As Far Away Places Edge Closer

An entourage from the White House is on a foreign tour right now, and my social media feeds are full of humorous images like the ones I show here. Given my political leanings, I find them funny even while I recognize the gravity of the situations.

In truth, it is more than news reports and twitter jokes that bring what were once far away places into my living room. I’m not the only one in my family infected by the travel bug, and those I am closest to are often far away. These days, their photos catch my eye as I’m online.

Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to my own significant other as he heads to a foreign country for the first time without me. It is an exciting opportunity for him (and a great chance for me to get a lot of writing done.) But he is a reluctant traveler, and the ease with which he heads off reminds me of how much smaller and more comfortable the world has become. Places that once seemed incredibly remote are now merely “two plane rides away” and “a trip I hope to make someday.”

Is a shrinking world a good thing? We now feel the pain of distant events in new ways. The sorrow they cause is difficult, the increased desire to help is laudable.  I was searching for a video of a song to convey that feeling, to stand in contrast to the various videos of “Far Away Places” that I posted on my other blogs.

I found this instead and realized that it was perfect.  Maybe that’s because it’s about the way the world could be. Or maybe, it’s about the way it really is and we just tend to forget..

 

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door, Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, Caring About Far Away Places and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

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Is it over yet?

I admit it. At least once a day now I type “election news” into my search engine and hold my breath. I can’t help myself; it’s a little like not averting my eyes from a traffic accident as I pass by. Now what, I mutter as I clench my muscles while the headlines roll in.

stressedImagine my stressed-out surprise today when the second news item was about how much stress this election is causing us all. Yes, according to ABC News nearly half ( 46 percent) of likely voters “describe the election as a source of stress in their lives, including roughly equal numbers of Clinton and Trump supporters. Nearly a quarter, again among both candidates’ camps, say the stress is serious.”

Well, it looks like we finally all have one thing in common and you’ve got to love what it is. We all can’t wait for this thing to end.

Because I can’t do anything to make November 8 come any faster, I’m thinking about what I can do to try to make November 9 better. The best thing I can think of is to can say this.

Please vote.

Whatever you believe or don’t believe, no matter how much you do or don’t like the choices in front of you, we are all going to feel better on November 9 if this election has the greatest percentage of registered voter turn-out ever. We’ve all heard all sides, more times than we wish, but if many of us hide under the couch that day then we will all have to wonder if the outcome reflects the difficult choice that the majority of our people would have made if forced to choose.

Yes, many of us aren’t going to be completely happy about everything. That doesn’t mean we should not weigh in on the real choices before us. And yes, roughly half of us are going to have to work hard to understand what in the world the other half was thinking. I remain hopeful that everyone, myself included, is capable of making that important effort and moving forward.

Florence and the MachineWhile dealing with my own stress, I’m also in the process of looking at the last song referred to in each of my books. This sort of thing keeps me entertained. Because d4 is in part a book about working for the greater good, and finding the balance between that and ones own desires, my hero Ariel goes through much as she struggles to do what is right. As it all comes together in the end, I have her listening to one of my favorite songs, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”.

But because everything takes me back to politics these days, playing the video that I link to in the electronic version of the book makes me think hard about this particular election. If you haven’t heard the song in awhile, check out this from the 2009 British musical event called “T4 on the Beach. ” It does a wonderful job of showcasing lead singer Florence Welch, a nice job of capturing the crowd and even a decent job a making you feel like you are on the beach outside of Somerset, England. And in spite of all of its Brexit issues, right now England seems like a relatively peaceful place to be.

Because “Dog Days are Over” makes my personal list of top ten favorite songs ever, I smiled the entire time I wrote the scene of Ariel’s rescue and the comfort provided to her by this music. Enjoy a short except below, and then, don’t forget to vote. The dog days will be over soon.

(From Chapter 28) Ariel thought that the beautiful small Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður would now always be one of her favorite places on Earth. As Toby’s rented speedboat made its way to the barren, snow covered docks in the deepening afternoon twilight, the many wooden buildings stood out in the remaining light, beaconing with the offer of comfort.

