they came to that point.  Those scenes then become the crux of a novel that grows around them.  It sounds a bit backwards now that I’m actually writing this down, but it seems to work.  I won’t give you the full list of what’s inspired me, but I’ll mention that I always hear Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit when thinking of the part of the raid near the end of Death Comes But Once where they’re wiping the place out.  The end scenes of Like Stars in Heaven also have their own musical soundtrack and I had those detailed in my mind well before I’d decided on the thrust of the story line. Likewise, as I’m conceptualizing the newest Decker story, I’ve gotten my inspiration for the climax of from the tune March of Cambreadth and even without knowing what the tale is about, you might just be able to see something not too far from what I see when you listen to it.   For my part, I know it really it suits a Decker’s War adventure.   Anything that works I suppose and speaking of work, I had better get back to the third Dunmoore.  I’ve left her hanging with a decision to make and no choice particularly more palatable than the other.

Musical Interlude

I’m going to out myself as a big fan of 70s and 80s music (yes, I know, I’m dating myself, but there’s been precious little worth listening to in the last quarter century; feel free to disagree – de gustibus non est disputandum).  One of my all time favourites is Africa by the band Toto, who’ve produced a lot of great music.

A few years ago, I was surfing for the best rendition of my favourite Toto tune when I came across a vocal group from Slovenia called Perpetuum Jazzile and their rendition of Africa.  It was, in one word, fantastic.  They sing mostly a capella and yet manage to mimic the sound effects of a band to the point of giving their songs a depth you couldn’t achieve otherwise, with all due respect to the original artists.  The gentleman doing the human beat-box is worthy of a Grammy for his virtuosity.

Perpetuum Jazzile has covered a lot of good music, delivering not only an auditory but a visual feast.  You can’t appreciate their artistry without watching them elevate Abba, the BeeGees and so many others to a new level.  Fortunately, through the magic of Youtube, you can both see and hear this magnificent bunch.  They’re not hard on the eyes either.

Whenever I’m feeling down or I’m otherwise out of sorts, spending an evening watching and listening to Perpetuum Jazzile puts a smile back on my face.  I doubt they’ll  make it across the big pond to perform in North America again any time soon, but if they do, you can be sure Mrs Thomson and I will be at the head of the line for tickets.

Give them a try and if they don’t make you feel at least a bit more cheerful about life, you may have bigger problems than a blogging science-fiction author can help solve.

Enjoy, and long live Slovenia!