Writing the dark sounds: cante jondo, duende ... and writing

If you look at my Twitter profile, and of course I know all of you have looked at my Twitter profile, you will see that I use the tagline: I write the dark sounds.

A lot of people interpret that to mean "horror," and when people think of "horror," they think of fiction that is about slashers and blood and zombies, and I know how we arrived here from there, but "the dark sounds" is not about horror.

I initially encountered the phrase while reading one of Federico Garcia Lorca's lectures on artistic expression, Theory and Play of the Duende. In the lecture, Lorca explains that duende is an Andalusian concept that encompasses the dark spirit that sometimes possesses an artist so that they perform with exceptional emotional depth.

Lorca calls the duende the spirit of the earth, but the duende is actually more about artistic passion. As Lorca explains it: technique will take a person far, but duende rises from the soul. Imagine someone with a voice both true and fine, who sings in perfect pitch, yet the performance falls flat. While another individual, whose voice might not be as perfect in tone, can deliver a rendition of the same song and moves an entire roomful of people to tears. In the first example the singer relies entirely on technique, yet delivers a piece without soul, while the latter blends technique with passion to give the audience a memorable show.

In his lecture, Lorca quotes Manuel Torre, a Romani flamenco singer of great renown, as having said: "You have a voice, you understand style, but you’ll never ever succeed because you have no duende." Torre's pronouncement is harsh, and not one with which I agree. People succeed all the time on technique alone. Meanwhile, another might possess duende, but their lack of proficiency will render their work too coarse to enjoy. Remember that Picasso understood form and technique long before he created his heartbreaking depiction of the events at Guernica.

However, an artist can also become a slave to form. That is why I cringe when I hear amateur writers admonishing others about "purple prose," "show don't tell," and "always open with action." These are all good rules to remember, but it's also important for artists to know when to step outside the lines and allow the dark sounds to shine in their prose.

The best principle is for the artist to partner the two: technique and duende. When this transpires, the beauty of form accompanies the artist's soul as they carry their audience along on the dark sounds.

These dark sounds that Lorca exalts are often found in flamenco, a dance form native to Andalusia, Spain. In flamenco, dance (technique) is partnered with duende (soul) to create passionate performances. And while most people hear the word "flamenco" and think only of dance, they forget that flamenco is also accompanied by song, which is known as cante jondo, or deep song.

The early American folk songs that birthed the blues are a close approximation to cante jondo. Both American folk and cante jondo contain themes of love, death, the common person, and the unfairness of life. These songs are delivered poetically and vocally with the power of the dark sounds, the duende. However, in spite of the darker themes, hope is entwined the verses. Sometimes that hope is so thin it is not spoken through the lyrics but is conveyed by the singer's voice, yet it is there.

So when I say I write the dark sounds, I'm not saying that I write horror, but instead that I am attempting to convey the dark sounds of life (and death) into stories. I write about love, death, and the unfairness of life--themes common to us all--but I also write about hope. Most often, I rely on technique, but sometimes, the duende seizes me and I am able to translate my passion into words, and those are the best times indeed.

Cover reveal and excerpt from Liana Brooks DECOHERENCE

My agency-mate and friend Liana Brooks has an exciting cover reveal and an excerpt from the final novel in her Time and Shadow series:

Readers of Blake Crouch's DARK MATTER and Wesely Chu's TIME SALVAGER will love Liana Brooks' DECOHERENCE--the thrilling, time-bending conclusion to the Time & Shadow series!

Available at: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Available at: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Samantha Rose and Linsey MacKenzie have established an idyllic life of married bliss in Australia, away from the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, away from mysterious corpses, and—most of all—away from Dr. Emir’s multiverse machine.
But Sam is a detective at heart, and even on the other side of the world, she can’t help wonder if a series of unsolved killings she reads about are related—not just to each other, but to the only unsolved case of her short career.
She knows Jane Doe’s true name, but Sam never discovered who killed the woman found in an empty Alabama field in spring of 2069. She doesn’t even know which version of herself she buried under a plain headstone.
When Mac suddenly disappears, Sam realizes she is going to once more be caught up in a silent war she still doesn’t fully understand. Every step she takes to save Mac puts the world she knows at risk, and moves her one step closer to becoming the girl in the grave.


“Decoherence (n): a period of time when all iterations collapse and there is only one possible reality.” ~ Excerpt from Definitions of Time by Emmanuela Pine, I1

Day 247

Year 5 of Progress

Capitol Spire
Main Continent
Iteration 17—Fan 1

… three. Rose stood and peered through the frosted, warped glass of the conference room as the speaker turned away. It didn’t matter which iteration she was in, Emir was predictable. She had seven seconds to do a head count. She didn’t need that long.

A quick head count was all it took to confirm that the einselected nodes she’d been sent to assassinate were where they belonged.