It had been difficult to hear each other as Toby used the expertise he had gained from years at sea to speed them safely back to Iceland, so talk on the trip back to shore had been minimal. Rather, Mikkel had gently placed earbuds in her cold ears, and then put his own dry, warm hat over her head while he played a song for her. It was Florence and the Machine singing their anthem of happiness “Dog Days are Over.” The message that her ordeal had finally ended sunk in as she enjoyed the music. Fatigue and emotion took over, and she let herself cry in relief.

Rooms were available at the small hotel in town. Better yet, there was a liquor store, and—bless these fine people—it was open too. The thoroughly chilled, damp foursome received food and care, and warm, dry clothes all around. Thankfully, they were asked remarkably few questions about why they had needed to rent a boat this time of year in the first place, or why two people had left the harbor in the morning and four people had returned before nightfall.

 (For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be Alright,  Our brand is crisis?, and We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much)

Bulletproof

Every so often one finds a song that they really like the first time they hear it, and they still like it dozens if not hundreds of times later. I’ve got a few of those, and La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is one. So when I was assembling my largely-female-indie-artist playlist for d4, I was delighted when my music expert recommended it.

Why so much love for this song? It’s always hard to say why you like something. I’m a “words” person when it comes to music, and the lyrics are just so clever. You’ve met this guy. You know this lady. You’ve seen the dynamics. But it’s more than that. The very concept of being bulletproof appeals to something deep within. It doesn’t just mean being immune to his manipulations. It also means not being afraid of icy ski slopes or catty store clerks or traveling alone. The lyrics speak to me about being stronger; for the next presentation at work, for the next nasty book review, for the next thing that strikes fear into me whatever it is.

Yet it is more than the lyrics. The infectious beat and sing along melody is part of what make it all work for me. I found this video from a live performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 2010 and it captures every bit of that. I can hardly keep from waving my arms along with the crowd while I watch.

No, I can’t explain why I like this song so much. But I hope you enjoy it too, as well as the short excerpt from d4 showing how I mentioned the song in my book.

She decided to take Friday off work, and Eoin did not object.

“Any special plans?” he asked.

“No. Just preparing,” she said. He didn’t ask for more.

The day turned out to be one of those unusual winter days when the sky is bright blue and the temperature climbs into the sixties. Ariel smiled at her good fortune as she took the little car the company leased for her and headed north out of Dublin, planning to drive for as long as it sounded good, and then to stop and do yoga somewhere along the shore.

Ireland doesn’t have much in the way of sandy beaches. Much of the coast is ancient granite and volcanic remains, and much of its rocky core is old limestone, formed from the remains of tiny sea creatures that led happy lives nearly half a billion years ago, back when Ireland was located near the equator and no mammal had yet set foot on the Earth. Ariel reached for her music, and spent a minute picking her song. She decided on “Bulletproof” by La Roux; it was the perfect choice.

 She drove far enough to find a rocky bit of shore that was deserted, spread out her mat, and worked on clearing her mind. The poses came to her in a random sequence, without thought. The table. The cat. The bow. The plough.

Her goal was to calm down, and gather her strength. To make herself as bulletproof as possible.

Downward dog into a cobra into a sun salute and repeat it again. Warrior poses. Low warrior. Warrior two. Warrior three. She had skills, she had advantages, and she had back-up. She finished her routine concentrating on balance, holding a strong tree pose while she gazed at the far horizon.

She was ready. Now, she needed to go do what needed to be done.

You can also listen to or buy La Roux’s “Bulletproof” at Amazon.

Coincidence? I think not.

“I don’t believe in coincidence.” Hard-boiled detectives say it, new age psychics say it, and conspiracy fans whisper it while glancing behind them. My own philosophy tends towards the interconnections of things, so I echo the thought too. No where in my life is the strange interrelationship of information more apparent than when I do research for my books.

coincidenceEach of my novels has been boosted by my own discovery of one or more connections that I found amazing. Southerners really fled to Belize after the civil war hoping to form a new confederacy? And I’m in the middle of a novel about the civil war and modern Belize? Wow. The nation of Kiribati once straddled the international date line? There actually are only two roads into Bhutan?

My crazy excitement as I discover facts that aid and abet my convoluted plots has become a familiar high now, and it remains one of the reasons I continue to write. I’m finally back to creating the sixth and final novel in my 46. Ascending collection and the plot thickens as my research goes on. Some connections will become central to the story, others will be trimmed down to a mere mention or less. But the discovery of them all leaves me high.

