Ask any writer, composer, or visual artist, and they will tell you the same thing–“I create for me. An audience of one.” While this is true, as far as it goes, it’s also mostly bullshit. We create to be heard. Seen. But, most of all, we create to be felt.
I’ve been a composer for most of my life—50 of the last 62+ years, to be precise—and a writer of stories for as long as I can remember, and all I’ve ever wanted for my art is to touch someone emotionally. Touch their heart. Make them feel something. It’s what all creators want, regardless of what they say out loud.
In this, I have failed.
Jesus, I can’t even get my own family to read my books or give one shit about the music I write. My work touches me… and no one else. That’s sobering. And telling. The artists who claim to create only for themselves do so out of the same realization I’ve come to. No one else cares.
I know enough about both my crafts to know I don’t suck at either, but simply not sucking isn’t enough. That bar’s too low for art, don’t you think?
When I’m done with this world, all I’ve ever wanted was to leave a footprint or two, or perhaps help someone feel something they’ve never felt before. But after so long on this road, I look back and can’t see a single footprint I’ve left behind, so I think it’s time I set all this aside. I’ve got a couple of projects I’ll finish soon, because I hate leaving things undone, but after that? I’m done. I’ll spend my time as a good worker-bee and doing the pointless things I still enjoy.
Next steps… I’ll donate my inventory of books to Copperfield’s or whatever store wants them. If no one wants them, I have a firepit on my patio that needs fuel. I hear book burning is all the rage here in the South these days. I think I should burn all the manuscripts, too—music included. Maybe with everything gone, with all that behind me, I can find a way to be happy again.
I’m turning off comments because I’m not looking for affirmation. Just needed to vent and offer and update. Besides, I can count on one hand the number of people who’d care enough to try to talk me down, and that’s depressing all by itself.
Time, schedule, and an ever-growing list of projects have not been kind. The result is I will—most likely—release four new novels simultaneously in the month of March. Or perhaps April. I’ve been told by author friends this is stupid. “Don’t step on your toes,” they say.
To that, I can only reply, “Bollocks!”
Or somesuch other cool writerly thing…
I will do the thing because the schedule almost requires it. I will do it because I haven’t released anything but new music for over a year. I will do it because they’re almost ready all at the same time. But mostly, I’ll do it for that most American of reasons: because I can.
So, without further ado, here is the celebrated “cover reveal” for all four:
What a cool word for such a sad human failing. I’ve been told that procrastination is just one more tool in the writer’s toolbox, and I’m not sure that’s so inaccurate. I’ve been avoiding writing a lot lately–mostly because I’m stuck for what to write next. I’m so far behind on this trilogy, the release date has moved from September to who-the-fuck-knows? Oh well, at least I’ve kept busy. Below is a snippet of music for band I’ve dusted off and begun working on again. It’s nowhere near finished, but if anyone would like to suggest directions for this, I’m listening.
Last night, I had a vivid dream about my time as a band director. While this event never happened, I’ve had similar conversations with myself over the years about this topic. In the dream, I was teaching a concert band at the middle school level and noticed one kid had been missing my class for a few days. I asked another student if they knew where she was, and he told me she was attending every class but mine. During band class, she usually spent that time in a second go of English. Obviously, I was distressed, and confronted the child later. What she told me in my dream blew my mind then, and still does while I’m wide awake. She told me “I don’t enjoy band anymore because it’s all about competition and winning, and not about music.” She said the staff was more concerned with how they looked to the community than with making music.
I’ve toyed with a similar theme for a while, but this sort of crystalized it for me. And it’s not limited to teaching, or even just the arts. This is endemic in education, and it has become so widespread and commonplace, we don’t even notice the effects anymore. I’m gonna stick with band for most of this because that’s what I know best. I’ll get to general effects later.
The school band movement in the U.S. began in earnest when musician-soldiers returned from WWII and found their experiences and training as service band members might be valuable to their hometowns. These men pushed for comprehensive music education, beginning in elementary and culminating in high-quality band programs at the senior high level. That push was especially effective here in Texas. So much so, that we enjoy some of the highest levels of musicianship as anywhere in the world. Our Texas Music Educators Association convention is the largest music convention in the world, eclipsing even the Mid-West International convention in Chicago.
When these soldiers began their crusade, their only goal was to improve music education in this country. Everything in Texas we now call “competition” began as simple evaluations to note progress. Every so-called competition was never as one band pitted against another, but as each band against a standard of excellence The rubric for the highest rating in Texas still reads:
Students consistently perform with mature, characteristic sounds.
Pitches are consistently centered and focused.
Students consistently perform balance/blend with only minor lapses that are quickly corrected.
The ensemble consistently demonstrates an awareness of tuning within and between sections. (“near perfect”) (emphasis mine)
Dynamic contrast is consistently obvious and effective.
Students consistently perform with proper support and little or no distortion.
Notice nowhere does it say “beat the other guys”.