Every iteration had nodes, people or events that kept that variation of human history from collapsing. Dr. Emir had created a machine that allowed people not only to move along their own timeline, but at critical convergence points, it allowed them to cross between realities. But the Mechanism for Iteration Alignment’s greatest ability was the one that allowed Dr. Emir and Central Command to steer history by erasing futures they didn’t want.

Rose knelt beside the door, did one final sweep for alarms, and nodded for her team to move in. It was her job to cross at convergence points, kill the nodes, and collapse the futures that no one wanted.

One look at the version of herself watching this iteration’s Emir with rapt fascination was enough to make Rose want to snip this future in the bud.

Chubby was the first thing that came to mind. Rose’s doppelganger was enjoying being at the top of the social pyramid and probably gorging on whatever passed as a delicacy here. The squared bangs with a streak of riotous red only accented the corpulence and lack of self-control the inferior other had.

Even with a heavy wood door between them, Rose could hear that this iteration’s Emir was hypothesizing things the MIA was never meant to do. Everyone with half a brain knew that decoherence didn’t combine iterations, it crushed them. Only the true timeline, the Prime, would survive decoherence. Planning to welcome and integrate doppelgangers into the society was pure idiocy.

The techs sealing the door shut gave her the high sign.

Rose nodded to her hacker.

“Cameras locked. Security is deaf and blind, ma’am” Logan’s voice was a soft whisper in her earpiece. He was a genius with computer systems, a fact that had saved him when they collapsed I-38 three years ago. “We have a fifteen-minute window.”

“Hall cleared,” reported Bennet. “Permission to move perimeter guard to the exit?”

Rose nodded. “Permission granted.” She waved for the soldiers to move out. There could be no risk of failure. No chance for the errant nodes to escape, and no risk that her team would get killed here.

* * *

Liana Brooks writes sci-fi and crime fiction for people who like happy endings. She believes in time travel to the future, even if it takes a good book and all night to get there. When she isn’t writing, Liana hikes the mountains of Alaska with her family and giant dog.

Website | Twitter | FaceBook


Communicating a better story

Blogging in the early days. (Image by Sailko - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Blogging in the early days. (Image by Sailko - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Monday was exciting, in a scary crazy way. While making some changes to my website, I accidentally deleted my blog. Not just bits and pieces of it, but all of it. Every single post that I've written since 2011.



All with the press of a button.

Sort of like we'd all like to do to 2016, but that's another blog post for another day.

Anyway, the weird thing was, as the savage horror of what I'd done settled in around me, I felt this incredible sense of relief too, like a terrible burden had been removed from my shoulders. In that instant--the moment of relief, not the moment of horror--I considered quitting, well, everything: the writing, the blogging, the endless marketing.

For all of ... oh, I don't know ... two hours, I thought I could walk away from the Internet and writing all together. It was tempting. Had I not experienced one of the most productive writing weekends that I've had in a long time, I might have done it.

The short story "Every Hair Casts a Shadow" for the Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology totally came together for me this past weekend. A synopsis for a new novel fell into place, and I realized that I loved telling stories (fiction, not lies). As much as I would like to say it's all about you, it's not ... writing is a release valve for me, because the process gives me a chance to communicate my thoughts and ideas to other people.

I'm well aware that authors talk about craft and plot and characterization, but writing good fiction is primarily about communication ... not simply communicating a good story, but communicating themes and ideas in an entertaining manner. I don't want to tell people what to think. I want others to discover ideas within themselves, because when someone unearths the seeds for a new way of thinking, that person owns the idea, and when we own something, we become a little more willing to fight for the principles surrounding the concept.

Reading--both fiction and nonfiction--should be about discovery. I love the Carlos Ruiz Zafón quote about books being like mirrors--they show us what we already have within ourselves. At the same time, a different angle can lend us a new perception, both of ourselves and the world around us.

Again, good communication is the key, and this blog, as well as my fiction, allows me to hone my communication skills in different ways.

So the blog is back, thanks to the good folks at Squarespace, who saw my tweets of distress and gave me the key to restoring that page. Their excellent support services are what keeps me here.

With all of that said, I guess you're stuck with me for a little while longer. I'm happy about it. I hope you are too.

[Guest Post] Why an “American” faerie tale? by Bishop O'Connell

Once more it is my pleasure to give over my blog to my friend Bishop O'Connell for a guest post. He is here to talk about his American Faerie Tale series and why he decided to make it American.

So Happy Publication Day to Bishop for the fourth book in his series, The Returned.

Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a facade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.
Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?

You can find The Returned at: 

Ebook: HarperCollinsAmazonBarnes & NobleGoogle PlayiTunesKobo

Print: HarperCollinsAmazonBarnes & Noble

Signed copies: The Fountain Bookstore

Why an "American" faerie tale?

