By Yordie Sands, originally published September 2013
One cold and wet and dreary night I sat alone by the bedroom window of my townhouse. Since moving to Redmond, Washington, my bedtime routine included mindlessly staring into the night. There was a good view of the city center from my third story bedroom, but there was never much to see in the late hours, just other software workers racing home after working deep into the night.
Many people cringe at the seemingly endless days and nights of rainy, overcast weather in the Seattle region, but I always found it comforting. And when you add just the right music, you can spin tantalizing images around in my mind, if you are the type who likes to do such things. Anyway, this was how I spent the timeless moments before crawling under the covers and drifting into sleep.
What If You Could…
I can’t pinpoint when I conceived of the story, but I remember one night while listening to “Take Me to the River”, a tune in Annie Lenox’s Medusa album, with its tough beat. I thought, how amazing it would be if Annie went back in time and performed her music for people. I found this to be a delightful notion and it made me smile. I mean, a hundred years ago there was nothing like the sounds we take as granted today.
I remembered a tune I heard when I visited Austin, Texas, it was a Jerry Jeff Walker tune, “The First Showboat”. The lyric was something like, “What a thrill it must have been playing Dixie for the folks/ Up and down the river on the first show boats…/”. [I know, not very politically correct, but an intriguing notion.] Maybe that’s really where the story idea came from, in fact, that’s probably as close to a starting point as I can come up with.
I played with the idea of Annie and her band back during the Revolutionary War, then all the way back to the Renaissance, and Middle Ages, and so it went, running all kinds of scenarios through my head. And instead of making me sleepy I found I was having trouble getting to sleep. I giggled at the notion of calling Annie’s agent and asking if we could book her for a gig at the Vatican in fifteenth century.
The next night I repeated my routine but this time I played some other tunes. I played “Rhapsody in Blue” and thought: Wow, what would it be like if you could take the New York Symphony Orchestra to Ancient Egypt and play that astounding composition. What would they think? [I saw Rhapsody performed at the Hollywood Bowl with The Labèque Sisters on dueling grand pianos — Unforgettable!] And so my time traveling orchestra went on for several nights, new bedtime music and new musings. I didn’t get a lot of sleep on those nights but I enjoyed the images I was conjuring up.
Ideas Travel Their Own Pathways
Several years passed and my bedtime routine changed from this to that. I continued to toy with the idea of how music and other modern marvels would be received in the past. My original idea had played itself out, but I came to realize that my amusing idea created several seeds in my mind; my bedtime musing morphed into ideas I couldn’t have otherwise imagined.
I began trying to express the stories I was envisioning by rapidly pouring out short fragments of stories. I never tried to publish any of them because they were always just pieces of a puzzle. And the puzzle growing in complexity; in fact, it was becoming epic in scope. That’s when I did a reality check, as soon as I realized I was thinking “epic” I felt the story would never get told.
Over the past year I’ve continued arranging fragments into a framework. I felt that I might be able to write a collections of stories that might be the workings of a novel. Btw, this whole “might” thing is very comfortable to me. The process of writing has always been an adventurous mental process. I recognize that there are authors who can’t begin writing until they know how a story is going to end, and that amazes me, but I prefer to loosely outline the story and see how it all unfolds.
Anyway, I developed character profiles, themes, settings, timelines and I had a couple of fuzzy, possible endings mapped out. But here’s my challenge, when characters and events are in motion in my imagination, I can’t foresee an ending. Even when I understand all the elements I want to reveal, I have to trust that the story and the ending will reveal itself to me. [2021: It did a couple years later, and I’m happy as hell with it; unfortunately, it won’t happen until Book III of the trilogy.]
Seemingly Endless Research
In 2002, I began doing research into a wide range of subjects that would help me develop the story, revolving around historic, scientific, governmental, military, industrial, cosmological and human realities. This led me down many more unexpected trails and now, over ten years later [2021: nearly 20 years], I’ve completed volumes of research, and continue the research every day. I’ve even researched quantum physics enough to have a feasible time travel technique.
I’m happy to say that my research did shape the framework for my story. As I did more and more research, themes emerged, settings and timelines developed. Characters went from sketches to complex and engaging people I could believe in. Then new characters entered the story line. Finally, I began to believe I have an actual story that can be told.
But this post isn’t about the evolution of the story or the research, it’s about the inspiration from a single tune, one cold, wet, and dreary night. smiles