Landr

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a musician as well as author. Well, I consider myself to truly be an author–music I more just dabble in. But I’ve been writing and recording music for pert near 20 years now. Novels are fun for really building a full world and immersing myself in crafting and creating characters and a reality as well as a story. Music is more like a quick crossword puzzle. I like to bash out some parts and pieces on guitar, bass, drums, etc., and then pull them together until I have a sound. You can check out my efforts at Soundcloud.com (http://soundcloud.com/aaronblack-1) if you’re curious.

Lately, I’ve been trying a new music tool called LANDR (www.landr.com). Landr allows for “auto-mastering,” which means it takes a mixed down track and applies some polish and pumps up the volume. Mastering has long been a bit of an esoteric art that’s notoriously difficult to (no pun intended) master for home artists who don’t have access to a top studio listening environment and many of the thousand dollar tools needed to get a master just right. Despite the challenges, I’ve done plenty of my own mastering over the years with mixed results. But Landr’s pretty awesome because it gives me consistently well mastered tracks with very little effort on my part at all. Just drag and drop the file on Landr.com and the tool does the rest.

Yes, this post is a bit of a shameless plug for Landr. But I really do recommend it if you’re an amateur musician and want to get your homemade tracks sounding a little more professional with very little effort!

Sophomore Slump

Went to see Sin City 2 last night. Enjoyable flick. As most of the critics have said, I really missed that innovative edge the first film had. Not that this one was any less beautiful than its predecessor but, in the 9 years between films, the first film has been aped and mimicked by so many other films either in part or whole that just repeating its feats no longer seems fresh or innovative.

Bands, tech companies, and novelists all struggle with that sophomore slump. How do you “innovate” something new and yet keep your loyal fans happy? Thankfully I’m too small time to really have to worry about it. But it is something that I contemplated in writing Exegesis.

There was a multi-year span between when I finished the first draft of Catharsis and when I published Exegesis. In the interim, I grew and changed both as a person and artist. So the book naturally reflects some of those changes. And the characters themselves have evolved and changed. So that necessarily makes for a different work.

That’s great! But it’s not really innovative. So how do I push the envelope? And once it’s pushed, will anyone who enjoyed the preceding book like a new one?

Admittedly, I didn’t try to reinvent the form with Exegesis. I just let the story continue to expand. Sin City somewhat attempted that, but fell short of impressing through that alone. So what else could it have done? What else could I do?

Are you there, Lord? It’s me, the omniscient narrator.

At what level did you enjoy Catharsis and Exegesis (assuming you did enjoy them, that is)?

I somewhat asked this question just the other day. But, having just finished Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, the question is fresh on my mind. Many consider Wolfe’s book to be a science-fiction as well as just plain ol’ literary masterpiece. The book functions somewhat well as a straight-ahead sci-fi epic about a lowly young man coming into his own as king of the kingdom. But it also functions at much higher (or deeper) levels as allegory, puzzle, and work of eschatology.

I’m no Gene Wolfe, but the Bodhi Trilogy certainly shares some similar themes to the Book of the New Sun. On one level, it is a straightforward page turner about a superman and his beautiful, naked lady friend who fight evil with swords and teeth and claws. On another level, it’s an allegorical story of a Theosophic nature. And still beyond that it’s an exploration of the monomyth and the concept of a reluctant hero.

Like Wolfe, I chose a first person narrator so that the reader is left to understand the world not from a level that itself understands that world but from a level fundamentally colored by a profound misunderstanding of it. Wolfe’s Severian is an unreliable narrator much of his own doing, but also because he himself doesn’t understand the forces that act on him nearly as well as he might feign. Similarly, Bodhi, who at least is honest about his ignorance, is manipulated by forces that frankly I myself don’t really understand. In playing with those forces from Bodhi’s level, I as a writer and hopefully you as a reader invoke the forces and are left to deal with them on human terms while they operate at a level of mystery past our ability to deal with.

He has a futuristic look about him, Cassius.

I was talking to my Buddhist priest the other day about Catharsis, and one criticism he had was that Bodhi doesn’t seem much like a normal Buddhist monk. Of course, it reflects badly on me that I must not have communicated very well in the text that he’s not!

Bodhi is a Christine. Who are the Christines? Well, they’re a figment of my imagination! But I didn’t invent them entirely from scratch. “Christines” are what Christians are called in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ—an apocryphal Gospel of fairly recent origin. In fact, Bodhi references the Aquarian Gospel throughout both books as his go-to Holy Scripture.

In the Bodhi Trilogy, I started with the premise, “What if Madame Blavatsky’s cosmology were more or less real?” Madame Blavatsky was a late 19th century mystic who founded the Theosophical Society and wrote a few esoteric tomes of modern mysticism that still inform the New Age movements of today. Many if not most New Age groups and religions can trace at least some of their lineage back to Blavatsky. Going off an imagined premise that her worldview were more correct than most, it seemed likely to me that the Aquarian Gospel, a more or less Theosophical rewrite of the gospel story, would eventually come to the fore as the dominant, true gospel of the Christian faith. In that spirit, I assumed that its term for Christians—Christines—would also become the dominant term.

