Thursday, February 22, 2007

“Beats of Seven” - by Peter Orullian

The genesis of “Beats of Seven” is easy: It was an assignment.

A few years ago, I attended a writing workshop on the Oregon Coast—Lincoln City to be exact. One of the themes of the entire two-week boot camp was: Write fast and get out of your own way. The idea here, is that too many writers allow their critical voice to impede their creative voice, the result being greatly diminished productivity.

To that end, many of our assignments were given late in the day with an early next-morning deadline. Now, what I learned is that most writers can do in the area of 1000 words an hour. So, do the math. In three months, you should be able to write a novel. And that’s if you write just an hour a day, and you’re slow.

Anyway, on this particular short story assignment, I was also asked to do two things: use a sleepy, costal town like Lincoln City as my setting (part of the uber-assignment given to everyone); and work on “voice” (an exercise for me, in particular).

Each of the attending writers scurried out into the town to consider locations, gather details, look for inspiration. I hadn’t needed to do so; I’d seen my setting already.

A music store.

Which was perfect, since it got me to the second part of the story assignment: voice. For me, the easiest way into voice was to go straight to music. I’m a musician, and for those of you who are too, you’ve no need of an explanation here. For the rest of you, I’ll paraphrase by saying it involves things like timbre, phrasing, dynamics, note selection. All of which should be internalized and forgotten before you try to perform; just like studying the craft of writing, internalizing it, then allowing it to come out (subconsciously) through your fingers as you pound the keyboard.

Back to the music store. There is this great place in Lincoln City, right on Highway 1, that captured my imagination. I’d thought to myself on first seeing it: How does a music store thrive in such a small community? In point of fact, the place didn’t appear to be thriving much. Closer investigation led me to wonder if it was still in business at all. But amazingly, it had this whole large, dusty, neglected room of old pianos.

I was in heaven thinking of the possibilities for stories out of this corner of the world.

The other thing I should mention is that I’m taken with odd time signatures in music. It ain’t easy to dance to something written in 7/8 or 11/8, but I don’t dance much anyway.

All these things coalesced for me, as I imagined a sound engineer doing cheesy ocean-wave recordings (you see these in spas and new age shops all the time) because he can’t get another gig and is tired of the over-commercialization (and dilution) of Jazz music—think Kenny G.

Now, I just needed to write it all down.

I rushed to my room, which I simply must tell you about. This workshop on the coast was held in something of a writers warren. My room was about 7x10, and completely lined floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves (packed—no spaces—with books) save the door into the room and a door out the back of the large house.

No windows.

I loved it.

I imagined the worlds that rear door opened upon. That closed portal proved a wonderful leap point for stories as I sat in the dark, huddled over my laptop, typing like mad.

In about 3 hours I’d finished my story; it’s really rather short. But it felt complete, as it had allowed me to get to the heart of a few things. I was happy with the cadence and the character voices, too. Plus, I’d managed to underscore my own feelings about the power of music.

This second thing mostly came to me when I read the story back. And I recalled a conversation I had with David Morrell at World Horror 2000 in Denver years before. He and I spoke about the degree to which most writing is autobiographical in some sense. I can’t recount it all here, but since that conversation, I’ve been interested to look back on my writing (once its complete) and consider it anew.

The last bit of the back-story on “Beats of Seven” goes something like this. One of the writing instructors, Kris Rusch, at the two-week workshop read my story, and wrote simply at the top: Mail this!

I did no such thing, breaking one of Heinlein’s rules of writing—not to mention ignoring the advice of a successful fiction writer.

Then I happened to be interviewing Scott Card at E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) a while back. We got talking about writing, he mentioned his new digital magazine, and I dug up “Beats” and sent it in.

The day before my birthday, I got a note from Edmund expressing interest in the story. Made my day!


Jim said...

My only thought as I approached the conclusion of your story was, "Dear God, he's going to have to do the hardest thing for any musician and not allow the music to resolve." But sometimes that's for the better, too.

Like you, Peter, I'm a musician (piano, primarily), so I loved this blend of fantasy and musical art. A job well done.

j said...

Loved hearing your thoughts on this. I'm buying my issue today and cannot wait to read your story, Peter.