Somewhere along the way, music educators—and band directors specifically—lost sight of the original purpose of music education: to bring students to a level of musicianship where they can appreciate the works they perform and how well they perform them. The competition has become the thing for its own sake, and that is driving away kids who could benefit most from a good music education.
Just to be a part of a high school band in Texas now requires parents to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars a year. This isn’t private school, but public school. When I was a band director, I told the parents “if the school doesn’t provide it, we don’t need it”, and I stand by that today. Of course, I fought to the death to get the school to provide those things I believed we needed. I won most of those battles, but lost a few. But I never asked parents to make up the difference. I considered that wrong then, and I think it’s wrong now. It creates a multi-tiered system of education, where only those with money get the best. This is anathema to the whole concept of public education. And why do they do this? Because it’s the competition that matters now, not the learning. It’s the trophies, not the achievements. It’s the rating, not the standard of excellence. It’s the teacher, not the student.
The last is the most important. We’ve mired ourselves in a vicious circle that requires trophies for a teacher to advance or even keep their job. It requires trophies to get the “best” jobs. It requires trophies to impress the community enough to squeeze those extra dollars from the parents so we can earn even bigger and better trophies.
This is the Song that Never Ends.
In the next part, I tie this to education as a profession, and to society as a whole. And I’’m just warming up…
Just a quick note to show you guys the cover to my first horror novel, The Ward. I plan to release this in both print and Kindle formats in February. I’m also trying a new size format for this book, making it more like something you’d find in a bookstore–something a bit more pocketable.
This is my first horror novel and will be out next month. This scene isn’t scary, but it is momentous…
The storm raged through the night, the wind and driving rain a thunderous white noise drowning the bitter thoughts in my head like a bag of kittens thrown from a bridge; it was the first good night’s sleep I’d had in months. While most people hated or feared the powerful storms that lumbered across the Gulf Coast, I’ve always found them comforting. Storms in Southeast Texas—what we lovingly refer to as “the Golden Triangle”—are usually brief torrential rains that roll overhead like a runaway freight train. Some, like last night’s, drift across the sky’s arch in a lugubrious crawl, dumping an ocean of water, scouring the landscape; clearing it like a house painter preparing for a fresh coat.
It’s a long and winding road (apologies to the Beatles), beginning when I was nine and wrote a (*ahem*) “novel”, which I immediately mailed out to either DAW or Tor. I wish I’d kept the rejection letter because they obviously knew they were dealing with a very young Sci-Fi fanboy. I wrote little after that, but became a voracious reader, then turned my attention to music. I won’t bore you with the details, but I ended up earning my D.M.A. in Music Ed. and Conducting, also spending my time teaching band for over 20 years. During that time, I also published over three dozen works for wind ensemble and orchestra.
Once I’d decided to do this writing thing full-time, my amazing wife dove into the deep end with me and became our sole support. Scary, right? More for her than me. I’ve published a few shorts–one in Analog–but most of my time belongs to the novels. I just have too many ideas to set them aside while I write a short. I do keep doing them, though, whenever I’ve finished a book, or kicked it out of the nest to fly on its own. I also still write music, having just picked up a commission for a large work. I’ll be damned if I know how I’m gonna shoehorn that into my schedule, but what the hell?
The only Con I hit regularly is Comicpalooza, and only because it’s close to home in Houston. I encourage people to contact me, and not just because writing is a lonely business. But, yeah, that’s some of it.
Looking forward to hearing from a reader or two in the future!
Hundreds of lights hovered over her head, greeting her eyes as lids fluttered and lifted. The pukwudgie cavorted and sang, their voices melding into one, then separated again, a cacophony from a single throat. Netáchgan stirred at her back and stood, bending to nuzzle her neck.
“C’mon, boy.” John grabbed Nix’s sleeve. “The quicker we get down there, the sooner we’re shed of this place.” Nix needed no more prodding than that, but he got it anyway. An icy breath raised the hairs on the back of his neck, and he hazarded a glance behind. All manner of creatures—human and otherwise—followed them. Most were average people who appeared to be sleepwalking, while others were twisted and deformed. Several, eyes glazed, sclera so red it glowed, radiated a hatred like the sun gave light. None of those frightened him as much as the animals, only a few of which he could name. Crawling things, some with legs too many to count in a single glance, oozed at the crowd’s feet. Most were no larger than mice, but many were bigger than a house-cat, armed with curved black claws that glimmered in their lethality. A gibbering creature gnawed deep in the back of his mind, scrabbling to gain purchase, threatening control. He realized with what remained of his sanity it was his amygdala swamping rational thought with a single command. Run! There was little thought left in his young head as he pushed everyone aside and fled for the safety of the steps and the tunnel beyond.