The Returned is the fourth book in my series, An American Faerie Tale. The obvious question is, why the qualifier? Why an “American” faerie tale? Well, there isn’t much in the way of American myth, or legend, or faerie tales. Yes we have Ichabod Crane and the like, but most of our stories and legends came with the hopeful immigrants who carried them. I want America to have a mythology, a faerie tale that’s all its own. I want to write not “the great American novel,” but “the great American faerie tale.”

To do that, the stories have to reflect America. That means people from other nations should feel something familiar there. Have their own neighborhoods; a little Italy, Chinatown, little Havana, Irish district, or any other cultural neighborhood. Some might be just a block or two, and in this literary world I’ve formed it might be only a few pages, but I hope it’s something that feels like a warm and sincere welcome.

So how do I achieve that familiarity but keep the story “American?” It turns out the two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re one and the same. Just consider this simple phrase: e pluribus unum. Out of many, one. It’s the motto of the United States, and what the phrase embodies is what I love most about it. Originally it might have referred to the many states forming one nation, but I think it has come to mean so much more. It’s a cliché, but this nation really is a melting pot, a nation of immigrants. The United States’ culture is a collection and blending of countless other cultures. Most remarkably, none of them are diminished and the whole is made more with each addition. In short, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So to be an American faerie tale, I knew that’s what I have to achieve with my series. Each book is a snippet, a piece that adds to the whole. The Stolen, the first book, is set in New England, which has a large Irish influence, so that culture is what I focused on. I’m very proud of my Irish heritage. My family came to this country along with millions of other Irish and Scots, fleeing death during the Potato Famine. So, Celtic culture will continue to influence the series, but in keeping with the larger theme, it will blend into all the others as well. Just like the immigrants themselves did through the generations.

The Forgotten, the second book, is set in Seattle and includes the influence of Russian, German, and Native American mythologies. Three Promises, the third book, is a collection of short stories about characters from the first two books, so reflects both. Additionally, it has a short story about World War II, and the weight of those who fought tirelessly and valiantly, but always felt like could’ve done more.

The Returned, the fourth and latest book is set in New Orleans. There are Cajuns, Creoles, Native Americans, Haitian, French, and African mythologies at play. There is of course another history to the city, one that goes back to the days of slavery, and the implications such a history brings into the modern age. Like our country as a whole, it’s a city of complex history; some beautiful, some shameful. But I tried to capture the spirit of the city, embodied by its residents and best described by their official motto: laissez les bon temps rouler, let the good times roll.

In the natural world, diversity, genetically speaking, is what keeps a species relevant. I think culturally speaking, it’s what has made these United States relevant through history, and why I love it. Across the country there are endless stories and they all have their own magic and wonder. Some are terrifying, some heartbreaking, some beautiful, some truly hysterical, and still others all of the above. They’re told by the young and the old, the privileged and the disenfranchised, the hopeful and hopeless, the dreamers and cynics, those with long histories and those right off the boat. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m indecisive, but I don’t want to choose just one, I want them all! That probably says something about how long this series will continue if I get my way.

I want to write an “American” faerie tale because I want to reflect what I think makes America great. But, to truly be American, it must be a tale blending the cultures and heritages that define its citizenry. Individually we might be Irish American, Scots American, Russian American, Mexican American, African American, Native American, LGBTQ, straight, rich, poor, and countless combinations thereof, but together, we’re just Americans. I hope my series achieves this, but with stories. It might be lofty, but I’ve always believed there is no shame in failing if you’re reaching for the stars. 

* * *

Bishop O'Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples, Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled Richmond, VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed "visionary" of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.

You can follow Bishop on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or at his Amazon Author Page, and he won't think that is creepy at all.

Death's Gift: an improv story by Judith Tarr & T. Frohock

I've had many wonderful things happen since coming online and connecting with other authors. One of my special pleasures is getting a chance to know Judith Tarr. Her works, especially her trilogy, The Hound and the Falcon, greatly influenced my own writing. As a matter of fact, I didn't realize how much until I recently revisited the trilogy for a blog post at the Harper Voyager Blog when I talked about some of my favorite historical fantasy novels.

Judith is one of the finest fantasy authors in the field, and I have to say it was something of an honor to ... if Judith will excuse the pun ... horse around with her and write an improv Twitter story. Here is how it all came about: a magical realism bot tweeted a story prompt about a necromancer, and Judith created the next line. I thought it would be fun to come up with the next part of the story, and then, as stories do, the tale sort of took a life of its own.

I liked the way Judith summed it up on Twitter: "Once there was a bot, and the bot posted a prompt. And the rest is storify."

Thanks to Mira, who graciously storified our tweets so you can read the whole story without interruption.

Death's Gift: an improv story:

If you want to keep up with Judith, you can find her blog and books at The Book View Cafe, give her a follow on Twitter, and she also has a Patreon, where you can sign up for stories and more. If you love fantasy, and I know you do, head over and say T. sent you. Give her a follow. You never know when a magical realism bot might come along and offer us another necromancer to storify.