Today I’m hosting American writer Mike Van Horn, author of the science fiction trilogy Agate and Breadbox. Here he is hard at work in Hawaii—looks tough, but I guess someone has to do it.
Over to Mike, who’s going to talk about the importance of songs in his work and how one thing can quickly lead to another.
When Life Gives You Lyrics, Make Music
I can’t sing anything more demanding than Happy Birthday. So imagine my surprise when I became a lyricist.
In my just-published book Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard, my main character and narrator—Selena M—is a singer who nurses a surviving alien back to health so she can send it home. The alien is also a singer, and that’s how they learn to communicate. They help each other recapture the passion of their singing.
I had to write snippets of lyrics for the songs that Selena sings, and come up with song titles. I used these as epigraphs at the top of chapters. Like this:
I’ve been a sweet stuff singer
All my girlie years
Airy, frothy little ditties
Full of love and tears
That’s from Cotton Candy Lovin’. Here’s another:
I’m playing with you
the game of love
and I’m losing every match.
Some of these snippets grew into verses, and then entire song lyrics. The thought came to me: if I have lyrics, I need music. But this was way beyond my skills!
I found a guy who could compose music for my lyrics, and he found a local blues singer who became the vocalist and the voice of Selena. They produced my songs and I put them up on Soundcloud. Now I have ‘sci fi with a sound track!’ I’ve written about twenty lyrics so far.
How do these get written? Two ways. Sometimes lines or couplets pop into my head. I write them down, then look for ideas that can expand them. I spend a lot of time looking for rhymes. For example:
We all want to fly to the stars
not just staying here sittin’ on our arse.
You serious scientists, let me lead you astray.
Get up! Get out there! Fly into the void.
Or should we just sit here whiling away
waiting to get whacked by some asteroid?
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen stars rhymed with arse,” several have remarked.
Sometimes, after I’ve written a prose paragraph, I look at it and think, this could be turned into a song. For example, when Selena was by herself on the Moon, looking at the emptiness of space, she got the shivers:
I was beginning to feel unmoored. Not unmoored internally, exactly. Just feeling strange. More like a boat drifting out to sea. The farther it drifts, the harder it will be for it to find its way back. Perhaps it will discover new continents, but maybe it will just drift. A strange feeling came over me, and I found myself turning this chain of thought into a song.
Here’s what it turned into (first two verses):
I am unmoored.
I am adrift on the vastness of space.
Like a boat, lines cast free from the shore,
freed of land’s embrace.
Slowly drifting out to sea,
no rudder, no compass, no map, no haste.
Across the vasty void.
Forever to infinity.
The farther I drift ‘cross the vasty void
the harder it will be for me
to find my way back from the endless sea
to safe harbor, to home, to thee.
I may discover new worlds out there.
Or I might just drift, ‘cross the vast nowhere.
Forever to infinity.
This is so much fun! I love creating songs like this.
I want to finish up with a story. I felt very tentative about this entire effort. Who was I to hire composers, producers, and professional singers? I sent them my lyrics and they produced music. But then they invited me to one of the recording sessions at the studio. I went as an observer.
When the vocalist was warming up in the soundproof room, she said, “Sorry guys, my voice isn’t right today. I’m a little nervous because the lyricist is here.”
The who? You mean the big lyricist smoking a cigar who arrived in a long limo? She was feeling nervous because of me, and I was suffering from imposter syndrome big-time.
Okay, so what’s the lesson here for you writers?
When creativity happens, go with it. Go with it! Go where it takes you. Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” That’s a killer. Maybe you can’t, but maybe you can.
What I found out was that I could not only spin a good tale, but I can write music.
I am a lyricist. And it’s a blast!
Let’s finish with two verses from the one that became my theme song, and the name of Book 2 of my trilogy:
My spaceship calls out to me
Come fly me home
I’m yours, you’re my skipper.
Just call and I’ll come.
Just call and I’ll come to you
The whole galaxy’s our home.
On any world anywhere
Just call and I’ll come.
This is what Selena’s spaceship says to her. Could you resist? That’s what Books 2 and 3 are about: My Spaceship Calls Out to Me and Space Girl Yearning.
To hear how Mike’s music came out, go to http://galaxytalltales.com and click on Sci Fi Music.
Book 1 available for Kindle on Amazon here. Paperback edition coming soon.
Book 2 due May
You can read excerpts from all three books on his site – link above