Equally delightful is finding connections between the stories in my books., because the collection always was meant to be about the surprising and even beautiful way that parts of life intertwine.  I dealt with one such example today.

spirit science 3I always run the names of my characters through a search engine. When I was writing y1 and I wanted my Kiribati-born fire-knife dancer to chose to call himself Afi, the Samoan word for fire, I checked it. Most references were to a San Francisco based musical group called AFI, short for “A Fire Inside”. Wonderful, I thought.  Maybe I can refer to their music in this book. So I listened to it.  It was haunting, filled with songs about cold and grey and winter and death. I liked it, I even liked some of it a lot.  But I didn’t think I had ever heard music less suited for a story about fire dancing in the South Pacific. So I put it aside.

Three years later I was writing d4, the story of a clairvoyant young woman facing life-altering challenges in Iceland and Greenland. As I searched for music to evoke the cold bleakness of her situation, AFI came to mind and their song “Love Like Winter” nestled its way onto her MP3 player. Here is a short excerpt from the scene.

(From Chapter 23) She fretted and dozed at the Reykjavik airport for more than five hours before her small plane finally took off into a cloud-filled night, with pockets of slightly warmer air causing it to bounce around mercilessly. Ariel turned on her trusty music, only to find herself listening to the old indie song “Love like Winter” by the San Francisco group AFI. It was good music, but it made her shiver in her seat as she held on tight to her armrest. She forced herself to search for a happy future premory, anything that would assure her that she would be alive in a week or two and need not worry.

Some of the far fringes returned nothing but blackness, and Ariel realized with a sinking feeling that those were futures in which she had ceased to exist. Very faint, unlikely, but planes did go down in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, and if you considered everything, then that future without her was there.

Once I referred to the song “Love Like Winter” in the book, I had to find the best video link.  I was so happy to discover this one of a live performance at Lollapalooza Brasil in June of 2014.  I love the passion of the band, and the passion of the crowd as well. I watched this video quite a few times, in fact, and liked it better each time. I now have to say, I think that “A Fire Inside” is the perfect name for these musicians.

You can buy AFI’sLove like Winter” at Amazon.

 

Never Enough

Greedy characters in books and movies are usually the bad guys. So I find it odd that in real life many people are willing to overlook or even praise greed in their leaders. Why is it not okay in fiction to want more than you need, more than you can use, and even more than you can have without hurting others, and yet to some this becomes an admirable trait in the flesh?

I see some of these people and I just want to scream “Listen to him! He sounds like the villain in half the movies you saw last year.” But no one enjoys being screamed at, so I keep quiet and write about greed instead.

I enjoyed the Metric song “Gold, Guns, Girls” before I began my first draft of d4. As my character Baldur evolved and greed became his defining characteristic, I knew that this wonderful song had to become one of my hero Ariel’s favorites. It shows up like this in Chapter 20.

Once he was inside her apartment, he waited patiently. She wondered what his instructions were if she ran. She saw no point in finding out. Going to work for Baldur was exactly what she needed to do right now.

Once she boarded the plane, Ariel put her earbuds in and turned up her music. The last thing she wanted was to make polite conversation. She treated herself to every snack in the well stocked little jet, but forced herself to avoid the alcohol, tempting though it was. She needed to stay sharp.

A courteous co-pilot checked on her twice, but otherwise left her alone. She laughed aloud when Metric’s song about insatiable greed, “Gold Guns Girls,” came on and wished she had a set of speakers with her so that she could blast the song out for the whole plane to hear.

For my link to a performance of this song, I picked this concert in Montreal in 2012. It’s a simple, clean video of excellent quality, but my favorite thing about it is how well you can see Emily Haines’ face as she performs. She is a serious artist, but an occasional hint of smile let’s you see how much she is enjoying herself. It’s fun to watch.

You can also listen to or buy Metric’s “Gold Guns Girls”  at Amazon.

(If you enjoy reading about how the favorite songs of characters in a book can enhance a story, check out my post on mortality and the early rock classic “That’ll be the Day” at It’s never too late till it is on my blog for the novel c3.)

Carried Away

It is a world filled with those who seem to go crazy about everything from the inane (Emojis) to the disgusting (zombies, still? Yes, apparently. 2015 did see a movie called Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse).