A shattering crash from the outer room told her the skin-walkers broke through both the door and her warding, and the bluejay leapt from his perch in the treetop. Wmíisan sat up as best she could, ignoring the pain in her arm to lift both hands and weave her last spell. A parlor trick, and one every new apprentice learned early in their training. It was useless in a physical confrontation, though it might serve her well enough to give Síipuw and the others the one thing they needed… time. Her arm no longer hurt, or the pain forgotten, and she finished weaving the spell by infusing it with the last reserves of her manitou. The air grew heavy, and the room darkened as she lowered her hands. As soon as she did, the pain returned, stronger than before, and she cried out before she could suppress the impulse, clutching her chest with her right hand. The door to Síipuw’s room burst open, and the two slavering beasts—dire wolves on two legs—jostled for entry. Its frame cracked and splintered as the skin-walkers pushed through, and Wmíisan smiled, showing her teeth in full defiance of the beasts’ terrible power. Each had to duck its head to enter, and after two cautious steps were close enough she could smell the death covering them like a moldy cloak. “The knife,” the first, and largest, growled around too-long teeth. It skinned black lips back in a parody of a grin. “And the girl.” “Your eyes are big, evil one,” she slurred and gestured with her right hand. “See for yourself… neither are here.” It took a slow step forward, muscles bulging, struggling to complete the simple motion. It growled, made another attempt, and stopped. “What magic is this?” The skin-walker spit the words around glistening fangs. “Your teeth are too big, I think.” Her grin grew, despite the pain in her chest. Her spell worked beyond her ability to weave it, thickening the air, trapping them like sap on a tree.
Alexander Nixon—Nix to everyone but his mother, God rest her soul—was sure he’d checked everything. But here he was, standing atop the platform of marble, and nowhere near his insertion point. He hadn’t a clue how far off he might be, but the symbols inlaid along the alabaster stone’s outer edge still glowed with residual power. If he hurried, he might use that to take him to his intended target zone. There wasn’t time to check his calculations, so he began the sequence and hoped for the best. In eighteen years, he’d never gotten the best of anything, but there was always a first time. It just wasn’t today. “Stop your casting, boy,” the gravel-filled voice croaked at his back. Nix spun to confront the voice’s owner and stumbled back a step at the sight of the man accosting him—if it was a man. Hunched at the shoulders, his limbs twisted and deformed, the pitiful creature shambled toward him. He was dressed in rags, though in their youth they must have been similar to Nix’s usual attire. The right sleeve, ruined and filthy, was shredded up to the elbow, and the brown skin of his right hand shriveled and covered with white rivulets like molten wax. The malformed creature grinned at Nix, and the boy shrank even further. Most of the man’s teeth were missing, and those left were discolored and crooked. The eyes, though… they would haunt Nix for the rest of his life. The left was large and brown, though not looking directly at him, but the right was milky white, like the stone beneath Nix’s feet. A thin stream of drool dripped from one corner of the man’s mouth.
The ancient medicine woman reached out, snatched Síipuw’s ear in thin, strong fingers, and yanked hard. “Ow!” Síipuw, thirteen summers old and already taller than Wmíisan, stumbled as her mentor pulled her away from the brewing fight. The woman’s legs were short and crippled, but Síipuw had to quicken her pace to keep up. “Silence child!” Wmíisan’s voice was harsh and full of ice, leaving the watchers no doubt she would deal with the insolent apprentice for her actions. When she had dragged the girl away from the angry crowd of children, the old woman winked, and despite Síipuw’s fear, she chanced a pained grin. Once inside the trees, Wmíisan whipped Síipuw forward and released her aching ear. Síipuw scowled and rubbed the offended flesh. “Maybe next time you will listen,” Wmíisan spat. The woman’s words were full of anger, but her face had softened. “You should not let those jaybirds ruffle your feathers. Arrogant, you are, and quick to anger.” She shook a gnarled finger in the girl’s face. “I may not be there to rescue you next time.” Síipuw continued rubbing her throbbing ear. If this was what Wmíisan considered a rescue, she’d be happy to do without next time. Besides, she had done nothing wrong. Not really, anyway. Pretty little Osowáno had ridiculed Síipuw the entire morning about her boy clothes. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but all their friends had joined her. Síipuw hadn’t meant to push the girl into the dung pile, but she wasn’t sorry about it either.
As visitors to this site already know, I’m also an active composer for wind ensemble and orchestra. What’s been keeping me too busy to write lately, is a new transcription I’m preparing of a cute little piano piece by Isaac Albéniz (b. 29 May 1860, d.18 May 1909). He was a Spanish virtuoso pianist, composer, and conductor who was one of the foremost composers of the Post-Romantic era and a significant influence on the young impressionist composers who followed. He is best known for his piano pieces in the Spanish folk music style. While he never wrote a single piece for classical guitar, many of these were transcribed for that instrument, and have become important pieces in its repertoire.
Below is a recording of my transcription of Célèbre sérénade espagnole for wind ensemble. It is unfinished, but it’s mostly all there…
I also just completed a transcription of Claude Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, also originally for piano. Here is the completed recording…