In retrospect, I worry that it’s all a bit convoluted. As you’ve noticed above if nowhere else, I’m a church-going Buddhist—not a Theosophist. For me, Theosophy is largely a fantasy world to play in. Studying the works and ranks of the Ascended Masters to me seems much like studying the works and ranks of the Jedi Masters.

Not to insult any Theosophists out there that happen to read this! I think Blavatsky and those who would follow in expanding and reinterpreting her teachings have provided the world with a powerful and engaging cosmology and theology or I wouldn’t have had any interest in studying it.

So, back to the main idea, Bodhi isn’t a Buddhist. He’s a member of a Christian denomination I’ve largely made up by combining elements from a few Theosophical sources, the Aquarian Gospel, and yes a few healthy dabs of typical Eastern monastic style. My hope was that I’d be forgiven any inconsistencies with adhering to any one, established monastic order or religious denomination from our time as Bodhi practices a faith that essentially does not yet exist in a world that would be largely foreign to someone from the 21st century.

What would it be like for an early Christian from 1st century Rome to imagine a 21st century Mormon missionary in America, for example? The massive shift in cultures, time, and geography from the writer and his readers would make that Mormon missionary seem pretty sci-fi to his 1st century, Roman contemporaries. But to those of us living in the 21st century, a Mormon missionary isn’t all that exotic or off-kilter a concept at all.

Sometimes the Movie’s Better

I know–you think the book is always better than the movie. But I’ve disagreed with that absolutism for a long time. I remember in a Shakespeare class in college a girl making that statement while we were reading Othello, which was a bit funny to me given that Shakespeare’s Othello is a dramatic adaptation of another author’s book! No one remembers that book outside Shakespeare scholars and students, but everyone remembers the play.

A few people, when they read my books have said “This should be a movie.” I’d love nothing better. I bet a screen writer could strip out some of my more esoteric, Theosophic mumbo jumbo and just get down to the heart of the story. Of course, what they would do about Kama’s nudist tendencies I’m not too sure.

All this came to mind because I saw something mention Logan’s Run. Logan’s Run, I would submit, is a much better film than book. Certainly the film is much better remembered than the book. Where the book presents us with a definite anti-hero and an arguably overly complex world system populated by characters of extreme youth, the film gives us slightly more mature characters, a more stalwart hero, and a simple system from which to escape. All while adding new levels of subtext and intrigue in the form of Carousel and a much more authentic Francis.

Boys vs. Girls

So, I’ve noticed an odd demographic related stat about Catharsis. Every female I know who has legitimately sat down and tried to read the book has finished it. Some liked it, some didn’t. But none said they were unable to finish it. Of the men I know who sat down to read the book and actually read a few pages, the majority have said they couldn’t continue reading it! One said that the concept of a fantasy series written in first person didn’t work, another cited the mishmash of future world cultures as too confusing, and several just said they found it not engaging.

Fair enough if it sucks and no one wants to read it. I do write to entertain an audience–but I also write very much to entertain myself, which both books in the Trilogy so far have done. But I’m curious why women seem to be very OK with reading Catharsis and men don’t. I can’t for the life of me think of an answer! The protagonist is male. It’s full of action and adventure–which are typically identified (fairly or not) as male interests–and lacking any more romance than an Indiana Jones movie.

So what makes it a girls’ book? Any ideas?

The New Sun

I’m reading Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun—ashamedly for the first time. It’s a great book! So inventive and different and new despite being 30 years old. And it makes me marvel at how sad my own attempts at literary work seem in comparison.

One of Mr. Wolfe’s real strengths is balancing a base adventure novel with an attempt to express some deep truths about the human condition that lie beyond simple didactic presentation’s ability to properly convey. I struggle with that quite a lot in my own books, and most especially in the Bodhi Trilogy.

Most readers of the firs two books in my trilogy are reading adventure romps. And that’s great. I want the books to be able to stand-alone from that perspective. On their most basic level, they should function from cover to cover as a rousing tale about a dragon and a pixie fighting the forces of evil.

I think that any reader, though, will at least pierce through that level and deal with the fact that Bodhi is an emotional cripple and Kama’s a manipulative sociopath. That second layer of the onion is often the more interesting layer for me to explore as I try to craft these two into three dimensional, rich characters who go far beyond being simply “the good guys.”

Then there’s the other final layer—the mystic layer. I’m not all that metaphysical in my actual beliefs about how the universe operates on a mechanical level. But I have studied most of the major systems of metaphysics and mysticism of the modern Western world and many of the Eastern world as well. And each book in this trilogy is meant to be a spell of sorts. Like the films of Kenneth Anger, I intentionally commit an alchemical working with each book and douse them with very specific, if very occult, references to the Western magick tradition.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I do all that at once nearly as well as Wolfe does in The Book of the New Sun with his own three layers of narrative. I truly marvel at what he was able to accomplish.