So as I work my way through posting about the songs in d4, it was kind of refreshing to listen to lyrics about getting carried away by love. Or lust. Or even just complicated human emotion with no Emojis needed. I have to admit that the lyrics to Passion Pit’s “I Get Carried Away” aren’t totally clear to me, but I like the feel of the song, and many days that is more than enough.

From Chapter 18. “Fine.” Ariel’s tone was colder already, and they said very little while the valet got the car. “Was this whole weekend just so you’d have something to do while you waited for this meeting?” she asked as she pulled out into traffic.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I brought plenty of work with me,” he said, immediately realizing that perhaps that had not been the best response. “Ariel, this has been the best two days I have had in a long, long time, and that is the truth. I had no idea that this was going to happen when I told Cillian I’d stick around for this Sunday evening get-together.”

He gave her a helpless look but she ignored it, turning her music up instead so that it was plenty loud enough to prevent any further conversation. Unfortunately the song that happened to be playing was Passion Pit’s new hit “Carried Away.” Ariel liked the song, but today the lyrics hit too close to home. Mikkel didn’t say another word, but she saw him smiling as she changed the song in irritation.

I was impressed by this simple yet well done video of Passion Pit performing “I Get Carried Away” at Lollapalooza Chile 2013. You get nice close-ups of the performers and also a few chances to enjoy the energy of the crowd  responding to the music.

I also like this far more widely circulated video of Passion Pit performing “I Get Carried Away” on Saturday Night Live in October of 2012.  It’s fun as well, with close-ups of all the band members as their love of music (and their lack of showiness) come through.

Finally, you can also listen to or buy Passion Pit’s “Carried Away” here at Amazon.

 

Amazing Sprawl

I believe that one telling characteristic of a person is the music they enjoy. So how could I not feel the same way about my characters? I think about how Ariel likes popular indie music, usually by female artists, just like I think about how she likes sushi and yoga and the color blue.  For me, this is part of the process of getting to know her.

With the help of a young woman with musical tastes similar to Ariel’s, I was able to put together my character’s own distinctive list of favorite songs, many of which are woven into her story. When my books appear on Kindle, I  link the song title in my text to the chance to purchase it on Amazon.

My other electronic versions are distributed through Smashwords where no such link is allowed. I’ve tried various other approaches with my other books, but with d4 I’ve finally found the approach I like best. For every song, I’ve found a live performance that I think shows a little of a the personality of the singer and the band. I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun seeking these out. Often the quality of the video isn’t as good as the more glossy clips, but I’ve picked each one for a reason.

In the case of Arcade Fire, I had the great good fortune to see them perform at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion outside of Houston in April 2014. The entire concert was amazing, but the performance of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), with so many talented musicians on stage all singing in harmony and playing more varied instruments than I had ever seen used for one song, well, it was was one of my most incredible concert experiences.

I knew then that this song would find its way into d4, and that I would find a clip from the show I had seen, or a performance very close to it.  Well, I never found the video from the Woodlands concert, but this one from their performance at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival two months later could have been it. Enjoy!

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 15 of d4, where Sprawl II is mentioned.

Ariel both reasoned and premembered that the less time she spent in Iceland the better. It was a real shame, because the country itself was gorgeous and the people outside of Baldur’s boardroom were friendly and welcoming. She’d turned on her music so she wouldn’t have to make conversation, and she had to smile when one of her favorite songs began to play. Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” was a melodic worry about endless strip malls covering the earth, and the beauty of the scenery she was driving past could not have been a better antidote to those concerns. Ariel turned up the volume, put her phone away and simply enjoyed the views for the rest of the trip.

Once they arrived, they were met by their assigned host and taken to an ultramodern lounge where they could shower privately and change into swimwear. Ariel studied the famous murky turquoise water as they walked, and the combination of all the shades of blue and green in the mist created a feeling of wonder unlike anywhere she had ever been. She marveled at the many small geysers that shot into the air and at the sheer size of the stunning lagoon.

She’d already been told that there would be a catered lunch, time to relax in the healing waters, individual massages and skin treatments, and more spa time before the group headed to what was certain to be a lavish dinner. Under other circumstances, this could have easily been the best day at work ever.

You can buy Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” at amazon.com. You can also buy all of d4 for Kindle for only ninety-nine cents.